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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Mon Sep 18, 2017 6:12 pm

Chapter 21

 

            Ari’s sleep was understandably restless that night, and he was well and truly ready when Juzzy came at six fifteen. He slid into the car next to her and gave her a kiss.

“Mmm, you smell good.”

She blushed, “Thanks.”

The forecast was for a hot humid day and Juzzy was dressed accordingly with light coloured slacks and a white, blousy short sleeve shirt. Ari was in light jeans and white tee shirt, but by the time they had reached the plant nursery he was wondering whether he should have worn shorts.

            Fred, Juzzy’s dad, was half way through loading the van and welcomed their assistance. The task wasn’t as simple as Ari had first thought. Fred had compiled a list of deliveries, not just one or two, and detailed the selection of plants for customers. They left on their first journey at seven thirty. Within an hour they had returned from a nearby retailer and were collating the next delivery when Ari and Juzzy discussed their best method of approaching Gail. Getting to meet her at lunch time was the plan they eventually settled on.

            Ari was irritated by the numerous trips they made that morning. The anticipation of bringing everything to a head was almost too much to bear. They went without a break to accelerate their progress and hasten the completion of the work load. By twelve they were heading into the city with a further delivery to make on their way back from their appointment. A call from Ari through to Alan Meadows had the detective scurrying down to the surveillance vehicle with a specialist crew. They were scheduled to meet in the city and he was keen to get going.

 

            It started with the phone call to McLeish’s office. They were in the city, pulled over under a shady tree by the river. Juzzy was speaking;

“Hello, I was wondering if I could speak with Gail Royce.”

There was a brief interval before Ari heard Juzzy continue; “Yes… Justine Wells…”

After another interlude she continued with renewed enthusiasm, “Er, Hello Gail,”

“You might not remember me, I was at Ari James’ funeral,” she listened to Gail’s sympathetic response before going on again, “I was wondering if you’d have some lunch with me. There are some things I’d like to talk to you about… Yes about Ari.” She waited hopefully. “Oh, that would be lovely. The Centre Cafeteria, that will be fine; see you then.” Juzzy was almost cheering by the time she hung up.

“We have our meeting!” she was jubilant. Ari loved her sunny disposition and the beaming smile that lit up her face. He hugged her briefly before calming her down and going through how they would handle the delicate introduction.

            Fifteen minutes later Ari was watching her walk to an outside table and sit down. She gave a mischievous little wave and he warmed even more to her. Soon after, Gail joined her. They both grabbed some lunch. The two spoke for some time and Ari was wondering what the delay was. Then both sets of eyes went to the van parked by the kerb. Juzzy beckoned him to come. Feeling self conscious he ambled over to the table and gave Gail an embarrassed grin.

“Hi, Gail, I guess this is a bit of a shock,” he laughed nervously. Unexpectedly Gail rose and gave Ari a warm embrace, “I’m so glad you’re all right. Don’t worry, Justine has explained what happened and I can understand why you panicked.”

Ari glanced at Juzzy and forced a grin, but deep down felt that panic was too strong a word. “Well, I guess I didn’t think of the consequences at the time. I sure am sorry.”

Gail’s lip quivered and Ari saw an emotional side to her for the first time. In an unsteady voice she tried to deflect his concern, “It’s just great that you’re okay. Justine said you wanted to ask me something.”

“I was wondering if you could get me Thomas McLeish’s private phone number.”

“You’re going to contact him, after what you believe he did?” she was incredulous.

Obviously Juzzy had filled her in on parts of the story.

“It’s the only way to flush him out; meet with him head on.”

Gail agreed to contact them as soon as possible and left after a parting hug with each of them.

            While Ari was eating a falafel Juzzy sipped on a coffee. “You had no idea that she liked you did you?”

Ari looked up from devouring another tasty bite, “What do you mean?” he managed to mumble, mouth full, without appearing too gross.

“Gail has a real soft spot for you; I think that’s what you said. But it’s more than that. She’s probably liked you for ages and wondered when you’d ever notice.”

“I suppose she did fuss a bit,” he admitted as the light seemed to dawn. “You mean she liked me?” he used the same words but the intonation carried a different message.

“Ah the philistine detects emotion,” Juzzy taunted. “You probably broke that poor girl’s heart.”

            As Ari protested citing his deep sensitive nature, Juzzy’s phone rang. She quickly wrote down a number, repeated it and then thanked Gail.

