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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van

PostSubject: Dying to Live   Sun Sep 10, 2017 4:43 pm

Chapter 13


Cooped up in the back of the unmarked police van, Ari began to grow restless.

“Why did we have to come so early?” he asked Alan.

“We don’t want to attract any attention. This way we just look like an empty van.”

 The van had been parked along a parallel access drive to the burial site. A screen of young trees mostly obscured the dark van from the surveillance area, but because it was parked so close to the branches the occupants could see through the gaps.

            So there they were, Alan, Ari and another policeman who was organising a video camera and had a camera with a large telescopic lens hanging around his neck, all getting in each other’s way trying to find a good vantage point. Ari felt like he was in the ‘Twilight Zone’. The strange misty morning after the humid storms of the night before; the van picking him up, Meadows hardly pausing for a ‘good morning’ before pulling the vehicle back away from the kerb with a lurch and then easing the van quietly through the cemetery to their observation position. The whole morning had a queer feeling to it... especially since it was his funeral.

            “Grant said he’d be here at nine forty five precisely,” Meadows mimicked the nasally, meticulous enunciation. “That means he should be along with the hearse any minute now.”

“I feel really bad about this now,” Ari admitted quietly.

“Nothing you can do about it now. Might as well stick to what we planned; tell us who you recognise, particularly from McLeish’s staff … and see if that gives us any likely candidates to check out.”

Ari mumbled his reluctant assent.


            Everything happened quickly after that. A large black hearse drew near right on schedule and then people wandered over pensively to the graveside from the car park. Ari was surprised to see Chen and Gail and Howie and Devon all ambling along the path. His co-workers from the office talked quietly as they neared the parked hearse. There were some university acquaintances along with Reece, Jen, Sissy and Juzzy. Juzzy was supported by her parents and sister, Jo. His eyes focussed on Juzzy. Her grief was apparent even at a distance. Head bowed slightly she looked different. Her long blonde hair had been cut short and now framed her cheerless face. Juzzy’s eyes were reddened from crying and looked big and sad as she glanced around.

Byron Burke stood a little to the back and was on his cell phone. There were two others with him. Ari guessed that one was the same thug that collared him in the library. The other was sly like, looking about as if he’d missed an appointment.

“That’s Burke with a couple of cronies,” he indicated the general direction and Gannett, the policeman with the camera, zeroed in on them and clicked repeatedly.

             Marree arrived and looked suitably depressed, though she couldn’t resist a quick scan around to locate his position behind the curtain of trees and a deliberately slow nod of her head to acknowledge his presence. There were others too that he hadn’t expected; Professor Hargreaves from the university and Lyn, Jeff and Joe. Ari’s attention went back to Juzzy. His stomach churned and it seemed that his heart actually ached as her dad put his arm around her shoulder and she dabbed the tears from her eyes. Each mourner was listed as Ari spoke their name and video footage recorded everyone present all the while.

            The group gathered around the grave site and the coffin was ceremoniously taken from the hearse and placed on straps over the hole. There was a quiet shuffling that Ari heard over the listening device Alan had planted. Everyone was waiting for something to happen. Errol Grant, the funeral director moved forward and the voices muted. He spoke a few words of condolence and then introduced Marree. His grandmother said a few words about him but concentrated her comments on human mortality and the importance of determining your eternity. Ari wasn’t convinced she displayed sufficient emotion until her voice broke a little and she said that Reece, a friend of Ari’s had some important information to share.

            Ari noted the look of surprise on Juzzy’s face as Reece declared that Ari had recently ‘given his life to Jesus.’

            Juzzy was in a daze. Everything she saw was filtered through watery eyes and looked like a French impressionist painting. Time oozed by and the words spoken by others were meaningless sound bytes and didn’t register. She seemed to be in an altered state of consciousness. Random memories of Ari flashed in her mind. His cheesy grin and tousled fair hair imprinted on her brain with him saying something controversial. She had always thought he was the one. She had been sure that their differences would be ironed out; that somehow things would work out if she was patient and had faith. What had happened? An accident, and now, what was Reece saying… that Ari had become a Christian? It was all too much. Juzzy’s eye’s stung as more tears welled up. The pain and loss seemed to be amplified as if she experienced the added torture of the hypothetical ‘what if’. What if she had been less adamant in relegating their relationship to the background while she sorted herself out? She tried to focus on what was being said.

