The Giants in the Water

The huge machines jutted up out of the water like the bowed backs of giant armoured warriors, their shoulders hunched, as if ready to link arms to withstand the coming surge of the tide. Most of the gates they held between them were still invisible below the water. It remained to be seen if they could be lifted in time to stop what was coming. Giants-1Spanning the five-hundred-and-twenty-metre width of the river, and standing as high as a five-storey building, the Thames Barrier was the second biggest flood defence barrier in the world – and in economic terms at least, the world’s most important barrier. If it failed to work today, everyone would find out why.

‘They’re like giant warriors,’ Blowfly said. ‘Jutting up out of the water like that, their backs hunched, ready to lift those gates.’

‘What are you talking about?’ His partner frowned, taking a drag on her cigarette and blowing some smoke.

‘The machines – they’re like giants,’ he repeated.

Jerm threw him a quizzical glance and then turned her gaze to the massive engineering works in front of them. The two investigators were standing about fifty metres upstream on the north bank of the Thames. Behind them was a park, across the river from them, the barrier’s information centre and a car park. From their vantage point, they could see the police divers pulling the dead body out of the water and into their rigid inflatable boat. Jerm squinted at one of the steel and concrete towers. They were topped by what she thought looked like an armadillo’s shell with a big section cut out of the middle. But even that didn’t describe them properly.

How are they like giants, exactly?’ she asked. ‘They’re big, bloody . . . I dunno, machine islands.’

‘It’s just a metaphor,’ Blowfly sighed. ‘Never mind.’

‘That help you much when you’re investigating a terrorist act?’ she inquired. ‘Making up metaphors? Helps to get the synapses firing, does it?’

‘Never mind,’ he growled.

Bill Flynn and Jemimah Hearn, known to their colleagues as Blowfly and Jerm, were part of an international unit attached to Interpol, that investigated crimes with far-reaching consequences. The dead body wasn’t the reason they were here, but they expected it would tie in soon enough. They had been called because a gang of well-organized criminals had broken into the control centre of the Thames Barrier in the dark hours of the morning and destroyed the main computer. Giants-2They hadn’t stopped there – they obviously knew that each of the ten gates that stretched between the towers could be closed using its own controls and the gang had succeeded in breaking through to the access tunnels and damaging most of individual controls as well. Several workers and security guards had been injured in the attack.

‘This must be what it feels like to be on the subs’ bench in the Premiership,’ Blowfly commented.

‘Mm,’ Jerm agreed.

They were only one of a number of units represented at the scene and Blowfly and Jerm were having to step back and wait their turn to look around. As well as the Met’s Marine Policing Unit, there were officers from Counter Terrorism Command and, Jerm suspected, but couldn’t be sure, a few spooks from MI5. She and her partner were here to study the big picture, to investigate the potential repercussions of the crime beyond London, or even Britain. But there was a pecking order here and Counter Terrorism Command were the ones with the biggest, sharpest beaks. In the UK, terrorism trumped every other crime and this was CTC’s turf.

Jerm was tall, with cropped, untidy dark brown hair. She had a face that was attractive in a hard-bitten type of way, but looked designed to deliver bad news. Blowfly was a few inches shorter, a tidy, trimly built man with fine-boned, Chinese features, a gentle manner and an Irish accent. Jerm chewed her lip as she flicked her cigarette butt out into the river.

‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ Blowfly said.

‘Yeah, I know. Sorry.’

This case was already getting messy and she wondered if being here was a waste of their time. A few metres away from Jerm was another man, by the name of Brunel. A thickset, sallow-skinned man with dark bushy hair and beard, he was one of the engineers from the Environment Agency, who managed the barrier. He was here to liaise with the police, but they were all waiting for the body to be brought ashore now, so he had time to fret about the gigantic machines out in the river. Giants-4Brunel had a pair of binoculars pressed to his eyes and was anxiously watching the gates. The attack on the barrier had been carefully timed. There was a storm surge expected from the North Sea, a colossal rush of water that would flow right up the river towards London. If the gates were not closed in time, a huge area of the city could be flooded. Millions of people and billions of pounds in property lay in the path of the surge. If the river flooded the city, the damage, and possible death toll, would be catastrophic.

‘So they’re having to crank those gates closed by hand?’ Blowfly asked the engineer.

‘Yes,’ Brunel answered tersely. ‘The outer gates, the ones closest to the banks, are smaller. You can see they’ve already been shut. But it’s the big ones under the water we have to get closed. And it’s taking too damned long.’