Silently Ari held out his hand for the phone, and then the number. He looked into Juzzy’s blue eyes filled with doubt and steeled himself for the call.

“Ari, perhaps…”Ari cut her off mid sentence by kissing his fingers and placing them on her lips. She returned a soft kiss to his fingertips. She didn’t finish her sentence and he would never know how she was going to try and talk him out of it.

            He listened to the phone ringing

Hello,” was the abrasive answer. Ari recognised the voice.

“Thomas, this is Ari James. I believe we need to talk about some photos.”

What are you talking about?” he blustered.

“I have some photos of you handing the ARC CEO a copy of a defence tender from B.I.T. I’m sure you know that would be frowned upon.”

What do you want?” there was angst in his voice

“Meet me alone at Brewsters and we might come up with an arrangement.”

I’m not stupid James,” you could hear the sneer in his voice, “It will be somewhere private, and I’ll need to see those photos before we agree on anything.

“Where do you propose?” Ari falteringly responded.

“Just wait a minute.” Ari heard some voices and he became increasingly tense. Then

McLeish described a car park on the Black Rock foreshore and gave Ari an hour to get there.

“Make sure you’re alone,” Ari insisted, “I won’t get out of my car if I see any of your goons.”

Of course, and the same goes for you. Be alone and we might do some business.”

 

The police vehicle had pulled up while he was finishing up the call and they both went quickly down to where Detective Meadows was waiting. Ari was wired up by some specialist surveillance men and instructed to act naturally while he was talking to McLeish. He was told that the technicians would adjust the levels.

The Sunset Nursery van, the police surveillance van and an unmarked police car all set off at once for the bay foreshore. Juzzy sat in the back of the car fidgeting nervously.

A still haze hung over a brooding bay on that steamy, stormy afternoon. Ari felt sticky and uncomfortable as he drove to the far side of the car park. The sandy surface glared heat at him as he sat and watched hordes of people. Few came to their cars but mostly they were trooping to the cooling waters of the bay. He was starting to wonder whether McLeish would turn up. He refrained from locating his minders and just said in a low growl, “I hope you guys can hear me.”

 

It was still five minutes to go. The time seemed to ooze slowly past like melted toffee. He fingered the envelope with the photos absent-mindedly. He was sweaty and hot. A light zephyr sent a glorious cooling tingle across the back of his soaking tee shirt. A Mercedes drew into the car park and made its way to where Ari was parked. Ari stepped out and stood next to the van holding the envelope. The car sat nearby with dark tinted windows, menacing. The passenger window automatically lowered and McLeish scowled, “Get in. I’m not standing out there in the heat.” Ari opened the door and slid into the cool confines of the air conditioned car.

Thomas glanced at the envelope. It was almost as if he didn’t care about the contents.

“What makes you think that I’m going to trust you? You could have dozens of copies.”

“That’s true, but I’m extremely trustworthy.” Ari was growing in boldness sensing that McLeish wasn’t sure what he was about.

“So how much do you want?” he snarled.

“So, what do you think it’s worth? The Deputy Prime Minister guilty of corruptly manipulating a government tender process; he and his aide conspiring to murder a young photographer and then trying to get rid of me. Maybe I don’t want your money. Maybe I want you to hand yourself over to the police and confess.”

“You’re mad. Confess to what? Somebody accidentally mixed up my files and I had an embarrassing moment.”

“Surely more than an embarrassing moment; when I detail your links with Candels and how they were closely connected with you and ARC, your explanations will seem a bit feeble.” Ari saw him squirm uncomfortably.

“You’re playing a very dangerous game James.”
“So I’ve found out. Your friends are quite clever at organising accidents aren’t they Mr McLeish. First there was Collette Downs. If I hadn’t heard Burke and Clarridge plotting, everyone would have thought it was an accident.”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Then Clarridge and his mate run me off the road and assume I’ve gone the way of their first victim.”

“Look, what are you getting at? Let’s suppose that there are two people out there who for some reason or other have committed these crimes. I don’t know them. They have nothing to do with me.”

Ari was starting to wonder whether McLeish would say anything that would incriminate himself.

“So you don’t mind if I tell my tale to the police and let them use their forensic wizardry to tie Clarridge and, what was his name, er Hampton; to that poor driver’s car that smashed into Collette? No doubt they will want to share the blame with Burke who hired them. Is Mr Burke happy to carry the blame for you? Of course all this tied in with those defence contracts won’t look good.”

