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 Dying to Live

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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Fri Sep 15, 2017 7:22 pm

Chapter 18

           

“Ari James?”

“Y y yes,” Ari stammered as he swivelled in the seat.

“You seem to be doing an unusual amount of research on confidential government contractors.”

“Er, is there a problem?”

“My name’s Gordon Greaves. I’ve been doing some research on these companies myself. Would you say there’s been some ... er, irregularities?”

Ari turned more directly toward the tallish man. He was prematurely balding and wore a conservative grey suit. His face was pock marked from some severe skin condition. Trying hard to overcome the unsettling fright he had been given Ari tried to assert himself. “Who do you work for… Mr Greaves was it?”

“Let’s just say... a government agency... one that has been keeping an eye on the ambitious Mr McLeish and his somewhat doubtful associates.”

 “What makes them doubtful?”

He eyed Ari momentarily before responding, “It might be said in some quarters that Byron Burke and Jason Whipple have had a colourful past.”

“Such as?”

“I don’t think I’ll go into that.” He pulled up a chair and faced Ari. “So have you dug up anything about McLeish and these companies?”

“I’m not certain,” Ari answered cautiously. He wasn’t about to trust this new contact out of the blue.

“Well, I’ll tell you some of the things that I know and then maybe you’ll feel like sharing what you know.”

Ari felt he was being patronised, but shrugged his shoulders as if he was happy for Greaves to continue.

            “We know you worked for Thomas McLeish. Then you had an accident and were contacted by the police. You were then labelled as protected status – listed as deceased. I believe you have been working with a Detective Alan Meadows.”

A shiver ran up Ari’s spine. “What do you know about Detective Meadows?”

“Let’s just say, I’ve been keeping an eye on him.”

“Is he involved? Is he linked with McLeish?” Ari realised that he was sounding a little too anxious. He tried to relax in the seat.

“Can’t comment at this stage… except to say he doesn’t seem to be making any progress in his investigations does he?” Greaves seemed to clamp down then, as if he’d thought he’d said too much.

            Ari felt that what Greaves hadn’t said made him more suspicious of Meadows. The question is, what did Greaves want from him? The man’s expression became serious and Ari knew he was about to find out.

“Mr James, if you know anything that could help us with our investigations you need to let me know.”

“I had some photos that Meadows and I looked at, but we couldn’t see anything on them.”

“Are those the photos that Collette Downs took?”

“Yes, how do you know about them?”

“We followed up after the accident and learned about the missing camera. So how did you get the pictures?”

“She left a data key… that was no accident by the way.” Ari wanted to bite his tongue. Why was he trying to impress this ‘government man’? He looked down to try and gather his thoughts.

“No, so it seems.” The government man stared at him questioningly. “So who do you think killed her?”

Ari shrugged, “That’s the trouble… I don’t know. I’ve got my suspicions, but there’s no way I can prove anything.”

“Maybe I can get our forensic people to go over the car,” Greaves half smiled, “Where can I contact you?”

“You give me a number; I’ll contact you if I have anything.”

His smile broadened and he patted Ari on the shoulder. “You’re right to be cautious. These are powerful people.”

            Greaves gave him his number as Ari logged off the computer.

“Thanks Mr Greaves.”

“Gordon,” he replied, “You should be able to get me any time.” The big man turned and walked purposefully out of the library.

 

            On his way out Ari recalled his last exit from the library and became wary of being observed. If Greaves could find him maybe McLeish’s crew were on to him as well. A devious route was already forming in his mind. He drove his Gran’s car slowly to the freeway entrance and drove sedately in the slower lane for about twenty minutes. There were a number of cars that could have been following. He eventually pulled off the freeway and drove into the underground parking lot of a large mall. He found a parking spot and waited. Two vehicles drove slowly past and he backed out, retraced his path. He heard a squeal of tyres as he disappeared around the corner. Instead of going straight out the exit he quickly swung right going up a ramp and then he exited the car park higher up the hill. Luckily he caught the green light; crossing the highway and darting up a side street before working his way along back streets to a parallel highway three kilometres south of the mall.

