Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 26-30

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 26: Tailing Smart

I decide my first avenue of inquiry will be Smart. I’ll put him under surveillance, find out where he goes. Maybe he’ll lead me to the drugs.

The only thing I know about tailing people is you need to be able to pee into a bottle. I will not pee into a bottle.

Probably should have a quick look at the surveillance section of the PI licence studies.

I open my laptop and log in, there’s an email. They are encouraging me to keep up with my assignments, and my payments. I delete the email. I have no access to the content, will have to make do with Charlie’s Angels.

I notice the Angels dress to suit their activities. This is useful. Tomorrow I’ll dress like a tourist so when I tail Smart around Mooloolaba I won’t stand out.

The cops have done some surveillance of Smart. Every morning he has breakfast, late, at the cafe in front of his apartment building. I’ll start there, and, to make Red happy, I’ll phone her first.

Meanwhile, I should call Janet, she was a little shaky after our investigation at the wharf. No sense of adventure.

She blamed me, told Stern she hadn’t wanted to get on Thommo’s boat, was all my idea.

I phone.

"Yes." Tetchy.

"Come on Janet, you didn’t get shot, I didn’t get shot. It was exciting. Better than sitting at the office."

"Do you understand, Dusty?"

I feel a lecture coming.

"We destroyed an undercover police operation. Police shot at us. My name was broadcast over the police radio. Everyone at work knows I was responsible."

Now I get it, Janet’s embarrassed. She should be making the most of it, letting them know she was part of the action.

She continues. "It might not matter to you, but I have a professional reputation."

"What about my reputation?"

"You have a reputation for creating disasters, walking through them as if nothing’s happened, and leaving the mess behind you."

A bit harsh. "When did I last create a disaster?"

"That’s my point, you don’t even know."

Time to change the subject. "What’s the training program for tomorrow?"

"Run then swim. See you at 6."

"Forgive me?"

"No."

I pump up the volume on the Angels, choose a Classic Dark Tim Tam and a Mint Slice from the chocolate biscuit collection, eat them as I make a cup of tea. Grab another Tim Tam and head back to the TV.

Drew Barrymore is using her substantial assets to distract a bad guy. I look at my own enhanced double Ds.

Agreeing to the implants probably wasn’t my brightest moment, but I’ve got used to them, and they come in handy.

I watch the DVD, know it scene by scene, drift.

Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator. I like the sound of it, I’m moving on. I have an exciting job, my own place, I’m over the ex-boyfriend. I remember the toothbrush incident, well almost.

 

Episode 27: An invitation

Pull my arm across my chest, stretch my shoulder, the other one, like the real athletes. Wait for Janet.

She runs up, goggles bounce in the band of her shorts. "Swimming up, running back, soft sand."

No way. "Shouldn’t you be tapering?"

"Am tapering, only ran 5k."

Freak.

The swell’s picked up, no wind, it’s glassy. Swimmers are already out back, their kicks make splashes on the slick surface. Body surfers risk permanent injury in the shore dump.

Janet runs across the sand, is soon churning her way across the bay. I follow.

The swell lifts me up then drops me down. When I’m up top, I can see other swimmers fanned out in front of me.

Half way across the bay a ski paddler slices across the face of the swell right in front of me. I stop, yell, but he’s long gone.

I’m keen to avoid an encounter between me and the hull of a fibreglass craft, or a paddle. I swim fast, watch for them when I’m on top of a wave. Clear, I continue to the rock wall, tread water. Janet’s on the sand. No way.

I head back, on the lookout, when a shadow slips past the corner of my goggles. My stroke falters and a burst of adrenaline shoots through me. Maybe a shark, maybe not. No choice but to keep swimming.

Back where we started I find the edge of the break, ride a wave all the way to the beach.

At Seachange Janet’s talking to the marine scientist.

"Evan’s invited us to a cocktail party at Ocean World tomorrow night."

Cocktail party, favourite red dress. "What’s the party?"

"Chamber of Commerce. Fundraiser."

Not my kind of party. "What’re the tickets worth?"

Janet. "Freebies, I’m doing a story, taking photos."

Free cocktails, can’t be all bad.

"How’s the PI work going?" Evan’s talking to me, but Janet answers.

"Hear about the shots fired at the wharf yesterday? That was us. Got caught up in an undercover drugs operation."