Thomas McLeish stared at Ari as if something didn’t add up.

“So why didn’t you just go to the police if you’re so convinced that I’m guilty of all these crimes. I mean meeting me seems a bit desperate.”

“No, I just wanted you to know that you have failed and to give you an opportunity to give yourself in.” Ari made as if to leave the car.

“Wait!” there was a harsh urgency in the command, “If I was such a dangerous criminal, as you claim, then what would prevent me from disposing of you now? Surely you are the key witness.”

 

Finally! Ari tried not to sound as if he’d prepared for this opening. He wanted to sound matter of fact. He leaned forward as if he was confident in his safety.

“Mr McLeish, I wouldn’t advise any rash action on your behalf. What if I told you that a friend of mine was going to give all the evidence I have compiled to a special investigator called Gordon Greaves. So anything you do to me will compound your crimes.”

 There was suddenly a satisfied leer on McLeish’s face.

“Did you hear that Byron? Gordon Greaves has all the evidence.” The bulky form of Byron Burke rose up behind Ari in the back seat. He chuckled malevolently.

“Perhaps we should take Mr James for a little ride.”

“What are you doing?” Ari was trying to appear flustered. “Don’t you believe I would give the evidence to someone for safe keeping?”

Burke laughed a little more. “Oh, we believe that’s exactly what you’d do, but it doesn’t change what we’re going to do.”
“What? Are you going to arrange another little accident Burke?”


“No, no accidents are so unreliable. I think a straight execution should do the trick.” He pulled a pistol from his pocket and pointed at Ari’s head. The cold hard cylinder of the silencer pressed behind his ear numbed his thinking. Was this the end? The trickle of perspiration down his back caused him to swivel uncomfortably.

“Don’t move James. I’d just as soon shoot you here as anywhere if you give us trouble,” Burke rasped.

“You’re crazy,” gasped Ari. I knew Burke, that you’d organised Collette’s death, but to shoot me in cold blood!”

“No, you’re crazy James, for believing you could somehow convince us to surrender to the police. Collette Downs was an unfortunate nuisance. Her accident was pure craftsmanship, but you! We didn’t have time to plan your demise and our friends were a bit careless. Your persistent aggravation will end now. Some things just require the personal touch.”

McLeish drove slowly to the exit and Ari felt a wave of panic hit him. ‘Did they know what was happening to him?’

“What’s going on?” Thomas complained in an aggravated traffic whinge.

“What is it?” asked Burke, trying to look between the seats.

“Someone’s pulled right across the driveway blocking the exit.”

 

Before another word was spoken policemen appeared on both sides of the car training their guns on the occupants. The doors were wrenched open and Ari was assailed by the ferocious screams of armed men; “Put the gun down. Put the gun down!” And as he was roughly hauled from McLeish’s car the yelling continued: “Get out of the car slowly, both of you.”

Ari staggered away. His legs started to buckle as delayed shock overwhelmed him. Juzzy rushed up to him and quickly supported him as she felt him sway and tremble in her arms. She led him away from the car park, past some park play equipment and under some shade cloth. There was a rumble of thunder in the distance as they both sat down at a picnic table. Juzzy lifted his face in her hands and gave him a tender kiss on the lips.

“The end,” she breathed. “We don’t have to worry about those creeps ever again.”

Ari looked at her, trying to compose himself, “The beginning,” he said, “For us; we can now plan our lives together.” Ari grinned at her dancing blue eyes and brushed her soft blonde locks back off her forehead. He returned her kiss with a little more fervour.

“Uhm, I think we still have a delivery to make Mr James. Are you up to driving?”

“I think I can manage. I hope those plants haven’t cooked in the back there.”

As they rose to leave, Alan Meadows walked up to them.

“Are you okay?” concern tinged his voice.

“Yeah, I’m okay. It got a bit scary there for a bit.” Ari conceded.

“I think we got what we needed. I’m sure it will all hit the headlines in a day or two. You might want to make yourself scarce for a while.”

He walked back with them and mentioned that Ari would probably be required as a witness when it eventually came to trial. After some firm handshaking and a reminder to take a break they said their goodbyes.

            Ari and Juzzy thanked the detective for his advice. They checked the plants and after watering them a little they set off for their homeward delivery.

