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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Thu Sep 14, 2017 7:15 pm

Chapter 17

            Thursday was a leisurely day; breakfast on the veranda, a game of beach volleyball, some swimming and then a ball game in the water before coming back for a sandwich lunch with fruit and watermelon. In the afternoon the surf was up and Joe and Reece were giving lessons to anyone willing to give it a try. Zoe went around taking snapshots for posterity. She had some comical shots of would be surfers flailing arms and legs as they plunged off the board. She captured sunbakers warning them that she didn’t want ‘before and after’ shots; then insisted they slather sun block on. She took a few shots of Jess who was buried in the sand and had the buried legs of Mel and Tessa with their feet emerging next to his head creating a humorous picture.

            After reading part of a real life missionary story together while lying in the sun, Ari and Juzzy walked in the shallows and talked. They then joined the others in the surf trying to perfect their body surfing techniques.

Eventually, after having exhausted their energies being pummelled by the churning breakers the two of them headed back early and started organising the barbeque and making salads. Jo came back with them claiming that she was tired of surfing, but it was more likely she had succeeded in evading her two admirers and was building an alibi. Zoe and Jess appeared a little later to lend a hand. With everything prepared they each took turns to shower off the accumulated salt and sand and delight in the feeling of being fresh and clean. They were drinking cool fruit juices and reclining on deck chairs when the others arrived back.

            Ethan and Mac were keen to take on the cooking duties while some cleaned themselves up and others relaxed before the meal. Hamburgers with fried egg and salad were the main fare, though there were some vegie burgers and sausages on offer. Ice cream and fruit was a favourite for dessert and the first watermelon was finished off for good measure. After a short pep talk from Joe, everyone assisted in the cleanup. Either because they were too tired, or they still wanted to shower, Reece, Jen, Mel and her two friends and Ethan and Mac stayed back, while the others went for an evening beach stroll.

            On the outward leg Ari and Jess got to know each other better and Zoe and Justine did likewise. Jess said he’d heard that Ari was involved in politics and writing speeches for Thomas McLeish. He asked him whether McLeish was involved in the so-called ‘accident’. Ari said he couldn’t say. Without going into the whole series of episodes again, he made it clear that that part of his life was behind him. He said he was sure that there were decent people with high ideals involved in politics, but that some of the people he had worked with had been the worst sort.

Jess told him he didn’t have to beat around the bush as he had attended Ari’s funeral and his subsequent appearance had caused him to ask questions. He offered again to help ‘sort things out’ if any help was needed... he could make some enquiries at work. Yes, Ari told him, there still were some loose ends, but he hoped the police would resolve everything soon. He didn’t say anything about his reservations about Alan Meadows, aware that he had nothing more than suspicions at this stage.

            Coming back, Jo and Sissy walked with Joe at the front, then followed Jess and Zoe and lastly Ari and Juzzy. The clear starry skies, mild temperature and crashing waves set the scene for a romantic walk. Ari mentioned that he thought Juzzy ‘smelled nice’ and she looked up at him pleased by the compliment. She slid her hand into his and they walked hand in hand all the way back, not saying much but sharing the joy of their deepening relationship.

            An occasional glance backward from the others brought knowing nods and smiles.

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

 

            Friday and Saturday were days when the whole group became quite close knit. Friday morning was spent doing some sight-seeing, swimming and enjoying the beach while in the afternoon they worked together helping set up the coffee shop in a local church hall. They went into the resort town and handed out leaflets inviting young holiday makers to attend an evening of ‘free coffee and entertainment’. Kurt—who was a key leader— and a couple of other organisers, who belonged to an evangelical missions group, encouraged them to be involved in the program. Jess and Jo both played guitar and sang, while on the first night Reece shared how his life had changed when ‘he’d accepted the claims of Jesus’. Kurt, who emceed most of the evening, did some ‘magical tricks’ while illustrating a simple message. It was really busy taking turns serving coffees and talking with people. By the end of the first night, when they had finished cleaning up, it was after midnight and they all were exhausted. 

