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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:24 pm

Chapter 15

            Ari chafed in more ways than one over the following weeks. He struggled to keep himself occupied. The long days dawdled by as he read his bible and did studies on the Internet. He also examined those photos over and over again, using his computer to search news items for any link between McLeish, the photos and some newsworthy event. ‘Was it the people in the photos, some event, or some detail that revealed scandalous or criminal activity?’ The question haunted his waking moments and impeded his sleep. He would talk to himself; “Who are these people? What was he doing there? Maybe I’ll try and eliminate those that appear most innocent.” He knew that he was fooling himself. Unless the names and roles of those depicted were clear he would only be guessing.

            Aggravated by this insoluble problem and the inconvenience of the inhibiting lump of plaster, as well as the irritation caused by the cast; his convalescence was almost unbearable. His leg scratched and itched insufferably, especially with the increasing heat of summer. Ari just ached for a steamy, hot, normal shower; one that didn’t involve spraying himself in the bath, or being wrapped in plastic. He also wanted to be mobile; to investigate the questions spinning through his brain, but he was stuck. The cast was like a ball and chain, restricting his movements and he was loath to make the effort to go downstairs for anything but a major purpose such as eating. Marree wasn’t going to make it easy for him either. She harangued him into coming down for meals and helping out with some minor chores, dismissing his pleas of helplessness. On Sundays she cajoled him into attending church services. And he counted off each week of his recuperation to the scheduled appointment at the hospital.

            Finally, the week before Christmas, Ari had the cast removed. He immediately set about improving his fitness, walking at first and then jogging on increasingly lengthy runs. Christmas Day involved him in a visit to church where he talked at length with Reece, Jen, Zoe and Jess and some of the other young church members. Jo, who normally shadowed him at church, was attending her parents’ church with Juzzy and the rest of her family. He found her annoying when she was there because she reminded him how much he cared for Juzzy. Now he missed her presence, and still thought about her sister. He had to get over it, keep himself busy and confront the mystery that continually bothered him. As if reading his thoughts Reece invited him to a house party at his parents’ beach house. They were going to help out at a beach mission café a couple of nights and swim and relax the rest of the time.

            Ari also spent a short time talking with Ryan; the pastor suggesting that when the regular study started in a couple of weeks’ time that he should attend. Penny managed to reiterate the same, more as an invitation, and Ari reckoned that they made a formidable ‘tag team’. Eventually getting home, he had a quiet meal with Marree and he told her of his plans—a few weeks break and then he would try and find a job and sort some issues out.

“Why don’t you leave it to the police to sort those issues out?” she responded, having interpreted his allusion to what was really dogging him.

“Because they’re not doing anything!” he sounded more frustrated than he meant to. “I guess I’m getting a bit impatient,” he admitted, “but I have to see it through.”

            Marree became serious and made stern eye contact. “Ari, if you’re right and these people have killed, and tried to kill you, then you should stay away from them. Let them think you’re dead. Leave it to the police,” she reiterated forcefully.

Ari looked up and gave a little grin. It was good that someone cared enough to try and rebuke him. “You know Gran I’ll give Detective Meadows a call and find out how his investigation is going.”

“Not today you don’t; it’s Christmas.”

“No, not today, I’ll call him later in the week.”

                                    -----------------------------------------

 

“Could I speak to Detective Alan Meadows?”

“Certainly, sir... won’t be a moment. Who shall I say is calling?” The musical voice of the receptionist trilled cheerily. He handed the phone to Reece and mouthed, “Give your name.”

“It’s Reece Gobles here, and sorry, what was your name?”

“Melinda. Won’t be a moment Reece.”

“Thank you Melinda,” he crooned.

Ari snatched the phone back. “Why don’t you stick to the script?”

“I was just being polite.”

The line clicked, “Hello Reece.”

“Er, sorry Alan it’s Ari James.”

“Ari!” he sounded pleased, “What’s life second time round like?”

