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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Tue Dec 05, 2017 4:45 pm

Chapter 12

            With some trepidation Tom left the car in the car park of Charlton Chemicals and made his way to the office. Inside there was a curved reception bench with two women working behind a lower desk.

“Can I help you?” the younger, dark haired receptionist asked.

“I’d like to see Mr Charlton please.” Tom projected his best confident aura. After all he could construe some legitimate business out of a meeting with Mr Charlton.

“I’m sorry; Mr Charlton is in a meeting at the moment. Do you have an appointment?” She gave a tired, feeble smile as if to say, ‘I don’t have time for this’.

Tom straightened, still communicating a genuine and purposeful determination. “No I don’t but that’s okay I’ll wait.”

The woman whose nametag said ‘Leanne’ became more serious and resolute, “You don’t understand sir. If you don’t have an appointment then you don’t get to see Mr Charlton.” Her emphasis on don’t was obviously meant to have a discouraging effect on Tom. However, he was unflinching. “Er, Leanne is it? Why don’t you tell him that I need to speak to him about Gene Towers? I’m sure he’ll want to speak with me.” He watched her bite her lip as if to control her temper, then she wrote the name on a post it note. “No that’s Mr Gene Towers, G E N E,” he corrected peering at the note. He added casually, “It’s not that common is it?”

She scrubbed out the first name and rewrote it. “And what was your name?”

“Tom Witney.” Tom smiled at her.

The receptionist half smiled back as if surrendering to his onslaught of niceness. “Would you take a seat Mr Witney?” She left, already rehearsing in her mind how she would rebuff the friendly young man in a gentle way.

            Minutes later, her face had blanched, Leanne came back and spoke tautly as if she had just ignited a powder keg and didn’t know what to do. And mentioning Gene Towers’ name had done exactly that.

“Um, Mr Witney? Mr Charlton says he’ll see you in his private office in a few minutes. Would you follow me please?”

“Certainly, thank you Leanne.” Tom followed her along a corridor past the office adjoining the reception area to a side entry of the large executive office.

            The plush décor of leather lounges and fine deep carpet was arranged so that the large dark-red polished wood desk took pride of place in a naturally lit, expansive room. Not only was it aimed to impress, it was meant—Tom was sure—as some sort of symbol of success. There was a gold plated telephone, a bar with vertical mother of pearl panels overlaid on the same rich, dark wood and a series of photos with Charlie Charlton standing next to one celebrity or another. Tom examined a picture of Charlie with his arm over the shoulder of a successful lightweight boxer. The picture had writing which said, ‘To my friend Charlie, keep punching.’

            Just as he was looking at the next photo Charlie Charlton burst in. He was a shortish, solidly built man with thinning hair. Behind him was a much larger, intimidating looking man. Both wore scowls as they studied the interloper to their private domain.

“So, Mr Witney, or should I say the notorious Mr Witney; you have half of the Victorian Police Force looking for you I believe.”

Tom stood motionless waiting for him to finish.

“What do want to say to me before I call the cops?” He stepped toward Tom threateningly.

“Ah, Mr Charlton, I would just like to ask you a few questions.”

“Go on, but I won’t say I’ll answer them for you,” he grunted gruffly.

“You went to see Gene Towers last Wednesday, but he wasn’t in.”
“That’s right. Why don’t you talk to Ed Miles? He’ll tell you what it’s all about.”


“He did already.”

At those words the stocky man tensed, “You have been busy haven’t you? So what do you want to know?” He sat on the corner of the desk an ominous glower crossing his face.

“Did you end up, er catching up with Towers that day?”

Suddenly the incongruity of the situation appealed to the surly businessman. He laughed abrasively, “Ha, do you know what he wants Ned? He wants to know if I murdered Gene Towers.”

            It wasn’t quite the direction Tom had planned for the conversation to go, but he saw it as an opportune opening. “Did you?”

“Now Mr Witney … Tom,” Charlton had a crooked smile on his face and placed the palms of his hands together as if he was going to say something important. “If I did, would I tell you?” He moved around to the back of his desk and sat heavily in the expensive leather recliner, almost losing his balance as it tipped back. When he recovered his balance he went on, “Mind you, I admire the way you’ve kept the cops on the hop.” He leaned forward, “So what do you know about Gene Towers?”

