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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Sun Sep 17, 2017 8:43 pm

Chapter 20

            When Ari had outlined his idea there was a quiet hush amongst the three of them.

“Well, what do you think? Will it work?”

“It could work,” replied Alan cautiously, “But you’ll have to do everything right, and be very careful. We’ve seen the lengths they’ll go to, to protect themselves.”

After some discussion about what needed to be organised, Meadows rose and stretched. “Well I have a bit of organising to do at my end. I’ll need a warrant to set it all up, but that should be no trouble now that we’ve got Greaves. I’ll call you when it’s set up and we’ll go over the final details.” He stopped then and looked seriously at Ari. “Do you think you can make contact from your end?”

He looked up speculatively, “There are a few old work mates I think I can trust. I’ll have to be careful of my timing though. They think I’m dead, remember.”

“How could I forget,” the detective cryptically replied.

He was about to turn away when he asked, “You sure you want to do this?”

Ari looked at Juzzy and then bobbed his head once in agreement. “It’s the only way we’re going to put an end to this and I can join the land of the living again.”

Juzzy bit her lip as she also nodded in acknowledgment of their decision. Committing themselves to this potentially dangerous ordeal was not something that sat well with her.

            Finally Alan Meadows left after a couple more afterthoughts, and being instructed by Ari to ring if he thought of anything else. When he was gone the two agreed that Meadows was such a worrier. Ari and Juzzy reflected about his concern being plain to see in the way he behaved; they decided it was, definitely, a reassuring trait for him to have. They also discussed the contradictory paths their search for a solution had taken. Meadows had been their chief suspect and he turned out to be their rescuer.

The couple also left soon after, having packed and tidied. Before they stepped in the car Ari cupped his hand behind Juzzy’s head and pulled her against his chest. “Thank you,” he said softly.

“For what?” Juzzy asked, her blue eyes sparkling clear in the daylight as she gazed up at him.

“… for caring, for loving me, despite everything.”

Juzzy nuzzled into him and gave him a cuddle. “Come on, we’ll never get back if we don’t get going.”

They got into the car and were just leaving when Juzzy noticed his silly grin.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Come on what is it?”

“What you just said is one of those nonsense things that are patently obvious; ‘we’ll never get back if we don’t get going’ It’s like a tautology. Ow!” She had punched him then. And then she had a smile which she elaborated on briefly, harking back to what he had said in appreciation of her. “I see what you mean by ‘despite everything.’”

 

            Their first stop off was at the pastor’s house. Penny let them in and offered them the obligatory refreshments. Ryan came in as they were gathering around the kitchen table sipping on hot chocolate. With some sense of occasion Ari showed them his pullover and shirt, which he had discarded for something less dramatic, and then slowly held up the testament which had held the distorted bullet.

The first thing the pastor did (after shaking his head in amazement for several minutes) was lead them in a prayer of thanks. He then looked meaningfully at Ari, “How does it feel?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“…being so close to death, not once, but twice. What do you think about life?”  

“I guess it’s like a gift.”

“What does that mean?” he pursued Ari with a hint of challenge.

Ari felt the pressure and tried to frame his thoughts, “I think I’ll try and live for others more… not be selfish… it’s like a second chance”

Ryan slapped his hand on the table, “That’s the very essence. You know the Apostle Paul said that he was ‘crucified with Christ’ he considered himself to have died so that the life he lived was Christ living in him. In other words he was dying to live,” Ryan said it slowly and then repeated it, “Dying to live… in a way, just like you did. You wanted to be considered dead so that you could live without fear. The difference is,” and he paused as he raised his voice for emphasis, “that you sought to gain physical life, but Paul was talking about abundant, eternal, spiritual life. Jesus, having taken the spiritual death away on the cross, wants us to live life as a gift His way.”

“Dying to live, hey,” Ari repeated, “It’s like those verses in Romans I read.”

“Yup,” replied Ryan full of satisfaction. “It’s about our attitude. Are we prepared to see the second chance and consider ourselves ‘dead to sin but alive to God,’”

            Penny was just getting a touch self conscious, fiddling with her cup when Ryan announced, “Anyway, sorry; enough of the preaching. It sure is good to see you both safe.”

“Don’t apologise,” Ari returned, “It’s something I hope I never forget. It makes more sense every time I think about it.”