“Okay, I guess. Listen, I was wondering if you’d found anything more with the photos yet.”

“Yeah well, gone over them a number of times... can’t see anything unusual. I’ll bring them around tonight and go over them with you. Maybe you can see something that I can’t.”

“So how’s the investigation going?”

“To tell you the truth Ari, I’ve been really busy with some other cases and, well, with nothing to go on this one’s been put on hold for a while.”

“Oh,” Ari was beginning to think that if anything was going to happen it would be up to him.

“Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you... it’s just that... well it’s hard to convince Inspector Davis—he’s my boss—that we’re getting anywhere with this conspiracy theory.”

“So, he doesn’t believe you about the evidence from the accident?”

“He suggested to me that it was probably still an accident... just that the other driver fled the scene leaving a drunk buddy to take the blame.”

“Except that I knew it was going to happen.” Ari was getting wound up by the lack of action.

“You and I know that, but he said to me... ‘Prove it’ and in my spare time... to him you’re a paranoid, disgruntled employee who had an accident and is looking for a conspiracy.”

“Thanks Alan...” It was more of a sigh than a reply.

“Hey Ari, I’m still with you on this. I’ll be ‘round about six. How’s the leg?”

Ari was disconsolate, “Fine... and six is fine... bye Alan.” Ari hung up.

“Not going so good huh?” Reece volunteered.

“Not going at all.”

 

            They sat down and talked the afternoon away. First Ari got Reece to help him compile a list of everything that happened, putting the events in categories. Reece tried ‘Undeniable evidence’, ‘Possible Coincidence’ and ‘Possible Links’. Ari said that ‘Facts’, ‘Evidence’ and ‘Theories’ would work just as well. So they spent the first ten minutes defending their suggestions before Ari gave up. Reece was pleased to have won the day but Ari just wanted to get on with it. Seeing it all on paper Ari couldn’t comprehend how they could ignore his story. It was at this point that a sneaking suspicion surfaced.

            “What if they don’t believe your story,” submitted Reece, “You can’t substantiate your story with any hard evidence...”

“Except,” interrupted Ari, “Meadows told me in hospital, he checked the call about the threat to Collette and made the link with the other evidence after her death.” He paused, “What if... Meadows is telling me one thing, and his boss something else? What if he’s just trying to let it die down and is just humouring me, or even keeping tabs on me?”

Reece looked taken aback, “You think he’s in on it? Nah, he seemed genuine to me. I mean, that would mean you still are in danger; he could have you knocked off.” Reece shook his head, “Nah, if he were in on it, he would have had you...” he made a throat slitting gesture, “in hospital, and not mucked around pretending he was helping you. At least that’s what I’d do.”

“Thanks a lot.” Ari acted offended, “But did I tell you what happened in hospital?” Ari then related his ‘almost encounter’ with the representatives of his nemesis. “And you said that’s what you’d do.”

“You know what I meant,” Reece defended unnecessarily.

“No... Think about it. The best way to prevent an investigation is to be in charge of it. Choose opportunities as they arise while keeping your target’s guard down by pretending to help. Who knew I was there?” It was almost a rhetorical question and they both stared at each other briefly before Reece pondered, “It’s possible I suppose, but you have to have a really warped mind to consider it.”

“I think you just described me.”

What hope did they have if Meadows was really involved, conjectured Reece? They would have to somehow set him up with some false evidence and then inform his superiors before he gave himself away trying to frustrate their purported ‘discovery of new information’.

            This all sounded a possible strategy until Ari quelled their enthusiasm.

“What if he’s genuine and we’re ‘leading him up the garden path’? We’ll have lost all credibility… and the one person who might have been able to help us.” Ideas seemed to evaporate after that.

 

            The remainder of the afternoon was spent talking about their beach holiday and about the speeches at the funeral. It was during this banter that Ari made some requests for the next time he had a funeral.

