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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van

PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:05 pm

Chapter 15                                         Thur

            Burton sat at his desk with papers strewn all around. Even though Gascoyne had vented his spleen on the department, he felt much better about the progress they were making. They had Charlton’s sidekick in custody and they had given him the impression that Charlton had ‘left him to hang out to dry’. Trying to protect himself, Ned Hoddle had confessed that he was told to ‘check out’ Tom Witney. Burton interpreted that as dispose of Tom Witney. Things went wrong he said and he may have run him over but it was an accident. He explained that he had been leaving the factory when Witney ran in front of the car. He insisted that Charlton had ordered him to restrain Witney because he was wanted by the police. The story broke down under examination. Why hadn’t they told the police about the captive and about the ‘accident’? He didn’t have an answer. Now he wanted to know whether he was being charged for murder. Burton hadn’t let on that they didn’t have a body.

When Charlton was informed he was being charged with attempted murder he became very cooperative. So now, in front of him, Burton had a list of all the possible people that could have visited that Wednesday afternoon. He had sent Arnie and Gully off to reinterview Witney senior and they had just called to say they had found Ashley Moore and were bringing him in again.

Burton was worried about Witney. The guy obviously wasn’t experienced enough to work out who was a threat and who wasn’t. He had given up on the idea of considering him a main suspect. His unprecedented behaviour of sending information instead of staying low and his complete ingenuousness in exposing himself to suspicion extinguished any wariness that Burton might have had. Nevertheless, he wanted to find him for his own safety. If, somehow, Witney stumbled onto the real killer, a triple murderer wouldn’t hesitate in eliminating him as well. He might be dead already, though the detective suspected that the ‘mysterious caller’ would have revealed that information. How badly injured was he, he wondered. Being hit by a car was no small matter.

He looked at his notes. Where to now? He chewed on his pencil as he considered Gene Towers junior. Something was amiss there. Evidence was falling into place, but there was nothing concrete. He stared at the whiteboard and grasped a marker. Of the other visitors to the Witney household Burton put a tick next to Gil Trentham. They knew he had been there. Before that Ed Miles’ name was listed. There was no corroborative information, just Miles’ statement that said he visited that morning and left the car unlocked! Thank you Mr Miles thought Burton sardonically.
            Looking at the list he breathed the next name, “Harry, must have been soon after Ed Miles and left before Trentham got there.” He started writing approximate times next to the names:                     10:30 Ed Miles

            11:30 Harry Witney

            1:30 Tamara Jones  (deceased)  ü

            2:00 Gil Trentham                      ü

            3:00 Ashley Moore                    ü?

3:30 Gene Towers (deceased)    ü

            3:45 Unknown visitor

                        Not identified

            6:30 Tom Witney                   

Burton marked the ticks of those identified as being seen by Benny Jose`, Charlton’s stake out. He wasn’t sure about Moore as he hadn’t been specifically named. Nor had Trentham, but that fitted all the stories. Witney, of course was the one who had called it in. Next he marked coloured lines next to the names to show how long each person was there. Apart from the victims there was some overlap between Trentham and Moore and between Moore and the other young visitor.

            According to Towers junior he left at eleven that morning. And there was clear evidence to substantiate that claim from the library CCTV which had him arriving at about eleven fifteen. Burton stood there surveying the board. Just then Rolf and Arrington swaggered in.

“… Got another angle for you Ade,” Rolf announced with an air of importance.

“Well, go ahead.” Burton wasn’t in the mood for points scoring.

“We talked to Mrs Jones as you wanted; she’s not too well … really shaken up by all this … and she didn’t shed any light on possible motives.”

“So, what have you got?” Adrian was used to the circuitous way Rolf took to tell his news.

“She let us into Tamara’s room for a look around. It happens that she kept a diary.” Rolf relished each revelation, but Burton was getting tired of it.

“Get to the point Ro. What did the diary say?”

            Rolf held the brown leather bound volume up and opened it to some marked pages.

