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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Sat Nov 25, 2017 7:42 am

Chapter 2

The door was answered by Lori Miles, the eldest of Ed’s three daughters. Tom had met Lori only a few times over the many years that he had known her and this was the first time since his grandad’s funeral. She had only been sixteen at the time and he had been too preoccupied to notice her very much. Now, however, he caught his breath and his heart seemed to skip. Looking at Lori, Tom couldn’t think of what to say. Soft brown eyes were looking up at him. She smiled and brushed some strands of her dark brown hair out of her eyes. Saving him from solving the problem of speech, she spoke first.

“Hi Tom. If you’re looking for Dad, he’s out with the rest of the family for tea. They’ll be back in an hour or so I guess. You can come in and wait if you want.”

“Oh thanks, you’re sure it’s no problem. I really need to speak to your Dad.” He walked past Lori and into the lounge. Tom knew his way around as he had met with Ed over a number of matters since management of the company had passed on to him.

“No, it’s no problem.” She studied him as he sat in one of the arm chairs. “You’ve changed. I’ve never seen you looking so sporty like this. Looks like your new work-life agrees with you.” She felt like saying ‘except that you need to loosen up you look so tense.’ He sensed that she had left something unsaid as if she assessed him.

“But what?” he prompted.

“Nothing,” she smiled, “I just remember you as being scruffy looking all the time.” 

 Lori had been away at university so of course she wouldn’t have witnessed his transition from an unkempt student to the trimmed young engineer she saw now. He turned to ask what she meant, as he was surprised that she had ever noticed him. Her grin put him off his line of thought. “What’s so funny?”

“It’s just that I’ve never seen you in a lycra bike suit?”

His face revealed a moment of pain as he thought back to the mayhem he had left behind with unavoidable haste.

“I have urgent business with your Dad which couldn’t wait.” Tom got up and spread his hands. Then, indicating the reason for his dress in an attempt to lighten up, he said, “So I came like this.” However, his expression and quavering voice betrayed his tension.

            Lori immediately reflected a look of concern. “Why don’t you sit down and watch the TV and I’ll get you a drink. Er, we don’t have alcohol but just about anything else. What would you like?”

“Just water thanks,” responded Tom as he settled into the armchair again and turned on the news using the remote.

 

Tom was watching an international report when it was interrupted by late breaking news.

 

‘Police are attending the scene of a triple murder in the suburb of Pineville. On the spot is our reporter Andie Brown with the latest details.’ The picture crossed to a young female reporter with short black hair. She began to describe the gruesome details.

“Thank you Peter; yes police have identified three people, all of whom have been shot dead. They were found in the opulent house of a ‘wealthy young businessman’. Peter, police have expressed an interest in speaking with Tom Witney, one of the residents of the house. The three deceased were identified as Clarissa Witney – Towers, her husband Gene Towers and Tamara Jones a domestic at the house. That’s all we have for now Peter.”

The news reader reiterated that police were looking to speak to Tom Witney and accompanied the statement with a recent photo of Tom at an environmental conference.

 

Lori was standing at the doorway with her hand over her mouth.

“What did you do Tom?”

“It’s not what it looks like.” Tom quickly rejoined, before simmering down to explain. “I was set up. I wouldn’t kill any one.”

“You have to give yourself up...” she paused, “or I have to give you up.” Lori’s face looked anguished. She couldn’t believe what was happening.

“You don’t understand.” Tom’s voice was harder, more insistent. “The murderer used my gun with my fingerprints. How could I explain that? As far as I know, hardly anyone else would benefit financially from my mother’s death...” The words caught in his throat.

The attractive twenty one year old looked stern and mature beyond her years when she reiterated, “You have to give yourself up. Don’t you see? By running everyone will think you’re guilty.”

“I’m not running,” he retorted, “I’m going to find the killer. If I hand myself in they’ll stop looking. The killer will get away. They have the weapon, prints and motive. How can I convince them it was someone else? I’m the only one who knows it wasn’t me.”

