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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van

PostSubject: What is the Lie?   Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:34 pm

Chapter 19                                         Still      Mon


            The police had moved outside and were talking quietly. Inside the opulent residence Holly was getting to know Ashley. Harry and Ed joined in the conversation as it had eventually diverted to moving back into the house. It was clear Al had done little to the upkeep of the place, and bins filled with pizza cartons and disposable fast food containers gave ample evidence of his daily fare. They had managed to make more coffees with the remnant of the milk Ed had brought and some long life milk discovered in the pantry. Muttering about the state of the home, they continued discussing the reoccupation.

            Upstairs Tom was dozing on his bed. He had lain there sometime earlier trying to dissect the information he had gathered and had sunk into a fitful slumber. An annoying beep tried to infiltrate his dream. Was it an oven timer? BEEP. There it was again. He tried to focus on the time. He couldn’t quite see the phantom watch when cognition woke him with a start. His phone! The battery warning was sounding. He’d left it on from the morning. They should have been on to him by now. Maybe they were no longer after him. He went across and looked out the window. The detectives were leaving and Al was in the back of the squad car. Was it all over? Just then he saw three police cars pulling in through the gate and he knew he was in trouble.

            Rushing downstairs he burst in on the quietly talking coffee drinkers.

Tom yelled louder than he intended. Impelled by a surge of adrenalin, “Hi all,” he gave an anxious wave. “Holly, got to run … take my phone … left it on and they think they found me. Don’t tell them when I gave it to you if you can help it.” Placing the cell phone in front of her, he turned and fled back upstairs, stuck a chair under a manhole cover, dislodged the cover minutely, leapt off and hurtled to the back of the house. Here he cautiously clambered out a window, careful to close it, and then shuffled to the edge before dropping to the ground. The jarring impact reignited a cascade of flaring aches like a chain of fireworks. His hobbling sprint took him to the back shed.

From there he gingerly darted across toward the garage, diving lengthways behind a low hedge when police appeared around the side of the house. He waited, disregarding a multitude of pain messages being sent from various parts of his body. He was almost prehensile in his adhesion to the ground as the two uniforms ambled around the back, scarcely casting a glance in his direction. Through a chink in the base of the hedge he observed them disappear around the farther corner. Then, ensuring the house obscured his movements from where the police had parked, he crawled the remainder of the distance.

            In the garage, rallying his protesting body, he climbed up into the A-frame rafters which had never been sealed off. Here he shimmied underneath a covering tarpaulin and flattened himself on top of a stored table tennis table. There was a hinged gap that gave a narrow view if he put his eye right against it. Gritting his teeth, Tom tried to suppress the rampant trembling of his body. Through long deep breaths he gradually calmed his tautly straining muscles.



            Minutes earlier, out the front, Burton and Rolf had hooked behind the speeding squad cars and retraced their way back along the large roundabout that accessed the front porch. Lancaster and Schultz emerged from the first vehicle and Burton heard the former bark orders to the two officers in the trailing car to secure the back. Before they moved, however, Burton stepped out of the gravelly grinding cloud of dust that billowed around and was now settling all about them. He demanded, in a controlled steely voice, what Lancaster was up to this time. He fervently hoped that his adversarial workmate was mistaken when he insisted that Tom Witney had been tracked to his home.

“How?” queried Burton.

“They did a check on his mobile and found it was still on. It’s here.” Lancaster almost sneered, “And you’ve been here half the morning, haven’t you?”

Burton just stared coldly. Coiling through his numb mind were stomach wrenching thoughts. ‘Had Witney slipped up? Was he there all the while they were questioning Towers?’ He didn’t think he could bear the ignominy of being out manoeuvred by the smarmy, self promoting detective before him.

Lancaster turned uncomfortably to go in. His hobbling was watched with some amusement by the uniformed brigade who always enjoyed a stoush between their so called superiors.

            “You know we’ve made an arrest. You’re wasting your time.”

“We’ll see. As far as I know, Witney is still wanted. You can come and watch how real police work is done if you want.” He smiled gleefully. Burton at first was tempted to watch the proceedings, but preferred, in the end, to wait and see what would happen.

