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 What is the Lie?

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Anthony van

What is the Lie? Empty
PostSubject: What is the Lie?   What is the Lie? EmptyTue Nov 28, 2017 1:29 pm

Chapter 5                               Fri

            Hurtling along back roads through the forested hills, Tom became impatient to get to his destination. Sliding on the gravel surface, he almost lost control a couple of times. When finally he spun out and stopped centimetres short of a large eucalypt, he thumped his forehead with a clenched fist. “That would solve everything wouldn’t it?” he hissed. “Fatal accident while on the run.” The significance      of such an end seeped into him; his reputation condemned, investigation ceases and the real murderer goes free. Tom restarted the engine and drove more carefully. He soon emerged onto a narrow sealed road. This, in turn, met the main route crossing through the forested range. Driving up through the winding tree flanked corridor, he smelled the cool musty tang of the mist drenched vegetation. Up and over the ridge, his ears had popped a couple times as he sought some sort of equilibrium from the pressure discrepancy on his ear drums. Going down the other side the process was reversed and he swallowed repeatedly to account for the increasing air density.

He slowed as he approached a small mountain community of timber houses with corrugated iron rooves. They were scattered around a dale surrounded by steep slopes. Near the far side of the rustic community was a church. It was a fresher, brick building with a sign on the front –‘Inverglade Anglican Church’. Underneath the name was a text—‘You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free Jn 8:32’. Nearby was a services noticeboard. For the evening service there was a title: One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see. Tom decided that it was another excerpt from ‘holy writ’.

            The car slid suddenly to a halt. He stared at the words of the first text. How long had it been since he had heard those words on the radio. It seemed an age and yet it was only two days ago. The truth! That he would love to know. Would it set him free? If the police knew the truth, it would. It suddenly occurred to Tom that if it was a Bible verse he could look it up because he now had a Bible; thanks to Lori or Ed. He copied the text into his phone and vowed that he would find out what it was all about. Having finished his ‘spur of the moment’ note-taking, Tom lifted his eyes to see a fragile looking elderly man gazing in his direction. His unkempt, wispy white hair blew across his forehead and he brushed it out of his face before giving a friendly wave. Tom returned the wave as he slowly drove off, noticing the man removing some letters from the church mail box. In his rear vision mirror he observed the man taking a more than casual interest in his departure. A nauseating feeling welled up in Tom’s stomach. Could he have been recognised? He glanced at himself in the mirror. The dark stubble and dishevelled hair had altered his appearance appreciably from the clean cut businessman depicted in the news bulletin. Maybe he was just inquisitive, argued Tom to himself.

            For the rest of the drive he was alert to any traffic and once, when a vehicle quickly drew up behind, he pulled left at the first opportunity and took a side road to allow the car to pass. Then he sat. He took a deep breath and berated himself for being paranoid. ‘Everything was okay’, he told himself, ‘and nothing had indicated that they knew anything of his whereabouts.’  Ironically, when Tom was beginning to relax, something sobered his optimistic mood. He had just crested a long incline when he froze. A police car was rushing up the hill towards him. Almost instinctively his car decelerated. Tom battled to appear unflustered and resume his previous speed. He glanced to each side of the road to determine his options but there appeared to be no exits through this section of farmland. Would he risk a confrontation? Would he ram it off the road? Tensed and feeling the sticky sweat of fear trickling under his shirt, Tom readied for a dangerous encounter. Before he knew it the squad car had roared past and continued on its way over the hill.

            Relieved, Tom experienced surreal buoyancy; as if gravity had ceased to have any effect on him. He wondered whether this obsession with feeling targeted was a reflection of his egocentricity. Maybe, he imagined, he was experiencing some paranormal event in which people were looking for him, but they just couldn’t see. Somehow he was other dimensional or invisible. On reconsideration Tom figured he’d got this far by dumb luck.

 The car was coasting down the hill toward a small hamlet. Open farmland now appeared on both sides. With a little effort he tried to push his troubles to the back of his mind and absorb the peace and tranquillity of the scene about him. Slowing within the town limits, Tom drew into a service station and filled his near empty tank. He sensed that his silent chant of ‘act normal, act normal’ would probably have the reverse effect, but he couldn’t ‘not think’ about his desire to be inconspicuous.

            Inside the slightly musty, old, ‘everything-you-want-plus-fuel’ store it was deserted. Tom strolled watchfully to the counter. A large cardboard sign announced in black felt tip block letters, RING FOR SERVICE. Just next to it sat a small brass bell. Tom rang.

