Chapter 33

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"F. R. A. U. D," Chris says from the sidewalk outside Sneak Peek. He arches his back to take it all in. Spray paint. Big, sloppy lettering. Must've taken all of 20 seconds. "This your new slogan, Zandra?"

Distraught clients and jaded locals have used the exterior of Sneak Peek as a public display of their affection for Zandra before, but she's never been called a fraud. Which means Dvorak kept busy while Zandra was away visiting Amanda.

Who else could it be?

"Of course it isn't," Zandra says. She nods to Chris's camera crew, now down from six to three. The budget could only paid for so much labor. "Make sure you get a nice wide shot."

"For the police?" the burly guy holding a case of lighting equipment.

"Hell no. Insurance," Zandra says and unlocks the front door to Sneak Peek. Her policy is more expensive than the one she could get from Gene Carey's insurance company, but she has her reasons.  "I'll be damned if I'm paying to clean it up."

Zandra checks her answering machine, one of the few left still functioning in Portage County, and deletes everything but the one from her book publisher. The deadline for her next draft has been moved up.

If I ignore it, it's not happening. It's like the inverse of The Secret, the law of attraction in reverse.

She already spent the advance, but an intellectual property attorney she hired worked in a clause that basically gives her a year's worth of punting due to the "sensitive nature of her work." Because how could she possibly channel spirits to ghostwrite 300 pages of bullshit if they didn't pick up the phone?

Zandra gets to cancelling her appointments for the day along similar lines, leaving messages about "aural interference" and looking out the window at the backward letters that spell "duarf."


Chris finishes setting up with his crew, turning Sneak Peek into a temporary sound stage. They need a sort of confessional-style shot, where Zandra summarizes what's happened in scenes filmed earlier. But something's wrong.

Chris apparently didn't notice it before, but the lights reveal just how beat up Zandra appears.

"What happened?" he says, sounding honestly concerned. As well he should be, given Zandra's his meal ticket.

Zandra goes to reach for her makeup but stops. She could pull out the concealer and pull off some bullshit answer to placate Chris, keep moving toward that TV deal. Or she could come up with something even better.

"You remember that e-mail you got? The one about me being a fraud and the blackmail and all that?" Zandra says, putting her bag of makeup away.

"Yeeeaah," Chris says slowly, his tone rising to turn the word into a question.

"I paid him a visit last night," she says. "He's serious about taking me out, Chris. We can't let him get in the way."

Zandra recaps the previous evening for Chris, laying it all out on the proverbial table, including the so-called "showdown" Dvorak has in store. Of course, she conveniently forgets to mention the part about her files.

Instead of turning sour, Chris looks ecstatic.

"Some prick tries to railroad my life, and you're smiling?" Zandra says with a scowl. It's for show. She wouldn't have been this forthcoming with Chris unless it benefitted her in the end.

Try to convince someone of something, and you might be successful. Give them enough information so they can only come to a single, obvious conclusion, and you'll win every time. Take note, future employees of the world. This works on your bosses, too.

"I'm smiling because this would make for great TV," Chris says. He crosses his arms, looking quite pleased with himself for coming up with the idea all on his own, despite not having a clue when he received the e-mail in the first place. "Getting blackmailed might be the best thing that ever happened to us."

"Really? You think so?" Zandra says. Chris misses the sarcasm in her voice.

"I only have one question."

"What's that?"

"Are you sure you can defeat this guy? He sounds like he really knows his stuff," Chris says. "Because if you lose this, this, showdown, then there isn't a network on this planet that will be interested in buying the series. Your entire career is on the line here."

Zandra lights a black candle on her desk. It smells like licorice when it burns. She warms her hands over the flame, rubbing them together.

"Deep down, everyone is a fraud. He's no different," she says. "I'll meet him on his own terms, at this showdown, and he will evaporate into the air by the time I'm finished. You have my word."

Chris seems satisfied. "How can I help?"

"Funny you should ask. I've just the thing a person like you and a camera could do for me," Zandra says.

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