Rolf, who had been standing on the other side of the car watching, noted the concerned look on his boss’s face. “What do you think?”

Burton pouted thoughtfully, “He’s gone out on a limb, so he must be pretty sure of himself. Not calling it through could really backfire on him.”

“If Witney’s phone is here … and he called you this morning, then he’s here. This could look bad for us,” Rolf visibly wilted as he summed up the jam they were in.

            Two constables wandered off to the side of the house while Lancaster and Schultz waited impatiently for the door to be answered. Schultz was studying the ground between his feet when the door swung open. The four stormed in thrusting Harry aside as they scoured the rooms of the house. Lancaster was grilling Holly when a shout from upstairs had them all running. No fugitive, but a possible bolt-hole could be seen. Even as Gapes stood on the chair and hoisted himself aloft into the darkness of the attic, Lancaster got a niggling feeling he was being handled. The offending device was in the possession of his sister and the conspiratorial looking four had said nothing that was of any use.

            By the time he’d received a negative report from the ceiling space and he’d raged his way through the rest of the house, little effort was made by the others to search the grounds. Cursory scans of the shed and garage by his squad exemplified their disenchanted mood. His repeated forays of futility had eroded any respect they may have had for their ‘vaunted leader’.

            Tom suspected some sort of trap. The brief stroll around the garage accompanied by some ‘boy banter’ about cars hardly constituted a search by any definition. They were trying to flush him out. He was certain. After staying put for one hour … then another just to make sure, he ventured a stretch to quell his mounting stiffness. And even when he dropped to the floor he skulked about squinting through the side window and tiny gaps in the doors. It took even more resolve to hazard an escape out the side door, firstly on his knees to the hedge, and then a hunched dash for the back door.

            Back inside the house all had left except Holly who was cleaning and disposing all the garbage. She looked up as he entered and brushed a wisp of hair from her face.

“I wondered where you got to,” she grinned. “You’re a veritable ‘Invisible Man’ aren’t you?”

Tom slumped into a kitchen chair. “You know, this is getting very tiring. I thought they’d stop looking for me once Al was arrested.”

“From what that red faced detective said, it seems you’re still a suspect. Where’d you hide?”

“In the garage … Say have you got something to eat here? I’m starving.” He looked around hungrily.

“Nothing that’s worth eating, unless you want a can of something …” She gave the bench one last wipe, “Besides, Ed invited us over for dinner … sort of mutual support get together.”

“Even though I’m still wanted?”

“Uh huh,” she confirmed, “I think he wants to talk you into surrendering.”

“I’m not going to do that … not yet anyway. I’ve still got some things I need to do.” As an afterthought he added, “I still might join you though.”

Tom watched almost trancelike as Holly finished up cleaning. He listened as she retold the recent events. How Al had been arrested but had stolen cheap replicas of their mother’s jewellery. His devious alibi had Tom believing it was possible that Al could have committed the murders. But there was something wrong.

Then remembering that they were to be guests at the Miles’ place he rushed upstairs, showered and donned some clean clothes. Back downstairs Holly sat waiting. She looked around the kitchen slowly until their eyes met. He went across to her as she got up and a long hug ensued. Things were no longer the same. Life had taken a radical detour and suddenly it was more important than ever to be family. Holly half sighed, half grunted as she signalled that it was time to go.



            Burton had stopped off for a quick bite to eat and was psyching himself up for a long evening of interviews. He was desperately hoping someone would break and confess to the killings when Gordon paged him. Inside the superintendant’s office Gascoyne was sitting in Gordon’s comfy leather chair while the super was on one of the couches against the wall. Gascoyne didn’t mince his words.

“Where are we at Adrian?”


“This murder case,” he expanded grumpily, not thinking it necessary to elaborate on the obvious.

He went on before Burton could answer. “I hear you’ve got suspects coming out of your ears and the main suspect … Witney isn’t it?” he looked for confirmation from Gordon, “Yes, Witney is still running about on the loose.”

Burton hated justifying his moves, but he knew the chief was expecting some explanations, so he began tentatively.

“Well, we have a few interviews tonight … I’m hopeful some of these people might shed some light on some gaps in the evidence.”

