Monday 28 March – Sunday 3 April 2016
By the time Sophie had made her way back to the car park, the fire had taken hold in the area she and Pete had camped. She had a window of mere minutes to get out of the car park, and out on to the open road before the fire crews would be en route. Her alibi had been long established, and even if Pete Finch managed by the grace of God to survive, no one would believe his tale. She had Tiny Munson’s widow, and family providing her alibi, along with her sister, and James’ crew from the horrible day. If anyone asked, they’d all been celebrating, and honouring, the lives of James and Tiny.
It hadn’t been difficult to convince the other members of the fire crew to finally step up, and tell the truth. Nor had it been difficult to get them on board with providing her alibi. If they didn’t, she’d hand over the videos she’d made of their confessions of complicity in James’ and Tiny’s deaths. For her part, Sophie guaranteed an end to the situation. Their secrets would remain their own, just as her act of murder would remain hers to bear. They’d all agreed that it was for the best. Pete had become to big for his boots, constantly threatening the crew members with exposing the truth, and placing the blame firmly at their feet. They were scared of him, and believed him utterly untrustworthy. Sophie, however, had always been good to them, and her word was worth its weight in gold. It was the least they could do for the grieving widows, and families of the dead.
Her way back to Cheryl Munson’s home was clear of fire units, and most other traffic. It was a relief. Sophie was able to clear her head of everything Finch had said, and everything that she’d done, and return to the Munson residence calm and collected.
‘It’s done,’ she said as she joined them in the outdoor entertaining area. ‘It’s over.’
Cheryl rushed to her side, and held Sophie in a tight embrace. ‘Thank you,’ she repeatedly whispered in Sophie’s ear.
‘Somebody, please, get me a strong drink.’ Sophie took a seat next to her sister, Angela.
* * * * *
The fire had burnt through nearly two hundred hectares before the fire crews were able to contain and control it. It would burn for days before being fully extinguished, and a rotation of crews would watch over it during that time to ensure it remained controlled. Once the ignition point of the fire was established, it would be inevitable that Pete’s body would be discovered. A few well placed bits and pieces would point to Pete as having set the fire, and it’s spread would be deemed deliberate if investigators were smart enough to put the pieces together. If not, the world would believe that a tragic accident had occurred when an off-duty fire fighter decided to go on a hiking and camping trip, and a camp fire got out of hand. Whatever happened, it was a win-win situation for Sophie. Pete Finch had paid for his decision to leave James behind.
Chief Case wiped the sweat from his brow, relieved that the worst of the fire was behind him. He’d made the decision not to call in James Waters’ old crew. They were spending time with the widows and families of their mates. It was the support that they all needed at this time of year, closing ranks around the wounded on the anniversary of the deaths. It was a decision that saw Case a crew down in a desperate time, but they’d managed well.
‘Chief, you better come look at this.’
Tom Case followed the voice to the location he believed was the ignition point of the fire. A group of five fire fighters stood in a semi circle near the area, unable to move but desperate to look away.
‘Oh shit,’ Case said as he saw the blackened corpse. ‘Stanley, put a call in to the cops. Tell them we’ve got a body at the suspected ignition point, give them directions, and tell them to get here as soon as possible.’
Stanley nodded, and quickly moved away from the scene to place the call.
‘You lot stay back from the body. The cops will want statements from everyone, and if you’ve put your big foot anywhere near that area, you’re gonna need to tell them so they can eliminate your footprints from the scene.’ Case leaned forward to get a closer look at the body. Thankfully, nothing about it looked familiar, but he wasn’t to know that would all change after the autopsy was performed.
* * * * *
Cheryl waved goodbye to the last family member, and returned to the living room where Tiny’s crew, and Sophie and her sister sat.
‘So, that’s it. It’s all over. What happens next?’ she asked.
‘We never speak of this again,’ Sophie replied. ‘We go on as usual. We grieve for the loss of Tiny and James. We try to live our lives. And when we’re told about Finch’s death, we all act surprised, and we mourn him too.’
‘How can I mourn for the loss of that bastard?’
‘You have to, Cheryl. To not mourn Finch’s death would place suspicion on you, and that would put suspicion on all of us. We mourn his loss, and we move on. And if anyone, anyone breaks ranks, and feels the need to come clean, just stop and think about the confession tapes that I have. It ends here, tonight. We all move on. If you don’t deviate from the story, your confessions don’t see the light of day ever again. That’s the deal we all made. For James, and for Tiny.’
. . . The end . . .