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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Thu Sep 07, 2017 6:59 pm

Chapter 10

 

Nurse Evans came in after his meal and ran the scheduled monitoring of his blood pressure.

“How are you feeling now?” she smiled at him. Ari felt warmed by her presence.

“A bit better, thanks. What’s your first name?” he asked out of the blue.

The nurse blushed slightly, smiled again and looked into his blue eyes, “Zoe.”

“Zoe, I was wondering if you could get me a phone so I can call my grandmother.”

“I could do that,” was her cheery reply, as she took his pulse. Ari smiled at her touch. She grinned, “And before you say something. I have a boyfriend, and yes we are very happy.”

“So you’re used to being hassled, huh?” Ari said self-consciously.

Zoe tilted her head attractively, little dimples appearing as she grinned. “You could say that... So where did the name ‘Ari’ come from?”

“It’s a long story, but unfortunately it’s short for Aristotle,” Ari screwed up his face awaiting her laughter.

She gazed at him, “You don’t have to do that. I don’t laugh at people’s names.”

“You’re too nice.”

“Why, thank you.”

“You sure you have a boyfriend?”

“Absolutely... his name’s Jess Stephens. He’s got a brother Joe and a sister Melanie, and he’s taking me to church tonight.”

Ari smiled. He considered that a mild rebuke for pushing the point.

“And who’s Juzzy?” she looked again into his eyes and registered the intensity of his gaze.

“Why?”

“You were having a nightmare last night. You were so restless the night duty nurse tried to settle you. You were calling Juzzy’s name... it is a ‘her’?” she looked speculative. He assented with an affirmative ‘uh huh’.

“Apparently you were delirious the previous day and calling her name. She must be special.”

Ari tried to sound matter of fact, “We’ve gone our separate ways.” He didn’t know what else to say, but he was unable to mask the despondency in his voice.

Zoe put her hand back on his. “I think there is a sad story in there somewhere.” Her expression indicated that she seemed to sense his hurt. “I hope that it will work itself out.”

 

            Zoe brought him a phone. The mention of church made him think that maybe he should call Juzzy. He could tell her that he was reading the bible. Boy was he stretching it! But that passage had reinforced the idea in his head that it would be best if he were considered dead. ‘...dead to sin...’ it had said. How could he just stop being the selfish bighead that he’s always been? There was a yearning that he now felt for Justine, to just be with her and talk, and show some appreciation to her. He knew it would be complicated.

            As therapy for his depressed mood Ari rang his grandmother and just talked.

She asked him if he had plans for Christmas, but he remained noncommittal, thinking what he should say. He finally made the plunge.

“Gran, I should have told you... I’m in hospital.” He waited while she expressed concern and started asking questions. “I had an accident... sort of anyway and...” he paused when she spoke again. His answers then followed, “...a broken leg and some bruises... No! I don’t want you to come and visit...” he paused again reflecting on how that sounded. “It’s really complicated, but some people tried to kill me... I’m working with the police, but we’ve agreed that we have to pretend I died in the accident.” There was another lengthy pause as Ari listened to Marree quiz him on what sort of people he had got involved with. “Marree, listen!” He had never used her first name before and she suddenly went silent, aware of the urgency in his voice. “I rang you so you won’t be shocked when you hear news of my death. I need you to pretend that I died. I need you to visit the funeral parlour and to grieve so that these people think it’s genuine.” He listened as she asked whether they could meet.

“Gran, it might be possible to arrange a meeting at the funeral parlour or somewhere where they won’t follow you. A Detective Meadows is helping me and he will contact you with the details. Gran,” he took a deep breath, “you know I love you. I couldn’t let you think I was dead... I assume you’d be sad.” He chuckled at her reply. They would have had to show her the body or she wouldn’t believe it, she said, and his plan would’ve fallen through when they couldn’t meet her demands.

            Ari explained that they had been watching her house and that’s how they found him, so he couldn’t just drop by. He assured her that she wasn’t in any danger, and then hoped desperately that he was right.