“You’re hopeful?” his voice gained volume. “I thought this was cut and dried. Find Witney and charge him with murder.”

Burton chafed. “Do that and we’ll lose the case. A good lawyer will rip us to shreds.” He knew he was speaking out of turn, but he didn’t need to be told how to do his job at this stage of his career. The chief was taken aback for the minute. He became more conciliatory.

“So, who have you got that could help you?”

“We have Charlie Charlton, and accomplices, who’ve been arrested for conspiracy to murder, unlawful detainment and a variety of environmental crimes. He was at the Witney house, or thereabouts, on the afternoon of the murders.”

“Who …” Gascoyne started but was cut off by the detective, who held up a hand and kept speaking.

“Let me finish. We have Gene Towers junior, who constructed an elaborate plot to steal Mrs Witney’s jewels while trying to convince us he was nowhere near the house. He’s been arrested for theft and is under suspicion for the murders. And we have Rick Tanon who is here for obstruction of justice. We want to know why he initially lied about not being near the house on the Wednesday afternoon. As far as we know he was the last to see the victims alive.”

Gascoyne was aggravated now. “So you have all these suspects, but you can’t prove that any of them did it?” he said disdainfully.

“That about sums it up,” said Burton tiredly. He retaliated with some venom. “Look, my record speaks for itself. I don’t appreciate being second guessed all the time. If you don’t want me on the case get Lancaster. He’s all for a quick arrest.” Burton turned as if the conversation was over … and maybe his job was over as well.

            “Not so fast Adrian. Just settle down a bit. We’re all upset because this thing has dragged out so long in the media.” The Chief had swung his approach to soothe his key investigator.
Burton felt like saying that the media were a concern to Gascoyne but not to him, but he kept his mouth shut. Gascoyne went on.

“Lancaster is on suspension.” The statement was blunt. “If he was a team man he would have contacted you the moment they located Witney’s phone signal and … maybe he’d be in custody now.” The last phrase was expressed with a knowing lilt.

“… Maybe.” Burton managed, trying not to meet his gaze.

“It seems … Adrian … that Tom Witney has been in contact with you.”

Burton said nothing, not sure what he could say. Aware that anything he did say might reflect poorly on his professionalism. Gordon spoke for the first time.

“Our monitoring indicated that he called your cell. Can you explain that Adrian?” Gordon sounded miffed that he had been left out of the loop.

Burton started unsurely, “It’s not easy to explain. Let’s just say that almost all the leads we have had have come from Witney. He seems determined to clear his name, even to the point of nearly getting himself killed at the hands of that thug Charlton. Apart from running, everything he’s done seems to indicate his innocence.”

“You don’t think he’s hood winking you?” suggested his boss sceptically.

Burton changed tack. “If you were guilty and had just escaped custody, would you lay low and hide, or would you keep contacting police, possible suspects and family, barely avoiding capture on several occasions?”

            Gascoyne was tiring of rationalising what he thought was an untenable approach.

“All right, he may have given you some useful information, or … he may have distracted you from the obvious … that he committed murder and he’s now muddying the water with red herrings. I want you to bring him in.”

The mixed metaphor had prompted numerous possible humorous responses from the beleaguered detective and his efforts to restrain himself led to a careless remark.

“How do you propose I do that sir?” Burton immediately regretted opening his mouth.

Ignoring the insubordination Gascoyne outlined his strategy, “Return his call and tell him you have arrested Towers for the murders, and that you have some useful information for him.”

“You want me to lie to trap him?” he recoiled at the thought.

“Not a lie,” the chief offered insincerely in a singsong voice. “You have arrested Towers and the information is that he’s under arrest as well.” His cheesy grin said it all for Burton.

            He was about to denounce the tactic as reprehensible when a vibration in his pocket told him he had a call …Maybe it was another text? He quickly excused himself on the pretext that interviews were waiting, but he didn’t get away without a stern warning to ‘get his act into gear’.

            It was Tom Witney. He felt like Witney’s flatfoot. This time he had sent a text about regular payments made by his mother into a bank account. ‘Would he find out who owned the account?’ It seemed like he was doing the legwork for everything Tom could dig up, or his men were. Each possible suspect was referred to him. And, now he’d been set a money trail that had no valid basis or reason. Was he just curious, or was there some link to the murders. Burton wrote the account number down and left it on his desk. Rolf joined him as they headed to the interview rooms and was full of questions about his boss being hauled before Gascoyne.