“She says in a few places what a great guy Tom is … I think she secretly liked him … maybe a lot. But, get this Ade, she writes :‘The creep keeps pestering me I told him I’d complain to Tom about him and that really sent him out of his tree’.  But she doesn’t say who the creep is.”

Burton rubbed his chin. “I’m sure we could all make fairly accurate conjectures as to who she is referring to. So, you two,” he indicated Rolf and Arrington. “Talk to her friends … fellow students at uni; find out if she ever discussed who was harassing her.”

“I’ll start with some names and numbers in here.” Rolf held up the diary, “and then I’ll go back to her mother for contacts.”

“Did you ask Mrs Jones if she had said anything about trouble with members of the household?”

“Sure did,” retorted Arrington sharply not enjoying the insinuation that somehow they had been neglectful in their questioning. “She didn’t know anything about Tamara having trouble at work.”

“Okay Fred, keep your shirt on,” Burton sighed, trying to ignore his defensiveness. “It figures, she wouldn’t want her mother to worry.”

            Detective Burton was contemplating the implications of suspecting Al Towers. The corollary was that his alibi was false. He endeavoured to conceive some loophole, some weakness to his version of events. As this conundrum creased his brow, Gully and Lee came in with Ashley Moore. The next hour was a farcical episode. Ashley spent most of the time attempting to convince Burton that it was utterly reasonable to steal the keys from a relative you’ve never met, in a crazy ploy to surprise them with a ‘hey I’m you’re half brother!’ The only aspect that the detective found believable was that he had second thoughts and bailed out at the last minute.

            “What do you think?” Burton gave a piercing stare at Rolf who had abandoned his task to listen to the interview.

“Whacky, I mean who would believe a story like that?”

Burton skewed his mouth to one side symbolising his consideration. “You know it might be just whacky enough to be true.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in coincidences?”

“Until they happen,” he said curiously.



            Friday morning dawned and Tom was shambling about making every effort to be quiet and so not disturb Lori who hadn’t appeared yet. Every careless move was penalised with a corresponding twinge of pain. Yet he persevered. He was cooking porridge for breakfast and he thought he made a mean, creamy, smooth variety that was, in his opinion, delectable to the taste. When he finished he knocked on Lori’s door.

“Breakfast; hurry, come and get it while it’s hot.”

There was no answer or sign of movement so he repeated his rousing call a little louder. When there was still no reply he poked his head in, “Lori?”

Her bed was empty. In fact it was neatly made and he wondered if she had slept in it at all. He rushed to the doorway to scan the area and crashed headlong into Lori coming in. They were both all apologies and embarrassment as they disengaged their limbs—he with some wincing and cringing.

            “Where‘ve you been?” Tom sounded more anxious than he would have liked.

Lori smiled, quite blasé to the concern which she had aroused. “It was such a beautiful morning I thought I’d walk along the shore for a bit.”

Tom relaxed slightly, “Come and taste my famous porridge. You can have it with honey or raw sugar, or au natural.”

“Famous huh?” she grinned, “Never heard of it before.”

Tom’s look of disbelief was ignored so he gave up. “Yeah, well, I thought we should have a good breakfast if we’re going back today.”

“You’re not well enough to go back,” she scowled. “What happens if that infection flares up?”

“Don’t worry; I’ll keep taking the antibiotics.”

“Why don’t you wait a few more days and really recuperate.” She placed a hand on his.

He responded in kind enveloping her small hand between his hands. Tom was moved, “Lori I really appreciate how you’ve cared for me. I guess I owe you a lot. But don’t you see … I have to find out. I can’t pretend that everything’s okay when there’s still a murderer running around.”

            Lori withdrew her hand and spoke plainly. “If you start obsessing about this, or become vengeful, then it will damage you.”

“I don’t want vengeance, but I want justice. Is that so bad? I’m probably already obsessing about this, but as I said, I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”

“You have to look after yourself. You’re not up to this.”

