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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Sat Apr 29, 2017 7:02 pm

Chapter 1   Wed

“Come on, come on…” Tom urged. He hated red traffic lights with a passion. It was as if they conspired to delay him at every intersection. He was convinced that the current one was stuck on the red cycle, and he was glancing around to see how he could extricate himself from the traffic when the lights changed.

“Finally!” he shouted approval, but the Range Rover in front didn’t move.

“Augh! Get off the phone you stupid woman!” he yelled at the unhearing driver ahead. And then he sounded his horn far longer than was necessary. She jumped and stalled her car in her haste and the result was that eventually she restarted her car. In the interim the lights flickered amber and then red.

“You are joking,” protested Tom and was considering some comment to lambast the frazzled woman when he was distracted by the driver behind him sounding his horn. He gave an exaggerated shrug for the latter and turned on the radio. It was that Christian radio station again and their thought for the day was being dictated by a somnolent voice; ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’  He gazed at the pedestrians on the footpath. His mind worked; ‘If the truth sets you free, what is the lie that keeps you captive?’ He sighed, because he didn’t want to be thinking about stuff like that.

“Ed!” was all Tom said. He changed the station to his favourite and wondered why he didn’t complain to Ed about resetting the station every time he borrowed the car from work. And Ed borrowed the car regularly for business meetings, rather than drive his own large van. He rolled his eyes, shook his head and repeated, “Ed”. It was only his affection for the older man that caused Tom to humour Ed’s desire to drive his sporty car. So why didn’t he complain? Probably because it was petty, and he didn’t want Ed to know that it aggravated him. Ed’s demeanour was so unlike his. He was unflappable. Tom wished that he could just let things wash over him like Ed Miles did. His, more senior in age, friend would just smile a warm smile and go on with his work.

            A horn blared raucously. This time it was Tom who was holding up traffic. He accelerated with a short squeal of tyres before quickly easing off. A quick apologetic wave and he resumed his journey to work. His mental digression was enough to irritate a row of impatient drivers lined up behind him.

Tom worked in the family business. It was an engineering company founded around the design, construction and installation of effluent treatment plants. ‘Clariflo’, his firm, had successfully diversified in numerous innovative environmental companies. Tom’s father, Harold Ferguson Witney, had named the company after his wife Clarissa, Tom’s mother; he was particularly pleased that the name suitably described the business. Though the implied compliment seemed to have escaped his wife.

            Harry had left the business to live an alternative hippy life style about two hours drive up north, abandoning his family. It was so unlike him, Tom was totally bewildered by it all. Though still having a controlling interest in the company, he legally handed over decision making powers to his son, and power of attorney, should anything happen to him, to Ed Miles.

Because it had been Clarissa’s family’s ‘old money’ investment that had started the business in the first place, Clarissa was still the second largest share holder. After a year and a half by herself Clarissa remarried. Tom was sure it was largely to spite his father. Her new husband was Gene Towers, a divorcee who had an undisciplined son. The son appeared only when he needed something, and it was usually money. Tom’s stepfather had been involved in the sales side of Clariflo for a number of years and had gotten to know the family quite well. Though Tom didn’t mind him as an employee, he found it difficult to warm to him as a stepfather. And Gene’s son, Gene junior (though he went by the name Al), was someone Tom couldn’t tolerate. He had left his mother’s custody as soon as he realised the grass was greener with his father. He had been a financial parasite on the family ever since. His father indulged his whims, getting him a car and financing courses at the local university—most of which he didn’t attend.

The marital arrangement with Towers was peculiar. In some whacky contractual set up, he was more of a beneficiary resident than a husband. And the prenuptial limitations were quite severe. But, initially, he seemed comfortable with the whole situation. More recently the financial security didn’t seem enough. Gene was often bad-tempered and felt emasculated by the agreement. Clarissa herself regretted opening her house and having her hospitality abused. She was at present in the throes of having the contract terminated. Tom kept as much to himself as possible, eating meals with his ersatz family but spending most of his time with his cousin Rick, with Gil Trentham and at work. In fact, he enjoyed work interactions and most of the employees’ companionship. It was almost a hobby developing ideas and product lines.