            When Holly and Tom arrived at the Miles’ house all were already congregating around the extended dining room table. He had just sent a text to Burton asking him to identify the owner of the account number and he was still mulling over whether he was wasting his time. Was there any significance to the account? Or was it just one of Clarissa’s charity projects? His distracted train of thought evaporated when he saw the gathering for the meal. Harry and Ashley were also guests and there were hugs all round as all those present greeted him as a long lost family member. His hug with Lori lingered longer than the others and he felt reluctant to release her. A couple of perceptive sidelong glances from Holly and Mrs Miles and the pair disengaged self consciously.

            Seating arrangements were deviously contrived by Holly. She moved up one position to create a space between her and Lori. It would allow her to sit next to Tom. Subtle glances in their direction made their proximity even more awkward. Their conversations were explicitly directed toward others mindful that inquisitive eyes were watching and measuring their reactions to each other. Oddly enough, the affected disinterest and exaggerated avoidance between the two only reinforced the growing belief that there was more than merely friendship. The mutual spark of affection was almost palpable.

Aromatic smells from the veritable feast tantalised Tom’s senses. He realised that over the last week or so meals had become a hurried postscript and more often than not he had skimped on basic nutrition. With everyone having taken their seats, Ed stood and welcomed his visitors formally before giving thanks for the food. Tom was particularly impressed by the way he spoke to Jesus as though he was an unseen guest at the table. He gave thanks for Tom’s safety and then for the food and the blessings of good friends. The short prayer rekindled a different sort of hunger within Tom. He remembered afresh the almost tangible hollowness he felt compared to the vitality of William Grose. Was the ‘Hound of Heaven’ still pursuing him … finding him from within? His trance like inactivity when everyone else had started caused Lynne Miles to ask if he was all right.

“Sorry? … er yes, thank you. I just have a lot on my mind. Mrs Miles. I really appreciate your hospitality.” She smiled and he saw something of Lori’s beauty in her. Not wanting to stare, he tucked into the delectable food.

            The generous portions of roast meat, vegetables and pudding dessert eventually satisfied Tom’s gnawing hunger. Talk around the table started with Ashley’s story which fully suited Tom. But as his tale drew to a conclusion it naturally led to the horrific events that had descended on the Witney family. Tom was soon fending off concerned questions about his health and wellbeing, about his movements and any progress he was making. Briefly a callous desire to garner information from this opportunity of meeting some of the key suspects overcame him. He confronted Ashley.

“Did you receive money from Clarissa on a regular basis?”

All at the table went deathly quiet and at once Tom cringed at his own ineptitude at judging the appropriateness of the situation. Ashley himself blanched and struggled to configure some sort of response.

“You don’t have to answer Ashley,” warned Ed softly. “And this is not the time or the place,” he added giving Tom a reproving look.

“No …” Ashley began uncertainly, “I want to answer. I think Tom deserves to know, after all he’s been through.” He collected his resolve and spoke frankly to Tom. “She did begin sending me money which I said I didn’t need. I told her I had a good job. Ultimately, I refused to accept any more and started sending it back.”

Tom looked up, still shamefaced. “When did she begin sending it?”

“About a year ago … she sent money for five months.”

            Tom looked around to everyone. There were disapproving faces and empathy for Ashley’s discomfort. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be talking about this stuff.” He felt bad for spoiling the happy mood. Turning to Lori he whispered, “I think I’m becoming a bit obsessive trying to work out who did this … this—” he searched for something not too graphic“— terrible thing … I should go.” Her hand went to his knee, preventing him from rising as she protested softly, “No,” she then raised her voice so all could hear, “I think we all understand … because of everything that’s happened, that you want to find out the truth behind all this.”

He went a little red and muttered apologetically, “No I shouldn’t have. I won’t ask anything more.”

There were some reassuring murmurs and then the conversation reverted to more commonplace topics such as Holly and Tom moving back into the family house, and Ed saying that things at work were ticking over but they all missed him. Lori spent time talking with Holly and appearing to avoid him for the rest of the evening.

