Today's Reading

"Well?" the executive asks. "What do you think?"

"I think magic hour's a nice time to die."

The executive adjusts his glasses. "How do you know she's dead?"

"Well—" I draw out the word as long as I can, buying time to reverse engineer my own thinking. It's been a while since I've had to deconstruct the gut certainties that make me good at my job.

I stare at the picture until my eyes start to water, searching for something, anything that might help me stand out. Eventually my finger lands on a faint line that slices vertically through the frame, just past the edge of Liza's chair.

"The split diopter," I say. "Explain," he says.

"It's a half lens you stick on the end of the camera if you want to keep two different planes in focus at the same time—like bifocals, but for the movies. So we have Liza here, in the foreground, and then all these beachgoers, there, way far away in the background—but they're both in focus, right? That wouldn't be possible without a split diopter. I wish people used it more often, but I guess De Palma kind of beat it to death back in the seventies and eighties, and now it's not—"

The executive holds up a hand. "Yes, I know what a diopter is, thank you."

My mouth snaps shut.

"What I'm wondering is how that tells you she's dead."

I sneak a glance at the door. "You know, I'm not the best at putting this stuff into words. Maybe I could just show you my reel?"

Nell wraps her hand around my wrist and whispers in my ear.

"Robots, Marissa. In disguise."

"I get it," I say, and even I can tell my voice is tight and unfriendly. I edge my chair away from the table until I have enough room to jiggle my foot without accidentally kicking anyone. After a few seconds of this, I'm able to explain myself. "Since this is a studio movie, it's a safe assumption the crowd's being kept in focus because they're an important part of the scene. Because we're waiting for one of them to notice Liza—to find her. The prospect of discovery, that's what's driving the tension here. It wouldn't be dramatic if she were just taking a nap."

The executive props his elbow on the back of his chair and pushes his hair back from his forehead. "You're certain of that?"

I consider the shot again. "I guess it's possible the director just thinks it looks cool—"

Nell kicks my chair.

"—but either way, she's definitely dead."

The executive studies me over the rims of his glasses. "You're the first person to bring that up. Everyone else said the white lips were the giveaway."

"No, I wouldn't trust this makeup department."

"Why not?"

I point to Liza's face. "In the summer, someone with her coloring would freckle. They gave Liza a spray tan, obviously, but the cosmetician adjusted the color, washed it out—probably because her blood would already be pooling in her lower extremities, so she'd be paler than normal. Livor mortis, right? But dying doesn't make your freckles disappear. They should have painted some in." I brush my fingertip along her cheekbones. "Right now she looks too much like a movie star, and you don't want that, not when you're doing true crime."

The executive is frowning now, two small lines etched between his eyebrows, and it occurs to me that dragging their makeup department was not, perhaps, the best way to win this job.

Well, at least Nell won't be able to say I didn't try.

I open my mouth to thank them for their time—

"What makes you say it's true crime?" the executive asks.

I glance back down at the photo. Why did I say that?

"Judging by the costume design, it's a period piece—mid-nineties, probably? And I figure it's based on a true story because—yeah, the color hasn't been corrected or graded, I know, but the overall palette is so deliberate and carefully curated. Meanwhile, that swimsuit she's wearing is just . . . unbelievably orange." The answer comes to me the second before I say it. "So I'm thinking, probably, it's the same suit the real girl was murdered in."

"Hold on," he says, "I never said she was murdered."

"That just stands to reason. Why else would you make a movie about it?"
...

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