After everything you went through… you took the money.
“Jonathan? Are you all right?”
Samantha Knox is looking down at her boy, her face silhouetted by the light shining in from the hall behind her. Only the whites of her eyes are visible to Jonny’s sleepy eyes; in them he sees concern aimed towards him like a loaded weapon.
“Yeah Mom, I’m okay.”
“Are you sure, son?” She places the back of her hand gently against his forehead. “Why’d you close your eyes like that? I was in the middle of talking to you.”
“I don’ow,” Jonny shrugs, although he secretly does know. His parents got a new police cruiser in today, just a few minutes ago in fact. He tried to get them to let him take a peek at it before they tucked him in, maybe snoop around under the hood a little bit too, but the elder Knoxs outright refused.
“Are you sure it doesn’t have something to do with the new police cruiser?” suggests Mom in a suggestive tone.
“I don’ooooow,” Jonny says, a confession if ever there was one.
Mom smiles at him, then, “Tell you what: if you’re a good boy tonight and you stay in bed long enough to fall asleep, maybe Dad and I will give you a little tour of the car tomorrow after you get home from school.”
“Really?!” Jonny says, administering a dose of the ‘nip to that frantic feline a’prowl in the back of his mind. “I promise, I promise!”
“Okay Jonny, all right.” She leans down and kisses his forehead. “All night, you promise?”
“No sneaking down into the kitchen like a dirty little eavesdropper?”
Zero hesitation, just like every other night. “I promise, Mom!”
“Good,” Mom says pertly. She rises from the bed and leaves Jonathan to his room with the keys to the car clutched tightly in his hand. Jonny Knox is going for a little drive tonight, and whether he gets to his destination or crashes along the way is entirely up to him.
The police cruiser his parents were working on in their garage that night in March was the first of many, just as they assured young Jonny. Each week, always at night and just before Jonny’s bedtime, an officer or two would show up at the house and exchange their current cruiser, which always had some sort of work that needed to be done, with the fixed one boarding in the garage. Ever since that night Jonny climbed the front of the cruiser and stuck his head precariously beneath the open hood (like a magician will stick his head between the jaws of a lion, his Mom thought) his parents have been especially strict about Jonny not setting foot in the garage, and he has heeded their warnings. Not once has Jonny snuck out of bed and trespassed in their automotive workshop during the night when he should be sleeping, nor has he attempted the daring feat during the daytime, as doing so would require the prowess of the likes of Houdini. The promise he made to Mom tonight is one he often makes and, to the knowledge of his loving parents, often keeps.
To the knowledge of his loving parents, that is.
The muffled wah’wah’wah of his parents chattering amongst themselves quiets to a lull with the closing of a certain inside garage door. Jonny sits bolt upright with a mischievous ear-to-ear grin on his face. He tosses his blanket aside, moves through the dark like a fireball in his red pajamas with white fire engines, and sumo walks down the stairs like a professional cat burglar, stepping deftly, not making a sound. Jonny’s had a lot of practice at this since that first night all those weeks ago – he’s only been caught a handful of times, and he’s determined to make sure this time isn’t one of those times.
At the bottom of the stairs Jonny stops, leans back against the archway going into the kitchen. He peeks around to check the waters and the coast is clear, not a patrolling parent in sight, just the dim orange nightlights lighting the room from their outlets sat low on the walls. Jonny proceeds into the kitchen, precisely following the same path he takes every night he sneaks down footstep for footstep, and climbs up onto the counter next to the sink. In the cupboards above this counter are the Knox family’s collection of drinking glasses; Jonny takes one, the same one he uses every night.
‘I’m a sneaky little eavesdropper,’ he thinks giddily to himself as he slides down off the counter. ‘I’m a secret double-agent, snoopin’ on the poopers.’
Jonny looks back and realizes he forgot to close the drink cupboard. Oh well, he’ll just have to close it on his way back to his room after he’s gotten his fill of listening in on what his parents are talking about in the garage when they think he’s asleep. This is Jonny’s new favorite pastime; he’s never been so interested in something in his whole life. During the day when his parents know he’s up and about, they are calm and mild humans. They don’t swear, they don’t tussle, they play it nice and easy for the most part. After Jonny’s gone up to bed, though – well, so long as they think Jonny’s gone up to bed – they turn into different human beings altogether, almost like alternate versions of the ones he knows as Mom and Dad. These alternate parents interest Jonny Knox to no end; he loves his normal Mom and Dad, but the folks boppin’ about in the garage are like their evil twins, and he just can’t get enough of listening in on them. On the nights he doesn’t sneak down Jonny thinks a lot about this, and he suspects his fascination with the sneaky eavesdropping is similar to their fascination with working on the cars; to see how it really works you’ve got to take a peek under the hood, you’ve got to listen to them talking from behind a closed door when their filters are off to see who they really are.