            Superficially, Tom joined in talk with Ed and his dad, asking bland questions about treatment installations, but his thoughts were swirling around the word ‘TRUTH’. It reverberated in his head. He wanted to find out the truth. The truth about the murders … the truth about Lori— what did she feel about him? Most of all there was the truth about Jesus. Was he willing to find out what it takes to live a life of faith? This idea of a battle between good and evil was becoming entrenched in Tom’s thinking.

            Reluctantly, Tom headed home to Gil’s place without catching up with Lori again. The lively Mini was reined in by his total absorption in replaying the past weeks’ events. The circuitous course he had taken scrabbling for some hint or clue had finally led to Al’s arrest. How could he guarantee that the police had enough evidence to convict him? How could he prove that Al had taken the gun from the car?

Then it hit him like falling into a yawning chasm. His stomach lurched and the nauseating certainty that it was all wrong. The ammunition … his gun had been empty. He always transported it empty of course. Normally there would be a carton of shells in his carrying case, but he had finished them all with his last shooting round. Someone with easy access to ammunition was much more likely than Al. It seemed incomprehensible but two names came to mind. Rick and Gil both had access through the gun club and they had the knowledge of what was required.

            Both had been at the house during the day and could have grabbed the gun. Either could have returned later to commit the crime. But why … why would either want to kill or steal? Both were independently wealthy. Was there some other motive? Suddenly Tom slammed on the brakes and brought the small car to a screeching halt. He had almost driven through a red light as the tumble of thoughts careered through his mind.

            His reflexes were slow to respond to the green light. Somehow he had to pursue the possibility that Gil or Rick may be involved, or work out whether Al had gone to the painstaking extent of even readying bullets for the gun. The remainder of the drive to Gil’s place was a blur. By the time he’d arrived Tom had mapped out a plan for the next day.



            Burton sank tiredly into his desk chair and gratefully accepted the coffee Rolf handed him. Charlton’s lawyer had restricted him to the barest of responses and a deluge of ‘no comments’. There was sufficient evidence to charge him, but they needed information about the Witney murders. After interviewing Charlton, Rolf and Burton spoke at length with Rick Tanon. He talked freely about his quest to bring reconciliation between two sisters—his mother and his aunt—about his friendship with the Witneys and his close bond to his cousin Tom. He told them of his work, his shared pleasures and his contentment with his lot.

He admitted again that he had misled them by not telling the truth the first time. In fact their garrulous suspect drained the two detectives. Feeling worn down, they released him and took a break.

“I feel that after all that guff there was something that Tanon didn’t tell us.”

“Like what?” Rolf was splayed in another chair sipping his drink.

Burton rubbed the bridge of his nose. “He didn’t speak of his affection for the girl … which I think was his real reason for frequenting the home. Perhaps something was amiss. There’s more to him than he lets on. He might be involved.”

“What about the jewels?” Rolf wasn’t convinced.

“Yeah well, it certainly would be a handy misdirection. He doesn’t need the money, by all accounts, though a million dollars would be hard to ignore.”

Rolf was still dwelling on the play of words, wondering whether it was deliberate, when Burton continued, thinking aloud. “Still, a million dollars worth of jewels won’t be easy to get rid of. Whoever has got them will probably sit on them for a while.”

            Burton stretched and got up. Rolf was mystified. “Ade, are you saying you don’t think Gene Towers junior did it?”

“No, I’m just keeping our options open. We know that he stole some jewels in an elaborate scheme. But we can’t categorically nail him for the murders. I wonder how he’ll react when he finds out they were fake.” He moved to the door, “Come on let’s finish this and get home. It’s getting far too late to be thinking straight.”

            It took an age for Al to admit to anything. He whined about mistreatment. He delayed and distracted from the questions. When his protestations continued unabated, Burton bluntly threatened him.

“Are you finished?” the detective stared icily at Al.

He shrugged defiantly, as if he didn’t care what the police said.

