Chapter 60

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"Speaking of cute parlor tricks, you're not so bad yourself," Zandra says into her microphone. She expects a laugh from the audience to break the tension but receives an awkward cough instead, so she pushes a little deeper. "It makes me wonder how long you and this other gentleman have really known each other. Obviously, you're good with computers, William. Is it really a stretch to think you pre-recorded that sound bite from beyond the grave? Of course, we'll never know whether that money is in that account, either. This audience has to take you on faith, just as they do with my claims. You're running in place."

It's too soon for the nuclear option, to level this auditorium, to send them running for the doors.

Zandra settles for keeping the pressure up on Dvorak rather than performing another stunt. Stripped of her props, cold reading is her only lever to pull, and she'd have to raise the stakes even higher than the earring find. Going that cold, outer space cold, is too risky. She'll screw up.

But not if I already know the answers. I'm looking at you, Dvorak.

"This is the rebuttal phase, so you may seek a dialogue with your opponent if you like. Those are the rules you agreed to," Sloggins says, sounding like it's a chore to look in Zandra's direction.

Zandra fakes a smile at Dvorak.

"That won't be necessary. I prefer he keeps his mouth shut," Zandra says. This time she gets a chuckle.

Good. Get them guessing about this asshole.

Zandra hacks into sleeve before beginning. The burning in her lungs struggles for her attention against the pain radiating from her bad ankle. In an odd way, it propels her forward. The sharp jabs of pain keep her mind in the moment where it belongs. No wandering off to think about David or Sneak Peek or Herman or Gene or any number of things floating in the river of her mind.

Feel the pain. Embrace it. It's right here, right now, just like me.

"This Xerman technology, if it is what you say it is, is impressive, William. But by your own admission, you've already exposed its greatest weakness," Zandra says as she shifts her weight on her bad ankle. She hopes the microphone picks up the popping and grinding of her injury. "You're using things that happened in the past to build your digital copy of a person, and to predict how your Xerman will act. But no matter how powerful your software is, even if it interprets the present, it will always be rooted in old information. Your futuristic technology will always be looking backward, not forward."

"Can you elaborate?" Sloggins says, apparently concerned about the frequency of hearing his own voice.

"Unlike your technology, what I do can look forward in time, because I'm accessing a plane of reality not bound by Newtonian physics," Zandra says, impressing herself for remembering that last bit from a book for sale in Sneak Peek. "And unlike your bank account con, my predictions are testable without any conditioning from something that's already happened. They're completely random, but entirely accurate. Would you like to see what I mean?"

She meant the question for Dvorak, but a few pockets of people in the audience urge her on. Dvorak joins them with a cocky, "I won't stop you from embarrassing yourself."

I've got you now, Dvorak, you son of a bitch. You just don't know it yet.

"Mr. Sloggins, please instruct the auditorium to give me a moment in silence," Zandra says and closes her eyes.

"More like moment of silence," Dvorak says.

Laugh it up while you still can.

"Please, ladies and gentlemen, let's give Zandra some quiet," Sloggins says, perking up.

Zandra keeps her eyes and mouth shut for a solid minute to let the suspense build. After faking a brief convulsion, she leans into the microphone.

"William, when I look into your future, I see three colors: green, red and blue. This isn't unusual for how these visions begin. They swirl like they're in a pot before they take shape. Just a moment," Zandra says, keeping her eyes closed. "It's coming in now. Yes, I see the green of plants. Those are plants. And the red and blue, those are lights.

"Plants and lights. Plants and lights. Plants and lights. Wait, something more is coming in. The plants, I don't know how to say this, but they're pointy, almost like they're stars. Yes, their leaves are pointy. Oh, my, William, they must be marijuana plants, because I see the red and blue lights are actually coming from a police car. You're being arrested for growing marijuana."

Zandra opens her eyes and looks to Dvorak. He tries his best to look unfazed, but Zandra detects the cracks in his façade around his eyes, even given the distance between them on the stage.

"You mentioned your predictions are testable, Zandra. When will this supposed arrest happen?" Sloggins says.

"Within 24 hours. I can even give the location," Zandra says without a hint of reluctance in her voice.

"Do tell," Sloggins says.

"It will take place in the basement of your house, William," Zandra says, feeling a surge of energy. "There's more going on in your house than growing pot, William. I saw something in your basement, something horrible. I fear it's too disturbing to say out loud."

"That sounds like an accusation," Sloggins says.

"No. It's a testable prediction. Send the police to his house within the next 24 hours and find out," Zandra says.

"You really think the police will listen to a psychic?" Sloggins says.

"They did two times before, and I was right both times," Zandra says, referencing Soma Falls and the Elle Carey case. She pauses to let that sink in with the silent audience.

Dvorak smirks and shakes his head. It betrays what Zandra figures he's feeling below the surface.

How are you going to refute that one? Are you going to tell these people how I know that? That I stopped by for a visit and saw your little drug ring with my two eyes, not my third? And I don't know what the hell you're doing in your basement, but it's not good.

"You're out of your mind. I don't grow pot and there's nothing unusual in my basement," Dvorak says.

"Prove it," Zandra says.

"And waste the police's time with these bogus accusations?" Dvorak says.

"Maybe you're not so confident I'm a fraud after all," Zandra says.

Sloggins cuts them off. "And that's time. I'll turn things over to William now before breaking for a brief intermission. As I'm sure the audience can see, there's a good reason we let our participants cool down between sets."

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