            Although only twenty three, Tom Witney was now virtually running the company. Ed Miles, a trained company lawyer who had been a close friend of Harry, was still Finance Manager and was Tom’s mentor, advisor and confidant. Even though he was thirty years older than Tom, he seemed to understand the young man. Ed recognised Tom’s desire to not only be a financial success, but to make a real difference in reducing industrial pollution.

***

            That morning Tom walked into the building at 8:45 am. Fifteen minutes later than usual. He’d already had a morning jog and had dropped into the gun club for an hour. Unusually, he was wearing a suit. He had a fairly important meeting with new customers and he thought it necessary to put on his best appearance for his presentation.

On the second floor he greeted the receptionist with a grumble about the traffic before negating that with a good humoured shrug, adding his usual cheery good morning and then heading into his own offices. His personal secretary, Winsome Brown was her businesslike self, filling him in on his daily program. The early fifties woman had been with the company from the very early days and although she seemed a little surly at times, her invaluable knowledge of the history of the company meant that she would have a job for as long as she wanted. Ed had kept her in the office in the transition period and Tom had inherited her, although she worked for both men on a needs basis. Sometimes he hinted that a more pleasant demeanour would impact well on customer relations, but his intimations had little effect.

            The morning was spent with his important new customers going over the installation of a complete pollution control and effluent treatment plant for a new chemical factory. Because of government funding for ‘greener industries’, they were putting in the whole range from a twin scrubbing system for fumes and gases, to a closed drainage system, neutralisation tanks, colloid treatment, settling tanks and collection of purified waste water for recycling. It was the second such account they had won recently with the first successfully going on line just a few weeks previous. In truth, it was this whole working system that clinched the deal with their new customers.

            By lunchtime, they were generally satisfied with the arrangements and decided to lunch together at a nearby restaurant. Tom invited some of the senior engineers and production managers along to promote links with the customers. Normally Gene, as Sales Manager, would attend customer events such as this, but he said he had a previous engagement when Tom contacted him. Tom wasn’t sure whether he was feeling snubbed because InventiveChem, Gene’s customer, had bypassed sales and contacted Tom directly.

            Coming back after a couple of hours of profitable interaction, things were quiet. In his office, Tom hung his newly acquired Bachelor of Engineering Degree; the glass frame being necessary to flatten out the freshly coiled cardboard.

The calm was shattered as Gene stormed in. He slammed the door behind him.

“I hope you’re pleased with yourself. You get one new customer who wants the ‘It-does-everything’ system and I lose two because they don’t want to pay for top of the range treatment plants. They just want something that will satisfy EPA legislation.” He took a breath noting that Tom was open-mouthed at his outburst and continued.

“It’s all because of this stupid policy of zero contaminant outflows. It’s ridiculous. Look, if we keep it simple it will sell much more.”
“That’s not the point Gene,” interrupted Tom, “Our policy is for highest practicable environmental standards. It’s where governments are heading and it will give us the edge if we develop now and grow what is now a niche market.”


“You’re trying to reach standards that aren’t even set. What’s wrong with letting treated waste water down the drain if it’s passed all the tests and it’s within the Environmental Protection Authorities’ limits? My customers get nervous with all this talk of recycling and value adding when you’re talking about pollutants. And not only that, we’re becoming more expensive than our competitors,” Gene fumed.

Tom replied in a quiet, soothing tone, “Gene, you don’t get it. This is about getting a good reputation; it’s about good science and good citizenship. If we can be the pace setter in ‘green technologies’ we will cash in when tougher standards become mandatory.”

“You tell that to my customers,” shouted Gene, who was now angry at what he thought was Tom’s patronising words. He turned and left in no better mood than when he had entered.