His eyes wide and body wiggling like a cat about to pounce, Jonny takes his instrument and puts it to the door. The bottom of the glass is cold against his ear, hot and flushed with blood, that ear, but it feels good, feels like balance, feels like he’s right where he’s supposed to be. Unable to help the big goofy smile on his face, Jonny closes his eyes and begins to listen.
“…ything looks okay on the outside. What’d they say was wrong with this rig?”
A paper flaps. “Came from the autoshop the Jockers hit–”
‘Ooooooo, the Knockin’ Jockers,’ Jonny thinks to the cat in his mind, which is currently pressed against the side of his brain cavity with its head stuffed into his ear canal. ‘They’re the bad guys, the police’s arch enemies.’
“–over on Columbia.”
“Fuckin’ assholes,” Mom’s evil twin says. “Who the hell thinks a street gang is a good idea in a little suburb like this? Folks are trying to raise kids here, for Christ’s sake.”
Jonny clamps his free hand to his mouth and titters.
“I know, it’s hot bullshit. Nothing we can do, though; listen, this is weird. The writeup says all of the shop’s equipment was sabotaged, all the windows were broken, and the office was raided. The whole place was trashed.”
“So?” asks his Other Mom. “How’s that different from any other hit? What, did they kill the mechanics, too?”
“Nah, happened at night. Nobody was workin’ at the time.”
“What’s weird then?”
“Well, you said it yourself, baby.” His Dad never calls his Mom baby, that’s an Other Dad Special. “The rig looks fine from the outside. Spotless, even, totally untouched. Usually when the Jockers hit the shops the cops use they bust up whatever cruisers are there, too. But they didn’t touch this one.”
There’s a silence from the garage. Both Jonny and the cat are on the tips of their toes.
“Huh,” Mom’s evil twin finally huh s. “That is weird.”
“Indeed,” agrees Other Dad. There’s a clack then, like a clipboard was tossed upon a workbench. “Seemed to be running fine when they brought it over, too.”
“Why’d they bring it, then?”
There’s a short silence during which Jonny assumes his Other Dad shrugs, then, “Guess they just like us.”
“If they liked us then they’d give us the week off. I like the extra income–”
“Especially the bonus hush money,” Other Dad cuts in.
“–but we’ve been out here all hours of the night lately. Every night,” Other Mom finishes.
“Yeah, I know. But they need us, babe.” Jonny hears what sounds like a smooch and hopes it was placed on a forehead, otherwise he might barf. “Imagine how bad shit would be around here if they didn’t have us to help out. The Jockers–”
“I know,” explains Other Mom. “I know. I’m just tired, is all.”
“I know, baby.” Another smooch, louder than the first one. ‘Gross,’ is Jonny’s opinion. “I am too. Why don’t we just pack it in early tonight?”
A bolt of panic shoots through Jonny’s legs.
“In a minute,” Other Mom says. “Let’s just finish the inspection so we know what we’re up against tomorrow.”
“You the boss,” says Other Dad. Jonny can’t help but agree. “Pop the hood, let’s see what’s lurkin’.”
One of the car’s doors open, followed by a thick chunk as the hood pops and catches on the latch. Excitement invaded and now occupies Jonny’s legs; if only he could be in the garage right now. He hears the click of the lat
The drinking glass shatters against the cold tile floor. Jonny stumbles backwards and trips over his own feet, falling down hard on his left side. The cat in his brain is spinning in mad circles like the Tasmanian Devil, but Jonny can’t hear it over the sudden ringing in his ears. He can’t hear much of anything over that ringing, it feels like someone clapped his head between their hands. His vision is blurry, too, but it clears itself up; Jonny can see dim orange light seeping in around the door, catching on the broken glass littering the tile floor.
“Mom?” he calls. His voice sounds muffled, like the cat spat hairballs into his ears. “Mom? Dad?”