Tom’s attitude hardened. “I’ve looked after myself too much all my life. This is a chance for me to do something without putting myself first.”

“Tom, people care for you,” she hesitated, “What about Holly? Do you think she’d cope if you were badly hurt or killed?” Lori’s voice was husky as she finished her sentence.

Tom paused lowering his head. He knew she would be devastated, as he would if anything happened to her. But his mind was made up.

“I’m sorry. I’ll be careful … but I have to do this.”


            The mood on the journey back in the large powered craft was cool between the two of them. Tom had started them off early and was loathe asking her to relieve him. Though he stubbornly masked his lethargy, Lori saw his strength deteriorating and after two hours at the wheel she sent him for a sleep. He meant to have a short snooze but hardly moved for four hours. When, eventually, he did emerge Lori anchored in a cove and prepared a simple lunch of toasted cheese sandwiches. They discussed impassively what his plans were in terms of areas of further investigation but he managed to avoid any mention of where he would stay.

            The remainder of the voyage was uneventful. His misguided desire to demonstrate his powers of rehabilitation meant that Tom endured considerable soreness during his stint at the wheel. His claims that he could manage just prolonged his suffering.

            It was a dull, grey lowering sky when they arrived back at the peninsula port. They disembarked hastily trying to beat the rain. Lori took a large garbage bag off with her that she explained contained clothes that required washing or disposing. She informed him that at some stage he’d want clean clothes. He thought it was funny that some people could always remember the necessary and mundane chores while he was totally preoccupied, drowning in his own private disaster.

Holly’s orange Honda was dutifully waiting for them. The drive to the Miles’ house was subdued. Lori had tried to persuade him that his dressing needed changing but he insisted she’d gone to enough trouble already. He said he would contact her father soon and let him know if he was getting anywhere.

Tom walked Lori to the front door and the motion sensor light flooded the entryway. Impulsively she turned to Tom and hugged him. Then with a brushing kiss on his be-whiskered cheek she stepped back. “Please take care of yourself.” She took a pace and made a spur of the moment decision. “Wait here, I’ll go get Holly.”

He waited fidgeting, tingling strangely, not quite comprehending what had just occurred. He stood musing until his sister came out. She hugged him. He flinched as she cinched his damaged shoulder in her clasp.

“Oh sorry, you’re still pretty sore hey?” Holly stood back looking with concern. He pulled a forced smile. They talked for a short while about the attempt on his life and about all the changes they would have to face up to. He finished by telling her of a number of people he wanted to meet with.

“You should stop what you’re doing and recover first.” She had a motherly expression as she said it.

Tom countered with a good natured, tenderly delivered punch to her shoulder. “I’ve missed you sis. And I know you’re worried but I have to do this.” He kissed her on the forehead and abruptly turned and left, calling back, “I’ll try and keep out of trouble.”

            Tom walked around to the driver’s side and got in. At the instant he sat down the passenger door flew open and the sturdy form of Detective Adrian Burton deposited himself unceremoniously in the seat alongside.

“Don’t even think about running away,” he said gravely.

When Tom had reclaimed some calm he observed, “Detective, good of you to drop in.”

“Well Witney, you’ve given us a merry old chase haven’t you?”

“I tried my best. I thought I’d give you time to catch the killer.”

“You mean you’re not the killer?” Burton leaned inquisitively and shoved against Tom’s shoulder.

“I thought I told you that,” he barely managed to say. Tom was stoic but the pain flushed his face and his jaw clenched as the transferred weight pressed his damaged shoulder against the door pillar.

The policeman suddenly became apologetic. “You’re hurt aren’t you? Have you been to see a doctor?”

“I’ll manage,” Tom declared as the surge of pain diminished.

“I saw the car. He must have really hit you hard.” Tom seemed unhearing as he looked straight ahead desperately thinking of a way to evade the inevitable.