            Juzzy shifted the conversation to the purpose for the metal block in the bible, and Ari responded that he read the passage the first night about ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ and figured it was telling him to let go of the past.

“It’s a lesson for me too,” admitted Ryan. They all looked at him. “Sometimes it’s easy to put forward glib solutions, but I’ve been reminded that often you have to deal with stuff before you can let it go.” He picked up Penny’s hand and placed his fingers between hers and smiled at her. “I’m just glad you didn’t put it aside straight away,” he said reflectively.

They spent a little more time socialising, sharing personal stories and laughing at some of the other strange things that Ryan had got church members to do. When invited for a meal, Ari and Juzzy thanked them for their hospitality, but said they had to move on.  Juzzy and Ari then drove away. Looking after them Ryan and Penny had knowing smiles on their faces.

 A few minutes passed before Ari spoke up. “Where are we going?”

“Home.”

“To your place?”

“Yep,” Juzzy stated flatly, trying to keep a straight face.

“You want me to meet your parents, tonight?”

“I rang them from Eddingtons. They’re expecting us for dinner.”

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Ari squirmed in the seat.

“Well, I figured with your track record, I’d arrange a meeting while you’re available, so to speak.”

“Dinner? That will give plenty of opportunity for awkward questions. ‘What are your plans Mr James? So have you been to any good funerals lately? Or ‘So, you think dying is not as serious as it used to be?” Ari looked across at Juzzy who was studiously trying to ignore him. “Maybe your dad will ask me what I do for a job and then I’ll ask him for a job.”

Juzzy got a frown on her face and slowed the car down. “If you want we can call it off?”

“No, no I’m sorry. I was teasing. I should meet your parents.”

“I should have asked,” Juzzy said.

“No, it’s fine. What will I say if he asks me my intentions?”

“You tell me,” she grinned.

“Strictly honourable?”

“Nor specific enough,” she was chuckling now.

“Er, I would say I would like to ask for her hand in marriage, if she’ll have me.”

Juzzy pulled to the kerb and kissed him. “That sounds like a good answer.” She kissed him again.

“Of course I would wait until the right time to ask.”

“Of course.”

“And what would your answer be?”

“You would get that at the right time.”

“Of course.”

She kissed him again and then they resumed their journey; both with self satisfied silly grins on their faces.

 

Juzzy’s home wasn’t far from where his Gran and he lived; over the hill, right turn and then about a kilometre along the road, down near the base of the hill facing city-side. He marvelled that she had lived so near all her life. There were several cars in the driveway, which indicated that it wouldn’t be just her parents, Juzzy and him. Ari still had disconsolate thoughts of how he could ever live down his mistreatment of Juzzy and his morbid past history. They climbed some steps to a landing at the front entrance and Juzzy let herself and Ari in. She led him by the hand. There was a clatter of noise and laughter in the kitchen and, some orchestrated razzing as befits welcoming visitors into your home.

            Upon entering the kitchen, Ari was confronted by a hive of activity. Bodies were weaving in and out; Juzzy’s brothers were intent on sampling some of the fare rather than helping, while Jo and her parents were busy allocating and preparing for the meal. Her dad wiped his hand on his apron and thrust it in Ari’s direction. “Fred Wells, and you must be Ari.” Ari took his hand and returned the firm handshake. “This is my wife Joan…” Mrs Wells came across and gave Ari a hug, “Welcome to our home,” she greeted musically. There was a warmth to her approach that represented as much her love for her daughter as the reception of a guest. As she stepped back to watch the introductions Fred continued, “This is Peter and Sam, kitchen vultures who are pretending to help out. Is that barbeque on yet?”

Peter turned, “I’m on to it now.” On his way he managed to nick another piece of cheese. Fred went on unperturbed, “And I believe you’ve met Jo.”  Jo looked up from the salad she was preparing, gave him a big grin and said ambiguously, “Welcome to our family.”

Juzzy squeezed his hand.

            Ari ended up outside with Fred and the boys watching the meat on the barbeque. It was a large paved outdoor area, inside a wooden frame with small potted palms around. The barbeque overlooked a neatly landscaped backyard with an ornamental pond, carefully organised subtropical plants, confetti coloured patches of flowers and neat raised box vegetable gardens off to the side.

