Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 56-60

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.

Bodies are piling up

EVAN starts to unbutton his shirt.

“You’re not going to get in that tank?”

“Not tonight. Might get a bit wet though.”

Not tonight. That means that he does get into the tank. I’ve heard of those shark swims, seen them on TV. People in wet suits, tanks on their backs, huge sharks swimming around them. I guess a marine scientist would be required to get up close and personal with his research subjects.

I don’t mind swimming with sharks in the ocean, I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever seen one. Don’t fancy seeing them up close. If I’m going to see a shark I want it to be a surprise. Probably one I won’t remember.

I walk around the side of the building, Janet’s waiting for me.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Doing some PR for Evan.”

“He’s going to need it.”

“You file a story?”

“Yeah. Got the online editor out of bed, already uploaded.”

Janet’s pleased, she’s in the action, and on the right side of the story, this time.

 “Let’s go.” She turns towards the carpark.

“Where’s Red?”


She’s left Janet in charge, told her to make sure we go home. “Suppose the after-party’s off. Red said Hank took Smart back to the station.”

“Since when did Senior Sergeant Stern become Hank?”

“Since he started flirting with me.”

“When was that?”

“In the car, after we dropped you off. He’s taking a personal interest in my security.

“Red’s not going to like this.”

And you’re miffed.

“So you’re over Daz?”


I don’t want to go home, I’m pumped. “So, what is there to do at midnight on a Wednesday night?” It’s a rhetorical question. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s go watch Evan get the head out of the shark tank.”


“Yeah. The cops want Marty’s head, evidence. He wants to clean out the tank. He’s up there now.”

I’m already halfway back to the front door, Janet has no choice but to follow.

There are still cops around so I introduce myself.

“Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator. Red sent me.”

They nod, all the cops know Red.

“Need a quick word with Dr Evan Evans, the marine scientist.”


I kick off my shoes near the front door, Janet follows. In the cocktail party room cops question the last few guests. They look sober, contrite, irritable. I wonder if one of them lured Marty up top, pointed a gun at him, threw him into the tank.

No sign of Max Cash and crew. They would have put themselves in the front of the line, or avoided the questions all together. Money talks.

No sign of the grieving widow, either. I wonder how she feels about another dead body. Manny, Thommo, now Marty, the bodies are piling up. And it looks like they’re all drug related.

A bloke who’s talking to the cops raises his voice, “Been waiting an hour, at least let us see the body.”

What’s left of it.


Episode 57

Hooking Marty’s head

JANET and I walk past Shark Central, Marty’s head still on the bottom of the tank. Evan hasn’t got it yet, great, we’ll get to watch.

The sharks swim in the murky water, huge bodies slide past us, tails flick as they move. A different sight to the feeding frenzy earlier.

Janet tries to avoid looking, but can’t help herself, gasps.

“Did you send the photo I took, to go with the story?”

“No. Couldn’t use it. We do have some standards.”

“Maybe we could sell it.”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Get good money for it.”

“He’s dead.”

“So he won’t mind.” I’m pushing my luck, and she’s not in the mood.

We’re at the top of the walkway.

“You sure we should be doing this?”

What are you afraid of Janet? “Be fine.”

I find the door, open it.


Janet creeps in behind me.

Evan’s naked to the waist, thick green rubber gloves reach past his elbows. He leans over the tank, a gun is tucked into the waistband of his trousers.

He has one leg braced against the side of the tank, the other foot up on the lip.

We peer into the tank.

In his hands he has a long pole with a hook on the end. He squashes Marty’s head against the side of the tank, trys to get the hook into the neck. It rolls, he tries again, hooks it. Lifts it, it falls off.

He swears, tries again. This time he jams the hook into the bottom of the neck and pushes the head against the side of the tank, then pulls the pole up foot by foot, Marty’s face leaving a skid mark against the side of the tank.

When he gets it to the top he holds the pole in one hand and grabs a fishing net in the other. He tries to shake the head off the hook, ends up banging it against the side of the tank. It falls into the net.

I clap. “Nice catch.”

He swings around. “What are you doing here?”

“Nothing on TV.”

