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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Sun Dec 03, 2017 7:21 pm

Chapter 10                                                     Sun

            Lancaster and Schultz were at the door waiting. Lancaster had told the others that he wasn’t going to spend his day doing menial legwork for Burton when he knew what needed to be done. Having read Burton’s case notes so far, he had decided that pressure had to be applied to the Miles’ girl. She was involved and he was sure a modicum of ‘professional’ harassment would get her cooperation. After all they were investigating a triple homicide; they had to go in hard.

            Finally, after the third ring, the door was answered by a flustered, but particularly attractive girl.

“I’m sorry,” she blurted, “I was getting ready for church …”

“Miss Miles, I’m Detective Lancaster and this is Detective Schultz. We would like you to come down to the station with us.”

Lori flushed. “I’m sorry; I’m just heading off to church. My parents have already left.”

“Miss Miles, this is not a request. We believe you are involved in assisting in the escape of a wanted person.” Lancaster was sounding as severe as he could. Her horrified expression was the desired result. He felt pleased with the way things were turning out. He was sure that had Ed Miles been there he would have insisted on the presence of a lawyer. But, as it was now, he was confident, with a little ‘professional’ intimidation, he would get what he wanted from the girl. She was already showing signs of guilt and fear.

“Can I call my parents? They’ll worry.” She looked up at the man who had perpetually florid cheeks and a constant, pained glare.

“You can call them from the station,” Lancaster allowed. ‘When we have what we want,’ he thought.

            The difference between Lancaster and Burton was that Lancaster believed ‘the ends justified the means’. Burton on the other hand tried to empathise with the people he dealt with. He was sure that the facts would come out if he did his job properly.

***

            Lori sat on the wooden chair wringing her hands. She had been in the interview room for five minutes by herself, stewing. Lancaster and Schultz came in. Lancaster was looking officious with a sheaf of papers and Schultz stood back by the door watching as the interview began.

“Miss Miles, you’re a church goer, right?”

“Yes,” Lori answered meekly. She watched the policeman writing on the ‘record of interview’ form.

“You believe in the importance of telling the truth don’t you?”

“Yes.” There was a tightness around her throat that quietened her voice even more.

“You know that lying in an interview is an offence?”

Lori’s eyes were big with fright and filming with tears as she nodded submissively.

“Answer audibly please Miss Miles.”

“Yes.”

“Miss Miles, answer this carefully. Have you seen Tom Witney since Wednesday?”

Lori gathered herself and said shakily, “Tom Witney is not a murderer. If you knew him you would know how silly this is. He’s innocent.”

“I agree,” Lancaster droned smarmily. “He’s not that sort of man. That’s why we need to speak with him. He might have vital information.” He persisted, “Have you seen him since Wednesday?”

She struggled with her strangled reply. “Yes.”

“Where?

“I dropped him off at his boat.”

“Is he there now?” Lancaster’s interrogation was more demanding now.

“No, well not exactly,” Lori whimpered.

            More insistent questioning led to the specific details of the camp location. Lancaster filled in the last of the interview record. Lori sobbed quietly as she wondered what Tom would make of her betrayal.

“Please sign Miss Miles.” He thrust the official looking form toward her. She tried to read the notes through her tears. Sniffling she asked, “Can I ring my dad? He’ll be worried sick.

“Certainly, we’ll take you home now.” Lancaster was beaming exultantly. He was going to ring the superintendant and tell him of the breakthrough.

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

 

            Burton was brooding silently out in the weak winter sunlight filtering down on the back deck. His coffee was half finished. He was staring blankly at his open newspaper as his wife came out.

“What’s wrong Adrian?”
Burton was jolted out of his reverie. “What? Oh,” he said trying to sound matter of fact, “That was the super,’ He vaguely indicated toward the telephone, “He’s relieved me of the Witney case.”


“What! Why?” Ally, his wife was perplexed. Her husband was highly respected for his successful detective work.

“It appears that Lancaster has found Witney. Gordon asked why it was that I spent four days with no progress, while after four hours Lancaster is sending a team to pick up the chief suspect.”

