Chapter 58

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Sloggins reminds Dvorak of the rules both parties agreed to before the showdown, including no interruptions, but it's a bloodless threat. Dvorak cuts Sloggins off, too.

"Zandra is right that there's nothing super about the supernatural. There's nothing about it at all," Dvorak says, the smugness in his voice nearly metastasizing into a British accent. "She pairs cute parlor tricks with a good sense of timing, pop psychology and woo-woo vocabulary. But that's where it stops. Zandra is no psychic."

Zandra hacks into her sleeve and shuffles in place at the podium. Dvorak's words shouldn't get to her. She's thought them herself. But there's something about the way he violates this last bit of her identity that's hard to hear. This is his stage, his moment, his opportunity to steamroll her into oblivion.

I won't be upstaged in the end, Dvorak. You want this audience to walk away remembering you. When I'm done, you'll be the last thing they talk about.

The microphone crackles as Dvorak continues with vigor. He says, "But you know what? I'll give Zandra the benefit of the doubt. Let's say that she really can talk to the dead. Let's say there are portals all around us for us to contact the other side. If this were true, it'd be the biggest news in human history.

"So tell me, ladies and gentlemen, why it is that these spirits make for such poor conversation. When conjured, they speak in short, fragmented words or sentences to communicate what? To stay healthy? To be careful? To retrieve an earring that, given how incredible and rare and precious this phone line between the living and dead is, is barely worth consideration?

"If I were a ghost, those would be the last things I'd want to talk about. I'd want to relate what this land of the dead is like, whether God – capital G – truly exists and which religion is closest to the truth. People don't lose their conveniently subjective emotional connections when they die, but they apparently lose their common sense.

"The reason spirits don't talk about those things is because there is no way to talk to the dead. When you die, you die. Zandra knows this, but there's too much money to be made preying on people's emotions for her to stop. If she were honestly a psychic, she'd do better. But she can't. There's no such thing as psychics.

"But I'm not here to take shots at believers. If you're gullible enough to believe what she says, that's your business. The question at the heart of tonight's event is whether technology can offer what the supernatural can't. And since Zandra set the pace with a poor imitation of cold reading – Google that term when you get home tonight and you'll see exactly what I mean – I'll follow up with my own version to show you that, yes, technology can offer a lot more than the supernatural."

Damn, Dvorak, take a breath.

The audience falls silent as Dvorak swipes a few screens on his tablet. "Is there a Dana Novak here?" he says.

The stagehands rush a microphone to a woman who raises her hand. "Yes, that's me," she says.

"You made a difficult decision recently, didn't you?" Dvorak says.

"I guess that depends what you mean," the woman says.

"What I mean is I'm sorry about your dog dying yesterday. His name was Bear, wasn't it? A black lab? After 13 good years with Bear, you made the tough call to put him to sleep. It was especially tough on your two kids, who grew up with Bear. They called him their best friend. Is everything I said true?" Dvorak says without a hint of empathy.

You'd make for a shitty psychic yourself, Dvorak. Raw information is nothing without an emotional connection. It's one thing to have the car, but you need the highway, too.

"I don't know how you did that, but that's true," the woman says, astonished.

"And we've never met before, have we?" Dvorak says.


"Not even once? There's no way I could've known that?"

"None. Only a few people know about Bear dying to begin with. We haven't told everyone," the woman says.

The audience claps, and this time it's louder than the round Zandra last received.

"Thank you, Ms. Novak. You may give your microphone back," Dvorak says and encourages another round of applause while he takes a drink of water.

"I don't suppose you'll tell us how you did that, will you?" Sloggins says, suddenly inserting himself into the conversation. He didn't do that for Zandra.

"Unlike that so-called psychic, yes, I'll tell you exactly how I did that," Dvorak says. "After I arrived at the high school, I instructed my assistants to set up a wireless hotspot and to name it Free Auditorium Internet. Some members of the audience connected their smartphones to it. This allowed my team to access those smartphones and gather data. They found Ms. Novak's name, then ran a search on social media for any profiles she set up. Sure enough, she mentioned Bear's passing on Facebook yesterday. They relayed the info to me, where I used my third eye, so to speak, to divine this information.

"My team won't do anything malicious with the data they collected, but it should serve as a lesson in keeping your smartphones secure. Don't connect to hotspots you're not 100 percent positive aren't fraudulent. Whereas our esteemed psychic would take your money for the privilege of defrauding you, I only took your data."

So you grow pot and hack into people's computers. Congratulations, Dvorak. You're even more of a shithead than I thought.

"Could Zandra's cold reading have done better than that? She gives you generalities. I give you specifics. I could do that all day, but I don't want to bore you. I've made my point about cold reading, and I've got an even better trick up my sleeve," Dvorak says. 

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