“Yes, when this is all over I’ll tell you the whole story, but Gran you have to believe me, I was working for important people who have turned out to be corrupt.” He explained further, “this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t overheard a threat to someone’s life.”

He regretted saying that. Not only did it sound like he was big noting himself but he spent the next minute or two trying to convince his Gran that he wasn’t a hero.

            That night, just as he surrendered to exhaustion, a ‘no-nonsense’ nurse on the evening shift came in. When she had finished with him, his neck brace had been removed and, although still tender and stiff, his neck was deemed largely free from damage. Soon after, a patient was put into the bed next to his. The elderly man, his head swathed in bandages, moaned incessantly for the first hour. One of the nurses explained that he was very drunk and probably concussed from a fall. He quietened not long after the nurse left.

 

            The next morning, early, Ari staggered from his bed. Looking across he saw the curtains were pulled around the bed near his. His fellow patient must have been still out to it, so he moved about as silently as he could. A nurse had left some crutches for him to save him the embarrassment of using a bedpan. Opening the curtains to check out his moaning friend he was confronted with a notice that announced ‘DECEASED’. The man, completely obscured by sheet and covers, must have died during the night and they hadn’t moved him yet. Feeling ill, he decided to find a balcony to get a bit of fresh air. There was a small lounge next to his room that had an exit onto a balcony. Outside the air was warming already and the sun was already striking the green lawns below. Adjacent to the gardens was a car park. His attention was drawn to two people slamming the doors of a large dark car. Immediately a shiver ran down his back. The big man he recognised instantly; he was the one he thought was Clarridge, and he was with another thin but thuggish looking man. They were after him, he knew. Ari launched himself back, unsteadily, to his room. He had to hide. No, he had to escape. As he passed the corpse hidden by the curtains he slowed instinctively, as if he’d just seen a police car on the highway while driving. He knew what he had to do. Taking the name plate off the head of his bed he swapped it with Arthur Fields, his deceased neighbour. Next he transferred the charts at the foot of each bed. Panting furiously, he lurched into the small bathroom and kept the door slightly ajar.

            The wait was interminable. Perhaps they weren’t coming up. Maybe they were just asking after his condition at the front desk. Ari looked around for some sort of weapon and then, inexplicably to anyone if they had been watching breathed, “You idiot!” and lifted one crutch, giving it an experimental swing. Finally, when he had all but convinced himself that they weren’t coming, there was the sound of footsteps from the main corridor of the ward.

“She said in here,” said a masked voice—Clarridge’s voice, the one he was becoming used to hearing from secretive positions.

            Ari watched them glance cautiously through the entry. He was straining to subdue his breathing, but the more he tried the harder it seemed to become. Seeing no one, the two intimidating figures quietly moved in to examine his empty bed.

“Must be this one,” suggested Clarridge’s swarthy weasel-like accomplice in a gravel whisper, indicating with a minor movement of a pointed finger. The big man next to him grimaced and shushed him simultaneously with a finger to his lips. Quietly, menacingly they drew apart the curtain.

“He’s dead!” said the second man almost matter-of-factly, with a clear release of tension in his voice. Clarridge looked at the labels, and then at the sign. He was about to lift the covers when a sound came from the corridor.

Both men backed out of the screen area quickly rearranging the curtains and moved off as a nurse came in. She noticed the names and chart and then turned to look after the two men.

“What have they been up to?” she murmured suspiciously. “And where is Mr James?”

            At that point Ari flushed the toilet and hobbled out.

“What’s going on Mr James? Someone has changed over these labels.”

“I was in there,” he thumbed toward the bathroom. “I heard some people in here though.”

“Yes, two men,” she looked thoughtfully back to the doorway and then at Ari.

“Do you think it was some sort of joke?” Ari suggested

“It’s not a joke Mr James. It’s very serious.” She replaced the labels and charts to their proper positions and left, complaining under her breath about the weirdos and malcontents that turn up at hospitals.

            Alan Meadows arrived soon after and he enquired as to Ari’s health. Ari responded with some veiled suspicion, paradoxically intimating that he was surprised he’d asked. Meadows himself looked taken aback by this comment and came back with, “You’re in hospital Ari; I was asking how you’re feeling!”

