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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:45 pm

Chapter 11                                                     Mon

 

            Things were buzzing in the Homicide Division. Adrian Burton was aware of the various rumours going round about the previous day’s fiasco. He refused to confirm or deny that Lancaster broke his foot when a squad car drove over it, or that he was suspended for calling a SWAT team to raid a school camp. It was sufficient to say he was in an ebullient mood. His orders were phrased quietly as requests, coloured with encouragement and a broad smile.

“So Gully, how you doing with the list of possible vehicles?”

“They’re on your desk.”

“Did you distribute them to all the patrols?”

Stanton Gulliver looked up pleased with himself. “Sure did.”

            An hour later they were driving to the front of the Witney place. Pulling up behind Lori’s car, Rolf and Burton stepped out in choreographed unison.

“Looks like Towers has visitors. This is the girl’s car isn’t it?” Burton queried tapping the bonnet as he passed and then leapt two stairs at a time to the front door. Just a look from Rolf substantiated his assumption.

            Inside, Al greeted them dully and led the detectives through the large entrance hall and into the lounge area. At the same instant a gabble of voices was followed by two young women blustering into the room carrying bulky overnight bags. Upon seeing the detectives, there fell a stony silence upon the room. Lori, her eyes fixed on Burton, made a mental leap and cried out, breaking the motionless, tableau moment.

“Is he all right? Was he hurt? I rang several times but no one would tell me what was going on.” The angst in her voice disclosed more of her feelings than she would have liked.

“I imagine you’re referring to Tom Witney,” Burton said wryly. “I’m afraid you sent Detective Lancaster on a wild goose chase.”

“What do you mean?” There was fear mixed with apprehension in her eyes.

“I mean, wherever Tom Witney is, he is nowhere near Ti tree Island camp.” Then, as if mildly rebuking her as a school master, his head leaned forward and he stared at her like he was looking over invisible glasses. “But if you hear from him again be sure to let us know, won’t you Miss Miles?”

Lori averted her gaze toward the other girl. Burton felt sure he knew who it was, but he smiled politely and asked, “And this is?”

The new girl introduced herself as Holly Witney. To Burton she was clearly related to Tom Witney. Slightly taller than Lori, her slender physique, sandy hair and blue eyes were all similarities he noted. She explained that she was picking up some things for her stay with Lori. After suitably expressing his sympathy for her loss, Burton explained that it was important she assist in helping them find her brother.

            “He’s not guilty,” she asserted firmly. Her voice was strident and her gaze cool. “I hope you haven’t stopped looking for the real murderer.”

“Don’t worry Miss Witney we’re still investigating all the possibilities, but your brother could assist, I’m sure, along a number of avenues.” He smiled sanguinely.

Holly was not persuaded. “So, you have other suspects?”

“Most certainly, and many questions to ask … Why don’t you all sit down?” Burton moved to the large screen television, taking into consideration that it was the focal point for the three lounge chairs and couch. Rolf stood leaning against the mantelpiece above the large stone fireplace. He gave Lori a gawky smile and a sheepish shrug as if to distance himself from any hint of harassment.

Burton spent a few minutes trying to glean some of Tom’s possible hideouts.

            Al sat back, arms splayed out and with a supercilious grin, revelling in his role as a spectator ‘lord of the manor’. Burton suddenly altered the target of his inquisition and boomed out, “Rowan what do think about Mr Towers here?” The effect of his question was startling. Rolf flinched out of his distraction. He had been playing with a dippy bird toy and a number of other tacky souvenirs that were attributable to Al’s desire to make the room homier. When he jumped he almost sent the plastic bird off the edge, catching it just in time. Al’s face had a look of consternation, wondering what Burton was referring too.

            “Er, what do I … er what do you mean Ade?” Rolf replied, stumbling over his words while trying to recover some equanimity. Burton continued, feeling he had everyone’s attention.

“Towers, how is it that you suddenly developed this desire to work in the library last Wednesday?”

