Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 111-115
Dusty Dexter PI is a continuous novel by Jan Richards. You can read a new instalment each weekday in your local paper, or catch up on the week's happenings online each Saturday.
Episode 111: Where does he keep the gun?
Captain Randy motors towards us, ropes the tinny to a mooring post.
He looks the part of the seafaring captain, wears a cap, sweat stained, with a crest on front.
He cuts the engine, jumps off the tinny, removes the cap and bows. Hair sandy brown and gray, receding.
The Captain puts his hand out, dry, wrinkled, takes mine, kisses the tops of my fingers.
"Dusty. My pleasure." American accent strong.
Repeats the process with Janet. She giggles, charmed.
Then he replaces the cap, takes her backpack, loads it, and us, into the tinny.
"Wonderful day for a sail ladies. Know some great spots where we can snorkel in clear warm water, get to know each other."
Like I thought, it’s going to be a piece of cake, the snorkelling an added bonus.
As we skim across the top of the water I relive last night’s swim. Looks different in daylight, not so scary. Mind you, there’s no one chasing me.
Janet’s at ease, asks questions.
"How long’s the boat, Captain Randy?"
"Fifty feet, nearly 15 feet across the beam. Draft less than six-and-a-half feet. 74 horsepower engine. Just over a thousand square feet of sail area. A beauty."
He hooks the tinny onto the back of his yacht, jumps up onto the deck, ties the tinny off then puts his hand out, guides us both on deck like royalty.
"Welcome to My Third Wife, ladies. Make yourselves comfortable while I get her ready to sail."
The decking’s like Manny’s boat, smooth light timber, the upholstery luxurious.
Randy unhooks ropes then winds them up neatly. Then he starts the engine, unties the final rope, and we’re off.
He works the wheel, levers. Janet and I get comfortable.
As he steers, he continues his description of the boat. "She’s got three staterooms. Galley fit for a chef. Plenty of space inside for when the weather turns bad. State-of-the-art electronic equipment. Always know exactly where I am."
Handy for meeting up with other boats out in the ocean.
"Beautiful. How long have you had her?" Janet uses the lingo.
"Couple of years. Upgraded."
Good money in drugs.
We glide through the harbour, past other boats. It’s idyllic.
"Have a look around, check out the cabin. Keep it quiet, crewman’s in the aft stateroom, we’ll let him sleep a while. Only arrived last night."
We do as invited, after all, that’s why we’re here.
It’s spectacular downstairs as well. At the bottom of the timber staircase is a sitting area, then the galley.
Cupboards and draws moulded into a practical and sophisticated kitchen. I open doors, nice and quiet, look inside, nothing unexpected, close them again.
"Aft’s at the back, isn’t it?"
Janet nods. Two staterooms, both doors closed.
"Wonder who the crew is?"
"No idea. Hope he’s good looking."
"Better than Captain Randy."
We both wrinkle our noses.
I open more doors, bathrooms, the main stateroom, quite spacious.
"Wonder where he keeps the gun?"
Episode 112: An affable host
Hadn't told Janet Captain Randy keeps a gun on board. "He’s transporting drugs, probably got a gun."
She’s not happy.
We continue looking over the boat.
There’s a desk, dials on the wall, control panel, radio. More cupboards, drawers.
I move a few things around. In with some papers and a journal are a few bags of what could be coke. Another draw, the gun.
I wave Janet over, show her. "Just in case we need to know where it is."
"Great. You ever used one?"
I shake my head.
"Can’t be that hard." Close the drawer.
We head back up top, as we emerge Captain Randy issues his first orders.
"Let’s get a sail up. See what you’re made of."
He points to the ropes, tells us they’re called sheets.
"Janet, when I tell you, release that one. It’ll do the work itself. Dusty, that one. Watch the boom, it’ll move across the deck when the wind catches the sail."
Everything goes well - like he said, it’s automatic - and we avoid getting smacked in the head by the boom. There’s not a lot of wind but the momentum picks up and we leave Port Vila in our wake.
"How about some coffee, and goodies?"
"In the galley."
Seems that’s our job.
We find pastries, a kettle, coffee plunger, grinder. Janet grinds beans, brews coffee while I hunt out cups, spoons, sugar.
Find a fridge behind a panel, milk. Also beers, wine, fruit, meats, salads, cheeses.
I could get to like this.
I pile croissants, danishes into a bowl.
