Chapter 24

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Even as the rough hands return to Zandra's body and force her in the darkness onto a chair, she thinks not of the ways her imagination could multiply the fear of being in her situation. It turns instead to her budding TV show.

How am I going to look on camera with all these bruises? We're going to have to move back the shooting schedule so I can heal. Chris isn't going to be happy. Which means I'm not happy.

The pain from her fall doesn't register. Only her seething hatred for Dvorak can penetrate the dizziness and confusion still cascading through her skull.

No one takes this away from me.

"Herman," Zandra says, trying to call out again but choking on the words. Something is wrong with her throat. Could be from the hands using her neck like a leash to guide the rest of her onto the chair. They seem to know right where it is, even in the dark.

Maybe they've done this before.

Then come the restraints. Rope is apparently too cliché. They use duct tape instead, wrapping it over and over around her body until her arms and legs are cocooned into place.

"Not so fast with that light switch," Dvorak says to one of his stoner buddies. "The blindfold first."

With total disregard to however the tape might come off later, if it is at all, the hands work several revolutions of sticky strips around Zandra's head, covering her eyes.

"Now the lights, please," Dvorak says.

A reddish glow illuminates Zandra's view from behind the duct tape. She can't see directly through it by looking straight ahead, but her eyes can still detect blobs of motion. Something feels stuffed into her mouth, but upon inspection with her tongue, Zandra realizes it's swelling in her mouth. Makes it difficult to talk, so she doesn't. She uses the senses not covered in duct tape to catalog her surroundings. The temperature of the basement. The number of footsteps and who they belong to. The breathing patterns of the assholes who worked up a sweat hoisting her into the chair. The dimensions of the room based on the reverberations of their movements.

Down, but not out. You can't cover everything in duct tape.

"You disappoint me, Zandra," Dvorak says, his voice too self-assured to be a drug user.

He sells it but he doesn't dip into his own supply. He's smart. The others are lackeys, idiot cling-ons who want free dope in exchange for favors. By the sound of his voice, he's in his late 20s, early 30s. In good shape judging by his breathing, unlike the other wheezers. He wears boots in the house, but that's not why they're clean. It's because he wants to command respect. Boots up a person's height by a couple inches, and I bet he's not considered tall without them, since he's pacing the low-ceiling basement with ease. Authority. That's what he wants. I bet he gets it, too. No one's said a word to him. They just follow orders.

"And how do I do that, Dvorak?" Zandra says.

"You didn't find me sooner," Dvorak says. "That's why you're blindfolded. I want you to work for it when you find out who I am. Me just revealing myself to you isn't sporting."

Is that voice familiar?

"You're forgetting something," Zandra says. With the swelling in her mouth she sounds drunk. "I'm a psychic."

Dvorak chuckles. "Then why didn't you rush right on over in the first place?"

"Maybe I wanted to fuck with you."

"Maybe you did. But you're no psychic," Dvorak says.

Zandra spits onto the floor, aiming for where she figures his boot is a few feet away. It's a miss judging by the reaction. "Who says I'm not a psychic?"

"Anyone with a brain, of which I have quite an admirable specimen. Much better than most of the ignorant saps you milk for money like a TV preacher," Dvorak says. "Since we have nothing but time together, suppose we come up with a little test just for fun."

"Are you familiar with Zener cards?" Dvorak says.

"Of course," Zandra says. Developed in the early 20th Century to test extrasensory perception, Zener cards contain one of five basic symbols: circle, cross, waves, square or star. Their effectiveness in controlled ESP experiments is debatable, but that hasn't curtailed their popularity.

"When I saw you walk up the driveway, I grabbed the deck I keep handy, just in case you decided to make a formal appearance. It turned out my hunch was right. What do you know? I'm a psychic," Dvorak says and gives the deck a shuffle.

The joke's on you, Dvorak, if you're going where I think you are.

"Yes, your powers are very impressive. Must be why you're not working for the CIA right now," Zandra says, feeling the spit and blood from her mouth drool down her chin.

"Who says I'm not? I've got a license to kill, at least in here," Dvorak says and taps Zandra's forehead with the deck. "Let's see where you keep that third eye."

"Sorry, I left it at home today."

"Don't mock me, Zandra."

"No thank you."

Dvorak snorts. "You're really something else. Tell you what. I'm going to choose 10 random cards from this deck. You have to tell me the symbol of each. For every one you get wrong, I'll take a finger off your hand, since as you know they're in fashion. Thank your stars you only have 10 fingers. How's that sound, hmm? Good?"

"The pleasure is all mine," Zandra says.

"That's not the reaction I was expecting," Dvorak says and gives the deck another shuffle.

The joke's on you, Dvorak.

"I'm full of surprises," Zandra says. "Now get the knife and draw the card, fucker, I ain't got all day."

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