“I decided to work on some assignments that were overdue. What’s wrong with that?” he said defensively.

“Nothing … no … nothing at all. It’s just that you don’t come across as a conscientious student. So, did you finish them?”

“One, the other two are a fair way to being done.” Al’s expression showed growing hostility.

“Have you handed the finished one in?”
“No.”


“Have you done any more work in the library since then?”

“No, not with everything that’s happened. You can’t expect me to carry on as if nothing has happened.” The latter was spoken with considerable scorn.

“No, you’re right. I wouldn’t expect that.” The girls and Rolf were looking on fascinated by the direction of Burton’s questions.

“Do you mind if I see the files? They’re on your lap top computer aren’t they?”

“Do you have a warrant?” There was an acerbic edge in the way he asked.

“No, but I can get one if you wish,” was Burton’s dry remark.

            Al hesitated momentarily before rising sullenly and laboriously from his seat. As he went to the door he shot back, “You know the library has a record of me being there all the time?”

“Mm hm,” returned the detective.

When Al had gone Rolf queried his boss. “What are you getting at Ade?”

Conscious that Lori and Holly were tuned in to proceedings he answered vaguely, “Just trying to get the story straight.”

Holly was picking up her bags. “You’ll have to excuse us Detective Burton, Lori and I have a funeral to attend.” Lori turned and whispered in her ear as she placed a hand on Holly’s hand.

“We might wait a minute,” she appended self-consciously.

Burton gestured with a small movement of his head, “Ah, we’re a little curious.”

            Al came back with the laptop open and already switched on. It was almost as if he made a last minute check to assure himself that all was well. He planted the computer on a nest of teak side tables.

“The three files are in there.” He indicated a folder and went back confidently to his armchair.

As Burton bowed over the machine, Rolf drew up by his side. Lori and Holly edged nearer without being any the wiser. Burton flicked on each of the files checking the properties. Each had different dates. His gaze flicked across the properties taking note of pertinent details. Burton wanted to see if there were any files exactly the same from which they were cloned. A minute or two into the search and he calculated that the task to be hopeless in the short time span he had available.

“Do you mind if we take this to the station?” His request was meant to sound low key and routine, but Al was wary and unyielding. “Not without a warrant.” He vaulted out of his seated position and possessively grasped the laptop, shutting its lid more aggressively than he intended.

“So, why didn’t you use your laptop in the library?”

“Just easier to use theirs and copy onto mine,” he said unconvincingly.

            Lori and Holly surreptitiously withdrew while Burton was checking out Al’s story again. Putting the bags in Lori’s car, both girls travelled in the car up to the garage. When the door was opened Holly appeared disoriented as she stared ahead. Where her car should have been there was empty space.

“Where’s it gone?” Holly looked flabbergasted.

Already though, Lori had an inkling. They moved past Clarissa’s Jaguar and saw a note under the windscreen wiper:

            Holly,

            I borrowed your car. Please feel free to use mine. Key is in the lock.

PS Please rescue Juno

                        T

“That rat!” murmured Lori.

“Oh I don’t know, seems like a fair exchange to me.” Holly sat down. “I’ll follow you home.”

“That’s not what I meant. Tom deliberately made me think I was helping him escape, but he was using me to throw the police off the trail.”

Holly was having trouble deciding whether Lori was mad at her brother or particularly fond of him. Her face showed aggravation but there was a discernable twinkle in her eyes. They retrieved Juno and put the prancing dog in the back seat. “Let’s go, Lori. You can tell me all about his evil plan when we get to your place. We only have two and a half hours to get ready for the funeral.”

            Once they reached the Miles’ home Lori became analytical. “You know, Tom is going to be in trouble using your car. I’m sure by now they will have a list of all the cars belonging to family.”

Holly gave a smug look. “He’s sneakier than you think. I don’t know what made him think of my car, but it was a smart move. It’s still registered in a friend’s name.”

