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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:54 pm

Chapter 19

 

            Waking to a glorious morning, Ari briefly forgot his task and exulted in the warm morning sunshine, the chatter, whistles and shrieks of birds and the hushed rustle of eucalypts in the breeze. He munched breakfast on the veranda before walking down to the river and back. As he cleaned up, a new direction in his evidence gathering occurred to him. He would be proactive and make some phone calls. He had Byron Burke’s phone number. He reckoned he could impersonate the Clarridge thug over the phone and get Burke to make some sort of admission. He walked around practising the strangled, husky sound of the big lout. He sounded like a bad recording of the Godfather. Ari then wrote a script of sorts. Something about the investigation into Collette’s death being opened up. What should he do?

            He made himself a coffee and tried to psyche himself up. Then he slapped himself on the forehead when he realised that this whole ruse was no use unless he recorded the conversation. Once the computer mike was attached to the phone earpiece he was ready. Ari sat quietly and breathed deeply to settle his nerves. He went over the conversation a few times convincing himself that it was a good imitation of Clarridge.

“Right, I won’t be any readier than now,” he muttered.

            He got Burke’s number out of the small notebook in his wallet. He stared at some of the other numbers; Devon and Howie think he’s dead. What an awful thing to do to two associates. Though misguided, he thought they were generally harmless. Also, more than ‘associates’ he thought of them as friends. And there was Chen and Gail too. People with whom he’d socialised and got to know, deceived by the lie he had perpetrated. He knew he would have to personally apologise.

He shook his head as if unable to believe his recent history; ‘that will all have to come later’ he thought.

 

            Ari tensed as he punched in the numbers, starting the recording as the phone rang. He waited several rings and was caught slightly off guard when it was suddenly answered.

“Yes,” came the almost guttural response.

“Ah, Mr Burke, it’s Clarridge here. There’s something you need to know.”

The voice lowered and became sharp and insistent. “What are you calling me for? I told you never to call me at work.”

“I’m sorry Mr Burke but this is something serious,” Ari struggled to keep the rasping voice going.

“Well, what is it?” he hissed impatiently.

“I heard that the police are opening up the investigation into the accident.”

“What accident?” This wasn’t going as Ari had hoped.

“The Downs’ chick; seems like there were some witnesses.”

“I thought you said that even if there were witnesses there would be no way that they could tell …,” his voice suddenly trailed off. Then he demanded, “Who is this?”

Ari froze for a second or two before hanging up.

            That was almost enough. He didn’t confess anything outright, but he intimated knowledge of the plot. Ari was pleased. It would add to his evidence, and it was certainly better than nothing.

            Ari spent the rest of the morning searching the Internet for articles about defence contracts and McLeish’s work in his defence portfolio.

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

           

            It was not long before midday and Marree James had just walked in from her appointment. She fussed over putting some shopping away and was just making herself a hot drink when she got a phone call.

“Ah, Mrs James, it’s Detective Alan Meadows. I was hoping to speak with Ari.”

“I’m sorry Mr Meadows, he’s not here.”

The detective sounded a bit ruffled, “I really need to speak with him. Could you tell me how to get on to him?”

Ari’s grandmother remembered the helpful policemen and thought maybe he had some answers for her grandson.

She relayed the address of the guest house to the detective and told him that Pastor Eddington would have the phone number.

“Is there anything else Detective Meadows? Marree was hoping for a clue as to his purpose for ringing.

“No, no that’s fine, thanks,” and he abruptly hung up.

            Marree looked peculiarly at the phone as if it needed some advice on manners.

“People are always in a rush,” she grumbled to herself. She finished making her drink and sat down with a sigh when the doorbell sounded. Marree looked down the driveway but there was no car. Her first thought was religious doorknockers, or someone selling some new phone deal. She walked determinedly to the door rambling to herself, “I’m sorry visitors but I’m determined to enjoy my cup of coffee.” She sounded far more resolute than she knew she would be with the intruder.

She opened the door. There was Juzzy looking perky and fresh faced, but with a quizzical smirk on her face. “Did you say something Marree?”

Conscious that she may have been talking louder than she intended she blustered harmlessly, “Ah, well, I was just making a drink and…she aborted the attempt to explain and invited Justine inside. “Why don’t you come in for a drink, I was just making one?” she confided as if it were news.

            “Thanks, I’d like that,” beamed Juzzy.

As the second coffee was prepared Marree satisfied her curiosity. “So how did you get here? I didn’t see your car.”

“I walked. It’s such a delicious day and I’m only a few blocks away.”

