Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 16-20

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 16 : Red: Study the file

Red's in her office, flips her card file. Red’s business relies on state-of-the-art surveillance and investigation equipment, but Red hates computers, prefers folders, files, contacts.

She has the biggest card file I’ve ever seen – like a paddle-steamer wheel. When Red’s agitated she fingers the wheel. It whirrs.

“Let’s go through this together.”

I sit.

“The obvious place to start would be Smart and Clay. We think Smart and Thommo were associates, intelligence tells us they may have been importing drugs. First, make yourself familiar with the contents of the file, all of the contents of the file. Then do some research, find out what you can about them. Associates, friends, people who may be able to shed some light on their activities. When you’re prepared, we’ll discuss the questions we’re going to ask them. Understood?”


“Use the office next door.”


How am I supposed to work like this? Research. I’m a creative thinker, a concepts person. As for discussing questions, I could teach Red a few things about communication. I’m a PR girl, a pro.

My office is a brick box, painted white. A map stuck to a wall. The desk has metal drawers, a laminate top.

I pitch the empty coffee cup into a bin, open the report.

Smart and Clay provide each other’s alibis. After Thommo and Manny left the club, Smart and Clay had another drink, together, then left to go to their respective homes. Clay’s wife confirmed this.

I think back. Once I noticed Manny was gone I looked around the bar, outside, no sign of him. Wasn’t looking for Smart or Clay, or Thommo. I was peeved, went back to the bar. Janet gave me a hard time about my first failure as a decoy.

Back to the report. Clay said he’d never met Manny before that evening. Smart likewise. They talked to Manny about his boat, wanted a look at it, but Manny wasn’t keen. They left it at that.

Must be more to that conversation, I was with them an hour. Should find the recording, go back over it. Later.

A report on Thommo states he was pulled up on his boat in the shipping lane by the Water Police two months ago, suspected of carrying drugs. No drugs were found on the boat. They could have been thrown over the side, or the exchange may not have been made at that point. Thommo was questioned but not charged.

A report on Smart states he is suspected to be a middleman, distributing drugs in the local area. He has been questioned but not charged.

A report on Clay states he has no known link to drugs. He is a developer who has recently returned to Australia following several years building resorts in Indonesia and Vanuatu. There is a note by Stern they suspect drugs are coming into Australia by boat from Pacific Islands.

Two week’s investigation and that’s it. No clues. No bloody idea.


Episode 17: Research! I’m an action person

I’ve had enough of the file, fire up my laptop, Google Clay.

Goldshield Developments has a flash website. Pictures of Bali-style resorts with timber floors, thatched-roof cabanas, lagoon pools. Nice place for a holiday. Company director is Clay Goldshield, CEO is Randal “Randy” Malcolm. Head office is in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

I Google Smart. Name associated with a number of big-time mergers and acquisitions. Has been responsible for some very successful takeovers and company floats. No word on his current activities. I remember Smart talked big, had lots of cash.

What did Red say? Talk to people who know them. Janet, she knows everyone, and she has access to the paper’s on-line archives.

I feel around in the handbag, find my phone. Speed dial.

“Hi. What’s happening PI?”

“Red has the shits. I’m doing research. Can you do a search for me?”


“Pete Smart. Hot-shot stockbroker, suspected local dealer. Clay Goldshield, Goldshield Developments.”

“Know Smart, don’t know Goldshield. Give me an hour. How’s it going?”

“Have to do background, before I question them. Don’t suppose you remember seeing Smart and Thommo leave the bar that night?”

“No. Bit pissed. Spent most of the night chatting to Macca.”

Macca the cyclist. Janet’s keen on Macca, he’s either shy or hasn’t noticed.

“Then you joined us, after Manny left. Sulked about the decoy job going wrong.”

“Wasn’t sulking. And the job didn’t go wrong, know that now.”

“You won’t like it, but you should try Daz. He knows everyone.”

The ex. She’s right, on both counts.

“Call you when I’ve got something.”

Daz has lived here all his life. He makes it his business to know what’s going on, who’s doing what, where the money is – so he can pocket as much of it as possible as it does the rounds.

I dial, determined to make it quick. I’m moving on, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still pissed off.

“Hi babe, can’t live without me?”

Smart arse. “Working for Red, trying to find out who killed Thommo, thought you might be able to help.”

“I’m home. Come over. Other phone’s ringing, gotta go.”

Bugger, didn’t want close personal contact, but I can cope with Daz, and it has to be better than sitting here.

