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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Sat Dec 09, 2017 2:34 pm

Chapter 16

            Two cars, lights off, drew up slowly to a patch shadowed from the glaring halogen security lamps by a large advertising hoarding. Four men moved cautiously past the orange Honda up to the pier. Lancaster hobbling with a stick, followed one by one by each of the others. He skulked his way uncomfortably along the structure till he spotted the boat he was looking for. The crouching group congregated at the end of the fourth mooring platform that extended from the main pier. Furtive whispers and hand directions were followed by a drum roll of footsteps on the loose wooden planks. The coordinated raid onto the ‘Perfect Treat’ was characterised by banging, shouts and then an uncanny absence of any sound at all.

            “He’s not here sir.”

“Keep looking,” shouted Lancaster, “Maybe you can find those missing jewels.” The other three men checked the engine well, stowage cupboards, every cubbyhole they could find while their leader waited on deck taking the weight off his aching foot. Eventually they emerged empty handed. It was clear their search had been futile and Lancaster bemoaned the fact.

“I can’t believe it. I was sure we had him.”

Schultz commiserated, “At least we found the boat this time.”

The fearsome glower he got from Lancaster warned him to desist from continuing the thought.

“I don’t think Gordon will see it that way Stan,” he sneered angrily. “I talk him into letting us do this raid, because Witney might get away if we leave it to Burton tomorrow and we find nothing.”

Schultz was so tempted to reiterate that they had found the boat that he rubbed his mouth with his hand. He considered whispering to Eric, who was next to him, but thought better of it. It was his idea, after all, to send a bulletin to all the yacht clubs and marinas to keep a lookout for the ‘Perfect Treat’. He looked around at the mess they had made. Not a perfect treat now.

            Tom peered surreptitiously through the porthole of the large catamaran moored on the opposite side of the walkway. He had gained access to the yacht at a whim when he had noticed the key still in the door. Opting to sleep there had been based on the premise that you can never be too careful when it comes to avoiding detection. He watched the desecration of his floating home. What were they looking for? Maybe evidence of where he might have gone. Discerning some movement up on deck, Tom observed the four policemen materialise. Their unenthusiastic retreat in comparison to the gung ho incursion vividly portrayed the failure they were feeling. Clearly visible in the harsh security lighting, Tom didn’t recognise any of Burton’s team.

            They stood close enough to be heard through the partially open porthole.

“What are you going to tell Gordon?” braved Schultz.

“What do you suggest Stan? I mean you found the boat.”

“These things happen,” said Keyes, a rookie to the group, attempting to defuse the situation.

“Why do they have to happen to me?” snapped Lancaster. “I just about begged the super for another chance.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Come on let’s go. You can write up the report Stan.”

Schultz shrugged.

            The gentle nudging of hulls, pulleys and rigging rattling and the splashing lap of wavelets were the only noises that could be heard when Tom transferred back to his ransacked cacoon. Tidying and organising his provisions for the next couple of days took the best part of an hour. Eventually submitting to the demands of his maltreated body, he lapsed into a restless sleep. Intermittently it was interrupted by the throbbing of his burning wound.

***

 

            Tom sat in the car parked outside the family home. It was still early and he hoped that Al kept to his custom of late nights and late mornings. A large Range Rover drew up behind him. Tom waved indicating to the other driver to follow and drove the Honda quietly up to the garage where he deposited it in its original spot. All remained undisturbed as he surveyed the dew covered lawns and briefly listened to the morning birdsong. Easing open the car door, he sat next to Gil.

“Thanks for doing this Gil. I’m starting to run out of options.”

“No problems … This is a bit of a jaunt isn’t it?” He grinned joyously as he set off, far too loudly for Tom’s liking.

Tom detected the excitement in his voice, the wording sounding as if he were reading a ‘boys own adventure annual’.

“You sure it’s okay?” Tom was dubious.

“I asked didn’t I? And I meant it. You’re welcome to stay for as long as you need.”

“Sorry for the early hour.”

“That’s nothing. Saturday is my golf morning. I should still be on time,” he glanced at his watch, “Maybe a minute or two late.”

“What about the car?”

“I fired her up this morning. Started first go too. Pretty good really, it’s been three months since the last rally. It’s got about half a tank.”

Tom tried to visualise the elongated Gil folding himself into the Mini Cooper he used for amateur rallying.

            “What are your plans?” Gil looked across, more seriously now.

“Firstly, not to get caught … and then to chase up a few leads.”

“Anything I can help with?”

Tom considered the offer. “Not at the moment, but I’ll keep your offer in mind Gil, thanks.”

