Chapter 38: Lies and things that feel like lies
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
We were in the police station the following morning, Bonnie and me. Bonnie had decided to get my statement last, mainly because I was the only person who needed immediate medical attention. The left side of my head had been drenched in blood, my blood. According to Hannah, Susan had mind-controlled Tanya into bashing me with a frying pan before turning me over to Jim Abbott. I’d needed part of my scalp shaved while clearing away the blood and applying several stitches. One side of my head was now covered in bandages, save where my ear stuck out. Bonnie had mercifully spent the time getting statements from Alex and Hannah before dealing with me.
So now Bonnie was going over my statement with me, and she was unhappy. Well, duh, her husband was dead. But that wasn’t the end of it.
For the third time, Bonnie said to me, “So let me get this straight,” she said. “Susan Knowles killed Stephen Nash over a plot she’d hatched with Jim Abbott to discredit Alex Bancroft. When Jim started to get shaky about the murder, she decided to kill him and you and make it look like he’d killed you and then committed suicide. And then Hannah, Alex, and Ethan interrupted her after she killed Jim but before she killed you. There was a struggle between Susan and Ethan. Ethan was fatally wounded but managed to kill Susan. Is that right?”
I was tired. I was doped up. I’d heard this before. I just nodded.
Bonnie slapped my statement down on the desk, stood up, and began pacing. She got to one end of the room, and then came back until she was standing just in front of me. “Emily, do you know why I keep going over this with you?”
I shook my head. I was still tired. Being tired just wasn’t going to go away.
“Because it’s a load of crap. It’s not true and you and I both know it.”
Yeah, I knew it, even though my head felt fuzzy. I took refuge in numbers. “Hannah Wyatt and Alex Bancroft both back me up.” You’ll notice I didn’t mention Jezebel. Jezebel had been whisked from the scene before anyone else was called in. Our statements didn’t mention Jezebel, either. And Jezebel was in no condition to contradict us.
Bonnie wasn’t buying it. “And they’re lying, too.” She walked back around her desk, sat down, and leaned forward. “Look, Emily, I don’t know why you three are lying about this. I can guess, and you’re not at the center of those guesses, either. But so long as you three stick to your statements, I can’t do anything about it.” She paused, leaned back, closed her eyes. In a tired voice, she said, “So will you please tell me what really happened?”
My brain might be fried, but my empathy was still working. At the moment, this was not a good thing. I could feel the sorrow, confusion, grief, and frustration coming off Bonnie. And I knew I could tell her the truth and dispel some of that. I was tempted, but I thought about would happen to Bonnie if I did, so all I said was, “It’s in my statement.”
“Fine.” Bonnie opened her eyes and sat up again, and there was a new hardness in her eyes and anger in her heart. “Officially, the Nash case will be closed. As of now, your appointment to the Quasopon police force is no longer necessary or desired, and you will surrender your badge.”
I got it out of my wallet and placed it on Bonnie’s desk.
Bonnie reached for it. But before she took it, she said, “I trusted you with this badge, Emily. Do I deserve this? Lying to me?”
I could hear the feelings of hurt and betrayal in her voice. I could feel her pain, too. I was too weak to barricade myself against any of it. And in the end, I didn’t deserve to spare myself. Because, Bonnie, you do deserve this. And that’s why I can’t tell you the truth. Because I’m your friend.
Bonnie waited, and with every moment more of her grief was changing into anger against me. Finally, she took the badge, and in a strained voice told me, “Fine. I presume your investigation is also concluded and that you will be leaving Quasopon shortly. I won’t hold it against you if you stay for a few days to talk with your family. But I want you out of this town, and soon. And don’t ever come back.”
It was a dismissal. Oh, not just a procedural dismissal. Bonnie was washing her hands of our friendship. From now on, I was nothing to her. Less than nothing, really: I had betrayed her. At least she now thought so. And I had to live with that.
I could say it was all Alex’s fault, but that would be adding another lie to the pile. In truth, I agreed to his proposal. Though not at once.