With a sudden stop and a serious glance Reece protested, “That’s not funny Ari, not funny at all. Maybe I should stick near you. Accidents involving two people are harder to organise, I would imagine.”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“Don’t ask, I’m tellin’.”

They spent some further time talking about girls. Reece explained how he spent considerable time making up to Jen for his furtive actions and then relayed some hearsay news about Juzzy having been busy with end of year tasks at school and mostly moping about at church functions; at least when they see her at Valley Church.

“Maybe you should call her and apologise,” recommended Reece.

“You know, I thought of that, and, of course... it’s the right thing to do. I can’t see why she’d forgive me, although she might. What worries me is too much can still happen. If I’m still in danger then the fewer people near me the better. So if I don’t do the right thing she’ll stay away for sure.”

“You’re crazy. When you’re in trouble you need friends... good friends. The more real friends you have the safer you are from trouble.”

“You want me to risk other people’s lives to save my own? I won’t do that. I’ve used other people enough already.”

“Well I’m sticking with you... and it’s different if you give them a choice.”

“That’s very noble Gobles... still, I’d feel really bad if anything happened to you because of me.”

 “So would I,” his friend retorted. At which point Reece was hit by a flying pillow. 

 

            That night Detective Alan Meadows arrived later than expected; which was just as well because they had finished dinner at six thirty and weren’t particularly happy at the prospect of asking him to join them. This was mainly because they had inflamed each other’s suspicions when talking about the low probability that events had gone the way they had without someone providing inside information. Both Reece and Ari tried to behave ‘normally’ and both wondered afterward whether their feigned cordiality was apparent to the detective.

            Ari led them up to his room and they inserted the ‘thumb drive’ (as Meadows called it).

“It’s good to see you up and about. When was the cast removed?”

“About ten days ago,” Ari answered as he opened the file. “Pull up that chair,” he indicated to the policeman, while Reece stood behind them looking between their heads.

Slowly they examined one photo after another, the detective making brief comments.

“We identified most of the guests at this dinner... nothing unusual... can’t work out who they are... that union guy. He’s had a few run-ins with civil disturbance and trespass charges, but that’s fairly run of the mill for those guys. He’s been involved in some standover tactics on some job sites and we’re sure he’s tied up with some shady black bans, although no charges have stuck.”

Ari wondered if Alan always spoke in clichés or whether it was just work jargon for him.

            When they finally got to the end of them Ari was a little mystified.

“Is this all?”

“What... all the photos? It’s all that was on the drive you gave me. Why do you ask?”

Ari chose his words carefully so as not to alert Alan that he had his own copy of the ‘Photos for Ari’ file. “I just thought that something would stand out; maybe that there would be an obvious crime or some association with criminals.”

“Well, I was hoping you would recognise someone,” mumbled Meadows.

“I recognise some people... staff, other politicians, but a lot of people I don’t know at all. I spent a lot of time in the office so I didn’t see his social or political contacts much.” Ari stopped. He heard himself sounding too talkative, as if he were nervous or hiding something.

Alan gave him a quizzical look. Ari shrugged his shoulders, projected his lower lip in dismay and with a voiced exhalation responded, “I don’t know!”

            Meadows was convincing in portraying his commitment to the investigation, running over some details of the ‘accident’ that had come to light; though none of it was new to Ari. It had been confirmed by another witness that Collette’s camera had been stolen. The elderly man who had watched from his house had said that the man who had taken the camera had appeared to have rifled through the four wheel drive first, and then left in a third car driven by another man. The descriptions given were of ‘Joe Anybody’ commented Alan dryly.

            The detective checked his watch and stood up. “I had better go. I’ll keep working my end. Let me know if you come across anything.”

“I’m pretty much at a dead end at the moment,” admitted Ari.

“You never know, something might occur to you,” he said as they walked down to the front door. They showed him out and returned to the bedroom.

            “Man, he is one cool customer,” announce Reece.