She’s put a positive spin on her involvement. "All ties in with Thommo’s death, had his boat staked out. Dusty and I went for a look, part of the investigation."

"So, wasn’t you two went for a swim?"

She shrugs, like she wasn’t shit scared. "Bloke was shooting at us."

"Bull sharks near the trawlers."

Mr Shark Expert.

"Got out fast as we could. Up a ladder. I gave Dusty a boost-"

"That’s enough Janet. Cops want it kept quiet."

"Dangerous way to earn a quid." He’s looking at me, again. "Janet said you do PR?"

"Yeah, but I’m working on my PI certificate."

"Could talk about some PR work."

"At Ocean World?" First he offers me tickets to a party, then he offers me a job. And he’s very interested in the tank top - I don’t think it’s the hibiscus print. "I’ll think about it."

"Drop in later, pick up the tickets. Ask for me."

Janet. "I will."

Of course.

 

Episode 28: Smart under surveillance

Red okayed the surveillance, insisted I check in with her regularly. I’m parked on the esplanade 25 metres from the cafe where Smart has breakfast. I’ve got a clear view of the tables, most of them occupied by tourists -- some read the paper, others just sit, look through the casuarinas at the water.

At one table a triathlete friend of Janet’s, wiry body now in trousers and a shirt, spoons what is probably wholegrain muesli and yoghurt into his mouth.

Smart arrives, pulls out the newspaper, reads.

I’m dressed incognito: sundress, slides, sunglasses. I put the top down, feel the sun, already hot, on my face.

He’s not looking, won’t even notice I’m here. I can smell coffee, make a dash into a bakery, stock up with a chocolate croissant, latte.

As I eat a man walks up the street and stops at Smart’s table. They shake hands, the man puts his hand into his shirt pocket, pulls something out, hands it to Smart, claps him on the back, then turns and walks back in my direction. It’s Evan.

I jump out of the car, intercept him. "What did you give Smart?"

He acts surprised.

"He’s a suspect. I’m watching him."

"What’s he suspected of?"

"Cops think he might be into drugs."

"Gave him tickets, to the cocktail party, four. He’s in the Chamber of Commerce."

"Oh."

He puts his hand back into the pocket, pulls out two more tickets, hands them to me.

"That your car?"

"Yeah." I say it with pride, love the car.

"You going to tail him in that?"

So, maybe it’s not ideal for surveillance, what with being a bright red convertible.

He laughs, has a habit of doing that. "Never spot you in that. Nice dress."

The dress is yellow, with red flowers. Cameron Diaz would have chosen something similar for surveillance work.

"Thanks."

I retreat to the car, finish the coffee. Smart’s eating breakfast, it looks like the works. If he eats that every day he’ll be a heart attack candidate.

I’m bored, play with the radio. Surveillance isn’t as exciting as I’d anticipated.

When I look up Daz is sitting at Smart’s table. He’s dressed for business; front-pleated trousers, blue shirt, tie, matching shoes and belt. A professional package - all show, no substance.

The waitress delivers an espresso.

Daz is doing business with Clay, and Smart.

As I’m digesting this information a man in a uniform knocks on the hood.

"Ma’am, this is a one-hour parking space. You’ve been here over an hour. Move or I’ll write you a ticket."

"I can’t move. I’m carrying out surveillance, I’m a private investigator." I pull out one of Red’s cards.

"I don’t care who you are, move, or you get a ticket."

He’s a small man with a lot of power, and he’s enjoying himself.

I look at Smart. He’s reading.

"What if I drive around the block, then park again?"

He opens the book, pulls out his pen.

"I’m leaving."

 

Episode 29: Who’s tailing who?

Bloody parking inspector. I reverse out of the space, drive along the waterfront. I wait as cars back out of spaces, negotiate the roundabout, then drive back down the road. The spot’s gone. So’s Smart. Bugger.

I find a park. Red’s not likely to be happy, I watched him for one hour, according to the parking officer, then lost him.

I consider my options. I’m not enjoying the surveillance, maybe I should try another approach. Smart could be back in his apartment, I could go up, knock on the door: "Hi. Remember me from the surf club. Saw you having breakfast, just thought I’d say ’hi’." Don’t have to mention the investigation, just have a chat, get a feel for him. Ask him how business is, what he’s up to.

Seems like a reasonable avenue of investigation, and better than having nothing for Red.