            Saturday was a slow start with most having a sleep in. Joe, Ethan and Mac kept their crazy fitness run going and crashed back into the house to the protesting groans and moans from the various rooms. They played tennis with some of the local church group before lunch. Ari found his fitness still below par and he promised himself that he would resume jogging as soon as he got back into a home routine. He and Reece lost comprehensively to two teenagers who Reece suggested had taken time off from the Institute of Sport. It didn’t help that Ari’s steady game was hampered by his fear of Reece’s serve; which was liable to go anywhere and sometimes hit him. Their mutual clowning around was very entertaining to the rest of the group, but did little to improve the quality of their game. Ari contended later that Reece deliberately aimed at him to satisfy some long held grudge. Juzzy and Jen put them to shame with well organised team work and won their doubles game easily.

            Lunchtime was spent browsing through the township’s eateries and then walking to the end of the long pier checking out the catches of those fishing along its length. Preparations for the evening were more complex this time because a live band was the feature attraction. Jo was again asked to sing and Tran, another member of the organising team, cornered Jen into sharing her story. After a meal of fish and chips the whole team sat around for a prayer time. Ari was strangely moved as he heard the requests for those who would attend that night. He thought of how people would have prayed for him in a similar way. How they talked to God as a Father; not like his father, but one that wanted to be close by all the time... and was there when you turned to Him. Ari prayed silently, not having the confidence to join in audibly.

            That night there was a large crowd and the atmosphere of music and conversations was vibrant. Jen shared about how through the persistent efforts of a close friend she came to ‘her senses’, just like the prodigal, to choose to live a purposeful life. Jo played and sang a couple of times during the evening and Zoe, Mel and Lani also sang two songs in delightful harmony. Tran gave a short talk about escaping from an Asian country, losing everything but saving his life. He said it would have been foolish of him to cling to his possessions and risk death, but, he said, people are doing that every day. Tran quoted: Jesus asked “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” He asked for everyone to consider what was truly valuable. Tran had learnt from the actions of a Christian friend that living for others and giving to others was far more fulfilling than accumulating wealth and possessions and popularity for himself.

            After his talk the band played for some time as numerous groups discussed what Tran had said. Ari had found himself sharing with a couple of young guys how he had lived a self indulgent life and how certain events (which he didn’t elaborate) and an accident brought his life into focus. The coffee shop finished even later with packing up completed early the next morning. Tired as they were, the group all congregated in the lounge on their return to the beach house. Sissy and Zoe made milkshakes all round, and they talked of how this should become an annual event.

            The night was all too short. Bleary eyed and stumbling around, the fourteen weary companions had a pyjama breakfast together. There was a round of complaints about Mel, Tessa and Lani who had been giggling till after two thirty that morning. Reece and Ari’s sleep had been even more disrupted because Joe and Jess had abandoned their tent after being invaded by ants and had to reorganise the sleeping arrangements in the lounge. Recriminations about half eaten doughnuts attracting the insects were aimed at Jess.

            When everyone had eaten their fill of cereal and toast all the remaining food was divvied out. Then packing and cleaning was the main occupation. Although all the students and some others were still on holidays, they were all heading home. It was a Sunday and Reece and Zoe were returning to work the next day. Jen, who had come with Juzzy, decided to go home with Reece and Ari said he had no problems going with Juzzy if it was okay with her. Reece got clobbered with the complimentary pillow when he asked if it was official that he was ‘going with Juzzy’.

            The four of them were the last to leave. Reece asked if Juzzy was going to follow him back and she suggested they all have a coffee before they left.

“Not us; we have to get all these mattresses back, and I’m going round to Jen’s for dinner.” Reece’s voice lowered as he looked at Jen and put his hand on her shoulder.  

 “Just Ari and me then,” she smiled, “Well he owes me one from Wednesday.”

“Okay then, we’re going,” Jen called getting into the van and waving, “Behave yourselves.”

“You too,” Ari called back as Juzzy opened her car door. The two cars left and headed in opposite directions, sounding their horns briefly as they parted.

            It was the first cool day since their arrival and Ari and Juzzy braved the chill breeze as they sat drinking their cappuccinos on one of the outside tables.

Justine held her mug in two hands and looked across at Ari, “Are you amazed at how things work out?”

