Chapter 3: Love and fighting among family
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby.
I was relieved to know that the mysterious Bonnie Knowles was actually my old babysitter. And she had this brand-new police cruiser parked in the garage. It had “Town of Quasopon” and “Police Department” painted on the driver’s door with the uninspiring town seal in between them: the picture of a Revolutionary War soldier apparently shooting a sheep, with the motto, “Defending Our Homes and Farms.” Bonnie told me she just got the new car last month because its predecessor had died on Russell Hill Road from a combination of engine failure and a tree falling on it. She was happy with the new one. It had all the latest gadgets, and the drunks couldn’t try to paw her from the back seat anymore. I was a little surprised the town let her take it to Boston to pick me up, but when I asked her, Bonnie told me that a murder investigation took precedence over run-of-the-mill petty crimes.
We had the usual difficulties in leaving Logan and getting out of the city. And the moment we hit the open highway, Bonnie had us stop for a quick dinner. We weren’t going to get into Quasopon until late, and she’d told Ethan to feed the kids and get them to bed at their usual hour. It wasn’t until we were back on the road again that Bonnie started on the story of her marriage to Ethan Knowles.
“You know, Emily,” she said, “I suppose that like everyone else, I figured marrying Ethan Knowles was about the last thing I’d ever do. After the scandal and all when he joined the Children . . . well, who would? And it’s not as if I knew either of them well when we were growing up. Susan Knowles was three grades ahead of me, Ethan two behind. He was just a kid, a sophomore, when I graduated and went off to college. I forgot all about him until the scandal broke. And that was a nine-day wonder.”
Here I couldn’t help myself. “Not for the Knowleses,” I interjected.
Bonnie gave a whoop. “No, not for the Knowleses. They were all torn up about it, saw it as a black eye to their reputation. And some of them couldn’t leave it alone. That’s how Ethan and I met up. I’d been away for several years getting my degree and training to be a police officer. Hadn’t ever expected to come back. But just as I was finishing up, there was Dave Black, who was a selectman at the time. He told me he was speaking for all the selectmen, that if I came back to Quasopon, I could be police chief right off. Well, I hemmed and hawed, but it was too good an offer to turn down. So I came back. Well, the year after I came back, Fred Knowles, Ethan’s uncle who ran the sawmill, took it in his head to try to burn down the Children’s North Village where Ethan and Susan lived.”
“Sounds like Fred,” I interjected. “He used to threaten to run kids through the circular saw.”
Bonnie chuckled at that, and then grew sober. “Fred was always big on talk, but this time he tried to carry through. Lucky he wasn’t a very good arsonist. Anyhow, I had to interview both Ethan and Susan as part of the investigation. And later I had to drive Ethan to court to testify. We got to talking on our rides, started to make excuses to run into each other, and then one day he just dropped in on me, said he’d left the Children, and wondered if I could put him up for the night before he went to talk with his family. Well, it was a little improper, especially given the scandal about him,” and Bonnie favored me with a wink, “but I put him up on my couch, fed him breakfast the next morning, and sent him on his way with my good wishes.”
Bonnie paused, and then said, “Two days later he was back with a marriage proposal.” She laughed. “Of course, I turned him down flat. Two days away from the Children, and him without a job or education, and he wants to marry me? I told him it was ridiculous and told him why. He went away ever so quiet-like. And then every week for six months he came to visit, told me what he was doing about getting a job and an education, and asked me to marry him again. Well, after six months, I had to agree he was serious. So we got married. And that,” she said, slapping the steering wheel, “was that.”
I had to ask. “What about Susan?”
“Oh, she’s still one of the Children. Ethan even goes to see her once a month.” Bonnie must have seen me raise an eyebrow, because she added, “You’ve got a dirty mind, Emily. Must be from being raised by the Children. The two of them talk, and that’s all.”
Bonnie fell quiet. And I wasn’t feeling up to saying anything in reply. Bonnie’s little crack about my having a dirty mind had hit a little too close to home. As one of the Fallen, I’d been the subject of many such jibes growing up. And they still stung, a little. I told myself that Bonnie hadn’t meant anything by it, but still I was disappointed in Bonnie.
And then after a few minutes of silence, Bonnie redeemed herself. In a low voice, she said, “Sorry about that, Emily, I mean about you and the Children. I should’ve known better. I’ve been hearing the same sort of things about Ethan ever since we got married, hearing or knowing others are whispering. It’s just . . .”
“I know,” I replied. “Everyone says it.”
“I still shouldn’t have said it, though. It’s just that I’ve taken all sorts of flak about Ethan and his sister that I just get so sick of it, that I . . .” Bonnie paused, slapped her hand on the steering wheel. “I guess I just lashed out at you without thinking it through, Emily. I’m sorry.”
She sounded truly regretful, and I wanted to change the subject, so I decided to step on the next land mine. “That’s OK, Bonnie. So, tell me how my folks are doing.”
There was a long silence, and I began to fear I was going to hear some bad news, when Bonnie finally answered, “Oh, they’re doing all right, I suppose. Your father’s working at Brown’s, and your mother’s working full-time at the supermarket now that Elsie’s almost grown up.” Bonnie’s voice changed, developed an edge as she added, “It’s not really my business, Emily, but I’m kind of surprised you asked. I hear tell that you and your folks don’t speak to each other anymore.”
This was embarrassing, and a bit unexpected. Yet I reminded myself that after this many years, the breach between us could hardly still be a secret. So I took it in stride and replied, “Yeah, well, I’ve got some fences to mend, there. Think they’ll want to talk to me?”
Bonnie didn’t even pause to consider. “Of course they will. I’ve always thought that one of the reasons your mom always looked a bit sad is worrying about you.”
My mom’s doing OK, but she also always looks sad? Hmmm, I have to wonder. But no point in asking Bonnie to clarify. So I moved on. “And how is Elsie?”
Bonnie hesitated for a moment with that one. “Oh, she’s fine. You should see her. She hit puberty and started growing like a weed. Why, she may be taller than you.”
“And she’s doing fine?”
Bonnie hesitated again before answering. “Oh, yeah, she’s fine. She had a rough time of it there around the time she was growing so much, but she’s fine now. She’s even doing well in school.”
Seemed to me there was something left unsaid. But the rest was such good news, I just dismissed my worries about Elsie.
I tried to get Bonnie to talk about the murder, but she put me off, saying she wanted Ethan to be part of that conversation. I wasn’t sure that was all that good an idea, but I let it slide. Instead, we chatted about old times, friends, town gossip, and the like, all the rest of the way to Bonnie’s house. I found myself remembering things I hadn’t thought of in years, from Tina Black in pigtails to the time the Millers’ pigs got loose on Main Street. It was amazing how much of it came back. Made me wonder just how much I had escaped my upbringing, hardly a comforting thought when being dragooned back.
We hit Quasopon well after dark, which means we saw the town’s best side. Bonnie and Ethan lived just north of the town center on Elm Street, and we walked in the door just as a clock in the house chimed 9:30.
I had to admit to myself I was truly curious to meet Ethan again. I’d barely known him while I was growing up, he was years older. And in those days, he’d been quite in his sister’s shadow. Susan had been quite the beauty. She’d also been the type of woman who manipulated everyone she could, especially the men. She was into playing mind games on people, really getting into their heads. When she’d gone off to join the Children, a lot of the town had put it down as another game she was playing, and were happy to be rid of her.
No one had realized the sort of mind games she’d been playing on her brother. Not until Ethan joined the Children so he could sleep with her.
End of chapter three