Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 46-50

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 46:  Dressed to impress

I GOOGLE Clay again.

Bali resorts, Vanuatu resorts. CEO Randal “Randy” Malcolm.

I Google Randal Malcolm. Same sites. Google Randy Malcolm. Same, plus a Captain Randy Malcolm – a blog, tales of his adventures on the ocean and photos of Randy and crew. Randy's based in Vanuatu, has to be the same Randy. I click back to Randal Malcolm CEO – looks different in a suit and tie, but it's him.

Randy blogs about sailing trips in the South Pacific. There are also glowing testimonials from crew and photos of the boat under full sail. Randy offers a life experience, encourages people to discover their strengths and weaknesses as they conquer the ocean. And he's looking for crew, advertising free trips, “work your passage”, “no experience necessary”,  “all training on board”.

Clay's CEO sails the South Pacific. The cops think the drugs are coming from the South Pacific. I'm on to something, I need to talk to Randy.

Red pokes her head around the door.

“Go straight home. I'll see you there tonight.”

“No worries.”

This is more like what I'd expected when I decided to be a private investigator.

There's a contact for Randy on his website. I email him:

Hi Captain Randy, love your blog. I have always wanted to sail the Pacific. I don't have any sailing experience, but I'm willing to learn. I have a friend, Janet, who wants to come too. We are adventurous girls always looking for another challenge. Hope you have a berth for us on My Third Wife. Dusty Dexter.

Now all I have to do is find a way to get to Vanuatu, then convince Red it's a good idea.

I dress for the party, look good in the red dress, which is important, Daz is going to be there with the Galloping Waitress. It’s also perfect for going undercover at a cocktail party, the Angels would approve.

I've got a plan, I’m going to let Smart know I want to go to the after party. At the party we'll check out the drugs situation, try to find out how well he knew Thommo.

I've also got it covered in case he tries to slip something into our drinks - Janet and I will drink what he's drinking, swap glasses with him. Simple.

With the red dress I'm wearing gold stilettos to match the gold spaghetti straps, and in my gold handbag is the capsicum spray, taser, recorder and lipstick. My hair is in blond spirals and a red gemstone on a chain drops into my cleavage.

When I arrive at Janet's place she's spooning single serve gourmet salmon and chives into the cat's bowl. The cat wraps itself around her long legs, purrs like a V8.

Janet's wearing a short black sequin skirt and black patent high-heel sandals. A black halter top stops inches below her small breasts.

An expanse of tanned taut abdomen shimmers. In her cropped dark hair she has a diamante clip.

It's going to be a big night.


Episode 47:  Working the room

I EXPLAIN my plan to Janet as we drink a Blond before leaving for the cocktail party.             

Her phone rings.

“Hi Mum.”

Bugger. Janet and Fran are close, phone each other several times a week, tell each other everything.

I don't want Janet telling Fran what we're up to, she's bound to find some flaw in my plan.

Janet might be a control freak, but Fran's worse, passive aggressive. She speaks quietly, suggests what she wants ever so nicely, always gets her own way. Janet's dad, Bill, gave up years ago.

I indicate the time, tell Janet to hurry.

“Fine thanks, Mum. Hardly a scratch.” She settles on the couch, feet underneath her, the cat jumps onto her lap, starts grooming itself.

“I was helping Dusty with an investigation, someone followed us, pushed us off the road. Car's totalled, but the insurance company said I'll get a new one.”

Silence while she listens.

“Dusty's working as a private investigator.”

Silence again.

“She's studying the course, working for Red.”

More silence.

“No, I won't do anything silly.” Nods. “Yes, I'll keep an eye on Dusty.”

I give her a wind up signal.

“Gotta go, Mum. Cocktail party, I'm working, taking photos, writing a story. Phone you tomorrow.” Pause. “Love you too.”

She lifts the cat off her lap, stands, replaces the cat on the couch. Then she looks me in the eye, delivers Fran’s message. “Mum said ‘be careful’.”

Knowing Fran, she said more than that.

We finish the drinks. Janet slips a small digital camera and a tiny spiral notebook into her handbag. We're ready.

Outside Ocean World a red carpet leads to the front door. Above us images of sharks, seals, dolphins, and a promotional sign NOW OPEN SHARK CENTRAL - see man-eaters up close. The words in the centre of a huge set of jaws filled with razor-sharp teeth.

The carpet winds through the public entry into a room transformed by lighting and black fabric into a cocktail bar. A cocktail bar with a difference: the walls are lined with fish tanks, blue green lights illuminating marine creatures.