Sitting introspectively as Gil drove, some questions arose in Tom’s mind.

“Gil, have you known Rick to ever visit my mother by himself?”

“No, why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. He’s not having business problems is he?” Tom scratched his head.

Gil gave a concerned look. “Not that I know of. You don’t think that he …?”

The sentence was truncated by Tom’s rebuttal, “No, no … I guess I just have to check everything out.” He struggled to rephrase what he was thinking. “In your opinion, how was Rick that Wednesday?”

Gil appeared to deliberate for a second before he replied, “Fine … normal I think. He was his normal self-critical self, even though I think he out shot the both of us.” He appeared unsure of what to say next. “I told you I’d dropped in too … I think it was around two o’clock. I didn’t see him there then.”

“No,” Tom was almost indifferent. “I’m more interested in what happened between four thirty and six thirty?”

In his mind Tom was summoning up the events of the morning of that fateful day. At the gun club, Rick had left with him to chat briefly before returning inside to gather together his stuff and say goodbye to Gil. His thoughts were interrupted when they arrived at Gil’s place. The car stopped and his recollections were pushed aside.

            Tom deposited some of his things in the guest room and after having some breakfast alone, because Gil had disappeared to his golf game, he found the blue Mini Cooper. The growling engine gave the impression of power and speed when travelling at a moderate rate and it was quite responsive. At the first fuel depot he came across Tom filled the tank and then sent some text messages. He wanted to let Holly and Lori know that he was recovering and told them not to worry. Having sent the message it occurred to him that saying ‘not to worry’ was counter productive, making people wonder what they shouldn’t be worrying about. He then informed Ed about what had been going on and asked him to do some research on Rick’s finances. A message to Rick suggesting a meeting was the last missive before he resumed his drive in the enhanced mini.

***

 

            Tom drove faster than necessary on the familiar narrow track, enjoying the grunt of the modified engine. It’s high power to weight ratio almost too great for him to handle. The raw vibration and noise of the compact was a sensation he was unaccustomed to. Within seconds after careering across the railway sleeper bridge he brought the nippy car to a slewing halt. It was surprising to him to see Rick’s silver BMW already nestled in a corner close to the stream. At the sound of his arrival Rick’s head protruded through the doorway. A hailing wave preceded his strident approach and boisterous buddy embrace.

Tom gasped, “Ah! Take it easy.” He almost passed out from the riot of pain that engulfed him. Rick steadied him from the staggers, “Sorry bro, didn’t realise you were hurt. What happened?”

“… Had an argument with a car and I think I might have come off second best.”

Rick tried to support him as if he were disabled. “You don’t need to do that,” assured Tom. “I can make it on my own. It’s just still a bit tender. How ‘bout we have a coffee and I’ll tell you what happened.”

“Good idea,” Rick agreed. They got to the door-less entry fringed with patches of splintered wood.

“What did you do to your door?” He saw a new, studier variety leaning against the wall.

“Yeah, well, your friends seem to have thought that you were here for some reason and they came in sort of uninvited.” Rick generated a subtly reproachful face.

Tom’s rueful come back had a certain ‘sorry about that’ flavour. “I meant to let you know but it was a spur of the moment decision.”

Rick set the water on the gas. “Don’t worry; now that you’re here, you can help me put the new one in. I always have trouble hanging doors.”

            Tom felt obliged to once more relate the historical narrative of the last week and a half. The tale became more labyrinthine with each telling as each subsequent twist and turn was appended. Even though it was still not a comprehensive account it contained the main features. The key omissions were in reference to Rick’s possible involvement.

“Can I write the book?” joked the stocky accountant.

“That’s very funny,” replied Tom blandly, but his mannerism said ‘very dull’. He stopped and turned as he inhaled the tantalising scent of the freshly brewed plunger coffee.

            “So, you’ve got no closer to solving the crime?” Rick presumed.

Tom was obscurely diffident. “You could say that. There are so many possibilities that it’s hard to nail down actual facts.”

“Have you worked out who took your gun?” Rick pushed across a packet of chocolate biscuits as he asked. Tom’s initial reaction was wondering how it was that his friend had zeroed in on the pivotal question. He filed the thought before responding.

“If I knew that I’d know who the murderer was, I think.” He sensed more than just a nuance of derision in his own words and recanted immediately. “I’m sorry Rick. I didn’t mean it to sound like that.”

“No, you’re right. It was a silly question.”

“Can I ask a silly question then?” Tom continued without waiting for a reply. “Do you know anything that could help … about the gun or who was at the house Wednesday afternoon?”