“What did you say?” Ally was concerned for Adrian’s self esteem. He was proud of his achievements but didn’t big note himself. He usually just did his job and let his superiors grasp at the kudos and media recognition.

“I told him I’d talk to him tomorrow. Witney didn’t commit the murders, if I know anything about people, but he might have information that could help us. I don’t think much of Lancaster or his methods, but I can’t tell people he’s unethical when he gets what they want. It sounds like sour grapes.”

“So what will you tell George?” She always used his boss’s first name.

“That they have the wrong man; and while he was on the run he was giving us some valuable leads.”

“You’re that sure he didn’t do it?”

“Well, I shouldn’t be. All the evidence says he did it, but it’s all too neat.”

Ally stood behind him and rubbed his shoulders. He arched back and luxuriated in the relaxing sensation.

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

 

            Tom was rifling through Gene’s files. Down toward the back he found the one on Charlton Chemicals. Comments from one of the chemists saying he’d be relieved when they had a proper treatment facility. There were dossiers tabulating the quantity of discontinued herbicides being relabelled as harmless and disposed of in a landfill. Also, some photos of damaged drums being buried at the back of the property and some newspaper clippings of fish dying off in a creek downstream from a landfill the factory used. The information was damning. Tom knew that this should have been presented to the authorities. He took copies, placed them in an envelope and addressed it ‘Attention Detective Adrian Burton’. A short note was added to the contents.

            He went to write a note in Ed’s desk diary asking him to forward the envelope, when he noticed a scribbled memo ‘Ashley needs Harry’s address – give directions.’ Tom’s stomach roiled within him. Why was Ed not passing information on to him? Didn’t he realise that he had to determine whether Ashley had found the gun. The path forward crystallised for Tom. Visit Harry and hopefully find out where Ashley is staying. Tomorrow, confront Charlie Charlton and find out what he did after visiting Clariflo on Wednesday, then talk to Gil about what happened at the gun club after he left. He wanted to send another message to Burton, but thought better of it. Tom then considered whether it would be best to go back to the cabin, but deferred on that idea as well, unaware that the search for him was now full scale in another direction.

           

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

 

            Two unmarked cars and four squad cars were hurtling down the highway toward the lakes. Lancaster had requested that a chopper be on standby. Interspersed between operational details he would recount the interview session, the fear in the girl and the way he made her believe her friend was innocent. Even Schultz, who was used to his superior, was tiring of the thinly disguised gloating. For the third time Lancaster recalled how the girl caved in without any resistance. How feeble the efforts of Burton and his crew were, and how they pussy footed around to try and protect the sensibilities of people who had crucial information.

            “I’m not going to use kid gloves when I know that if I lean on someone I can crack a case,” crowed Lancaster.

“You know,” said Schulz airily in a rare exhibition of spontaneity, “the first time I heard the term ‘kid gloves’ I thought it was a boxer’s name.”

Lancaster groaned derogatorily, partly because he was expecting some accolades from his junior, “Stan, you’re an idiot.”

            Having sealed access to the island by placing two officers at the entrance to the narrow bridge connecting the campsite to the mainland, Lancaster led his troops in an extravagant blaring charge onto the island. They burst in on a somewhat bewildered caretaker having his afternoon tea. Joe vehemently denied any collusion and knowledge of what they were talking about. Lancaster stormed from the building minutes later demanding that the others search the area. His yelling became more impassioned as the searchers emerged from each successive cabin, disrupting beleaguered campers in the process of packing their belongings. Each searcher came out and reluctantly admitted their failure to find anyone. He called in the helicopter to search the local port town and surrounding region for a fleeing boat. The desultory looks Lancaster received when he asked for a boat by boat check at the marina, angered him even more.

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

 

            Inspector George Gordon was nonplussed by this incredible display of irrationality. “You mean you didn’t verify that the boat had left?” he snarled loudly. “We sent a helicopter and six units without any confirmation to this story you extracted, using your ‘professional’ instincts?” he bellowed antagonistically. “When you get back, leave your notes on my desk. I’m giving this back to Burton.”

“But sir!”

“I wouldn’t push it Norm. I’ve already got the girl’s father complaining about procedures when you interviewed her. I believe she asked to contact her father.”