            There was an awkward quiet that was occasionally interspersed by small talk of favourite meats and how people preferred them cooked. Ari considered his situation and decided to confront the problem head on. As long as it remained unspoken his past would sit and fester as a sore point—in his view anyway.

“Mr Wells,” he started with a quavering voice, and then waited for his host to look up from the barbeque. Once he had his attention he began again, “Mr Wells, I have to apologise for the atrocious way I have treated Juzzy and your family. I can’t imagine the pain I put you all through under some misguided desire for self preservation…” Fred held up the hand with the tongs, “Don’t Ari, you don’t need to say anything. It’s all in the past.”

“No, I have to say I’m sorry that any of it happened.”

“Look, I’ve heard a bit of the story and I have to say, we can’t imagine what you were going through. If we were in the same situation we may have done the same thing; as you said, ‘self preservation’.”

“Well, I learned there are worse things than dying,” Ari uttered hoarsely, his voice tightening with emotion.

“Like what?” His voice was soft and compassionate.

“Like watching people you love deal with tragedy, especially if you’ve brought it on them.”

            The older man had a twinkle in his eye, a wrinkled brow and spoke with mock seriousness. “Well I have to admit Ari, that over a long time we were asking, ‘Who is this ratbag Ari James that is breaking our daughter’s heart?” Then, a little less facetiously he continued, “At the funeral we realised how much she really cared for you. When later it started again, we thought it was a bad dream. It’s when Juzzy forgave you and told us the whole story that we realised you’d had a tough time.”

“It’s no excuse,” Ari sounded regretful.

“Look, it’s in the past. It’s over,” he caught Ari’s pained expression and then sounded doubtful, “Isn’t it?”

“Well, we still may have a bit of a story to tell. You may not want your daughter being with me.”

            Sam chuckled. Ari had almost forgotten the two brothers were still there standing behind him.

“There’s not a lot anyone can do if Jazz decides on something, or someone,” Peter offered by way of explanation. Ari turned and concurred with a knowing smile. Sam, the younger brother, spoke for the first time, “So there’s more to this story? I can’t wait to hear the rest.”

 

            Inside, around the dining table conversation was more light-hearted and there were a few comments about funerals that were snuck in. Ari then related something of their day. Much to their consternation Juzzy shared how she’d thought she’d lost Ari again! And then she showed them the testament which had them all speaking in hushed tones as if the book itself had become a sacred object. The story became quite tortuous as Ari and Juzzy tried to share what they could about the whole corrupt political quagmire they had become bogged in. Neither co-conspirators were about to let on that the intrigue was about to take a new course. There was an unnerving moment at the end of the lively retelling when Mr Wells expressed his concern in the form of a question.

“So, what now?”

Ari and Juzzy looked at each other to see where they were heading with this. Quickly gathering his thoughts Ari responded, “Ah, it’s in the hands of the police now. They expect to move on this whole thing soon.”

“Will you be required as a witness?”

“I suppose so, most of the story started with my involvement.”

 

The meal had long finished and little more was said on the subject; the conversation shifting to a series of topics from plans for the plant business and the boys’ reluctance to get involved, to their interests and courses at university. They quizzed Ari about everything he had done in his studies and work. Ari tried to evade the central role by volunteering for the dishes, but Jo said she and Juzzy would see to them. Random questions about education, faith and church, family, sports and a general interrogation were punctuated by a few rounds of coffee and tasty morsels of cake and slice. When the conversation shifted to his occupation, Ari was caught off guard.

His answer was totally candid. “Although I’m a qualified journalist, and I think I could go into a number of things; maybe even teaching, I’m just looking for work at the moment.”

Mr Wells perked up, “Well, maybe you could work at the nursery. It’s a fairly busy time and we’re a bit short handed.”

“Thanks for the offer; I may take you up on that. Though there may be a few things I still need to tidy up.”

“Sure,” Juzzy’s dad left it at that. What was unsaid, made Ari develop a growing respect for him.

 

It was late when Juzzy drove Ari home.

            “That wasn’t so bad was it?” murmured Juzzy as she pulled up at his place.

“No, it was good… considering I was given the third degree, retold my life story and pretended to laugh at more ‘dad jokes’ in one session than I can remember.”

“They weren’t all bad were they?”

“Maybe not, but I can’t think of a good one at the moment,” his voice slowed as he gazed at Juzzy.

“What is it?”