Lori’s mood became darker as she muttered, “He is sneaky isn’t he? ... and he doesn’t trust me.” She was leaning against the sports car while Holly was burrowing for her baggage. Her voice was indistinct to Holly. “What did you say?”

“I said, he doesn’t trust me. He knew I would tell the police. Maybe he thinks I’ve been against him since he stopped me calling the police on Wednesday.”

Holly looked at her across the car. “He stopped you calling the police?”

Lori recalled the regrettable incident. “The news flash came on, and, well … it just seemed the right thing to do … to call the police. But Tom objected and was determined to get away.”

Holly looked at her sympathetically. “It was the right thing to do. He’s really crazy running. I don’t think he’ll achieve anything except make himself look guiltier.”

Both Lori and Holly looked morose as they walked to the front door. It may have been that last thought, the merest niggling remnant of an idea, that maybe, in a moment of temporary insanity, Tom could have done the unthinkable. More likely, it was a culmination of not knowing and the emotional repercussions of dealing with a very public mourning.

 

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

            Adrian Burton had his team around him in a small conference room. He was reviewing what they knew again.

“Let’s see if we can have a fresh look at the evidence,” he said, scanning the junior detectives. “From the forensic report we can ascertain that Mrs Witney appears to have been shot first and Towers shot in the back fleeing the scene before being shot again, fatally, in the hallway. It seems that the girl came out to see what was happening, stumbled, crawled back under the table and was shot.” He looked at the men. Nothing of what he said seemed to have surprised them.

“Who could have done it? Well, most of the evidence points to Tom Witney—no alibi, but it doesn’t make sense unless there’s something we don’t know. Gene Towers junior could have, given he knew about the gun. Why would he kill? Again it doesn’t make sense … and he has an alibi. This morning we found out that the house safe was empty. Towers claims that he didn’t know if anything was in there.”

“So you’re saying robbery could have been a motive?” It was Arnie Lee.

“That’s something else we have to find out.” Burton went on, “Now, Ashley Moore comes on the scene. Turns out he was checking out of his motel at the approximate time of the crime.” In a moment of stasis he sought an elusive notion. “Still, the assumption is, if he has an alibi then he’s not involved. The thing is he could have orchestrated it.” 

“What makes you think Moore’s involved?” Rolf drawled.

Burton was deadpan, “I’m just keeping our options open. He may have a motive and he seems to have just cropped up at the wrong time. I hate coincidences.”

            The detectives were set some specific tasks and Burton went to his desk to read the pathologist’s report for the third time. On his desk was an envelope addressed to him. On it was stamped the phrase ‘CLEARED BY SECURITY’. He noted that the station mail sorters had been careful and thorough, having opened it in addition to the standard metal detection and x-ray screening.

            Inside were numerous sheets of information and photos and a note:

            ‘Adrian,

            This information gives Charlie Charlton some motive I believe. I hope you follow this up.

            Tom Witney’

‘Cheeky blighter,’ thought Burton, ‘thinks he can call me by my first name.’ For the next ten minutes the detective was totally immersed in reading the incriminating records. Gene Towers was blackmailing polluters. Charlton Chemicals had dumped drums of ancient herbicide stock tainted with dioxins in a landfill where rising water table levels were bringing lethal levels percolating to the surface. The land at the back of the company had high levels of toxic spillage.

            He picked up the phone and talked at length with a detective sergeant liaising with the EPA. After promising to fax all the documents he hung up. The way forward seemed murkier with every step.

 

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

 

            At breakfast on that Monday morning Tom wanted to make known his ‘search for truth’, for want of a better term. But the conversation quickly went to the funeral and how it was unfortunate that his circumstances precluded his attendance. Improbably to Tom, the conversation swung in a direction he wouldn’t have predicted. Harry explained that Ed had organised his pastor to lead the service and that it was because Clarissa had recently shown interest in going to services at Ed’s church.

Tom almost spoke of his recent experiences and search for meaning then, but something prevented him. A flood of reasons filled his mind. ‘It was silly … they were quaint traditions’, he thought. If he shared his fears he would become vulnerable to all sorts of criticisms. Was it pride?

