Chapter 39

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The swirl of shock and disappointment on Zandra's face matches Amanda's. The latter opens up the mailbox, attempting to retrieve whatever she placed inside it only a moment ago. Zandra raises a hand and shakes her head, but it's no use. Amanda pulls her hand out of the mailbox and raises a finger. Except it isn't hers.

She's been the one leaving fingers in the mailbox, fingers that match her own despite all 10 present on her hand. She's not only buying weed off of Dvorak. She's working with him. How could I have not caught that?

Amanda tries to say something, but the only words that squeak out with any coherence are "I" and "can't."

"Why?" Zandra says, out of breath despite the short journey from the oak desk.

Amanda slips the finger into the pocket of her hooded sweatshirt, then turns and sprints down the sidewalk. It takes a moment for Zandra to wipe the incredulous off her face and hustle it after her.

Downtown Stevens Point isn't that large, and Zandra only has a few blocks to work with before the sidewalk feeds into a neighborhood with few streetlights and many hiding places. And she's far from fit enough to catch up to Amanda, as it becomes clear after the first block. There's only one option: pick up a rock, hurl it in Amanda's direction and hope it connects.

Zandra may have missed Amanda's involvement with Dvorak, but she's a lot better with the rock. It's too dark to tell where it hits, but Zandra gets her confirmation with a weak, "Ow," and the sound of skidding shoes against the sidewalk. The blow doesn't take all of the fight out of Amanda, though. She staggers against the side of a building, half-jogging, half-feeling her way across the façade, struggling and failing to put more space between her and Zandra.

Much closer now, Zandra grabs another stray rock and takes aim. She doesn't need luck this time to send a fastball into Amanda's back. She's near enough to the point of impact that she can hear the thunk as the rock connects. It sends Amanda to the ground, her hands awkwardly trying to rub the pain away from an unreachable part of her back.

Zandra hacks into her sleeve and slows to a walk. She scoops up not a rock this time, but a loose chunk of concrete from the sidewalk, one of the lingering effects of the economic recession Stevens Point still hasn't completely recovered from.

Amanda scrambles to get to her feet, but between the pain and disorientation, her efforts turn into a crawl.

"You ready for another one?" Zandra says and plants a foot on Amanda's ankle.

Amanda wheezes in a cross between a bawl and a howl, her face flush and wet.

"I didn't hear you there," Zandra says.

A car drives by, sweeping its headlights across the pair. Zandra hides her face, but she's not concerned. She's patterned this car before. It's a cleaning crew finishing up at one of the downtown office buildings. Migrant workers. No questions, please.

"Please, I'm really hurt," Amanda says finally, her words coughing through the pain.

"No shit," Zandra says, her foot unmoved. "We need to talk."

"Let me go," Amanda says. She struggles to free her ankle, but it's no use.

Zandra juggles the concrete chunk in her hand. "Not until you tell me what you were doing in my mailbox."

Amanda props herself up by her elbow, the ambient light of downtown revealing her swollen face to Zandra.

I know the feeling.

"Don't you already know? You're the psychic, the tea leaf reader," Amanda says.

"Help me," Zandra says, recalling the words she etched into the mug at Amanda's apartment. "Those words mean something to you, don't they? I want to know what."

Amanda picks grit from the side of her face. "Look, Zandra, like, if I tell, something really bad will happen."

"Try me. I've had plenty bad happen to me," Zandra says.

"Not to you. To...," Amanda says, trailing off.

"I'm getting impatient, child, and I know all about bad ankles," Zandra says and places her full weight on Amanda's ankle. Something cracks, but it's nothing serious based on Amanda's reaction. Hopefully.

"Everything you need to know is in that basement," Amanda says. "Happy now? Now will you please let me go?"

Zandra releases her hold over Amanda's ankle, but she keeps the chunk of concrete. "You mean the one in Dvorak's, er, William's house?"

"Yeah," Amanda says and rubs her ankle back to life.

"Then that's where we're going," Zandra says. "Get up."

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