Ari grinned, not sure if the detective was a practised liar or genuinely confused, he commented.

“My paranoia is based on sound evidence.” He then proceeded on giving a ‘sore and sorry’ rendition of his condition, but he didn’t let on concerning the events of the morning.

            Alan then shared his news. “Firstly, it’s on...” seeing Ari’s puzzled expression he elaborated, “your death... it’s all organised.” He sounded like an excited kid. Recognising Ari’s amusement he calmed down a little, starting with an attempted explanation. “Well, it’s a bit like a movie isn’t? Faking someone’s death... anyway I’ve got permission from my superiors... The database has the information... I’ve organised it with the hospital... we get a hearse to take you to the funeral parlour this morning. By the way you’re okay to go, but you’ll need to get some crutches.”

Ari motioned to the other side of the bed and the detective quickly saw that one detail had been seen to.

            Alan checked his well-used note pad, “There’s a news article going out saying that the injured motorcyclist from Thursday’s accident died in hospital on Monday morning. And, when we get you to the funeral parlour we’ll meet your Grandmother... sounds like a lovely lady.”

“When...?” Ari tried to clarify that detail before he was cut off by the detective’s rollicking commentary. “I phoned her this morning. I’m glad you had already spoken to her; it made it much easier. We’ll organise the funeral for Thursday.”

“Thursday?” It was all a bit surreal for Ari, “I’d kind of thought that I’d be there, at my own funeral,” he said.

“Just like the movies,” claimed Alan a little too triumphantly, “and...we actually think it might be a good idea if you were there. That way you can identify anyone that might be involved, presuming they turn up.”

“Won’t they recognise me?”

“We’ll have a surveillance van there, we’ll be taking pictures and you can list names.”

“This sounds like a big production.” Ari expressed surprise.

Alan toned down slightly and outlined the situation, “Ari, when I gave my report about this sophisticated murder of Collette Downs, of your attempted murder and of the scope of this corruption, including the theft of evidence, my boss gave the go ahead.” Alan paused and gave a sneaky smile, “Just between you and me, I think he thinks it’s just like a movie too.” His grey eyes were twinkling with humour as he spoke. The lightness of his attitude quelled Ari’s fears but he wasn’t about to commit himself completely to the policeman. In the back of his mind were nagging questions... How? ... Who? It was all to do with killers knowing where he was.

           

            Just then Reece came into the room. Ari made the introductions and then Alan suggested he finish his briefing. Reece, looking curious, was about to speak, but Ari just held up one hand.

“Sorry Reece, just listen to this and then we’ll fill you in on what’s going on.”

“Right, where am I up to?” Detective Meadows consulted his trusty diary. “Okay, after going to the funeral parlour, I’ll sneak you out in my car and we’ll take you to a flat at the back of your Gran’s church. She suggested it and I think it’s a great place. She’s already okayed it with the pastor.

“Hey that’s the church Jen and I go to, I’ll be able to drop in,” interjected Reece enthusiastically. He saw Ari’s peculiar expression and realised there were some things he needed to enlighten him about.

Alan continued, “So, you spend a few days there giving your body a chance to mend while we set up all the surveillance gear. Then on Thursday we’ll pick you up and take you to the graveside ceremony.”

“It’s bizarre! Attending my own funeral...” and then Ari quickly added, “alive!” before Reece could point out the obvious... that most people attended their own funeral.

Meadows ignored them both, “Next, your laptop was nowhere to be found, as you suggested might be the case, so we have no evidence of a conspiracy at all, just circumstantial evidence that you knew beforehand that something was going to happen, and some tape of you being chased from a library.” He stopped and closed his notes, and then getting more serious he made a request, “I suggest we look at those photos you have.”

Ari quickly back pedalled, “Alan, I said I might have... I’m not sure what is on that data key.” He turned to Reece, “Will you check the cupboards for my clothes? There should be a data key in my jeans pocket.”