He drops the head out of the net into a plastic bag, ties a knot in it.

“What’s with the gun?”

“Was in the sea snake tank. Guess Red didn’t want to put her hand in, pull it out.”


He walks towards us, the head swings in the garbage bag, gun still in the band of his trousers.

“Gotta give this to the cops. You okay Janet?”

She looks a little pale. Janet would never make a private investigator.

Evan ushers us down the walkway. “You girls should go. I need to clean out the tank for tomorrow, it’ll take a while.”

Janet’s keen to leave, but I wouldn’t mind hanging around. It’s been an interesting evening, just the sort of thing I’d anticipated as a private investigator.

She grabs me by the elbow.

“Red said to go straight home.”


“See you in the morning, Evan.”


Episode 58

Bluies, and big gannets

“COULD be bluies.”

Janet’s right, the northerly’s been blowing since yesterday afternoon, blows the bluebottles in from who knows where.

Hate bluies - sting like hell for a few minutes, less for the next 20. I know we’ll swim anyway, take our chances. I change the subject.

“Evan phoned at 5.”


“TV interview for the morning news. Told him what I told him last night. Suggested he ask them to film in front of the reef fish, rather than the shark tank.”

“Good idea.”

“Probably won’t. Hope he got the tank clean.”

As we walk into the water we check the sand for bluebottles washed on shore by the tide. Don’t see any, maybe they’re still out to sea.

An old bloke body surfing the chop yells out to us.

“Bluies. Swimmers got stung, down the other end.”


The water’s warm and the chop’s not so big it’ll make swimming difficult. Not swimming is out of the question.

We wade in deeper.

One sting, even two or three, we can put up with, but we don’t want to swim into a swarm. Seen swimmers backs, shoulders covered in welts. Get enough stings and you can get a reaction, but what I’m most afraid of is swallowing one.

“Let’s go. Keep an eye on each other. Turn around before we get right down the other end.”

Janet’s stung 50 metres from the beach, across the shoulder, neck, jaw. We stop, make sure the tentacles are off. She’ll have a welt for a few hours, maybe a few days.

“You okay?”


Heads back in the water. I’m tense, wait for the sting, peer through my goggles searching for tentacles. One wraps around my arm. I don’t want to pick the tentacles off with my fingers so I flail my arm around in the water. It stings, but it’s not bad, I don’t even stop.

A hundred metres from the end Janet’s waving her arms, kicking her legs.

“You get stung again?”

“No. Bloody birds are freaking me out!”

Gannets. Flying low over the water, fast, circling, diving for fish, loud squawks.

“Just having breakfast.”

“Look how big they are.”

Their heads are yellow, bigger than cricket balls, wing span over a metre.

“Healthy birds.” They don’t often come in so close, must be lots of fish.

Janet’s not happy.

“Won’t eat you, not enough meat.”

She’s freaked - bluies, birds, probably still seeing last night’s shark feeding frenzy.

“You want to get out?”


We swim back.

Under the showers she washes the sting with fresh water, sports nasty red marks from the tentacles. She’s looking for sympathy, but I’m not feeling sympathetic. Besides, I’ve got a welt of my own.

“Need you to follow up something for me.”


“Want to know about the project Max and Smythe are working on. The one they wanted Manny to design. All I know is it’s a resort project, golf course, residential. Sounds big.”

“See what I can find out.”


Episode 59

Meeting with the works

RED’S at the cafe. Red’s never at the cafe in the morning, doesn’t like the exercise freaks, goes straight to the office. Red’s idea of exercise is running down a perp, roughing him up, backing him up against a wall.

She waves me over.

“Breakfast meeting. Stern’s on his way.”

Bugger. My hair’s wet and I have goggle rings - not exactly the sex kitten of last night. I tie up the hair, pull sunglasses out of the backpack.

Now I look like an athlete fresh from an early morning training swim. I suck in my stomach, a slightly-out-of-form athlete.

Hank arrives straight from the shower in a Billabong t-shirt and jeans. Eyes look like he’s been up all night. He looks me over, smiles. I assume I’ve passed the assessment.

Red takes the breakfast aspect of the meeting seriously, orders the works. Hank the same. I go for pancakes, with maple syrup.