There was silence as Lancaster battled to hold his temper. ‘The silly rules were stacked up against them, preventing them from doing their job,’ he thought, simmering.

“Not only that, I’ve already had one reporter asking my comments about a police raid on a church camp. You’re letting the side down Norm,” Gordon sighed disparagingly, “See me in the morning.”

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

 

            Streams of cars, busy like ant trails, people milling, convoys of pedestrians inching their way to passenger check-ins and the garbled echoes of constant PA announcements all heralded their arrival at the airport.

            Lori and Ed were waiting at one of the gates located in the huge blank, wood panelled wall. Passenger arrivals seemed to be designed to heighten the drama of reunion. Each time the doors opened relatives and friends grew several centimetres, eyes opened wide in anticipation and cries from the successful greeters signalled another heart-warming social bonding. Conversely, the influx of bleary eyed, overburdened travellers looked totally disoriented; peering this way and then that, trying to spy a familiar face. Then relief sets in—they haven’t been forgotten.

            While most receptions were joyous affairs, with laughter, hugs, squeals and backslapping, when Holly emerged and went to Ed and Lori, both girls collapsed into each others’ arms in a flood of tears and pent up emotions. Holly, confronting again the reality of her loss, was releasing the grief and sorrow that the compassion of friends catalyses. Lori was crying for Holly, but more than that, her anguish was triggered by her sense of betrayal.

            “Holly, I’m so sorry,” wept Lori. The two held each other for a minute or two as Ed stood awkwardly by. It wasn’t until they were driving home that Lori explained how she had given up Tom to the police.

“That means they might be arresting him right now,” Holly fretted. Her tired features were filled with concern. Lori nodded and bowed her head ashamed. Fresh tears welled up in her red eyes.

“Will he be all right? They won’t hurt him will they?”

Both girls looked at each other and then at Ed driving in the front. Aware that they expected a comment, Ed tried to mollify their fears.

“If Tom doesn’t resist or try and run,” he tried again, “I mean Tom’s sensible; if he surrenders then I’m sure he’ll be safe.”

That comment didn’t do much to alleviate the girls’ fears.

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

 

            Ally brought the phone in. Her disgruntled expression communicated her annoyance with the caller, and Burton, looking up from the evening television news, was curious.

“It’s George,” she grumbled disapprovingly. He took the wireless device and attempted to resurrect some protocol.

“Good evening superintendant.” He too was still annoyed, in particular that he had been removed from the case so arbitrarily.

“Call me George, Adrian,” Gordon sounded artificially upbeat.

“What is it sir?” Burton answered phlegmatically.

“Adrian, I may have been a bit hasty. I want you back on the Witney murders.”

“What about Lancaster sir?”

“He made a bit of a mess of things, I’m afraid … went on a wild goose chase down to the Lakes. Anyway, we’ll talk about it in the morning. I’m getting a lot of demands from the chief to see some results.”

“I’m sure he did his best sir. You don’t want to give him another chance? I mean he’s only been on the case a day.” Burton wanted him to squirm a bit.

“No. You’re back on the case.”

“I’ll see you in the morning sir,” he finished dully.

“Right, good … in the morning then.”

Burton beamed at Ally who stood by, a bit ambivalent about his docile response to his superior, “I told you I was indispensible.”

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

 

            Tom passed the turn off to the cabin. He was attentive to the traffic, concerned that they were still on the lookout for him. The journey to the country farm was more sedate this time. Soaking up the grandeur of the towering sub tropical eucalypts with the sunlight glinting off their polished green leaves, he tried to ignore his nagging fears, how the weight of his constant vigilance and second guessing had begun to tug him down. He knew a certain amount of paranoia was necessary if he was to elude capture, but he desperately missed companionship and the trust of a close friend.

It was around midday when he pulled up to the small Inverglade church and watched the same little old white haired man altering the sign in front of the church. He had added ‘Free coffee and raisin toast all afternoon’. The invitation was too good for Tom whose stomach had been informing him about its parlous state and his atrocious irregular eating habits of late. Parking the car off the road, he walked across to the ancient churchgoer. The man watched him curiously. He had an almost cheeky face and a glint in his eye.

