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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van

PostSubject: Dying to Live   Sun Sep 03, 2017 4:37 pm

The following week only got worse as, several days later, Ari unexpectedly overheard Thomas speaking with two of his advisors. It was quite late and he was in the secretary’s office adjacent to Thomas’ office working on the computer. The door was ajar and he realised the three in the other room thought they were alone.

“Are you sure you’ve got the details right. Byron?”

“Absolutely Thomas; Jason saw the documents himself, and he got copies. Our technical friends alerted us to their existence. We’ve got the dirt on McColl and we can use it when we need that leverage.”

“I can’t believe he’s been so indiscreet.” Thomas spoke with disdain.

“With this stuff we have him over a barrel. If it gets out he’s history politically.” Jason Whipple was almost exultant. Ari’s stomach churned. He shut down the computer and snuck out the office undetected.

All the conniving and scheming of Collette and now also of his political cronies made Ari sick in his stomach.


            The incident awoke in Ari a curiosity about Thomas McLeish. He went to the state parliamentary library (it was shared by federal and state politicians as a matter of convenience). He decided to do some digging of his own and find out who Thomas really was, not just the public face, and how he had advanced so quickly in politics. Initially Ari found very little but as he persevered the story emerged. It turned out that after studying law, Thomas McLeish was involved in a variety of Real Estate deals; some of which drew some critical media attention. His career then turned to industry where he was involved in a few celebrated law suits against large corporations before accepting a board position on one of those same companies. Ostensibly the appointment was to influence the environmental policies of the company, but sceptics saw it as selling out his idealism for influence and financial gain. It was then that he became a public face in the media, providing legal comment and making guest appearances on a popular variety show to discuss hypothetical legal scenarios with the host.

            While continuing his research in the state parliamentary library late that night, totally immersed in his research and typing, the battery alarm sounded. Glancing at the power meter he was surprised that the battery was running very low. And then he saw the time and realised how late it really was. Groaning, Ari burrowed in his computer bag for the cord. Eventually he spotted the socket underneath the corral desk top. He went to plug in his power cable, getting on all fours and crawling to the back. The computer just signalled connection when there was a shuffle at the entry, some distance away. Why he sat there initially, listening to the intrusion into his silent realm he would struggle to explain to anyone. He was still under the desk when he heard two voices. Should he remain concealed and save himself the embarrassment of crawling out from under a desk? No he would suffer the minor humiliation and be real for once. What would he say? “Sorry to startle you I was just plugging in a power cable...” But before he could move a voice spoke.

 “Well it’s all set.”

“Good, when does it happen?”

That second voice... he knew that second voice! Byron Burke, personal advisor to Thomas McLeish, the Deputy PM.

They were nearer the other end of the room, but in the quiet their hushed voices were still clear.


“Tonight! Not this morning?”

Ari imagined the consternation on Burke’s face as if there was a change of plans.

The other voice was quite distinctive. It was quite high pitched but sounded ‘foggy and tight’. It continued, “By Saturday morning she’ll be in the obituary columns.”

“Good! Make certain it looks like an accident.”

“We’ve gone over this. Do you want the details? It’s really beautiful.”

“No. I’ll meet you on the bridge at two pm Saturday.”


            Ari shivered under the desk as the two walked away. His mind twisted in a blur of confusing thoughts. He tried to imagine the plot unfolding ... who was the target? What were they planning? Was it a political stunt or a smear? An accident! Could somebody meet a violent end?

When they finally left the room Ari wondered what he should do. Without dissecting his decision analytically he went to the librarian’s vacant desk and picked up the phone.

He thought about trying the hypothetical report... ‘What if I heard two people plotting... what should I do?’

            His hand shook nervously as he punched the number of the local police station listed on the contact sheet next to the phone. Being near the city the station was headquarters to a number of branches.

“Is this the Police Department?”

“Yes, how can I help?” A sleepy constable’s voice followed a practised patter.

