The sign on the shop read:
‘Mystical Madame Mandy: Psychic Readings by Appointment’. A large neon eye was glowing above with huge wooden hands shimmying to and fro alongside.
Amber - ace meerkat reporter - snapped a photo of the storefront in a little strip mall in the north side of town. She had just photographed an elderly mink walking out of the subject’s shop. Amber vaguely recognized her as an heir to a steel works fortune.
The storefront was part of a strip mall close to the other shopping centers and next to a grocer, of all things. It was surprising that a successful con artist would choose such a place, but faux modesty probably went a long way in swindling people.
“She told me misfortune was following me,” The old hare woman had said when Amber interviewed her. “A-and she could help cleanse the negative energies in my life.”
“You believed her?”
“Yes: It made so much sense. My car had been repossessed, my septic tank had failed, then there was the tree that fell on my gazebo during the last storm... I’ve been living off my late husband’s money ever since he passed.”
The hare folded her hands, awkwardly remembering the ordeal.
“So you were well off?” Amber asked.
“More than most, but Mandy kept asking for more and more till I paid more than it had cost to fix the septic tank.”
“I see. We’re going to look into this more. She’s clearly a predator of a different sort.”
Amber had had her sights set on this psychic for some time now. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie, the meerkat adjusted her blonde wig and walked across the street to the storefront and pushed the door open. There was a slight tingling sound as the bell rang.
Instantly, Amber flattened her ears as her little snout was assailed by the sweet scent of burning incense as ambient new age music plunked weirdly within the darkly-lit shop. There was the sound of a curtain being pulled away and a female lemur stepped out to greet her.
“Welcome my child,” the lemur whispered, smiling unctuously.
She was dressed in a flowing, sparkling purple robe. A talisman hung from her neck and a series of gold earrings lined the lemur’s large ears. Bangles of bracelets adorned her wrists, and a multitude of rings were on her fingers.
Amber cringed inwardly at the ‘child’ comment but drew on all her investigative professionalism and slipped into her character neatly.
“Hello, Ms. Mandy. Th-thank you for seeing me.”
The smiling lemur waved her hand, the bracelets jingling.
“Nonsense, my dear. I could sense you needed help when you made the appointment, Jamie.”
Amber was using a stage name she developed when she had tried (and failed) to start her acting career. Mandy led her past the curtain and had her take a seat in a comfy chair. The lemur sat opposite her scrutinizing the meerkat with her large green eyes.
“I can sense you aren’t too sure about this,” Mandy sighed.
Wow, really? Amber thought to herself as she nodded. “Do I really need to pay upfront for this?”
Mandy nodded back. “I’m afraid so. Psychics have to eat too, you know.”
Amber handed over the wad of cash, grateful her news agency was footing the bill for the investigation. The lemur smiled and rubbed Amber’s shoulder soothingly.
“Now, then. You’re lonely and almost into your thirties... I’m detecting no love life?”
Amber nodded glumly. “Yes, it’s true...”
Amber was now even more grateful to her news agency.
“Well, I can see a romantic partner in your future. I’m seeing roses and chocolates. Ooh! And a romantic vacation.”
Amber kept playing her part. “Oh! Please, tell me more!”
“I see you very happy, but— oh, what’s this? There’s more that you crave isn’t there? Not just an answer to your loneliness. You lost someone very close to you, didn’t you?”
Amber nodded and sniffed. “Yes!”
The lemur continued. “They were family. A parent?”
Amber nodded again. Mandy kept her eyes shut and moved her head in a circular motion, mimicking the throes of divination. “A strong female, your mother. Her name was... Lucy? Lucille?”
The meerkat nodded vigorously. “Yes! Oh my! How did you know that?”
The lemur smiled knowingly, slowing her show for a moment. “I can sense her. She wants you to be happy and that she loves you very very much.”
Amber’s mother was actually very much alive.
“Oh, Mandy! You’ve brought so much relief to me.”
“For a bit more, I can try to find out more about this future lover of yours. We can schedule another reading.”
Amber smiled. “That would be lovely.”
She already knew each visit would bring just a hint more until she couldn’t pay anymore. Amber already had everything she needed: she had made a fake Snoutbook profile prior to calling Mandy and left a few hints on her profile. Hints such as posts about looking for the right partner and ‘missing you, mom.’
“Your forty-five minutes are up my dear Jamie,” the lemur said, standing. “I hope you visit me again.”
Amber stood up excitedly and shook Miss Mandy’s paw, creating a loud jangling. “Oh, I will, Miss Mandy, I will! Thank you, thank you!”
Ms. Mandy, annoyed, adjusted her robes and bangles. “Yes, yes - until next time, young meerkat.”
Simple tricks. Anyone with any internet savvy could browse a Snoutbook profile that wasn’t secured. Cold readings were a classic technique of mentalists and magicians. Her business was unethical at the very least: if this had been for ‘entertainment purposes’ she could have at least protected herself against lawsuits. But then, Mandy would take things too far from what Amber had surmised from her investigation.
After her appointment Amber wrote down everything that transpired in the shop, but she wasn’t done yet. Amber waited in a parking lot across the street, waiting for Mandy to leave. Amber snapped photo after photo of other somewhat famous patrons until eight o’clock when Mandy herself stepped outside and stepped into her fancy black Rules-Ross.
Amber started her own car and followed Mandy far outside of the city into ‘Pill Hill’ where the doctors, lawyers, and other assorted wealthy creatures had their homes. Mandy’s was at the very top: a well-appointed villa with a little forest and automatic gate.
“Gotcha,” Amber said to herself, snapping more photos. Exposing fraud and corruption was a perk to being an investigative journalist.
“I hope you foresee the process server Mandy. You’re going to need a good lawyer.”
Amber sat at her older, reliable computer and typed up her report, emphasizing the use of a fake social media account and the use and technique of cold readings. She added key points in her interview with the hare widow and how much money Mandy had taken her for. The photo she had taken of the storefront was situated next to the photo she had taken of Mandy’s villa right below the title:
‘Mystical Madame Mandy’s Mansion of Mendacity: Trail of Fraud Leads Right to Con Woman’s Shop.’
The story hit the news the next day and Amber had the pleasure of seeing a very cross Mandy trying to explain herself on cable news and failing miserably.
“Well sometimes I do get things wrong. Divination isn’t always precise, you know. I mean that is to say, more often than not I’m right. I do have powers.”
“Did you foresee this coming?” The interviewer asked.
Amber, leaning back in her leather chair, chewed some popcorn and smiled in satisfaction.