            “Great day,” the friendly middle aged woman greeted him as she walked in through a side door and stood behind the counter. The smell of some savoury pastry wafted into the room and Tom had a gastric alert regarding staving off impending starvation. Whether she heard his gurgling stomach or noticed his appreciative inhalation, she seemed to read his mind.

“Would ya like some? I made a couple of big Cornish pasties. Just took them out of the oven,” she spoke with an amused expression at his evident captivation by the aromatic invitation of the food.

“That’d be great, and the petrol; how much is that altogether?” Tom was opening his wallet.

She beamed at him, “The petrol’s thirty five fifty and the pasty is free. Just think of it as good old fashioned country hospitality.”

“No, I really should,” Tom tried to insist but he was cut off.

“Don’t be silly. Someone wants to give you something you take it,” she stated flatly. “Anyway, you can have lunch with us and, if yer want, you can tell me what you’re doin’ up here.” She took his money as he stood slightly dumbfounded at the way she shanghaied him.

“My name’s Margie,” she announced as she led him through the small office, then an airy country kitchen and out to a large, shady, bricked patio.

            Margie sat Tom down at a big, round, lacquered, wooden table. It immediately intrigued Tom as he imagined the huge root bole from which the massive table top had been sliced. His thoughts were shattered by a raucous shout.

“Gus, are you comin’ for some lunch?”

“A very small voice replied, “Coming.”

Margie headed back to the kitchen and in a moment reappeared with a tray supporting three plates with ample serves, some fruit juices and a selection of homemade sauces. By the time she had given a brief history of her tasty additives, Gus sauntered up and washed his hands under a garden tap.

“Oh, hello,” Gus offered his wet hand and then shook it in the air, “Sorry, Gus Grose,” he proffered his hand again. Tom shook the still clammy hand.

“Tom, Tom W…”, stopping short before confessing all, he shook Gus’ hand uncertainly. “Tom,” he repeated haltingly, as if he wasn’t sure.

“Tom, tom tom, hey; that’s an unusual name,” he grinned playfully.

“Stop it Gus. That’s no way to treat a guest,” Margie chided. Gus smiled cheekily.

            Mouth watering, Tom waited watchfully ready to start eating. Gus said grace and they began.

“So what brings you up this way Tom?” Margie inquired, knife and fork poised in her hands.

Tom swallowed his mouthful. “Well, I’m looking for a commune just out of town.”

“You thinkin’ of joinin’?” Gus managed to say distinctly enough despite a mouth full of pastry.

“No,” he replied awkwardly, not sure how much he should say. “I just hope to speak to someone.”

“You’re the second today. A couple of coppers came by this morning and said the same thing.” Gus was looking interested now. Margie interjected, “There’s only old Harry there now. Is he the one you want to talk to?”

“Probably,” Tom answered reticently.

“Has he done something wrong? I always thought it was strange, him being there with all those young people … midlife crisis or somethin’.”

“Gus!” Margie scolded. “He seems a nice man to me; a bit lost maybe and a bit lonely. Anyway it’s none of our business,” she pronounced, and then continued to quiz Tom. “So, you’re from the city?”

Tom nodded as he busily munched on a chutney covered piece of food, before clarifying, “I’m on a break at the moment.”

“Staying out this way?”

He was starting to feel uncomfortable, and though he thought she was a bit nosey, Tom couldn’t help liking her open, friendly manner. “Er, about an hour away,” he answered ambiguously.

            The rest of the meal passed with small talk about the community and the weather, before Gus gave Tom precise instructions to get him to the commune. Thanking them several times for their kindness, Tom got up to leave. Margie walked with him. In the kitchen she insisted on giving him a jar of the chutney he had complimented her for. While she gathered it from the large pantry Tom noticed a text on the wall. It disturbed him that someone was insinuating into the inner reaches of his mind. The phrase ‘I saw the writing on the wall’ occurred to him and he wondered what the origin of that saying was. He read the text.

Jesus said, I am the Way the Truth and the Life…Jn 14:6’ He reread it and wondered whether he should copy it. Flushing suddenly when he became aware that Margie was watching him he reached for the jar and said unsteadily, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome; please drop by any time you’re around. We love visitors. Isn’t that right Gus?”

Gus was standing at the outside door. “Sure do; drop in any time,” he said with almost as much enthusiasm as his wife.