“Listen, I just overheard two members of Thomas McLeish’s staff plotting to harm someone.”

“Thomas McLeish, the deputy Prime Minister?” The voice became more alert and a little incredulous.


“Who are they planning to harm?” Now Ari could detect a note of sarcasm and he began to wonder what he hoped to achieve by making this bizarre, unsubstantiated accusation.

“Uh, I don’t really know. I just overheard...” he was cut short.

“Can I have your name?” Ari’s unease suddenly turned to panic as he realised how foolish he would appear as the one making seemingly baseless, malicious allegations.

“Forget it,” he uttered hurriedly and hung up. Ari quickly went back to the desk and packed his computer away, still shaking from the tension. His journey back to his unit was filled with phantom threats and imagined pursuers. Sleep evaded him for a long time as he churned over the chilling conversations and tried to construct some cohesive theory. He kept telling himself that he would need to get more information and just bide his time, but coming to that conclusion didn’t convince his chaotic emotions to settle. A restless sleep eventually overtook him. Sleep came, oddly enough, just about when he had resigned himself to getting up and having a snack.


            During the next day, Ari was invited to a party meeting with some senior members, to help draft some policy statements for the media. He kept a wary eye on Burke. The man, short, overweight and jowly, always had a severe expression and an inflated perception of his own importance. Even when he laughed it was a forced, gravel-like utterance that communicated painful effort rather than humour. During the meeting Burke received a phone call that agitated him considerably. Noticing his discomfort Thomas McLeish interrupted the conversation. “What is it Byron?”

“Ah, it seems that we may have a leak regarding our program.” He looked strained, and the sudden tension in McLeish’s face and steel in his voice indicated a mutual concern. Ari sensed that his phone call was having repercussions. Did they know he was the leak? He wanted to listen undetected and tried to appear engrossed with his computer.

“Let’s have a short break. I need to talk to Byron. You people can go have a coffee.” The suggestion was unmistakeable. ‘This business is confidential so get lost!’ Ari opened an audio program on his computer and started record quickly before closing the lid enough to create the impression that it was not operating. He left last avoiding McLeish’s impatient look.

            Standing around the coffee machine Dana, one of the secretaries who took minutes at staff meetings and did the bulk of formal typing, spoke to him.

“What do think it’s about?”

Ari didn’t know quite what to say, so he reiterated Burke’s statement, “A leak about the program, whatever that means.”

“Surely it’s all public knowledge now … our policies I mean.” She looked attentive as if she may have missed something.

“Well, in terms of what legislation we will support and what we’d like to negotiate, that’s all being outlined now.” Ari surprised himself at his own mental agility considering he was only half listening to Dana. The other half of his mind was trying to determine if he could somehow be connected with the phone call to the police. Dana had been speaking and he’d missed it altogether. She was looking at him expecting an answer.

“Sorry, what was that?” he ventured.

“I said, if we’re just deciding what proposed legislation to support, how could there already be a leak?”

Ari shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it’s already been decided.” And he guessed, in a sense, it probably had been.

            Five minutes later they filed into the conference room to continue their meeting. Ari surreptitiously shut down his audio program before pushing back the screen. After some discussion he joined a minister to outline some key statements to be used for a social welfare press comment. These would be polished by the minister’s own staff later. The talk went for some time before McLeish addressed Ari. “James we need you to write a short press release stating our support for those army defence contracts. Make it clear that the tender process needs to be transparent and inclusive of our local armament industries.”

“Yes Mr McLeish.” As Defence Minister, McLeish had been quick to take on a number of tasks. And as yet Ari hadn’t familiarised himself with the numerous contracts being issued. He felt he could make a non-specific statement about open government and ethical procedures without doing all the reading. He could always catch up on that later.

The time slowly dragged by. Painstakingly, a number of other issues were clarified. Then Thomas’ enthusiasm suddenly started to wane and he finished the meeting off abruptly.

