Chapter 31: Serving Lavinia
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
Grandmother Lavinia had a low opinion of the High Council. I was finding that their abilities hadn’t improved in the intervening century.
I was sitting in the office of Council member Lemuel Heard, the other High Council member from North Village. Lemuel was generally considered to be a cipher, someone Hilda Strong had got elected to ensure North Village would have two council members who voted the same way.
I was doing this because Grandmother Lavinia wanted me to investigate the tensions splitting the Children, and starting with the High Council seemed the natural thing to do. Grandmother Lavinia had thought the village councils would have been a better starting place, but let me have my way in this. Though she did warn me I was likely to be disappointed.
Lemuel was by far the biggest disappointment. The man had the character and determination of overcooked vegetables. All I had to do was play on his deference to Hilda and tease him sexually and he was willing to do anything for me. However, I didn’t want him to do anything for me. What I wanted him to do was to use his intellect and knowledge of the Children, especially the North Village Children, to explain what was going on among them. Unfortunately, what little intellect he had was devoted to explaining the Cyclopedia of the Instruments, an intensely obscure collection of prophecies beloved by weak-minded people among the Children, where it serves many of the same purposes as astrology in the rest of the country. And his knowledge of the North Villagers was primarily genealogical, which meant it was hard to keep him off my Priest ancestors.
“Tamara Smith’s family are the only supporters of the True Believers without close relatives in West Village,” Lemuel was droning on. “Tamara is a good woman, mind you, but she gets to be a bit contrary at times. She reminds me of her grandmother, who was also named Tamara, and whose was descended from an ancestor of yours, Asa Priest.”
Oh, crap. This was the fourth time Asa Priest’s name has come up. And this will inevitably lead to a digression about the prophecies in the Cyclopedia by an Instrument also named Asa. I began wishing Stacia had given me the ability to plunder people’s intellects, not emotions. Though if I had that, it might only take me seconds to go through Lemuel’s mind.
“. . . and so if people paid more attention to the one-hundred-and-twelfth prophecy of Asa when taking matters to the Council . . .” Lemuel nattered on.
A thought struck me about taking matters to the Council. “Ah-hum, Lemuel?” I interrupted him. “According to Hilda, you voted to try me on the charges Harold Lewis brought. She was very disappointed in you. Could you explain to me why you voted to try me?”
Lemuel sat there in his office, behind his desk, with his mouth open. And then he turned red, ducked his head, and did his best to avoid my eyes while he came up with something to say. In an uncertain voice while he barely looked at me, Lemuel said, “Well, um, eh, I felt that, you know, in the interest of getting the charges heard and dismissed, as I was sure they would be . . .”
Liar. But you are confused and don’t really understand why you did this. I could tell. I pushed, “Ah, Lemuel? Why did you go against Hilda in this? She counted on you.” And I strengthened his loyalty to Hilda.
Lemuel became even more confused. “Well, um, eh, I mean, I admire Hilda . . .”
Lemuel was severely conflicted, unnaturally so. What the heck was going on in his mind? I pushed at the conflicting emotions. It was as if there were two emotions that only became active in regard to my trial. And one of them was suppressing the other. I plucked that one out of his mind and pushed on the other. “Who ordered you to vote for my trial, Lemuel?”
Lemuel piped up, “Susan Knowles.” He looks incredibly confused as he said it, as if he didn’t quite believe himself.
Now that was curious. Susan was a friend, and had told me she thought the trial was nonsense. “Why would Susan Knowles want me to go to trial?”
Lemuel became even more confused. “I . . . I don’t know.” And then a feeling of relief suffused his mind. “I could go ask her.”
“No, Lemuel, I don’t think you should. I’m sure Hilda doesn’t want you to ask her, either. Let’s just forget the whole matter.” I manipulated his emotions and reinstated the suppression that had existed before.
Lemuel’s confusion subsided. He looked down, as if trying to recall something, and then looked back up at me. “Pardon me, I seem to have forgotten the question you were asking me, Emily. What was it?”
After Grandmother Lavinia had given me my marching orders, I had woken up in the Lakeview bathhouse’s locker room, as I expected. Jezebel was helping me up, crying all the time and hugging me. Other people streamed in, either finished having sex in the bathhouse or trying to figure out what had happened in the bathhouse, among the latter Alex Bancroft.
I didn’t have time for any of this. And Lavinia had warned me to stay clear of Alex Bancroft because he had unknown spiritual gifts. So I told everyone I was all right, got dressed, and told people I had to get back to the Burns Cottage in Milltown. Let Stacia explain what had happened, if explanations were needed. Jezebel wanted to go with me, but Alex, helpful for once, dissuaded her.
