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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:21 pm

Chapter 17                                                                 Sunday

 

It was Sunday. Normally Burton would have the weekend off but Gascoyne had hauled Gordon over the coals about their lack of progress. Gordon, in turn, berated Burton, gesticulating crazily that someone’s head was going to roll if they didn’t make a breakthrough. This had all been instigated by Gordon relaying to Gascoyne for a second time that Lancaster had heralded a breakthrough and was about to raid the suspect’s boat. In turn Gascoyne had told a press conference that an arrest was imminent. Burton reflected; ‘Hey it wasn’t his fault that Lancaster was incompetent …’ He thought it but he didn’t say anything. Dutifully he accepted the admonition that there were no weekends till Witney was caught.

When he was informing his crew, Burton had been tempted to placate them by saying that he had placed a location device in Witney’s car. Second thoughts prevailed however. Justifying his benign encounter with Witney was problematic, and defending his hunch that Tom Witney was innocent was inconceivable when his bosses were so fixated on capturing him.

            The whole charade of continuing the search had to be perpetuated. He sent each group to a variety of locations while he and Rolf followed the signal from the planted device. Of course Rolf, who admired Burton immensely, was sworn to secrecy. He made sure that he secured a guarantee from his senior partner that in future he would be included in his clandestine ventures.

            This was the reason they were now pulling into the Witney property, guided by the electronic signal.

“That cheeky blighter,” Burton murmured to himself, and then remembered that he’d used the same expression before. “Can you believe it? He has the audacity to hide in his own house.”

“I can’t see the car anywhere,” Rolf observed.

Burton pointed to the top of the winding driveway. “Up there in the garage.”

            A cursory inspection of the garage perimeter located a large side window. Through that Burton and Rolf saw the orange Honda.

“There it is. Let’s go find him,” Burton urged with uncharacteristic impatience. He’d had enough of prolonging this pursuit in an effort to dredge up incontrovertible evidence to either convict or acquit him.

            Inside the house Al Towers grumbled about harassment. He’d only just dragged himself out of bed after a hard night that left him with dark circles around his eyes and a thumping headache. When he heard the detectives’ contention that he was harbouring a fugitive, Al almost had a seizure.

“You think Tom is here? I haven’t seen him. I don’t know anything about it.”

Burton motioned with both hands palms down for Al to settle. “Just wait here while we go and look.”

            Fifteen minutes later the two policemen came back empty handed. Apologies were offered by Burton and Rolf for disturbing his leisurely Sunday morning, but before they excused themselves they sought an undertaking that he would contact them should Witney turn up. Down at the car and about to get in, Rolf had an immature smirk on his face.

“Okay, what’s up Ro? You upset because I’ve decided to drive?” He started the car.

“No, nothing like that.”

“What then?”

Rolf folded his arms. “How lucky are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“No one knows you were expecting to pick up Witney … nothing to explain to anyone. You just go on as if you’re continuing with the investigation.”

“It’s got nothing to do with luck,” Burton argued. “You never take anything for granted, especially with this character.”

“You mean Witney?”

“Ah huh.” He checked the intersection for traffic and then pulled into the main thoroughfare.

“He has changed his car again … probably unaware I put a tracker in it. He’s just really cautious … didn’t like it that I knew what he was driving.”

“That car wasn’t on the list either.” Rolf took a note down. “I’ll find out who it’s registered to.”

“No need,” Burton took one of the mints from the ash tray. “Did a check already … belongs to a Phil Denver. It seems he was an acquaintance of Holly Witney. And I think she makes all the payments without having transferred ownership.”

            Rolf put his notepad away and just nodded slowly. He still had a lot to learn.

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

           

            Tom woke early, breakfasted with Rick and finished off helping with some repairs before he headed back to Gil’s place. In his mind was the information from Burton that the safe in the library had been cleaned out. What had been in the safe? It wasn’t something he monitored closely. The last time he had looked, which had been about two months earlier, there had been a wad of cash of maybe three thousand dollars and some very precious jewels—family heirlooms—which, he had been reliably informed, were worth plenty. If that was the motive for the murders then surely Al had to be the most likely suspect.

             The path ahead began to map itself out as he drove. He needed to contact Holly and get her involved in his scheme. The alibi; that was the sticking point. If he couldn’t unravel the fabric of Al’s story then any other contention he had against that good-for-nothing, without irrefutable evidence, fell to pieces.

            Of course the more he thought about it the sillier his theories became. Was it Ashley, who after years of resentment had lashed out in a frenzy of revenge? Maybe Rick has some other agenda. What if Charlton hadn’t left? He hadn’t balked at the idea of killing him. Perhaps he’d just been after Gene and the others got in the way. This theory started to become more plausible the more he thought about it. With his gun accessible to anyone who had been around the house when Ed dropped by it made the list fairly open. That he had been implicated by the gun may have been pure happenstance.