‘And they have to be raised up?’ Blowfly grimaced. ‘How heavy are these gates?’

‘About three thousand three hundred tonnes each.’

‘Oookay,’ Blowfly breathed. ‘That should be easy enough, then. You’ve done this before, right?’

‘Only in tests,’ Brunel replied. ‘We’ve never had to do it while facing down a storm surge like this one. You have to prepare for the worst, but . . . you hope that it’ll never actually happen.’

‘And how much of London is on the floodplain?’ Jerm prompted him.

‘About a hundred and twenty five square kilometres,’ Brunel told her.

‘That’s . . . that’s a lot of it.’

‘Yes. And my house is slap bang in the middle of it.’

They all turned to stare at the barrier. The gates were being raised in pairs – the ones nearest the banks first, then the next ones in and so on. The progress was painfully slow. The first two main gates were just rising above the water’s surface. Each gate was like a lengthwise slice of a cylinder, normally lying underwater, flush with the concrete base in the riverbed to keep it out of the way of boat traffic. When the huge hydraulic arms on the towers rotated the axles, the steel slab rotated up from its base, and swung into place to stand on its edge and block the path of the water. With the oncoming combination of a storm surge and the river already at high tide, the gates should have been shut over an hour ago. Even now, the level of the river was noticeably higher than normal.

The police boat had reached the riverbank and now the dead body was being lifted up to the assortment of investigators waiting to examine it. Blowfly and Jerm walked over, joining the huddle of men and women who crowded round the drenched corpse. It was a young white woman, small and of slight build, with shoulder-length brown hair, a narrow, pinched face and blue eyes. She was wearing grey suit trousers, a matching jacket, still buttoned, and a light green shirt.

‘Doesn’t look like she came dressed for sabotage, does it?’ Blowfly muttered.

‘She didn’t work here, so what else was she doing out on that tower?’ Jerm said.

Her skin had a tinge of blue and was marked by post-mortem gouges and abrasions – they had probably occurred where her body had been pinned by the current against the base of the tower wall where she’d been found. A detective inspector from CTC was already looking for any obvious cause of death.

‘Looks like a head injury, here on the back of the skull, but I’d say she drowned,’ he declared. ‘Hit, knocked out and thrown in, maybe?’

Nobody answered. He was only saying what they were all thinking anyway. He started going through the pockets. He found a wallet and opened it to reveal a typical collection of credit cards, loyalty cards, sodden receipts and some banknotes. There was also a driver’s licence and an ID card of some kind.

‘Antonia Abbot,’ the CTC guy said. ‘The ID is for the PR department of a company called Hewbrys Holdings.’

‘We know them,’ Jerm spoke up. ‘They’re the parent company for a few different businesses that have been investigated for environmental offences. Nobody’s ever got anything to stick against Hewbrys themselves though. Funny that she’s one of their people; Hewbrys has their headquarters in the Docklands. If the river floods, they’ll be one of the worst hit.’

‘Maybe she had some grudge against the company?’ one of the other detectives said.

‘And decided to take out half of London along with her own firm?’ Jerm snorted. ‘Hell of a grudge.’

Giants-8‘The video footage from the security cameras showed the terrorists dressed up all commando style,’ the CTC guy said. ‘She’s in a business suit. Maybe she was a hostage. But why her?’

‘And why did the kill her, if they managed to get in and do what they wanted to do?’ Blowfly asked. ‘Maybe she knew something, was involved in some way and they couldn’t leave her as a witness.’

‘It’s all conjecture at the moment,’ the CTC officer said, waving over the medical examiner, who was waiting to take a look at the body. ‘We’re analysing all the video now, but the gang destroyed the cameras as they came through. Let’s move back, let the SOCOs do their work. We’ll contact you when we have any more information.’

It wasn’t quite a dismissal, but it was close enough. The CTC were already marking their territory. The scene of crime officers were hovering, dressed in their disposable white suits, waiting to join the medical examiner at the body. More of them were already visible on the structures out on the river. Jerm caught Blowfly’s eye and tilted her head toward the railing where Brunel was still standing with his binoculars. They walked over together, leaving the others behind.

‘Remember the case with the bushfire in Australia last year?’ she asked her partner.

‘What, in Victoria?’ Blowfly replied. ‘The dead guy in the creek?’