Marree noted that Juzzy was radiant and seemed to effuse joy. “So, how was Ari? Did he settle in okay? He seemed to be a bit concerned yesterday. Did you have a good trip?”

Juzzy was nodding, unable to get a word in to answer. When it was clear that Ari’s Gran had finished she responded, “He was good. We had a lovely drive. It’s just awful that he’s there for such a terrible reason.”

“Yes,” Marree sighed and placed the drinks in front of them. “You’re very fond of Ari aren’t you?”

“Mm,” Juzzy nodded shyly and, holding her cup in two hands, sipped her drink.

Marree smiled, “I think Ari is very fond of you too.” She watched the girl squirm under her scrutiny. “You didn’t say why you dropped by.”

            Juzzy took a breath and haltingly tried to explain, “I thought I’d drop by and visit, and er…” her initial inspiration abandoned her.

“Sort of get to know you visit,” offered Marree.

Juzzy replied coyly, “You could say that.” She looked at the elderly lady and smiled warmly, hesitant before continuing, “Did Ari tell you when we first met?”

 

            Instead of relating their meeting at university, as Marree expected, Juzzy started with her pamphlet story; saying how she had always been intrigued by the boy climbing down from the roof. From there she progressed through the stages of their friendship. She avoided the painful episodes, though Marree surmised that all had not been plain sailing. When they eventually talked about the present troubles brought on by his employment with Thomas McLeish, Marree suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, I forgot to tell you. That nice policeman, Detective Meadows, called just before. He was after Ari.”
Concern flushed across Juzzy’s face, “What did you tell him?”


Her anxious tone alerted Marree and she responded in kind, “Is there anything wrong dear? I just told him that Ari was up at the guest house.”

Juzzy was immediately tense and serious. “I’ll have to call Ari.”

“Why?” there was confusion in Marree’s query.

“We’re just not sure about Meadows. There are some things that don’t add up. Things he’s been keeping from Ari.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll call Pastor Ryan and get the number,” Marree returned urgently and quickly got on the phone. She muttered to herself as the phone was connecting, “He was such a nice man.”

 

            While Marree was talking to Ryan, the unspoken accusations against Alan Meadows, described by Ari, swirled in Juzzy’s head. After he’d been with Ari in hospital two creepy thugs had paid Ari’s room a visit. Then there was the unmistakeable deliberate deletion of the incriminating photos that categorically pointed an accusing finger at Meadows. Finally there was the suggestion by the secretive Mr Greaves that there was some attention being directed toward the detective from government investigators.

            Marree handed Juzzy the number and in no time she had Ari on the other end of the line. She explained what had happened and warned him that Meadows would probably pay him a visit. Ari was quiet for a short period before he said quietly, “I’ll give Gordon Greaves a call.”

“Be careful Ari,” pleaded Juzzy.

“I’ll make myself scarce for a while. At least until I can work out what he’s about. Thanks for the call.” There was a period of awkward silence before Ari made a feeble attempt at easing her concerns, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” He hung up.

 

Marree observed as the girl appeared tangled in some mind storm; suspended in another dimension the phone still hovering near her ear.

“Are you all right?” Marree’s question broke the spell and Juzzy replaced the phone.

“Er, yes… I just wish this would all be over.” As an afterthought Juzzy called the police station local to the guest house. She spoke of the safety of a friend without trying to sound irrational; and managed to get an assurance that they would try to drive by at some stage. The effect of that call was that Marree was now extremely alarmed. Agitated herself, and impatient to get a move on, Juzzy spent further vital minutes placating Marree who was now convinced that she had endangered Ari. Juzzy told her that the phone call was only based on suspicions they had; and that she wasn’t to know about their theories anyway. As soon as possible after her consoling explanation she ran the distance back to her place.

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

 

            Ari looked at the slip of paper Gordon Greaves had given him. He was caught in two minds. There was a queasy uncertainty about what he should do. It was like he had dipped his toe into a cold swimming pool and had to convince himself it wasn’t as bad as it felt. He took the plunge.

            “Gordon Greaves,” the abrupt reply caught Ari off guard.

“Gordon, it’s Ari James. A situation has arisen.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Alan Meadows is paying me a visit.”

“Why?”

His anxious brevity and the alarm in his tone alerted Ari and made him even more jittery.

“Maybe he knows that I’ve worked out what this is all about.”

There was a short silence before Greaves spoke in a flat insistent voice, “Stay away from Meadows; he’s dangerous. I’ll try and get to you ASAP. Where are you?”