“So you think he’s working against us?”

“Someone is, if it’s not him then who?”

Ari shook his head and collapsed on the bed, “He’s so convincing... I mean he seems likeable. But the photos give him away.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone has deleted some of the photos from that data key. I know because I have my own copy. I give Meadows the photos which he thinks is the only copy. He gives them back and some are missing. What does that say to you?”

“That he’s destroying evidence,” Reece said it as if he thought it was obvious.

“Yep.” Then a big grin appeared across Ari’s face and he ran a hand through his scruffy sandy hair.

“No!” Ari was almost jubilant, “He’s showing us the evidence!” He held up the other data key.

It suddenly registered on Reece’s face. “The missing photos are on there,” he pointed tentatively.

“The ones that were deleted must be the photos that McLeish was after,” Ari stated flatly as he saved the file from the first drive, closed it down, and then opened the drive attached to his keys.

            They both crowded around the computer screen, anxious to identify the deleted photos. As they compared the two files Ari noted, “Look, there are five less photos on the first file. Someone’s gone to the trouble of renaming the numbers so that you can’t tell which ones are missing.”

It took him a few moments of checking of the 146 photos on the second drive with the 141 shots on the first drive before they located the group of five. Ari copied the five crucial pictures onto a photo editor.

“What’s so special about those do you think?”

“I dunno,” Ari returned, “but we’re going to have to find out. Thank you Mr Meadows.”

“Just looks like some businessmen meeting McLeish...” Reece was following the sequence through the five photographs.

            The second time through Ari paused at the fourth shot. “Look at that. Thomas is turning toward the camera. He has a sort of guilty expression on his face. He must have noticed Collette taking pictures from a distance. And, the last shot he’s turned his back to the camera and is saying something to the businessman.”

“So it’s something to do with that guy, or the file he’s giving him.”

“You think he gave him the file?” Ari turned, asking more for confirmation of his own assumption.

Reece analysed for him, “Well, there...,” he said pointing to the first shot, “he is walking holding up the file a little as if saying; ‘I’ve got it’, and then he shakes his hand in the second shot... and then in the third they’re both looking down at the file.”

“Well done Sherlock.” Ari patted him on the back.

“I was thinking of myself more as Dr Watson... Sherlock had too many hang-ups,” he smiled cheekily at Ari baring his teeth. 

“Tell me about it.” Ari moaned at his innuendo.

            Their attention returned to the photos. “Do you think we could magnify the file – see what it says?” Ari suggested.

“It’s worth a try.”

Because of the high definition settings Collette used, the photo remained remarkably distinct and sharply defined as they expanded the segment of the image. Just as the depicted lettering began to get fuzzy from magnification Ari captured the image. They stared at the marks trying to decipher it.

“Looks like ‘RAD Systems’. What’s that smaller word underneath?” Reece peered at the monitor tilting his head in a myopic trance.

“If you move your big head maybe I can get a look in,” growled Ari good naturedly.

When he could see, Ari began to think audibly, “Starts with a ‘T’, five, no six letters... I think it’s ‘Tender’.”

Reece placed his hand on Ari’s back, “It’s a lovely moment, but I wouldn’t go that far.” Then he ducked just in time to avoid a clip over his ear.

“Okay, so ‘RAD Systems – Tender’, whatever that means, and ‘B.I.T.’ down the bottom. Aren’t acronyms wonderful?”

Reece pointed to the lettering at the bottom, “I bet that’s the company name.”

“I reckon you’re right.” Ari concurred. “Why don’t we do a search?”

“Excellent idea Holmes,” Reece was becoming as enthused as the proverbial assistant to the sleuth while on the hunt.

            ‘B.I.T.’ was a very common listing and it took some time to identify the most likely sites that matched their situation. ‘Burns Industrial Technologies’ was the most likely target as the others were either overseas sites, or the letters were only part of an address. It appeared from the site and some articles that they were a government defence contractor, and had been involved in technological developments for a number of years.