With less caution than he should have used, Tom began to expound on his research. “I know that Gene was trying to blackmail you on your, what you could call, questionable disposal practices.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure Miles explained that I was a bit angry about that.”

“Yes he did. Did you catch up with him?” It seemed as if the conversation had gone full circle.

            Charlton leaned back in his chair, a bit more carefully this time, and looked up at the big man, shrugging his shoulders as if he saw no harm in the conversation.

“You’re a regular ‘Fugitive’ aren’t ya?” He obviously enjoyed his own wit as he grinned toothily at Tom. “I mean you’re running around trying to catch the murderer, prove your own innocence and avoid the cops at the same time. Remember the TV series?”

Tom nodded. He had used the same comparison himself. But it was more that his father had told him the storyline when they had both watched an old movie of the same title.

“Yeah, this guy was looking for a one armed man. You lookin’ for a one armed man?”

Tom didn’t encourage him, “You tell me.”

In answer Charlton waved both arms up in the air quite amused at his own humour. He then settled down and refocused.

“Well, I’ll tell ya. I did go round to his place. That’s where you live too isn’t it?”

Tom murmured assent.

“I had one of the boys watching the place to let me know when he turned up,” he said by way of explanation. “So, when we got there, I was pulled up at the front gate … nice place by the way … and I saw his car but there were others there too. So we decided to wait til there weren’t so many guests.”

            It was clear to Tom at this point that Ned had gone along for some enforcement. He was the muscle.

“Well, your place is the busiest house I know of. Benny, who had been watching for me said there had been a parade of visitors.” He looked up again at Ned for confirmation. “What did he say? Four or five different people?”

“Something like that …” Ned offered in a surprisingly smooth modulated voice.

  “Let’s see, there was a young girl; she stayed so she was probably one of the victims. An old guy, then a young guy when the old guy left and then Towers arrived. Another young fellow turned up before the first one left. It was then that we gave up.”

“So, you didn’t go in to see him at all?”

“That’s what I said isn’t it?” Charlton insisted firmly.

“What about their cars?” Tom was groping for some clue, anything!

“Now, what did Benny say? I think the girl drove an old Nissan, the old guy a big four wheel drive, um the first young guy … I don’t know some nondescript Ford. He did remember the last guy … made a point of drooling over it a bit. He said it was late model BMW silver series M sport. Doesn’t mean much to me but he was impressed.”

Tom had a hurried intake of breath as he digested that piece of information. ‘What was he doing there?’ was the lingering question as he stood rigid, preoccupied. Charlton’s voice disturbed his parenthetic think time.

            “So …” The rough executive paused for effect. It struck Tom then that Charlton started every second sentence with either ‘so’ or ‘well’. 

“I take it you have nothing to say about Towers’ claims.”

“You know, with the right waste treatment regimen you could solve your effluent disposal problems.” The instant Tom said it he thought that perhaps this wasn’t the time for a bit of levity.

“Are you trying to blackmail us for some business? We’ve been down that road already.”

“No, no not at all.”

“You know, a quick call to the cops and you wouldn’t think any more about those environmental issues … I’m sure.”

“You’d let me talk to the police about your chemical wastes?”

Charlton’s eyebrows were raised, his mouth tight and his jaw jutted. “Ned, I think you need to show Mr Witney some of our hospital … ity.”

A surge of fear washed over Tom as the big man stepped toward him. He edged away from the bookshelves and eyed the door he had used to come in. Suddenly a shadow moved to his left. He cringed back, but too late. A huge fist pounded deep into his stomach, a shuddering blow that evacuated the air from his lungs. As he gasped, doubled over, frantically trying to gulp air, a second punch crashed into his chest. Tom’s eyes clenched shut, searing pain wracked his body and a juddering cross smashed into the side of his face. Everything went black.

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

 

            Ned stood over the crumpled form of the unconscious visitor.

He stared down at Tom. “What do you want me to do with him?”

