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Anthony van der Spek

Posts : 4
Join date : 2017-05-01

PostSubject: Stand   Fri May 05, 2017 4:11 am

              Aching—tension in his stomach spreading up to his chest—aching.  And not just aching but empty. It was a hollow, lonely emptiness. Evan rolled over and looked at the vacant space in their double bed. Mindy had been gone just over a month now. He couldn’t get used to it. She was beautiful. In her mid-forties, still slim, fit and lithe and so delighted to be working again. But her life had been cut short. No longer would he wake to those rich brown tresses and the gold flecked brown eyes. No longer would they wrestle on Saturday mornings, or share deep and intimate thoughts late at night, or discuss spiritual insights as they read devotions.

            Mindy and Evan married young. They had a family while they were still young … a boy and a girl, and the children were now well on their way to working out their own life paths. Kate, recently married, was at bible school with her husband, while Jim was studying engineering and software security at university.  

The Bowles had relished the regular visits of their children and their friends, but also the new chapter in their lives. A stage in their life had just started in which they rode bikes together, went on long walks and short holidays without the responsibility of a little boy and a little girl. At the same time they missed the clatter, the complication and the affections expressed by the little boy and little girl—the strapping boy and winsome girl.

            Evan rolled back to face toward the window and tried to imagine that, maybe, she was still asleep. But the desolation remained. The funeral had been agony. The sympathy of every friend, every relative, tore at his emotions. Kate and Jim were devastated, Mindy’s parents were distraught. Everyone loved Mindy and now she was gone.

            Evan knew he had to get up. But there was no motivation, no incentive … no joy. He’d spent the last month blaming God, blaming the world, blaming himself, and he’d run out of blame. He was slipping into despair. His life was a sequence of disparate events with no direction and no point. Thankfully, the philosophy department at the university had given him the term off. He couldn’t have worked anyway. In the state he was in he had no focus, no interest. The vagaries of a priori knowledge, the arguments of truth and the existence of reality all escaped him in the tangled morass of grief and self-pity. He just ached.

            He stared at the ceiling. The blankness was like his life—flat, colourless, devoid of interest. Twenty five years of partnership, of being inextricably entwined in the life of another. Seeking opinions, agreeing, disagreeing, arguing, making up, living life knowing that there were two to consider; all this contingent life now gone. He was drifting, stranded in an ocean of loneliness and not seeing any destination. He knew it was stupid but he felt like half a person. With no one to share affection, no morning banter and no plans for the day. Everything that was two was now one. That’s half isn’t it?

            Eventually, he confronted the inevitable, he half stumbled and staggered out of bed. Numbly, he dressed in his jogging gear. It used to be a fitness discipline—a source of pride—that he could daily run his five kilometres along the scenic river track and then prepare for work infused with energy and well-being. Now it was punishment, or penance, or self-loathing; he didn’t know which. He set off at a harsh pace, unsustainable. Panting heavily, Evan steadied. Striding along the gritty path, oblivious of all he used to relish—the trees, the birds, the river and other runners—he went farther and harder than ever before.

Maybe he wanted to run till the pain tore him apart. Run till the dark looming cloud of despondency was far behind. His lungs were heaving with rasping gasps. His legs seized with excruciating cramps. Evan staggered and then stopped.

Wheezing hard with hands on hips and head down, no clear resolution arose. Nothing was achieved by this spontaneous act of insanity. When he had recovered sufficiently to raise his head and look around, he realised that he didn’t recognise this part of the river. The area was heavily treed and the undergrowth profuse. Slight rapids tinkled across submerged rocks in the water. The doleful call or a currawong reflected his mood. Still breathing heavily and soaked in sweat, he started walking the return journey. 

Evan’s legs were feeling something between numb and tingly by the time he tiredly walked up his garden path. He was fumbling for his keys when he heard the home phone ringing. There was no rush, no discernible anguish over the possibility of a missed call; wearily, almost in slow motion, he unlocked the door and sauntered in. The phone clamoured insistently, with an angry intensity. ‘Bound to be a telemarketer, or worse, some well-wisher calling to check up on him,’ decided Evan as he cautiously neared the phone. He never knew what to say to either. Whatever spunk or resolve he had in the past had sublimated into the ether. He now wallowed in the depths of self-pity, floundering in hopelessness; his life was mired by his apathy.

“Ahh, too late,” murmured Evan dryly when the phone stopped ringing. He was within a metre of picking it up. It was a relief. No interaction; he could huddle in his little cocoon, a collateral victim of crime. Was Mindy in a better place? All he’d ever believed suggested she was. Any place was better than where he was now—a bleak hollow. He had no desire to look around and relate to the world around him.