            Ari glanced continuously in his mirrors and all about him. Even though he should have been confident of getting away, he wasn’t convinced. He pulled into a local shopping centre and waited twenty minutes before it dawned on him that they knew where his Grandmother’s place was.

            A course of action suddenly crystallised in his mind. Ari started the engine and drove to the church. He pressed the door chime and, in hardly any time, Penny appeared with her sunny greeting.

“Hello Ari. Come in,” then she appended the greeting, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’ve just been rushing a bit.” He wasn’t sure whether the misdirection of his reply was to save Penny from the fright he got or because he didn’t want to admit he was in trouble again.

“I’ll let Ryan know you’re here.” She showed Ari into the lounge and then fetched her husband from the study. When Ryan came in he was immediately aware that Ari was flustered.

“What’s wrong Ari?”

“I think I know what McLeish has done. And he knows that if it gets out it will destroy him. I just don’t know who to tell… who I can trust.”

“Have you got all your information together?”

“Not really, but I can’t risk going back home. I need somewhere quiet where I can organise all the information.”

            The young pastor looked thoughtful. “I’d offer you the flat, but we’ve got a missionary couple in there for a few weeks. Why don’t you go to the guest house and then come back when you have sorted all this out?”

“Would that be all right?”

“No one’s there at the moment. I was there a few months ago and there’s a computer and printer there, so you should be able to get together what you need. I’ll let Marree know where you’ve gone.”

“Thanks Ryan. I really appreciate this.”

“Don’t worry about it. I want you to do something for me.”

“What?” Ari paused a little unsure of what was coming next.

Ryan went to the shelf and withdrew a small testament. He handed it to Ari.

“I want you to carry this around with you and read it when you get the chance.”

Ari took the booklet. It was heavy… far too heavy to be just a book. He opened it and there was a sheet of quarter inch steel the size of the little testament inside it.

“There’s a great chunk of steel in here!”

“I know,” responded the pastor quietly, “I’ll explain it all when you come back. Someone gave it to me once, just like that.”

            Ari looked at him doubtfully. “Is this some sort of ritual?”

Ryan chuckled, “No, nothing like that,” then more seriously, “I want you to promise me that you’ll carry it with you until we see each other again, and then I’ll tell you what it’s about.”

Ari hefted the testament one more time before putting it in his back pocket and shaking his head a little mystified. “All right, but it seems weird to me.” He looked up to see Ryan punching in a number on his phone while referring to a small booklet. When he heard it ringing he handed the phone to Ari.

“Your grandmother… better that you speak to her so she knows you’re okay.”

Ari took the phone. “Thanks…” The phone rang a few more times before Marree answered. “Gran, it’s Ari…” There was tension in his voice.

Ari are you all right?”

 “Yeah, I’m good. Listen, is it okay if I take the car to the church guest house? …I just have to sort some things out…”

Well, you know I’d normally say yes, but I have an appointment tomorrow.” There was a brief lapse before she continued in a softer tone, “No that’s fine, I’ll take a taxi.”

Ari suddenly felt awkward, “No, no don’t worry Gran, I shouldn’t have asked. I’ll find some other way. You use the car.”

“You sure? I really don’t mind.”

 “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll drop the car off soon. Er could you let Juzzy know that I’ll be away for a few days. I’ll see her when I get back.”

            After some concerned salutations from Marree Ari hung up and looked at Ryan, “Plan B?”

Some time was spent while Ari and Ryan were disagreeing about Ryan or Penny driving the hour up to drop him off and then driving back; or giving certain members a call who might be able to spare a second car for a few days. When the phone rang the Pastor answered it in a far more formal tone than the one he had been using with Ari. Ari heard a number of ‘yes’ and ‘okay’ responses before he hung up.

            With a glint in his eye and a sneaking smile he said, “Plan C.”

Ari tilted his head inquiringly, “What’s Plan C?”