Tom collected his laptop and papers and he then headed to the conference room.

“Winnie… could you get Ed to see any appointments this afternoon? I’ll be with design.”

“Ed went out earlier; I don’t think he’s back yet.”

Tom suppressed a wave of annoyance. He’d normally ask Gene, but not today. He thought of his purchasing manager.

“Could you get Harley to take them?”

“Sure Tom, is Gene okay?” She indicated the direction in which the man had stormed off.

“Fine,” answered Tom stoically. A few questioning stares from others in the main office communicated a ‘What-was-that-all-about?’ curiosity as he passed.

When he arrived, he noticed that some of the design engineers were already looking over his lengthy proposals for dealing with solid wastes from their treatment plants. The process centred around value adding to their existing plants by collecting the colloid mass from the settlement tanks (as they usually did) and, instead of disposing it, adding kaolin clays and other bonding agents before firing the matter into large ceramic tiles. The non-slip tiles could then be used for chemical resistant flooring around the plants they were installing.

He showed them a digital presentation and reasoned that the high temperatures would destroy any harmful organics and volatiles while any heavy metals etc would be captured inside the thickly glazed, grit coated tiles. Tom also suggested that the exhaust from the huge kiln required should be passed through one of their treatment facilities to ensure a secure containment of contaminants. Though he suspected that his precautions were ‘overkill’, he nevertheless wanted to demonstrate that the integrity of the product would reward them for any additional cost spent in the design stage. Tom was hoping for some constructive feedback, but when the three men and one woman had spent most of the time reading specifications and nodding in quiet discussion, he knew they needed more time. He asked them to take copies of the blueprints and come back in two days time with some recommendations.

            He wanted to get into developing the prototype but Tom understood that consultation now might save them considerable angst and money in the future. By five most staff had already gone. Erin, one of the graduate environmental scientists, walked him through what she was doing with biological treatment of petrochemical pollutants. Her hope was that bacterial tanks would be added to Clariflo’s treatment suite. Erin was about Tom’s age and he enjoyed the company of the attractive blonde, although he sometimes wondered if they would ever talk about anything other than work. She left in a rush when she realised what time it was. Tom thoughtfully reviewed Erin’s bacterial proposals and made notes about containment protocols, dealing with bactericide contaminants and developing more versatile strains that would handle a variety of hydrocarbons. After tidying up some paperwork, Tom turned off the office lights and headed towards his private car port.

***

When he sat in his car he had a sensation of being watched. He adjusted the rear vision mirror to check behind him. Something was amiss. Tom scanned the car and checked the glove box. He had the jitters and he couldn’t work out why. He turned on the radio. Yes, Ed had driven the car today. He changed the station almost automatically. Shaking his head as if to rid himself of some irrational suspicions, Tom started the engine and drove his Mercedes sports car toward home. Eventually, after negotiating a brief period of traffic snarls, he was travelling through the tree lined boulevards of his elegant suburb. He weaved gently along the last curve, around a traffic speed control, before arriving home.

It was at about six thirty pm. Tonight he was late. He was almost always home at exactly the same time (except, on rare occasions such as this, when business meetings detained him). This was in deference to Tamara Jones, the young woman who cooked for their family. Tamara had, naturally, taken over from her ill mother a few weeks ago. Molly Jones had cooked for the Witneys for as long as Tom could remember. Tamara had often come and helped in the past and more-so, recently, as her mother’s health deteriorated. Tom quite liked her and always gave her grief. He teased yet he really admired the way she was working her way through university by being the organised ‘homemaker’ that his mother never was.

