Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 71-75
Dusty Dexter PI is a continuous novel by Jan Richards. You can read a new installment each weekday in your local paper, or catch up on the week's happenings online each Saturday.
Episode 71: Sewing the seed
I’VE dressed the part for my visit with Amanda, professional, black slim-line trousers, white business shirt. Flesh coloured bra under the shirt, like Red said, but one that gives me an awesome cleavage. I look very Drew Barrymore - sexy, yet professional.
This meeting’s important, I want to sew the seed for the trip to Vanuatu, make sure Amanda will see the link, help her understand a few days on a picturesque Pacific Island is the next step.
It’s my first chance at some real undercover work. I can see it now, Dusty Dexter smashing an international drug ring.
Amanda’s sits me near the pool, again, I wonder who you have to be to sit inside.
She’s hospitable. "Can I get you something? Coffee, juice?"
She walks into the kitchen, reappears seconds later.
"My mother’s staying. She’s making the juice."
Mum arrives with a pitcher, glasses.
"Mother, this is the private investigator, Dusty Dexter. Dusty, this is my mother. Pamela."
Pamela looks like Amanda, just more so. Same hair, same superior attitude. It looks like she’s had work - skin tight on the cheek bones, no frown lines, no smile lines.
Pamela pours, hands me a glass. "It’s awful, what happened to poor Manny. Are you any closer to discovering why those men killed my daughter’s husband?"
Pamela talks like Amanda, just more so.
"We’re working on it, Pamela. The investigation has become much more complex, particularly after the murder on Wednesday night."
"At Ocean World, the shark attack."
"That was a murder?"
"Yes, mother. They said the man was shot before he was put in with the sharks." She looks at me. "You don’t think they’re connected?"
"The police think so. It’s all to do with drugs. The man who died, Marty, was also selling drugs."
Pamela interrupts. "There is no chance Manny was involved with drugs, is there Amanda."
It’s not a question.
Here I go, sew the seed.
"I’m still following up links with Vanuatu. One of the men Manny was with the night he died has business interests there. The police think the drugs are coming from over there. Looks like my next line of inquiry."
Amanda isn’t interested in her juice. "If you think that’s the way to go. Go ahead."
Excellent, just what I wanted.
What now? Perhaps a comment about the bribery, just to see what her reaction is.
"One more thing, Amanda. When Red was following Manny, she tailed him to lunches."
She interrupts. "Manny often had business lunches."
"That last week all four of his lunch companions were councillors. The same councillors who had turned down a project he was working on with Max. After the lunch they changed their votes. Do you think Manny would bribe councillors?"
"Absolutely not. I suggest you focus your investigations elsewhere."
I hit a nerve.
"Thanks, Amanda. I’ll let you know how I go with the Vanuatu leads."
I walk myself out.
Episode 72: Hank will come around
I PHONE Hank, want to make good with him, need to make good with him. Then there’s the fact he’s hot.
Remember the heat, standing chest to chest at the top of the stairs, a breath apart. I’m confident he’ll come around.
"Hank." A pause. "How’s the head?"
"Bit of a headache."
"How’re the eyes?"
"Red, swollen, sore."
"Sorry. Didn’t mean it."
"Heard you say that before."
Bugger, it’s a reference to the taser incident, don’t want to go there. "Raincheck on the date?"
"I’ll think about it."
Something positive, that’s what I need. "Got some information on Evan. He’s hiding stuff, putting it together for Red."
No reply. Could be harder than I thought. Maybe once he can see properly he’ll feel better about it.
At the office I check my emails.
Captain Randy, as expected: "Dusty, Great photos. You and Janet seem to know how to enjoy yourselves. Sometimes the best way to decide if someone is right for the ocean is to meet them face to face. When are you planning to visit Vanuatu? Captain Randy."
Excellent. My plan is coming together.
Email: "Captain Randy. I’m sure we will all click, you sound like a fun, adventurous guy. Janet and I should be in Vanuatu in a couple of days. Will let you know more. Dusty."
I call Janet. "The Vanuatu thing’s looking good. Can you get time off?"
"Yeah. Boss okayed it. Really pissed off some councillors this morning. Max Cash is refusing to talk to me, got his lawyer to phone."
"What did the councillors say?"
"No bribery, just lunch. A coincidence they all went to lunch with Manny and then all changed their votes. All gave me the ’working for the people who elected them’ spiel. ’In the interest of the community as a whole’, blah, blah, blah. Smythe was ropeable. Doesn’t want to see such an important project jeopardised etcetera."