Reece went across and opened the white laminated wardrobe doors. Hangers were evident on one side and his clothes were neatly folded on one of the shelves on the right. Instead of rummaging around in his pockets, Reece brought the clothes to Ari.

“You’ll have to get dressed anyway, unless you want to go traipsing around in a hospital gown?” queried Reece flippantly.

“Gown,” mocked Ari, “What an impressive name for this indecent smock!” He dug around his pockets and found the tiny solid state drive. Then he stared at Detective Meadows, “Don’t lose it please. I want to see those photos myself.”

“That’s the general idea. You might know who is in the photos and, maybe, what makes them incriminating.”

 

            Trying to maintain his modesty, Ari changed behind the drawn curtains while the other two talked quietly. Listening to him struggle with his jeans being pulled over his cast, Reece made some derogatory remark about Ari not being able to dress himself... and did he need some help? When Ari rejected his offer he asked what he could say for his eulogy. Did Ari have any suggestions?

“I could write it if you like?” Ari suggested.

“No, no I think it needs that personal touch,” Reece smirked gleefully. When Ari had just emerged, still wobbly and puffing from the exertion, Alan got a call saying the hearse had arrived for the pick up. They arranged for a gurney and concealed Ari beneath a sheet. As an afterthought Reece put the crutches under the sheet with him.

“Might be a bit hard to explain why a corpse would need them,” he rationalised.

            Being wheeled by the undertakers to the hearse was disconcerting for Ari, to say the least. The concept that you had to die to live echoed in his mind. Although they had been informed that this client was different—as in not having left the land of the living—the men still behaved as if this was the real deal. It spooked Ari to be treated like a dead body, and he hoped it wouldn’t be the source of any nightmares; he’d had enough of those recently.

            Once at the funeral parlour they wheeled him in and uncovered him.

“Resurrection,” joked one of the undertakers as he sat on the side of the trolley. Reece and Detective Meadows arrived soon after. They were in a small viewing room, and it wasn’t long before Marree was there too, smiling broadly and rushing at him with outstretched arms. Her overenthusiastic embrace reminded him of his aches and bruises, but he didn’t want her to stop. There was something cathartic in her warm, affectionate hug. Ari gained a sense of belonging again. He was coming home.

“How are you Gran?” he grinned at her as the others were caught up in her buoyant mood.

“More importantly how are you my boy? Seeing you is an answer to my prayers.” His grandmother gradually released him and held him at arm’s length.

“Oh Ari, let me look at you.” She rubbed his face. “You haven’t shaved. I hope you’re going to shave for your funeral.” She sounded serious, but he knew her better.
”Gran, no one will see me.”


“Well, everyone else is going to dress up, don’t you think you should make some effort?”

Reece, Alan and the funeral director looked at Ari. He raised his eyes and his eyebrows, gave a pseudo ‘fed up’ sigh and just said, “Gran.”

She hugged him again, and then pulled back and wiped a tear of joy from her eye.

“You need to save those tears for the funeral,” said Ari and then delayed his next comment as he watched Marree. “Do you think you can convincingly pretend that I’m dead Gran?”

“Don’t worry about me crying. I get weepy seeing other people being sad.”

“I’m not sure that there will be a whole lot of other people.” The reality of who would actually be there made him a little sad. He couldn’t imagine many that would come.

            Errol Grant, the funeral director, had him select a coffin, explaining that they would put some weight in it to add authenticity, and after everyone left they would lift it up and reuse it. Arrangements were kept as simple as possible, but it still struck Ari as peculiar to be involved in the discussion. To be confronted with your own mortality in such a stark manner was sobering. Maybe a metre one way or the other and this could have been a real funeral. ‘Where would he be now?’ he wondered.

            With preparations completed, they went their separate ways. When they left they made a discreet exit next to a covered parking area. Using his crutches a little clumsily to begin with, Ari snuck into the back seat of Reece’s car, as they decided that Reece going to his own church was much more normal, and less likely to attract attention, should anyone be observing them.