Red. “Don’t you have to go to work, Janet?”

She gets the message, finishes her coffee.

“Call you later, Dusty. See what I can find.”

Hank takes over. “This is where we stand. Looks like Marty was shot in the back of the head before being pushed into the shark tank. The gun was dropped into the sea snake tank. Looking for prints, other than Evan’s - said he pulled it out of the tank with his bare hands.”

He sounds impressed. Wonder if I should explain how he got the head out of the tank.

“Officers talked to everyone. No one was noticeably absent from the gathering just before the incident.”

He pauses to devour bacon and eggs. “The access to the tank was locked. We know because Evan unlocked it when he took Dusty up to have a look. There are other access points, they were also locked. Not that someone couldn’t have unlocked them, with or without a key. Whoever did it has probably been up there before. We’ll go over that sort of thing today.”

More bacon, egg. “Talked to Smart. He and his friends were drinking, dancing, enjoying the evening. He’s upset Marty’s dead. Had no idea he was suspected of involvement with drugs. Said the drugs on his person must have been slipped into his pocket by someone else. Charged him with possession.”

Red slides bacon in runny egg, shoves it into her mouth. Talks through it. “What do you reckon?”

“We pull Thommo over, not long after he gets killed. We pull Marty in, he gets killed. They know Dusty has been up to Thommo’s place and we have the notebook. I think it’s all linked.”

I’m guessing Janet and I are still grounded. I’m right.

He turns his attention to me. “You have to leave this with us. We have a team on it. I’ll keep Red informed. She’ll keep you informed. Stay out of sight.”

I have no intention of staying out of sight, or standing back to let them have all the fun.


Episode 60

Message from Hank

TWO plates cleared. Breakfast might be over, but I’m determined my part in this investigation is not.

“How about if Janet and I make a few inquiries in a different area?”

“What area?”

“Max Cash and Benton Smythe, they were arguing with Manny. See what they’re up to.”

Hank and Red look at each other. Nod. They think it’s a dead end, and it doesn’t sound dangerous, but I reckon something’s going on.

“I’m giving Evan PR advice. What does the media know?”

“They don’t know Marty was shot, won’t come out until later today, after the autopsy. They know about the gun. Saw Evan on the news. Got that shark tank cleaned up fast.”

Red. “Dusty. Today, either you’re with me in the office, or with Evan at Ocean World. Janet’s at work.”

Hank. “Dusty, I want to give you my mobile number, so you can call me if you need to.”

Very slick.

“Haven’t got my phone, send it to me.”

He keys my number into his phone.

Red and Stern shake hands, leave me to work on the pancakes, consider my plan for the day.

First Evan - at $75 an hour I need to spend as much time with him as possible.

Then I’ll talk to Janet, find out about Cash and that development, do some more digging. He and Manny were close, he and Amanda are close, and he was worried about Red and the surveillance.

I also want to follow up Captain Randy.

But mostly I’d like to get up close and personal with the Senior Sergeant.

As I eat, I watch the gannets. They work as a team, fly in circles, round up the fish then dive under the water. I count 10 seconds before one resurfaces then takes off. I bet there are dolphins out there too, scan the water section by section, don’t see any.

The old bloke who warned us about the bluies wanders into my line of vision, towel around his waist, grey hair on his chest, big grin on his face.

“Go okay?”

I hold up my arm, the welt from the bluie a fine red line.

Shakes his head. “Told ya.” Waves.

I push the last piece of pancake onto a fork, dunk it into the bowl which held the maple syrup, shove it into my mouth.

At home I check my phone. A number, the name, Hank, and a message: Offer to personally oversee your security this evening.

I reply: Offer accepted. Personal security v important. Call me later.

I taped the morning news, two stations, fast forward find Evan. He’s wearing glasses.

The reporter introduces him, “Dr Evan Evans, internationally renowned marine scientist, has recently joined Ocean World in Mooloolaba.”

Evan nods. He stands in front of Shark Central - the water is clear, the sharks are swimming. He repeats the lines we discussed like a pro.

Monday: How did the gun get into the snake tank?

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