“Let’s leave it there shall we? We’ll pick up the agenda at point eleven next time.”

That was the signal for everyone to leave and Ari hastily made his way to his cubicle before realising that it was too risky to try and replay his recording in such a public place. He would have to wait.

            The short time remaining in his work day eked away as he tried, vainly, to compose a draft of the defence contract press release. The preoccupation of his mind on the murderous tones used the previous night, and what his audio recording might contain, totally obliterated any productive thoughts. Imagined threats swirled in his head and prevented any cohesive sentence from appearing on his screen. Ari finally gave up. It was only a few minutes to go anyway and he could always say that he’d developed a headache; which wasn’t far from the truth. Quickly packing his lap top he made his way out, surprised that a few others were already doing the same. He smirked to himself at the revelation that piqued his quirky sense of humour.

“No wonder you’re among the last to leave,” he said to himself, “there’s a Le Mans race start to the car park!”


            Hurrying back to his unit on his bike he became aware of a seeping loneliness. He had no confidante, no confessor, there was no listening ear, no wise counsel with whom he could communicate his fears and share his worries. Inside, he placed the computer on the kitchen bench and started it up, impatient to hear the secretive conversation. His fingers thrummed with irritation, “Come on, come on,” he urged. Quickly typing in his password he waited again, going to the fridge and pouring a glass of milk.

            Finally, all set up, Ari replayed the recording. He turned the volume up full and put his ear to the speaker. Still too indistinct he grabbed the speakers from his desktop computer and turned them up full, before retreating from the harsh feedback shrill. Again he placed his ear to the speakers. This time there was the sound of a conversation in the background among the hissing noise.

            “So they’re gone, what’s the problem?”

            “That was the police.”

            “What did they want?”

            “When I was in the library with Clarridge the other night somebody must have heard us.”

            “What! How do you know?”

            “That cop just asked me if I knew of any of our staff being at the library late last night... he was fishing.  I said no, why? And he just said someone rang from the library with a         complaint.”

            “That doesn’t mean they know anything.”

            “Thomas, there was nobody there... at least no one obvious, which means they were hiding or following us... which means somebody knows!”

            “You fool! You should be more careful. Why didn’t you check? Can you find out who it is?

            “Possibly... There may be security footage. I’ll have to be discreet and see if we can get hold of it. Do you still want to go ahead with eliminating the Downs’ chick?”

            “We have to. If those photos find their way to the newspapers, somebody will work it out. Get her and get those photos as soon as possible.”

There was a pause and some mumbled words before Thomas began again.


            “You’re telling me to be more careful... and you get photographed...” his voice dropped away again. Thomas hissed loudly;

            “It was like she was stalking me... It’s a pity... a beautiful woman like that, but it has to be done. It’s got to look like an accident.”

            “That’s what I told Clarridge.”


Apart from a few murmurings there was little else said with Thomas excusing himself to the restroom before the meeting recommenced.


Ari went over the name mentioned – ‘the Downs’ chick’. There was little doubt in his mind that Collette was their target. A photographer named Downs and obsessed with McLeish. It couldn’t be anyone else.

He had to contact her... to warn her. It took some time to find her number. Snatching up his mobile he punched in the numbers. The dial tone sounded. After seven or eight rings Ari suddenly wondered what he would say. How would he make her believe that she was in danger?

There was a voice at the other end of the line.


“Er Collette?” Ari focused his attention to the call.


“Collette, this is Ari James. I need to talk to you.”

“You are talking to me. Say, how did you get my number?” She was being cute since she had given it to him very soon after meeting him. Her quick wit was one of the things he had liked about her, but now he thought it was a nuisance.

“I Googled it. I got your name and address. It was listed as part of an agency for freelance pests.” He shook himself, grimacing for showing off his own perceived cleverness. In truth he had Googled her just to find out a little more about her and found out where she lived. It was no big deal. He knew most 12 year olds could probably do the same. “Collette, we need to meet. I think you’re in trouble.”