I get out of the car, walk across the grass towards the apartment building. Near the entrance to the foyer there’s a dress shop. I stop and check out the window display - a red handbag catches my eye, matching shoes. Nice, but way out of my price range.

As I head towards the foyer Smart comes out through the door. Now what? I’ll pick up the surveillance where I left off, excellent.

I turn back to the window, pretend to be checking out the dresses, feel a tap on my shoulder, turn.

Smart. "Are you following me?"

Shit. "Why would I be following you?"

"Saw you sitting in that topless VW while I was having breakfast, didn’t take your eyes off me. Except when you flirted with Evan."

"Was not flirting."

"Why are you following me?"

Option 2. "I’m not following you. Just thought I recognised you. Remember? The surf club? Night Manny died?"

"Knew I’d seen you before. Chatting up Manny." He smiles.

Creep.

"Didn’t have much luck there. Blokes you chat up always end up dead?"

"Very funny."

"Nice dress. Wanna get dressed up? I’ve got tickets for a cocktail party tomorrow night. Party afterwards my place."

"Already going. See you there."

"Buy you a drink."

He walks off, and I figure I can’t follow him. It hasn’t been the most successful of surveillance operations.

When I get back to the car, Janet’s parked beside me. She’s leaning on the door of the Yaris, stretching one calf then the other. She’s wearing her work gear -- fitted dark skirt, white business shirt -- with her sports watch.

She talks to me as she stretches. "Saw Evan, told me he gave you the tickets, said you were following Smart. Where is he?"

"On the Esplanade." I can’t admit my surveillance has been a total failure. "Decided it was best to just have a chat with him."

"Get anything?"

"Asked me to the cocktail party. And an after-party at his place. We should go, undercover, see what happens."

 

Episode 30: Shark alarm!

Janet doesn’t like the idea of going to Smart’s party under cover, she changes the subject.

"Got some more stuff on Thommo. Owns, owned, houses. All rented, except one up on the range, near Mapleton, registered place of residence."

Interesting. "Why don’t we drive up, take a look?"

She doesn’t answer, needs a little incentive. "Have dinner up at the pub."

She does some mental calculation, decides it can’t be too risky. "Okay. Make sure you check with Red."

"Of course." If I get the opportunity.

She opens her car door. "That Smart?"

He’s walking towards us along the path, turns away as we look up.

"Yeah. Sleaze."

A horn sounds, long loud insistent bursts.

"Shark alarm."

With that, Janet’s off, running towards the surf beach. I follow, slides slapping on the pavement. She runs to the end of the car park, down the steps and out onto the timber decking of the Loo with a View. I join her, chest heaving.

The horn stops and the loudspeaker system crackles: "Swimmers, leave the water, immediately. A shark has been sighted in the vicinity. Swimmers must leave the water, now."

Those who didn’t know what the alarm meant now get the message. People run from the water. Parents grab kids run up onto the sand, body boards trail behind them. Body surfers try to catch waves to the shore, get dumped, clamber through churning white water.

As the horn starts up again people crowd on the beach; hands shading their eyes from the sun they peer out into the ocean, hope to see a fin slice the water. Everyone wants to see a shark, just not up close and personal.

The rubber duckie, lifesavers at the helm, shoots out, bounces over the waves, then patrols up and down behind the swell.

"Wonder if it’s the shark I saw this morning?"

"Didn’t tell me you saw a shark."

"Wasn’t sure." I don’t tell Janet when I see sharks, don’t want to make her nervous. Janet never sees anything, doesn’t want to.

The rubber duckie circles, then again, appears to be rounding up something, moves further out to sea.

"Fancy a swim at Noosa, last hit-out before the tri. Ride, run, swim, ride. Could meet us for the swim."

She’s talking about her triathlon group -- a 35k ride to Noosa, a run, a swim, and a ride home. A walk in the park for serious athletes.

"Where’s the swim?"

"Tea Tree Bay, back to the main beach. You could park near the entrance to the National Park, swim back with us."
I like it. "When?"

"Tomorrow, next day? Let you know."

A voice over the loud speaker: "The shark has been chased further out to sea, lifesavers will keep watch in case it returns. Swimmers, it is safe to re-enter the water."

A few swimmers launch themselves back into the water, others follow more cautiously. Some sit on the beach, eyes still trained on the water, secret disappointment the excitement’s over, no bloodshed.

 

Next week: A typical Friday night at the surf club.

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