“I think I’ll take you up on your offer,” Tom greeted casually.

“Wonderful. Come this way. My name’s William, William Grose. Evelyn should have the coffee on the brew now.”

When Tom had introduced himself as just Thomas the churchman gave a perceptive nod.

            Around the side, on a neat grassed area were a few items of wooden garden furniture. Tom sat down and took in the panorama of steepling mountain ash trees surrounding the small valley hamlet. The flash of red-blue parrots winging past and the background laughter of kookaburras drew his attention as William kidded his wife about her dawdling pace. Minutes later the elderly couple brought out two trays, one with cups of foamy coffee and one with raisin toast and jam scones.

            Tom skirted their inquisitorial attempts at obtaining his whole life history by selectively entertaining them with childhood anecdotes and his visions of closed, waste recycling systems for industries. William, in turn, imparted a snapshot of his colourful life as a university professor. He amused Tom with stories about the foibles of colleagues in academia. Tom snorted and chortled with laughter. While the two communed like old friends a stream of Sunday day trippers stopped by and partook of Evelyn’s tasty indulgences. The warmth of the fellowship dispelled, for a time, the clammy fingers of pursuit, grasping for him, that had constantly tormented Tom. It was late afternoon when William shared how he had become an elder and lay preacher at the small church. As naturally—and as directly—as if he were commenting on the weather he prised open Tom’s insecurities.

“So what do you believe about Jesus?”

            Normally his inhibitions would have prevented the baring of his soul to anyone, let alone a stranger. But he felt compelled, by some unseen hand to divulge his insecurities.

“William, I can’t get those words out of my mind?”

Caught out by his seemingly random response William asked, “What words?”

“The words on your sign; ‘you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’.

“Ah those words,” he reiterated sagely.

“They just kept confronting me, tracking me down like some bloodhound.”

The Hound of Heaven,” quoted William solemnly.

“What?”

“Don’t worry, I’m just thinking out loud. There’s a poem written a long time ago, it’s called ‘The Hound of Heaven’. I should get you a copy.”

Tom blinked slightly befuddled, as if he thought they were having two different conversations.

            He composed himself. “I’m not sure poetry is what I need right now,” he said dismissively. “I’ve been in a little trouble lately.” He halted precipitously close to saying too much.

“This poet knew of trouble his whole life, but you’re right, I’m digressing. What is it about the text that worries you?”

Tom gathered his thoughts a second time and addressed the conflict going on within him. “I’ve been reading some of the Bible … er mainly the parts around this text in John. And it says the truth will set me free. It says Jesus is the truth and I guess a whole lot of other stuff about being slaves to sin and the father of lies. Well, can I ask you? If the truth sets you free, what is the lie?”

There was an uncomfortable lull as William examined him. “What is the lie?” echoed the elder of the two. “You know, I’ve never quite heard it put that way before. It’s a good question.”

            Tom was beginning to think there wasn’t an answer and that his new found counsellor was stalling for time.

“Well?” Tom probed.

“At the risk of sounding trite, could I start by saying that the lie is anything that is not the truth? Let me explain. You have a choice. You can believe that Jesus is the reason and answer to a purposeful life, or you can believe something else about the rationale for your existence. But that something else is not true. It is a lie.”

            He sounded adamant to Tom. Perhaps he was too absolute. “Everything else is a lie?” he challenged doubtfully. “There are no exceptions?”

William chuckled “You are well named Thomas. Let me try another tack. Imagine you are the only Thomas in the universe, unique and individual.”

“The only one of me … that’s not beyond the realms of coherent thought,” interrupted Tom.

“Fine … but let’s suppose then that other individuals come along and claim to be you. And people believe them. Are they mistaken if they do not recognise the true you?”

“Yes of course.”
“Would you not agree that they believe a lie?”


“I guess so.”

“That, by not recognising who you are, they are being deceived?”

“Mm,” Tom was reluctantly conceding his point but was struggling to see the relevance.

“It’s much the same with getting hold of the true freedom that God gives; it’s only through Jesus. The Bible says: for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Everything else is a lie.”

