Chapter 21

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The plan isn't what makes Herman nervous. It's driving a beater pickup truck at night with one working headlight, a dented topper and expired tags. The truck starts, though, and that's all Zandra needs in this case. Stopping is another question. The brakes are somewhere between ornery and non-existent.

"I didn't collect this one," Herman says from behind the wheel. "Someone just pulled it into my place and left it."

"I wonder why," Zandra says, her hands holding the passenger door shut.

"Beats me. All a truck needs to do is go from point A to point B," Herman says and coughs as the fumes fill the cab. He rolls down the window, getting halfway before the knob breaks off.

Zandra knows no plan survives first contact. That's why she kept it simple. She and Herman will drive into town after dark. Zandra will give the dope house another visit, finding a less orthodox means of entry while Herman waits in the truck. If Zandra isn't out in five minutes, Herman is to come in and get her.

What could possibly go wrong?

"I'll find the Dvorak typewriter, then grab the fucker standing closest to it," Zandra says. "We lock him in the topper and bring him back to your place. Then the real fun starts."

"What if you grab the wrong person?" Herman says.

"Doesn't matter. If he isn't Dvorak, he'll know who is," Zandra says. "And what's he going to do even if we get it wrong? Go to the police? This is a dope house, for shit's sake."

"I don't know, Zandra. It seems like you're asking for trouble here. Why not get the police to do the dirty work?" Herman says over the rattle of the engine.

"All those years as a county prosecutor, you've still got a soft spot for law enforcement," Zandra says. "For starters, I don't want this blowing up into something larger if I can help it. Fred wants me to produce Amanda to prove the bit about her fingers still being intact. Fine, I'll get to that. He still doesn't think a crime's been committed. Best to keep it that way.

"Second, and I wouldn't expect you to understand this, Herman, but it's personal. I've worked too hard to get to this point only for some asshole to ruin it for me. Dvorak wants to get personal, I'll respond in kind. It's only fair."

It took more than work, though. It took losing my husband. My unborn child. My reputation. My shot at a normal life. It took my 20s. My 30s. Most of my 40s. Hell, it took losing my mind for a little while.

"What if you're wrong, though? What if this is all a coincidence and Dvorak is somewhere else?" Herman says.

"Remember who you're talking to, Herman," Zandra says. "As it stands, I'm the world's greatest psychic."

Herman grins. "You caught a glimpse again, didn't you?"

A "glimpse" is how Herman refers to what is "upstream." In his view, there is a world that precedes this one accessible only through the mind. It's everything behind the eyes. "Downstream" is everything in front of the eyes, and is a distorted version of the purity found upstream.

The incorruptible idea of a truck lives intangibly upstream. A physical version of that idea, such as the one Zandra and Herman sit in, exists downstream. Although the idea of a truck cannot be measured, it must exist somewhere in a reality equivalent to the one downstream, because without the idea of a truck there would no physical trucks at all. Human beings are the conduits through which the upstream and the downstream flow. If a person could find a way to turn their focus upstream, they'd have access to a world of indescribable extremes. Pure bliss. Pure horror. Pure love. Pure hate. All unadulterated by the filter that is the human experience and the laws of nature.

Or so Herman says. He claims to have glimpsed the world upstream one day out of the blue. He quit his job and turned to knifemaking to try to experience that moment all over again.

"No, Herman, I didn't glimpse upstream," Zandra says. She reaches for a cigarette out of her pocket but stops. It's too fumy for that. "You seem to think psychics have this extra ability. I say it's always been there, just as much a part of nature as earwax and the lunar cycle. It's a matter of finding it."

"Ah, I see. So you had a psychic vision about this place?" Herman says.

"More like animpression," Zandra says. She spots the house up ahead. "Which is what I'mgoing to leave with Dvorak. Pull over here."

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