Charlton ran a hand over his face as he contemplated another distasteful, but unavoidable, intrusion into his daily business. “Take him through the back. Lock him in the storeroom. We’ll have to dump him in the bay tonight.” Then as an afterthought he advised, “And Ned … use some gloves. Try and keep it as clean as possible.”

“Sure thing,” he grunted. He took a handful of Tom’s sweater and dragged him through the rear exit, along a narrow corridor and into a supply room on the right. Bright pink rubber cleaner’s gloves were then painstakingly stretched over his big hands amidst much complaint. Using a roll of duct tape he bound Tom’s hands behind his back, his feet tightly together and then wound several layers over his eyes and mouth as well.

            To ensure he wouldn’t move, Ned then wrapped tape around his chest and a metal leg of the storage bench. He gave the limp body a shake and, then convinced that he was securely trussed, he turned off the light and locked the door after him.

***

            Some time later Tom slowly regained consciousness to find himself in a confining, pitch black world of restricted movement, aching body and throbbing head pains. It took several minutes before he could piece the events together that had led to his predicament. He leant one way and then the other trying to stretch the tape. His efforts soon exhausted him. His head swam and he dry wretched as his body rebelled against the cloying, cleaning chemical smells of ammonia and chlorine. The cruel restriction of the binding tape, the beating and the mental fatigue of being continuously hunted added to his nausea. His loudest cry for help was barely a muffled mew on the other side of the heavy door.

***

            Unbeknown to Tom, events had been set in motion. While he was trapped in the small room the police arrived. Burton and Rolf spent an hour trying to wheedle out of Charlton some admission regarding his threats toward Gene Towers. His reluctance to cooperate brought considerable pressure on the two detectives to play for time. For, as they dithered with innocuous questions, a team of EPA investigators checked the areas detailed in the information forwarded onto them by Burton.

By the end of the hour an officer interrupted the interview. The information had been authenticated by their findings and the team resolved to act. The senior environmental investigator charged that the company was complicit in flagrantly breaching EPA standards and chemical contamination levels. All the workers were evacuated, the plant was closed and Charlton was taken away for specific interrogation about toxic pollution. Burton stood chatting with the ranking EPA officer as the gates were padlocked and environmental warning signs were placed around the site. Charlton Chemicals was eerily deserted.

            Todd Gow, the investigator who was heading the team, elaborated a point for Adrian.

“We had no choice. It is obvious, not only that the public has been exposed to dire risk, but that Charlton or his employees have been deliberately falsifying official records, forging documents and breaking laws for handling hazardous compounds.”

“We may want to talk to him some more. Will he remain in custody?” Burton envisaged the evidence they needed from the surveillance of the house.

“We need him for questioning too,” Gow observed, “But no doubt his lawyer will try and release him on bail as soon as possible.”

They parted with a banter of small talk and mutually expressed approval of the role each had played in the operation.

 

Inside the storeroom the silence was oppressive. Tom became unnerved by the isolation. Were they planning to kill him? How long would they wait? Had they forgotten him? The passing of time gradually eroded his resistance to despair. Dreary minutes dragged by. He jerked upright at a scuttling noise that he eventually concluded was a mouse or rat. Hours must have gone by when his wriggling, struggling and straining ebbed and his muted protests had faded to whimpering. And then, even the weak cries soon ceased as he slipped into exhausted sleep.

***

 

Later, filled with alarm, Tom emerged from his unconscious state into a frightening, dark and constrictive prison. Remembering his desperate circumstances, he tried to make sense of what was happening. He had totally lost track of time. He was still alive, but not because of anything clever that he had done. All his futile efforts came back to him. A doleful moan emanated from deep within him. How could he be so stupid, recklessly charging into this den of thugs as if he was invulnerable to their brutality? Was he just naïve or was he inanely overconfident?

He sat leaning against the metal leg and took stock. What could he discover about his surrounds? First he swung his tethered legs ponderously around in an arc. They struck a metal bucket. A handle from a mop fell down and landed against his neck. After he manoeuvred around the bucket, his feet touched another metal leg. He tried to work the handle under the tape on his hair but with its rounded end he couldn’t get any purchase. Extending as far as possible to his vertical sitting height, Tom felt his head bump against the top of the bench. The tape on the back of his head moved. Immediately he attempted to scrape the sticky polymer away from his hair. Repeatedly he rubbed the back of his head against the square cornered edge of the bench top. With each drag against the edge, the tape crept up, hair was tugged out and his head burned from the abrasion.

