THIS is finale of the latest in the Dusty Dexter short story series by Sunshine Coast author Jan Richards. See below for a summary of the main characters.
Missed the start? You can catch up here
JANET slams the laptop shut. "He's got it all over Facebook, Twitter, his blog. 'Didn't mean to hurt the dude. Just a joke."
Red. "We gotta find him."
I'm talking, mostly to myself, but out loud. "Where would you be if you were a kid, on his last day of school, mastermind of a major scam?
He wants to be seen, he wants everyone to know how smart he is. He's here, somewhere. Incognito. Or maybe not, maybe he's in plain sight."
Then it hits me. The mankini, the weedy kid in the mankini. So he said he didn't know anything, but I'd bet on it.
I race over to her, Red on my heels.
"Zane, was he the kid in the red mankini?"
"Yeah. Ultra cool computer geek Zane."
Red, Janet, me, evaluating, thinking. We know who we're looking for, but the red mankini's long gone.
Red. "Maybe he's at home, holed up with his laptop."
Me. "You said he's on Facebook. Now."
"Maybe he's using wireless. Where do kids go to use free wireless?"
"Worth a try."
Red. "Should mention this to Hank."
We look at her.
"Let's go get 'im."
Zane's waiting for us. Feet up on a chair, laptop on the table, a grande coffee of some sort beside it. The remnants of the mankini tied in a knot around his hips.
Red sits opposite him. "We're going to have a little chat, Zane."
He slowly moves his left hand to the keyboard, hovers above the enter key. Doesn't say a word.
Ok, so the kid's got a plan. He's a computer genius, with a beef with Mr Smith the English teacher. What's he gunna do? It's not like he's got a bomb.
He just wants to wreak more computer havoc. Drive his point home, prove he's an ultra cool computer geek in a mankini. And get a viral video.
"Mr Smith filled out his mankini better than you do." I didn't mean to say it, it just came out.
Red gives me the stare.
But it got his attention. "Who the f.... are you?"
"Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator."
Red doesn't correct me like she usually does. No crack about the PI exam. Figure I must be doing ok, continue.
"You gotta stop this Zane. You made your point. We all know you're an ultra cool computer geek."
Be nicer. "We know you got the 'nads. Ok."
He pouches his hand around the mankini. "Nothing you can do."
"Hit this button." The finger hovers. "The whole education department goes down."
So that's it.
"No end of school results." He smirks.
Red. "Not gunna change your result, Zane."
"Nah. But it'll be the first time a senior student took down the education department. I'll be famous."
"The entire Education Department, eh. Just Queensland? Or you hacked the whole country?"
He shifts. "Queensland. Good enough."
"Not bad, but no gold star." I needle him. "Not like it's the Pentagon. "
Zane. "We don't got a Pentagon, last I looked."
Should have put more effort into your English, Zane.
He adds. "Education Department's what I wanted."
Red. "We're not gunna let you do it Zane."
The finger hovers. Schoolies gather. Hank and his cops.
The newspaper, TV cameras from the beach have found their way to Starbucks, push through the crowd, lenses on Zane.
Form a ring around us.
Zane at the centre.
Red puts her hand up - a signal. Cops back off. "You don't want to ruin your career before it gets started Zane."
She doesn't get it. He thinks he's making his career, right here.
A murmur from the kids and a tall man, jeans, long hair.
Zane looks up. "Mr Hetherington." Not so cool now.
Red stands, gives the teacher her seat. "See if you can talk some sense into this kid."
Mr Hetherington shakes his head at Zane. "Not good Zane. Mr Smith's dead."
Mr Hetherington puts a hand into a picket, pulls out five bucks, hands it to a student. "Espresso. Double."
He's jittery. Red eyes. Looks as bad as Zane.
What did they say about Mr Hetherington? He's leaving school, giving up teaching, opening and IT business.
He leans in to Zane, talks quiet.
The cameras focus on them.
The espresso arrives. Mr Hetherington drinks, he's not in a hurry to end this. Wants his 15 minutes of fame.
An IT student wanting to make his name and an IT teacher starting up a new business.
They're in it together. But I doubt Mr Smith was part of Mr Hetherington's plan. Too risky. All he wanted was a boost for his new business.
I'd bet Mr Smith was all Zane's idea.
Mr Hetherington turns to the crowd, cameras.
"Zane's a gifted student, but he went too far with Mr Smith. I'm sure he's deeply sorry."
He looks at Zane who shrugs, mutters to himself, finger still hovers.
This thing isn't over yet, and I don't think Mr Hetherington's too keen on ending it. If the button isn't pushed and the education department doesn't go down, the story's over.
Mr Hetherington continues, "I'm sure it was an accident, a prank gone wrong. Zane's a good boy."
I'm going to stop this, now. I whisper to Janet. "Going round the other side. When you get the sign, grab the laptop."
I shoulder past students, camera men, at the other side of the table I get the attention of a group of schoolies, 18-year-old boys in sandy, wet school shirts. I indicate that I'm going to lift my shirt, mouth the words. "Show us your tits."
They oblige. Half a dozen male voices cream, "Show us your tits PI."
Zane and Mr Hetherington look up at me.
I raise my shirt.
The schoolies scream their appreciation.
Janet grabs the Mac Air.
Another win for Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictiously and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely accidental.
Website and blog: dustydexterpi.com
author's facebook page: facebook.com/jannyrichards
dusty's facebook fan page: Dusty-Dexter-PI-Her-First-Case-by-Jan-Richards
NEW TO DUSTY DEXTER? HERE ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS
DUSTY Dexter's a private investigator, well she will be, if she ever does the study. Dusty reckons on-the-job training's more important, so she's determined to prove herself and crack another case.
Besides, after she cracked her last case, and made prime-time tv, in a bikini, she's famous.
Janet Jones, journalist, is Dusty's best friend, although most of the time she's not sure why, especially when Dusty involves her in her schemes.
Janet thinks she's an investigative reporter, and she's always on the lookout for her next front-page story.
Red's an ex-cop with a secret, and she's Dusty's boss. She's five foot nothing and 50 kilos but she's got attitude, and a gun. As far as Red's concerned Dusty's not getting another case until she finishes the PI course.
Hank, senior sergeant Stern to you, is always the first man on the scene when there's a body.
He's got a soft spot for Dusty, he even did some handywork around that dump of a house she lives in. They're having a stand-off, and he's not sure why.