Chapter 14

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The advance from Zandra's book deal paid for the office room added onto Sneak Peek, occupying the secret space she hid in six months ago. It's furnished with everything an entrepreneur would need, except a draft of the manuscript outline she promised the publisher. The TV show, if picked up, will pay better.

"There's a problem," Fred says, setting a briefcase down on the desk as Zandra takes a seat across from him. She's hesitant to allow him a sneak peek, if you will, of her ledgers and official business, and is relieved to see she remembered to lock them in the filing cabinet. It was worth the risk to bring him in here, though. No sense in making her visits with the Stevens Point Police Department public.

"A big problem," Zandra says and rubs her temples. "You're taking up my smoke break."

"You can wait," Fred says, his voice lowering an octave. "This is serious."

"Then get on with it."

Fred opens the briefcase and withdraws two large photographs wrapped in cellophane. They're black-and-white and clearly enlarged. The photography is crisp nonetheless, and Zandra immediately recognizes herself in both shots.

"What the hell?" she says, raising the photos to her eyes. They depict her at the Sneak Peek mailbox, not 50 feet away from the office she sits in now. The fact someone is apparently stalking her isn't nearly as disturbing as what Zandra is doing in the photos.

"Mind telling me what you were doing with two severed fingers on two separate occasions?" Fred says. His tone offers no hint of sarcasm.

Zandra clears her throat. It's not enough to shake the gravel rattling in her chest. She lets loose a violent hack into her sleeve.

"And do you mind telling me where you got these photos?" she says. "You don't have to follow me around to get my picture. I'll sell you an autographed copy. I've got hundreds of them around here."

"Our anonymous online tip form received this earlier today," Fred says. "To be clear, you're not under arrest, and I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm following up about these photos. Nothing more."

"Yeah, yeah, I've been through this before. Remember? When I was framed?" Zandra says. "And you'll also recall how I've already told you about some creeper mailing me, shall we say, unusual things. You didn't take me seriously before. I take it you're here to apologize and tell me you're sticking an extra patrol outside."

Hopefully not. The last thing I need is bad press. Worked too hard to get to this point for some asshole to take it all away. What is it about people who can't stand it when someone else is successful? Shit like this is why they burned the Library of Alexandria. The great, unwashed masses at work again, validating their existence with destruction since they proved too inept at anything constructive.

"I'm short on extra officers right now. That's why I visited personally to ask you this," Fred says. He looks Zandra straight in the eyes. She cements his eyes in place with her full attention. "Zandra, is there any reason to believe there are human remains in your apartment?"

"Condo, captain. It's a condo," Zandra says, as if the steep rent warranted a change in vocabulary as well as address. "As far as what's inside my condo, that's my business."

"Would you mind if I took a look around upstairs?" Fred says.

Zandra takes a moment to collect her thoughts.

Whoever is playing this game wants me to get in trouble with the police, and is anticipating that I'll refuse a search. That means Fred will need a warrant. If he gets one, it'll be on public record, available for the media to pick up. Dvorak, as I'm coming to call him or her or they or it, will probably pick up the phone and start calling news outlets. Well, the buck stops here, asshole. I'm a psychic, remember?

"Suppose, captain, that I am theoretically in possession of severed fingers belonging to an unknown person. Suppose I brought them to you down at the police station. What would you do next?" Zandra says and leans back in her chair. Her pointed fingers form a triangle.

"I'd take a statement, then run the fingers to see if there's a match," Fred says.

"I see," Zandra says. "Tell you what. I'll meet you down at the station in 30 minutes. Will you be available?"

Fred gives a knowing nod. "I'll clear my schedule."

A little over half an hour later, Zandra stares at Fred in disbelief.

"It's not possible," she says, pacing his office at the police department.

"It's true. An exact match," Fred says.

"But I just saw her yesterday. I think I would've noticed if she only had eight fingers," Zandra says. "How could those fingers belong to Amanda Thompson?"

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