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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van

PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Mon Dec 11, 2017 6:26 pm

Chapter 18                            Mon


            Monday morning had Tom heading off from Gil’s for the Miles’ place. From there he and Holly drove to the university. Locating the particular set of lockers took longer than they had planned. They had initially set about wandering through each building but eventually altered their approach and sought a map from the Admin building. Holly needed to be back at the family home for the will reading and they couldn’t waste any more time hoping to randomly discover the numbered section of lockers matching the key.

            Finally, with the aid of a map containing the locker directory, the brother and sister located Al’s locker. The two plotters adjourned their raid briefly when a group of three female students gathered nearby and talked of the weekend while stowing books and belongings. Tom and Holly engaged in, what they hoped was, convincing chatter as they waited for the area to clear.

“So how did you go with that essay?” Tom led.

“Oh, what was the point? … so esoteric,” she remonstrated theatrically.

“What? You mean you didn’t galvanise the polarised theories of Behaviourism, Constructivism and Cognitivist into an eclectic, practical learning theory?” he prattled.

“What?” she gaped overloudly. “I bet you plagiarised that straight off the net.”

Tom threw a glance over his shoulder, concerned their charade was becoming an artificial attention-getter. He was relieved that the girls had turned and were still engrossed in their own conversation. He grinned back at Holly and whispered, “Who said you never get to use learning theory?”

She rolled her eyes and then scanned the locker numbers. By the time she had located the correct door they were alone again.

As Tom opened the door corresponding to the numbered key three students in track suits sauntered by; so Holly continued to assassinate his character, informing him that he was unlikely to construct three cohesive thoughts let alone author an original essay of any merit. Her humorous diatribe was interrupted by a gasp from Tom.

“It’s here … the jewels … they’re here.”

He started withdrawing the sports bag containing the valuables when he made a rapid mental run through of the next sequence of events. He pushed the bag back into the locker.

“What are you doing?” Holly demanded.

“If we hand this to the police Al’s just going to deny knowing anything about it. It will be his word against ours. We have to tell them and they can confront Al with it.”

His sister agreed, “… makes sense,” and then looked doubtful. “Won’t they think we’re setting him up?”

Tom shrugged, “Maybe, but at least we know he stole them. And we know he has a clear motive.” After a short pause he went on, “You’ll have to return the key before he notices it’s missing. I’ll let Burton know what we found.” He locked the door and then sent a text as they trekked their way back through the buildings to the car park.

As the siblings headed home, Tom finally felt that he was making progress. Again, his entry was secretive. This time he had Holly drop him off near the garage and he got in via the rear door that linked to the kitchen. A number of others had arrived for the reading of the will and were congregating around a large teak table in the dining room. Holly gave him the all clear when it was safe to move. They both flitted upstairs on separate missions. Holly deviated to Al’s room and returned the key, before freshening up and heading downstairs.

His first destination was his mother’s room. Just going in seemed an act of desecration, but his intrusion was soured even more when it became obvious that someone had pilfered almost everything of value from the room. Gene Towers junior had a lot to answer for. A fleeting examination of the bedroom revealed nothing, and the adjoining study, that was used more as a private library, had none of the files or records he wanted.

Cautiously descending to the hall, Tom heard the drone of Ed’s voice welcoming everyone to the reading. They would be ‘very civilised’, he announced. Clarissa had determined that the formal proceedings would be preceded by an ample morning coffee time. Tom listened for a few seconds, then he ducked around the corner into the main library and then into a smaller annex that Clarissa had used as an office. It was here she had met with Ed, with emissaries from charity organisations and with a variety of business folk. Very few people left the room without realising they had met with a shrewd business woman. Also in the room were three large filing cabinets and a computer. It was the files that drew Tom’s attention.

Starting with the top left drawer, Tom methodically worked his way through assiduously organised records. He paged through accounts, architect drawings and glanced at bank balances, investment statements and the like. A sub file of household bills—all alphabetical—attested to her meticulous nature. There was a whole file dedicated to a trust she had created to mete out donations to worthy charities; she being the chair of the board of trustees. There was some correspondence regarding Ashley that also included letters and emails from him, starting from when he had made himself known to her. Right at the front there was a scrap of card with some pieces stuck together. It had been torn off a larger card as if it had been ripped angrily. The small script had, what he understood was, a miserable message for his mother. He considered the situation speculatively. Here was a young girl newly pregnant and then she gets a note which in the repaired remnant part said:

I think your parents are right. It would be best if the child is adopted out.


Anything else that was written would have seemed inconsequential compared to those heartless words. And maybe these fragments were retained to obliterate any claim that the father may have had to his offspring. He pocketed the scrap, unsure why he was so intrigued by the note.