“You know she may have got on to something,” observed Harry, “If Ed Miles is anything to go by. I’ve never met a more decent man.”

            That was the opportunity for him to speak. But he made no sound. ‘It was irrational’, he argued to himself. He wasn’t some frail person who bared his soul by sharing his inadequacies. The chance had passed. There was an empty ache in Tom’s stomach as if he’d just ignored a lifeline thrown to him. He was going to make his own way out of the mire. He could do it he told himself. Then why did it feel like he was sinking?

            Following breakfast, Harry and Ashley dressed formally for the funeral and headed off, hoping to spend a bit of time with Ed before the service. Tom, having seen them off, strolled up the hill and then hiked more purposefully up to the tree lined ridge. Standing on a jutting outcrop of rock that formed a natural viewing platform, Tom soaked in the scenery. The initial solitude he experienced was amplified by the expansive vista spread out below, but his reflective mood slowly morphed into a barren loneliness. It was as if even nature itself was shunning him and ignoring his existence. Feeling suddenly insignificant and puny, he cringed. A moist sweat began to permeate his shirt. He jogged back to the house oppressed by his insecurities. Once inside, he showered, soaking in the hot water till his spirits revived enough to refocus. Tom left soon after and drove towards Gil Trentham’s home.

Gil had just returned from the funeral and was pleased to see him and welcomed him like a long lost son. They headed to what Gil called his ‘parlour’, which was an extended area adjoining his dining room with connection to the open kitchen area. They ate what Gil referred to as one of his ‘epicurean delights’, something Tom would have called an egg and bacon quiche. Tom quizzed him about the gun club and if he had any suspicions. Gil assured him that apart from Rick and him, few members had any knowledge of his family.

“Apart from old Ralston of course, he’s always hitting on the well to do for donations.”

“Would he have any reason to …?” Tom didn’t finish.

“No, I don’t think so,” he paused. “You know it’s more likely to be something to do with Gene and his son. I’ve never thought much of them.”

Tom thought there was a touch of class prejudice in the way Gil expressed himself but he understood what he meant.

            The tasty meal was finished. Gil had spent the majority of the time lauding his mother. It was probably the only eulogy he would hear and, in its way, it had a cathartic effect for him acknowledging his mother’s death.

 “So have you any other ideas?” Tom was fishing.

“You know I visit your mother regularly …” he looked to see Tom confirm this with a small motion of his head. “Well, I was there Wednesday afternoon and she shared some remarkable news.” He waited a moment as if measuring his words. “I’m not sure how to tell you this, but … it seems you have a half brother and he’s made contact with your mother.” Gil scrutinised his young guest for a reaction before he continued. “You know about him don’t you?”

“Yes, like you, it was news to me. It seems everybody knew before I did,” he said with a trace of bitterness.

“Mm. Well, I believe I saw the young man arrive as I was leaving, so you might find out what he was doing.” Then with a glint in his eye as if an idea just occurred to him. “I know. I could do some investigating for you … find out what he was up to … and that Al Towers.”

Tom almost smiled at the enthusiasm of the older man. “No, that’s okay Gil. I think I’ve asked most of those questions already.”

“Oh,” There was a tinge of disappointment in the reply.

“Thanks for your help though … and if you think of anything leave me a text.”

“Certainly,” Gil rose as Tom made to leave. “Tom, if you need a place to stay there’s plenty of room here.”

“Thanks Gil, I’m okay for the moment, but I’ll keep it in mind.”

“And, if you need any help, or make any progress let me know.”

“Sure.”

            Tom left Gil as he waved from his large porch area. There was something indefinably resonant in the way his tall frame stood viewing his departure. He wasn’t surprised. The man had been around the family for as long as he could remember. The nearest thing to gentry that Tom knew, Gil seemed to exist in perpetual retirement, pursuing his hobbies and the distractions accessible only to the wealthy.

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