Peeling off his still clammy jogging clothes, he gazed at the pile of dirty laundry. Only two days before he had addressed the mounting dung hill of odorous clothing with his first washing foray. He’d made a slight dent in the dank mound, but several more loads were required. It wasn’t that he surfaced from his morose lethargy; it was just a matter of necessity—he was running out of clean clothes. Mindy’s mother, Avril, had cleaned up and brought all his washing up to date when they were over for the funeral and entropy had set in since then. Thinking about it now, it was probably the way she coped. She had worked industriously while he had been basically incommunicative, unable to emerge from the stultifying stasis of losing Mindy.

In the shower, as streams of hot water ran down his body, Evan recalled the funeral. It was that irrefutable event that he couldn’t ignore. She was gone. Tears streamed down from his eyes and were immediately lost in the hot cascade all about him. He sobbed, desolate. How many times he had cried over the last month, he had lost count. This was a private place; he could wail, he could lament.

Where was God in all this? There was a time, in his rational intellectualism, when he believed his faith was reasoned by logical argument. He was convinced, by the paucity of credible evidence for an alternative, that God was the actual—the ultimate cause. He lay down his thoughts in terms of imperatives which obliged him to a faith in an all-powerful God.

Now, he didn’t know what to think. Was it some cruel game that a deity could play, to rob him of his life partner, his love and joy—his life? Because what he had now was just an existence. What higher purpose could be served by his misery? Should he bounce back and become a better man? Was that an insult to Mindy’s memory? Maybe life was just a random sequence of events, with no purpose, no promise, and he should just be fatalistic about life—que sera sera. Then he thought of Mindy and the genuiness of her belief. Eventually, emotionally wrung out, he got out and dried himself.

Once dressed in slightly crinkled clean clothes he put a load of washing on. Already he was learning from his past mistakes—check pockets, not too many clothes, don’t forget softener. He was half way through a bowl of cereal when the phone rang again. Angry accusations about mindless persistence lurked unspoken as he picked up the handset.

 “Hello, Evan Bowles,” he half growled.

“Mr Bowles, I’ve been trying to contact you all morning. I need to talk with you.”

Evan had no idea who he was talking to. “Who is this?”

“Sorry Mr Bowles. It’s Serge … I’m the mechanic that was looking at your wife’s car. She was bringing it here to be checked before she … she … ”

There was a stab of pain as Evan’s thoughts were again taunted by Mindy’s ‘not-there-ness’. He sensed that Serge hesitated after his unthinking restating of the conventionally unstated.

“What is it Serge?” His voice sounded wary. He contemplated some drastic repair job—some expensive replacement parts.

“Could you come to the shop? It’s important. I can’t get away ‘cos I’ve got a lot of cars in but I really need to see you.”

Evan yielded “Oh, all right. I’ll be there in about an hour.” A little peeved, he put the phone down. He wasn’t going to rush to hear about some extravagant fix-it job. After all, the car had been sitting in the work shop waiting for his permission to do the service for over a month. He’d only got around to it three days ago when Kate cagily suggested that she could use ‘Mum’s car’ to go on a driving holiday with Ben, her husband. It had to be in good working order no matter what he decided to do with it. He could see why his daughter would want to drive the BMW rather than her aging Ford. The sensible thing would be to get rid of his own Nissan and drive his wife’s car but, somehow—in his present state—that was an intolerable idea.

The sedate drive to the cluster of small businesses had him speculating about the radical repair quote he would get. Why else would he want to meet personally? Perhaps he needed to cajole his customer with reference to safety, maintaining the value of the car or the importance of preventative maintenance. Evan was in no mood to be railroaded, though. Mindy had kept the car in good order and it was barely a year old.

He pulled into the angled parking bays and took a deep breath. This was the first substantial, constructive thing he’d done since … since. He left the thought there.       

Slowly he emerged from the car. It was here that it had happened. He looked around slowly. There was the footbridge over the highway. A witness had seen the attack from there. He had yelled. By all accounts the assailant barely hesitated from his malicious attack, continuing his thieving of Mindy’s handbag, and stealing her briefcase with computer and papers. The attacker had then run back up the road and driven off in a dark car.

Police had said it was a random attack. There was little to go on. He had been assured that everything possible was being done. He sighed. This place would bear the curse of his grief. His bereavement would always be associated with this parking area, these small businesses and the raised walkway crossing.

Evan sighed again. Emptiness overwhelmed him as he dragged himself to the office area of the car service and repair shop. A small bell tinkled as he entered. The musty, cloying smell of oil, petrol and exhaust fumes hung still in the air. Voices, a clatter of downed tools and striding steps told him he was about to be greeted.