‘Yeah. Guy named Cameron Davis. You remember where he worked? It was one of the places that burned down during the fire.’

Blowfly thought for a moment, searching his prodigious memory for the information.

‘It was a chemical plant – Osborne Solutions,’ he said. He paused, then added: ‘Jesus. That was owned by Hewbrys as well. Davis was hit on the head and left to die too, in the fire. He woke up and tried to put it out, but he burned up anyway. We thought that was just a bunch of git-faced firebugs. You reckon there could be a link?’

‘You think it could be a coincidence?’

‘You know how I feel about coincidences.’

‘Yeah, but sometimes stuff happens that’s really like other stuff,’ Jerm replied. ‘Or it seems connected and we make more of it than we should, simply because there was this random connection when, actually, random stuff happens every day that we don’t make a big thing out of because it’s mostly about stuff that doesn’t matter to us.’

Blowfly threw her a glance.

‘What, you’re a philosopher now?’ he sniffed. ‘So we gonna check it out?’

‘Bloody right we are.’

They both gazed out at the river for a moment.

‘Where are the heads, then?’ Jerm demanded.

‘What?’

‘If those things are giants, y’know, like giant warriors, where are the heads?’

‘Why do you have to be so literal?’ he snapped.

‘You mean, accurate?’

‘Oh, bugger off. Go smoke another cigarette.’

‘What, you like my smoking now?’ she grunted. ‘Or are you just trying to get me to die a little faster?’

‘The thought had crossed my mind,’ he murmured. They both grinned.

‘I think they look more like broken armadillos – the top bits anyway,’ Jerm added.

‘Oh, sure. That works,’ Blowfly said.

Brunel’s shoulders were hunched, his posture tense. The outer pair of gates had been raised and the next ones were closing, but it was like watching the minute hand on a clock. Slower, actually. Even so, the two investigators couldn’t help being impressed.

‘It’s pretty incredible, when you think about it,’ Blowfly commented. ‘Gates that can close off a river this size, hold back the ocean. It’s some piece of work.’

‘Some day soon, it won’t be enough,’ Brunel rasped. ‘Engineering like this, you have to think tens of decades ahead – longer. And this thing certainly won’t last until the end of this century. Giants-6Sea levels are rising, you know? Most people in London don’t pay any attention to what we do here, but every year, the North Sea comes surging in further, harder than before. In the eighties, the barrier was closed four times. In the nineties, it closed thirty-five times. In the noughties, seventy-five times. We can only guess what this decade will be like, but we’re less than halfway through and by March last year, it had been closed sixty-five times. And closing it doesn’t solve all our problems; you can’t block that amount of water and expect it to stay put. Block it here, it floods out in other places.’

He pressed the binoculars to his eyes again, and what he saw seemed to release some of the tension from his body. He ran his gaze from one side of the barrier to the other.

‘We’re going to do it,’ he rasped. ‘The scumbags might have wrecked the computers, but the hydraulics are still sound. I think we’ll close the gates in time . . . to stop the worst of it, anyway.’

Jerm looked out off the riverbank at the water flowing past their feet.

‘Is it me, or has the river risen a bit?’ she asked.

‘Yes, it can happen pretty fast, once it starts. We’ll have to go in a while,’ Brunel said. ‘The water level will come up over this bank before long. Like I said, you can’t block a river and expect it to stay put.’

Blowfly gazed down at the rising water. Then he raised his head and looked around. The city didn’t just stop downstream from the barrier. In every direction, he could see buildings; homes and businesses, stretching to the horizon.

‘You said the barrier won’t last forever – they’ll have to build something bigger. Giants-5The sea’s just going to keep on coming. So . . . where’s all that extra water going to go, when you block it off?’

Brunel looked over at him, but didn’t answer, dropping his eyes to the ground instead.

‘If the sea wants in, there’s only so much you can do,’ he said softly. ‘We won’t need terrorists to do us damage. You stop the sea here, it pushes in somewhere else. If we want to keep living on our rivers, on the coast . . .’ He shrugged and looked through his binoculars again. ‘We can’t protect everyone. We have to prioritize – we’re talking massive cost here, so that usually means taking care of the money-makers first. For everyone else, well . . . somebody’s going to get their feet wet.’

As he said that, he stepped back from the riverbank. Blowfly and Jerm did the same. The water was starting to lap over the lip of concrete. It was time to put some distance between them and the river.