“A bit of afternoon tea, then you’ll see,” he gave himself a little nod, pleased with his rhyming pun. Ari didn’t think he knew Ryan well enough yet to throw something at him, but he found the vague answers exasperating.

            Ten minutes later as they were sitting in the kitchen the doorbell rang. Penny answered the door and walked back in with Juzzy.

“Ah, Plan C,” announced Ryan.

“Juzzy is plan C?” Ari questioned.

“What do you mean Plan C?” Juzzy retorted pretending to be miffed, “I was hoping to be plan A,” she said in a tiny voice all cutesy; for which she received a soft punch to the shoulder.

Ari was still a little surprised at the turn of events. Juzzy explained to him that she had turned up at his place just after he had called and Marree had told her what was going on. She had made some decisions. She would drive him up to the guest house and pick him up later in the week, or earlier if he called.

            Ari spent the next hour explaining what he had found out about Thomas McLeish and Harry Austin, the CEO of Austin Research Corporation. He enthusiastically described the realisation that he and Reece had come to; how that it was the deleted photos that gave the clue of what to look for. Ari explained that in the role that McLeish had as Defence Minister he should have had a hands off approach to these contractors; and yet it appeared possible, and now, more and more likely, that he was involved in the illegal breaking of tender confidentiality. Ari also mentioned the arrival of Gordon Greaves who seemed to back up some suspicions he had about Alan Meadows. They discussed the best way of releasing the information, once it was all put together. Ari was concerned that McLeish might squirm his way out of it by saying it was all a big mistake, or that he’d used the wrong folder cover, or some other barely plausible story. The problem was that they had evidence but no proof. He could possibly get away with some acute embarrassment and blame staff for errors. Tying him to the murder would be almost impossible.

Ryan countered that McLeish would have some difficulty explaining his meeting with a company that was, to all industry experts, surprisingly awarded a defence contract for which he was ultimately responsible; and he just happened to be carrying a folder with another company’s tender written on it. Surely the scandal would ruin him.

            After much to-ing and fro-ing about their chances it was finally decided that Ari would get all the information and then talk with Greaves, with a few others present. He gave the number to Ryan and explained that they should try and find out more about Greaves before they trust him too much.

Ari and Juzzy stood up and thanked Ryan and Penny for their hospitality, handed over his Gran’s keys and then headed off, provisionally acquiescing to requests that all care be taken.

            As he stepped into the car Ari noticed his overnight bag. “You thought to pack some of my stuff,” he half asked, half stated.

“Well someone has to organise you…though actually it was Marree’s idea; once I told her that I would drive you up,” confided Juzzy. “There’s a laptop in there that Reece dropped off too.”

“Ah, he remembered. Ryan said there was a computer at the house, but it still might be handy.”

 She watched him squirm uncomfortably in the seat before he leaned forward and removed the loaded testament from his jeans pocket. “What’s with that?” Juzzy asked puzzled

“A present from Pastor Ryan,” admitted Ari wryly. He clutched the weighty text wondering what to do with it. “Apparently there’s a story behind it, so I have to keep it with me.”

Juzzy nodded, conscious that she had experienced something of Ryan Eddington’s sometimes off-beat approach to getting people to confront issues.

            They were quiet for several minutes as they wound their way out toward the hills. Both mulled over some private thoughts and seemed unsure how to start a conversation.

            Eventually Juzzy murmured, “So, what do you plan to do with yourself once this is all over?”

“Pardon?” Ari asked, though he had a fair idea what the question was.

“I just wondered what you’re going to do once this is all over.”

“Well,” Ari muttered unsurely, “I suppose I haven’t given it a lot of thought. It seems like a lot of what I used to do, speech writing and stuff—” he paused searching for words,

“—well I wouldn’t feel right doing it.”

“What do you mean?” Juzzy gave a glance his way.

“It’s not as though I was doing anything illegal, or even immoral;  it’s just that you tend to embellish the truth a bit… exaggerate and, well… sometimes you purposely write a whole speech that is vague and ambiguous, while sounding impressive.”