            Numerous questions followed as Tom tried to interpret William’s allegory. Tom liked the way he spoke plainly and didn’t dress up with clichés and epigrams what he saw as vital for a sound basis for life. He had a real faith.

Time had flown and he was distressed to discover that he had lost most of the afternoon and his investigation was still going nowhere. The idea of a cosmic conflict between good and evil was becoming easier for him to believe. He was beginning to ponder what side he was on. Instead of the liberation he so desperately sought, he felt the tightening shackles of guilt, fear and despair. His guilt was a new emotion, stemming from his preoccupation with his own aspirations and achievements to the detriment of others.

Just as he was about to excuse himself and resume his journey, Margie and Gus turned up. The reunion was light hearted and friendly. But he couldn’t help feeling like a helpless swimmer swept along by the inexorable tide of events. As others from the local area turned up, he found himself unable to extricate himself from a church casserole tea. Then after that he felt obliged to listen to the message given by William about a blind man that received his sight. Tom knew that that too would add to his baggage of recurring self-dissatisfaction, especially when he spoke about Jesus as being the only way. William seemed to look at Tom when he said the blind man knew something of the truth about Jesus.

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

 

            Rolling down to the house on the long driveway using only the moonlight to guide him, ensured an unnoticed arrival. Standing at the dimly lit doorway he rapped loudly. The surprise was apparent on Harry’s face.

“Tom!” he exclaimed, looking a trifle stunned.

“Hi Dad.” Tom enjoyed the effect of his unexpected appearance. His father rapidly regathered his poise and spoke. “Tom, come in.” He moved aside to let his son in. “There is someone here you should meet.”

He followed his father down a hallway and into the living room of the old weatherboard house. There, in a wooden rocking chair, sat a tall, thin young man with dark, close cropped curly hair and a strained smile. Before anyone could begin introductions, Tom took the lead.

“It’s Ashley Moore I take it.” His manner was non-committal. When Ashley rose to shake his hand he was met with an icy stare. He sat back down, visibly put ill at ease by the frosty encounter.

“Before we engage in an embrace of long lost brothers there are a few things we need to sort out. Wouldn’t you say Dad?”

“Tom, now don’t be unreasonable …”

“Unreasonable!” he cut off Harry sharply. “I’m being chased by police, suspected of murder and I find out my father lies to me.” An utter silence followed his outburst. The chirruping of a cricket chorused in angry support, accentuated by the comparative awkward silence in the room. Tom thrust an accusing question at his father. “Why did you tell me you were here when you’d gone to see Mum?”

Harry hung his head. “It was a mistake. The truth was that I would have almost been back here by the time the murders happened, so I didn’t think it would matter that I had been there earlier in the day.”

“It matters,” Tom chided.

“Okay, let me tell you what happened.”

“That would be nice.”

“Why don’t you sit down?”

“I’d rather stand.” There was a tinge of bitterness to his reply and he was unrelenting in sustaining his displeasure.

            Harry began his tale. “I did go to the city. I had decided to see Ed first, but I changed my mind. So I went to … home,” he said unsurely, “and met with Clarissa. I guess we apologised to each other, and I’m glad we sorted all that out before … before.”

Tom softened his attitude. “What happened then?” he prodded quietly.

“Well, she said that Ashley had visited the previous day and told me that I should find him. I rang Ed and asked for Ashley’s address. He told me he’d get it for me.”

“That must be when he rang me,” rejoined Ashley.

The other two registered his contribution with a glance before Tom went on, “What did you do then?”

“I left there and met with Ed. We spoke about … well, about whether you’d be amenable to me rejoining the company, maybe as a consultant or something.”

“It’s still your company.” Tom was matter of fact.

The senior Witney took a breath and made a resolution—he wouldn’t pursue the niceties of business etiquette. Anyway, I got the address from Ed and left. I waited at the motel for about two hours until Ashley turned up. We both came down here and he’s stayed here each night since.”

“Which is why you didn’t want me inside the other day.”

Harry’s face revealed his chagrin. “It was unforgiveable, the way I spoke, but I didn’t want you to find out about Ashley like that … so soon.”