           

            After describing his location Ari asked him what he should do.

“Hide. Don’t come out until we’ve got Meadows.”
“How will I know when it’s safe?”
“You’ll know.”


An involuntary shiver together with overall clamminess were the tell tale signs of his apprehension about what he had just done. It also was a signal of the distress he was experiencing in anticipation about what might happen. Gathering his courage, Ari searched the house for a secretive position. There were nooks and cubby holes, a space under the veranda and access to the roof space. Ari rejected all of these. He needed to see what was going on. He didn’t want to be cowering away wondering if anyone was near, never sure when it was safe or not.

Outside he looked at some of the trees. One large gnarly old gum stood near the parking area. This appealed to him at first because of the area he could survey from a height. It wasn’t until he considered what might happen if he was discovered—no chance of escape, because of that he deferred trying to climb it and continued to examine the surrounding bush land. The wood pile was also an option but maybe a bit obvious, though it had a reasonable retreat to the river path. Next, his eyes fixed on the roof. The more he inspected the almost ad hoc composite nature of the corrugated metal faces that resulted from a number of modular additions, the more he was convinced this was his best vantage point. Both the back and the front had trellis which he could descend quickly if need be.

            Ari was just contemplating the best roof position to take when he heard the distant rumble of tyres. Frantically he scrambled up the front trellis and clambered over the ridge, twisting and sliding front ways, feet first before grasping the metal capping. He peered over the top. The crunch of gravel beneath rubber preceded the arrival of Alan Meadows in his late model sedan. Pulling up almost at the same spot to where Juzzy’s car had parked, Meadows waited briefly and scanned the surroundings. He looked uneasy when he finally stepped out of the car. One hand remained ominously in a coat pocket. Ari followed his deliberate footsteps up to the front landing till he disappeared beneath the awning. He heard a sharp rap on the wood and screen front door. After a silent interval there was another sharp rap.

“Ari, it’s Alan Meadows.” The voice seemed distant from beneath the roofing.

            Ari, his head poking over the ridge so he could see, would have been mortified if he knew how visible he was. Just a glance to the roof line was all that was necessary to locate him. He heard footstep go around the veranda, so he quietly crawled to the next ridge to view the back of the house. He caught a glimpse of Meadows near the railing.

“Ari, are you there?”  The policeman sounded a bit nervy.

            Just then Ari leaned on a loose sheet of corrugated iron. Scraping against a nail, it made a raucous, cat like wail. Immediately Meadows had his gun drawn and was moving back defensively. Ari stayed hidden while the policeman circled to the front. He spotted Ari when Ari eventually peeked over the top to see what was happening.

“What are you doing Ari?”

“I’m trying to be careful.”

“You don’t have to be afraid of me.”

“Oh no, then why do you have your gun out?” Ari asked in an accusatory manner.

“Well, to be honest, you spooked me. I thought this was some kind of set up when you didn’t appear. Are you coming down?”

“Not until you get rid of that gun.”

“What about if I put it on that stump over there, will that do?”

“I guess,” allowed Ari.

Alan Meadows walked with deliberate, slow strides over to the stump near the woodpile, and placed the gun ceremoniously on top.

“You know, it’s not something I enjoy doing… being separated from my firearm. Consider yourself privileged.”

As he came back Ari warily climbed down the front trellis keeping Meadows in sight constantly.

            “So what’s this all about?” Meadows was uptight, almost belligerent.

“That’s what I want to know. Why did you want to see me?” Ari tried to match his hostility.

“I’ll get to that later. Why were you hiding from me?” he softened his tone.

“Let’s just say I started to add a few things up.” Ari figured that confronting him head on would get him to drop his pretence of innocence, and at this distance he reckoned he could outrun the policeman down the river track.

“Like what?”

“Those photos that you returned to me; there were some missing.”

“What do you mean, missing?”

“I had another copy. The ones that were missing incriminated McLeish.”

            Meadows looked bemused. “Is that it?” He shook his head in disbelief.

“Well, there is more. That Tuesday in hospital, before you arrived I had a visit from a couple of McLeish’s thugs. It occurred to me that no one knew where I was but Reece, my Gran and you. So you can understand my suspicions.”

“Tell me about the visit, what happened?”

Ari went into replay mode and told of the events in the hospital. At the conclusion of a detailed story about his unwanted visitors, he mentioned being recently contacted by someone from a security organisation who claimed to be keeping an eye on Meadows himself. At that news the detective gave him an icy stare, “Who?” he demanded.

Ari stagnated indecisively before going on. What harm would it do to reveal the name?