Having pushed the bands of tape up from the back of his head into a sticky circular ribbon shape, Tom eased the handle underneath. Lowering himself, he maintained constant painful pressure in opposition to the wooden shaft as it gradually tore away from his scalp. Tilting his head away and, with the handle now firmly embedded in the stretched tape, he managed to peel the tenacious adhesive off his head. Wincing with pain as several eyebrow hairs were extracted by the last thrust, he bent his battered head forward and breathed deeply through his nose to regain his breath.

Opening his gummed up eyes, Tom saw a glimmer of light beneath the door. Collecting his strength he swivelled his tape fastened hands to a side pocket of his jeans and fumbled for his car keys. It took numerous attempts before he hooked them out. Working with the serrated edge of one key he sawed to and fro at the bindings on his wrists. The constant tearing at the taut, stretched plastic caused it to slowly rip apart until finally it rapidly gave way.

Once his hands were free Tom didn’t hesitate to strip away the layers from around his mouth. Then he unwound the bands around his chest before completely releasing himself from the cramping, duct tape fetters that restrained his legs. He wobbled unsteadily as he rose to his feet. It was necessary to grasp onto the bench top to stave off a bout of dizziness. He flexed his muscles and drew himself up to his full height, groaning as he stretched. The movement renewed the aching throb to the side of his head and he reached up and felt it gingerly. A gnawing void in the pit of his stomach reminded him of how little he’d eaten. His dry crusty lips and lolling dry tongue had him craving for a drink.

The miniscule wafer of light low down did little to reveal the inside of the storeroom. He set about testing his confinement but the locked door resisted all the bumping and pulling forces that Tom could apply. When he stopped thumping he listened. There was nothing, not a sound, no hint of any movement outside.

Feeling in his pocket, he was surprised that he still had Ed’s cell. ‘Keys and phone,’ he thought. Either they were totally incompetent or something had interrupted their plans for him. He turned on the phone. The time showed that it was late Tuesday afternoon. He had been there for over a day! Tom made his call before he did anything else. He rang Holly and told her of the address and mentioned offhandedly that he was locked in a storeroom. A flood of questions followed which he deferred, saying he would explain it all later. Tom emphasised that his biggest concern was her safety. He insisted that if anyone was still at the plant, that she would not do anything. She should call the police and tell them where they could find him. He told her that if it was deserted she would need to break in to find him. The whole situation had Holly caught between intense concern and excitement. When she had hung up, Tom became aware that the door was caught in the dull glow from the screen.

He used the screen light on the mobile device to look around the store room. The door was heavy and unlikely to give way to his charging. The room was festooned with cleaning chemicals, rags, brushes and brooms and various toilet supplies. On one shelf there were fluorescent tubes, starters, light bulbs and some electrical connections and cables. At the far end a ladder was propped against the wall. Just as he was about to give up his rummaging around and turn off his phone before the power ran out, something caught his eye. On the lowest shelf was a metal box.

“Just what the doctor ordered,” he breathed as he examined the range of tools inside. Eventually he selected a screwdriver and a hammer.

            With deft blows he started to raise the pins out of the hinges, aiming the screwdriver under the cap of each pin. Only ten minutes were required to remove the top pin. The middle one all but popped out with just a few blows. The wooden obstacle shifted slightly and he wasted the next ten minutes trying to budge the bottom pin. It was not until he reinserted the first one that he made better progress. Finally, he managed to tap out the last centimetre out of the remaining hinge. It took a further minute to lever the door, wrong way, out of the frame.

***

 

            By this time Holly and Lori had arrived in the Mercedes and it was starting to get dark. They saw the warning signs stating that the plant was closed by the EPA and alerting the public of the danger of hazardous chemicals in the area. Of more concern was the severed chain and open gate. Inside, the only car they could see was Holly’s Honda. Marshalling their courage, the two girls took a jemmy out of the car and began walking toward the building labelled ‘Office’.