            The last five kilometres passed by almost unnoticed as his mind swirled in a storm of questions and ideas. He was hoping it would be a simple truism, that truth would set him free from the entanglements of carefully constructed lies. That truth would win out. That it would be clear that he was innocent. Now, instead of being comforted by an adage, he was confused by a religious perspective—Jesus is the Truth! Tom wasn’t sure if that view would help him; whether it would divert him from his goal of clearing his name. Or, maybe, because it dogged him at every turn, it was more important than everything else.

            Tom’s mental abstraction evaporated as his destination came into sight. He drove under an entry arch, made of huge logs, which had taken some effort to construct. It seemed to serve no purpose other than to impress. Progressing slowly, as the sign suggested to prevent dust, down the long dirt drive, Tom wondered why Harry was now alone on his idyllic property. Had his Shangri La dream collapsed? Around the verdant pastures there were vegetable plots, animal enclosures and an assortment of dwellings. There was an old farm house, two or three log cabins, a couple of unusual conglomerations of wood and canvas and some tents, most of which looked like they had been abandoned.

            Stopping the car at the biggest building, Tom got out, stretched and considered whether or not he should call out for his father. However, it was unnecessary for him to do anything because Harry was stomping on his pull on boots and hastening as he walked toward Tom.

“Hi Dad,” Tom huskily exhaled.

 “Tom! They’re after you for… for.” He couldn’t put it into words.

“Dad, I’m innocent.”

He gave Tom a cursory hug; it was an exceptional event for them both. “What brings you here? It’s so good to see you. It’s just awful… what’s been going on? Why don’t we take a walk and we can talk?” As usual Harry was full on, but now there was despondency in his unpredictable manner.

 “So tell me about it. What happened?”

Tom studied his father. “I wish I knew. I came home and found…” he faltered as his voice broke. Images of the killings flooded his mind. With an effort he talked on, “Anyway, before I knew it, they were taking me into custody.”

“Why do they suspect you?”

Tom felt grim. “It was my gun… and don’t ask… I don’t know how it got there.”

His father was shaking his head in disbelief. “Who would do this?”

Ignoring the question, Tom asked, “How did you find out about it?

“The police were just here, about an hour ago,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Brow furrowed and concerned, Tom asked, “What did they want?”

“You, of course!” ejaculated Harry, turning on Tom. “They wanted to know whether I had seen you. I’m glad you came after them. I wouldn’t want to have lied to them,” he grinned at Tom.

            They walked past a neglected vegetable patch. Tom glanced around.

“Where did everyone go? I thought you had a community going here.”

“It’s a silly story, really.”

“Tell me.”

“Well, once I told them that I was broke they all decided to leave?”

“You’re broke?” Tom was taken aback.

“No, I’m not broke!” Harry was a little disparaging, “I just told them I was broke.” After a momentary stare he explained, “At first they were all enthusiastic about our sustainable farm, but it soon became obvious that they were just sponging off me. They didn’t want to work. And they kept asking for more and more.”

“So you lied to them?” his voice conveyed disapproval.

“Well, more of a ‘commitment test’,” Harry suggested wryly, ignoring Tom’s judgemental intonation.

            Tom and his father were now passing between fenced fields holding a number of cattle and sheep. The narrow lane started ascending a gentle rise.

“How big’s the property?”

“Up to that tree line,” said Harry pointing to a forested section near the top of the next, more substantial, hill. He turned then and faced Tom, “So, why are you here? This is not a social visit I take it.”

Tom was briefly speechless. How would he put it? His first words were uncertain.

“I’m looking for clues. I need to know who did this thing.” He looked directly into his father’s eyes.

“You think I can help you?”

“Can you?”

“No, I don’t know anything about it. Do you think I had something to do with it?” He was stunned. Tom held his hands up defensively, almost apologetically. “Dad, I’m trying to eliminate all possibilities. I don’t think you did it, but I need to know where you were when it happened.”

“You want me, your father, to convince you of my innocence.” He sounded angry and astounded at the same time.

            Tom spoke quickly, “You’re the first on my list. That means you’re least likely…”

“That’s a relief,” interrupted Harry sardonically.

“Dad, I just have to find out where anyone who knows me and”, he stalled on the next words, “and the victims … I need to know where they were.”

“I was right here,” Harry answered vaguely, gazing off at the distant tree lined ridge.

“Did anyone see you?”

“Does it look like anyone would see me?” snapped Harry. He turned abruptly. “Let’s go back.”

“I have to ask, you know I do.”

