Sunday 20 – Tuesday 22 March 2016
12 January 2012
Sophie Waters would have to wait until the inquest was over, and the ruling published before she had the definitive version of what happened to her husband during that firestorm.
‘Not sure you should call it the definitive version, Soph. It’s more like the authority’s version. The only ones who know definitively what happened out there, are the guys in Jimmy’s crew. You heard what they had to say.’ Angela Quantock pushed her little sister along, striding by the waiting media vultures eager for a photo of the grieving widow and the damaged remaining crew.
‘Then maybe that’s where I should start.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Maybe I need to talk one-on-one with the guys. They all tell the same story, and I kinda think that’s just a little bit odd. Not one of them deviates from the story. It’s like they’ve all learnt a script off by heart, Ang, and I’m starting to think that there’s something just a little suspicious about that. I mean fine, tell the same story to the inquiry – that I understand – but to continue telling the same thing to the widow of your crew captain . . . that seems like maybe they want to cover something up.’
From the steps of the courthouse, Pete watched Sophie, and her meddling sister enter the throng of ravenous reporters and photographers, and then reappear near Angie’s car. They’d known each other since school, he and Sophie, and Angela had always hovered around the fringes of their friendship group, pretending to keep an eye out for her little sister. However, the truth was, Sophie didn’t need protecting anywhere near as much as Angela needed to feel needed. And here she was again, allegedly to support Sophie in her grief. Pete, though, felt Angela was ingratiating herself into her sister’s life for a reason other than taking on the role of supportive older sibling.
Angela threw a quick glance back at Pete, standing alone on the courthouse steps.
‘He gives me the creeps, that Pete what’s-his-face. He’s not right.’
‘Don’t be such a bitch, Ang.’ Sophie also glanced back at Pete, and offered a small wave in his direction. He returned the gesture, and then hurriedly made his way to his own car, speeding off through the carpark.
‘See what I mean? No normal person needs to drive that fast out of a crowded carpark. He’s trying to escape. I swear, Soph, he’s as guilty as sin, and he’s somehow compliant in James’ death, and if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to find out exactly what happened when James and that other guy died.’
* * * * *
Night fell quickly in the bush. The nocturnal animals stealthily appeared, the cold began to set in, and the mosquitos attacked. Pete slapped several away from his exposed face, and sat closer to the fire.
‘Bloody mossies. You didn’t happen to pack any repellent in your bag of tricks, did you?’
Sophie snickered. She rifled through the right hand pocket of her utility pants, found the small bottle of mosquito repellent, and tossed it over the flames to Pete. She watched as he plied his exposed skin with the liquid. Now was as good a time as any to broach the subject.
‘Pete, tell me about the day James died.’
Her request caught him off guard, and he fumbled with the bottle, trying desperately to secure the lid.
‘You know what happened that day. You were at the inquest. Every day of it. You heard everything I said about it.’
‘Come on, Pete. I need to know. I’m struggling to get past this. I have to know. It’s eating me up inside, and it’s not getting better. I thought it would by going to the inquest, but nothing’s changed. Pete, please . . . you were there with him. What happened? Tell me the details.’
‘Sophie, there’s nothing else to say about James dying that I didn’t say at the inquest. Why do you wanna bring this up again?’
‘Because I need to hear it from you, without all of those other people around. I need you to tell me the truth about that day.’ She’d have to push him harder to get to the truth, but she’d give him a fair chance to make things right.
‘You think it’s easy for me? I need to put this all behind me too, you know. I lost my best friend that day, all because some asshole decided to light a fire for a bit of fun.’ His hostility was going to arouse her suspicion. ‘I’m sorry, Sophie, I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s just that the boys and I were put through the wringer about that day, and it’s been just as hard for us as it has been for you. We lost two great men in that fire. They broke the mould when they made James and Tiny.’
She continued to look at Pete until he broke eye contact with her. Guilty as sin, she thought. Angela was right. He’s up to his eyeballs in this. Bastard had something to do with James’ death, and I’m going to make him confess, and then I’ll make him pay.
‘It’s been a long day,’ she said, ‘so I think we should maybe have a bite to eat, and then hit the sack. We’ve got another long day tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Pete replied.
‘So . . . I’ve got little sausages in beans, or I’ve got little sausages in beans. What do you fancy?’ She held up two cans of the processed meal for him to view.
‘Umm, how about little sausages in beans?’
Pete watched Sophie open the cans, and upend them into a pot. She carefully sat the well-used camping pot in the flames to heat the tinned meal, then rummaged around in her backpack for plates and forks.
‘Got some bread rolls too. And for dessert . . .’ Sophie waved two chocolate bars in the air. ‘Nothing but gourmet, my friend, nothing but gourmet.’
He smiled at her. Regardless of how she’d caught him off guard, he still wanted her, and he considered that out here in the bush, away from her sister, away from the crew, away from anyone else who might interfere, he might be able to finally make his move. The warm feeling that was contentment coursed through his body. Yes, tonight would be the night Sophie Waters would be his.
The drugs had begun their journey through Pete Finch’s body the moment he applied the mosquito repellent. Sophie had spent months researching appropriate drugs that would sedate and paralyse Pete without leaving a trace in his system if he was ever found. He’d probably be conscious enough to eat dinner, and the chocolate bar, but once his head hit the pillow he’d be out for the count until the effects of the drugs wore off. At that point, he’d have to give her the absolute truth. His life would depend upon it. Sophie had had four years to contemplate and plan her every move in getting the truth of James’ death from Pete, and she intended to make him suffer.
‘Feeling okay, Pete,’ she asked.
‘Yeah, a bit tired, but I’ll be fine.’
She simply smiled in reply. Not long now.
. . . To be continued . . .