"When’s the story due to run?"
"Not ’till early next week. Need to do some more research. Get legals to check it. Drink after work tonight?"
"Surf club. Pick you up 5.30." Janet still doesn’t have a car.
I hunt down the stuff on Evan for Red. Print several newspaper stories, the medical report. A few other articles he’s done on sharks.
Knock on her door.
"How’d you go with Amanda?"
"Fine. Told her where the investigation’s at, the avenues of inquiry I’m exploring. Mum was there. Pamela. Looks like Amanda, 20 years older. Botox city."
I put the stuff on her desk.
"I’ll get lunch. What do you want?"
"Steak burger. Coke."
When I return, Red’s on the phone to Hank. She rips the bag off the burger, hits the speaker phone button, eats. Indicates I should keep quiet.
Hank’s speaking. "Evan can’t have had anything to do with the bloke getting shot or the shark attack, he was with you. And he was with you for ten minutes beforehand. Doesn’t make sense."
Episode 73: Dusty apologises
RED talks with her mouth full, Hank on the other end of the phone, speaker button on.
"Big coincidence. Two shark attacks, two oceanariums, same marine scientist."
"One in the US was an accident?"
"So it says. No evidence to the contrary."
I want Hank to know I’m there. "You know what gets me?"
Red shakes her head. Mouths, "told you to shut up".
Hank doesn’t comment.
I ignore Red, forge on.
"The bit about the expansions. They’re planning extensions to Ocean World. Look at the publicity they got over there. People are fascinated by sharks, throw in an attack, world-wide publicity. Good for business, not bad."
Hank. "You saying it’s a publicity stunt?"
"Not exactly, but it’s true all publicity’s good publicity. Evan’s looking for backers, and this has meant lots of media coverage."
Hank. "Can’t see it m’self. This is a drugs war, Evan isn’t part of it. Maybe he’s just a smart operator."
Red. "I’m with you."
Red. "Dusty, I think this would be a good opportunity to apologise to Senior Sergeant Stern for the, um, accident last night."
Stern doesn’t say a word.
"Sorry. If I’d known it was you I wouldn’t have used the spray."
Stern: "Think about your security, Dusty."
"Yes, Senior Sergeant Stern."
Red. "Don’t be a smart arse. Get out of here."
I’m not sure how that went.
I go back to what has become my office. Should put some pictures on the desk, make it mine. Pictures of who?
Red doesn’t have pictures, just the paddle-steamer wheel.
I slip off my shoes, remove the underwire, fire up the laptop.
I find out everything I can about Clay Goldshield’s business activities. Need enough to convince Amanda she should send me to Vanuatu, to convince Red I should be allowed to go, and to convince Hank to drop the charges.
I’ll explain the trip’s a fact finding mission. I’m going to snoop around, talk to people, see if I can come up with information that links Clay, or his business, to drugs.
Figure I need four or five days to do the job properly. I’m hoping Red and Hank will see it as a way of getting rid of me for a while. Let Hank hook me up with the local police if he wants. No mention of Captain Randy or drug boats.
I work hard for a few hours, put together a sheaf of paperwork.
Time to relax, indulge. I Google Vanuatu - beautiful harbour, flat blue water, locals with huge white smiles, sun, boats. Tourists snorkel with fish and corals.
There’s a link to an ocean swimming site, information about the swim, three ks around Iririki Island, should be nice. Add a little excitement with Captain Randy to what the website promises and it sounds like one fantastic holiday.
I’m working on a plan for the Captain too.
Episode 74: At the point of a gun
AT HOME I touch up make-up, add some perfume. This is Friday night after-work drinks, not the time to try too hard.
Someone knocks on the door, loud. Again.
Janet stands outside the door, two large ugly men behind her. One has a gun pointed at her head.
He points the gun at me.
What’s this bullshit? "I’m Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator. What’s going on?"
He shapes his mouth into a nasty grin. "You’re coming with us."
His expression changes, he moves towards me, but the man behind stops him. He also has a gun, he points it at me.
"Don’t think I won’t use it, girly."
"What is this?"
"You’ll find out when I’m ready to tell you."
I grab my handbag on the way out the door.
They have a big four-wheeler parked out front. Thug 1 motions Janet into the front passenger seat. Thug 2 indicates I should get into the back, then pushes me across so he can get in. He smells of cheap after shave, maybe it’s mouthwash.