I peek around Red’s door. She’s on the phone, good. I wave, mouth: “Going to get some info on Clay and Smart. Half an hour.”

Escape. I put the top down, breathe in the humid air. At a red light watch a tradie eat a pie over the steering wheel of his ute. The light turns green. I floor it, hair flying behind me.

My first visit to the ex since I left. Daz, sometimes known as Double D Daz, in reference to a set of substantial implants he bought me.

Also bought the car. I could have left the car when I left him, but I thought he owed me.

The girls are keepers, and with the decoy work I’ve turned them into an asset.


Episode 18: One toothbrush, flushed
I arrive at Daz’s place – an investment he bought at a “steal” before the market “corrected”. He intended to turn it over, make a killing, ended up moving in.

It’s been renovated in a Tuscan style, like every second canal-front home. The brick exterior is rendered in Riviera Sand, the trim is Mediterranean Azure. A wall of water slides down a ribbed concrete block mounted near the entry.
I key 5764 into the security pad. The gate opens.

Daz lounges on the day bed beside the pool. Not a good start. That’s where I found him riding the waitress from the Galloping Gourmet. It was the final straw. I threw his clothes, iPhone, into the pool, packed my gear and stuffed it into the VW, then walked out the door without looking back.

He cups his hand over the phone. “Coffee machine’s on.”

The kitchen’s minimalist – stainless steel, mirrors, and black tile. I slip into the routine, work the machine, his espresso, my latte.

He finishes the conversation, strolls across the expanse of tile – tall, surfer’s shoulders, board shorts, bare feet, bare chest, messy hair.


Attempts to kiss me on the cheek, I swerve, he shrugs.

“Since when do you work for Red, other than the decoy jobs?”

“Studying for the PI licence, remember? Red needed an assistant, I found the bodies. Besides, I need the work, lost a client.” It was a dig, I should have been above it.

“Said you could keep the account.”

Was sick of it anyway - monthly newsletter to clients, unsolicited letters to potential vendors talking up the buoyancy of the market, his abilities as a salesman, advertising copy.

“Need some information.”

He picks up the coffee, settles on the semi-circular raspberry lounge I helped him choose. His phone rings – Monday’s supposed to be his day off - he pulls it out of the pocket of his shorts.

I make the most of the opportunity, take a look around. Can’t see any evidence the waitress has become a permanent fixture.

Daz concentrates on the call, elbows on his knees, stares at the rug on the floor.

I walk down the hall towards the toilet, duck into his bedroom – the bed’s unmade, as usual. I open the closet, my closet, empty.

Walk into the bathroom, no new toiletries. Then I see it. In the electric toothbrush holder there are two brushes. I pick them up, one with a blue ring, that’s Daz’s, one pink. Mine was red.

I feel my face, neck, heat up, hold the offending brush between thumb and forefinger, walk across the bathroom to the toilet, and drop it into the bowl. Flush.

Then I take a deep breath, fluff my hair in the mirror, and walk back to the lounge.

He’s still on the phone.

I want to ask what the arrangement is with the waitress. Instead I search my handbag, pull out the recorder, and become a private investigator.

He snaps the phone closed. “What do you want to know?”


Episode 19: Daz has a secret

I turn on the recorder.

“What do you know about Pete Smart?”

“Lived here as a kid, went to uni, studied economics. Moved to Sydney, got into stockbroking, then takeovers. Made a killing. Spends most of his time here these days. Works from home, flies to London, US. Depends what he’s working on.”

“Where’s he live?”

“Penthouse, on the Esplanade.”

“Heard anything about him being involved in drugs?”


“Where do you get your stuff?”

Daz is a recreational user of coke.

“Bloke at the pub.”

Very helpful. Daz will tell me what he wants to tell me.

“Know Manny?”

“Good bloke.”

“Know why anyone would want to kill him?”


“Think he was involved with drugs?”


Poor Manny, all they wanted was his boat.

“Know Thommo?”


“Know he was importing drugs?”

“Heard talk.” He finishes the coffee, retreats to the kitchen.

“What talk?”

“Lived on his boat, always sailing off somewhere. Heard he supplemented his income.”

“What income?”

“Rental properties.”

“Know who he got the drugs from?”

“No idea. Another coffee?”

“No thanks.”

Coffee beans grind, steam hisses.

On the canal, a cruise boat, a refurbished tug given a thick coat of paint and a new lease on life, chugs past.

