On the top floor of Building Z, from a wheeled bed with a pile of pillows propping her up, Julia watched through one eye while her father spoke to one of his many assistants on his cell phone. Jack sat on the bed with her, and together they had a whole pair of angry eyes pointed at her father. His own afghan hound curled in a corner, looking like a round ottoman with long, black hair. He swore and turned to her. “Hey, sweetheart, do you know the name of that girl at the hospital? The one with the one-eyed, three-legged dog?”
Julia and Jack continued to glare, and Daddy shrugged. “Never mind.” He switched to another line. “Hey, find somebody at Romero High School with a one-eyed, three-legged dog.” A couple seconds pause. “Aha, thanks.” He switched back.
Daddy continued. “That’s Estacia Isabella Torres. Scholarship student at Romero High. If she wants a story, bring her here. Don’t threaten her. Convince her.
“This is Last Honor, Jeff.” Daddy glanced at a pair of crossed samurai swords hanging on the wall. ”Everything’s going to change one way or another.”
He continued. “Good. Delay her a bit. I’ll reach out after my son shows up.”
Baffled, Julia, reached a shaking hand out to Jack. One eye gazed back at her with devotion, the other remained fixed in Keith Sable’s direction. Why had Daddy dragged her bed up here? Why was Keith Jr. coming to join them? Why was Stacy here? “What is going on, Daddy!?” she demanded, “why is Jeff hunting Stacy?”
“Everything’s under control, honey. Your friend is fine.” He glanced around her face, never looking straight at her. “Why do you always look so angry? Do you have any idea how much I’ve done for you? How much I sacrifice every day for our family? If you knew, you wouldn’t…” He trailed off.
Daddy shook his head, a brief, spastic tremor, and made no answer. Julia rolled the eye that wasn’t covered in gauze and returned to silence.
The silence drew on until the door creaked open. From where he stood, Daddy would be blocked from the vision of anyone opening it. The younger, meaner, Keith Sable stepped through, wearing black gloves like Jeff’s. “Hi Julia.” He had a strange look on his face. He pressed his lips together and sneered as usual, but there was a trepidation about him as he crept forward. Julia pushed herself an inch away and Jack jumped off the bed to stand between them. Junior’s dog advanced to place himself between Junior and Jack as the former reached to close the door behind him. Then he saw Daddy and his face dropped.
Daddy leveled a disapproving look. “Hand it over, Son.”
Junior scowled. “Hand what over?”
“The shot,” said Daddy. Julia’s good eye flew open. “I forbid you to kill my daughter.” Cold terror replaced Julia’s smoldering indignance, and she looked between Daddy and Junior. If she’d had to name the man who would eventually murder her, she would dismiss neither out of hand.
Junior glowered as Daddy stepped forward and extended his open palm. The two stared each other down, and Junior finally looked away. He placed a tiny syringe into his father’s hand.
The father accepted the syringe and slipped it into the pocket of his coat. “It’s wonderful that you want to help the family, but this isn’t the way to do it. Now sit down.”
Keith Hunter Sable IV took a seat in a folding chair, furrowing his brow at the katanas hanging from the cinderblock wall. Julia didn’t know whether to be comforted or more anxious to see that he understood what was going on as little as she did. She spoke haltingly, her voice wavering. “Hey, stupid, nice murder attempt.” It wasn’t her best insult. She blamed her nerves. It felt good to hurl her invectives directly at her oppressor’s faces, though. It was her old standby when everything else was out of control. Now her brother rolled his eyes.
Julia turned back to Daddy, a new urgency in her voice, “Daddy! What’s going on?”
But Daddy put up a finger as he dialed his phone once more. “We’re ready for Stacy. She still has her phone? Good.”
Daddy took his seat and put his hands in his lap. He closed his eyes and took deep, rhythmic breaths as Julia and Junior both stared in confoundment.
“Dad,” Junior started, but without opening his eyes, Daddy raised a hand.
“We are waiting for Jeff and the reporter.”
Junior pleaded. “Dad, whatever you’re doing, don’t. Think of the company. Think of all the decades that have passed. Everything we’ve survived together. Think of the family.”
Even Julia knew that when Sables talked, family was code for money. A frown crossed Daddy’s face, and she froze. Even as a small child, she knew there were secret dealings to which she was not privy. Since Mother passed, she had no one who understood her. The boys didn’t even want her around. Doors had always shut and conversations stopped when she arrived. Yet now something had changed. It had something to do with her and whether she lived or died. But what? What was special about her? Was it that she was a zombie? That she’d made friends with zombies?
Junior saw an opening and took it. “Pop-pop always said you were soft. You didn’t have what it takes to keep the family going.”
Daddy said nothing, his frown deepening. His hound straightened and limped over. She pressed her head against his hand and he drew it languidly across her long fur.
Junior kept stabbing. “Now he’s gone and you know what needs to be done and you won’t do it. I’m picking up the slack.”
Daddy ignored Junior, who lit into him. “You could have had Ethan executed, but you insisted that they screw it up. Did you think he would forgive you? No, he started writing about us. Then I tried to finish the job and he got away and sent that reporter girl into our company to take us down.”
Daddy drew in a deep breath.
“Dad, it’s crumbling. It’s all crumbling around us because… Because you’re WEAK!” Junior’s frustration caught fire and he screamed at his dad. “You’re weak! WEAK! I hate you!”
“Fucking idiot! Say something!”
A thin smile played across Daddy’s lips and he opened his eyes. “The press has arrived.”
All eyes went to the door, and it swung open. Jeff stepped in, followed by none other than Stacy Torres and her three-legged dog.
Daddy spoke. “Estacia, you did it. You caught the monstrous Sable family. We are at your mercy.”
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