There was a slight breeze and a rattle in the leaves of the tall poplars that bordered the long driveway. Tom was climbing the steps to the front porch when he sensed something was different. Juno, his pet boxer usually leapt the side fence with a rollicking gait, all slobber and enthusiasm, barking his greeting. Tom put his briefcase down and went around the side where Juno liked to lounge under a shade tree. On the other side of the access gate all was quiet. He walked further back and called, “Juno.” There was a raucous bark from the shed. ‘What was he doing in the garden shed?’ wondered Tom. ‘Had he been in disgrace over some misdemeanour? It wouldn’t have been the first time.’ The dog was all over him before he’d finished opening the door. It took a couple of minutes of “down boy” and “stop it Juno” before the dog ran to check the scents around the garden.

Tom made his way back through the gate, returning to the front door and unlocking it. Inside, his immediate impression was that everything appeared normal, with the television on in the lounge and cooking smells. Then, at almost the same time he detected the rank smell of burning coming from the kitchen. He quickly placed his briefcase on a hallway chair and ran toward the source of the acrid odour. A blue haze of smoke roiled in a descending layer like a thick fog, There on the gas range, a saucepan of vegetables and another of potatoes were boiled dry and smoking profusely. He grasped an oven mitt and removed both, turned off the gas range and switched on the exhaust fan. What had happened? Where was Tamara? Tom coughed and spluttered as the irritating fumes prickled his throat. Just as he swivelled away from the cooking area he gasped, “Tamara! Oh no…” He rushed toward her. Tamara was lying, recoiled defensively, underneath a table. He almost vomited as he saw the bloodied fatal wound on the side of her head. Her sightless eyes were staring and her motionless form unavoidably proclaiming her tragic fate.

Returning to go to the lounge, he saw in the walk through library adjoining the hall that Gene was laying in a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs. Tom’s stomach rebelled and he just made it to the sink in the kitchen before emptying its contents. An awful ache invaded his being as he ran.

“Mum!” he yelled. Though his thoughts had imagined the worst. It was no less shocking when he walked into the lounge. “Mum?” He knew before drawing any closer. Tom found his mother’s body slumped in the lounge. She too had gun shot wounds. He knelt over her and sobbed at the loss of his mother. Outraged, distraught, his stomach knotted and he gaped at the scene as if he was in another dimension—unable to perceive time or his own presence.

 

Emerging from the paralysis the morbid sight had created, he noticed the TV was still on with some inane game show. He went and turned it off. Tamara was lying dead in the kitchen and Gene had been gunned down in the library. ‘It can’t be. It’s all wrong! These things happen to other people.’ His mind floundered erratically, stuck like a blowfly in the viscous molasses of confusion.  Stunned, shocked at the atrocity, Tom took several minutes to gain any sense of rationality. Strangled sobs wracked his being. He was devastated by this attack on his family, the violent invasion of his home. And death—the carnage—it outraged him. As his thoughts swirled, he considered the young woman and nauseated moved by sadness at Tamara’s death—an innocent murdered. Someone who had so much before her and was as inoffensive as anyone he knew.  When the reality of the situation finally solidified in his mind, he dialled the police and informed them of the triple homicide.

            “Yes”, he croaked, “that’s right. There are three people dead… This is Tom Witney… That’s right, 311 The Boulevard, Pineville.”

The person said something about staying where he was.

“Where would I go?” he lamely replied to no one in particular.

Two squad cars screamed to a stop and four police scrambled up the steps to where Tom was waiting, head in hands, sitting on the top step. A sergeant walked past him and briefly disappeared inside before emerging and introducing himself as Sergeant Straun.

“I want you to think carefully about everything that happened and then I want you to tell me,” he stated as he took out a notebook. While Tom considered the order of events, Straun barked orders, “Put some crime strips around. I’ll put in a call. Find out where Homicide are.”

When he eventually came back from the car, two other squad cars pulled up a little more circumspectly.

“So what happened here?”

Tom recounted the events as he recalled them. He explained the unusual quiet, the smell of burning food and then the discovery of the bodies.