            As the inference of the question sank in, Rick got up and moved to the open fire. Tom watched as he gripped a poker and incited the embers. Then he went across and joined him around the fire.

“The gun hey … To be totally honest, I could have taken your gun when it was on the bench just before you left the club. But I didn’t. Besides, you would have noticed the box was empty when you carried it. Once you had left the building I wouldn’t have a clue what you did.”

Tom was about to ask something else when Rick interposed a further comment.

BUT! Every other time I’ve seen you leave in your car you always put the gun in the trunk. So I imagine a few people know about that.”

“Mm, I guess you’re right. Not very helpful in some ways, but important to remember—people who know me well know about the gun.” He put his cup on the floor. “There’s still the slight chance that someone … the murderer, just stumbled on the gun when Ed left the car at the house.”

They talked about it a bit. Rick didn’t think that it was likely but they both agreed that chance events couldn’t be ruled out.

Tom studied Rick closely as his cousin moved about preparing their coffees. So much so that Rick shook with a mild shudder of discomfort.

“Is there something else?”

“You tell me,” was Tom’s riposte.

“I don’t know what you want me to say.” Rick was floundering.

“What about telling me what you were doing visiting my mother on that Wednesday afternoon.”

Rick screwed up his face as if in agony. “You know about that?”

Tom swayed his head back and forth sagely like an ascetic monk.

“How do you know?” It was strangely imperative to Rick that he knew what Tom’s source was.

“Is it important?”

“Yes it is … to me anyway.”

Tom interpreted that his inquisitive fervour was caused by a concern that a confidential allegiance may have been broken. He tried to allay Rick’s fears.

“No one dobbed you in or anything like that. Your car was seen going in at about four twenty. It’s fairly distinctive and memorable.”

“Somebody just noticed my car?” He said it as if to reassure himself that he hadn’t been informed on.

            Time oozed by as they sat and sipped their drinks. Tom awaited an answer. Rick began by placing some more pieces into the growing puzzle. He reminded Tom how their respective mothers—two society sisters—had an ongoing feud. It was a fairly static affair and involved not speaking, not contacting and not even referring to each other. This became quite difficult for the cousins when either Tom or Rick visited each other. Rick paused thoughtfully before he delicately explained that he had discovered Tom had a half brother. Tom assured him that he was already conversant with that information and, though it was hard to get used to, it was no longer an astounding revelation. So Rick explained that when he found out that the whole thing revolved around an illegitimate child that Clarissa had put up for adoption, and which a newly married Alison Tanon had offered to raise as her own, the jigsaw gained definition. Her offer had been rebuffed and she took it quite hard. Rick said that when all this became clear to him, he decided to arbitrate.

            “Is that why you were there then?” Tom stretched to try and clear his head.

“Yes. And the amazing thing is that Aunt Clarissa was keen to meet with my mum and reconcile with her. She told me that Ashley, your half brother, had been in contact with her. She wanted all the family to meet with him that weekend.”

“That would’ve been something,” Tom ambiguously submitted. “What time did you leave?”

“About five … I wasn’t there that long. I just slipped in to say hello to Tamara.” He bit his lip. “Tom, she had so much to live for. It’s such a tragedy.”

It was clear that Tamara’s death cut deeply and Rick struggled to rein in his emotions.

            The images of the three callously slain victims seemed to coalesce into indistinct blurs in Tom’s memory as if some part of his consciousness refused to adjust the focus.

“Yeah,” was all Tom could manage.

Rick began to rally from his depressive mood. “If I had of stayed longer none of this might have happened.”

“You can’t do that Rick. No hypotheticals; goodness knows I’ve speculated about so many ‘what ifs’, but it’s a futile exercise—you end up beating up on yourself. Besides, you might have become the fourth victim.”

Another conundrum, it was true that Rick often did stay for a meal, but given the circumstances Tom didn’t ask him about it.

“I guess I’m still on your list until I get someone to back up my story.”

“If I was being totally analytical I’d say yes, but, I don’t know … at the moment I’m just filling in the blanks.”

“So, am I exonerated?” Rick was gathering the cups and taking them to the sink.

“I suppose so. If you could tell me why you told Detective Burton you were at your mother’s?” Tom was relating some of the information Burton had shared.

“What do you reckon?” he almost bit back. “I was probably the last to see them alive. I figured no one saw me.” Rick was remonstrating with his hands. “Mum wouldn’t have understood what I was doing and I would have been arrested for sure.” He kept going, in an effort to bolster his case. “Being arrested for murder is not good for business. People don’t care if you are innocent.”