The Elephant in the Fire

The dead man lay, face up, half buried in dry mud. The parts of him that were exposed were blackened and thinned, charred by the fire that had ravaged the land for miles around. The parts of him that were buried in the dried up creek bed, protected by the clay, were still largely intact. These were the parts that the two detectives hoped would provide them with some answers.

The body had been found just short of a culvert from which a thin stream of water trickled. The creek bed was over five feet wide, but there was barely a thread of water running along the bottom. The culvert carried the the water from the creek under a rough farm track that the two detectives had walked down from the main road at the crest of the hill.Elephant-1 Bill Flynn and Jemimah Hearn, known to their colleagues as Blowfly and Jerm, were examining the corpse. Or rather, Blowfly was down in the creek, doing the examining while Jerm stood up on the bank above him, smoking a cigarette. This was a habit of hers. She insisted that, as senior officer, she needed to stand back and get the overview before getting her hands dirty.

‘You should put that out,’ Blowfly said, as he finished taking his photos.

‘The damage is done already, don’t y’think?’ Jerm replied solemnly, expelling some smoke as she gestured round at the blackened slope, the charred stumps of bushes and the scorched skeletons of a few scattered gum trees. This had been the worst bush-fire in the region’s history, claiming over a hundred lives and leaving a landscape of ash, charcoal and burnt earth.

She was tall, with dark brown hair worn short and untidy, framing a face that Blowfly thought of as an attractive undertaker’s. He was a couple of inches shorter than her, with faintly Oriental features and an Irish accent; a trim, neat man with a manner to match.

Blowfly sighed and shook his head, before handing the camera up to his partner. She put it back in the toolbox that lay at her feet. Her partner had recorded every detail of the scene with photos. Now he needed to see how much of the body had been preserved. They were part of a new international unit formed to investigate crimes with far-reaching consequences, but had worked together for some time before that, so they were well used to each other’s habits.

They were here in the Australian state of Victoria because of the thousands of lives that had been directly affected by the fires and the environmental damage they had caused. Though they were not Australian, the two detectives were here in this dried-up creek on a slope covered in burnt vegetation, because Victoria’s police were accepting all the help they could get in investigating the causes of this catastrophe, and this man’s body had been found close to one of the points where the local fire brigade’s captain said the blaze had started. Which possibly made this unidentified man both its first victim, and an arson suspect.

Bush-fires were a fact of life out here – a part of the natural cycle that scoured the landscape to clear the ground for new growth – but when they got of out of control, they could grow into firestorms that destroyed homes and communities and could threaten towns and even cities. And as climate change made the extremes of wet and dry weather worse, these infernos were becoming more common.

It was extraordinary that people sometimes set fires out here on purpose, with the deliberate intention of causing this level of destruction. Elephant-2Jerm inhaled smoke and reflected on the kind of mind that craved the hell on earth these firestorms could become.

There was hardly a trickle of water in the creek, though there must have been a pool of water left where the man lay, before he died, because half his body was embedded in the cracked surface of the creek bed, a situation that would have been impossible if the mud had not been soft and several inches deep at the time of his death. There was a small backpack embedded beside him, but Blowfly left it there for the moment, focussing on the corpse first.

‘So what’ve we got?’ Jerm asked. ‘Who is this guy? Where’s he from?’

‘Face and skin are too burnt for me to guess at his race but I can see the remains of tattoos on both arms,’ Blowfly replied, carefully scraping back the clay with a small trowel. The body couldn’t be moved from here until the coroner arrived, so he was careful to do as little as possible to disturb it. ‘This one on the lower right arm looks like an Aboriginal design. The one on the upper left looks Irish . . . maybe Scottish? From what I can see of the skin under the mud, it looks dark but not black – Asian, maybe? Could be a dark white guy or a light black guy.’

‘If he’s got a record, maybe we can ID him off the tattoos,’ Jerm muttered. Elephant-3She pointed to a spot about two metres from where Blowfly was crouching. ‘What’s this stuff down here?’

‘Why don’t you get down and see for yourself?’ he asked.

‘No point two of us getting our shoes wrecked,’ she answered, holding up the cigarette. ‘At least not until I’ve finished this.’

Blowfly moved down to where Jerm had pointed and found a number of objects. They too were scorched or melted where the heat of the blaze had crossed over the creek. But as Blowfly tenderly unearthed each one, he found pieces of them untouched by the fire. Laying out a sheet of plastic, he laid the items on it, one by one.