“When I stop to think about it I’m shocked… partly because of what happened and partly because of what could have happened.”

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean that I have been so self obsessed that it’s taken a tragedy and my near death to get me where I never thought I would be.”

“Does that mean you’re happy?”

Ari looked directly into her eyes as a gust of wind mussed her hair. Juzzy brushed the hair from her face. “Have I ever told you that I care about you so much? Ever since we met I…”

Juzzy put her finger to his lips, “Shh, I know… I feel the same way.”

His face grew serious, “But I have to say, I won’t be happy until this thing is over… till those responsible for Collette’s murder are in gaol.”

Juzzy put her head down, “Ari, can’t you let it go? Leave it to the police. You’ll only put yourself in more danger.”

He took her hand, “Juzz, as long as they are around, I’m in danger. They have to be caught.”

            On their way home the conversation drifted back to what he intended to do. And Ari shared how he had to identify someone in a photo that he’d got from Collette. When they neared his place Ari gave directions. They pulled up outside the two storey house on the hill. Justine looked at him strangely, looked at the house and then looked at him again.

“Have you always lived here?”

“Well, no I lived in the city until recently...”

“No, I mean did you live here as a kid?”

“Yes. Why?”

“When I was a kid I used to deliver pamphlets around this neighbourhood; it’s not that far from my place. Anyway, I’ll never forget one day. I looked up and I saw this boy climbing out of the top window. He was talking to himself. He climbed down a ladder and got on his bike...”

“And that’s when I saw you, interrupted Ari. “You were the cute blonde girl with the pony tail.”

“And you were the boy? The one who pretended I was in on his secret...” Juzzy just registered what he said, “You thought I was cute?”

“Still do,” he grinned.

“I often wondered why you were sneaking out, and where you were going to.”

“I’ll have to tell you some time. Thanks for the lift,” he leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek, and then backing out the door he put his finger to his lips. Reaching into the back seat he retrieved his bag, and she turned to him and spoke with a soft lilt.

“Bye Ari, see you on Tuesday?”

“Yeah, I guess so. You’re still off for a while aren’t you?”

“Yes, we could meet during the week and do something. Let’s talk about it Tuesday.”

“Okay, bye Juzzy, thanks again.”

Juzzy smiled, waved and drove off.

 

Inside Ari greeted his Grandmother with an exuberant hug. She immediately sensed that there was a difference, an enthusiastic optimism that communicated a great deal to her.

“Well, are you going to tell me about it?”

Ari, unsure at her meaning stood back and looked down at his Gran, “We had a great time... the weather was great... there was a whole group... and Reece and I, well he’s just so crazy.”

“Mm,” she started, “It wasn’t Reece that dropped you off home was it?”

Ari immediately knew what this was about. She had been watching! There was a twinkle in her eyes and a concentration in the way she watched his reactions; like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Er, no that was Justine Wells. She was at the house party. Er, she goes to a different church, but she goes to the Valley for bible studies.”

“That would be the Justine that everyone refers to as Juzzy, would it?”

“That’s right.”

“The girl who was heart broken when I met her at your ‘funeral’?”

“Yes,” he answered quietly, “That was Juzzy.”

“Well I’m so glad you two have sorted out your differences.” She gave him an affectionate push. “Go and put your washing in the laundry. Dinner will be ready in an hour.”

 

            Ari spent a few hours after his meal going over his file of the main points about RAD Systems, B.I.T. and ARC and the gaps he wanted to fill about Thomas McLeish. He included questions he had about Byron Burke. Where did he fit in, in the rise of McLeish? He’d also do some background on Jason Whipple—who seemed to be thick in the suspect side of party machinations, and Dan Jones—who, by all appearances was inoffensive and probably more of the popular, photogenic image the party wanted. He tried to draw a diagram of how things were linked starting with the nameless businessman centrally placed, connecting to Collette (who photographed him), to McLeish (who met with him) and to Alan Meadows (who deleted his pictures). There were secondary connections involving him, Clarridge and the other staff. Thomas McLeish began to emerge as central. He had connections with everyone. He checked again... everyone except Meadows; and if there was a connection then he was in trouble.