Her miserable expression tore at Ari as she wept, and Jo tried to comfort her by slipping her arm about her waist.

Reece seemed lost for words as he momentarily realised that this sham was lacerating the sensibilities of his friends. He stumbled to an awkward conclusion with a lame, “and we’ll all miss him.” Sissy and Jen battled with their emotions. Even his workmates seemed to recall his crazy antics and brought to mind what would be missed most with his passing.


            Errol Grant rescued him with some well practised clichés about being in a better place. Solemnly they lowered the coffin and then Errol suggested that mourners could file past and sprinkle some flower petals on the coffin. Many took part, floating multicoloured flower flecks like the dying fluttering of butterflies into the grave; but the likes of Burke and his disreputable associates peeled away, two already talking on their phones. Ari saw his grandmother walk over and console Juzzy, raising her head briefly to stare in his direction. He felt the look reprimand him and an ache of remorse filled his being. What selfish, cowardly malaise had infected him to inflict this misery on his friends? Why hadn’t he faced the threats like a man? His panic and obsession with self preservation had put everyone else in the background. Marree said a few words of introduction to Mr and Mrs Wells which he could barely hear above the burble of subdued conversation. She then turned to Justine and spoke quietly, too soft for the microphone to pick up. Justine looked up briefly and nodded, Marree continued to talk.

            Slowly, twos and small groups drifted away toward the car park. Others stayed talking quietly for a while. For the first time he noticed Zoe, the nurse from the hospital, standing with a male friend a little beyond Juzzy. They stood back glancing at Juzzy and her family as if waiting for an opportunity to condole with her. His focus shifted back to the beautiful girl who had tangled his emotional life, invading his thoughts and confusing his perceptions with a mirror on his own aggravated soul. Justine’s trimmed blonde hair formed an inverted U-shaped frame of her face as she leaned forward in response; it seemed to Ari, to what his grandmother was saying. Juzzy’s head bent lower and Marree drew near as they briefly hugged before parting.

             Ari didn’t notice Alan’s voice. The second time the detective spoke it shook him from his reverie, but he hadn’t tuned in and was lost for a response.

“What?” he managed huskily.

“You okay?” Alan asked, more as a matter of form than legitimately expecting a reply. He guessed that Ari had been sobered by witnessing his ‘own funeral’. “I said that we need to get you back and then try and ID those two with Burke. I’m not sure what good it’ll do but it could help.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure why I did this myself.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” Meadows soothed, hearing the despondency in Ari’s tone. “You may have prevented more violence than you know. If they think the threat is gone then they’ll relax and then we can get them.”

Ari turned toward the two policemen and eased his plaster cast leg into a more comfortable position. He could appreciate what the detective was trying to do, but he still felt wretched. He hadn’t realised that Juzzy would be affected so deeply; and if she really did like him, could she ever forgive him for what he had put her through?

“Are you getting anywhere with the investigation of Collette’s murder?”

“Apart from what I’ve already told you we have very little. But these photos may be helpful with the accident witnesses.”

“What about the photos on the data key?”

“Well we went through them at headquarters and, I have to say, there was nothing there that any of us could interpret as incriminating. But I’ll still go through them with you.” Meadows said as if he wanted to assure Ari of his commitment, “You may notice something that we haven’t, since you know McLeish pretty well.”

Ari felt disappointed but didn’t let on that he’d already examined the shots. Things were falling apart and Ari was powerless to do anything.


            He looked back toward the graveside and was just in time to see the last of the small crowd disappearing over the crest of the hill.

“Should we head back now?” Ari questioned, keen to get away from one of the lowest moments of his life.

“No, we should give the car park a few minutes to clear.”

So they waited. Gannett tidied up all his recording apparatus and Meadows collected the microphone from a wreath placed near the grave. He chatted briefly to the men from the funeral directors and they had a bit of a laugh together. Ari was chafing to get away and, when Meadows returned, he asked a little uncharitably, “What was so funny?”