Lori shook her head, “I’m sorry Tom, I believe you; they will too. It’s about doing the right thing.” She went to the phone on the wall and started dialling, but before the call got through, Tom had hung up by depressing the button and gripped her hand tightly.

“I’m sorry Lori. I can’t let you call the police.” Lori winced at the pressure he placed on her wrist. She tried to remove his fingers and he grasped the other hand as well. Tom continued, “I shouldn’t have come. Now I’m left with the options of kidnapping you, or tying you up so that I can give myself enough time to find a safe place. Both choices, I believe, will mean I will actually be committing a crime.”

“What about running away from police when you know they want to interview you?”

“You’re right, but it was escape from police custody actually, and that is a crime isn’t it?” He didn’t add stealing a bike and gear.

Lori gasped. “You escaped from custody?”

He nodded. “You know what they say... ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures’.” He gritted his teeth unable to believe all this was really happening.

“Could you pretend you hadn’t seen me if I disappear now?” Tom looked pleadingly into her eyes. Her look seemed to soften a little.

“I could, but then I would be breaking the law.”

‘No one knows I’ve been here. If you pretend that you hadn’t seen the news, you don’t need to mention me. No one will know.” He became more strident.

“I will...” she retorted and then Lori looked into Tom’s blue eyes. “But I see where you’re heading. You want me to deceive for you, but not lie. And what happens when you turn out to be the murderer? I’ll be an accomplice.” A strained tightness was in her voice.

Tom was stunned for a moment. “I thought you believed me. Do you really think I could murder my own mother, my step father and an innocent girl? If my character is that doubtful then maybe I deserve to be in gaol.”

“Anyone is capable of murder given the circumstances. Isn’t that what they say?” Lori seemed to become a little distant. “And what will you do if I follow your little deceit plan... flee the country? Or worse, get yourself killed trying to escape.”

“I told you. I’m going to find the killer.” He hesitated, and noted she was wavering. He was unaware of the increasing pressure he was applying to her wrists and was thinking of where he was destined to end up if he surrendered.  He repeated, “I have to find the killer.” Then with a vague silly expression on his face he murmured, “I’m going to find the ‘one armed man’. It reminds me of a movie.” He said the latter in an enigmatic, trailing off sort of voice.

“What?” asked Lori, now beginning to wonder about his sanity. She squinted doubtfully and grimaced. Tom half smiled, but grimly, for the first time that evening.

“Ask your Dad when things calm down a bit.”

Lori’s eyes filled with tears, “You’re hurting me,” she softly complained with a breaking voice.

He let go of her tightly clasped wrists and seeing his finger impressions he huskily whispered, “Sorry, Lori. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

She rubbed her wrists and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Rallying, she asked,

“Does Dad know that you’re in trouble?”

“I’ll tell you one thing. Your Dad knows me well enough to know what I haven’t done.”

He pulled a contorted, confused frown in response to his own convoluted sentence, but then registered her gravity when she returned with a studied stern expression. “So you think I should go along with your little ruse?”

Tom sighed, “You know what … I have to go ...  Look, do what you think is right. I would hate to get anyone into trouble.” He finished a little sarcastically as he turned and walked away.

As the front door shut, Lori still stood there taken aback. She felt tears well up in her eyes. Had it all been about her? Where was her compassion, her Christian care for others? Not once had she commiserated with Tom on the loss of his mother and step father and, what did he say... an innocent young girl, whoever she was. She moved to the phone hesitantly. Her fingers shook as she dialled.

 

Tom grabbed a key for the utility from the shed after finding a gap to stow the bike. He had borrowed the vehicle on odd occasions before and he remembered well Ed saying he could use it any time. Donning the overalls, he fled from the Miles’ place and, in the darkness, headed for his cousin’s cabin in the hills. He felt much less conspicuous in the ‘ute’ and decided that it was unlikely that they would find him tonight, given that they were probably now searching for a cyclist in riding gear. He assumed that they had found the squad car by now. Tom bit his lip. ‘Unless…’ he thought, ‘unless Lori had phoned the police straight away.’ Then this whole ploy was a waste of time. He was just delaying the inevitable. It then occurred to him to check the glove compartment. When he saw the device that Ed kept in there, he immediately turned off his own phone. He didn’t know whether police had begun tracking him but he was still in the suburbs; still far enough to travel to not reveal his destination to them.