Serge was young. He had black spiked hair, slightly mussed, and a classic broad Greek forehead. Tall and solid, clad in blue overalls, he gave a friendly smile, “I’m Serge,” he said. He thrust a hand out before quickly withdrawing it, wiping it vigorously on a rag and then re-offering it. Evan shook it unenthusiastically.

“I’m not sure how to begin,” he said. His face screwed, reflecting his indecision. “I’ve been to the police and they don’t seem to want to know. They said it had nothing to do with the crime.”

“What are you talking about? What did you tell the police?”

“I’ll start at the beginning … then you tell me what you think.” He leaned back against the counter and had a distant look. “When your wife rang … last month … she said that her brakes were failing. She’d almost had an accident. I told her to drive in second gear and let the engine slow her down … and to use the hand brake if that was necessary.” He quickly explained with a guilty glance at Evan, “I would have sent a tow truck but she wasn’t far away and I thought she could handle it.”

Evan just grimaced and stared at the mechanic. “Well, I came out from the garage about half an hour later thinking she should have been here and … and there were police cars everywhere. I went outside and found out … what had happened.” Serge sounded awkward and struggled to frame his next sentence. “Of course I told the police everything I knew … you know … why she was here and they told me they might get back to me. Well, I saw your son … er Jim the next day and told him. He said the police had finished examining the car and could I put it in the workshop. I said I would and left him details to contact me if he wanted it checked and repaired. I suppose he passed those onto you.”

“That’s right … and I rang you Monday because my daughter was hopeful of using the car. So have you got a repair quote? What’s wrong with it?” Evan was brusque. The elaborate tale hadn’t enlightened him at all. The police had told him all this already.

“No, no, no … I wanted to tell you. The reason the brakes failed is someone loosened the brake line near the combination valve. The grip marks can still be seen. Someone sabotaged her brakes!”

“You told the police?”

“Yes, yes … I told you. The detective said he would note it down but that it was clear she died from a mugging, not from a car accident, so it wasn’t really relevant to the investigation.”

“He said that?” Serge nodded.

Already, in Evan’s mind, two glaring anomalies stood out. If the brakes had been tampered with it suggested an orchestrated event, not a random robbery and; the police said they would keep him informed of any new information—he hadn’t heard a thing.

“You’re sure it had been loosened?” Evan’s look was alert, challenging.

“I’m sure. It was so loose it would have emptied fairly quickly and all I had to do to fix it was to tighten it, fill the cylinder and bleed the brakes. It could have caused a serious accident.”

Evan nodded. “How much do I owe you?”

“No, I couldn’t charge you Mr Bowles. Especially after what happened.”

“No, I want you to. Write up an official repair report with what you’ve told me and bill me. I want an official document saying her car was tampered with … in your opinion.” He qualified the statement to lighten the burden on the young mechanic. “I’ll be happy to pay it.”

“No problems. I’ll have it ready for you tomorrow.”

“Fine. I’ll bring Jim along to pick up the car. Thanks for your work Serge.”

“You’re welcome Mr Bowles.”


“Evan … I hope it helps.” They shook hands and Evan left the shop.

Suddenly there were things he had to do, questions he had to ask. Tomorrow he would be more focussed. He had to think strategically. A visit to the homicide detectives investigating Mindy’s murder was high on the list. Then there was the witness. The police had alluded to someone who had seen the attack. They said the description was vague. It was dark and the assailant was wearing a balaclava and dark clothing. He had to get the whole story from the witness.

His mind raced as he was driving home. Surely competent police would take into account every detail. Where were the Crime Stoppers’ videos? What progress had they made over the past month? He would write a list of questions. If it wasn’t random, then Mindy had been targeted. What was she working on? Was it something to do with her clients?

Back at home, Evan was on his computer for the first time in more than four weeks. He created a document listing things he wanted to know. He created another document cataloguing everything he knew about the crime. He annotated each point with the source of the information. The key providers of his initial points were the police and Serge.

It took about an hour of pecking at the keys, musing over all he’d heard and then wracking his memory for key details, such as times and specific names of those involved, before he had exhausted his recall. His next approach was to ferret though all the online news for reports about the ‘homicide’.

The first article he found was titled ‘Prominent Lawyer Killed’. It cited a police statement which concluded that: ‘It appeared the criminal lawyer, Mindy Bowles, was the victim of a violent random robbery. She was beaten and robbed as she exited her car, which she was delivering to an auto repair shop.’ There was some mention of a distinguished career as a defence lawyer and some high profile cases she had worked on. Senior Detective Malcolm Marsden was said to be leading the investigation and had said that information from the public was most welcome.