For some time after, Tom kept looking, strangely preoccupied, and he was uncertain what exactly he hoped to find. There were documents outlining his mother’s investment in Clariflo, her plans for an overseas trip, tax records that went back years and a file of numbered will drafts. Some things Tom skimmed over as being of no interest, while others showed aspects of his mother he never knew. She had taken on an active support of Tamara’s education, was sponsoring a child through Lori’s church and had kept a recent file of sermon notes.

Halfway through his random sifting of the files, he started a fresh approach, this time carefully examining Clarissa’s bank records. Tom began with the most recent statements and traced through the transactions. He soon wearied of the exhaustive method of looking at each consecutive printout and skipped three or four months at a time. On statements that were a little less than two years old, then going back, a pattern suddenly emerged. He followed the payment of ten thousand dollars a month to an account number. The payments were consistent going back several years but stopped almost two years ago. Tom wrote the account number down.

Just as he set to recommence his study of the documents the sound of a vehicle coming up the drive penetrated into the room. He leapt to the window just in time to spy Burton and Rolf loping toward the front door. Two following squad cars pulled up behind them. Burton was clutching the sports bag. Hastily he straightened the room and withdrew out the side exit that led through to Clarissa’s favourite indoor conservatory. Already the plants appeared wilted and affected by neglect. But he didn’t linger. He went outside and skirted the house all the way around to the back door again. This time he silently edged inside to the hallway stairs. He heard a snippet of Ed enunciating the legalese of the last will and testament of Clarissa Witney before he vacated the scene for the safety of his bedroom.



Inside the large dining room Burton signalled Ed to finish his spiel while he and Rolf stood back against the wall. Anxious glances came from various ones around the table. What did the presence of the two detectives mean? More questions? … Maybe they found the murderer or Tom had been caught? They all tuned in as Ed précised the whole document by restating the beneficiaries.

At the conclusion of the summary a moment of silence gave way to a ripple of hushed voices. A few seats scraped the polished floor boards. Family members began to leave the table. As the murmur escalated to normal conversation, Al thrust his chair aside and stood with a surly look on his face. His vain hope that maybe he had benefitted in some way had been obliterated. Before he could take a step Burton commandeered the meeting.

“Perhaps you can all take your seats again for a few minutes.” A steely gaze had Al turn and slump back into his chair. Burton began to speak, relishing the detective novel quality of the setting. “First of all, I’d like to say that the law frowns on all those that hinder a criminal investigation …” he stared meaningfully at upturned faces, “regardless of the purity of motives. I think you know what I mean. People can get seriously hurt if they take the law into their own hands.”

A few faces coloured, and avoided his scrutiny. The detective was in his element and there was a jocular timbre to his words as he went on.

“It’s so good to see you all here together. It gives us a chance to sort a few things out.” He turned on Al. “Mr Towers, it seems that you have in your possession something that doesn’t belong to you.”

The accusation cut deep into Al as the list of ill-gotten goods flooded his mind. He strained to control his trembling and rallied his voice with a combative retort.

“What do you mean? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Ro, bring the bag please.”

Rolf, who had been hovering just near the doorway lifted the bag from the passage and dumped it on the table; much to Holly’s delight. Burton opened it up and hoisted a few of the jewels for all to see.

“Mum’s jewels,” confirmed Holly.

“They were found in your locker at the university Mr Towers. Remember they were taken on the day of the murders. Can you explain that?”

He looked around guiltily, “Somebody’s setting me up. Besides, I was at the library on Wednesday,” he said as an afterthought.

            Burton launched more forcefully into interrogation mode. “It’s your bag isn’t it? We can check it for fingerprints. It was your locker, so it stands to reason, Mr Towers,” he exaggerated the name, “that you stole the jewels.”

“But …” Al began, but Burton halted him with a hand gesture and cut him off at the same time.

“I know, I know … the alibi. Let me tell you what we discovered … the side door to the library had been tampered with. Tape and blue-tac were used to ensure the door didn’t self lock. Do you want us to take finger prints of the door to confirm you rigged the door?” Burton asked hoping it wouldn’t be necessary.

“You can if you want,” replied Al feebly with a vestige of belligerence. “It doesn’t prove anything. I might have wanted some fresh air. The records show I was still using the computer.”

It was his ace … his last defiant stand. Library staff would contend that he hadn’t left.

“No, you’re wrong about that,” countered Burton harshly. “The records only show computer activity … not that you were using it.”

Now there was fear and doubt in Al’s eyes. It was as if someone was pulling thread from his carefully woven plan and it was beginning to unravel.

“Ro, will you get that dipping bird from the mantelpiece in there?” he motioned toward the lounge room. He turned to Ed. “Can I use your glass of water Mr Miles?”

“Certainly,” Ed slid the glass toward the detective.

Burton topped it to the brim from another glass. Rolf came in and placed the toy bird on the table wishing he knew what his boss was on about.

