With a sword half an inch in his gut, blood dribbling down into his white khakis, Keith Sable Sr. grunted. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he glared straight at Stacy. “Is this what you want?”
Stacy hadn’t even considered if this was what she wanted. She had been overwhelmed by the spectacle until Keith Sr. reached out. Her wits came to her slowly, and she shook her head.
Keith heaved a sigh of relief and gingerly extracted the sword with a wince. Geoff accepted it from him and washed the blood off with a red cloth before replacing both swords on the wall. He stood and raised his arms as Geoff lifted his shirt and applied gauze bandages around his midsection. In this position he said, “That’s what happens if you release that slide deck. A lot of fire and fury and comeuppance, no solutions. But you’re smarter than that. You know we can do better. That’s why you haven’t released it already.”
Stacy struggled to distinguish what Keith was telling her from what she actually knew was the truth. No, I didn’t release it because I’m not nearly as smart as you’re pretending I am, just didn’t have the ring she was looking for. Geoff finished bandaging Keith Sr. with a tiny band-aid where he had sliced him on the neck and Keith pulled the shirt of his white suit down. He brushed at a bloody stain on the right side of his pants as if it were so much dust. “Let me tell you what can happen if and only if those slides go no further.”
Everyone in the room stared at Keith Sable Sr.
“First off, we finish the cure.”
This evidently caught even Keith Jr. by surprise. “Dad?”
Keith Sr. grinned and opened his arms to his son. “There, boy. It’s out in the open, and you don’t have to try to kill your sister any more.” He turned to his daughter, “Julia, tell them what I told you.”
“I hate you,” snarled Julia from her hospital bed, clutching Jack’s shaggy fur in her arms.
Keith’s smile faltered, but it returned as he turned back to Stacy. “Julia has been cured of zombieism.”
“No I haven’t.” Julia pouted.
“Yes you have, child.” he turned back to Stacy. “Julia has no symptoms of zombieism whatsoever except a smell so mild that in well-ventilated spaces she even can evade dogs.”
“So you have the cure,” Stacy prodded.
“Yes, but we need to test it. We need more zombies.”
Stacy threw her hands in the air. “Then get more zombies! What are you talking to me for?”
“I can’t do that. The Board has been looking over my shoulder ever since they caught wind. A cure is not good for an industry based on managing the disease. Now I can hold your evidence over their heads and get more leeway to move towards your and my shared goal, but I still can’t round up zombies for research publicly. Thanks to Pop-pop,” he glowered at his son, “everyone agrees it’s ‘too dangerous.’”
Stacy balked at his explicit recasting of what her goal was, but she had to admit that an actual cure was better than anything she could have hoped to get out of this. Her first thought was of Ethan. “I can get you a zombie.”
Keith Sr. shook his head. “I need a dozen zombies. Really, I need a control group and a test group of several thousand zombies each, but I think I can make a case to the public if things go well with a dozen. Julia tells me that you know of a nearby colony.”
Stacy blinked – The cure is real. The room watched her with bated breath. The song and dance about seppuku had primed her for more intrigue, and she tried to think of what Mr. Sable would have to gain by lying to her now. If he just wanted to keep her quiet, he could steal her phone and delete the data. He could let Geoff or his son kill her. If he just wanted zombies, he could send anyone to find them. Certainly he had discreet associates he could count on. Her only guess as to why he needed Stacy was to deepen her involvement. The more invested she was in his plan, the more likely she’d resist the temptation later on to take the company down in the middle of it.
“Why do you want me to get the zombies?” Stacy demanded.
Keith Sr. glanced at Julia. “They trust you.”
“If that information came from her it’s out of date. I broke Ethan out of there, and I don’t think they’re likely to listen to what I have to say before they shoot me.”
Keith Jr. perked up, and Keith Sr. straightened. Both glared at the girl on the bed, and Keith Sr. chastised her. “They have guns? Julia.”
Julia shouted from behind her protective dog. “Of course they have guns, Daddy! How do you think they’re going to defend themselves?”
Keith Sr. put his hand to his head, then he shrugged. “I had hoped I could get willing subjects, but if you can’t do it, I can send a team out.”
A strangled yelp escaped Julia, and all eyes were on her again. She shook her head. “They trust me. I’ll go with her.”
The look on Keith Sr.’s face suggested he liked this idea even less than sending a team to kidnap the zombies. Julia saw the look and responded. “Daddy, don’t you even try to protect me now! Where were you all my life!?”
Keith Sr. kept an even tone. “I have been protecting you your whole life.”
Julia huffed. Red with tears, her visible eye contorted in rage. She looked like she would scream, but something broke inside her, and her anger fell away. She pressed her face into Jack, and for a moment said nothing. Then, “These are my friends. Let me protect them. They’ll want the cure if they believe it exists. They’ll listen to me.”
“You need to rest.” Keith Sr. spoke in a tone that in any normal circumstance would brook no argument.
Stacy hated to agree, but she couldn’t help herself. “I can’t wheel a gurney in there, Julia.”
This earned her another look of loathing, and Julia pushed Jack off the bed. “You’re in my way, boy.” Caught by surprise, he squirmed in a burst of energy and barely managed to land on his feet.
Skinny and pale in a hospital gown, Julia dropped from the bed and her knees buckled beneath her. But Stacy was there. She caught the crook of her arm with her shoulder and lifted her back onto her feet. Julia smelled of blood, gauze, and antiseptic, and she weighed heavily on Stacy, her own legs offering no support. She snarled at her father. “These people were a better family to me than you ever were. If you do anything to hurt them, I will kill you myself. That’s the Sable way, right?”
Keith Sr. and Jr. stood stunned, and Julia turned to Stacy. “We’re leaving.”
In all the drama, Stacy could only wonder how she would haul Julia’s ragdoll body down twelve flights of stairs.
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