            Tom looked across to Ashley. “I wonder if you can explain your actions.” There was an edge of harshness to his insistent gaze.

“What do you mean?” He looked baffled.

“For starters, I believe you stole my car keys from Ed Miles’ office.” Tom sat down opposite Ashley and leaned forward, disdain in attitude. “I’m sure there’s quite a story to this.”

“What are you talking about Tom? This is crazy.” Harry, standing up and protesting, was indignant for Ashley.

Ashley held up two hands miming his surrender. “I … I can explain. It’s sort of embarrassing … It was meant to be a joke.”

“Go on,” pressed Tom, keen to see what story could be fabricated to refute his allegations.

            “Well, when I saw the keys on Ed Miles’ desk I asked about his Mercedes and he said the keys were spare ones from your car. It’s stupid I know, but I thought if I took the keys and waited in your car, I could meet you … sort of surprise. It was only after I got outside that I realised how confronting that would be for a first meeting. So I changed my mind. I’m sorry, I returned the key yesterday though.” He tried to minimise his responsibility with the feebly mumbled claim.

            “How am I to believe you?” Tom disputed. “Do you realise that someone used my keys to steal my gun?” he said scathingly. His haranguing didn’t stop there however. “If you didn’t take my gun, and you had those keys, then it’s possible someone used my other keys,” he theorised, side-stepping the whole ‘unlocked car’ debacle.

Ashley was full of remorse. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t me. Seriously, I might be stupid, but I’m not dangerous.”  

He wanted to say that he thought Ashley was dangerously stupid, but he held off. Tom was becoming rueful that he had badgered Ashley, especially given his apparent candour. He tried a more moderate approach. “What happened after you left Clariflo?”

            Ashley related his story. He explained how he’d gone to visit Clarissa. Tom paid special attention when he mentioned seeing someone leaving as he arrived. His description was of a tall middle aged man with dark wavy hair and greying temples. The description fit Gil Trentham. He was someone that often visited his mother. Tom had never worked out whether he was a distant cousin or just an old family friend. Gil always had an arts event he wanted to share, an investment opportunity he’d just taken up or he’d just come for a social visit. Of course Tom couldn’t be sure. Ashley’s description was hazy enough for it to be almost anyone.

            Following that, Ashley told how he spoke with Clarissa for about an hour. While they talked she showed him around the house. She was, he thought, perversely uncommunicative when he raised the subject of his natural father. When he pressed harder for information she at first equivocated before finally dismissing his pleas, saying that it was a turbulent time in her life. Clarissa had told him that the man was a ‘worthless degenerate’ to quote her. The whole episode was a mistake in her past and that’s where she wanted to leave it.

            “It really puzzles me that she was so obstinate about it. I mean, it was a reasonable request wasn’t it?” Ashley’s brow furrowed as he looked from Tom to Harry.

“Clarissa has carried the scars of those events around with her all her life since,” Harry croaked emotionally. “She shared with me, probably just hours before you saw her again, how the painful memories of giving you up for adoption came back to haunt her over and over again.” Harry spoke more encouragingly. “She did say that she was so glad that you had contacted her though. To have the whole thing out in the open was such a relief. And to meet you and know how well you turned out; it was such a release from the torment she had experienced over the years.”

“But how could it hurt for me to know my father? Even if he was a terrible person, I mean, after all these years he may have changed.”

“I know what you’re saying,” Harry confided, “but for some reason the hurt never faded. She never let on to me either. I think her bitterness had only been tempered by your arrival.”

            Ashley went on to recount how Gene arrived early again from work, and again was incensed at finding him visiting. After ranting about not being appreciated at work he was interrupted by another visitor coming to the door. Tom was particularly curious about the identity of the new character that was added to his list of potential suspects. But Ashley couldn’t help him. All he knew was that he sounded like a young man. While Gene drew Ashley aside into the study to repeat his offer of ‘compensation’ if he would disappear from the scene, Clarissa took the unknown visitor into the living room. She returned briefly asking to be excused as she had to speak with the visitor. She said she wanted Ashley to stay longer, but he had to decline the offer.  Clarissa then said goodbye with an invitation for a meal on the weekend when all the family could meet him.