Evan found another news item from an investigative reporter, Maddy Quinn, who quoted Marsden saying there was no evident connection between Mindy’s clients and the crime. Quinn described the present case Mindy was involved in as a classic cry of innocence. Bevan Haines would need to find a new lawyer to defend his charge of trafficking in a banned substance. She said that on the surface the state’s case appeared very strong and it was unusual for Mindy Bowles to accept such a challenging brief. Quinn said that Haines, who claimed to be a reformed addict, was arrested with cocaine and a packet of money in his car.

The article made brief mention of a witness who saw the attack and described the assailant as wearing dark clothing and a balaclava. He escaped in a late model, dark car. Not the sort of eyewitness evidence that would give much encouragement to investigators.

The articles lengthened the list of questions on Evan’s computer. He quickly reviewed what he’d written. It was then that he thought of the study. Mindy kept files and work notes in there. If he could dig up something that was contentious—a scandal or some evidence of a conspiracy—then he might have a motive for murder.

His hard run earlier in the day caused him to hobble stiffly to the study overlooking the park at the back. Immediately, upon sitting in her swivel chair, haunting memories besieged him. ‘You’re not sitting in MY chair are you?’ she would cheekily accuse, before tickling him to distract him from whatever he was doing.

Evan was paralysed by wistfulness. The memories were bittersweet. Painful. Everything about her was so tangible here. He realised that he had avoided coming into this room since she had gone. In fits and starts he shuffled through the notes on her desk. One moment he would find himself smiling at a recollection of one of Mindy’s idiosyncrasies—she would crunch noisily on a chocolate chip cookie or keep him awake with her mumbling or snoring and then complain to him the next morning about his snoring—and then he would descend into despair at the loneliness of the empty room where, any moment, he almost expected to see her, to hear her.

Amongst the notes was a hand written message: ‘ring Jobe - police contact – has information about Haines’. There was a phone number scribbled beside the jotted note. Evan wondered who Jobe was. And what about Haines? He thought the name sounded familiar. Of course; it was a client. The man mentioned in the news article. He wondered what evidence she had gathered. He couldn’t check her computer because it had been stolen. But he knew that her files were mirrored on the computer at the small law firm she worked at. Mindy had explained, once, when she’d left her lap top at home, that it was synchronised with a cloud drive accessible from work. He had had to use her password to update her files so she could use the desktop at the office.

Evan made a note to speak with Meredith or Larry, two of the other lawyers in the firm, about the cloud drive. It occurred to him then, that, apart from seeing them at the funeral, he’d had no contact at all with them. Merri, which is what they called Meredith, had written in a condolence note that when things settled down she would help him sort out Mindy’s affairs. He could only conclude it was something financial because the firm had handled their wills and insurance policies as a matter of course.

It was four thirty by the time he decided to give Merri a call to find out about the files. Bonnie, the secretary, took the call and spoke compassionately for a few minutes before passing him on to Merri. She, in contrast, preferred face to face conversations when it came to sensitive issues with friends. So Merri scheduled a meeting for the next morning. Poignantly, she appended the call with, “We still miss her … hugely, Evan.”

“Yeah … me too. See you tomorrow Merri,” he managed to croak as he ended the call. His eyes were wet and his chest ached as the loneliness of loss weighed him down.  Now he wandered back into the study.

There must be something else. He examined the filing cabinet but virtually all the papers were domestic business—taxation, rates, insurance, bills, bank accounts and various personal papers. He even found a folder that held a wad of love letters he had written when they were courting.

Eventually, Evan closed the drawers and scanned the bookshelves. One book sat prominently out from the row. He pulled it out. ‘The Armour of God’ was its title. It was a small book that he hadn’t seen before. He opened the first page. A note was written – ‘Some battles need special equipment – Love Mum’. It was dated for her last birthday only three months previously. This was something else he had to investigate. Was there a specific reason for the gift, or was her mum just being generic about her Christian walk?

The next page was the passage of scripture from Ephesians chapter six. He read it. It was familiar but the words resonated with a portent of evil ahead. Could he really be caught up in a battle ‘against the powers of this dark world’? If so, he felt as if he were losing. He closed the book and took it with him.

Dropping it on the kitchen table, he glanced into the walk in pantry. Kate had ensured that it was well stocked. She had also come round and tidied up a couple of times. He knew it was an excuse to check up on him since he did very little to create a mess, apart from his dirty laundry. Washing and cleaning dishes were some of the few mindless tasks he had started doing recently to occupy his day.