The sergeant asked him the identity of each individual and Tom’s relationship with them. He was just starting to suggest possible reasons for Tom being angry at these people when an unmarked car came up the drive. Straun put away his notebook and greeted the detectives that got out of the car, speaking briefly with them in muted tones. Another car and a van then drove up the now congested driveway. From their outfits and equipment it was clear to Tom that these were forensic police. A strange numbness, like a bad head cold, seeped into Tom’s head, and the images of people moving about slowed, conveying surreal, freeze frame portraits as he focused on the action about him.

            After looking at the crime scene for considerably longer than the uniformed man had, one of the detectives came out again. He moved toward Tom and stood over him.

“I’m Detective Burton. I’d just like to ask you some preliminary questions before we take you to the station to make a formal statement.”

“Okay, but I already told the sergeant everything I know,” Tom said with a sigh that reflected his emotional exhaustion more than anything else.

The second detective exited the house with his notebook already open. He approached and spoke, “All shot.”

“This is Detective Rolf,” he introduced the other man. Tom nodded a slight reaction to the introduction and looked down at the ground.

            Over the next ten minutes the detectives asked him, in a number of different ways, what he did, who he found first and was anyone still alive? Then they wanted to ask again, just to check. Exasperated, Tom vented his anguish.

“I told you; I came home from work. It was too quiet and I found the dog locked in the shed. When I went inside, I smelled the burning food. It wasn’t until after I’d turned off the gas that I saw Tamara. She had been shot in the side of the head.” Tom choked off the words as the memory constricted his chest. He took a moment before he resumed, “I got panicky and started looking for my mother. On the way I saw Gene at the foot of the stairs. I suspected the worst then and went to the lounge where I saw my mother slumped in her chair.” His voice tailed off with emotion. He had to force air into his lungs before managing to weakly croak, “It took a little while before I could think to call the police.”

“Is there a Mr Witney senior?”

“You mean my father?”

The detective nodded. “Where is he?”

“He’s started a new life up north in a commune.” A thought suddenly struck Tom. “I should give him a call. He needs to know about this.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll contact him… all in good time.”

Following some more peripheral questions that wore away at Tom, leaving him starting to quaver with his responses, Burton applied a different tack.

“Your family appears to be very wealthy Mr Witney, who would be the major beneficiary of your mother’s…?” He left the end of the sentence implied.

Tom visibly sagged. It hadn’t occurred to him till now. It was apparent that he was suspected; probably the only suspect at the moment.

“I guess I am,” he barely managed to utter. It wasn’t necessary to mention Holly, his sister who was overseas.

            The questions continued. Why had he taken so long to call? What was his relationship with his stepfather like? What was Tamara’s role in the household? Tom’s head was spinning.

The two detectives left him in the company of a police woman who seemed to show some compassion, though it was clear that he was under informal custody. She asked him whether he had a girlfriend, and then asked how he felt about Tamara. He felt affronted that he had to insist Tamara had just been a friend of the family and that she valued the casual employment they offered.

            Burton and Rolf returned for another bout of questioning as crime scientists scurried all over the property. Burton began, “Is the house usually locked?”

“Yes, usually; it was locked when I arrived home,” Tom’s words reflected his fatigue.

“There appears to be no forced entry, can you explain that?” He waited expectantly for Tom to answer, but Tom just stared, eyes glazed, wishing they would get on the trail of the real murderer.

He knew they were hinting that the killer seemed to be known to the victims.

            Just then, one of the forensic experts examining the house came up with a gun in a plastic bag and showed the others.

“It was in the bushes out the back.”

“Do we need to guess what type it is?” Rolf looked cynically at Tom.

The crime investigator shook his head.

“I believe you own a Glock nine millimetre Mr Witney.” Burton was scowling now.

“Yes,” was his strangled reply. There was a depressing feeling that it was his gun. Realising that they had already run checks on him disheartened him even further.

“Do you recognise this gun Mr Witney?”

“It looks like mine.” Tom felt the web of guilt starting to restrict his movement.