            “So you didn’t see him at all?” Tom sounded frustrated. Ashley shook his head slowly.

“You think he had something to do with … with the murders?” Ashley sounded brittle, like he had been dumped, unsuspecting, into another world where plots and conspiracies abounded. Tom viewed his half brother with some scepticism. ‘Was it all an act,’ he wondered. Maybe Ashley was for real—a victim who in one week had managed to meet his natural mother and then lose her in a horrible crime. Tom left the question unanswered. He still needed more information.

“What happened next?”

“Well, after telling Gene that I wasn’t interested in his money, I left.”

“What time was that?”

“About four thirty.”

“Did you notice what sort of car this visitor drove?” Tom was searching for some clue. He needed to fill the gaps.

“No, in fact I was distracted by a car pulling slowly away from the kerb right at the entry point.”

“You can’t be serious!” Tom moaned, more in dismay than in disbelief. “What type of car was that?”

“It was a Lexus … a light metallic coloured sedan. There was a big guy driving and a shorter, older guy next to him. That’s about the best description I can give. They were still a fair way off when they left.”

            Tom was adding more questions to his notes. His frame of mind had deteriorated to even greater discontent since they had begun. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “What happened then?”
“Well, I came home—to the motel—and met Harry waiting for me. He invited me to stay at his place, here, and gave me the directions, and then he left.” Ashley went on to explain that he didn’t leave until about six since he needed to shower and pack his things.


“So, what you’re saying is that you had time to go back … with the gun you took from my car,” Tom paused again trying to detect some sign of guilt in his facial feature, “and then shoot three people.”

Ashley shook his head vehemently, “I didn’t do it. I’m not like that. Why would I?” He looked across to Harry with a feeling of helpless exasperation. Harry remained mute.

            “That’s exactly the same problem I have,” Tom sighed wearily. “Unless you can prove you didn’t do it, I have to suspect you. Maybe you were mad at her for not telling you about your real dad. I don’t know. You’re in the same position as me … opportunity and motive.” He stretched and leaned back. “Though I can’t see how the police think I have a motive.” He looked around almost daring the other two to suggest something.
             Later, conversation was more cordial. They were munching on some of Harry’s homemade, crispy golden oatmeal cookies and drinking hot chocolate. Ashley had provided a brief overview of his childhood with his adoptive parents and his more recent life as a teacher. He became maudlin as he dwelt on the breaking up of his relationship with his fiancé. He said he felt he had no direction, so he decided to try and find his birth mother.

            Tom became more animated as something stirred in his memory.

“Ashley, why did Ed have to give you directions to here if Dad had already given directions?”

Put off balance, Ashley gave Tom a perplexed look, “How did you know?”

“Ed leaves notes,” he replied cryptically. “Did you call him?”

“Yeah, I got lost.” The admission was accompanied by a self conscious smile before the young teacher expanded on his explanation, “so I rang him and left a message. He got back to me about ten minutes after I called with the directions.”

            Sharing tales of woe had the effect of bonding the three men. Harry’s assertion that he was in some way responsible was repeatedly repudiated by the other two. Both attempted to recognise the upheaval in his life as Harry described his sense of betrayal when he had heard about Ashley. He said only recently had he been able to consider Clarissa’s perspective. A young girl, the pressure from family, the heartache she went through and then having to pretend it never occurred. It caused him to go and apologise on that fateful day. The day she died. All three were quite emotional as Harry struggled to put his words together. The saddest part was that he said he’d regret for the rest of his life his pig-headed response—of going ‘hippy in the hills’, he had said—after he heard about Ashley.

            When they all settled down to sleep, it was with tacit agreement that they were all on the same side in wanting to expose the real murderer. Tom tossed and turned unable to void his brain of the storm of ideas that kept him awake. Was he blind? He considered the metaphors that had assaulted his character. A slave to sin, a child of the devil, blind to the truth. None of these diagnoses were appealing and the prognosis if he remained that way, as described by William Grose in his sermon, was not optimistic. The tumult of accusations chased him into another fitful night of sleep.
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