Tourists in big hats hope for a celebrity sighting. The commentary points out high-profile dwellings – retired sports stars, ironmen, football players, an occasional multi-million dollar weekender owned by a Hong Kong businessman. Chez Daz doesn’t get a mention.

I continue my first official interview. “What about Clay?”

“Developer. Resort projects in Indo, Vanuatu. Brought the family home so the kids could finish school here.”

“He a local?”

“Yeah. Didn’t know him much as a kid.”

“What’s he doing now?”

“Business interests.”

He returns with the coffee, does half-a-dozen, more, a day.

“Manny a local?”

“Nah. Amanda is. Met at uni, both studied architecture. She had babies, he worked. Bloody good architect.”

“So why did Thommo kill him?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“Like I said. No idea.”

He sprawls on the lounge, picks up the remote. The plasma screen on the wall, perpetually tuned to Fox Sports, shows a game of league.

My mobile rings, it’s Janet.

“How’d you go with Daz?”

“Still here. Call you back.”

He ups the volume. “How’s Janet?” It’s a guess.


“Great legs. Been doing a lot of training.”


“Put together a team at work. I’m doing the run.”

The whole town’s obsessed with the triathlon. Wish I hadn’t agreed to do the swim leg for Greg.

“Thanks for your help.”

I turn off the recorder, rummage in my bag for keys.

His phone rings.

“Yeah, mate. Hold on.”

To me. “Any time.”

On my way to the door, his voice barely audible over the tv. “Mate, I haven’t got anything.” A pause. “I’m trying, Clay.

Can’t pull something out of thin air.”

Clay. All locals, except Manny. Daz is working with Clay, and he didn’t want me to know.


Episode 20: Big business end of town

In the car, outside chez Daz, I stare at the water as it runs down the concrete block then swirls around in the pool at the bottom.

Wasn’t really my kind of house, my kind of relationship. I might live in a dump, spend my spare time with a woman who programs her diet and exercise program into her iPhone, but at least I’m doing what I want.

And now I’m a PI, things are going my way.

Finding Daz with The Galloping Waitress was a blow to the ego, but it didn’t shatter my world. Still, don’t feel bad about flushing her toothbrush.

The phone beeps, a message from Janet: Meet u 4 lunch Seachange.

I back into the street, leave the security gate open.

The mobile, Red. “Where are you?”

Doing my job. “Spoke to Daz. Got some stuff on Smart and Clay. Going to meet Janet, she’s got information for me.”

“Come straight back here.”

Yes Ma’am.

Janet drives a blue Toyota Yaris. It’s parked out front of the cafe in a five-minute parking zone. Janet has a laminated media pass, complete with photo, on the dash. Thinks it makes her look important enough to flaunt the parking regulations.

I park beside her.

The atmosphere at Seachange has changed, the morning energy replaced by a midday slump. Sales reps in business shirts with corporate logos compare notes over sandwiches and flat whites.

Holidaying lesbians, who maybe found Seachange on a gay-friendly travel website, or just walked past and felt at home, browse the menu.

Today they’re young, short spiky hair, funky gear, one with a tattoo on her bicep, the other an eyebrow ring.

Then there are the families, salty hair, wet towels draped over the back of chairs. Kids suck on Cokes, refuel after a morning in the sun playing in the waves.

A north-easterly’s picked up, 20-30 knots. Storm clouds build behind the range, white caps litter the ocean. On the beach a striped umbrella, blown inside out, leans in the wind. Even with the sand whipping their skin, dedicated sun seekers sit on towels, glistening with sweat or SPF30.

Clear plastic sheets have been rolled down to keep the wind off diners.

Janet’s found a table in a corner, orders a salad roll-up, I opt for a lamb souvlaki, eye off the dessert counter. We both order fresh-squeezed juice.

She’s been busy.

First, Thommo. Stories about his murder, file pieces, Harry Thompson on drug charges, possession and selling.

A feature, a few years old, on his sailing exploits under the heading: “I’ve been everywhere, man”.

Manny’s generated a lot of press, he’s responsible for the design of a couple of the waterfront high-rise buildings, works with developer Max Cash.

He’s quoted extolling the virtues of glass, concrete and steel structures.

He also gets a mention in letters to the editor; environmental activists, residents groups, pissed-off locals making their anti-development argument.

Manny was popular at the big business end of town, not so popular with the little guys.


Next week ... Dusty learns about Smart’s extra curricula activities.


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