After Ethan’s suicide, Alex had taken Hannah aside and they’d gone out of the room for a few minutes. This was so unexpected I didn’t even wonder why at first. I was just relieved that I wasn’t going to be killed. But then Hannah came back and took Jezebel away, while Alex began untying the ropes holding my legs. It wasn’t until Hannah left that Alex rounded up another chair and sat in front of me. You’ll note he hadn’t untied my hands at that point. I was his captive audience, and he wanted that clear, I’m sure.
“Hannah and I have been talking things over,” Alex said, “and we’ve agreed to a few small alterations to the story of what happened here.” Since he didn’t actually know all of what happened here, I was bewildered. And then he reeled off the story he wanted me to tell. Among other things, as he pointed out, by making Susan the sole killer, it would be a politically easier story to sell. The Children would accept it for that very reason.
I had the extreme satisfaction of telling Alex that no, that I would not subscribe to his false account, period, no matter whose lives it made easier. That satisfaction lasted maybe thirty seconds. And then Alex asked, “Are you willing to see Jezebel blamed for Jim Abbott’s death?”
I shot back, “How do you know who killed Jim? You weren’t even here yet.”
Alex didn’t smile. “Remember, Emily, I can see someone’s past as well as their future. I know Jezebel killed Jim Abbott, and I know that Susan made her do it. But how is anyone going to convince a court of that?”
I said nothing.
And then Alex delivered the coup de grâce. “And are you also going to tell Bonnie that Ethan’s love for her was all a lie, something Susan put him up to doing? My way, Ethan redeems himself at the end. He’s even a hero. Your way, he’s his sister’s lover and puppet, and Bonnie’s a fool as well as a widow. To say nothing of Ethan and Bonnie’s children.”
Damn Alex, but he was right. And so, after much hemming and hawing and with ill grace, I agreed. Alex and Hannah tampered with the evidence and the bodies were buried before Bonnie could ever see them. Except for Ethan’s. Painful though it was going to be, we were going to have to let Bonnie see her dead husband. The best we could do for her was to make it out that he was a hero of sorts. As it turned out, that wasn’t enough for Bonnie.
Bonnie didn’t even offer me a lift to the Children’s lands, so I walked back. I couldn’t concentrate enough to deal with the secret paths, so I walked all the way to Center Village and then to Milltown. Nobody bothered me. They stared and whispered to each other, but they left me alone. I gathered word of what had happened was spreading among the Children. I didn’t bother spending much time wondering exactly what version of the events they were hearing.
I got home to the Burns Cottage and walked in. Tanya came out from the kitchen, saw me, and gasped before saying, “No one said you’d been hurt. What happened?”
Drugs and fatigue made me stupid. I sourly replied, “This is what happens when you hit me on the side of the head with a frying pan.”
Tanya looked completely baffled. Wouldn’t you know, my brain woke up right then. With so little to go on, I figured out that whatever Susan Knowles had done to her meant that she didn’t remember hitting me. And then I went back to being stupid. I reached into her mind and removed Susan’s influence.
It was stupid, it really was. I hadn’t thought it through. Tanya stared at me. And then she clutched at her chest and bent over, laboring for breath. I stood there, way too out of it to realize what I’d done. It wasn’t until she fell down on the floor and began moaning that I finally did something. I knelt down and tried to help. “Tanya,” I said as I laid hands on her, “what’s the matter?” Eloquence was not at my command just then.
Tanya reacted to my touch like an electric shock. She pulled away from me and stared at me, glassy-eyed. She was paler than I’d ever seen her and hyperventilating as well.
I’d realized that I had made a serious mistake, and shook my head to wake myself up and concentrate. Point one: Tanya was suffering some sort of severe emotional shock, at the very least. Point two: I was an empath. Conclusion: I should look into her mind. It was painful. Tanya was feeling a combination of intense self-loathing and fear. For hitting me when she wasn’t in control of herself? It didn’t make sense.
I squatted there, looking at Tanya in disbelief, as she edged closer and closer to a hysterical fit. Or maybe passing out, the way she was going. And then it finally came to my why she was reacting so severely. I was the Prophesied One. I was the Prophesied One, and she had raised a hand against me. I’d never really thought about the religious implications of my alleged position, but here they were: Tanya had engaged in sacrilege, and she knew it, and was horrified by it.
