Chapter 8

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Something in the dark corner of her mind tells Zandra to check the mailbox one last time before turning in for the night. She unlocks the wide lid with a key and looks inside. The box is too deep to make out much at this time of night, so she reaches her hand inside and probes the bottom with her fingers.

The tip of her index finger brushes across something warm and damp, yet unforgiving to the touch. It almost feels like a long, circular piece of meat.

Please be nothing, please be nothing, please be nothing. I just want that bath and some rest.

She'll get no such luck. Her index and middle fingers clamp down on the object and dip it into the wash of light from a nearby street lamp.

No. It can't be.

In her hand, Zandra holds a severed finger. It's no Halloween prop this time. Not only that, it's a fresh severed finger. Blood from the gristly sponge at the point of dismemberment dabs red dots into her palm. She can feel the heat from the wound slide down her wrist.

Fighting back vomit, Zandra forces herself to take a closer look. In its grisly condition, it's hard to tell whether the finger is male or female, but the nail is painted with a purple polish that matches Zandra's gown. There's a length of string tied to the center knuckle that leads back into the mailbox. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she tugs the string toward her an inch at a time.

She hears a shout somewhere in the distance. It's probably the drinking crowd getting a head start on the bars downtown. But this is the in between time after the regular businesses close but before the bars roll out the drink specials. The streets are empty.

Was that an "I'm excited" shout? Or "please help me, I just lost a finger" shout?

Zandra stops with the string. She listens to the crackle of the spring warmth dissipating into the air. The pavement is still getting used to above freezing temperatures. She leans her ear into the gentle spring wind. It's faint, but she hears the shouting again.

It's not excitement. It's pain.

Part of Zandra wants to search out the source of the shouting, but she's not sure she wants to find it. Sort of like whatever is on the other end of this string. At least she has a path to follow.

Zandra licks her dry lips and gives the string a final tug. She expects another finger, but a notecard falls to the sidewalk instead. She brings it up to her face, not surprised to see typewritten block letters.

ITS GEHTING HARDER FORYOUR DAUGHTER TO TYPE.

The message bears all the hallmarks of her usual harasser. The misspelling of "getting" must be another result of a typo on the Dvorak-style key arrangement.

Zandra thinks back to her meeting with Fred at the police station.

Now is this worth investigating?

She flips the notecard over and finds another typewritten message.

DO I HAVE YOUR ATENTION NOW?

Zandra looks around. If this finger is fresh, someone might be watching her. She clears her throat and says, "You have my attention," then listens. Nothing.

OK, Dvorak, you don't have the balls to talk to me? How about you talk to my friends at the police station instead?

Zandra gathers the gruesome items and heads inside Sneak Peek. She goes for the phone to make a call, but stops. Something about calling the police doesn't feel right. Police means attention, and not the kind she usually craves. That could jeopardize her burgeoning TV career before it even begins.

On top of that, maybe calling the police is exactly what this person wants her to do. Zandra feels for the lawnmower knife up her sleeve. Maybe it's time to make a threat herself. Something to lure this troll out from under its bridge.

Zandra sits at her desk and thinks about the kind of message she wants to send. This person must be near enough to know when she's gone. She could set a note in the mailbox and wait to make an ambush, but it's unlikely she could pull that off without being spotted. Gone are the days when she could count on being ignored.

No, the better route is to make this person come out in the open. All it'll take is the right temptation. Something irresistible. Zandra stares at the pink shoe in thought. Then she has it.

After cleaning her hands with a bottle of sanitizer, Zandra scribbles a message on a piece of paper. She addresses it to "Dvorak," after the keyboard arrangement.

Dear Dvorak,

You have my attention. Come and get me.

Cheers,

Zandra

P.S. I don't have a daughter.

P.P.S. You type like a 5 year old.

Zandra slips the note into an oversized envelope, then seals it shut. She writes DVORAK in large letters on the front before wedging it on top of the mailbox outside. She listens for the shouting one last time. Nothing.

She checks the locks on the door and windows twice before heading to her condo above Sneak Peek. Sleep won't come easy, but it never does. It's not like she hasn't lived with the specter of Gene Carey for 25 years. Body parts in the mail don't seem so bad compared to him.

Zandra soaks in the tub and clears the chatter in her head. She lets her mind drift into that place between alertness and sleep, where her subconscious sometimes lets its cream rise to the surface. The brain is always working on answers. The hard part is listening for them.

But unlike the pink shoes and child abductors of six months ago, Zandra doesn't get any answers tonight. She's too tired from a long day of publicity and promotion. Her mental clarity quickly crosses the border into sleep.

If she dreamt about anything, it didn't last long. Zandra's awareness snaps back into focus with the feeling of a hand pressing her head down beneath the water of the tub.

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