            Just then they noticed movement near a factory doorway to the left of where they were heading. A sigh of relief emanated from both girls almost at the same time as they realised Tom was waving his arm as he walked briskly toward them. Imperceptibly at first, a dark shape emerged with a growing roar from the shadows and accelerated towards Tom.

“Tom!” screamed Holly.

“Look out!” chorused Lori in terror.

Time appeared adhered to another scale as Tom turned abruptly and saw the dark car racing towards him. Momentarily paralysed with indecision, he frantically tried to get his legs to obey his instructions. The car was upon him just as he sprung and pivoted into a sitting position at the height of the car bonnet. Unavoidably, he was struck by the speeding car. Its momentum spun his body and he rolled up over the car. His foot smashed the windscreen as he tumbled over. Careering over the top, Tom fell like a rag doll bundle on the roadway. The car exited the car park with a screeching of tyres. Holly was busily writing the registration number as Lori ran as fast as she could, crying out Tom’s name.

            Lori was bent over the prone figure when Holly arrived. Tom was moaning.

“Do we take him to the hospital?” Lori looked up distraught, her face filled with concern.

“I think we have to. We’ll put him in the back seat of my car and you can follow. Is Wattle Heights the nearest?”

A slurred protest grumbled below them. “No, no hospital; I’m all right.”

“You’re bleeding; you’ve probably broken some bones … you just look terrible.”

“Ahh,” he groaned painfully. “Thanks for the encouragement Lori,” he gave a wry grin and then clutched his side as he rolled over.

“He needs a hospital,” stressed Holly.

Tom grimaced, “Look, get me to the yacht. See how I go. Then if I get worse you can take me.”

“Get worse!” Lori remonstrated by holding her palm to her head. “You’re mad Tom Witney!” The two girls looked at him. He was scruffy, grazed, blood smeared and bruised, but he still tried to raise himself.

“Stop! Stay there and I’ll bring the car around,” ordered Holly. Tom lay on the bitumen and gazed into Lori’s worry stricken face. He tried to smile. “I’m all right Lori … really.” But just saying the words sent a spasm of pain across his chest. Lori cradled his head in the crook of her arm and helped him sit up.

After the car was brought alongside, Lori and Holly carefully eased him inside. Holly called the police and reported a hit and run and gave the details of the number plate. She hung up before any more information could be requested. Lori led off in Tom’s car and Holly trailed her with Tom in her own car to the location advised by her brother.

            Periods of quiet during the drive up the peninsula were interspersed with a description of the funeral and probing questions from Holly, though her brother was in no condition to join in on the conversation. Apart from a gasping ‘It’s good to see you sis,’ from Tom as he wriggled painfully to make himself comfortable, most of his replies were garbled and he soon drifted off into delirium.

            At the wharf the girls were thankful of the dark night and light spray of rain. Very few people braved the conditions for a walk or some fishing. The sight of the staggering, unsteady steps of a young man being supported by two young women may have attracted some attention even if it wasn’t entirely unprecedented. Tom gritted his teeth as each movement provoked aches and stabbing pains. If anyone did witness the unusual trio they may have surmised that they were just seeing a drunken sailor being escorted back to his boat. The struggle to get Tom down the stairs and into his dingy would have been funny to Holly and Lori if Tom wasn’t in such obvious pain.

            Upon reaching the ‘Perfect Treat’, Tom gave one last effort to lift himself up the ladder before tumbling inside onto the couch. He pleaded for something to drink so he was handed a fruit juice which quenched his thirst initially. Lori then put the kettle on while Holly helped him get his shoes off and covered him with some blankets.

“Not a great reunion, hey?” she said as she touched the day old bruise on the side of his face.

Later, sitting up sipping his coffee and trying to disguise his discomfort, Tom suggested that they shouldn’t stay too long since the Mercedes was easily identifiable. It was decided that Lori would drive the car home while Holly stayed and looked after Tom. Tom, however, was determined to take the boat away so that he could have time to recover in a more discreet location. When it was clear that he wasn’t to be dissuaded it was decided that Lori pilot the motorised yacht out through the heads and set sail for Ti tree Island. Of the two girls she had the most experience on the boat. The female dominated discussions pertinent to what they would do, and their whole decision making process, totally ignored Tom’s interjections. His contention that both should leave and he would go it alone was disregarded.

