Stacy had so many questions and no breath to ask them. She struggled to keep pace with Geoffrey as he leapt up an interminable switchback staircase. His retriever, who wore a collar emblazoned “Joffrey,” trotted casually alongside his master while Blas walk-hopped behind on his three legs, growling at Stacy if she so much as checked on him. Let no one say that Blas de Lezo ever slowed his pack down.
After a couple levels, windows appeared in the wall, looking out first at a parking lot, then over the little two-lane road that wound through Sable Engineering campus, then over the tops of the other glass-and-steel buildings and finally the vast forest all around. In the distance, Stacy saw Forsythe Summit and its own switchback path. She didn’t notice that the staircase had ended, and nearly ran into the trapdoor that led to the roof. That wrong turn cost her. Her guide was gone.
Stacy scrambled back down to the top floor landing and saw Blas staring at the door. She pushed it open to see a white room, with Geoffrey and his black lab beckoning them in.
The white room’s vaulted ceiling seemed to encompass another three stories. White walls and a white tiled floor extended to a width and length twice the size of Stacy’s entire house. At the center of one wall sat Julia in white gauze on a white bed, her skin even paler than usual, her wolfhound Jack sitting beside her. She stared at the other side of the room, where Keith Sable sat cross-legged on the floor in a white suit, one hand on the head of his old afghan hound, her long black hair a stark contrast. Beside them was the walls’ only adornment — a display of two crossed samurai swords.
Another man stood next to Julia in her bed. He looked just like Keith Sable, but younger and wearing black. His eyes shot from one person to the next, but rested on what was presumably his father when the man stood from his meditation.
“Estacia, you did it. You caught the monstrous Sable family. We are at your mercy.”
Stacy blinked and said nothing for a moment. “Stacy,” she said.
Keith Sr. smiled and he nodded. “Stacy. Please call me Keith. Do you want to list the many crimes of which we are guilty?”
Keith Jr. looked to Geoffrey and bit his lip, as if weighing whether to take action against his insane father. Geoff glared at him and shook his head, and Keith Jr. balled his hands into impotent fists. Julia sat on her bed in a trance.
Stacy didn’t answer Keith, and he nodded again. “That is fine. You do as you see fit. You have the upper hand.”
I do? Stacy didn’t see how she was even still alive, let alone how she had the upper hand in any way, shape or form.
Keith Sr. examined his son even as he continued to address Stacy. “It may be tempting to think that we can just kill you, but I know that you’ve uploaded the incriminating documents to a source that will release it immediately if he loses contact with you.”
I wish, Stacy nearly replied. Self-preservation kept the words from erupting out of her. Why was he saying this? She had done no such thing.
Keith Sr. continued to look at his son. “So we have established that more killing will not solve the problem.”
The room was silent, and Keith Sr. began to pace. “The Sables had no part in the first appearance of zombie lyme disease. However, my father saved our family’s fortune by pivoting our investments into zombie safety, caretaking, and management. Ever since, we have been complicit in manipulating public opinion to grow these markets, including sabotaging attempts to eliminate this horrible disease. Millions have died for our profit margin. Now you have proof enough, maybe not to put us in jail, but to hit our stock value so hard it may never recover.”
Keith Jr. shook his head, grinding his teeth. “Dad, shut up! What are you saying!?” He looked back at Stacy. “None of this is true.”
Julia broke her silence. “Junior, don’t interrupt him! What else have you been doing, Dad!?”
Stacy stood and watched, one hand on her dog Blas’s head. All of this was happening so easily, so quickly. For all his power and intelligence, Mr. Sable was defeated before she even walked in the door? Something wasn’t right.
Keith Sr. looked at his son once more. His cool was gone, and a look of disgust had overcome his features. “Your mother died for our profit margin, Junior.”
Julia gasped. “Mom!?”
“She died in a car crash,” Junior stammered. “She was a careless driver.”
“All true. Abigail was also threatening your grandfather. I made the mistake of telling her the truth and she didn’t take it well. First she just spent our money more and more extravagantly, doing things like dropping a hundred thousand dollars on some dog she hit with her car.” Keith Sr. gave Stacy and Blas a bemused grin and shook his head.
“When I was forced to put her on an allowance, she started blackmailing us. A hitman showed up and broke her dog Beatrice’s leg.” Keith Sr. kneeled and put his hand on the old hound’s head, “The poor girl hadn’t even gotten out of the hospital when Abigail resumed her threats. She was never one for half-measures, my Abby.” A smile flitted across Keith Sr.’s face and vanished just as quickly. “Neither was your Pop-pop.”
Junior looked like he would cry or be sick. “Beatrice tripped. You told me that, Dad.”
Julia cried out, “Pop-pop killed Mom?”
“I lied to you, Junior. Julia, sweetheart, I don’t have proof,” Keith Sr. admitted, “just solid motive. Be honest, son, that sounds like Pop-pop, doesn’t it?”
Julia shrieked from her bed, clutching Jack for dear life. “Pop-pop baked me cookies and bought me ice cream at the golf club!”
Junior shook his head, the tears welling in the corners of his eyes. “Shut up, Stupid. You never knew Pop-pop.” He knelt to his own labrador and looked in her eyes. “God-damnit, Pop-pop.”
“Maybe you’ll think twice about following in his footsteps.” Keith Sr. produced the tiny syringe and gave Junior a pointed look before dropping it to the ground and crushing it under one dress shoe. Clear fluid splashed out, pooling in the seams between the white tiles. Junior’s eyes narrowed, but he had no comeback.
“Stacy,” Keith Sr. continued. “This was once a noble family of engineers, long before I was born. Now we’re lost. Lying to the public, killing both strangers and our own blood like it’s nothing. Pulling out all the stops to sustain the unsustainable. This is not what our family is about. I am the patriarch; it’s my responsibility. I have only one way left to give honor. Jeff, are you ready?”
Jeff stepped forward and took a samurai sword from the display. Keith Sr. pulled the other out with a shiing, and took his cross-legged stance once more. Stacy stared, too overwhelmed to follow the emotional rollercoaster. This is where Julia gets her dramatic streak.
“Daddy!” Julia screamed. Jack began to bark.
“Dad, what the fuck are you doing?” Keith Jr. bolted forward and his dog joined the barking.
“Stay back!” Keith Sr. bellowed. Blas and Joffrey joined the cacophony.
Keith Jr. got within a few feet before Geoff took him with the hilt of his blade, knocking him to the ground. “No more barking!” he shouted, with such authority that all the dogs went quiet.
“You will respect your father’s final wishes. In his last moments and after his passing, you will show him the honor you never did in life.”
Keith Jr. got up into a crouching position and put his hand to a bloody nose. “What will this accomplish, Dad!?”
Keith Sr. shouted back. “You know nothing of honor. Your grandfather stymied every attempt I made to teach you! Jeff, get in position.”
Jeff stood behind Keith Sr. and held the blade of his sword down like a golf club. Stacy stared at the spectacle as the blade bit just far enough to draw a trickle of blood. Keith Sr. lifted the sword in front of him and read the inscription. “Meiyo o ataeru saigo no hōhō.”
Keith Sable Sr. pulled his shirt up to expose his belly, flabby and pale. He pointed the sword at the far left side. He drew a deep breath, and his belly expanded into the blade, releasing another thin stream of blood.
Inside Stacy, vague feelings of sympathy for Julia’s horrifying family dynamic mingled with a ghoulish fascination. Everything about this scene felt unreal, and she reacted as if seeing it on a grainy television screen instead of right before her eyes. She just stared as the blade glinted in the harsh fluorescent light and thrust toward Keith Sr.’s soft abdomen.
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