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To my nephews, Jack and Jordan


And dedicated also to Daniel Morcombe, who disappeared while waiting for a bus, age thirteen.


Chapter One


No one noticed fourteen-year-old Jack Irwin-Hunter as he hiked his way up the steep slope towards Lake Como. No one noticed Jack, even though the road was busy with traffic as residents evacuated the town of Rumpole below in search of a mountain breeze. That summer was extreme with heat and the hottest recorded in Rumpole's history.

It was the worst way possible to spend the school holidays: trapped indoors like caterpillars in a bug-catcher, with armpits flowing like waterfalls and hair damp and matted, hanging in dreads like worms. With one smelly pop out of a lethargic Labrador, the putrid air would linger on the heated oxygen molecules, leaving everyone gasping for just one gulp of clean, cooler air. It was all highly unpleasant and utterly boring.

The solution to ease frayed tempers was to pack the car and head to Lake Como, where altitude chilled the air and the rusty, jagged edges of Hanging Rock imprisoned the troposphere. The blue, crisp waters of the lake were frosty enough for polar bears. It was like sitting in a refrigerator and not at all like backyard pools, where children boiled like spaghetti in a huge outdoor pot. Pine trees scented the air, making every day feel like Christmas, and fallen cones and needles demanded collection for painting or hiding inside someone else's sleeping bag.

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