            “Please bear with me,” Burton said as he set the toy into action, setting the bird on a book almost as high as the glass and then pushing its head into water and allowing it to swing back pendulum like on its axis. He looked at his watch as the evaporating water cooled the felt covered head, condensing the air in the top bulb.

“This is stupid,” complained Al as he made as if to go.

“Stay where you are Mr Towers,” growled Burton. Slowly, as the rising red fluid altered the balance of the bird, it tipped and the head dipped down into the glass. The fluid drained, the head swung up and the feathery tail brushed against the table as it swung with renewed energy.

            “Well, what do you know Al? Can I call you Al?” The detective smiled gratuitously at Gene junior as the dipping bird began to bow a second time into the waiting receptacle. “The timing is similar to the cursor activation recorded on the library computer. And, coincidentally a librarian said she noticed some water markings by the computer you were working on. What do you suppose that means Mr Towers?” Everyone had turned their eyes toward Al.

“I dunno,” he spat. “You’re the detective.”
“It means you left the library and came and stole those jewels. And then you killed my mother … your own father and Tamara,” seethed Holly.

“I didn’t … I wouldn’t,” he countered weakly. “You think I could kill my own father?” Al didn’t come across as the outraged or sincere, devoted son.

“What! You argued all the time. And you were constantly pestering Tamara. She wrote to me about you harassing her.” Holly was standing now and speaking loudly. Burton and Rolf watched attentively, interested to see how things developed. He was pleased that Holly corroborated what they had interpreted from the diary.

            Al was stung by her remark and retaliated angrily. “Don’t you believe a word of it. She was stuck up. All I did was ask her out a few times. She was just like you … you think you’re too good for me. Well you’re not!”

“So you killed her,” Burton pressed. “We know you stole the jewels. You planned to cover your tracks by keeping the computer active with your little toy …” He made an aside explanation to Rolf. “The lower bulb bumped a connected mouse after each dunking.” He continued, taking a step toward Al. “You found Tom Witney’s gun in his car that morning … then after rigging the side exit at the library you came to the house, shot everyone here and stole the jewels.

            “No, no that’s not how it was.” Al was panicky now. “Okay, I came to steal the jewels. I had to do something. She was shutting me out of her will. But they were already dead when I got there … all of them … so I took the jewels and left.” He looked around askance. Did anyone believe him?

“How did you know the combination?” Rolf moved toward him taking out a set of hand cuffs.

“It was easy. I … I set up a video camera and then told Clarissa I desperately needed some money.” He sounded pleased and a little conceited. His mood abruptly changed when Detective Rolf grasped his hands and cuffed his hands behind him.

“Hey, what are you doing? I didn’t kill them … I told you.” He tried to shake himself free.

“The problem is Al, how do we believe you? And if you weren’t aware, stealing’s a crime too.” Rolf confided sarcastically as he ushered him out of the room. He led him outside and delivered him into one of the squad cars where two uniformed officers stood waiting.


            Harry and Ashley had moved over to talk to Ed. Burton walked over and joined them, speaking in low tones. Holly slouched back into the padded chair. She glanced over at the young lawyer who had come to represent a charitable trust that Clarissa had supported. He had been fascinated by the dramas that had unfolded before him. He gave Holly a sheepish grin, “Interesting life you live.”

“I’d swap it for a nice, dull, every day sort of existence,” she smiled back.

“Oh, it can’t be all that bad … having enough money to do whatever you want.” He spoke as he stood and packed his satchel with papers.

Holly suddenly bristled defensively. She wanted to retaliate with some incisive wit but she knew he was right. Everything had been easy for her. She had pleased herself and done little for anyone else. Now she was very wealthy and it made her feel more miserable than ever.

“Money’s not everything,” she replied lamely.

He looked up as he snapped his bag shut, “No, I guess not. Maybe you should consider doing some good with it like your mother did.”

Holly became cynical. “I suppose your charity is just the one I should choose. You’d get a nice commission for that wouldn’t you?”

He smiled sweetly at Holly as he made for the door. “This is all pro bono. Unusual as it may seem to you, some people like to help others.” The young lawyer then continued on his way.

“I like to help,” she countered weakly, but he had already left the room.

“Fake, what do you mean fake?” Burton’s voice had risen involuntarily as he remonstrated. Harry raised his hands as if fending off a pressing crowd. He spoke in a conciliatory manner, trying to quell the aggravated detective’s response to this apparent deceit.

“Detective Burton, I was just saying that it’s possible that young Towers stole the replica jewels. I had some of Clarissa’s designer jewels copied for security reasons. I’m not sure, but I think she still kept the real ones in her room.”

“So, you’re saying he stole fake jewels … he may have killed three people for copies?” Burton sounded deflated as if the pendulum swing of events were taking their toll. He picked up some jewels from off the table. “They look real,” he murmured. Holly drew near and fingered the cherished possessions of her mother. Her expression was withdrawn and melancholy as the conversation ricocheted around her.