‘Okay,’ he said, touching each one as if it was a holy relic. ‘So . . . we’ve got the remains of a tablet – a Nexus, I think. A green fleece and this light blue hoodie. A piece of a paper bag that looks like it’s from the A1 Bakery . . . Isn’t that the Lebanese café in Brunswick, in Melbourne? Anyway, there’s also these coins; two from Holland and three from Germany. The kind of small change left sitting in his jacket pocket after he’d been abroad, maybe? There’s a plastic water bottle, or what used to be one at least. Elephant-6And what looks like a letter in Chinese, but to be honest it could be Japanese, Korean . . . Someone back at the office will know. I’ll send them a photo.’

‘No ID?’ Jerm asked.

‘Nothing here,’ Blowfly said. He put each item in a separate evidence bag, labelling them all as he did so. ‘Could have burned in one of his front pockets.’

‘So what was he doing out here on his own?’ Jerm wondered aloud. ‘We’re miles from the nearest house in one of the hottest, driest summers on record. It’s hardly backpacking territory. There was a bit of forest before the fire, but mostly it was just scrub, bushes and the odd gum tree. There’s no sign of a truck or a bike . . . What’s his story?’

She wasn’t expecting an answer and Blowfly wasn’t about to offer one. That remained to be found. Jerm was just thinking with her mouth, as she sometimes did.

‘So let’s say he was here when the fire started, either because he was a firebug, or because he was stupid and lit a campfire in a place and on a day that only a complete idiot would light a fire. There were even signs up in the towns warning people not to light fires. A “Total Fire Ban”, they call it, and they don’t kid around with that stuff. So he lights a fire . . . not here – further upwind, near the road is where the whole thing kicked off. The grass catches and then some of the scrub. He’s got no transport, so he panics and runs, but why did he come here? If you’re going to run, you’d head down the main road. It’s not far from where the fire was lit and he’d get a head-start on the blaze. Instead, he comes here and dives into the creek.’

‘Panic,’ Blowfly suggested. ‘You ever seen how fast one of those fires can spread once it’s going? Faster than a man can run, if the wind picks up. It can fan out at up to fifty miles an hour. With the vegetation as dry as it was, embers blow ahead on the wind and light new fires in spots all over the place. Even firemen with years of experience can get cut off.’

‘The area had rain earlier this year,’ he went on. ‘A surge of growth in the vegetation on the slopes. Then the summer dried it out, which basically made more fuel out of it. You had square miles of dry tinder just waiting for a match. Within minutes the smaller bushes around him could be burning. In twenty minutes, this whole slope would be an inferno. This guy would have been running ahead of a wall of flame. The heat was intense, it melted parts of the machinery on that farm in the next valley. It’d be like being chased by a blast furnace. He sees the culvert, the only cover in sight, and goes for it. Even if the water in this creek was deep enough to submerge – and I doubt it was – the heat would have cooked him or, more likely, he was suffocated by the smoke.’

‘But the fire wouldn’t have cut him off that quickly. He still had time to get further. The wind was blowing the fire away from the road,’ Jerm muttered. ‘Unless he just stood around watching it, getting his thrills. But that’s why the location’s bothering me. If he was a firebug, he must have had a car or bike. Elephant-4He’d be ready to escape. The fire brigade would be racing out here as soon as someone spotted the smoke. So maybe he was a walker who lit a fire . . . or there were others with him and they did a runner in the car.’

‘They left him to burn?’ Blowfly frowned. ‘That’d be harsh.’

‘We need an ID,’ Jerm said, clucking her tongue. ‘Even knowing his race would be a start. Where the hell is the coroner?’

‘Busy,’ Blowfly said quietly. ‘They’ll be finding bodies for days yet.’

They both stared at the corpse embedded in the clay.

‘Aboriginal and Irish tattoos,’ Jerm murmured. ‘A dark white guy or a light black guy. Ate recently in a Lebanese place. Had Dutch and German coins on him and a letter written in an Oriental language, which suggests he could read it. Who was this guy?’

‘He’s an elephant,’ Blowfly remarked.

‘What?’

‘You know that old story, the blind men and the elephant?’ Blowfly asked. He received only a blank look in reply. ‘Three old men . . . or maybe there were four, I don’t know . . . Anyway, they’re standing round this elephant, and each feels a different part of it, trying to figure out what it is. The first one feels the trunk and says it’s a snake. The second feels the leg and says it’s a tree. The third one feels the tail and says it’s a rope. Individually the parts don’t make sense, because they can’t see the whole thing. No one piece can give you the whole picture, you know?’