“So, what do they have to do with RAD?” Ari thought aloud again and continued his searching.

After several minutes sorting through the myriad of listed items they came across several news documents that appeared pertinent to their quest.

            ‘Government Outlines RAD Systems Contract’ in a Defence magazine excerpt.

New Government Defence IT contract’ was a newspaper item that both read. It described as a ‘technology based – Response and Defence System’. Another more recent article referred to the awarding of the contract. Ari and Reece had their eyes glued to the screen as they read the article:

 

‘Relatively new defence contractor ARC –Austin Research Corporation, has won the highly contested RAD defence contract. Most pundits considered Burns Industrial Technologies-B.I.T.- as favourites to win the lucrative contract to develop interactive computerised monitoring of troop movements and armament targeting. The Defence Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) Thomas McLeish said... ‘that an independent panel as well as a parliamentary sub committee had said that the ARC submission addressed all the criteria and was a far better fiscal proposition than the other tenders. On those grounds it was awarded the contract.’

            Some defence experts are yet to be convinced that the fledgling company has the infrastructure or expertise to deliver on the contract. In response to these queries the minister said that ‘... progress will be under periodical review and government collaboration will ensure the successful completion of the project.’

 

            The two paused and looked at each other. “This is it,” crowed Reece, “McLeish has done something illegal with the defence contracts and he’s trying to stop anyone finding out.”

Ari continued for him, “Collette catches him at some clandestine meeting that shows that somehow the confidentiality of the tender process was breached. We have to work out who the other man is, and what Tommy gets out of all this.”

“Well get to it,” insisted Reece.

            Ari set about organising files of information, capturing the news items and saving them. He then tried to find pictures of personnel from both defence companies mentioned. The CEO of B.I.T. was shown but it wasn’t the same person. No-one from ARC was shown. Its site was one of PR hype about a company of the future with little substance about any achievements. Every new suggestion ended in a dead end and their enthusiasm began to dwindle.

“So what do we do now?” Reece looked deflated, “We don’t have anything but theories, no proof, just a fair idea of what this is all about.”

“I guess I’ll have to visit the parliamentary library... see if my permit is still current. It should be. They wouldn’t have an audit over Christmas.”

“What can you do there?”

“With my medium access level I should be able to search identities for public government contracts, and I might be able to check McLeish’s pecuniary interests... see if he has any links to ARC.”

“Isn’t that where you were almost caught?”

“Yep, exciting isn’t it?”

“You’re crazy.”

“I keep hearing that.”

“Well it’s true.”

“I won’t do anything until after we get back from the beach, seeing we’re leaving tomorrow.” 

 

            Because it was a Tuesday they had planned on going to the Bible study. A phone call from Ryan had them heading off early to have dinner with the pastor and his wife. It was the first study of the year and they had organised a smorgasbord of casseroles, fried chicken, salads and desserts. All the study group were there including Juzzy and Jo. Things were very strained between them and they tended to polarise to opposite ends of the table.

            Halfway through the meal Jo came up to him and whispered, “Ryan wants to talk to you in his office.”

Ari edged away and wandered over to the church building only to find the office empty. He turned and came face to face with Jo. “I lied,” she confessed, “Now that we’ve cleared that up... will you please sort things out with Juzzy. Apologise; beg her forgiveness... just get together. It’ll be just so much better for everyone concerned.”

“It’s easier said than done,” Ari sighed as he sagged visibly. “She is really angry at me, and I guess I don’t blame her.”

“You guys are so alike... wallowing in self pity. Oh woe is me. Listen, I’m not usually so direct or critical but...”

“Oh yes you are,” interjected Ari with a grin.