“They were very good copies … the main set worth several thousand dollars alone.”

The policeman shook his head slowly, “You’re kidding?” He looked up and when he got no reaction he sighed, “Well I guess I had better check out whether they’re genuine or not.” He fixed his gaze on Harry. “So, will you go and check to see if the real ones are where you think they are?”

“Sure,” The older man responded uncertainly. “I don’t suppose the combination has changed since I left.” He turned to leave.

“Wait!” Burton called before he’d taken a step. “You need to put these on.” He handed Harry latex gloves from his pocket. “I don’t want to compromise the evidence.”

Harry accepted the gloves and almost broke into a jog as he went to the hall and rapidly climbed the stairs, closely shadowed by the young Arrington. His haste spurred by a growing curiosity.

            A stilted voice broke the silence, “You must be Holly. I’m Ashley.” He introduced himself aware that he was intruding into a poignant moment. “Are you all right?”

Holly heaved with a wavering reply, “I’m fine.”

“I guess we’re related … it must be a shock to you.”

“I’ve had a few of those lately,” she said unsteadily.

Ed moved across and gave her a hug. It was all too much. Holly crumpled against his shoulder in a torrent of tears. Ashley and Burton looked uncomfortably at each other before Burton distracted himself by replacing the jewels. Rolf swaggered in on the emotional scene with a questioning look at his superior.

“It seems that they might be fake,” he said flatly, indicating in the direction of the sports bag.

“Fake? Why? How do you know?”

 “Witney… senior just told me that the safe with the real jewels is in the bedroom.”

“So it was all for nothing?” Rolf’s head alternated like a fast carnival clown sideshow. “Three people dead and Towers has nothing to show for it.”

Burton grimaced. “I just wish we had some physical evidence,” he said under his breath as Rolf came close. “We’ll charge him any way, but get the forensic people to go over everything again. This is all too murky still.” Burton motioned to Rolf that he should check on the older man, so he left quickly.

            Burton and Ashley maintained light conversation as Holly recovered and dabbed her eyes self consciously. Ed patted her lightly on the back before turning his attention toward Burton.

“Does this mean Tom’s not wanted by you guys any more?”

“No, we still want to talk with him,” the policeman assured him. He made as if to explain when a noise distracted him.

            Thudding footsteps signalled Rolf’s and Harry’s re-entry into the room, followed farther back by Arrington. “It’s all gone… jewels, cash, everything!”

“Was it forced?” Burton grilled instantly.

Harry motioned no while saying it simultaneously. “No. Although it was concealed behind a panel, it was already open, and it was empty,” he repeated, “It was empty.”

“So, someone who knew the combination …” Rolf made the proposition.

“Or a safe cracker,” intoned Burton. “Is there any indication that Mrs Witney could have sold her jewels or stored them safely elsewhere?”

His question received only blank stares and a shrug from Harry. Holly looked up from the couch she had found respite in. “I doubt that mum would do that … they were family heirlooms and she was very fond of them.” Her voice quivered. Harry went over and comforted his daughter, recognising the anguish she must be going through; she was being confronted afresh with the undeniable fact of her mother’s death.

While Harry, Ed and Ashley joined in the consolation, Burton spoke quietly with Rolf.

“This throws everything up in the air Ro?” he began.

“What do you mean?” Rolf had been thinking that the case was drawing to an end.

Burton was aggrieved. “We don’t know for sure who committed the murders. Now, we don’t know who stole the real jewels or when. I hate it when nothing comes together.”

“So you don’t think Gene Towers is our man?”

Burton looked uncertain, “He could be. He’s just so devious … it could all be a lie.”

Rolf concentrated, “How so?”
“It’s possible that he planned to be caught out on a lesser charge of theft, and then only for the value of the replica jewellery … when in reality he stole the real jewels and murdered three people.”

“Do you believe that?”

“Do I think he’s that smart? No. But someone is leading us a merry chase.”


“Your guess is as good as mine. Young Witney, old Witney, Moore, Charlton … I don’t know. It could be someone else. Rick Tanon contacted me this morning and said he was there … said Tom Witney insisted he tell the truth. So he’s another possible.”  

“What did he say?” Rolf asked, piqued by yet another development to which he hadn’t been privy.

“Just that he’d dropped by to try and sort out a lengthy dispute between his mother and Clarissa.”

“Another coincidence?” inserted his junior tartly.

“There are reasons,” Burton said quietly, ignoring Rolf’s ill-advised mockery. “Anyway, he said he left at about five and they had come to an amicable arrangement.”

“Why should we believe him?” The response was more moderate this time. But there was no answer. Burton was searching the recesses of his mind for an elusive link. Something was dogging him. He couldn’t identify it but he knew it was there somewhere.

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