            Gil met him as he drove up and lured him inside for another tasty lunch. Tom explained to him that he was getting Holly to visit the house while he went to the library to see what he could learn. Gil asked how he proposed to dismantle Al’s story when the police had failed. Tom answered that the police went by the premise that it was a possible occurrence—students did spend time in libraries studying—whereas both Gil and he knew, knowing Al, that it was so unlikely as to be almost impossible. Gil conceded that the story had something of the far-fetched about it but it had stood up to police scrutiny already, he reminded Tom.

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

 

            There was a dreary lethargy around the investigating group as they munched on take away pizza. Sunday lunch time was no time to be at work. Although all of them were used to being rostered on weekends, this was different. They had been required to attend work by the Superintendent and it made them feel like naughty little boys doing detention.

            “What have you got Gully?” Burton garbled through a mouthful of pizza. He sat on the edge of his desk looking at the experienced detective.

“All of Moore’s story checks out so far … He was adopted by Ellen and Daren Moore, eventually became a school teacher and has contacted government agencies in his search for his birth parents.”

“That it?”

“Yup!”

“Okay, Ro, tell everyone what you and Fred found out yesterday.”

Rolf held up the leather diary as a reminder. He then proceeded in his roundabout way. “Fred and I checked with the university. We got some names of students in the same tutorials and quizzed them about close friends and social relationships. Out of the entire group only two knew her well.”

Burton sighed as he waited for the critical details. He caught Rolf’s eye and gave a tiny windup finger movement.

“Anyway,” Rolf abridged, “Dayle Sampson always had coffee with Tamara. They were friends. She said the pest in Tamara’s life was Gene Towers junior. She referred to him as Al. But, interestingly, Tamara had shared with her that Gene Towers senior was almost as bad, flirting when his wife was not around.”

Burton précised the report. “Right, so Al Towers would be a main suspect if it wasn’t for the alibi. And that still stands doesn’t it Arnie?”

            Lee stood from his chair and positioned a printout on Burton’s desk.

“It’s a bit weird Ade, the activity readout from the library network has a sort of regular pattern, like he was playing a game or something … maybe internet chess with a timer?” Lee looked doubtful.

“Does Towers strike you as an internet chess player?” The question sounded more belittling than Burton intended. He stared at the readout tracing the pattern with his eyes. It was the same one he’d looked at in the library and he had the same misgivings about its meaning.

“There’s something else,” Lee looked meaningfully around the other four. “It’s possible to get out a side entrance and travel to the Witney House without being seen, using the side car park. It only takes about ten minutes.”

“The side door is a deadlock.” Fred Arrington mentioned, unintentionally dousing Arnie’s stimulating report.

            Burton listened intently deriving some pleasure from the way his team were becoming an effective unit. They gleaned important clues and demonstrated an increasing level of systematic thinking.

“So, did you examine the doors?” he looked at Lee.

The young detective responded, “Yeah, they were deadlocked doors. Still, if he had an accomplice who kept the computer going, he could be let back in as well.”

“Is there any evidence that anyone else was there to help?”

“I’ll go over the tapes again and see if there was anyone who can’t be accounted for inside the library.”

“Good thinking Arnie,” commended Burton. He had a glint in his eye as he continued, “But you know, one person could have done it if they put blue tack and tape over the lock.”

“That’s what you found isn’t it,” intruded Arrington as if a light had just been switched on in his head. His hand pointed involuntarily as he went on, “… when we looked the other day.”

Rolf summed it up for them all. “All we have to do is find out how he rigged the computer log.”

“And find out what his motive is,” added Gully.

Rolf recited his recipe. “His slighted passion for the girl, or … stealing what was in the safe, or maybe some domestic fight. It’s got to be one of them.”

“You forgot psycho,” quipped Arrington.

Burton wound it up. “He’s not crazy Fred.” Then as an afterthought he asked, “What did you find out about what was in the safe?”  

“Both Holly Witney and Ed Miles said Clarissa kept her jewels in the safe. Those jewels were valued at about one million dollars.”

There was a whistle from Rolf. They all agreed that was motive enough.

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

 

            “Where’ve you been?” Tom was speaking from a pay phone in a local mall.

“I went to church with Lori. It was an interesting experience,” Holly responded.

“That explains why your phone was off.”

Holly was sitting out on the back porch with Lori. “So are you okay? How’s the shoulder?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Look, I’ve got a favour to ask.”

Tom detailed what he wanted Holly to do, insisting all the while that if there was any chance of being caught she should just get out.

            Hanging up, he left, hopeful for some success at the library.

***

            Holly drove up to her home with Lori by her side. It had been impossible to discourage her from coming once she comprehended what Holly planned to do. Al was lounging watching Sunday afternoon football on the large screen television when the two girls came in. There were several empty beer bottles on the table and one in his hand. His hackles were raised from the previous visits and he demanded to know what was going on. Holly reminded him that it was her home too, and that after the will was read it would probably be hers even more so.