Thug 1 starts the engine, turns into the traffic.
Janet hasn’t said a word.
"You okay, Janet?"
She turns in the seat, looks back at me, she’s not okay.
Thug 2 points his gun at her.
"Eyes to the front."
I look across at him. He has a number 2 or 3, I can see his skull. Sideburns slice under his jaw. His nose is squashed to one side.
"Give her a break."
"You, shut the f**k up."
"Yeah. What are you going to do? Shoot me."
"Don’t tempt me."
Thug 1’s obeying all the traffic rules, indicating, sticking to the speed limit.
"Where are we going?"
Thug 1. "Just taking the girls for a little ride. Then a special ride."
"Who are you?"
"Like I’m gunna tell you, Private Investigator."
I don’t like this. I need to find out who sent them.
We stop in front of the gates to a building site. Thug 2 climbs out, inserts a key, pushes them open. We drive through. Stop.
"Out. Both of you."
Thug 2 points the gun at us, ushers us towards the building site, over bits of wood, chunks of concrete. I’m not wearing shoes, stumble, swear. Thug 1 has gone off in the other direction.
We stop in front of one of those cages on the end of a crane, Thug 2 opens the gate, indicates we should get in.
Janet, who is already crying, starts sobbing, crouches on the ground, arms around her legs, head down.
"She’s afraid of heights."
"Poor Janet." Thug 2 kicks her in the back. "Get up and get into the cage."
"I can’t." Another kick.
I bend down, help her up. "Come on, Janet. Can keep your eyes closed."
She continues to sob.
"Let her stay here, I’ll go up."
"Orders are both of you need a lesson in who’s boss."
Episode 75: A cage with a view
THUG 2 manhandles Janet into the cage, she crouches in a corner on the floor.
I realise I still have my handbag, throw the strap over my shoulder, try to look as though I’m in control.
The cage shudders. I turn around, can see Thug 1 at the controls. Swallow. The cage lurches off the ground, I grab the railing.
"Hope he can drive one of these things."
"Gunna find out, Miss PI."
I try to ignore Janet’s constant sobbing. It’s getting to Thug 2, he kicks her again which causes a wail.
Thug 1 has never driven a crane before. The cage is lurching left and right, up and down, or maybe he’s just having fun. We’re getting higher.
Thug 2 prods Janet with his boot. "Missing the view, girly."
She pushes her head further between her thighs, reaches out, grabs my ankle, holds onto me.
I’m hanging onto the railing with one hand, the other is wrapped around my handbag, which is clamped to my chest.
Thug 2 is reeling off landmarks - Point Cartwright, Glasshouse Mountains, Old Woman Island, Mount Coolum.
"Who needs the f**king travelogue?"
"I wouldn’t try being smart if I was you. Don’t much like private investigators."
"I’ll get you, don’t you worry."
"Oh yeah. Don’t make me laugh."
You wait. Me and Red, we’ll get you.
Up higher and higher, must be 20 floors above the ground.
The cage lurches to a halt. What now?
Thug 2 prods Janet.
"Listen up." Another prod. "Stop f**kin’ cryin’ and listen."
"Leave her alone."
"You’re giving me the shits, PI." He grabs my handbag, wrenches it from my hand, holds it over the side of the cage.
"You don’t f**kin’ shut up and listen this’ll happen to you." With that he drops my favourite handbag.
Janet stops crying.
Thug 2 continues. "Mr Cash has a message for you both."
"He is not happy with your investigation into his business dealings. He has a reputation as an honest businessman, wants to keep his reputation. He does not bribe counsellors."
He kicks Janet in the shin. "If you publish a story about him you’ll regret it."
Then he climbs out of the cage onto the arm of the crane.
He adds. "Of course, Mr Cash will deny he sent us. Has never seen us before. You will never see us again."
Then he disappears.
I sit beside Janet. She lifts her head, looks at me, at the sky around us, vomits over her legs. Nice. I sit, the wind blows bits of vomit on me.
"We’ve got to get out of here, Janet. And, as I see it, there’s one way down."
She grabs me. "Don’t leave me here."
"Janet, I don’t think they’re going to let us down. I think we have to do it ourselves."
"This is what I’ll do. I’ll climb down, then I’ll get someone to let you down."
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Next week: Dusty makes a slow descent, one step at a time…