As of yesterday, the Crime Cafe Stories Project crowdfunding campaign has launched. So … to give you more of what your donation would support, here’s another sample chapter from Glass Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective by Benjamin Sobieck.
She’s obviously an undercover cop. What will it be this time? Theft by swindle? An accounting error? A parking ticket? This should be good.
Zandra sniffs out the disguise before the woman is through the door of Sneak Peek, her holeinwall “psychic services” business. It’s bricked in between a head shop and a defunct coffee joint in downtown Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Just a chair behind a desk in a single room. A glorified closet stuffed with too many eccentricities that catch the sunlight as the woman closes the door.
It doesn’t take a psychic for Zandra to see her latest client is failing as an undercover cop.
Maybe that’s because Zandra isn’t a psychic. Rather, she’s a proud fraud, living upon the reputation of that incident at Soma Falls years ago. An incredibly lucky guess? Sure.
But when the masses spray paint the words “go back to hell witch” on the side of your house and stalk your every move, you’ll settle for the psychic label. Better a psychic serving entertainment purposes than anything approaching legitimate in their paranoid eyes. Everyone knows psychics are frauds anyway. It’s an unhappy middle ground. An uneasy truce.
Stevens Point didn’t know what to make of her back then. Still doesn’t. But that doesn’t prevent people from coming into Zandra’s business. Like cops making sure she knows her place as the village crone. That’s probably why this latest one is here. A reminder to not get too uppity about that reputation from Soma Falls. But don’t walk away from it, either. What happened with Zandra and Soma Falls put Stevens Point on the map. The tourism alone is worth millions.
The creases around Zandra’s tired eyes lift into a greeting. Smize as the kids would say.
Not that she’s been anywhere near hip for decades, made obvious by the oversized purple gown draped over her shoulders. It’s acned with gaudy rhinestones straight off a cheap stripper’s ass cheek. It’s all for show, just like every other trinket of sparkly nonsense in Sneak Peek. And all for sale, of course. That’s the proud in proud fraud. Not like anyone in town would give Zandra a real job anyway. But they’d certainly remind her she should.
The woman takes a seat across the desk from Zandra. As she does with all her clients, the “psychic” performs a mental checklist before saying anything. Zandra’s got it down to three seconds. That’s all she needs for her act.
Short, blonde hair pulled back tight into a small ponytail.
Fingernails trimmed to a few millimeters.
Baggy flannel shirt to cover the concealed pistol in a holster secured inside the waistband of her jeans. Right hand seated on her thigh at the ready to draw. Legs planted firmly on the floor instead of crossed or casual.
These aren’t traits exclusive to cops. But playing the psychic, Zandra knows it’s an odds game. Dress up a few observations about the client in ethereal babble about spirits and third eyes, then regurgitate what the client already knows in a way that seems insightful.
The odds are in Zandra’s favor this time, though. The woman’s eyes reveal the “tell” the minute she walked in. Her pupils cased the entire room, checking the corners and blind spots. It’s called situational awareness, and it’s like second nature for people in law enforcement. Civilians, not so much. It’s tough to make it seem natural, especially if you’re trying to act relaxed in front of Zandra. She learned a long time ago that eyes don’t lie. Came in handy after Soma Falls. Now no bullshitter outbullshits her.
Speaking of the woman’s eyes, Zandra keys in on their color. Blue. Statistically, people with blue eyes are harder drinkers. Goes for men and women. Zandra read that online somewhere before she stopped paying her Internet bill at her apartment.
Do blue eyes mean this woman is a hard drinker? Does the matching gin blossom on her neck confirm the statistic? It doesn’t matter. What does is the way Zandra presents this “revelation” to the woman. If Zandra is right, it’ll seem like the information appeared out of nowhere. If Zandra is wrong, her third eye will make up some excuse and move on.
“I sense you had an appointment today,” Zandra says. It’s an old joke. She flips open a planner bound in faux leather. She smiles and winks a crinkled eyelid. Lets her client know it’s OK to laugh at the joke.
The woman smiles in response. Her two front incisors are darker than the rest. She’s a hard coffee drinker, too. Probably to offset the alcohol to get her to sleep at night. The woman seems to be in her early 40s. Doesn’t look well rested. In that case, could be in her 30s.
And if she’s drinking, then she’s probably smoking, too, although Zandra doesn’t detect the aroma. Could be Zandra’s nose is continuing to fail her. She’s a hard smoker herself.
The “tell” is in her voice.
“Yes, I made an appointment earlier this week,” the woman in flannel says. The transparent pupil of the giant eye painted onto the storefront window frames the woman’s head inside the iris. “My name is Lynda. With a Y.”
Zandra notes the atypical spelling. It probably came from atypical parents, the kind that didn’t appreciate their daughter working for The Man as a cop. Family issues. Duly noted for later.
“Ah, yes. What brings you in today, Lynda?” Zandra says, her throaty voice cut, chopped and pressed like gas station jerky by years of generic brand cigarettes.
“They say you’re a psychic. Aren’t you supposed to know that?” Lynda says. She leans back in her chair, but only on her left side. Wouldn’t want to risk exposing her right side, where the concealed pistol rests beneath the flannel.