            Al made as if to follow them around, mistrustful of their motives. Lori presented her most winsome smile and engaged Al in small talk while Holly, purportedly, went to get more clothing. After flinging an armful of jeans and tee shirts, amongst other things, into a bag, Holly snuck quietly into Al’s room and started searching for stolen jewels. Lori kept distracting Al with, what she thought was, absurd conversation, given his lassitude for work. What courses was he doing in university? What was he aiming for? His answers were wary and fractious. Lori quickly switched to envious approval of his sporty car. Having his ego stroked made Al descend into slimy vanity. He would take her for a spin if she liked.

“You know you’re very attractive,” he crooned edging toward her in what he thought was a smooth move. Lori eased away saying she might leave the drive for some other time.

“Go on, it’ll be fun … wind rushing through your hair.” He reached out a hand to touch her hair.

            Lori shrank back, cringing from his attentions. Al reacted angrily. He cursed her ‘high and mighty’ ways. He said she thought herself too good for him just like Tamara. He ranted and raved at her, bewailing the shabby treatment he’d received; “She called me a creep! Well who’s laughing now?”

Al had Lori cornered and he was flaying her with drunken abuse when her wide eyed terror suddenly skewed his attention in a different direction.

“Where’s Holly?” he shouted. Lori was cowering against the bookcase and battled to utter any sound which might divert Al from grilling her.

            Decisively, his menacing form stomped unsteadily from the room. Lori trailed behind fearful of his volatile mood swings. He stalked through the hall aggressively, almost tripping on the first step as he lurched up to the second floor. Within seconds he thumped out the distance to his room and burst in, delivering a hostile glare as if the room had in some way insulted him.

Holly, hearing the clamour of his storming advance, buried herself, tremulously at the back of the wardrobe. The chaotic state of the room was more or less the way he had left it. Detecting no movement, he slammed the door and strode toward Holly’s room.

            Lingering behind at a safe distance Lori was perplexed about her good friend’s whereabouts. Al lunged into Holly’s room without warning. Inside was her carry bag filled with clothes but there was no sign of the girl. The room was the antithesis of his. Everything was immaculate and orderly. Lori watched at the door while he maliciously trashed the room. He threw up the bed covers to look under the bed and scattered clothes from her wardrobe. Now, more aggravated than ever he re-emerged looking disoriented, unsure where to look next.

Just at that moment Holly came out of the bathroom.

“What were you doing in my room?” she snapped in a horrified voice.

Ignoring the question Al returned, “Where were you?”

“Where do you think?” she rejoined, and then looked over her shoulder. She went up to her room and made an unruly fuss about the mess he’d made and his total disregard for other people’s property. Al fled her vitriol, off balance, attempting to clarify, in his alcohol clouded mind, what it was he was trying to achieve.

            Driving away Lori gave Holly a disappointed sigh, “No luck hey?”

“Well, no jewels to be found.”

“What about his car?”

Holly gunned the engine as she launched into the street. “Don’t worry about it. Tom said the police already searched his car. They searched his room too.”
“So why did we do this?” Lori accompanied the question with an Italianesque, palm upward shrug.


 Holly pulled a key from her pocket and held it up triumphantly. “A student locker key—that’s why!”

Lori looked at her doubtfully.

“Well, where else would he hide it? It’s worth a try.” Holly responded equivocally, being deflated by Lori’s, less-than-wholehearted support. It had been a real buzz to face the suspense of her stealthy raid, heart racing concealment and then succeed undetected. But now logic told her that all she had was a key and only a faint possibility of a solution to their whole quandary. But it was what Tom was after.

            Meeting Tom at the Library was an awkward time; both Lori and Tom were unable to gauge how to express their growing affection for each other. The interaction between them was guarded, with neither of them admitting to the closeness they shared together on the yacht. Tom had no luck gaining any information from library staff about Al’s computer use. He made himself scarce when his strident requests for details stirred some opposition from the conscientious staff. His inspection of the wing, where Al had supposedly been working, just reinforced his initial theory that the practised delinquent would have slipped out unnoticed and returned back later to ensure he was seen by staff.

            Holly’s news of the key visibly lifted his spirits and he was all for immediately going to the university and checking the locker. Holly warned that the quiet of Sunday afternoon might make him too conspicuous, recommending that she go early Monday to open the locker. Lori said she wouldn’t be able to help as her course was resuming and she would be doing a week’s hospital orientation.

            In the afternoon, the three made a strange sight drinking coffee at a riverside café. The two girls still attractively attired from their morning church outing sitting alongside an unshaven, derelict type who still smelled smoky from the previous night’s bonfire. Tom was entertained as Lori testified to Holly’s Scarlet Pimpernel impersonation. Holly described how she turned Al’s room upside down and was surprised that he didn’t notice. And they all laughed when she told how the mustiness and cloyed air of odorous footwear stored in the wardrobe, set off an irresistible urge to sneeze. Her remedy of holding her breath led to an explosive gasp just as the door slammed.

***

            The night at Gil’s had Tom writing copious notes, trying to get some sort of picture of how everyone was involved. He listed a series of questions. Did Al steal the jewels? If he accepted Rick’s explanation for being there, why did he visit his place so late and so briefly? Did Rick actually forget his jacket that morning to go back inside the gun club or was it an excuse for something else? Could he rule out Charlton and Ashley?
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