“Gordon Greaves.”

Alan Meadows nodded, “That explains a lot, and it’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Why don’t we go inside and talk about it?”

“Okay,” Ari was hesitant. He was considering his escape options when the detective gave a wry smile and asked, “Could you grab my gun and bring it in?”

            Ari trotted over to the stump and picked up the automatic pistol. He was surprised by its weight. The metal, warm from the sunshine, still gave him a nasty feeling. Heading back to where Meadows was waiting, he began to reassess the detective. Perhaps they were wrong in doubting him. Maybe there was a rational explanation for the missing photos, for the visit by Clarridge and his crony and for the comments made by Greaves.

            Detective Meadows was waiting for him half way to the house. Ari felt uncomfortable holding the gun but preferred to be cautious even though his trust in the policeman was growing. Just as Ari drew alongside, Meadows grasped at a second pistol from inside his jacket. There was a smashing pressure against Ari’s chest and he crumpled to the ground. ‘A second gun’ was his last thought before he blacked out.

            Almost simultaneously, Juzzy pulled up and launched herself from her car, screaming wildly, having witnessed Ari’s collapse, and seeing Meadows, gun in hand, hare off into the undergrowth, crashing through oblivious to the scratching and tugging branches.

“Ari, Ari, don’t die,” Juzzy pleaded, cradling his head and fearing the worst as she saw the bullet hole. Tears were filling her eyes in a cascade of emotions. Almost instantly she considered her first aid training: Stop the bleeding. She looked. There was none! Juzzy brushed her eyes with her sleeve and blinked to clear her vision. She examined the hole in his wind cheater. Left side of the chest; surely it was fatal, but no blood. Check breathing. There was a light whisper of air from his mouth. He was breathing! She checked his pulse in an incongruous test on reality. The pulse was steady. What had happened?

            Ari groaned as Juzzy peeled back his top to reveal the hole in his shirt pocket. In that pocket was stuffed Ryan’s gift of a new testament. In that testament was a small metal slab with a considerable dent. Juzzy looked at it curiously.

            Ari moaned and opened his eyes, surprised to be face to face with Juzzy. Her eyes glistened with tears of joy.

“What happened?”

“I think you fainted,” was her relieved reply, but it sounded tongue in cheek.

“Fainted? I thought I was shot.” Ari looked confused as he raised himself on one arm. He groaned as he felt across at the tender area of his chest. “I remember Alan grabbing a gun and then my chest felt like it exploded. Where is he? Did you scare him off?”

“He charged off into the bush.” Juzzy furrowed her brows, “He didn’t shoot you, you know. I think he saw someone and went for his gun.”

“Someone else shot me?”

Juzzy nodded.

“But I’m all right?” There was doubt in his voice. He touched his sore chest again and rubbed it gingerly.

“Uh huh,” Juzzy assented with a nod, “Thanks to this.” She held up the small booklet with its single perforation. “So what’s this about?”

It dawned on Ari then, what had happened, and he couldn’t hide the smirk that crept onto his face.

“I think that’s one weight that I’m glad I didn’t set aside just yet.”

Juzzy looked puzzled, but let it go at that for the present. “I’d say someone is looking after you Ari James.”

He smiled back, “I’m sure of it.”

            As he got up he took hold of the gun that was digging into his back; just holding it gave him a fright. Both were suddenly alerted to the thump of tyres onto the driveway. A squad car appeared, hurtling into the parking area before slamming on its brakes. Even before the pursuing cloud of dust arrived, Sergeant Hohns had exited and was pulling out his gun. Before Ari realised what was happening the sergeant was yelling at him;

“Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” It took a few seconds to register before Ari just released his grip and let the weapon tumble to the ground. Hohns and another policeman rushed at him. Roughly, they brought him to the ground and searched him before relenting to Juzzy’s wails of protest. Ari sat up grunting with indignity.

“Why did you do that?”

The sergeant a little less gung ho now responded, “You were holding a gun on this young lady. We had no choice.”

Ari conceded the sergeant’s possible interpretation as the picture formed in his mind, “Okay, it may not have looked good, but believe me I have no intention of harming Juzzy.” Then as a postscript he queried, “How did you know to come here anyway?”

“A young lady rang and said there was likely to be some violence at the guest house. She feared someone’s life was in danger.” They both looked at Juzzy and, minimally, she coyly held up her hand in admission.

“So you rang?” he asked rhetorically, and then turning to Ari, “And your life is in danger I take it?” There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

            Any doubts the sergeant had soon disappeared when he was shown the shielding testament and then inspected the hole on Ari’s clothing.