“For what?”

“Look, this may sound melodramatic, or crazy, but you’ve got to believe me; your life is in danger. That’s all I know. It’s something to do with photographs... ones you’ve taken.”

“Of what? Who’s involved? You’re starting to freak me out Ari.” Collette was becoming irritable.  

“Just listen to me Collette. I know it sounds crazy. You probably think I’m crazy. We’ll meet in a public place... what about Brewsters again?”

“When?” She sounded spooked. Her voice quivered.

“Tonight... as soon as possible. Can you bring all the photos you’ve taken of McLeish over the last few days?”

“They’re in my camera.”

“Okay, bring that and a cable or card reader.”

“How do I know you’re not after my photos... just working for your boss?” She was starting to think now.

“Collette, we’re wasting time. I suggest you copy the photos quickly onto your computer and maybe a data key you can hide somewhere. Just get going.” Exasperation was creeping into his voice. He was trying to allay her suspicions by getting her to duplicate the images. She caught on quickly.

“What? Put the data key under the mattress?”

“Yeah, maybe... will you just meet me and we’ll talk about it?”

“Who is it Ari? What’s this all about?” There was mounting fear evident in her quaking words.

“He ignored her questions. Look, maybe there’ll be a story in it for you, but you have to get started. I’ll meet you in an hour, and then I’ll try and explain.” Ari finished off abrasively, “Collette, don’t let anyone follow you.”

He hung up.

            Ari grabbed his keys, put his computer into the side satchel of his bike and rode off. Instead of going straight to the café on the river front, knowing he had plenty of time to spare, he raced to the parliamentary library. Rapidly scaling the steps, he hastily made his way while trying not to draw attention to himself. Inside the research room there was a librarian sitting at the desk.

“May I use your phone?” he said breathlessly.

“There’s a public phone in the corridor.” She announced in a slate grey, droll tone.

“I have to ring the police!” The statement and the urgency in his voice threw her into a fluster, thrusting the phone toward him with both hands and staring at him in anticipation, wondering what crisis she would be privy to.

Snatching at the handset and checking the contact list for the number, Ari waited as the number rang through.

“Police, what can I do for you?”

“Look, I rang late last night regarding a threat to someone’s life from someone on Thomas McLeish’s staff.”

A young officious voice interrupted him. “Can I have your name and address?”

Ari continued regardless of the request. “The intended victim’s name is Collette Downs... she’s a photographer. I heard...” The phone went dead. There was a hand pushing down the cradle.

A familiar, high pitched, menacing voice sneered, “What are you doing James?” 

            Ari turned to face the bulky form pressing close. He didn’t recognise the thuggish face but the voice was unmistakeably that of the other conspirator. The man he’d heard talking with Byron Burke last night. He felt a vice like grip on his upper arm. His captor turned to the librarian.

“Sorry, this is all a bit unfortunate.” As he said it he twirled his free hand index finger around his left ear suggesting Ari’s crazed state. She nodded sympathetically and straightened the desk as Ari was led from the room. He hung his head and stepped limply beside the brutish man as his mind raced. He should have been more careful, he thought. They had alerted him that they would check the security cameras and he had just waltzed in. Halfway down the corridor Ari marshalled his thoughts and strength.

            In rapid succession he kicked back his heel into his antagonist’s shins and spun with his right fist into the exposed neck of the thug. A pained cry was followed by panicked gurgling as his adversary’s windpipe collapsed under the crushing blow. Released after the initial kick, Ari shoved the gasping, groaning malcontent as hard as he could and watched him career headlong into the doorpost of the room they had just left. Without waiting a further second, Ari turned and bolted. He heard Burke call from another doorway as he hurtled though the main foyer, “Ari...” He rushed on trying to extricate himself from the building without further delay or interception.
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