After a minute examining the packets and cans he opted for some fresh vegetables from the refrigerator. With that he decided to have frozen chicken and make some potato mash. For the first time since Mindy had been alive, he had an appetite. Was time dulling his loss? Was it the first indication that life would attain some level of normalcy again? He didn’t see how. He could be just as bitter, just as damaged, with a full stomach as with an empty one. Just the act of cooking made him face a reality. He was only cooking for one. He didn’t need three potatoes or two chicken pieces. Merely thinking about it made him consider whether it was worth it. He paused, “Oh Mindy,” he moaned, then he carried on.

Eating was silent, mulling over what he would do. ‘Tomorrow,’ he thought. It was the first time ‘tomorrow’ meant a task. He had a purpose. It meant that there was a plan, an agenda, which had to be pursued. He put his fork down and grabbed his computer, afraid that important ideas would merge with the flood of new questions and theories that cascaded into his mind and be lost forever.

Quickly he typed queries against the name ‘Jobe’ and an unknown police informant. He wrote, ‘talk to Avril regarding book’. He wasn’t sure how he would manage. He had put his mother in law off a couple of times already saying he wasn’t ready to talk about ‘things’ yet. He added Senior Detective Malcolm Marsden and reporter Maddy Quinn to a list of people he wanted to talk to.

Sinking his teeth slowly into a piece of chicken for another bite of his now lukewarm meal, Evan recalled his appointment with Merri. So he added Larry’s and her name to the list. He wondered if he could talk to Bevan Haines as well. He assumed his court case would have been postponed while he obtained a new counsel. Background into the case from him might offer some clues. Several question marks followed his name. Evan knew he was groping for any hint of confirmation that this was a targeted attack. His thinking was in a jumble as he stared at the screen.

            The remainder of the meal was consumed with little awareness of its taste or the fact it was almost cold. There was one avenue he could explore tonight—a phone call to Jobe. Evan retrieved the number from the notes in the study and made the call. After several rings the phone was answered by a female voice. She gave the number and then waited.

“Um, I was wondering if I could speak to Jobe.” There was silence at the other end and then a clearing of her throat, “I’m sorry, Jobe passed away a few weeks ago.” The phone clicked as she hung up. Evan examined the handpiece as if it would offer further information. What had just happened? Had he called a bereaved wife and asked to speak with her deceased husband. A wave of empathy surged through him as he identified with her. He would do the same—say ‘I’m sorry’ and hang up. All he’d done was open sensitive wounds.

How would he find out who Jobe was? He had to ring again but not now. And when he rang he would have it carefully scripted so he didn’t blunder and make things worse. He needed to know how Jobe fitted into the puzzle.

He’d finished cleaning when he remembered to give Jim a call. They would meet for lunch and then Jim could take him to the mechanic’s.

It occurred to Evan that Jobe might have attended the funeral. The register of attendees was in the lounge. He walked into the lounge room—another place he had kept away from. In it were all the bereavement cards his brother Devlin had spread on the mantelpiece.

He thought of his brother now. Somehow they were much closer yet they hardly spoke while he had visited. Devlin had flown over from Northern Ireland. He had been the only one of his family to make the funeral. His sister, Heather, had just given birth and had been due the week of the funeral, so obviously unable to attend. She had cried for him over several video link sessions. He’d come away a mess each time. His parents were also unable to make it. His father had just come out of hospital with a new hip and so they had commiserated with him from afar.

Devlin had been consonant with his needs; an older brother who knew he didn’t need pithy epigrams or soppy clichés. He sat with Evan. He listened to him rail against the world. Devlin provided solace to Jim and Kate recognising the inadequate support their father provided. His brother had said that at some stage Evan would have to read the comments people had written about Mindy. It would allow him to recognise how everyone cherished her and he would be able to thank them for their thoughts. Evan paged through the book, ‘not yet’, he thought to himself.

Looking through the felt covered memorial book reminded him that there were people he had to chase up. There was no entry under the name of Jobe in the register. He scanned the cards on the mantle and came across one from Don.

Don and Charlotte had been lifelong friends but had also been unable to make the funeral. They had left for Europe the day of the murder and hadn’t heard of it until a few days later. Don was all for flying back but it was hit or miss whether they would arrive in time and Devlin assured him that they should enjoy their holiday and support Evan when they came back—when the surge of comforters had subsided. Evan allowed himself a small nod of agreement at Devlin’s wisdom. He had been so uncommunicative, so in the doldrums, that their sympathy would have been virtually un-noticed.

He read Don’s card. It was succinct. “Don’t know what to say … We’re praying, we’re crying … Let us know if you need us-we’ll be there in no time. Otherwise, we’ll see you in six weeks. All our love.” He closed the card. On the front it said ‘Too beautiful for this world!’    
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