Evan stands at the end of the carpet. He's wearing a suit, has shaved recently.

“Dusty, Janet, meet our general manager Paul Waters.”

“Glad you could join us.”

“Janet's a journalist with the newspaper, she's going to take some social photos. Dusty's in public relations. Trying to get her to do some work for us.”

A waiter appears with champagne flutes. Evan hands us one each.

“I'll catch up with you soon.”

Couples, small groups, stand around high tables, others browse the fish tanks, a band plays a laid-back version of U2's Beautiful Day.

Janet pulls out the camera, hands me the notepad, we work the room. We've done this before, the social photos routine is a great way to check out who's here, who's with who, without looking like we're surveying the scene. Tonight it’s even more important, now I’m on a case, on the lookout for leads.


Episode 48:  High fliers and crocs

THE women have taken the cocktail party invitation to heart – short skirts, high heels, low necklines, jewellery.

Janet takes photos, I write down names.  

Clay holds court at a table of developers. He throws his arms wide. “All I want is to spend some money. Has to be someone wants to help me.” He gives a mock sad look, a couple of people laugh.

For someone who's just back in town Clay seems to have a lot of friends, and in the right places.

Maybe he'd been talking business with Manny - noone's mentioned it, but it's a possibility. I wonder whether he is involved with drugs, whether these high fliers know, if they care. This seems like a world where money is money, no questions asked.

Janet lines up Clay and his wife, Juanita, for a photo. In the background a tank with rocks, trees, a creek, several crocodiles. Juanita reminds me of Amanda, sophisticated and rich. Janet points the camera, Clay smiles, lots of pointed teeth, she pushes the button, the flash fires.

Not far away Max Cash and Benton Smythe and their wives chat.

“Max, we met today, Dusty Dexter. This is Janet, she's a photo journalist. She'd like to take your photo for the newspaper.”

I suppose Manny would have been here.

“Is Amanda coming tonight, Max?”

“Should be here any minute. Party's in honour of Manny.”

No one told me that.

Max motions to me, moves away from the group.

“I was thinking about what you said today, about Amanda having Manny followed. You sure?”

“Yep. Red was following him.”

“Did she find anything?”


“How long did she follow him?”

“Don't know.” And why are you so interested? Particularly since you’re sure he wasn’t having an affair.”  

Amanda arrives, as if on cue. The grieving widow is dressed to kill in black, expensive black, swinging white-blond hair.

Janet photographs Amanda with Max and Benton Smythe and wives. They are close, know each other well, put their arms around each other’s waists, shoulders. Eels swim around submerged tree branches behind them.

We find Maria, and Red - she’s wearing a suit, looks different without the gun belt.

“Been watching you. Supposed to be keeping a low profile, not making sure everyone in the room knows you're here.”

“Did you know this night's for Manny?”

“Someone's gunna make a speech about what a great guy he was.”

“Clay's here. And Smart's coming.”

“How do you know?”

“Saw Evan give him tickets. When I was doing the surveillance.”

“Keep your heads down. Someone tried to kill you last night.”

Daz arrives, with the Galloping Waitress. She's shorter than I am, bigger assets, younger.  He's accompanied by several of his top salesmen, their girlfriends.

Janet veers in their direction, camera at the ready.

The Galloping Waitresses is introduced. “Dusty, this is Petrina.”

She puts out a hand. I shake it, lean forward, whisper in her ear. “The meter's running. Your use-by date's set.”

Petty, but it felt good.


Episode 49:  Manny, a shining light

JANET and I take more photos.

Next to arrive is Pete Smart. The three other tickets have gone to Marty Lowe and two models.  

Smart puts his hand on my butt.

“Spa party on the roof tonight. Why don’t you follow me home.”

It’s a dig at the failed surveillance, I ignore it. “Janet wants to come too.”

He looks Janet up and down. “Sure. Line her up some more interesting photos.”

We're in. I'm good at this undercover work.

“You can put the camera away. Marty just invited us both to his party.”

“Not yet.”

Evan heads in our direction. Janet stands us side by side, he drapes his arm around me, warm hand on the skin of my shoulder.

Then she hands me the camera, stands beside Evan. I reckon she fancies him. Janet's half a head taller, bends, champagne glass in one hand the other around his arm. I chop her off at the midriff.

“That's enough work for you two. Drinks, food, speeches, then dancing.”

“When do we see the sharks?” Janet.

