Chapter 28

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The files.

They're not merely notebooks filled with 25 years of obsessive details penned by Zandra. They're the damning secrets the pages contain, milked from clients too willing to trust Stevens Point's least renowned resident. The irony was a result of pop culture conditioning, as people generally know how to react around a psychic. All Zandra had to do was invent a psychic persona and, despite her reputation around town, let the idiots hand her their money. For every scam artist, there is a sap finger painter.

It felt only fair to Zandra to keep excellent records of each client's most impressive detours from morality and social norms. Not her fault they're too stupid to know they're being grifted or that they live under the constant threat of blackmail the second they walk out of Sneak Peek. The more she put in the files, the closer she got to destroying Stevens Point. They were her brain trust, her secret weapon, her real sigil of protection.

Until that son of a bitch Gene Carey came back into her life. Zandra's reward for finding his missing daughter was for him to confiscate her files in exchange for her not outing him as the reason her husband, David, is dead.

For another day.

Right now she's more concerned with how her body feels like it could deflate beneath the restraints of the duct tape. Part of her is relieved that Gene is no longer squirreling them away in his mansion near Soma Falls Park. Makes her think Gene might walk out from behind the water heater and say something like, "I got tired of waiting, Zandra. I'm going to be the next governor of Wisconsin. It's time for you to go."

But he doesn't, of course. There's only Zandra, Dvorak, a pile of stoners and a boiler in desperate need of a tune up.

"What the hell are you doing with my files?" she says.

Dvorak smiles. "So they are yours."

Shit. I should've bluffed.

"Depends on where you got them. Could be fakes," Zandra says.

"Oh, I think they're the only real part about you, Zandra," Dvorak says, refusing the offer to light up from one of his comrades. The basement takes on the pungent musk of a wet skunk standing too close to a heater. "And just so you know, I got them from Gene Carey."

Work out a deal. Get those files back. Then Gene has nothing on me, I can go make my money and blackmail him for all he's worth once he's governor.

But Dvorak isn't interested in making a deal. Far from it.

Dvorak says, "My childhood, as you can imagine, didn't get better after my parents died. I bounced from relative to relative, finding purpose in the rewarding solitude of computers. Became quite good with them, in fact. So good that I got a job in IT at Gene Carey's insurance company here in Stevens Point.

"A couple months ago, he put out a call for someone to install a new central computer system in his house. Runs everything from the lights and the heat to the solar panels and the garage doors, all from one touchpad. It's quite impressive. I built the program from scratch.

"But when I say it controls everything, I do mean everything. That includes the electric locks of a certain vault behind a false wall. Would you care to guess what's inside?"

So I'm being blackmailed by my own blackmail. This must be a first.

"I don't know, Dvorak, the shred of reputation you have left after violating your employer's trust?" Zandra says. "You're quite a snooper."

"Funny you mention that. I thought the same thing about you," Dvorak says. "You've got a bestseller on your hands in those files. I couldn't stop reading once I found an entry about my mother, so I brought them home with me."

Zandra can't help but sympathize with Dvorak's lust for her demise. They share more in common than he realizes. But that's where the good feelings end. He's gone from being a prick in need of correcting to a loose end she can't afford. This is much more serious than him derailing her shot at TV stardom. This is her life's work being used as a weapon against her. After the TV show, what will he try to take next? Sneak Peek? Her condo? Hell, he's already got her lawnmower knife.

"You call this shithole home?" Zandra says. "I was hoping it was a rental."

"It's home alright. Marijuana pays better than my job. I need the extra cash for the tech I'm working on. I believe you're familiar with it," Dvorak says, sounding giddy.

"What do you mean?" Zandra says.

"The fingers," Dvorak says, looking as self-satisfied as a person can get outside of certain forms of gratification.

The fingers?

"Haven't you wondered how it is that your little buddy, Amanda, still has 10 fingers despite two of them having been mailed to you?" Dvorak says.

"Actually, yes," Zandra says, genuinely interested in what he has to say next.

Dvorak rubs his hands together. He lights a cigarette, a version more legal than the kind his companions puff and pass. "You might think me fucking with you has to do with my mother. You're only half right. The other half is a little more up your alley. Are you ready?"

"Ready for what?"

"For me to tell you," Dvorak says.

He's got a flair for the dramatic, although he's not good at it. He's like a kid who just found out how to swear.

Zandra nods to the duct tape keeping her in place. "Do I look like I'm going anywhere?"

Dvorak says, "I'm glad you're sitting down, because you're not going to believe what I've been up to."

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