Janet chooses pieces of fruit, smells each piece.
While the water boils I wander to the aft staterooms, hear noise from one room. It sounds like someone on a keyboard. I make typing movements with my fingers, Janet joins me, nods.
We take morning tea up on deck. It’s a good spread.
I deliver coffee, a croissant, to Randy at the wheel. Get a big smile in thanks.
"You think your crew would like something? Sounds like he might be awake."
"He’ll be right. Come on deck when he’s ready."
Janet sips coffee, nibbles an apple she found in the fridge.
The coffee’s good, the company’s not bad.
Randy tells stories about adventures at sea.
Janet leans back, closes her eyes.
"She had a big night."
"Me too. Someone got onboard my friend’s boat. Broke a hurricane lamp, glass and blood everywhere."
I act nonchalant. "Catch them?"
"No. Idiot on watch fell asleep, then stood in the glass. Intruder must have swum back to shore."
"Know who it was?"
"Got an idea."
Have you Randy? Maybe I’m not the only one curious about Randy’s activities.
"What do you think they were looking for?"
"Got an idea about that too. Doubt they found anything. Pitch black. Hope they didn’t hurt themselves too much."
I glance at the plaster peeking out from underneath my foot, place it on the ground.
Episode 113: Noises below deck
Captain Randy relaxes at the wheel, coffee in one hand.
"Guess the ocean’s not always this calm?"
The Pacific is as flat as it was when Janet and I went snorkelling, with Peter. Like a deep, blue pond that stretches to the horizon in every direction.
"Nah. Different every season, every day." He waves his arm. "Calm, peaceful, half an hour it’s like a huge washing machine. Wind howling, waves crashing over the bow. Seen some great storms at sea."
"What do you do?"
"Hold on, wait ’till they pass."
Vanuatu recedes into the distance.
"Thought we might sail for a while, get some water under the boat. Good fishing spot I know. Do some fishing, have lunch, sail back to the reefs for some snorkelling this afternoon."
Janet opens her eyes. "Sounds good." Closes them again.
Ok with me.
It’s time to get into the investigation.
"Ever see anything suspicious out at sea? Pirates? Lots of stories." It’s intended to sound like personal curiosity.
"Nope. Been on these waters years. Have to be aware, though. Always carry a gun for personal safety - mine and yours. Wouldn’t want to be at sea without one."
I hear noises inside the cabin, but there’s still no sign of the mysterious crew member. I want to ask about drugs, decide to take a round-about approach. "Heard rumours about drug deals done out at sea. Ever seen anything like that?"
"No drugs on this boat. Have a look if you like. Except a little snort. Line us up some later if you want."
Janet raises an eyebrow. "No thanks."
That’s what I’d expect him to say.
Even if I don’t get anything out of Randy, I reckon I’ve got enough on the other boat for the Water Police to pull it up and take a look. And I’m pretty sure I know what they’ll find.
I relax, wind in my hair. Imagine my rapid rise as a Private Investigator. Have to write some press releases, get myself some media space.
Captain Randy tells stories - no doubt designed to have us ready to sign up for his next sailing adventure.
He talks about transporting locals from one village to another, carrying sacks of rice and flour and other supplies, their local knowledge of passages around the islands. About treks to special locations with waterfalls and freshwater lakes.
I half tune out, enjoy the sun.
His favourite seems to be a story about a festival where the locals honoured him for some contribution. Captain Randy, friend of the Vanuatu people.
"Time to put the sail down, do some fishing before lunch."
"How far out are we?"
"Five miles. Far enough."
Janet rouses herself and we let the sail down. The boat floats on the surface of the ocean, water slaps against the hull, rigging creaks.
The crown of the sleepy crew member’s head emerges from the cabin, then his face, body, the gun in the waistband of his shorts. I freeze.
Episode 114: Time for a little chat
Something has gone wrong with my plan. Even worse, it looks like we’ve been set up.
I take a quick mental inventory - it’s not good.
We are floating in the Pacific Ocean miles from land, and no one knows we’re here.
We are the captives of two drug runners, at least one we know is capable of using the gun.
I wonder how much they know.
Clay speaks, his voice is light.
"Well, if it isn’t Dusty the private investigator and her sidekick, Janet. Had a nice morning girls?"
He sits beside Janet, pulls the gun out of his shorts, places it on the table in front of him.
She’s properly awake for the first time today, her face pale.