“Later. Don't want everyone traipsing out there with us.”

I've heard about the shark tank - two floors high, glass walls. Feed times are supposed to be exciting viewing.

“Will we see them eat?”

“No. Already had dinner. Still spectacular.”

I divert a waitress with a tray of tempura fish pieces and chilli dipping sauce. Tasty, fresh. Is it a little odd to be eating seafood when surrounded by fish? I guess not, take another bite.

A light goes on above a lectern and the important people gather around a microphone - the serious business of the night is about to commence.

The President of the Chamber welcomes us, reminds us we are here to remember Manny, to share Amanda's grief, and to celebrate Manny's life in the way he would have wanted.

Manny must have liked a posh piss-up.

We are also here to celebrate the best summer tourist season on record. He spouts figures on accommodation, nights spent, visitor numbers, expenditure. The triathlon is next week and most accommodation has been booked solid for months. With Easter hot on its heels, autumn looks like setting more records.

Ocean World has also had its best summer. They have plans to expand, Shark Central will be doubled in size, and they will add White Pointers. All under the guidance of the new marine scientist on board, the renowned Dr Evan Evans.

Evan Evans. No. Janet and I looked at each other, giggle.

He acknowledges with a nod.

The speeches go on. Max talks about projects he and Manny worked on together, how proud Manny was of the contemporary style he had brought to Mooloolaba.

Benton Smythe tells us that as a councillor he has seen firsthand the impact of the resurgence of Mooloolaba. And of his pocket, I imagine.

Other businesspeople praise Manny. Daz takes his turn, talks about the booming real estate market.

In death, Manny has become the shining light of Mooloolaba.


Episode 50:  Natural selection

I CAN’T stand any more speeches, sneak out. Wonder where the shark tank is?

A thick red rope attached to silver poles blocks the way down a dark corridor. I step around it, make it a short distance down the hall before I hear someone behind me.

“Wrong way Dusty.” Evan.

Caught. “So what's it like behind the scenes at Ocean World?”

“Come back some time and I'll show you. Cleaning, feeding, water testing - have to make sure the water's right or the fish die, different fish, different requirements. It's highly technical, can't let just anyone in.”

He leads me back to the party. “Shark Central's down there, or up there.” Two sloping pathways. “Won't see anything until I turn the lights on.”

“When does the expansion start?”

“Soon. Want to be ready for next summer.” He unhooks the red rope, ushers me through. “Janet told me about the accident.”

“Yeah. Her car's wrecked.”

“Sounds like you were lucky. She said someone tried to kill you.”

“Looks like it.”

“Be careful. Don't go wondering around on your own.”

“Red's looking out for us.”

Janet grabs Evan the moment we rejoin the party.

Red grabs me. “Where did you go?”

“Get a drink.”

Red won't let us out of her sight. I've been watching Smart, Marty and the models drinking and dancing. The group around them is growing as the excitement level rises. They make frequent trips to the toilets. I tell Red I need to pee, follow.

The girls he arrived with check make-up, hair in the mirror. They're joined by a couple of others. “Look what Marty gave us.”

A small plastic bag. They wipe down the vanity top, divide it up, snort it through five dollar notes. Giggle.

Red walks in. The giggling stops - even without the gun she reeks authority - and the girls disappear.

To me “You wouldn't be thinking of doing anything stupid would you?”

I'm not sure what constitutes stupid.

“Forget Marty and Smart. I'm watching them. I know what’s going on.”

She turns to leave, indicates I should follow. I play it her way, let her think she's got me on a string.

Janet tells Red and Maria that Evan has promised us a visit to Shark Central. Red insists on joining us.

Evan starts with a guided tour of the fish tanks. He adopts his lecturing voice and waffles on about creating natural habitats, right down to the rocks chosen to go in with the crocodiles.

The crocs are a bit small. “What about some decent size crocs?”

“Wait 'til they grow up.”

“Need a bigger tank.”

“Part of the expansion plans.”

The Great Barrier Reef tank is spectacular. Live corals and schools of bright fish, half-a-dozen different tanks with different fish.

“Why don't you put them all in together?”

“Natural selection. Big fish eat smaller fish.”

Ain’t that the truth. Maybe in the scheme of things Manny and Thommo were small fish.

SMS Dusty on the fan phone: 0487900144. Messages will be published on Dusty’s Facebook fan page and on the blog. www.dustydexterpi.blogspot.com

Next week: The shark tank is a churning mass, teeth, fins, tails and blood.

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