“They asked if I wanted to help them lift the coffin back in the hearse, but I declined. They said it was their first resurrection and they hoped no-one would spot them.”

“I guess they don’t want to waste a good coffin,” Ari allowed.

“Not only that,” added Alan, “They put bags of flour in it to give it a bit of weight and Grant said his missus would kill him if she discovered where he’d put her flour.” The detective chuckled again at the thought of him trying to explain the use of the flour.

            Sitting in a seat behind the driver, Ari watched the coffin being raised as the van slowly moved off. Ari saw that Jen and Reece were still in the car park chatting with Zoe and her friend, though for the life of him the ‘boyfriend’s’ name eluded him. The confusion that Zoe must have experienced, having seen him quite well and joking in hospital, and then hearing of his funeral; it made him feel queasy. Was she talking to Jen about that? Had she said anything to Juzzy about seeing him in hospital? Just as the van was passing them and pausing at the exit for a break in traffic, Reece nodded at him, even though he couldn’t see him through the tinted windows.

            Reece looked back at Zoe who was speaking to Jess and Jen, filling them in on her encounter with Ari. Jen stole a curious glance at Reece, determined to quiz him on a number of issues. Not the least being his visitations with Ari in hospital that had passed unheralded. Ari slumped into his seat, wondering what his next step would be, unsure where he was headed, and feeling a brewing frustrated anger within that he was no closer to getting evidence to convict McLeish, Burke or Clarridge and their cronies.

            Back at the bungalow, Ari staggered onto the bed and put his aching plaster cast leg up. He had no appetite so he snoozed through lunch time and into the afternoon. Disturbed by memories of the morning’s events he started grumbling to himself.

“What a stupid idea. What am I going to do now?” He rolled onto his side and picked up the bedside bible.


            Friday passed like a slowly removed sticking plaster. Every time his attention kept drifting back to the grief stricken expressions and to the tears, it seared his senses. The recollection gave him a lump in the throat. Should he call Juzzy and explain what had happened and why? How could he explain? Even to him it didn’t make sense any more.

            That night students and singles congregated at the church for their regular bible study. Ari peered through the window to watch as they exited their cars in the car park. He pulled away as he considered what effect his new found faith had on him. He had begun his journey with his ‘grand deceit’. ‘Not a great start,’ he thought. Ari was just overwhelmed by his own self centred life, his foibles and his inadequacies. “Sorry God,” he murmured. He turned the television on and half watched a football game.

            Toward the end of the evening there was a knock on the door. Ari had been dozing and the sudden rapping sound had startled him. He reached for his crutches to go to the door, but the door opened before he had even raised himself from the couch. Reece poked his head through and grinned Cheshire like.

“How’s Lazarus?”

“Not funny Reece. I’m feeling pretty rotten about the whole thing.”

He grew serious and sat on the couch next to Ari. “I know what you mean. It was gut wrenching watching everyone grieve and not let on that it’s all a ruse.”

“Let’s not go there,” Ari ran a hand through his tangled sandy hair. He changed the subject. “How was your study tonight?”

“Friday night’s not so much a study as a get together; bit of a social night really. But it was pretty good... at the end there was a short devotion and there was some sharing about why things happen... you know ‘God’s sovereignty’ and all that. Anyway, they’ve gone to Ryan and Penny’s for some supper, so I thought I’d zip across and see how you’re going.”

Alarm suddenly filled his thoughts, “Won’t they miss...” He stopped short at a scuffle at the doorway.

The door swung open and they both saw Jen step in. Her face was frozen in a shocked expression as she registered the two friends on the couch.

“Ari... who...  how... what happened... I thought you...” Jen tailed off almost incoherent.

She shook and started to quail. Reece rushed up and helped her onto the other chair.

While Reece made them all a coffee Ari tried to settle her down to explain the whole convoluted story. As Reece served the drinks, there was a light tap at the door. Reece put down the tray and walked toward the door, pulling a face and shrugging as he went. He let in a timid, ill at ease girl. It was Jo, Justine’s sister.

