Chapter 27

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The duct tape tears away from Zandra's face, leaving her to wonder if it took an eyelid with it. No sense in keeping things a secret now that she knows Dvorak's identity. After her eyes adjust to the light, Zandra's picture of him fills in the blanks.

He's changed since Target, having shaved his head bald and done away with any facial hair. He's dressed all in black, form-fitting clothes practically vacuumed to his lanky frame. They turn his already chalky, pale skin an even more pronounced shade of dirty, dog-pissed snow. The gums of his teeth are the only indication his sack of a body contains any blood at all, while his gummy blue eyes provide the lone vestige of grace in his appearance. Otherwise, it looks like he was conceived, born and raised in this very basement.

"Do you see my mother in my eyes?" Dvorak says, stooping down so Zandra can get a good look at them.

"What kind of question is that?" she says.

"I thought it might jog your memory. We've met many years before, in a way, when I was just 23 random chromosomes inside my mother," Dvorak says. He straightens. Looks down at Zandra, helpless in the chair. "It's probably easier for you to not remember your clients. Might keep you up at night."

He's never been to Sneak Peek. I'd remember a face like that, because I'd probably find it stuck in a mousetrap. What a creature.

Zandra grunts in response, shaking her head slightly from side to side.

"That's what I thought. People like you don't care about anything other than money," Dvorak says. He glides the flat of the lawnmower blade across Zandra's shoulders, down her chest and up her arms as he talks. "Let me tell you a story Zandra. It's about a woman who sought the advice of a psychic about a year or so before I was born. Seems she was torn between two suitors. Being the superstitious type, a relapsed Catholic, she put a lot of stock into what the occult could do for her.

"One suitor, coming from a privileged background, was set up for a lifetime of success. Good schooling. Strong business connections. A real go-getter. But he was as interesting on a personal level as a wet sock.

"The other, a man who never finished high school, could find a good time no matter where he went. Always the life of the party. Making friends everywhere he went. Never had a problem he couldn't solve without a phone call or a quick visit. People adored him. But, he was heavily in debt and not interested in anything but a low-skill job.

"This woman fell madly in love with both of them, but it eventually came time to pick one. She left it in fate's hands with that visit to a psychic. Is any of this sounding familiar?"

Zandra hosted clients at Sneak Peek for almost a quarter-century. Dvorak's story could've described any of 100 clients with the same story. It's not uncommon for clients to break a tie with a visit to her. It's more exciting than flipping a coin.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Zandra says, slurping the bloody drool pooling in her jaw.

Dvorak taps Zandra on the crown of her head with the lawnmower knife. "Then maybe this will jog your memory. Does the name Sharon Gates mean anything to you?"

It does, although it's a name Zandra hasn't heard of in a long time. Made the news across Wisconsin shortly after Zandra started Sneak Peek about 25 years ago. A local business in Stevens Point reported a suspicious car parked in its lot to police. Seems it'd been running for several hours in place with the driver apparently asleep at the wheel.

The police, rightfully so, figured it was a drunk driver who had pulled over to sleep. It's not an uncommon sight in a state with one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the country, although it's still illegal.

Except what the police found wasn't a drunk driver. It was a dead one. Her name was Sharon Gates, and she'd been strangled to death. The intimacy of the homicide suggested the driver knew the perpetrator, who detectives later found to be her husband. Make that ex-husband. He spent only 11 days in prison before hanging himself to death in his cell, perverting any sense of justice for Ms. Gates.

Zandra can guess where Dvorak is going with this.

"Sharon Gates, briefly, was my mother. She married the asshole who was my father based on your bullshit psychic reading," Dvorak says. "Bloodsuckers like you only think of money, so you told her to go with the man with the better financial future. Turns out he had a personality after all. A very bad personality. Am I making sense now?"

If I still had my files, I could look this up, see if he's full of shit. But those are off somewhere with Gene, probably locked up in a vault the size of my condo. I'll get them back some time, but first there's this asshole.

Zandra coughs on her own blood. "I've seen a lot of people in my time. Whether Sharon Gates, your mother, was a client, I couldn't say."

Dvorak grimaces. "I thought you might say that. But I know something you don't."

"And what's that?" Zandra says.

Dvorak rests the gnarled tip of the lawnmower knife on Zandra's thigh. He gives it a twirl, allowing it to drill through the first fibers of Zandra's purple gown.

"I have your files," he says.

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