            Burton began summing up, “Witney, we believe that this is the murder weapon. I’m confident that ballistic tests will prove it. Do you have anything to say?”

It was then that Tom knew he was in really big trouble. It looked like they were expecting him to confess. He also knew that having used that same pistol at the shooting range that morning, it would not be surprising if trace amounts of gunshot residue were found on his hands.

Tom’s voice was shaky, “Detective, if that’s my gun I have no idea how it got there. I went to the gun club this morning as I often do, and then I put it away, locked in my trunk.”

“And I suppose your car has been broken into today?” Rolf was unable to mask his scepticism.

Tom was becoming angry. “Look, would I use my own gun and throw it in the bushes? Would I call you before making sure I couldn’t be implicated. I think someone’s trying to set me up!”

Burton looked at Tom thoughtfully, “Not surprisingly Mr Witney, I think we’ve heard that before.”

Tom continued to insist on his innocence, but his claims were deflected with advice to ‘put it in his statement’. He was docile as he was taken to the squad car by a constable. Tom was morose, feeling persecuted and desolate, in a tangle of despondency. An overwhelming awareness came over him that he was on his own. His only real family was Holly, who was somewhere in Paris, and his father, Harry, who was away on the commune. That just left his worthless step brother Al. He stood next to the car with a policeman who was assigned to watch him.

Tom’s thoughts were in a whirl. He had been set up. But who; who knew about his sport shooting? Who could take his gun?

At the same time the police were preoccupied with the question: who was set to gain from the elimination of his mother and stepfather?

The answer was appalling to him. He was a major heir with his sister.  They would now receive his mother’s wealth. Motive was certainly pointing to him. Holly was not around and he was. He may have denied involvement to the police, but he had to face facts. He certainly had opportunity. Who would benefit if he was out of the way? Al? No, he doubted if Al was in the will. His mother had made a point of telling him that Al would not be mentioned in the will, even though Tom had insisted that he didn’t really care.

Anyway, could Al devise such a scheme? He was a sneaky guy. He probably was capable of planning something like this, but he had no motive. Tom had to find out who did this and he couldn’t do that from a gaol cell. ‘Escape’; that was the thought that invaded his mind now.

Seeing the keys of the police car still in the ignition and the relaxed attitude of his minder, Tom gave a piercing whistle. Juno his massive boxer leapt over the side fence and responded to a cry of ‘set’ to bring to ground and bail up the cowering policeman, while Tom launched himself into the squad car, turned the ignition and roared off down the gravel driveway and onto the roadway. It was all a haze of heart thumping madness.

The time was now just after nine pm and he had no idea where he was heading. Where would he go? He had to find a place where he could stop and think. Headlights, street signs and street side shops were all a blur as he drove the first few minutes through his suburb. ‘A police car!’ his mind was screaming. ‘What was I thinking? How do I disappear in a police car?’ Realising where he was, almost instinctively he knew what he had to do. Turning quietly behind the row of shops, Tom eased the car up a narrow alley. Attempting to slide out of the police car as unobtrusively as a suited young man possibly could, he walked into the driveway of the adjacent property.

Having been at Clint’s place a week and a half ago, Tom knew exactly where to head. A slight tug raised the counterbalanced garage door. Inside was a meticulously neat series of storage drawers, tool boards and rows of labelled containers of parts; all this to support his friend’s bike riding mania. Toward the back his new racing bike hung suspended on a rack alongside his older one. Next to those were a couple of old lycra outfits that Clint lent out to people like Tom, who went riding with him.  Frenetically, Tom changed out of his suit and into snug fitting bike shorts and vest, gloves and helmet. Putting his phone, wallet and PDA in a little backpack, he gave a final look around. As an afterthought, he rolled up some overalls that were hanging up and tucked them inside his vest. He hid the suit in one of the drawers. Wanting to hasten his departure, he grabbed the newer bike and rode out, trying to emulate a typical enthusiast.  
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