‘And the elephant stays still while these blind men are groping it?’

‘Christ . . . Jerm, it’s a bloody fable. You’re not supposed to take it literally.’

Blowfly stepped over the trickle of water running down the centre of the creek to where the backpack lay flattened in the mud. He gently lifted the backpack, peeling it up, some of the clay still damp beneath it. He opened it up, but it was empty, apart from some moist dirt inside.

‘The guy holding the “snake” didn’t notice it was breathing rather heavily?’ Jerm asked.

‘Give it a rest,’ her partner growled.

‘Was the elephant ticklish?’ Jerm persisted. ‘These guys could’ve got themselves trampled, fondling it like that.’

‘We’ve got a dead man here,’ Blowfly said sharply as he handed the limp backpack up to her. ‘I don’t think you’re treating this situation with the gravity it demands.’

You’re the one who brought up the bloody elephant!’

‘Take a look at that,’ Blowfly told her, gesturing to the bag. ‘These footprints on the bank look odd to me. I want to dig up his feet.’

Jerm stubbed her cigarette out on the bare earth and carefully placed the butt in some tin foil and put it in her pocket. She may have had little control over her habit, but she had enough sense not to contaminate the crime scene. Elephant-5As she put on some latex gloves, she thought about the mentality that would set fire to a land and if it bore any relation to the mind that would breathe cancer-causing smoke for pleasure. Different breeds of the same madness, perhaps.

Spreading out another plastic sheet, she laid the backpack on it and went over every inch of it while Blowfly continued to examine the body. There were a few more items in the side zip-pockets of the bag: a pack of tissues; some sachets of sugar from a café in Melbourne; a sodden street map of Sydney. The main section of the pack was empty, but running her gloved fingers around the inside, she found grit from the creek bed and, to her surprise, a few small stones too. They couldn’t have been washed inside, not by the trickle of water that was running down there now. And the mouth of the bag had been pointing downstream.

Jerm gazed down at the objects Blowfly had spread out on the ground in the creek bed, chewing on her lip.

‘He wasn’t a hiker,’ Blowfly announced, having dug up one of the feet.

There was a light, thin-soled sandal on the foot. Suitable for strolling around on city streets for the day, but useless for walking any distance out in this kind of country. He stood up, looking down at the body.

‘And look at these footprints he’s left,’ Jerm said, pointing. ‘He didn’t just jump down there and dive into the water. He climbed in and out a couple of times. He could easily have made it to culvert if he was just going for cover.’

‘And if he wasn’t a hiker,’ Blowfly added, ‘then there was definitely a vehicle. So somebody left him here. Was he dragged out here by force? Can’t pin the race down; Aboriginal Irish who’s spent time in Thailand and Germany, eats in a Lebanese café and can read an Oriental language?’

‘Sounds like a typical Australian to me,’ Jerm sniffed. ‘There’s your elephant. Listen, Fly, I think we’re missing something here. Our guy dumped his stuff out of the bag. Just threw it all into the creek. There was still odds and ends in the side pockets, but the main part of the bag was empty. I think he was using it.’

‘For what?’ Blowfly asked.

‘To pick up water,’ she replied. ‘The lining’s waterproof. I think he was using it as a bucket. That’s why he came to the creek instead of running down the road. He was trying to put out the fire.’

They both regarded the body of the dead man, seeing him in a new light.

‘So he or one of his friends started the fire, maybe by accident, maybe on purpose,’ Blowfly said quietly. ‘He stayed to try and fight the fire and whoever was with him jumped in the car and left. Maybe they could have beaten it if there had been enough of them, but he didn’t stand a chance on his own. Firemen with tankers of water struggle to fight these fires. If these gits knew anything at all about bush-fires, they killed him as sure as if they’d poured petrol on him and lit a match.’

‘We need an ID,’ Jerm said.

‘We’ll get one,’ Blowfly said with certainty. He cast his eyes around the burnt landscape. ‘And when we know who he is, we’ll find his friends. I want to find out what kind of maniac starts something like this.’

‘Coroner’s here,’ Jerm announced, seeing a car coming over the top of the hill and turning down the farm track towards them.

Stripping off her latex gloves, she slipped them into her pocket. Then she lit up another cigarette.

‘You should put that out,’ Blowfly said.