            The next day, when Ari finally roused himself, it was mid morning by the time he staggered into the shower. He was a bit grumpy for having slept in so long. As he breakfasted, Marree passed through the kitchen. “Why did you let me sleep in so long?” he asked Marree. She raised her eyebrows in response. It was enough. “Sorry Gran, I guess I was tired. I was hoping to get into the city today.”

“You be careful my boy.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know what’s going on, and I think you should let it go.”

She was being maternal thought Ari. “...You been talking to Juzzy.”

“No,” she fixed her eyes on him, “but it may be that the people who care about you realise you were nearly killed by these people.”

            There were a whole lot of arguments going around in his head. Reasons for justifying his course of action abounded. They were left unsaid. The old Ari would have made his point. The new Ari weighed up the ‘pros and cons’. Facing the threat was the only way he could feel safe in the future. Justice would be served in ending the political career of such a conniving leader. ‘It wasn’t about vengeance,’ he told himself, it was about right prevailing. Was he trying to justify his actions? Of course he was. Was he trying to compensate for the fear that had motivated him last time ... maybe? But he wasn’t going to stop.

            Borrowing his Gran’s car, Ari drove in to the city. At the library he flashed his party ID and gained entrance without a second look. Going straight to one of the computers he started accessing databases. In no time he was deeply engrossed in his search. There were government contracts and personnel profiles on those people linked to government defence contracts. These were under a security level that he could just access as a government researcher. After viewing a collection of files belonging to Burns Industrial Technologies, he called up Austin Research Corporation. Opening the first file brought his keyboard manipulations to an abrupt full stop. Recognition... It was the man in the photograph. Harry Austin was the CEO of ARC. It all came together. It had been lurking there in the back of his brain. What he had suspected all the while. Austin had been previewing a rival company’s tender, compliments of the Defence Minister... Now he knew! Ari copied the photo surreptitiously onto his data key. That was illegal! He looked about guiltily.

            His next foray into the files was Thomas McLeish’s listed supporters. It was meant to be for the public record, if you knew where to find it. It soon became clear that McLeish had courted a number of defence companies and had succeeded in obtaining large amounts of support from a variety of businesses. ARC was not one of them. Ari was disappointed. He was sure that there must have been some conflict of interest, or that he was indebted to them in some way. Unless it was a purely monetary transaction, in which case there would be some well disguised paper trail he was sure.

            He was well into his third hour of digging and secretly copying, when he stumbled across a picture of McLeish and Austin taken when McLeish was only just revealing his political aspirations. He had successfully defended the company against breach of patent on technical grounds. Apart from the handshake and history of the relationship this depicted, Ari’s attention was drawn to a diagram of the company structure. Enlarging the picture revealed the company name: Candels Resources. He went back to the listed backers of McLeish... Candels Resources... there it was. Ari copied furiously. He went to the current structure of ARC... no mention of Candels Resources.

            Ari stretched, and then resumed his investigating. Unbeknown to Ari, research into confidential files at the library was monitored. Down in a lower floor office packed with servers and data switches a wiry, bespectacled man with reddish, curly hair was busily typing in some code on a notebook computer on his knee. A beeping alarm started on the computer from which his swivel chair had turned. He ignored it briefly, but found it difficult to concentrate on the script he was entering. Distracted, he grumbled, tore his attention away from the system coding, turned and looked at the list of flagged entries slowly growing on the screen. This wasn’t some random event; someone was burrowing for information. This was exactly what his watchdog program had been designed for. He grinned, self satisfied. A few phone calls were made. Although he had no understanding of the real reason for the surveillance, he was sure his monitoring of hits on defence contractors and the like was playing an important role for national security. He hung up. His instructions were to check the closed circuit television monitors and keep a watch on the digital intruder.

            He dialled the phone again. “It’s just a young guy. Could be a student; maybe a political activist.”

A nasally voice answered, “Don’t worry about it. Somebody should be there shortly… if he starts to leave give us another call.”

Ari pocketed his memory stick. Then as an afterthought he went to a section about Republican Party members. He was totally absorbed in pursuing a line of inquiry about Burke and Whipple when there was a tap on his shoulder. He jumped.

           
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Dying to Live
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