Chapter 42

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Before Zandra can crumple Dvorak's latest taunt into a ball of disgust, she smells something like rotting trash. Then comes a hand on her shoulder. She turns, ready to invert a face with her fist, but stops.

Herman.

He doesn't bother with pleasantries. The look on his face shows why.

"The timber company moved up the timeline," Herman says without a hint of life in his voice. "I left earlier tonight to look in the ditches for a new pair of shoes. When I came back it was gone."

"What was gone?" Zandra says. She opens the door to Sneak Peek and lets him inside. Better not to talk on the street.

"All of it. My home," Herman says with a tear in eye after shuffling inside. "They lit the place up with these big floodlights so they could work through the night. Bulldozers shoved everything into a pile. Then they loaded it into a truck. It's county land. I had a right to be there."

I don't know about that. You created a Superfund site one shopping cart of garbage at a time.

"Very sorry to hear that," Zandra says and unfolds Dvorak's message onto her oak desk. She was wrong to crumple it up. "I promised you earlier I'd talk to my producer to see about getting you on the news to make your case. It could still work out."

In other words, Herman, I hope you didn't come here expecting a warm bed and room service. You stink.

"I was hoping I could maybe stay with you since it's...," Herman starts to say.

Zandra cuts him off. She says, "It's all my fault? That I somehow am responsible for all your problems?"

"Well, yes," Herman says. "All my work is gone. My knives. My records of my discoveries. My truck. My home, Zandra. It all went under the bulldozers. I've got the clothes on my back, and that's it."

Zandra grinds a fist into the crumpled paper.

"What are you doing to that paper?" Herman says.

"Smoothing it out. What does it look like I'm doing?" Zandra says. She doesn't hold back on Herman. She would've tossed a grenade at anyone in her current state. He just happened to be there to catch her shrapnel. "Aren't you the one who had so much to say about thoughts controlling reality? A lot of good that did you. Maybe you should've made another knife to get you further upstream, as you like to say, or cast another sigil. Such bullshit."

Now Herman's face comes back to life, but it's only to shed a few tears into the scattered debris clinging to his beard like plastic lice.

"You know what, Zandra? You don't sound like a psychic at all," he says. "And I'm starting to think you weren't going to help me with that eviction after all."

No shit, Sherlock.

"Get in line. Are we done here?" Zandra says.

"Not yet," Herman says.

"I can't take on another problem, Herman, I really can't," Zandra says. "There is a Salvation Army shelter a couple blocks from here. You're a squatter, Herman. That you lay your Grizzly Adams impression down on a pillow at my condo instead of a purse filled with old socks doesn't change that fact. You're a liability. I don't want to spend what little time I have fumigating my condo for bedbugs. Maybe once everything settles down a bit we can talk about you paying rent. Until then, I've got a life to preserve, mainly my own."

Herman shakes his head. "You don't understand."

I don't have time for his esoteric nonsense. The showdown is in three days. I need to figure out what the hell is going on in Dvorak's house.

"I think I do. Good night, Herman," Zandra says and points to the door.

Herman takes a step toward the exit but stops. He says, "I tried to stop the bulldozers by throwing myself in front of them. They would've killed me if I didn't move. The foreman grabbed my ankles and pulled me into a clearing. Then he said something you might find interesting."

Zandra reminds Herman of the door's direction.

"He said, 'Gene Carey has a timeline he needs to keep,'" Herman says.

Hold on.

Zandra drops her finger to her side. "What?"

"Gene Carey owns the timber company," Herman says. "He must've told the county he was ready to move in earlier than expected."

How am I not surprised?

"What does that mean?" Zandra says.

"It could mean something or it could mean nothing, but it's certainly odd," Herman says.

These types of fuzzy connections are what keep conspiracy theorists, and frauds passing themselves off as psychics, in business. There's no good reason for Gene to give a damn about Herman. Maybe it was a coincidence. On the other hand, it's Gene.

"You think he's trying to run you out?" Zandra says.

"It's either that or worse, but I don't want to find out," Herman says. "I can't go to a shelter, Zandra."

He's got a point. And if Gene really is up to something, keeping Herman close by might draw him into the open.

"Come upstairs with me. You're taking a shower, though. I've got a bath robe that might fit you," Zandra says. She glances at the clock. It's almost 7 a.m. "I'm closing Sneak Peek for the day anyway. I need to get with Chris, my producer, and see what his little recon mission turned up."

"You expect me to walk around in a bath robe?" Herman says.

Zandra hacks into her sleeve. She could use a cigarette, but there's no time.

"Herman, you've worn a glorified trash bag ever since you stepped down as a county prosecutor. You'll look downright respectable in a bath robe that barely covers your knees," Zandra says.

Herman smiles. "I like this version of Zandra better."

"Don't get used to it," she says as they head up to her condo above Sneak Peek. 

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