“I was just wondering if you were still taking me home?” she asked Reece weakly. Then her gaze went to the others in the room. Her eyes were wide with surprise. Something was registering in her brain but it took a while for her mouth to begin to work.

“Ar... aren’t you Ari?” she stuttered.

Ari nodded, embarrassed, but he was also intrigued.

“How do you know me? We’ve never met have we?”

Jo looked shyly at Ari and smiled wanly, “Juzzy has a picture of you guys from the Valley House retreat. You have been the centre of attention recently.” She said matter-of-factly, her head tilted quizzically, expecting some sort of explanation.  

            There was still disbelief in her expression. Jo just stood there staring. Ari thought of one of his grandmother’s expressions – ‘as if she had just stepped into the Twilight Zone’. Reece led her to the couch and sat her next to Jen and then got her a drink too.

“Are we expecting anyone else?” Ari asked pointedly at Reece.

He grinned unashamedly, “No that should be it. I think we’re all here.”

“Well, I guess I’ll start again for Jo’s benefit.”


            Ari told his story, briefly reprising the first few minutes of his tale to Jen. It was about half an hour later that Ari finished, having digressed a few times to answer questions posed by the two girls. 

“So that’s what happened to your leg?” Jo ventured, reflecting on the conclusion of his story.

“Mmm...” Ari acknowledged, shifting uneasily, partly from the discomfort of the cast and also because he hadn’t elaborated on the whole conspiracy theory. It was the lack of evidence and his inability to explain what had set the hideous plot in motion that made him deliberately allude to a scandal. A scandal that was better kept confidential while the police were investigating. That was Ari’s angle, but in truth he had no idea what Meadows and his colleagues were up to.

“You could have been killed,” Jo continued. There was a real concern in her voice as she intuitively connected the chase and ‘accident’ to the staged funeral. He didn’t reply, but felt relieved that he didn’t have to try and justify something that he was now regretting.   

              Jen left with Reece and Jo, still not coping with this startling change of events.

“This is going to be a real shock for Juzzy,” she announced as Reece drove them home.

“Are you going to tell her?” Reece probed.

“She’s got to know.”

“Maybe you should leave it for Ari to tell her.”

Jo intervened “I’ll tell her tonight. Jen’s right... she has to know.” There was a certain delight in her outwardly serious tone.

“Jo, maybe you should leave it till the morning,” Jen counselled, “I mean, she won’t sleep a wink if she has that sort of news on her mind all night.”

Jo saw the sense in Jen’s suggestion, but she felt a bit let down that she would have to wait till the morning to reveal her scoop.

            Ironically it was Jo who tossed and turned all night knowing that in the next room her sister had gone to bed early, ‘very down’ according to her parents. She also knew that she had news that would turn the state of affairs upside down for Juzzy. So Jo rehearsed in her mind how she would tactfully give Juzzy the news.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

            Ultimately, when morning came, every practised explanation and every nuance of tact was lost in Jo’s little sister approach. ‘I know something you don’t know.’ She didn’t actually say those words but the triumph in which she communicated “something extremely important... that might be an incredible shock... it could be hard to understand but had a plausible reason behind it...” Jo’s obfuscation caused Justine to exasperatedly plea, “...just tell me!”

 “Ari’s alive,” was her succinct announcement.

“What? You’re mad!” was the response, and the most likely response given the circumstances.

“I was with him last night.” There was a tiny trace of triumph, or maybe just certainty in her voice that left Juzzy staring at her sister, stunned. Jo followed with the clincher. “Call Jen or Reece, they’ll tell you. They were there too.”

“Where...where were they? Where is Ari?” there was an edge of desperation to her question.

“At the Valley church... you know, the bungalow at the back.”

Before she could say any more Justine had whirled around and rushed into her room. Minutes later she burst out and headed for the front door. As she passed, Jo, still in her pyjamas eating breakfast in the kitchen, called after her, “Don’t you want to know the full story? There’s a reason...” She was cut off by the slamming door.

Resuming spooning her cereal, Jo reflected that she may have done that better.
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