“You both claim to be Christians. Christianity is about forgiveness and reconciliation. All this is a waste if you can’t live it. Say sorry... tell her the whole story, and swallow your pride.” She gave a saccharine grin, “I just had to say that. Sorry if you’re offended.” She turned and left him gaping after her. A minute later Justine walked in. Ari felt a strong attraction to her and felt a warm flush on his face as he saw that she had noticed him staring at her.

“Is Ryan here?” she sounded a little cold... distant.”

“No... but I know why you’re here, and I have something to say.”

“Did you arrange this? Why are you so sneaky... so underhanded.”

“No, I didn’t arrange this...” he tried to sound calm, and not get angry himself. She was starting to turn when he put his hands on her shoulders and held her steady. “Just wait a sec Juzzy, I want to say sorry... Sorry for everything. Sorry for all the grief over the last year...” and then realising what he’d said added, “…over the last few months.”

Justine stood and stared at him, “So, ‘sorry’ and it’s all right. You were there watching Ari! I just can’t believe it... there’s something really disturbing there.” She took a breath before continuing.

“I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for pretending you’re dead, watching people attend your funeral and then having guests around to tell everyone the story.” Justine turned and left.

            That tirade meant the study and remainder of the evening were generally uneventful lecture wise by comparison, but Ari was faced with serious self examination. In small discussion groups they discussed the ‘wise virgins’. What did it mean to have lamps filled with oil, to have your house in order? The leading text: ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other’ was from Galatians 5:2. Not saying much as he became introspective, Ari asked for divine help to let go of his pride. How could he keep in step with the Spirit? It meant living and caring for others, considering others more than himself. He knew it was an about turn for him. At suppertime he chatted to Penny who said that he looked preoccupied. She had a way of encouraging him and getting him to focus on the positives.

            Reece dropped Ari off at his home telling him that he’d be there early the next day to take him to the beach house. While most everyone else had headed home Ryan spoke quietly with Justine. In his own way he filled in Justine on a different way of viewing events.

“Justine, have you wondered what caused Ari to do what he did?”

“Yes,” she looked a little shame faced, knowing that she hadn’t waited for an explanation.

“Did you ask him?”

“No.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, I was just so mad at him. He watched us grieve for him. Did you know that?”

“Did you ask him why?”

“No.”

“What do you want to happen?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do you want this to end?”

“I don’t know. I guess I want to be friends, but I feel so ... belittled... like my feelings don’t matter to him.” Tears were welling up in her eyes. Ryan waited patiently. She saw that he was waiting for her to continue. “Every time I see him I feel bitter because of what he did... Am I wrong?” she started crying softly.

“Yes...” Ryan spoke quietly, “Bitterness is always wrong. Let me tell you a little story and then you decide what should be done. There was an ambitious young man who generally tried to do the right thing. He had a good job and was well liked. Some of the people he worked for were pretty rotten. He heard of a plot to harm a friend. He tried to warn her, but when he got near to her place he found her dead. The young man wanted to expose the plot, but was himself targeted. Eventually his pursuers forced him off the road and left him for dead. For two days he was in a coma and he had a broken leg. In his fear he suggested to a policeman that they pretend he was dead since that’s what they believed. He supposed that they wouldn’t be a threat to him if they thought him dead. The hasty plan didn’t really consider how others might feel about his death... this was in part, in my opinion, due to his low self esteem. The policeman decided that it might be a good idea if he watched the funeral and identify those that were chasing him.”

 

            Tears were streaming down Justine’s face. “What do I do?”

“You tell me.”

“I should apologise... he had a broken leg,” she was reflecting on the niggling issues that irritated her so much. “Ryan, I really like Ari, and I guess that I was mad at him for fooling me and turning out to be such a rat. Now I realise I’m the rat. I didn’t give him a chance to explain.”

“That’s the beauty of repentance... you can always start again.”

Penny came in with some tissues and hot chocolate all round. She then gave Justine a hug and encouraged her, “Juzzy, the bigger the issues you two get through together, the stronger your relationship will be. You two have just started with a doozy.”
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