Zandra responds with a sarcastic smile. Like Zandra’s joke before, Lynda’s quip is another old trope. Lesser “psychics” would blow it off or take the jab too seriously.
Zandra senses an opportunity for a good tip on top of her obscene rates.
“Maybe you’d like to talk about your family. Like how you feel you disappointed them by going into law enforcement,” Zandra says with as much deadpan drama she can muster. She watches Lynda’s eyes and body posture. Both tense up just a tad. She’s on the right track.
Zandra continues with a mangled eyebrow raised. She rubs the liver spots on her hands together and says, “Or maybe your health concerns are bothering you? Too much to drink and too little sleep. That’s no condition to be in when you’re carrying a concealed firearm under your shirt. You know you’re getting reckless and it’s going to catch up with you any day now. You’re not so young anymore. You feel your reckoning is coming soon, that things are at a head, and you want to know what you can do to prevent it. That, Lynda, is why you’re here.”
Lynda closes the gap her jaw made while Zandra spoke. Clears her throat and rearranges her face into a smile.
“People say you’re a fraud, you know. That you made that whole Soma Falls thing up,” Lynda says. Her right hand falls loose to her side, the cuff of the flannel shirt tracing the hidden pistol. It’s almost like Lynda knows Zandra’s aware of the gun, and is making sure the psychic sees the move as a threat.
Zandra notices it but doesn’t break her gaze. No sense in letting the cop take the lead.
“Are you here to talk about Soma Falls? Or are you here for you?” Zandra says, calling Lynda’s bluff. “Because you’re not the first cop to draw the short straw to come in here and try to make me admit something.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Lynda says.
Zandra narrows her gaze and widens her tone.
“Don’t waste my time or yours. Either tell me what you, a cop, want with me or get the hell out,” Zandra says. The excess sleeves of her oversized purple gown shake with her hands.
Lynda confesses with a police badge and ID that confirms she’s a lieutenant with the Stevens Point Police Department. Turns out her first name isn’t Lynda. It’s Charlie, thus negating Zandra’s earlier hunch about the parental disappointments, but only by a little.
Bullshit psychic powers can only go so far.
“A better psychic would’ve known Lynda with a Y isn’t my real name. But then again, you’re not a real psychic,” Charlie says, less guarded than before.
“Can you prove I didn’t know that already?” Zandra says. It’s another tired trick, but she needs it to keep up appearances. No one can disprove something that doesn’t exist.
“Clever, but you’re not fooling me this time. Not like you fooled the entire town during the whole Soma Falls thing. They think you’re the real deal, and that’s why they hate you,” Charlie says.
“And what do you think?” Zandra says.
“I’m not sure what you are. Maybe you’re a lucky guesser. Someone so incredibly accurate one time and one time only who went on to exploit it for all it’s worth. The greatest hero and villain this town ever had,” Charlie says.
Zandra crosses her arms. Stares into a long, heavy crystal in a bottle on her desk. The container prevents the crystal’s powerful energy from changing the DNA of anyone nearby. At least, that’s what the catalog she’d ordered it from said.
“It’s no fun being stuck somewhere between the two labels, is it?” Charlie says.
Zandra doesn’t respond. If the crystal really does focus energy, it’s beaming thoughts of her brief marriage into her head. And the brutal way it ended at Soma Falls.
“What do you want? To arrest me for something bogus like last time?” Zandra says.
“No, no, the department isn’t interested in your little sideshow today. I’m interested in something else,” Charlie says. She reaches into her pocket, unfolds a Missing Person poster and flattens it in front of Zandra.
The poster shows a picture of a pigtailed, six year old girl on a bike smiling for the camera. The words beneath it detail the disappearance of little Elle Carey from Soma Falls Park in Stevens Point last week.
Zandra is familiar with the story. It made national news because Elle’s father, Gene Carey, is one of the wealthiest businessmen in Wisconsin. Had that not been the case, it probably would have stayed local. Just another perk for the beautiful people in Stevens Point.
As relayed in the press, Elle rode her bike by herself to Soma Falls Park less than a mile from the Carey estate. She never came back.
“As you’ve likely heard, we’re at a dead end with this case. No ransom note turned up.
“No leads at all. It’s like she just evaporated at Soma Falls,” Charlie says. She pauses before adding, “Sort of like your late husband.”
Zandra huffs and lights a candle. The aroma fills the room with apple pie. Nothing supernatural about that. She just likes the smell. Relaxes her.
“You got all dressed up in a disguise and a fake name to tell me that? Of course I’ve heard about this,” Zandra says.
Charlie stuffs the poster back into her pocket.
“I didn’t want to raise any suspicions. The department wants to keep this on the down low,” Charlie says.
“Keep what on the down low?” Zandra says.
Charlie leans forward in her chair and lowers her voice.
“You got lucky one time before,” Charlie says. “Do you think you could get lucky again?”
Please support the campaign by clicking here and making a donation! 🙂
And here’s the audio of the podcast with Twist Phelan! Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.
Finally, here’s my vlog for the week. It’s about how I discovered Doctor Who before the show came back on the air. It has nothing to do with the campaign or crime fiction, but it’ll explain why I love Doctor Who so much! I guess … 🙂