Chapter 2: Flying home
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby.
I had to go back to my apartment, call my roommate to explain my absence, get packed, and make it to the airport. Mary, good friend that she is, offered to come back to help me pack. She’d seen me pack before, and knew I would make a hash of it. I turned her down, and did make a hash of it. I’ve learned how to combine the two sins of packing: overpacking while still forgetting crucial items. And it took me forever. I arrived at the airport with maybe twenty minutes to my flight.
It didn’t matter. I cleared check-in, baggage check, and security in under ten minutes. Don’t think that’s possible in these post-9/11 days? You don’t work for Mrs. Chattings. She had called ahead, and through the dint of her wealth, connections, and inability to accept rejection, had ordered the airport, the airline, and the TSA into meeting me at the door and ushering me through the process so fast it was almost as if I were already flying. The airline even threw in an upgrade on my seat to first class. So I got on the plane immediately, sat back, closed my eyes, and didn’t open them until the stewardess brought me a glass of wine. Nothing like a comfy seat, a glass of wine, and the sun playing off the clouds outside my window to make me feel on top of the world. I was even beginning to feel kindly toward my employer.
But I was in denial, and I knew it. Quasopon lay ahead of me, and no number of glasses of wine would keep it away. So I sighed, reached into my carry-on bag, and pulled out the folder Mrs. Chattings had given me. Time for the bad news.
The murder victim was High Councilor Stephen Nash. That at least explained the importance of the murder. There are only eleven high councilors, or at least that’s how many there were in my day, and they are the final word among the Children, most of the time. Nash’s name meant nothing to me, so I assumed he had to be a fairly recent addition to the High Council. That in itself was remarkable. Although in theory the Council is freely elected, in practice members hold their seats until they die or choose to retire. So there isn’t much turnover. Someone must have died for a seat to open up for Nash.
More remarkably, Nash was only thirty-four. That was absurdly young to be on the High Council. Normally you had to be an orthodox, hard-working member who’d served for years on one of the village councils before you’d even be considered for the High Council. I didn’t recall any members being under fifty.
Ah, but here was a clue: Nash was described as a leader of the “True Believer” faction on the Council. When I’d been growing up, there had been no factions on the High Council. In fact, disputes at that level were considered unseemly and dangerous, because of schisms in the distant past. Something must have shaken up the Children, some dispute that could split them, and Nash must have ridden the controversy all the way to the High Council. He must have been some sort of young hot shot. Probably made a lot of enemies. Likely, one of them had killed him.
It looked to be so simple, I breathed a sigh of relief, and drained the rest of my wine. And then second thoughts made me uneasy. If it were so simple, then why wasn’t the murderer already behind bars? The police report told the story, or, rather, didn’t tell the story. The time and place of Nash’s death were uncertain. He’d been killed by multiple gunshots, but the gun hadn’t been identified or found, either. No witnesses, no reports of gunshots being heard, no clues on the body or in his papers about where he was supposed to have been or why he might have turned up dead where he did. Cripes, it didn’t even look as if they’d done an autopsy.
It smelled bad. It smelled like the Children were stonewalling an investigation. But they wanted me to investigate? That didn’t make sense. And the police chief’s name on the report was Bonnie Knowles. Now, I had been worried that maybe somehow the Children had co-opted the police, but when I saw that name, I stopped worrying. I didn’t know any Bonnie Knowles, but no one named Knowles in Quasopon was going to be a supporter of the Children. Not after what happened to Ethan. No Knowles would help the Children in a cover-up, either. In fact, without ever meeting her, I knew that Bonnie Knowles would back me up in any conflict I had with the Children, whether over the murder or over my Fallen status. That’s how much the Knowleses hated the Children. And that made me feel much better. Someone was going to be on my side.
Then I read the copy of the contract between the agency and the Children and my blood began to boil again. Skip that the agency had thoughtfully redacted this copy so I couldn’t see how much the Children were going to overpay for the benefit of my time. Mrs. Chattings had committed me up front to a month of service to the Children. And the contract had been signed last Wednesday. Yep, you read that right. The Iron Lady had decided I was going to do this five days ago, and didn’t bother to tell me until less than three hours before my flight. I didn’t know which one to blame the most, the agency for its feudal attitude toward its employees, or the Children for wanting a lengthy chance to reclaim one of the Fallen.
I bitterly considered whether it was possible to hijack this plane to somewhere else, somewhere nice. “Take this plane to the Riviera!” “Take this plane to Tahiti!” “Take this plane to the lowest pit in Hell, because that’s still better than going to Quasopon on a job like this!” Alas, not even Mrs. Chattings could persuade the TSA to let me take a handgun on board, not that I could shoot worth a damn. If I’d tried to commit suicide out of desperation, I’d probably have killed a stewardess instead.
As an alternative, I ordered another glass of wine, and guzzled it down in a few minutes. Just drinking it that quickly worked off some of my irritation.
Which was just as well, because I had one more thorny topic to consider on this trip. What should I do about my parents? I had stopped speaking to them once I went off to college, and after a while they’d stopped trying to contact me. But there’d been several hundred miles between us then and since. Now I was going to be back in Quasopon. Quasopon just isn’t that big. My parents would hear I was in town pretty damn quick. We might easily run into each other, even, unless I stayed on the Children’s land, perish the thought. No doubt people would ask them about me, which would embarrass them.
To my surprise, I was actually concerned about how my parents would feel. I’d broken with them in anger, hadn’t given them a thought for years, and yet now that I was heading back to Quasopon, I didn’t feel like causing them any more pain. Maybe it was time to bury the hatchet. I’d been a kid of eighteen when I left them, and what had seemed so important then no longer mattered so much now. I wasn’t Emily the Fallen anymore, no matter what the Children might think. And that had always been the problem between me and my parents, that we were of the Fallen. If I’d grown past that, maybe it was time to grow past what it had done to me and my parents.
