“I have a proposal.”
Patrice spoke up before Ginny could start the elimination round. She spoke with such nonchalant calm that no one really even looked at her.
Patrice said, “I think we should repeal the immunity rule for the elimination rounds.”
That got everyone’s attention.
Rima, predictably, objected. “That’s stupid. You’re just jealous because I’ve been immune every week.”
“So have I.” In two instrument categories, Patrice didn’t bother to add. “So has Dustin. I’m willing to risk it. Are you?”
Patrice raised one brow at Dustin. Come on, big guy. Follow my lead.
Dustin did one of his slow shrugs. “Sure. Why not?”
“Because it turns the whole thing into a popularity contest, that’s why!”
“I think we’re all better than that.” Some of us, anyhow. Patrice turned her attention to Ginny. “Your voting guidelines talk about teamwork in addition to musicianship. Awarding immunity based solely on musical ability thwarts that purpose. Not that it wasn’t a good thought. It’s just not working in practice.”
Ginny glanced slowly around the room, maybe trying to read the source of the undercurrent of tension. The others were glancing at each other, too.
Figuring it out. Patrice very carefully did not smile or look at any of them.
“Maybe…” Dustin trailed off. Lani nudged him, and he continued, “Maybe instead of doing away with it altogether, it could be like, an adjustment instead.”
“Knock one vote off,” Lani chimed in. “So it takes an additional vote to vote out someone who’d normally have an immunity?”
Ginny’s gaze eventually, as it always did, fell on Phillip.
So did Rima’s. And something feral in Rima’s eyes set off a little alarm in the back of Patrice’s mind.
Too late. I already started this ball rolling.
Phillip swallowed visibly. Twice. Then cleared his throat before saying, “Two votes, maybe? Immunity takes off two votes from the person’s total?”
He was surely asking Ginny. But he looked at Rima.
“That might increase the likelihood of a tie.” Jeremy talked like he was nervous about interrupting. “What do we do if there’s a tie?”
“Phillip should call the tiebreaker.” Rima practically purred her interjection. “He is the expert, after all.”
Phillip turned an extra shade of pale, and Patrice started to really worry.
But if Ginny noticed, she didn’t let on. “All right. If everyone agrees?”
No one objected. Patrice wondered if maybe they should have.
The oncoming train had Phillip in its headlights. And he couldn’t escape.
He didn’t have to break a tie. The elimination votes came without hesitation, starting with Jeremy, then Marcus, Patrice, and Dustin. By then, Rima was practically hissing with fury.
They didn’t need Lani’s vote, but she gave it anyhow.
“Rima. It’s unanimous. You’re impossible to work with.”
Phillip tried holding his breath and remaining as still as possible.
Rima’s gaze fixed on him anyhow, like a shark scenting blood.
It won’t do her any good to rat me out now.
Maybe not. Phillip wasn’t sure it would matter.
Rima resumed some of her composure. Her voice dripped like burning acid as she said, “If you’re so keen on cleaning house, then maybe you should sweep more thoroughly under all the rugs.”
Rima’s gaze drilled into him. Then Ginny followed Rima’s gaze. When she peered into Phillip’s eyes, her beautiful mouth curled in confusion, Phillip prayed for the floor to open up and swallow him.
That didn’t happen, of course.
“We should talk,” he finally managed to choke out.