Tom felt like saying ‘tell me about it’, but he refrained. He knew that Rick was saying ‘mud sticks’ and that he was worried about his reputation and his business.

            He also felt unable to lecture Rick on the importance of cooperating with police given his recent track record. He did suggest, however, that it would be easier for them to solve the case if they had all the right information. Rick stared at him distantly for several seconds. He then uncomfortably relented, seemingly in deference to Tom and his precarious situation. He said he would go to Burton and tell him that Tom had encouraged him to ‘fess up’.

***

 

            Their lengthy talk ended when Rick announced that it was lunchtime. An outdoor barbeque of sausages and hamburger eaten with a pickled relish between slices of bread was a balm for Tom’s seared sensibilities. The warm glowing, late winter sunshine glinting off the dappled river and the hushed gossip of the breeze through the giant eucalypts provided a refuge from the corrosive thoughts of suspicion.

            Also therapeutic was the diversion of repairing the door that afternoon. Some of the doorframe had to be replaced and while Tom attached the new doorstop timbers, Rick was chiselling recesses for the hinges on the door. He laconically admitted that they had probably done him a favour by breaking down the door since he’d procrastinated putting in a good solid door for years. The whole job was slowed by Tom’s injury impeded, pedestrian pace as well as good natured critiques of each other’s work, random suggestions regarding some fairly abstract motives for the crime and regular coffee breaks. The completed job was celebrated with canned vegetable soup for dinner and a feast of pancakes prepared on the barbeque hotplate.

            With a little persuasion, Tom decided to stay overnight in the cabin. Rick, who had deduced where he was staying from the presence of the rally car, assured him that ‘Uncle Gil’ wouldn’t necessarily expect him to return. Using the moniker ‘Uncle Gil’ for Gil Trentham had stuck with Rick. It was a vestige from when they were kids and when he was one of the few who came and watched the boys at football games.

            The evening was spent sitting around a bonfire fuelled by the old door and dead branches gathered out of the bush. Conversation spanned a myriad of topics as one idea acted as segue to another. Tom shared how he had started to awaken to a spiritual dimension of life. Rick spurned the idea saying it was a natural reaction to the stresses being placed on him.

“No, it’s more than that,” insisted Tom. “It’s all about right and wrong, being purposeful or aimless, and about what’s most important in your life.”

“Boy, you really are becoming philosophical,” Rick chuckled.

“If by philosophical you mean wanting to know why, then I guess I am.”

“You think that religion will tell you why all this has happened?” he sounded doubtful.

“I don’t know. That would be good to know. But I’m becoming interested in knowing why I am the way I am; why the world is the way it is and I guess why people like Ed and Lori Miles are the way they are.” There was a sort of pitiful yearning in the way he spoke.

“Lori Miles; I should have known there was a girl involved.” Rick gave him a playful punch on the arm, “There always—Ooh sorry!” he immediately interpolated mid sentence, as Tom recoiled from the contact. “I forgot about the arm.” Apologetically he passed a remnant pancake smothered with honey over to Tom.

“She’s a lovely girl though,” he couldn’t conceal the grin that crept onto his face.

“Yeah, you’re right! I’ve asked myself the same question. Is it because of Lori that I’m suddenly finding religion?” He rubbed his face with a hand to dissipate some of the radiant heat. “I have to be honest, it sounds juvenile, but I sort of go all queasy when she is near.” He expected peals of laughter from Rick but to his credit he restrained himself, aware that his cousin was baring his soul.

            Tom regrouped his thoughts. “Well, because of my feelings, I haven’t talked much to Lori about what I’m thinking. In fact, it’s been comments from total strangers that have been very convincing in alerting me to my synthetic world.”

“Synthetic world?” Rick was searching for clarification.

“It’s not real Rick. I’ve been living a life all the time seeking the approval of my friends, my employees, my family … everyone, under the misapprehension that life is about scoring brownie points and being popular and accepted.”

“And it’s not?” He grinned.

“I’m not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. It’s just that … well it’s more about what is true … what is right and what is real. I guess I’ve been finding these qualities in the historical person of Jesus.”

“Oh, that accounts for the Bible I found with your stuff. Does that mean you’re one of these born again Christians?” Rick was beginning to sound sceptical.

“I don’t think so. I’m not sure what that means. But, you know, it sounds pretty good doesn’t it … being able to start all over again. I know there are plenty of things I’d do differently.”

            Conversation dwindled briefly as the two cousins peered into the flames, preoccupied with self-examination. Tom cast a small log into the blaze and liberated a squall of swirling embers into the dark night.
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