“If you don’t tell us everything you know, I’ll charge you with three counts of murder. There’s no hope you won’t be convicted.” Burton stopped. He needed to be absolutely clear. “You’ll be convicted for sure. Any jury hearing how you rigged the computer and tampered with the side exit to construct an alibi will have no sympathy for you.”

Al visibly shrank back as Burton pressed on. “They’ll hear what Tamara wrote in her diary about you; how you constantly harassed her. How you spend your life carousing and detest the fact that you won’t inherit anything.” He pushed his face so close it looked like he was examining the pores on Al’s nose. Burton hissed menacingly, “How do you think the jury will react to that?”

Desperately the young Towers retorted, “I told you … they were all dead. I grabbed the jewels and ran for it. I didn’t kill anyone.” His pathetic quailing voice signalled his crumbling resistance.

Burton launched in again. “So where did you find the gun?”

The new attack caught him off guard. He looked confused. He didn’t understand how they knew.

“What … what do you mean?” he quavered.

“The gun! You found the gun. I want to know where you found it?” the detective urged.

“It was just sitting there … on the stairs. I went to pick it up, but I’m not stupid. I didn’t want to leave my prints on it.”

“So?” Burton kept pressing.

“So I grabbed some tissues and threw it out the back.”

            Burton straightened and eased the strain on his back. He turned to Rolf and gave him a little nod before stepping away a short distance. Rolf gathered that he should continue. He asked the first thing that came into his head.

“Why would you pick up the gun Al?” The question was smooth and quiet.

Al was relieved that the verbal barrage had ceased. He wanted to explain. “Well, I figured someone committing a robbery wouldn’t leave a gun, and I wanted it to look like a robbery.”

Rolf almost crooned his next question. “Why would you think that?

“It was an execution,” he said hoarsely. His eyes looked up vacantly as he reran the scene in his mind. “It looked so obviously a planned killing, no-one would believe a thief caught in the act would be so … so …”

“Clinical,” Rolf finished for him.

            They didn’t get much more out of Al other than stunned disbelief when Rolf told him that it was all for nothing as the jewels were imitation. He came clean. He hadn’t seen anyone else. All he had wanted was to get away as quickly as he could, hoping no-one saw him before he regained access to the library. He blubbered almost incoherently toward the end. He left miserable and broken, and Rolf couldn’t help feeling some sympathy for Al. What had been planned as an ingenious crime had deteriorated into a circus.

“What do you think he’ll get?” asked Rolf when they were alone.

“Theft, perverting the course of justice and interfering with a crime scene, hmm,” Burton thought briefly, “He might be lucky. Apart from a few drunk and disorderly charges he hasn’t been in trouble before. Maybe six months to a year … if he has a really good lawyer … maybe probation.”

            Rolf fixed a stare on his mentor. “So how did you know Ade?”

“About what?” Burton pretended to be slow on the uptake.

“You know. The gun … how did you know he’d handled the gun?”

“The forensic report mentioned a few tissue fibres. We know the murderer was either Tom Witney who hadn’t gone to the trouble of removing his prints, or someone wearing gloves or …” he continued slowly, “someone who needed to use tissues … so I guessed.”

Rolf shook his head. “It sounded as if you knew.”

Burton grinned, “That’s the trick isn’t it?” He gave the younger man a soft punch on the shoulder.

He went on, “So what does it all mean?” He awaited a response from Rolf.

“That … Witney didn’t kill anyone?” There was an upward inflexion in his voice revealing his uncertainty.


Rolf answered with a little more certainty as it became clearer to him. “It was too early. Towers would have been back at the library when Tom Witney arrived home.”

            Burton added to the conclusion. “I think it also means that our murderer was hoping someone would pick up the gun and confuse things even more. It’s all about confusion,” he trailed off. His mind was already trying to retrace something Rick Tanon had said.

“Tell me,” he said as he waited for Rolf to make eye contact, “Why would Tanon … good friend and cousin of Tom Witney … having affection for Tamara and customary guest of the Witney’s, not stay for the evening meal?”

His partner looked at him. There was a glint in his eye, “You’ve got a theory haven’t you?”

“Let’s just say we’re dealing with a very devious mind and we have to check everything that seems a bit unusual.” Burton was already rehearsing in his mind, some more questions he had for Rick Tanon.
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