Chapter 41

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It takes Zandra longer to cross the street to the glass block window that it should. Her body won't hear of the contortions she's putting it through anymore. But she unfurls the knots in her muscles and trudges ahead all the same, confident she's not only headed in the right direction against Dvorak, but for her future career as well. It's what keeps her going. If not that, then what?

Despite the lights in the windows, the house is quiet. Not even the sound of snoring rattles its way through the crumbling siding as Zandra hunches down next to the glass block window. If there's anything that still works, it's Zandra's hearing.

Her lungs, on the other hand, riddled with the graffiti of decades' worth of cigarettes, aren't nearly as up to the job. She can't hold back the cough that starts as an itch and ends with a cannon shot of phlegm out of her throat. She muffles it with her sleeve, but it's too late. If anyone is awake inside, they heard her.

Make it quick.

Zandra peers into the glass block, but either by design or neglect, she can only see stationary blobs in the basement. On the plus side, anyone looking outside from within would only spot Zandra as a dark, purple blob herself, keeping her out of view. The only information Zandra can pull is that none of the blobs seems to be moving.

Until one of them does. There, in the extreme corner of Zandra's limited vision, something shifts from side to side. Zandra pulls back, rolling onto the patchy grass alongside the house.

A light flicks on somewhere in the basement, and the glow coming out through the glass block window becomes a little brighter. Even though Zandra can't see who or what turned on the light, she can feel someone staring in her direction. It's a literal feeling, a tingling in her back. And it tells her whoever is looking isn't a threat.

There's nothing paranormal about the effect, but it is unexplained. Zandra's heard that no less than the U.S. military trains its special operators to not look at an enemy's back when sneaking up from behind. The enemy might "feel" the gaze, despite not being to see anything. The mystery is in how that effect works and to what degree it can be relied upon in combat, but many of the more superstitious soldiers swear it's true. So do the millions of people who must experience the same phenomenon every day, albeit in more mundane situations.

The line between pedestrian psychology and the paranormal is perfect territory for Zandra to tread, and she doesn't fight the urge to lean down and place her hand on the window. There's an energy on the other side. It's palpable.

Right on cue, Zandra's hand is joined on the opposite side by another hand. Their palms meet in perfect alignment, and for a moment Zandra can almost feel their heat exchange through the glass. The light, able now to give Zandra a better look, shows how the hand reaches up to the window, as if its owner is either sitting or kneeling in the basement below.

Zandra thought it was the light bending in the blocks, but now she realizes there's something strange about the hand. It's in the fingers. Zandra sees a thumb, a pointer and a pinky, but that's it.

This hand is missing fingers.

The revelation seems to ignite a fire between their palms, and Zandra jerks her hand away.

This. Hand. Is. Missing. Fingers.

The lights in the basement abruptly switch off, the darkness swallowing up the three-fingered hand. That's when Zandra hears it. The coincidence is uncanny.

"Help me," a voice says from the other side of the glass blocks. It's quiet enough to get swallowed up in the random creaks and groans of an old house, but clear so that Zandra can't mistake it away.

"Help me," the voice says again, mimicking the two words Zandra heard upon waking a couple days earlier, which themselves drew their familiarity from the Soma Falls epiphany that put her on the map as a psychic.

The rational side of Zandra's already figured out how "help me" worked their way into her dreams. The subconscious mind is always churning despite what the upper layers of consciousness focus on. Bits of information get picked up and processed, showing up in unpredictable ways. Zandra probably heard this person say "help me" when she was tied up in Dvorak's basement. She just didn't realize it. Which means there's only one place this person could be: behind that curtain Dvorak went through to fetch the finger he later stuck in Zandra's ear.

Oh, no. No, no, no. He's not 3D-printing anything down there.

Zandra's emotional side, meanwhile, wants to kick in the glass block to see who's on the other side, but that will have to wait. Between this visit and Chris's surveillance, the latter of which apparently went home for the night some time ago, Zandra knows she's on the cusp of something. It's only a matter of time.

Unfortunately, time isn't in abundance for Zandra, as she discovers after she makes the long trek back to Sneak Peek. There's a note waiting for her in her mailbox, presumably delivered by a lackey other than Amanda. Dvorak's decided on a time, date and location for the showdown. He makes it clear in the typewritten letter that he contacted media and booked the venue well in advance.


And on you, too, Dvorak.

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