 

            On arrival at the flat at the back of the church, Ari waited while Reece got the key from the pastor and checked that the coast was clear. Once inside the natty little flat the two relaxed. It was basically a bedroom with attached bathroom and toilet, and a lounge with attached kitchenette. Reece said that there was milk in the fridge, but the pastor would bring some groceries before lunch. Ari took the weight off his leg and sat at a small round table adjacent to the kitchenette bench but inside the lounge area. Reece found some cups and coffee and put the kettle on. While he was organising the drinks Ari scrutinised his friend curiously.

“So, tell me about you and Jen. How long has that been going on?”

Reece chuckled a little self consciously, “A few months now. I guess I always liked her. I think I told you that I went to church because she did.”

“Not quite in those words, but I think I get the picture.” Ari looked intently at his friend.

Reece grabbed the water as it boiled and then became quite animated. “Don’t get me wrong! My decision... my faith and trust in Jesus has nothing to do with Jen.” He waved with one hand as he grasped hold of the hot water with the other.

“Hey, careful!”

“Yeah, sorry...” Reece poured the drinks and then said firmly, “No, I’m serious. I wasn’t thinking of Jen when I made my decision.”

“Oh?” There was no disguising the doubt in Ari’s reply.

“Oh, well, okay... at first I went because Jen and Sissy asked me to, and I thought I’d just go along with it. But their pastor really got me thinking about having a life centred on something other than self gratification. He said a Christ centred life gave you a real satisfaction and purpose.”

“So you became a believer because he said that?” Ari sounded mildly surprised.

“No, not really... in fact I resisted the whole idea. But I have to say, my life has been pretty unsatisfying and the thought stuck. Anyway, I thought I told you, this biker came to one of their meetings. He said that he felt like he had a new start, a new purpose and that the bible started making sense to him. Anyway, that was my choice... I mean Jen was pleased, but she said it was best if she kept out of the way for a while … till I learned a bit more about my faith.”

“How did you feel about that?”

“Not great, I mean, I was just starting to envisage us as a couple... but, well, she was probably right. May sound silly to you, but I’m starting to see God’s hand in my life.”

Ari looked at him as he brought the mugs of coffee. He couldn’t argue with what Reece said.

            Reece put down the drinks on the table and sat down to join Ari.

“Thanks.” Ari responded automatically. His thoughts were elsewhere. ‘If Jesus was real, did he want to know the truth? Was he interested in finding out about something that could rob him of his self reliance... his belief that he was in charge of his life? Who was he kidding? When things got bad he had called on God too... just like the biker.’ They were sipping quietly. Reece was aware that his friend had a lot on his mind and he figured that he’d said enough.

           

            The two friends had finished their drinks and were sitting in the lounge talking about mundane things like Reece going with Marree and getting his belongings from his flat, ending the lease and getting a hold of a laptop for Ari. Their conversation abruptly halted when there was a knock on the door. Before they had a chance to recover from the initial fright a voice called out, “It’s Ryan Eddington, I’m the pastor.” His last two words were said almost simultaneously with Reece. His lanky frame bounded towards the door and let the churchman in. He was carrying several shopping bags full of groceries. After putting them on the bench he came over and offered his hand.

“Hi, I’m Ryan and you’re Ari aren’t you?”

Ari nodded.

“How’s the leg?”

“Fine thanks.”

“Apart from being broken I suppose,” Ryan allowed himself a little chortle. “There should be enough to keep you going for a while.” He motioned toward the bags. “Let me know if you want anything.”

“Thank you,” Ari reached for his wallet, “How much do I owe you?”

“No, nonsense... my pleasure... so, has Reece shown you around?” 

“Er...” Ari guessed he meant the small bungalow, “Yes, it’s all I need at the moment.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to it. Penny and I are just next door to the church.” He pointed imprecisely in the general direction. Then looking at Ari’s leg said, “The phone number’s on the list above the phone. I’ll probably drop in and see how you’re going later... if that’s okay.”

Ari, caught off guard had no time to orchestrate his reaction; stumbled on his words, “No, that’s fine... no great... er, I’ll look forward to it.”