I decided I would definitely take a day or two while in Quasopon to visit my parents, to see if I could make peace with them. Who knows, I might need their help navigating the tensions within Quasopon.
And there was my little sister Elsie. God knows what she thought of me. It would be nice to see how she’d grown up. Actually, it was kind of hard to imagine her growing up. She’d always been smaller, slower, and less bright than any other kid her age. I’d tried to protect her from the other kids teasing her, but she’d only been seven when I left. Thinking about it made me feel guilty. I’d left her. Had anyone bothered to protect her? Or had she been teased unmercifully, not just for being of the Fallen, like me, but for her deficiencies? Just thinking about what they’d done to me, and how much more they’d probably done to her, made me feel sick. My stomach tightened up in a ball, the alcohol started to make me feel nauseous, and I finally made a dash to the rest room, just in time to vomit up most of the wine I had drunk.
I emerged from the airplane’s tiny rest room, pale, clammy, and shaking. Whatever I had thought, I realized I wasn’t really over what had happened to me growing up in Quasopon. And that made me mad. I had been gone for a decade. I was not the girl I’d once been. I was not going to let anyone in Quasopon humiliate me and make me miserable again. I was going to make peace with my family. I was going to find out what had happened to my sister, and see if there was anything I could do for her. And I was going to solve this damn murder case, even though I had not the foggiest idea of how I was going to do it. DO YOU HEAR ME? I WILL DO ALL THESE THINGS, DAMN YOU ALL.
The announcement that we would soon be landing forced me to get a grip on myself. I was supposed to be met at the airport by someone from the Quasopon police, who would take me on the multi-hour drive from Boston to Quasopon. I couldn’t start my job in Quasopon looking like a hag-ridden schoolgirl, so I ducked back in the rest room and cleaned up a bit before we landed.
Logan Airport, like Boston’s streets, was laid out by mean-spirited sadists determined to confuse and ruin the happiness of travelers. Why else would they put the thing out in the harbor, away from any decent transportation routes? Why else would they have a Terminal A, B, C, and E, but no D? And there should be a contest to see who can actually find their car the quickest in the parking garages. It is rumored that Charlie from the MTA finally made it off the subway, only to get lost trying to escape long-term parking.
I didn’t see anyone in a uniform waiting for me when I finally got out of the gate, so I went down to the baggage claim and waited for my suitcases to appear. I’m not usually fidgety, but waiting for your bags to show up on those slow-moving carousels embodies the perfect combination of anxiety and boredom, so I fidgeted. I probably looked like I was suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome, though I kept most of my cursing under my breath.
I’d pulled one bag off the carousel, and was looking for the other one, when someone came up beside and slightly behind me, and practically began breathing down my neck. I was about to turn and suggest that the so-and-so give me some room, when she said, “Emily Fisher?”
I turned around and saw this middle-aged woman standing beside me. She looked familiar, but it took me several seconds to figure out just who she was. And then I threw my arms around her, and she grabbed me in a hug, and we were kissing each other and laughing at each other.
It was Bonnie Wyatt, who had been my favorite baby sitter when I was growing up. She finally put me down, held me at arm’s length, and said, “Just look at you, Emily. I kept thinking I’d see the thin girl who left here a decade ago! I saw you come down, but you’ve changed so much. I was looking at you, and trying to be certain, and then I saw the pentagrams on your luggage.” The thought of that got her laughing again.
Oh, the pentagrams. In one of my more rebellious moods as a teenager, I decided I was sick of all the people who pretended to be godly, especially the Children, and that I was going to be evil. I had got it in my head somehow that the pentagram was the Devil’s symbol, and I began marking all my possession with it. Well, I grew out of that phase, but the habit remained. Both of my suitcases had big white pentagrams painted on them. Made it easy to identify them, at least. Bonnie knew all about the pentagrams, which is why she found it funny I was still doing it.
While she was laughing, I gave her a look over. Bonnie’s almost a decade older than I am. When I knew her back in Quasopon, she’d been one of those girls who people just describe as “nice” as opposed to “pretty,” the sort whose dates were always the cast-offs of prettier girls, and who could look forward to being a bridesmaid over and over again. Time had definitely marked her with a bit more weight and some wrinkles. And yet she still looked “nice.” Funny how “nice” at eighteen means “not very sexy,” while “nice” at thirty-seven means “aging well.”
I smiled back at her. “You’re looking pretty good yourself, Bonnie. You part of the police force in Quasopon?”
“Hon,” she said, “I am the police force in Quasopon. Me and old Jed Stark, and he wasn’t good for anything even back in the day.”
It took me ten long seconds to figure out the obvious. “You’re Bonnie . . . Knowles, now?” My voice rose to a squeak at the end.
She nodded. “Yep. Married Ethan two years after you left. We’ve got three kids, two dogs, one cat, and a spare bedroom for you tonight.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Ethan? He left the Children? You married one of the Fallen? You married Ethan?” Ethan and Susan were the reasons the Knowleses were so anti-Children. I was almost afraid to ask about Susan Knowles.
Bonnie gave me a rueful smile and shook her head. “You’re not the first one to find it hard to believe, Emily. But it’s true. So I’ll tell you what. Let’s get your luggage and get out of here, and I’ll tell you all about it on the drive up. You used to always like it when I told you stories before bedtime. And this one is a bit of a humdinger, as stories go.”
End of chapter two