Caught by streetlight shimmering behind her there was a glow through her blonde hair which Ari was appreciating. “I love you, you know.”

She smiled, “Uh huh.”

“Do you want to come in and have a hot chocolate with Gran?”

“I’d love to.”

They snuggled for a short time before Juzzy reminded him about the chocolate and they moved to go in.

            Ari was out of the car when he noticed Juzzy still gazing blankly through the windscreen. He leaned back into the car.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t help thinking how weird it was that you put the bible in your top pocket. Why did you do that?”

“It was weird,” Ari admitted, “It was uncomfortable in my back pocket, but I decided that if the weight was to teach me a lesson, then I’d put it in a place that I’d feel the weight.”

Juzzy screwed her nose up and grinned, “You’re crazy.” She started getting out of the car.

“That’s not the weird part. The weird part was that I got used to it in my top pocket and almost forgot it was there,” he continued as they walked. “Maybe there’s a lesson there too.”

“That’s way too deep,” Juzzy laughed.

            It was very late, after they had recounted the story for Marree and Juzzy had assured herself that Ari was no more than a little bruised, that she managed to return home. It was well after three on Wednesday morning when she sighed, a contented sigh and sank into a deep sleep.

 

Ari slept in late Wednesday morning and woke to a warm exuberant summer morning. The weather matched his mood. He noticed the birdsong, sweet and chattering, piercing and gentle, solo and chorus; he noticed the rustle of the breeze in the large liquid amber and the blueness of the sky and he breathed a prayer of thanks.

After a late breakfast he spent some time in the yard with Marree. She expressed some relief that Alan Meadows was who he said he was; an honest and competent police detective. A light lunch of sandwiches and tea was just being prepared when Juzzy drove up. She happily joined them and they had a light hearted chat about sleeping in and missing meals, as if it was a badge of honour to have slept later and missed more meals.

 

            They went through used car advertisements in the early afternoon when it became patently clear that he would have to settle for something a bit down market. Juzzy suggested that he borrow her dad’s work utility rather than spend money on something that would end up costing even more. Having decided to check out some alternative transport options, the two talked about what had to be done for Meadows to get his plan off the ground. His Gran baked scones while they discussed who to contact to get Thomas McLeish’s private number. They settled on one contact for their first attempt. From what Ari could recall of his past colleagues, in terms of sharing confidences, there was little argument in his mind. The idea of approaching the others was considered fraught with too many imponderables, but may have to be done if their first foray failed. The possibility of exposure was at the centre of their concern.

 After some afternoon tea that Marree served with her traditional flair the couple drove off to the nursery. Arriving at Sunset Nursery, Juzzy pulled into the front customer car park, and they both walked hand in hand to the office area.

            Pleased to show Ari around his business, Fred Wells gave him the grand tour. Ari was intrigued by the greenhouses, the propagation sheds, the rows upon rows of plant varieties for sale to the public and the initial work that Fred was doing in developing his own varieties. Fred was keen to point out the hectare of land at the back still undeveloped as yet. “Always allow for room to expand,” he postulated nodding knowingly.

“What do you hope to expand into?” Ari was curious.

“I’m thinking of doing plant cloning, but I’ll have to do a course; and at the moment we’re so busy I can’t find the time.”

“He’s always saying that,’ interjected Juzzy, “but he’ll always be too busy.”

“Stop picking on me Justine.” Then he said loudly enough for her to hear, while pretending to whisper, “They always pick on me.” He received a pat on the back from

Ari, who noted that Mr Wells was one of the few people who used Juzzy’s proper name.

“Is it my fault that I can’t convince my sons that this is a great business? One wants to be a builder and the other is doing architecture at uni.” With a half smile he clarified his position, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of them both, but it’d be nice,” he stared wistfully.

            “Anyway, what can I do for you?” It was clear that Juzzy didn’t make a habit of ‘dropping in’ and he had sensed an ulterior motive.

“Well, we were wondering if Ari could borrow the ute tomorrow?”

“Yeah, sure,” there was a glimmer in his eye as he said it. Except maybe he could take the delivery van and do some deliveries before doing whatever he needs to do.” He squinted in acknowledgment that he was in negotiation mode. “You see Jack’s not in for the rest of the week and I’m struggling to get someone to do the deliveries.”

Ari and Juzzy turned and looked quizzically at each other.