“Jones we will need to get a statement from these two.”

“Yes Sarge,” he responded almost enthusiastically. He pulled out his note book as if he’d always been deprived of the pleasures of real action. The young constable started to take down some details when there was a rustle and then snapping of twigs. Everyone turned as Meadows emerged from the scrub and shoved Gordon Greaves before him into the ground. Both had a dishevelled, battered appearance; Greaves having suffered more, sporting a bleeding nose and an eye that was closing already. Hohns’ gun pointed at the intruders. Meadows ignored the other police, bent over and searched Greaves for any other weapons.

Looking up, Meadows saw Ari and Juzzy next to him. “You’re okay?” There was an aspect of consternation in his expression. Ari nodded. Then accepting that fact, although it was apparent that he was a little perplexed, he looked around trying to weigh up what he thought had happened. Staring intently at Ari’s chest and struggling to reconcile the hole in the clothing with his obvious wellbeing, he said vaguely, “I thought you…”

Ari cut him off, “I’ll explain later, tell us about him.”

Meadows’ attention then went again to the miscreant on the ground, moaning at his feet. Now there was a look of disdain on his face as he spoke through gritted teeth. “We’ve found a rat.” He indicated with his foot the prone figure. “Meet Detective Greaves. A fellow officer and, it appears, a lackey of McLeish. Sergeant, I want you to lock up Detective Greaves until he is collected by Internal Affairs. He’s charged with attempted murder, obstruction of justice and many other charges, no doubt. Sergeant Hohns however, required a bit more information.

“Who are you sir?” he asked still training his gun on Meadows.

The detective apologised, introduced himself and showed him his credentials politely, in a clearly practised routine. The cooperation he received showed the wisdom of his considerate approach.

Detective Meadows assisted the young constable in securing Greaves in handcuffs and dumping him into the squad car. With some uplifting comments that boosted the young man’s ego, he assured him that he had confidence in his carrying out his duty with this dangerous lawbreaker. While the constable kept watch over the captive and bruised Gordon Greaves, the four others went inside the guest house. Juzzy made them all a drink as they settled and made small talk about the guest house. They sat in awe as Ari showed them his modified testament with the misshapen slug lodged in it; and then the rapidly colouring welt on his chest. Ari had removed the bullet before Meadows could follow correct procedure. The detective then ensured that the sergeant would testify its origin and removal. He placed it in an envelope and gave instructions about its care. Not long after the Sergeant departed saying he would be in touch.

Then there were questions aplenty. And Alan Meadows was first to offer his story. He shared that he had become suspicious that someone was not just hindering, but sabotaging his investigation. First he found that his phone records of Ari’s calls had been deleted—the ones Ari had made telling of the threat to Collette’s life.  Then forensic information from Collette’s ‘accident’ went missing from his desk. He had to ask for another copy and made sure that was locked away. It was clear now that Greaves was the culprit but at the time he didn’t know who to trust. What else had he done? It seemed evident to Meadows that if there were photos missing from the data key, Greaves would have deleted them. It was then that he asked what Ari had discovered.

Ari retrieved the laptop and some of his papers. He went through the photos and explained the link between McLeish and the defence contracts that mysteriously went to an unlikely supplier. He also outlined the well disguised links between Austin Research Corporation and Candels, and the support provided to McLeish for his electoral campaign. Then Ari, somewhat sheepishly, revealed something of his exploits into investigation via the telephone.

“That,” said Alan wagging his finger, “is probably what sent them to this drastic measure of sending Greaves after you.”

“But he’s a policeman. I can’t believe it,” Ari breathed.

“Well, he was probably greedy. Once he was in their clutches, working for money to begin with, there was no escape. They would have threatened him with exposure if he failed to do what they demanded.” Meadows scowled, “Still, he made the choice and he’ll get what he deserves.”

They got back to the stack of notes that Ari had, amazed at what McLeish and company had done to gain power and try to stay there. At the end of their deliberations and another cup of coffee, the detective shook his head a little dejectedly.

“It’s all circumstantial. We might get a conviction, but we don’t have any witnesses. We might get Clarridge and his mate from your testimony, but McLeish and Burke will deny everything.”

“You mean they’ll get away with murdering Collette?” Ari almost hissed.

Meadows half nodded, “Unless we get something more substantial.”

“So what do we do?” It was Juzzy now, concerned that these people would be brought to justice.

Ari had a glint in his eye. His sneaky grin and far off look had both Juzzy and Meadows looking at him.
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