Should he find another vehicle? He couldn’t blame Lori if she had rung the police. He had treated her roughly and to help someone fleeing from the law was against everything she would have experienced and believed. Well, if she had called then they’d be looking for a white utility and he needed to find another car. He wracked his brain searching for a solution. He wouldn’t steal one. That would just add to his troubles. Maybe his father would help. He pictured the strange reunion in his mind; ‘Hi Dad, the police are after me… I need to borrow a car!’

 The road into the hills became quieter the farther out he drove. Tom was quite sure that he had evaded notice and yet still he tensed at every car that passed. He struggled to locate the turnoff and was sure he had missed it. Tom was just looking for a place to turn back when he recognised the dirt road on the right that wound another three kilometres up the valley to the cabin.

The cloudy night ensured that the narrow winding road was dark and forbidding. Native animals scuttled away as the probing headlights revealed each new stretch around every bend. Vine streamers from the verge of the tangled forest encroached on the little used track. Tom was becoming anxious as the cheerless journey dragged on and on. He had been to Rick’s cabin twice before and he was sure the trip from the turn off had never taken this long. To bolster his courage Tom rationalised; it was because he was alone and there was no one to interact with. Also, he was being cautious, driving much slower at night and he was sure his own emotional state compounded the worry. It was just then that the log fencing bordering the small river became visible around the bend and he knew he was only a few hundred metres from the cabin. Steering up a rutted dirt track through overhanging scrub, he followed the dark, leafy tunnel-like route across the stream. The rippling thuds of the sleepers signalled his progress.

Red possum eyes glared back at him as he parked alongside the cabin. Tom left the ute running and the lights on as he searched for the key in the wood box around the side wall. Once found, he fumbled the key in the lock and shoved open the heavy door. It opened reluctantly with an eerie screech and scrape on the floor. There was no electricity so Tom went through the routine he had rehearsed—matches on the mantelpiece above the fire place; light the candle and then light the kerosene lamp. Having successfully made the small cabin navigable, he returned to the utility and shut it down.

Surveying the single room dwelling he saw things much as he remembered them. Two wooden cots at one end, a small kitchen table at the other end near a sink and a gas cooker on a bench. And in the middle were some seats surrounding a large stone fireplace. It was now that he realised how hungry he was. The cupboards and shelves had precious little worth eating. He put a kettle of water on the gas stove after finding some tea and sugar. He figured that sweetening the black tea might compensate for the lack of milk. He recalled Rick saying that keeping foodstuffs there only encouraged the rodents so he always removed everything once he’d finished his stay.

While the water was heating, Tom managed to start a fire which quickly vanquished the chill of the mountain air.

Later, sitting with his sweet tea and mesmerised by the flames of a comforting fire, he painfully reran the day’s events. Coming to terms with this new reality wasn’t going to happen easily. Someone had murdered his family; he didn’t resile from the assertion that Tamara was as much, if not more—in some ways—a part of his ‘family’ as Gene was. Tom wracked his brains trying to reconcile his mind with the compelling possibility that some person had engineered the scheme to implicate him. The only name that immediately sprang to mind was Al. And if Gene hadn’t been a victim, he could have possibly imagined circumstances in which Gene could be the perpetrator of such a crime. But that wasn’t worth considering. His disdain for Al, he knew, was motivated by his layabout ways and his total dependence on his father and step mother for supplying not just his needs and wants, but also his excesses. At times he was a loud, raucous and abusive, demanding spoilt child, and at other times a sycophantic, fawning sleaze. All his aberrant behaviour was intended to obtain a couple hundred dollars for this or a thousand for that. Clarissa often resisted his ploys but Gene usually relented. Al’s vices of gambling, drunkenness and inordinate partying proved an embarrassment to all. Still, he got what he wanted so why should he spoil everything. What would motivate him to jeopardize his life of indulgence? There was no indication that he would benefit from their deaths, unless, unbeknown to Tom, Al had been written into the will. Tom reflected, he would have to do some checking.

