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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:48 pm

Chapter 13                                                     Wed

            He woke to the sounds of spluttering eggs and bacon in a frypan. The delicious smells of caramelising, crisping rashers hung about him and were accentuated many fold by his hunger. Feeling sore all over, he carefully raised himself on the converted couch, rubbing his bleary eyes and touching his stiff, swollen, and still tender, shoulder.

“Hi,” Lori greeted him chirpily, “You look a bit worse for wear.” Her bright smile couldn’t quite obscure the tiredness in her eyes.

“Don’t tell me you’re a morning person,” he croaked dryly.

“Mornings are great,” she beamed, “but it’s all mind over matter anyway. It’s as good or as bad as you make it.”

“Right …” he replied doubtfully, “The power of positive thinking, hey.”

Lori was dishing up the steaming breakfast on plates with freshly cooked toast. “Something like that. If you’ve got something to be positive about … you know … count your blessings and all that.”

“I’m struggling to,” Tom became conscious then of how miserable he sounded. He looked at Lori’s sunny expression and corrected himself. “No, I’m wrong. You’re a blessing.”

Lori’s face coloured and her eyes glistened with moisture.

            With effort he concealed the agony of movement and lurched his way to the small meal table.

“You all right?” concern was etched on Lori’s face.

“Yep, just a bit stiff and sore,” he panted. He looked up into her eyes which appeared to be measuring him. She brushed a wisp of hair away from her face.

“Do you mind if I say grace?” she asked in hushed tones.

“No … go ahead.”

She bowed her head, “Lord, thank you for keeping us safe. Thankyou for everything you’ve given us. Thank you for this food, in Jesus’ name, amen.”

            After a couple of attempts of eating with his right hand Tom switched to the left, which itself stung if he didn’t lower his mouth to meet it. The pain, however, was more manageable than using his damaged right arm.

While they ate they spent a short time discussing the likely events that led to his altercation with the hit run driver. Tom concluded that the police had acted on the evidence he’d provided and that probably saved his life. He suspected that one of Charlton’s minions, maybe the inimitable Ned, had come back to tidy up some ‘loose ends’ and almost succeeded in doing so.

            Tom was sipping his tea and piling his dishes when he noticed Lori stifle a yawn.

“Hey, do you want to have a sleep while I drive? It doesn’t look like you had much sleep last night.”

“Are you crazy? You can barely walk and you want to take the helm?” she exaggerated her terminology.             
“I can sit in the chair. It shouldn’t be too taxing.”


She shook her head displaying a comical tight lipped face. “You want to hold the wheel with all the vibrations going through you? I don’t think so. You can hardly feed yourself without pulling a face.”

            Unable to convince Tom that he needed rest, Lori settled for a compromise. Tom sat next to her at the front of the boat for the first hour, then he’d have an hour’s rest and then, if he still felt able, she would have a sleep. During that first hour, as the sun slowly strengthened and began to warm the forward section, they talked. Initially, Tom asked about her studies but the topic soon turned to the funeral and comments the pastor made about Clarissa’s life.

He had shared how her life had changed over the last few months.

“I knew she’d been going to church but I didn’t appreciate that it was very important to her,” Tom admitted. “You see Rick and Clint and I spent most Sundays getting away from things.” The moment he said it Tom wasn’t sure why he was making excuses for not being around. Was he experiencing guilt for what had happened? Had his increased absences from home been triggered by an underlying resentment towards his parents? He sat uncomfortably listening as Lori recounted what was said.

“Pastor Allen said that among the changes he’d taken note of was her desire to make things right from her past. Do you think that has to do with Ashley?” She gave a sidelong glance at Tom.

“Possibly … I imagine it was a terrible thing for her to hide for so long. And whatever I originally thought about Ashley, I guess it wasn’t his fault that he was put up for adoption and just happened to arrive on the scene when things turn into a disaster.”

            Briefly the conversation faded. The ‘Perfect Treat’ bounced over the occasional larger swells and Tom and Lori drank in the glorious sunny morning.

“So you’ve met Ashley then?” began Lori afresh after a few minutes.

“Yes, we had a sort of family reunion the other night.”

“What’s he like?”

“Oh, a bit taller than me … A bit darker than me … and a bit older than me.”

