'An explosion was heard inside the building around eight this morning,' said Botherington, her bosoms heaving in her low-cut jump suit. The camera pulled away to provide a wider shot of the scene, but primarily to provide another full-length body shot. It was an enthralling, well-engineered piece of television for which the news content was largely of secondary interest.
'There have been reports of a Black Hawk helicopter on the scene minutes before the explosion,' she continued, 'indicating some sort of government operation by the secret service, or perhaps by the tax office, both departments known to use the aircraft for surveillance and recovery operations, although the government has denied any involvement at this stage.'
The camera moved away from Botherington for a short while to show the office block with one wall partially ripped away. Quickly, the camera flitted back to the reporter and her legs. Four seconds with her out of shot was more than enough.
'Two men are believed to have been injured,' she continued. 'One of them is understood to be VastTel CEO Twistie Buffet.' The picture cut to a publicity shot of Buffet, doctored to show what he would look like after an explosion. 'His condition is said to be serious.'
'I don't think it's anything to do with the government,' said Willis, flicking his microphone open again. 'Does anyone seriously believe the government is capable of such an operation? I mean, let's be honest; they can't even run our hospitals and schools properly.'
'Does anyone seriously believe the government is capable of such an operation? They can't even run our hospitals and schools properly.'
Musson, Woodburner and Jones wondered whether it would be impolite to leave now. They didn't really want to sit and listen to Willis prattle on.
'Take my word for it,' he continued. 'This is a terrorist attack. No other word for it.
'And you know who is responsible for this,' he added, returning to the staple of his talkback radio diet. 'Migrants. Probably Muslims. Muslims who have failed to assimilate. When did you hear of Australians blowing the sides off buildings?'
That was enough for Musson. He couldn't take this s*** any longer. He had to say something. In part, he wanted to contradict Willis, something people rarely got a chance to do, but he also wanted to redeem himself. After all, his gun had been taken off him, and Woodburner was still alive. The last thing he wanted to be seen as was a failure. Psychopathic murderer, yes, but a failed psychopathic murderer would play on his self-esteem. That's why he said it.
'I did this,' he confessed, talking over Willis' rant against Muslims. 'That bomb was my work.'
There was a moment's silence. Nobody had ever been allowed to prove the shock jock wrong about anything.
'Well, I don't see why there would be any surprise,' said Musson, staggered at the looks he was getting. 'I've been saying VastTel has to be stopped. It's next to impossible to get through to customer service, so I had to do something to get noticed. And it's not difficult to pull something like this off.'
Uncharacteristically, Willis did not interrupt.
'I'm not the only one dissatisfied with VastTel,' continued Musson. 'There are hundreds of us, organised into cells, all over the country, planning attacks just like this one.'
It was a disturbing prospect. Willis' listeners shuddered at the idea of sleeper cells across the country, ready to strike at any time, although many were also relieved that someone was willing to stand up to VastTel's appalling level of service. Maybe it warranted this sort of action.
'Well, that's incredible,' said Willis eventually, almost whispering. 'You're a terrorist.' He spoke more confidently now. 'And I wouldn't have picked you as a Muslim. Absolutely astounding. You people look more like us every day.' His voice perked up instantly as he added, 'Now, here's Pam with the traffic.'
'Well, that's incredible. You're a terrorist. And I wouldn't have picked you as a Muslim. Absolutely astounding. You people look more like us every day.'
The morning's events had been followed keenly by operatives working in the secret service. Several of them carried the burden of shame for a mission left incomplete. Buffet was still alive, and there was a witness. The man upstairs was said to be far from happy. He was still smiling, but that was just how his face was.
'We'll have to go again,' he said to a young operative experiencing his first audience with the chief. He sat on the front of his desk for a moment, saying nothing further. 'You'll be part of the team. Go back to your desk and await further instructions.' Then he turned back to watch more of the Trisha Botherington broadcast. After a short while, he noticed the young man was still standing there.
'Is there anything else?' he asked.
The young operative handed over a bag of clothes.
'A woman dropped off this trouser suit,' he said. 'She wants to know whether we can have it back to her by this time tomorrow.'
The chief was angry.
'I'm sick of this dry-cleaning façade. Do the usual. Check the pockets, take a swab of any DNA traces, add her to the database then take it round to that Russian dry cleaners round the corner.'
They'd never thought to question why another large dry cleaners — this one four storeys high, with darkened windows and a sizeable underground car park — was so close to them, and why, like them, their turnaround time on relatively simple dry-cleaning work was so slow. But the man running it, a Mr Vladimir Bakatin, was always very pleasant and pleased to see them.
The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.