            At ten that night Lori rowed Holly back to the wharf where they gave each other a farewell hug, before Lori returned on board.

“You haven’t eaten since yesterday have you?” she stated more than asked.

Tom gestured with a negative shake of the head.

“Well, first step to mending the patient is to feed the patient,” she stated categorically as she poked around the cupboard. She didn’t speak again until she had surfaced with a large can of vegetable soup and some frozen bread out of the small freezer. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

            Soon the smells of warm buttered toast and hot vegetable soup had Tom sitting up in anticipation. Lori, who had pulled her hair back into a ponytail and slipped on a large apron with the word ‘Captain’ emblazoned on the front, was hovering around Tom. She packed some pillows around him to ensure he was comfortable and then served him his soup and toast on a tray. He started the meal as voraciously as his sore jaw would allow, glancing up to see Lori quietly giving thanks. By the time he was finishing his second helping of soup he was feeling filled and warmed. Similarly, he was strangely warmed as he watched Lori eating the last of her soup. She was sitting at the small table dressed in jeans and sloppy windcheater. Her large brown eyes looking over her bowl at him.

“What?” she said, suddenly aware that he was staring.

“Oh, nothing,” he searched for something to say that would suggest he wasn’t just ogling. “So how do these things happen? Am I being punished for something?”

Lori supported her chin with her hands. “Should you be punished?” There was a mischievous glint in her eye.

“No,” he retorted and then looking into her eyes he seemed to falter, “Oh, I don’t know … maybe. I mean, I guess I’m a pretty selfish person.” He looked down and then back to Lori, but she didn’t respond. He shuddered as a twinge of pain went up his right shoulder.

“You tell me. Is God punishing me for the way I live? Is that why all this is happening?”

            Lori took a deep breath, bent forward and spoke softly. “Tom, we probably all deserve to be punished for being selfish, or not caring, or anything we do compared to God’s standards, but God doesn’t work that way. The Bible says He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Good things happen to good and bad people, and bad things happen to good and bad people.”

“So what advantage is it to be a believer like you? I mean if it makes no difference what happens to you.”

There was a quiet interlude as Lori gathered her thoughts. “Well firstly, knowing Jesus helps you respond to your circumstances in the right way. Secondly, it’s about knowing the truth about who you are and what your purpose is. And, ultimately, beyond this life, there is a difference. Christians choose to be part of God’s family; non Christians choose to spend eternity separated from God.”

“Whoa, that truth business just keeps cropping up doesn’t it? So I’m not being punished, this stuff just happens?”

            Lori rose and started cleaning as she continued talking. “We live in a broken world and bad things happen all the time. Sometimes God uses your circumstances to get your attention.” She stood at the small scullery looking over her shoulder.

“Well he’s got my attention.” There was a taint of bitterness to his comment.

“The key is; how are you going to respond?”

“Yeah.” The reply was reflective as Tom’s mind already was somewhere else.

            A short time later Lori was piloting the craft along the main shipping channel in the wake of a large freighter about a kilometre ahead. A stiff southerly breeze and squally showers buffeted the boat as it neared the heads. She had done the journey once before with her father, but in calm conditions in daylight. This was far more daunting. The erratic chop of the oily black rip nearing the end of ebb tide, the constant spray as the boat dipped in and out of the rising swell and the slap of the whitecaps over the bow made her wonder what she was doing there. Lori gripped the wheel, white knuckled and kept checking the GPS to ensure they were on track. Every now and then she would look back from the small wheelhouse area to check her passenger.

            Tom had sunken into a deep restless sleep. He woke hours later to a gentle rocking. The sudden absence of the pulsating engine noise broke the rhythm of his slumber. He watched as Lori clambered inside, having moored in a small harbour on the far side of the next bay to the east. Collapsing with fatigue onto the bed inside the first stateroom, she soon surrendered to her weariness. Tom listened to her soft breathing and before long he also gave in to the stresses on his body and was snoring noisily.
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