 

It was teeming with rain and peels of thunder were reverberating around the valley when they pulled in at the nursery. They sat in the van hoping the torrent would ease briefly to allow them to avoid a drenching. Ari sniggered.

“What’s so funny?” Juzzy quizzed.

“After all those years at uni and all my grand pretensions, I find myself delivering plants and I actually really enjoy it.”

“It’s probably the company,” Juzzy dead panned.

“What, Sunset Nursery?” Ari felt a dig in his ribs and she discovered that he was ticklish. He twisted away and sounded the horn as she jabbed at his side again, which had them both laughing. Mr Wells came out to see what was up and they both looked up a little coyly when they noticed him at the doorway. Regardless of the flooding downpour they both exited and were soaked in the few metres it took to get to shelter.

“The deliveries go okay?” Mr Wells smirked slightly as he asked.

“Everything went fine,” Juzzy replied and looked up at Ari enigmatically.

“You two should head up to the house and get some dry clothes,” Fred squinted askew, as if to emphasise a point directed at Ari, “and you can tell me whether you want to help me run this place.”

Ari tilted his head questioningly as if he’d heard incorrectly.

Mr Wells noted his uncertainty and reiterated his point from another direction. “What I’m saying is; I believe you’re up to a bit more than just delivering plants, though we all do a bit of everything from time to time.”

Ari smiled, “To tell you the truth, I’d be happy just doing deliveries and running around here doing odd jobs.”

This time Juzzy’s Dad smiled broadly, “Why don’t we talk about it later up at the house when I’ve finished down here?”

            The late afternoon and evening were spent playing board games at the Well’s place as the storms pelted rain outside. Ari had inherited Juzzy’s brother’s tee shirt and track pants while his own clothes were drying. The whole family were involved in very competitive but good natured games. Later in the evening Ari had a quiet coffee with Mr Wells and made a temporary arrangement to work at the nursery as Juzzy curled up at his feet, more content than she had ever been.

 

Chapter 22

            It was three weeks later and Reece, Jen, Ari and Juzzy were at the beach house for a long weekend. There were long walks and long talks, late nights and play fights; but most importantly a celebration of a new beginning. At one of their deep and meaningful discussions Jen suggested that Ari invite all those who attended his funeral, and any others they could think of, to a party to address any misconceptions they might have. They had fun with some themes: ‘Guess who’s back’, ‘I just couldn’t stay away’, Second time round’ and others. But they settled on ‘Celebrating Life’.

            Ari confessed that he’d like the opportunity to apologise to everyone and start afresh. So they planned the night; deciding that they would ask Ryan if they could use the church youth hall and get an appropriate date from him.

 

            The night before his ‘Celebrating Life’ party Ari was out with Juzzy at a quiet restaurant. He was feeling particularly jittery. They had finished their desserts and were sipping coffees when Ari handed Juzzy the damaged testament.

“I want you to have this.”

She recognised it immediately and responded, “Why? It’s yours. You should keep it with you as a reminder.”
“I plan to. Open it.”


There was a slight gasp as Juzzy pulled back the cover. Her eyes misted as she lifted her face toward Ari. Inside, nestled into the hole gouged out by the bullet, there was a diamond ring glinting with reflected light.

 

            The next night Ari publicly apologised to everyone and asked for their forgiveness. He didn’t try to justify his behaviour, but Reece had filled a few people in on his version of events and by the end of the night most guests were more understanding of Ari’s actions. He then announced that Juzzy had that previous night graciously accepted his proposal of marriage. They all cheered and then celebrated with renewed purpose.

 

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

            Ten years later Ari was standing in the church pulpit. He paused briefly to make eye contact with Juzzy sitting in the front row. She was holding their newly born third child Steven. She smiled lovingly back at him. Next to her on one side was John, the eldest and on the other was three year old Casey.

            Ari smiled back and began:

            “God is good. His Plan is perfect. His ways are wise.

Jesus died so that we might live. Now he wants us to do the same… that is die so that we might live. I’d like to call this talk ‘Dying to Live’.”

 

While his texts and comments all described Christian commitment and the idea of considering the old self ‘crucified with Christ’ and a new life of gratitude and obedience; a number of the congregation, including Ryan, Penny, Reece and Jen, knew something of the history and portent of his message. It had started as a strategy for self preservation, but now it was part of his daily endeavour; daily Ari was trying to present the living sacrifice- ‘dying to live’.
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