Who else? His father maybe? He had become quite unpredictable since embracing all things Gaian. What possible motive could he have though? Could he be seeking to resume his role in the company? Tom shook his head. All he had to do was ask. It didn’t make sense. Just contemplating the idea that his father might be involved was absurd. He briefly considered Ed; but who could be more loyal or a better friend? His sister Holly would benefit, but she was overseas. She was as peace loving as they come and was, in his opinion, quite untainted by material wealth.

Tom scratched his head in frustration. He could understand the police thoughts about him. He was the most obvious suspect. Now it was not just motive and opportunity, but it was his weapon and, he had fled the scene. He was baffled. How did …whoever, get his gun? That was the question. His car hadn’t been broken into, as far as he could tell. Ed had driven it that day so, obviously, he had questions to answer. If it wasn’t him then that meant someone else took a key. There was the spare one at home. Could that have been used? Was it still there? A few people knew of its existence, including Al. There was also the key that Ed used, sitting in his office. He’d seen it on a little key rack on his desk. He’d got it cut because of the number of times Ed had borrowed the car. He would have to talk to Ed about whether anyone else had used that key. Of course it could have been a skilled lock-pick, in which case all of his assumptions were idle speculation. His mind was cluttered with all the possibilities.

Tom was still mulling over possible scenarios as he tried to sleep. Attempting to get comfortable under the limited bedding was a challenge. He had ended up using the mattress from the other bed to augment the sparse cover he got from the single thin blanket he’d found. It was bulky and unwieldy, but at least he was warm. Sleep came eventually and, apart from waking from a weird dream about being restrained by police stacking on top of him and probably brought on by his restrictive bedding, he managed to get reasonably rested.

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

 

When Ed came home with his wife and two other daughters, he found Lori highly agitated and wanting a private chat. He made himself a coffee and met with her in his study. He heard again the story that she had told him when she called. Privately, he was aghast at the horrendous situation Tom was in, but he managed to communicate a mood of calm. Ed tried to console her that ringing to tell him had been the right course.

“If Tom says he didn’t do it then I believe him. The boy has integrity, I’ll say that for him,” Ed commented.

“Why did he run then; I mean if he’s innocent?” Lori was battling to keep her voice steady.

“It doesn’t seem wise to us does it? But think about it. He’s in shock from the tragedy. Everything, in his mind, is saying it looks like I did it. And when the police start saying the same thing, he panics.” Ed shrugged his shoulders as he said it, indicating that he was guessing.

“He didn’t seem too panicky to me,” She came close and hugged her father’s neck, “Oh Dad, who could have done this awful thing if Tom didn’t do it?”

Ed shook his head slowly, “I don’t know. But we have to impress to the police that we believe it wasn’t Tom.”

Lori nodded miserably and wiped her eyes.

“Right, now you go off to bed and try and get some sleep.”

After Lori had gone Ed made a call. He talked quietly for a short while. Lori came past the study door to get a glass of milk. She stopped when she heard her father’s voice on the phone.

“How long do you think you can stay out of this?” There was a lull and then he continued, “The police obviously think Tom did it, but eventually they’ll come and look for you.” Ed paused briefly again, then finished, “All right, contact me if you need anything. Good bye.”

Lori hurried on. Who was he talking to? Who would the police want to talk to? What did her father know about this? She shuddered. She wanted to ask straight away, but she felt guilty about eavesdropping on her father.

            She knew her father. Lori convinced herself, there was no way he’d be involved in anything illegal. Still, there was a niggling doubt in the back of her mind; or maybe she’d misheard.
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