Pastor Ryan exited with a wave and Ari slumped in his seat. “Did I sound as silly to you as I did to me?” he asked Reece.

“Yup.”

            Managing to put away the foodstuffs with some direction from Ari, at the same time Reece responded to a raft of Ari’s questions.

“So how serious are you two?”

Reece pulled a face at the directness of the question. “You don’t muck about do you? Well, we’ve gone out a few times, but we mainly meet at church.” He saw that Ari was expecting him to continue, “And, I guess we both decided that we would take it slow since we both want to grow as Christians.”

“So, this is like a new life for you?”

“In more ways than one,” Reece agreed.

“Have you seen much of Juzzy?” Ari’s eyes averted as if it was just a passing interest and he was thinking of something else.

Reece noticed the feigned air of indifference and responded with a little nod of understanding. “She still goes to Lyn’s church. The students and younger adults from the two churches get together regularly, like on the night the biker spoke, so we see her a bit.”

“How is she?”

“Good.” That was all the information Reece intended to give Ari. He wasn’t buying into their dramas. He’d seen too much pain on both sides to think there were any simple solutions.

            Ari stopped that line of questioning. He’d already decided that his life was a mess, and now it seemed it was best to leave things as they were between the two of them. He couldn’t stop the ache but with time maybe it would ease.

“So, how come you’re not at work today?”

“Helping to organise a friend’s funeral,” Reece grinned, “I mean, I didn’t say you’d died or anything. Of course I’m in real trouble if you decide to die next weak and I have a real funeral to go to.”

“You’re killing me Reece,” joked Ari. But it was clear the mirth induced a return of his soreness and reminded him of the recent battering his body had gone through.

            After some laughter about what should be said at the funeral, Reece got a call on his phone and then left to go and have lunch with Jen. She worked in a solicitor’s office, not too far from the pharmacy where he worked. Ari collapsed on the bed wearily and soon found sleep.

            His body demanded a lengthy, deep and devouring rest. It was when there was ringing of a doorbell and knocking to get into his coffin, that he awoke, aware that conversations about his funeral had migrated into his subconscious.

He hobbled shakily on the crutches and let Reece in. He carried in a large overnight bag and took it to the bedroom. Ari was amazed that he had slept for five hours.

“Your grandmother did all the packing, so don’t blame me.” He turned and metaphorically back pedalled, “Actually, I’m relieved she did.”

“Just leave it next to the wardrobe. I’ll unpack it later... thanks,” returned Ari.

“So what’s the plan for the rest of the week?

“Rest and recover, and then try and make sense of those photos. I need to find out what Alan is up to. I mean, I know he’s back at work, but I need to make sure everything is arranged for Thursday.”

            Another knock on the door and this time Pastor Ryan came in.

“Oh, hello Reece, I thought I saw you leave.”

“You did. I came back, but I’m leaving again.”

“You don’t want to stay for dinner?”

“Thanks for the invite, but I’ve got other plans.” His smile said it all.

“What about you Ari? Penny thought it would be easier on you if you had a meal with us. That is if you can make it across all right.”

“That’s very generous of you. I’d appreciate it a lot, thanks. I’m reasonably mobile,” he added.

“Great, we’ll be expecting you in about half an hour.” Ryan genuinely seemed pleased. He went with a truncated wave.

“He’s fairly young isn’t he?” Ari observed.

“Yeah, both he and his wife... This is their first appointment. ‘Been here over three years now apparently, and he’s a great guy. I’d be interested to hear what you say after you talk with them.”

“How is Jen?”

“Terrible, when I said I was helping organise your funeral she was shocked. I felt really bad deceiving her like that.”

“You didn’t tell her then?”

“No, but I almost did. She said, ‘Is Ari dead?’ and I said, ‘I was helping to organise his funeral.’ She thought I was being a bit sarcastic and insensitive, and I apologised. But I don’t think she was too happy with me.”

“I feel rotten about this... but what should I do? They want me dead.”

            Reece left and Ari freshened up before organising himself to slowly vault his way, on his crutches, to the residence next door.
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