I got back to the Burns Cottage to find two phone messages, one from the Watch, one from Bonnie. The Watch had been unable to track Jim Abbott down, and was getting ready to organize a house-to-house search, if I could get the High Council to approve. And Bonnie wanted me to know she’d checked out the crime scene. The blood was definitely human, and she’d found a bullet in the floor that she would swear matched the ones used to kill Nash.
I no longer cared about Jim Abbott, or about Stephen Nash’s murder, for that matter. What I wanted to do, what Lavinia told me to do, was to investigate why the Children were falling apart, and to destroy the people responsible. But I saw how I could use my old investigation as a starting point for my new one.
I showered again to get the sweat off from the bathhouse and changed into new clothes. That felt better. And it’s always easier to persuade people to do what you want if you look respectable. Not that they’d have any choice, realistically. If they did not agree of their own free will, I could use my gift to make them do what I want. Lavinia had shown me how.
Convincing the High Council to order a house-to-house search proved to be unexpectedly difficult. It was so late on Wednesday afternoon when I got back to the Burns Cottage that most of the Council members had already gone home. None of them had phones at home. (I had to wonder how Sonia had got one installed; she wasn’t even a High Council member.) The Watch had to escort me from village to village, house to house, to visit them all. And I couldn’t engage in any lengthy interrogation with so many witnesses, both Watch and family, around. So I settled for persuading them by natural means or by my gift to agree to the search, and then also got them to agree to meet with me the next day.
If getting them to agree to the search had proved difficult, it was even more so when I tried to get a useful analysis of the tensions tearing at the Children the next day. After tackling nine of the ten existing members (skipping Angus because Hannah might detect what I was up to), the best analysis I got was from Corinthia Park, the only member of the Council from Hilltop. Corinthia was certain the trouble had been building up for several years, and that the split between Alex Bancroft’s supporters and the True Believers had come before any of the old rivalries had revived.
What was odd was that Corinthia, like Lemuel Heard, had been influenced by Susan Knowles to vote for my trial, but neither had been influenced to vote for my conviction. Two other members had been influenced by Susan to vote for my conviction. And Hilda Strong, of all people, confided in Susan for everything she did. Yet neither of the two surviving Council members who were True Believers were influenced by Susan Knowles at all.
It was after I left Lemuel’s place and was heading back to the Burns Cottage that I reflected on what Susan was doing. It made no sense, as Susan was my friend. But something I had said to Lemuel kept nagging at me, until I realized why. I’d commanded Lemuel to suppress his memory of talking to me about Susan. And Susan had done something similar to me. I only remembered meeting her once, not long after I arrived. Yet I knew she had also talked to me about my trial just before it happened. It took some poking around my own mind before I realized Susan had told me to forget about that conversation. And that had worked on me, until now, after Lavinia had sharpened my gift.
I must have been standing in the middle of the street in Center Village, working all this over in my mind for several minutes, when I was accosted by Charlie Thompson, the one of Stacia’s ex-mates in her quad that I had met on my unexpected visit to West Village. Stacia was another one Grandmother Lavinia considered a threat. And given how Stacia had spoken about not reuniting her quad, I was curious if I could get anything out of Charlie that I could use against her. So I let Charlie talk me into joining him for a cup of tea at his current lodgings, an adult dorm in Center Village. Charlie now lived alone, which suited me fine, because I could tamper with his emotions without witnesses.
However, Stacia had done something to Charlie. For all they were no longer mates in a quad, Charlie would say nothing against Stacia without my having to tamper with his emotions so much he would have been left psychotic. That was more than I was willing to do, unless Lavinia told me Stacia was an active threat. So I quickly drank my tea and left.
I returned to the Burns Cottage late in the afternoon, tired and hungry. I had decided to interrogate the village councils as my next step, and determined to tackle the Milltown council that very evening. Sonia was the obvious person to start with. I was enjoying the thought of using my gift on her to make her a less assertive person. If Stacia was right and Sonia really felt the lack of spiritual gifts, it would make a handy way to control her. And I still was annoyed at her for striking Jezebel. Maybe I’d make Sonia let me beat her.
If I hadn’t been so caught up in imagining Sonia being humiliated, I might have paid more attention to the absence of the Watch standing guard before the cottage. As it was, I just figured they’d pulled off the guards to take part in the search for Jim Abbott. So I opened the front door, walked in, and began to turn to close the door. Without warning, I was violently struck from behind, and crumpled to the floor. The door slammed behind me, throwing everything into darkness. Someone fell on me, grabbed one of my arms, and twisted it behind my back. It hurt so badly I screamed. The next thing I knew, someone else grabbed my other arm, and a few seconds later I felt a needle go into it.
It had all happened so fast, I’d had no time to react. I tried to reach out with my gift to find a mind I could turn to my side. I could tell there were at least four people in the room with me. But they weren’t thinking straight. Their minds were fuzzy. They began rolling around the room and fading in and out of reality. And that was the last I knew.
End of chapter thirty-one