“No,” she giggled girlishly, “I meant … to speak to. What was he like to talk with?” Her tiredness was evident in the way she was searching for words.

“Oh, he seems decent enough. Just talking to him; he was inoffensive and … he was keen to establish his er …,” Tom thought carefully about the term to use, “his ‘non involvement’.”

“Where did you meet with him?”

“Dad’s”

Lori turned a curious gaze toward Tom, and he felt compelled to go on.

“His place in the country … All his hippy friends have left, apparently … and Ashley is staying there now.”

            For a short period the conversation revolved around his father and how he was dealing with the various upheavals in his life. That was before Lori held him to the deal they had agreed on. Stiffly, he hobbled to the couch and within minutes he had succumbed to the effects of his injuries and the exertion of the last few days.

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

           

            “Ed Miles’ utility … Where did you find it?” Burton looked up from his notes. They were all sitting around his desk at an impromptu briefing that he had called.

 Gully was reading from his notebook. “Ed Miles was driving it.”

“Figures,” snorted Burton. “I’ll bet it was the one we passed on the way to Tanon’s cabin. And I bet it was Witney driving. What else?”

“Well his Merc was also pulled up on the road … his sister was driving it.” Gully watched the faces of the others to see if there were any questions but they weren’t expecting any breakthroughs. “His mother’s Jaguar … still in the garage.”

“What about Lori Miles’ car?”

“Still at her place.”

            Detective Burton frowned a little but then he proceeded, unruffled by the marginal progress they had made.

“Okay, looks like we’re not having much luck with that. Have we got any more out of Charlton?” His eyes met Rolf’s.

Rolf had wheeled his chair closer. “It’s hard to say Ade. First he says he had nothing to do with it. Then when he’s confronted with evidence that he was threatening Towers he admits to having his place watched … but he alleges that he left well before the time of the murders. He’s still being questioned regarding all the dumping but he’s called his lawyers in so it’s slow going.”

Burton pulled a face to indicate he understood. “What about that hit run report?”

“Ah that,” Rolf livened up. “The gate had been breeched with bolt cutters. There was broken glass at the scene and some blood. At the moment we’re looking for Charlton’s offsider … a man named Ned Hoddle.”

“There was no sign of a body?” Arnie pressed but Rolf just wobbled his head, still facing Burton.

“What do you know about him … about this Ned Hoddle?”

“He’s got a bit of history. In fact a few of the employees there have. Mainly strong arm stuff but also receiving stolen goods and some weapons offences. It looks like Charlton has a bunch of ex-cons working for him but he’s pretty good at making things look legitimate.”

“Okay, keep on it,” Burton wrote something down and then sighed, “Ro, will you find out who Charlton had watching the Witney place … and put some pressure on him to find out who went in and out.”

“Sure Ade.”

            Burton left with Arrington, unsure whether he should leave, or be heading the questioning of Charlton himself and leave his nurturing of the young detective to a less critical case. But he had a hunch. And in this business, he knew, hunches could make all the difference. Nowadays they would call it psychology, or profiling. To Burton it was all about knowing people and what made sense. He had read the statistics—that between fifteen and twenty percent of murders were committed by family members. The stark fact about that for him was that eighty percent weren’t family members. He kept telling himself; ‘keep an open mind’… ‘Look at all the possibilities’.

            While Arrington drove, the senior detective thought. Every now and then he’d murmur something out loud. He again went over the things that rang alarm bells in his brain. A long lost son returns soon before the crime is committed. Everything conveniently points, almost without exception, to one suspect. Although a number of things chafed him. A ne’er do well stepson has an alibi that is totally out of character. Then there is the separated husband, who only reluctantly admitted to being on the scene prior to the crime, and then only when confronted with evidence that he was seen leaving the area.

            Some of the lesser characters in the plot came to his mind. Any one of them might be driven by money, passion or some less predictable psychotic motive. The key problem was access to the gun. They hadn’t established a prima facie case regarding access to the gun. If other people could get at the gun then their case against Witney dissolved in imponderables.

“The gun … how do we find out who used the gun?”

“What’d you say sir?” Arrington glanced across at his boss.

“Nothing …”

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

 

            Inside the offices of Clariflo, Burton felt the eyes of staff follow him. Ed Miles was in his office having just ended a call.