“Of course I’ll pay you,” Fred encouraged.

“Ah, that’s not necessary,” rejoined Ari quickly, not wanting to sound mercenary. “No, I’m happy to do some deliveries. I’ll just need the van for a few hours to go to the city.”

“Good, that’s settled then. See you tomorrow nice and early.” Fred looked chuffed that a minor problem had been solved. He went back to the main counter and spoke to one or two customers as they all wandered through. Ari and Juzzy followed close behind and then the former turned to Juzzy for some clarification.

            “Uhm, how early is early?” Ari asked suspiciously as if he’d just been out manoeuvred.

“That will probably be six thirty,” Juzzy confessed weakly.

“Six thirty,” Ari groaned, “That will kill me.”

“What about me?” she lamented, “I’ll have to get up, get ready, pick you up and be here by six thirty. And I need my beauty rest.”

Ari took both her hands in his and looked down to her upturned face, “You don’t need a beauty rest,” he whispered. “You’re too beautiful for me already.”

Juzzy nuzzled her head in his neck as he whispered, “I love you.” After a brief embrace they both became self conscious and Ari stepped back and addressed her, “You sure you want to pick me up in the morning?”

“What do you mean? I’m going with you; we’ll be workmates,” she said cheekily.

            On the way back to Ari’s place, Juzzy explained why she thought she should be with him on his city visit. She said it had nothing to do with finding him irresistible and wanting his company all the time, or checking out his past girlfriends; she asked him to think about what he planned to do. So they reviewed the plan that was outlined earlier that day. He would contact Gail and try to get her to provide the all important contact number.

“What’s the issue?” He looked at her blankly.

Juzzy rolled her eyes, “You don’t get it do you? You’re dead! She went to your funeral. How will she react if you turn up on her front door step? This will take a degree of sensitivity and tact. Therefore a female should be in charge of making the initial contact.”

Ari objected to the inference that he was tactless and insensitive, but he didn’t have a leg to stand on when she reminded him of his recent history.

            “Let me go over this then,” Ari reprised the conversation. “You will call on Gail and remind her who you are, and then tactfully explain that I’m still alive—in total contradiction to the fact that she attended my funeral.” Ari tilted his head inquiringly, “I just really want to hear this explanation for myself.”

“I didn’t say it would be easy, but I think it’s definitely preferable to you knocking on her door and saying ‘surprise it’s me’.” Juzzy drove up his driveway and stopped the car. “Do you think Gail will help?”

“She’s the one most likely I think. She had a soft spot for me. Devon and Howie might feel a bit betrayed. They were really committed to the whole Thomas McLeish power trip. I don’t know about Chen. She was so serious. Dana might help out; it was just a job for her, but I didn’t know her that well.”

            “Maybe we should hold off until Alan Meadows contacts us,” Juzzy ventured.

Ari nodded, “You’re probably right. No point in alerting them that something will happen until we’re sure we can make it happen.” He leaned across and gave her a soft kiss. “Are you coming in? I’m sure Marree will have something for dinner.”

“Thanks for the offer. I’d love to but Sissy and Jen are dropping around tonight, sort of a girl’s night.”

 “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Uh huh,” she returned his affection only to be abandoned as he leapt from the car explaining, “Got a phone call.” He was running toward Marree who was standing up on the decking near the front door, holding her hand to her ear in the universal non verbal symbolism for a phone call.

“Bye,” her diminutive farewell was lost by his hasty exit.

            Inside, he picked up the phone from its cradle. Alan Meadows was on the other end.

“We’re right to go ahead Ari. We have a warrant for listening devices if you can organise your rendezvous.”

  “Is tomorrow too early?”

“No, tomorrow will be good. You need to let us know where so we can get a listening station nearby.”

“I was thinking of Brewsters, near the river. It would sort of have a symmetry to it.”

“I can’t believe he would go to such a public place. He’d be worried about being recognised.”

“Well, I’ll try Brewsters first, and then I’ll suggest the street where Collette was killed.”

“Just let us know in plenty of time. You know, we’ve had advice that we can get him on corruption counts, you sure you want to go ahead with this?”

“I’d like to implicate him in Collette’s death, so everyone realises how bad he is. If he can incriminate himself it would be almost poetic.”

“You’re right, and once he starts to blame others they’ll all turn on him. I hope it works.”
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