No answer. Jonny tries to get up on his feet but his sense of balance is shot, he tumbles right back down and maybe makes a noise, he can’t tell. His ears are ringing too loud, so, so loud.
“Dad?” he calls again. No answer. He puts himself on his hands and knees and makes a shaky crawl towards the spilled shrapnel. “Are you guys okay? Hello?!”
‘Maybe I just can’t hear them,’ Jonny hopes. ‘Maybe they’re okay and nothing happened and God’s punishing me for being a dirty little eavesdropper.’
Jonny brushes the glass out of the way so he can get right up next to the door. He presses the side of his face against it – it’s warm, why does the door feel warm? – and tries to listen, but the ringing is still too loud. He can’t hear a thing. Slowly he rises up to his knees, totters a bit, then steadies and reaches a hand up to the doorknob just to immediately pull it away. Hot. Too hot, it’s May but it doesn’t get that hot at night, it doesn’t even get that hot during the day, something’s wrong, something’s wrong, something is wro
That’s when he hears the first scream. From behind him, he thinks, or maybe out on the street. Not from his parents. Suddenly the ringing in Jonny’s ears isn’t so bad, suddenly everything seems really far away, suddenly… suddenly Jonny is very sleepy, his eyes are trying to close, he’s off his knees and down on his butt and his back is rolling, he’s falling, he’s
“Ow!” Jonny cries when the back of his head hits the floor. He grunts as he chocks his forearms beneath him, then sniffs the air and makes a disgusted face. Smoke. His parents don’t smoke, especially not in the garage.
Something happened in the garage.
A dense lump appears in Jonny’s throat. He crawls backwards away from the inside garage door, the door seeming to glow with low orange light, the door with the metal knob that’s beginning to glow itself. The truth bites down on Jonny’s neck like an unpropped hood of a car.
“Mommy!” Jonny shouts out, throwing himself back towards the door. The ringing in his ears is starting to subside. “Mommy, Daddy! Come out! I snuck out of bed again, come tuck me back in!”
There’s no answer. A commotion is building outside the house. Jonny can hear blaring sirens approaching in the distance. They sound like fire engines, just like the ones on his pajamas.
“I’m a dirty little eavesdropper, Mommy! I’m sorry! ” He’s pounding on the door now, beating his fists against the warm wood as tears run in torrents down his red and miserable face. “Mommy! Daddy! Please come out of the garage!! ”
But there’s no answer, and the acrid smell of smoke is getting to be too much for young Jonny Knox. He steps back from the door, tears and snot dripping off his chin.
‘They got outside,’ Jonny thinks to himself, if only to calm the mental cat down. ‘That’s all, they got outside and they’re talking to the neighbors, that’s why they can’t hear me. They got outside, they knew I was listening to them because I’m a dirty little eavesdropper and they went outside and they’re waiting for me, it’s all go’n’a be a big surprise, it’s all go’n’a be okay, I’ll keep my promise and never sneak out of bed again and I’ll never be a dirty little eavesdropper again because they’re going to be okay and waiting outside and okay and everything’s go’n’a be okay and…’
This train of thought goes on and on as the frazzled cat continues to swing and bat at young Jonny’s brain. He wipes his face on his shirt, a lot of good that does, and runs slam-footingly to the front door with his hands held out in front of him and his mouth bent in what feels like a permanent upside-down grimace, wailing like all the sirens outside. When he comes to the front door it opens all on its own, bringing Jonny to a halt.
“Thank God,” the big man in fire gear says. He turns around and shouts, “The kid’s okay!” then turns back and grabs Jonny under the armpits, hauling him up to his shoulder.
“Where are my parents?” Jonny asks in weeps as the firefighter hustles him away from the house with a hand on the back of his head. “What’s going on, where are–”
But he knows where his parents are; even before the firefighter hauls him into the arms of the crowd, Jonny knows. The tears falling down his face catch the scarlet glow of the flames as they spread greedily through the Knox household. The cat in Jonny’s head has had just about enough; it bares its vicious claws and sinks them deeply into Jonny’s brain, reigning in the peaceful dark of sleep. The last thing he sees is an amorphous blob of terrified faces staring down at him below a smoky night sky.
Hello Commons, this has been the third subchapter of the fourth chapter of Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox, a novel about a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is the second book in the W-2222 series, a series of books which take place in Universe W-2222.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~