Chapter 68

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"It'll just be a minute," Gene says as he steps into view, hollering at the police officers perched at the top of the basement stairs. They quickly picked their way into Dvorak's house in the moments since Zandra met It.

"Are you sure you don't want protection?" one of the officers says.

"I'll be quite alright," Gene says and pops a peppermint.

Lawnmower knife in hand, Zandra debates the consequences of planting the blade in Gene's chest, too. She's already up to her neck in shit.

Why not make it two for two tonight?

She glances at Amanda, who doesn't seem to recognize Gene. The two hold their ground as he approaches with his cocksure stride.

"How did I know I'd run into you eventually in all this?" Zandra says.

"You're a psychic, remember? Maybe you need some reminding after what William did to you back at the auditorium," Gene says with a smile.

"Yeah, well, my psychic powers tell me you're still a prick, Gene. How's that for accuracy?" Zandra says. She hears It shifting behind her, followed by a horrible smell.

Gene shakes his head and sucks hard on the peppermint. "I should've just killed you like I did your husband. It would've been less hassle. But I decided to take some mercy on you, Zandra, because I'm not as evil as you imagine. I let William take you down in a gentler, dignified way. Given your well-deserved celebrity for finding my daughter, I owed you that. Somehow, though, you managed to fuck that up, and here we are."

I knew Dvorak wasn't acting alone.

"How generous of you," Zandra says, squeezing the lawnmower knife hard. "I wouldn't call standing up for myself an act of fucking up."

Gene says, "You forget that I'm launching my campaign for governor. I'm cleaning up my loose ends. I took William under my tutelage after he approached me about investing in his Xerman business. I saw a lot of potential, and tasked him with taking you out, Zandra. I didn't anticipate him doing such a great job. The showdown concept was a good one, and I approved it myself, but William went above and beyond by antagonizing you past the breaking point. Now you're bloody and on the run from police. My hands, however, are clean. In politics, you always let someone else do the dirty work. It's called plausible deniability, and it's how you get to the governor's office in Madison."

Zandra scoffs and says, "You do realize William was a fraud, right?"

"Come now, Zandra. Do you take me for an idiot? Of course I knew there wasn't as much to William as he let on. But I saw him as an investment, someone I could use in the future while in office. He was a hatchet man, if you will," Gene says and crunches down on the peppermint.

Like attracts like. Gene is the granddaddy fraud, William was a psychotic fraud, Amanda is probably a fraud and I'm the queen of frauds. The only honest one in this basement is chained to the wall.

"You really think you'll get to Madison with what I told that audience about you? The die is cast, Gene. You and this town are finished," Zandra says. She notices the cell phone in Gene's hand and figures he's been in touch with police the entire time.

"You really think anyone is going to believe a word you say? It doesn't take a master detective to draw the connection between the body they pulled out of that green room, the blood on your clothes and the knife in your hand," Gene says. "Besides, the police operate on taxpayer dollars, which come from the employed citizens of Stevens Point. As the largest employer in this town, I trust the police will put their mouth where the money is, so to speak."

I hate admitting it, but he's right. That doesn't mean he's invincible, though.

"But the truth is on my side, Gene. You really want to drag all of this into a courtroom?" Zandra says.

"The truth?" Gene says and laughs before reminding the police officers to stay at the top of the stairs. "The truth is your burn out lawyer friend, Herman, isn't going to get out of jail any time soon. I had your files, all of your incriminating evidence, burned when the showdown started. Any TV or book deals you had are out of the question. Even your fans won't like you after they hear how you killed William. On top of that, I see your ankle is acting up again. You're shit out of options, Zandra.

"And that's to say nothing of what people in this town will do to you should you somehow avoid prison. You exposed them. You might think the truth will protect you, but you're underestimating the mob mentality. Instead of turning on themselves, they'll turn on you. They'll kill you. You're almost safer in prison."

"What the hell are you talking about? Of course they'll turn on these shitheads," Zandra says. "People will have to accept the truth."

"Maybe you should've added a little Rene Girard to the woo-woo books you sell in Sneak Peek. Ever heard of the Horrible Miracle of Apollonius? Or the anthropology of ritual sacrifice? After you introduce a contagion to a group of people, which is what you did back at that auditorium, they'll let off steam by creating a scapegoat. All it takes is for someone to cast that first stone, and you're dead. It's part of the human condition, and it's at the core of civilization. Whenever there's a problem, someone or something must be destroyed to restore peace. That Incan aclla, that child mummy, you remember from my house is a perfect example. That child was sacrificed to the Incan gods because there was a problem somewhere in that culture. You will be the aclla, Zandra. You really need to read more," Gene says.

Now you're sounding more like Herman.

"So you're telling me that I'm better off going to prison?" Zandra says.

"Exactly. For your well-being and mine," Gene says. "And, if you will, for the sake of civilized society. Vigilante justice is so barbaric."

"You know what, Gene? You're going to make one hell of a politician. You've got the fuzzy nonsense and the ridiculous justifications down pat," Zandra says.

Gene motions for the officers to come down. He says, "You may not see it now, Zandra, but this is the right thing to do."

I doubt that.

Zandra doesn't struggle against the officers because she can't. They plow her and Amanda onto the ground, piling on top while the handcuffs are secured and the lawnmower knife is kicked away.

Are you still there, David?

Nothing comes to Zandra's aid as she's hauled off to a waiting squad car. A crowd on the sidewalk watches and jeers. The officers usher them away after someone throws a beer bottle at Zandra's back.

Cowards. You should've aimed for my face. At least you'd be looking at me when you did it.

"Aren't you supposed to read me my rights?" Zandra says to the officer shoving her into the backseat of the squad car.

"Lady, you don't have any," the officer says.


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