            “From that, I gather you don’t want to write,” she sniggered.

He grinned back at her, “No, not really. Maybe write something one day, but nothing to do with politics.”

“Well, just to tide you over; what would you think about working for my dad?”

Ari strained his memory. Somewhere in the past Juzzy had told him what her dad did.

“Sorry, I’ve forgotten. What does your dad do again?”

“He owns a plant nursery. He supplies plants to retailers, but he wants to develop the retail part of the business.”  She sounded as if she was promoting the idea.

“What does your dad think about this idea?” Ari asked warily. “Does he know about me?” As soon as he said it he realised it was nonsensical to ask.

Juzzy chewed her lip distractedly, trying to put a positive spin on her next comment, but Ari intervened for her.

“He doesn’t think much of me, does he? … Tormenting his daughter… toying with her emotions, grieving her, and now probably putting her in danger. ”

“I guess you’re not the ‘flavour of the month,’ she admitted.

“I don’t blame him,” he looked a little deflated. “If I cared about you at all I should just go away… keep you from harm.”

She shot a sharp glance at Ari. “Do you care Ari?”

He felt a lump in his throat and a tightening around his stomach. He looked across at her girlish, short blonde hair.

“I care Juzzy, you know I care. I think I have loved you since the day we met,” he croaked, hoarse with emotion.

            Juzzy’s cheeks went pink, but there was pleasure in her expression.

“So, people who love each other should stick together and support each other, through every situation,” she asserted with a broad smile.

Ari dwelt on her confession. There was a welling fizz and sparkle in his uplifted mood, like a newly poured soda. “You love me?”

“Uh, huh, somebody has to,” she teased.

            They pulled off into the café car park that they had visited on their first trip to the guest house. Juzzy explained that as well as a coffee, they should also get some milk and food for his stay there. It was a pleasant afternoon, quite coolish for summer, but delightful in the sun and away from the breeze down near the river’s edge. They were walking hand in hand with their take away cappuccinos in their other hands, sipping and chatting. A flock of ducks launched off from the reed screened backwater, startling them. They turned and gripped each other protectively. The shimmering ripples escaped the slow eddy and were caught up in the current. Ari and Juzzy watched them peel off with a series of disgruntled quacks before wheeling around and descending to ski to a quieter pool downstream. Hands were released and the walk resumed.

            “I’ll probably have to meet your dad first, before I work for him,” Ari blurted out of the blue.

“Do you think?” returned Justine, a trifle sarcastically.

“I mean, maybe I should drop around,” he countered defensively.

“I know what you meant, I’m sorry. I was trying to be funny,” she apologised hesitantly.

“I don’t feel particularly humorous when it comes to meeting your father. I think we should take our time.”

“Why Ari, you’re not afraid of my Dad are you?” she turned to face Ari.

He looked down into her blue eyes. “I just like to avoid unpleasant situations.” He lifted her chin and kissed her softly on the lips. After a lingering touch he breathed deeply, as if to gather himself. “We should go.”

“Mm,” Juzzy murmured dreamily, still looking up into Ari’s face. His touch to her face to brush back her hair shook her from her reverie, “Yes we should.”

            They picked up the necessary food and the obligatory delicacies that are almost impossible to avoid when one walks the aisles of even a small country grocer. By the time they finished Ari thought he had enough for two weeks.

            The remainder of the journey was spent discussing who to involve and how they would present the evidence once he’d put it into some sort of coherent form. The turn off onto the dirt track brought an end to their conversation and, to Ari, a flood of memories from their previous visit. They drove slowly along the crushed gravel all the way up to the parking area under the large trees. And there they pulled up. Ari gave Juzzy a peck on the cheek and stepped outside.

“Be careful Ari,” she urged passionately, leaning toward the back seat as he removed his bag and the supplies they had purchased. She got out and helped him transfer the shopping to the house. She lingered for a while as they strolled around the outer veranda, arms slipped about waists, watching the river course snake into the distance.