I was ready to collapse, but I needed to help Tanya first. I plunked down on the floor and tried to think what an agent of the Divine would say in this situation. Because that’s what I was: I was no Instrument, but my mission came from the Divine. At least Hannah had once said so, and for the moment, that was good enough. Well, an agent of the Divine wasn’t going to make polite suggestions. Agents of the Divine gave orders, and that’s what I had to do. In my most authoritative voice, I announced, “Tanya Thompson, the Divine commands you to listen to me. I need food and sleep to recover from my injuries. Serving me in this takes precedence over worrying about your own misdeeds. We will discuss what offenses you have committed and whatever punishment you deserve at a later time when I am feeling better. Until then, you are forbidden to worry about your past misdeeds. Now do as you have been instructed.”
I hated acting as I really were the Prophesied One, but it worked. Tanya was riveted to what I was saying as soon as I started speaking. She took only a moment to collect herself, and then set to work preparing a large lunch for me. Oh, she was still horrified at herself, and worried about how she would be punished, but she tried to obey my orders and suppressed her fears as much as she could. She was still feeling so miserable I was almost tempted to go in and alter her mind to alleviate her anxieties. But after seeing what Susan had done with her abilities, I was in no mood to engage in casual tampering with the minds of others, no matter how good the reasons. I’d finish dealing with Tanya when I was feeling better.
I woke up around six, to find Tanya sitting in my room reading to herself. When she realized I was awake, she told me Sonia had come by to visit, and had scolded her for not attending to me properly. So Tanya had come up here to watch over me. Naturally, Sonia’s scolding hadn’t made Tanya feel any better. I sent her down to make me dinner, and decided I was going to talk her out of feeling guilty for what Susan Knowles had made her do.
I learned a lesson there at dinner, which was that Stacia was indeed a smart woman when she was in her right mind. She’d told me I didn’t really understand the Children’s faith, and I proved it in my discussion with Tanya.
First off, it turned out that bashing me with a frying pan was not Tanya’s only crime. She had also lured Jezebel away from Lakeside to deliver her into Susan’s abusive control. How had she done this? She had told Jezebel that I was in love with her and wanted to see her. So I had two crimes to forgive. And I myself could not pardon Tanya for what she’d done to Jezebel.
Where I really went astray was in accepting Tanya’s belief that Susan had to have been possessed by a demon. I thought it would explain how Susan was able to manipulate Tanya against her will, and let Tanya off the hook. Hah! There is no theory of innocent demonic possession among the Children. According to their theology, demons could only influence you if you wanted to worship them and be possessed by them. So now Tanya was convinced that, deep in her heart, she really wanted to be a demonolater. I got her to admit that she sincerely didn’t want to be a demonolater, was even repulsed by the idea. But when theology stated that she must want to be a demonolater, evidence to the contrary was worthless.
After arguing about this for a while, I gave up in frustration. And then I had an idea. I told Tanya she should go talk to Hannah about this. Hannah knew what Susan was; at least she must after last night. How she would explain this to Tanya, I didn’t know, but I knew that Tanya could not argue with an Instrument of the Divine. Tanya refused to go, saying that I needed her here. So I told her I was going out to see Sonia, and therefore this would be the best time for her to go see Hannah. I even helped her clean up the dishes, over her protests, to get her out the door faster.
As I walked to Sonia’s I freely cursed Susan Knowles under my breath and wished her deep in one of the Children’s less pleasant hells. (Yes, there is more than one of them. The descriptions of the worse ones read like an early exercise in torture porn.) Besides herself, three people had died in her little conspiracy. I’d had my head bashed in. Jezebel was an emotional wreck again. And Tanya was struggling under a load of guilt that didn’t belong to her. Oh, and I was just heading off to see a half-sister who had been badly beaten by a mob, and another who was in as bad shape as Jezebel.
But the nightmare was over. Now all that had to be done was the healing.
I was half-right.
End of chapter thirty-eight