Captain Randy’s voice has the same tone.
"Been entertaining the ladies with some stories, adventures on the high seas."
"Nothing like the adventure you’re about to have girls. But first we need to have a little chat."
He yells down the hatch, "How about some beers, Pat."
Clay motions for me to sit opposite him. The gun’s on the table. I can just reach my hand out, pick it up, point it at him, shoot. Probably should wait, see if we can talk ourselves out of this first.
I glance at Janet. As expected, she’s giving me an accusing look, the afterglow from last night’s activities well gone.
Clay leans back, hands behind his head, legs crossed under the table, relaxed, cocky. He’s taunting us. Saying "just try to get the gun, girls", wants an excuse to shoot us. Janet takes my lead, ignores the gun.
Pat emerges, hands out Heinekens, sits beside Captain Randy.
The image is one I’ve seen before – Captain Randy and Pat, drinks in hand. Photos on Randy’s website, damn, that’s why she looked familiar that first night at the bar.
It also means Janet was right, Pat’s been following us, not only that, she’s been reporting back to Captain Randy and Clay. I think this looks bad, real bad.
I start to put the pieces together.
They knew we were here, from the minute we hopped off the plane they followed us.
Wonder if they know it was me on the boat last night? Possibly. Do they know why we’re here?
Clay leans forward, puts down the beer, leans his elbows on the table. "Nice boat, isn’t it girls? Good money in drugs."
They know why we’re here.
"Just bought myself a place on the island, at Minyama. Got a good system, haven’t we Randy?"
Captain Randy nods.
"Been working it for years. In and out of harbours, easy."
Captain Randy nods again.
I’ve seen this on TV. The bad guys tell the good guys what a great scheme they’ve got going.
There’s only one reason they do this, because they intend to kill the good guys. That’s us, me and Janet - I wonder if she’s thinking what I’m thinking?
Episode 115: Time to bluff
Clay continues his monologue about their drug running scheme.
"Everything like clockwork, for years. Then things go wrong. Thommo gets agro, turns a simple job into a disaster. That body hadn’t washed up, Thommo’d be here now, living the good life. Then Smart botches the car accident. Marty leaves the ledger out on the kitchen bench so you pair of amateur PIs can just pick it up and give it to the cops. "
I don’t like being called amateur, but decide to let it pass.
"Then Dusty Dexter decides to come visit Randy, see what she can find out in Vanuatu. Not a bad scam, I suppose Amanda’s paying for your holiday."
"It’s an investigation, not a scam." My voice is indignant.
"Of course, an investigation. And during the course of the investigation you get on board the boat last night, knock over a hurricane lamp and cut your foot." He looks at the bandaid. "Then escape by swimming back across the harbour out of sight of the idiots on the boat and in the tinny."
Janet looks like she might cry.
Okay, they know everything, I’ll go on the attack, tell them what I know.
"I know all about your scheme."
"You seem to have figured out a great deal. A great deal more than the police force, for which I commend you. It also makes you, both of you, a liability."
Janet does cry. One tear runs down her cheek, plops onto her thigh.
Pat picks up her beer, talks at me, spittle in the corners of her lips. "Stupid bitch can’t even tell when she’s being followed."
She’s enjoying her part in the unfolding drama. I glare at her.
"Followed her everywhere. What’d she do, waved at me, smiled. Nice to see you Pat. Stupid bitch."
Stupid old lush.
"Think you can send a photo with your tits out and Captain Randy’s gunna drop everything to take you out on his boat. Not f****n’ likely. Randy knows quality." She puts an arm around him. "Me and Randy got a good thing goin’. Not gunna let you two sluts f**k it up."
I see. I now recall Pat’s comments on the Captain’s journal - experience of her life, captain and the crew bonding as they conquer the ocean together.
I need a plan.
What would the Angels do? I can’t out fight them. Two men, one with a gun, and Pat, I reckon she’d like a fight.
If I can get the gun, use the element of surprise, maybe I can get them off balance. Shoot Clay, then at gun-point get Randy to take us back to shore.
Maybe Janet could subdue Pat.
First I decide to try reason, make that lie.
"I know everything. I know about the boat load of drugs that headed out today, I know where it’s headed."
I bluff. "I’ve been in contact with the local police, and emailed the police back home. They know where we are."
Next week: Dusty continues to bluff, but isn't not sure it’s working. Janet cries.