 After a gentle embrace and a quiet goodbye Juzzy left. He blew her a kiss and watched as the car, almost reluctantly, drove away. His crunching steps on the gravel parking area, after a last wave to Juzzy, emphasised the silent seclusion of the place. The key Ryan had given him proved unnecessary as the door was unlocked. He moved down the hall and put the dumped foodstuffs away. Hoisting his overnight bag he made his way to the lounge and dropped his things before going out the back onto the decking overlooking the river. There was a chill in the air as the evening mountain air blew into his face. He stayed for a few more minutes enduring the coolness to take in the solitude. The river flowing sedately, in contrast to the flooding he had witnessed last time. This even flow and the tranquillity of the place reflected his mood. The peace was the same sort of contrast compared to the earlier part of the day when everything was a flood of events.

            When he came back inside it had darkened considerably. Enjoying the subdued atmosphere, he was satisfied with the minimal lighting the one table lamp provided. Ari lit a fire in the fireplace and started setting up his computer connection. He spent time printing the photos at various stages of magnification. He listed the rival contractors and identified Harry Austin meeting with McLeish carrying the Burns Industrial Technologies tender.

A short search of BIT and ARC in the news allowed him to list media releases that expressed surprise at the winning tender. One of the news articles had a quote from Raymond Grouse, the CEO from BIT, saying that he was putting in an appeal to the ombudsman about the process. He added it to his collection.

            Ari then outlined the links between Thomas McLeish, Candels Resources and ARC, using the diagrams and photos as well as the financial support details. It was well past eleven before Ari became conscious of his fatigue and a gnawing hunger. He rose uncomfortably and extracted the small bible that had been digging into him. Shaking his head disbelievingly as he studied the annoying burden, he breathed to himself, “I’ve done some whacky things but this is weird. I hope it’s worth the grief it’s giving me.” He replaced it in his back pocket. Stretching like a disjointed marionette, Ari sauntered to the kitchen, flicking a light on as he went. He jumped at a sudden movement and thump, dropping to his knees behind the bench, as a large possum scampered along the outside window ledge and up onto the roof. He tried to peer through the window into the darkness. The possum made an eerie chortling sound as if in protest at being disturbed.

            Recovering from an involuntary shiver, he grabbed a can of vegetable soup and poured its contents into a small saucepan before heating it on the gas. His silent meal consisted of the soup, some buttered toast and a hot chocolate drink. Making his way back to the lounge after seeing to his toilet requirements, Ari set up his sleeping bag on couch cushions on the floor. Something was comforting about the crackling flames and he loathed the idea of leaving the reassuring warmth of the lounge for a cold, bedroom. He stoked the fire and tried to settle down to sleep. Taking the annoying booklet out of his back pocket, he eyed it thoughtfully before eventually placing the leaden testament on a table next to his head. His attempt at sleep fared no better with the new arrangement. Picking up the testament, he pondered its meaning. He was hassled so much by the metaphorical weight on his mind that the weight in the book caused, that it kept him awake. He decided to have a closer look. Maybe its mysterious purpose would be revealed.

            The slab of metal was inserted in Hebrews. He started reading chapter 11. It was all about ‘faith’. Amongst the great people of faith was one passage that grabbed his attention. He reread it:  ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God…’ He read it again, and then went on, “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Ari got to the end of the chapter amazed that it was all about faithful people who lived in hope for a future blessing and never having received that hoped for blessing. He reflected that, in a sense, their life of faith was a blessing in itself; they had a focus and purpose apart from self gratification. In a sense they lived apart from the circumstances—victors and victims alike lived for a higher purpose; that of giving themselves. He thought that he was beginning to understand what that meant. He doubted, however, that he could live up to those standards. Was that why Ryan had given him the book? The next chapter started with advice—to put aside impediments to the race he had to run. Maybe he should experience the weight for a while and live out the object lesson. Ari didn’t get past the first verse of that chapter. He was just too tired. ‘I’ll pick up this heavy reading tomorrow, he punned to himself.

 

            Ari soon sank into a fitful sleep.
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