Sunday 27 – Monday 28 March 2016
‘You do know that it’s highly unusual for an inquest to be held so soon after a fire event, don’t you?’ Sophie kicked out at Pete’s leg, punctuating her question with a bruise.
‘No, no, I didn’t know that,’ he mumbled.
‘The only reason it got done so quickly is because my dad knows people. The right people. And they wanted so desperately to please my father. If you’d be a party to the death of anyone other than James, you would have got away with it. The inquest would have probably been about a year later. But you, you my friend, lucked out.’ She knelt down next to Pete, his body propped up by a small tree.
‘I don’t f-f-feel so good.’
‘Of course you don’t, Pete. It was in the mosquito repellent. That’s all you need to know until you tell me exactly what happened the day James and Tiny died. I want to know why you let them die. I know you did.’
Her words were nothing but a jumble of sounds circling his head. If he squinted, he could almost see them making their journey through his field of vision.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The drugs I administered to you. You’ve probably got about five minutes to tell me what happened, and then after that, you’ll be completely paralysed, and with any luck, you’ll just stop breathing. Failing that, I’m going to send you out the same way James and Tiny died.’
Pete tried to move. His brain sent the message to his arms and legs – move, move now – but they refused to follow through with action. Sophie saw the panic in his eyes. He was beginning to realise that she was serious about her plan.
‘I told everything at the inquest, Sophie. Everything. There’s nothing more to say.’
‘Y’see, Pete, that’s where you’re wrong. I’ve had a word, here and there, to the other boys. It took a long time to break them down. It took a long time to get them to tell the truth. It was all a matter of leverage, and finding what they were willing to keep in exchange for the truth. They all have families, Pete, but you on the other hand, have no one so finding leverage for you was a little more difficult. But, I finally figured that maybe the leverage I need for you is your life. So, I’m going to say it to you once more – I want it from your lips. Either you tell me what happened to James, or there’s no way in hell that you’re leaving here alive.’
* * * * *
5 January 2012
Tiny Munson held his position despite the raging flames surrounding him.
‘Tiny,’ screamed James, ‘you still okay?’
‘Yeah, but I have to say, it’s getting a little hot in here.’ He wasn’t in a position to see what the others were doing in the fire truck, whether they were looking on as he and James tried their best to retard the flames, but he prayed to God that someone else would grow some balls, and step outside to help them.
‘Tiny, that you pulling the hose back?’ James called back to his companion.
‘No, I thought you were coming back towards me.’
They could barely hear each other over the roar of the flames, let alone the sound of the truck’s engine coming to life. The hose was wrenched from James’ hands, as the truck began to move away from them. Tiny, unable to comprehend what was happening, stepped towards James as the hose fell to the ground, and caught up between his feet. Seeing the event unfold through the grimy lens of his face mask, James watched helplessly as Tiny stumbled, fell backwards, and slammed his head on the gravel road. James ran to his side, but had nothing to stem the flow of blood from Tiny’s head. The faraway look in Tiny’s eyes told James there was little hope in helping his friend now. Still, James struggled to pull off his gloves, and then check Tiny for a pulse. There was nothing.
With the fire almost upon him, there was no time to attempt a resuscitation. Hell, there wasn’t even time to think. Instinctively, James leapt up, and ran after the truck. He couldn’t see through the smoke, and his breathing apparatus was weighing him down. Running was not going to take him far enough away from the fire. He fumbled with his radio.
‘Pete. Pete, do you read me?’ The silence from the radio was as deafening as the flames.
‘Pete. Get the truck back here. I need help. Pete, Tiny’s dead, and I can’t outrun this fire. Help!’ The smoke closed in around him, and he could feel that the fire front was near. It was only a matter of minutes.
Further down the road, in relative safety from the fire front, Pete Finch turned off the truck radio.
‘Switch them off,’ he ordered the boys in the vehicle. ‘Switch them off now!’
‘Jesus, Pete, they’re our guys.’
‘We have to go back.’
‘We can’t leave them there. What the fuck were you thinking, Pete?’ Their voices combined into one annoying sound, and with the rage building in Pete, he was unable to make out anything the crew said. The ringing in Pete’s ears that started when he made the decision to drive away and leave Tiny and James to fend for themselves got louder. It filled his head, and he screamed out in frustration, and pain.
‘SHUT UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP.’ The remaining crew were startled by Pete’s outburst.
‘We have to go back and get them, Pete.’
Pete wasn’t sure who spoke, his hands covered his ears trying to block out any external sound of voices and the oncoming fire front.
‘If we go back, we die. Do you want to die? Well, do you?’ He waited for someone, anyone of them to reply but there was only the sound of the fire raping the landscape. ‘I didn’t think so. We need to get out story straight . . . about what happened to James and Tiny.’
‘We’ve gotta tell the chief the truth, Pete.’
‘FUCK THE TRUTH! We’re not telling anyone the truth about this. If any one of you opens your mouth, we’ll all go to jail for leaving them there. Not just me. You lot as well because you got in the truck with me, and none of you, none of you tried to stop me from driving away.’
‘We had no idea you were going to drive off and leave them.’
‘Doesn’t matter if you knew or not, you didn’t try and stop me, so you’re accessories as well. We come up with a story, we stick to it, and that’s it. There’ll be an inquiry into the events, but you stick to the story, and we’ll all be okay.’
* * * * *
‘I knew it,’ Sophie spat at him. ‘You’re a fucking coward, Pete, a fucking coward.’
‘Now you let me go?’
She snickered. There was nothing but contempt in her voice as she replied. ‘Not a fucking snowflake’s chance in hell, you asshole. You’re gonna burn the way James did.’
. . . To be continued . . .