“All Charlton’s mob are in custody … thanks to you.” Burton waited to see if there was any reaction from Tom. “We have EPA experts examining the dump sites and we’re charging him with attempted murder … so your testimony in the case will be valuable.”

“So you’re saying Charlton didn’t do it.” Tom’s face was still turned aside.

“Did you think he did?”

“Not really; it was a long shot … I think he wanted Gene dead … but I can’t see how he could have got the gun. Unless he somehow met Ashley Moore near my car and got the gun from him … It’s all a bit far-fetched.”

“I’ll say,” Burton grinned, “The gun is the problem isn’t it?”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Tom turned in his direction, “It doesn’t change things. You take me into custody and the killer goes free.” He tempered his irritation. “But I should thank you. You saved my life by arresting Charlton and evacuating the plant. I think they were going to kill me that night.”

Tom then spent a few minutes going through the traumatic details of his imprisonment.

When he had finished the detective commented. “That certainly adds to the charges against him.”

Tom was unsure where all this was heading. “So detective, are you going to take me in?”

Burton gestured dismissively with his hands.

“Look, call me Adrian. Listen, if this was an official visit then I would have to take you into custody … but I don’t think you’re guilty, so ... Goodness knows my boss would be very upset if he knew what I was doing.” He leaned forward conspiratorially. “However, I would like you to forget this meeting ever took place. It was because of a fortuitous notion that I’m here at all.”

Tom was mesmerised by Burton’s words. “What do you mean?”

“’Fortuitous notion?’ it’s a synonym for a hunch. I saw it on an on-line thesaurus.”

“Very funny … What was the hunch?”

“Well, I was heading home from work when it occurred to me. ‘Where would you go if you were hurt?’ The logical answer was to a friend’s place. And, I thought, what better place than your girlfriend’s place.”

“Lori? Tom queried, “Lori is Ed Miles’ daughter. We’ve known each other for ages.”

“Right … I’m sorry, I thought ...” But there was a knowing smile that lingered.

            Tom took a moment to adjust to these new circumstances. “So, I’m not under arrest. I haven’t seen you even. Is there something you want?” Tom asked doubtfully.

“I want to talk … compare notes so to speak. I think we can help each other. And maybe I can prevent you from getting yourself killed.”

            “What do you want to know?”

Burton gave a good-humoured nudge. “Have you worked out who the one armed man is?”

“It’s a bit like that isn’t it?” Tom murmured. “That makes you Tommy Lee Curtis and me …”

“Harrison Ford.”

“Yeah, thanks for that. I think I got the supporting role … story of my life.” 

“The problem is nobody is wearing a sign saying ‘I did it’ … no one armed man.”

The two men spent a lengthy interval derailed from their individual pathways. They spent time putting together a cohesive list. Tom learned more about Burton’s meticulous organisation of information than any new information that might be of use to him. It was the time between four thirty and six thirty that was a mystery to them both. Tom didn’t expound on his theory about the unknown visitor, preferring to follow it up himself. How could he put a friend through the trial he had been through without him hearing the story first? He promised himself that he wouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Equally, Burton was guarded about his reasoning regarding Al Towers. A gut feeling and some incongruous behaviour was hardly sufficient to indict someone.

Before parting, Burton shared the story of Lancaster’s misadventure. He was grateful that Tom’s intervention had reinstated him on the case. And, they both had a chuckle at the idea that anyone would believe he would risk travelling all the way to the lakes in a motor cruiser and stay at a school camp. Noticeably, Tom’s laughter was a little louder and more forced that Burton’s.

“Well, I have to go,” he tapped Tom firmly on his good shoulder encouragingly. “You be careful, and see a doctor for that shoulder. And keep in touch if you find out anything.” He handed Tom his mobile phone number. The detective exited and was soon out of sight. Tom digested the dialogue for longer than he intended, sifting through the strange events that had transpired over the last few days. If Burton was on his side now, should he give himself up and let the police handle the investigation? What was Burton after? It was time to reassess.

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