Harry was gruff, “Looks like you’re going to have to keep me on your list of suspects. No-one can confirm my story.”

            If this was going to be typical of his investigation, then it was going to be a fruitless and frustrating task. The walk back was uncomfortable, with small talk about the business being the only distraction. Nearing the house, Tom spotted a four wheel drive and an old farm car in a shed behind Harry’s house. Harry abruptly turned and faced him.

“So I guess I’ll be seeing you.”

There was a clear message that he was no longer welcome.

“What, no offer of a drink?” Tom was trying to be playful.

“Some other time, maybe,” grumbled Harry; he then wheeled around and stalked off. The younger Witney was being dismissed. Tom was sure something was wrong but he didn’t know what to do. He made a move to follow his father but pulled up short when Harry called over his shoulder, “Go away before I call the police.”

            Tom tried to comprehend what was going on. This was his father. They had always gotten along. Of course there had been the usual spat and skirmish trying to gain the intellectual or moral high ground. Both wanting to be right and, sometimes, trying to defend the indefensible. But this was different. Harry had always had time for his son. Tom wandered back to the car, mystified, shaking his head as if he were attempting to avoid a cloud of gnats. In truth, he was trying to clear his head of this weird unreality.

            Snail pace, for him, the white utility crept out along the long driveway and onto the road. Before long he was back at Gus and Margie’s in the small town. He had decided to buy some more supplies but it was a pretence for asking some questions. Inside Margie greeted him like an old friend. “Tom, back so soon? Don’t need more fuel already do you?” she chuckled.

“No, thought I’d get some things before I headed back.” She watched him as he put some fresh vegetables, chicken pieces and a milk drink in a basket and handed it to Margie.

“Is that all?” Margie had started tallying the items.

“Uh huh,” Tom murmured before homing in on his true purpose, “Do you see Harry often? I mean does he drop in or drive by often?”

Margie scrutinised Tom before answering cautiously. “He gets most of his supplies from the local store up the road, and he gets his fuel from here.” She stopped as if that was enough.

Tom wanted to dispel her suspicions. “It’s just that he seems pretty lonely up there. When did you see him last?” Tom probed.

“Well he came in to get petrol on his way to the city … two days ago I think,” Margie hesitated, “You sure he’s not in trouble?”

“Not that I know of,” Tom tried to be candid while not letting on that the information had disturbed him. “We used to be pretty close once and I’m just catching up a bit. How do you know he was going to the city?”

Marge paused again before answering. Weighing up whether she was saying too much.

“Well, he said something about seeing an old friend and some family business.

You’re his son aren’t you?” Margie grinned as if it all was falling into place.

Tom grinned back but said nothing.

            She handed him a bag with his groceries after he’d paid and they said their farewells. His mind was in ferment. His father had lied about staying at the commune. Who had he seen? The words ‘friend’ and ‘family business’ suggested someone very much like Ed Miles. His dad had been hiding something from Tom and had obviously tried to get rid of him. Should he go back? Tom thought better of it. Driving back into the hills he tried to work out what his options were. Should he promote Harry to number one suspect? Should he confront him with his deception? How could he know what his father had been up to?

            Dipping suddenly down and hurriedly braking as he followed a sweeping curve out of the forest, Tom was confronted by the sign that had intrigued him; ‘You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free’. He slowed and somehow expected to see the frail old man standing out the front. But his apprehension came to nothing. There was no man, just the sign and a meeting time—Sunday 10 am.

            After pulling onto the shoulder of the road and stopping near the sign, Tom considered how the spiritual dimension of his life had been neglected in all his haste to be someone and achieve things. He contemplated going to the service just to satisfy his curiosity. Maybe those words wouldn’t echo in his mind if he demystified the whole ‘religious thing’. He figured that once he’d been to church, he could discount the belief of others as a quaint myth. Further back in the recesses of his mind there was a growing agitation. He had never had a need for reliance on a higher order. He had always been self sufficient. Was he losing his grip? Maybe he could do with some otherworld help.

            Tom completed the remainder of his journey in a distracted daze. Arriving at the secluded cabin he looked again at the text he had entered, added the one he’d seen at Gus and Margie’s and then sat in the white utility wondering whether he was a victim of some strange mind game. Pithy clues were being left for him and he had to solve the riddle. It was all about ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ and something that intimidated him—this intangible spiritual dimension. He shook the fog from his mind. “Who’s lying, and who’s telling the truth? That’s what I have to work out,” he murmured vaguely.
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