Strange Bodies



Prologue


The bodies of the Richardsons had been hanging from the giant fig tree for only two days and nights but the creeping, crawling, flying and burrowing inhabitants of the bush had wasted no time in finding a new home.

A strong gust of wind blowing through the secluded rainforest was enough to set the bodies swaying and twisting in a macabre dance that little disturbed their new inhabitants. Small animals, lizards, ants and assorted bugs foraging for their sustenance had lapped greedily at the juices and tissues that dripped and dropped, oozed and trickled down from the bodies.

As the strangely entwined pair spun and swayed slowly in the breeze there was, at times, a flash of light from the blackened fingers of what had once been a woman and a glint of gold from the wrist of what had once been a man.

A hungry kookaburra tugged at stray entrails that dangled like long juicy worms. The tantalising smell of putrid flesh had attracted many more creatures of the bush and the discordant hum and incessant buzz of a thousand or more blowflies and other insects filled the air. But there was no one there to hear it.

Not yet.

CHAPTER 1


At six in the morning, Sydney sweltered, the outside temperature reaching thirty-five degrees already. At forty-five, sky shields would unfurl automatically, but for now the November sun blazed nakedly from the cloudless eastern horizon.

Awakened far too early, Verity Burne stared at her skydome, mildly annoyed that she'd forgotten to opaque it the night before. She imagined she could feel the sting of the sun, though the cooling system of the house worked as efficiently as always. She considered darkening the room and getting another hour's sleep. She didn't recall having a nightmare; they hadn't lasted for long after Terry was murdered. Ruthlessly, she pushed any thought of him away.

Today she decided to make an early start, catch up on some work. Little more needed to be done on the Coopers for their appearance on the chat show this Friday night, but a lot more research was needed on Gerald and Roberta Richardson for the following week's show.

What she'd uncovered about the Richardsons and their fabulous Ice Queen diamond intrigued her, but they were a real puzzle. According to the available information, they were from South Africa but she was having trouble confirming that, running into unexpected blocks during her searches. The magazine article she'd written about Roberta Richardson's jewellery had been sparse on personal details, and the Richardsons had refused to allow photographs of themselves to be published. She had confirmed a few suspicions but she needed more, a lot more, before she could pin them down. They hadn't responded to her calls and messages for the last two days either. Other work would have to go on hold until she sorted this out. Then she remembered she had a meeting at the office today. Damn.

She yawned, stretched and said, 'Good morning, Jeannie. Wake up the house, internal security off, please. Deactivate security for the greenhouse door only. Coffee in ten minutes. Thank you.'

Good morning, Verity. I hope you slept well. Coffee will be ready in ten minutes. Internal security is off. External security is on, greenhouse entry is unlocked. The time is three minutes past six on Tuesday the eighth of November, 2067. Current temperature is 35º. Expected maximum 45º. Do you want news headlines?

'No, not yet, thank you.'

She was always polite to her computers.

Verity walked into the bathroom, cleaned her teeth, then engaged three of the shower jets, adjusting them to half pressure and a shade above body temperature. She finished off with an icy blast from all six jets that left her gasping but tingling all over.

The lure of fresh coffee wafted through the open door but she dropped the towel and looked critically at herself in the full length mirrors of her dressing room. No one but Verity would have found fault with her body; at thirty-two she was at the peak of physical health.

The scars barely showed now.

She rummaged in her wardrobe for something to wear, settling on a soft red tank top which complemented her dark hair and pale complexion. She added charcoal-grey pants, low-heeled slides and a light jacket in case the air-con got too cool in the conference room at Medea House. One quick look in the mirror: the semi-permanent eyeliner and lip colour were about halfway through their life cycle and still looked fresh. She had been talked into it in a weak moment, but now was secretly pleased with the result. Adelaide and Lucy were right—it certainly saved time. Adelaide and Lucy were right-it certainly saved time. Nano-cosmetics had advanced dramatically in the last few years; Verity now used the concept to watermark all her electronic products.

As an occasional freelance feature writer for Circe magazine, she wrote lightweight fluff, articles like the one about the Richardson woman's jewels. The cover that job provided proved useful for uncovering dirty secrets for cousin Adelaide's show.

Verity slid her wrist unit on as she ran down the curving staircase. She was proud of her renovated Paddington house with its trickling water wall, part of the filtration, aeration and cooling and recycling system, all her own design.

She headed to the kitchen and poured her first coffee of the day, grabbed a couple of savoury rolls from the freezer, zapped them and perched on a stool to eat. Finished them, she poured another mug of coffee and headed out of the kitchen and across the hall.

Verity gestured at a wall panel to unlock her study then activated her system console. She'd had a routine query from BigSys yesterday, asking her to explain a deep probe into the bank accounts of the Richardsons-she'd been a bit careless there. If she needed to dig deeper she'd have to use her shielded equipment. She didn't have time for that now.

These people are taking far too much of my time. I'm going to tell Adelaide this is the last time … she'll have to find another RAZZ! researcher.

At eleven she abandoned her attempts, frustrated at the small amount of extra information she'd dug up on Gerald and Roberta Richardson. Someone extremely accomplished had hidden all but the most superficial data, hidden it many layers deep. Why?

That in itself was sending alarm signals.



Published by NSN Books and now available on Amazon:

STRANGE BODIES


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