He rose. “What can I do for you detective?”

“Just a few more questions Mr Miles.” Burton indicated to Arrington that he should get out his notebook.

“I’ll do my best. Why don’t you take a seat?”

With the two policemen on the couch and Ed behind the desk, Burton commenced.

“Have you seen Tom Witney recently?” Burton watched closely to determine whether Miles had trouble constructing an answer.

“As a matter of fact I have,” he replied candidly.

“Where?”

“Here, on Saturday … not long after you left?”

“Why didn’t you call us?” Burton wondered why he wasn’t incensed by this flagrant disregard for assisting the course of justice.

“I don’t know,” he answered lamely, “He’s a friend.”

Burton avoided lectures about harbouring fugitives and stuck to his script.

“Do you know where he is now?”

“No.”

‘Are you telling me you have no idea where he is? How do you expect me to believe that?”

Ed slanted his head as if to make a point. “I didn’t say that detective. What I said was that I didn’t know where he was. I have lots of ideas.”

Burton straightened, “Well, go on.”

“Well, he could be at his father’s place, or at Rick Tanon’s cabin. He could be on his boat, at one of his friend’s places, or even just in a motel. As you see I have ideas, but I don’t know.”

            Adrian Burton looked across at Arrington who was writing furiously. Should he provide surveillance for each of these places and go all out to capture Witney? Looking back at Miles he pursued his next point.

“Tell me, who had access to Witney’s car that day?”

Surprisingly Miles’ demeanour perked up, “Ah, now that is a question of some consequence. It is what is bedevilling Tom.”

Burton cut him off before he could further wax lyrical.

“So what have you come up with?”

“I have a set of keys to Tom’s car, here.” Ed pointed to the little bronze statue key holder.

“So, you could have taken the gun!” Burton bluntly accused.

“I could have, but I didn’t.” Ed lowered his voice as he continued, “Unfortunately, I did borrow the car and left it unlocked at the house for … maybe half an hour. That was before lunch.”

            Burton was speechless. His thoughts were in disarray. Looking at the forlorn countenance of the older man, Burton forced the words out, “You’re serious aren’t you?”

Miles returned a disconsolate nod.

“And that’s not the worst of it, though, I know, it’s bad enough. Ashley Moore probably took these keys on Wednesday and returned them on Saturday. So the list of suspects gets longer.”

Burton was appalled. He battled to resurrect some coherent thoughts. What, why, how; he didn’t know where to start.

Ed Miles ventured one further piece of unfavourable information, “and, Detective Burton, on top of all that there is a spare set of keys in Tom’s room at the house. Tom said it was possible for someone in the household to have taken those keys to unlock his car.”

            Burton looked stymied. He needed to wade through this morass of complications to clarify some key concerns. The tiny impetus of an idea gave him a starting point. “Why did you drive Tom’s car?” he asked.

“The short answer is that Tom indulged me in my enjoyment of driving his car, so I used it during the day for short business trips.” Ed took a heaving breath, “The specific answer for Wednesday was that I was just nipping round to Clarissa’s, his mother’s, to drop off some documents. I usually tell him when I borrow it but he was in a meeting. I thought I’d be back before he was finished.

            He fired several other questions at Miles. The encounter had created more problems than it solved. The gun was a puzzle that seemed insurmountable. Burton decided that it was motive that would reveal the murderer; he had to dig up as much about everyone as he could.

***

 

            At the library, Burton had one of the librarians show him the corral that Al had worked in. He established that he was seen to arrive at two and camera records had him leaving at seven. Because the library was so quiet no-one actually remembers seeing him while he was in the little frequented study corner on the south side. Arrington was bemused by his boss’ stalking around the whole library, testing all the emergency exits and inspecting the doorways as if he was a fussy cleaner. And the time spent viewing the computer activity log seemed disparate to its importance. Burton scanned section after section of the record. It struck Arrington that this was unnecessary attention to detail. They had done all this before. What was he looking for?

            Burton had them drive to the Witney home and there they investigated all the same rooms and corners. Arrington hated going over old ground but kept quiet. Meanwhile Burton was steadily adding to his knowledge. He confirmed that Witney’s spare keys were still in his room. They checked the safe and found it locked, so they used the combination that Miles had given them and they found it still empty. Surely that was no surprise.
           
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