The Content Producers

“The guidelines are clear Jack,” the Line Manager’s face remained rigid with displeasure as he placed a copy of the Junior Content Producer’s Manual down on the desk between them, next to the report Jack had generated for his six monthly review.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand how you can be having such trouble applying them to a case as simple as your character’s.”

Jack didn’t respond and the Line Manager continued mechanically, “we work hard to make sure our Junior Content Producers are supported step-by-step through the whole process of narrative scenario creation. All you have to do is follow the guidelines in this Manual and write according to them. What has been your trouble in doing that?”

Jack’s eyes remained fixed on the two impeccably collated documents before him, the Manual several times the size of his sickly thin report that had quite rightly exposed him as being lousy at his job.

“Jack?” the Line Manager raised both his voice and his eyebrows, giving the impression he’d just had a needle jabbed into his bottom, “I asked you a question. Why have you been unable to follow the guidelines?”

Jack finally met the Line Manager’s eyes. “The guidelines aren’t right for my character.”

“Aren’t right for your character?” the Line Manager’s voice rose another key with incredulity. “Jack, you are a Junior Content Producer. Pivotal word there being junior. Your job is really rather simple. You get one little piece of an enormous jigsaw puzzle, one person called…” he hesitated momentarily as he shuffled through his notes to find the name, “Laura Tindell and you write her life story according to the clearly specified set of guidelines contained in this Manual” he thumped his hand down on top of it emphatically.

“I understand the principles in the Manual,” Jack felt his temples pulsating, “it’s just that Laura is a very different kind of person from the one she was originally intended to be. I mean she’s really changed…” his words petered out.

The Line Manager shook his head and raised his eyebrows up so far it looked like they would detach from his forehead and hover above him, cartoon-like. “You’ve fallen into a terrible trap. You’ve begun to identify with your character. When we hire candidates here, we make very clear that you must maintain an emotional distance from your character. You’re a Content Producer. You’re not Laura’s mummy and you’re not God. You’re just a guy doing your job, and your job is writing Laura’s life story.”

Jack released his breath slowly, trying to ignore the beads of sweat trickling down his forehead, refusing to wipe them away in what would constitute a gesture of submission. He’d spent many hours thinking about what he would say at this meeting. Yet somehow, he couldn’t muster the courage to repeat most of it.

In a far softer voice than the one he’d rehearsed he said, “I spend ten hours a day, six days a week writing out every detail of Laura’s life, how can I maintain an emotional distance when I watch her going through the ups and downs that I have created for her?”

“No, no, no! There is so much wrong with what you’ve just said.” The Line Manager leant back in his chair until it creaked and glared across his desk at Jack. “Firstly, you haven’t created anything in Laura’s life. You have simply implemented the guidelines on her behalf. There is a small element of creativity in this job, but only insofar as you can choose from the limited number of options provided. You do not create the options – that is done by people far more senior. You simply choose which events from the specified list to throw into the mix. When you correctly apply the relevant principles, the results have nothing to do with you. Secondly, in the past year, and certainly since we last spoke, you have been failing to make any choices for Laura at all. At your last review, I clearly specified that you needed to introduce one grade I and one grade II calamity into Laura’s life and I see no evidence of you having responded to this so far. She is continuing to live the same cocooned, stimulation poor existence that she has done for the past twenty four years of her life and quite frankly, I don’t see why she should continue to live at all in light of the material you’re producing for her.”

Jack stared down at his lap and realised he was clenching his fists. The Line Manager sighed and brought his voice back to its usual register.

“Listen, I want to throw you a bone here, I really do. You showed such promise when I first interviewed you for this position. I’ve no doubt you can do what we need from you on this project. It’s just that you’re starting to empathise with your character. Laura may seem to be just like you, and that may well be why you’re refusing to add elements to her life which you think will cause her pain, but she’s not like you Jack. You have to remember that the people for whose lives we create copy are totally oblivious to the fact they are even part of this project. Moreover, as much as you may feel she shows the same qualities as you or I have, she isn’t one of us. That’s not to say her life isn’t valuable, but her life is what it is, and that has to come from this Manual.” Again, the line manager placed his hand purposefully on the document.

“I suppose I have a problem with the whole project.” Jack’s voice hovered barely above a whisper. “I don’t understand why it can’t be different. Why do we have to put our characters through the stuff they go through at all?”

The Line Manager, looking more annoyed than incredulous now, scribbled something in his notes for a few moments before addressing Jack again, completely ignoring his question. “Identifying with your character is very dangerous and because you have begun to do this I have serious doubts about your future with this company. I guess you’ve heard the rumour that has been circulating for some time now – that things are going to be changing around here. I can now confirm it’s true. This entire department is going to be closed down. We’ve come to the end of the road with the scenarios we’ve been running. They’ve been found to be completely unsustainable, if not utterly disastrous. So, the Board of Directors has decided to write the whole thing out by the end of the year. During these review meetings I’ve got to determine who from your team is going to stay on with the company. There are opportunities to work on other projects – Projects Sphera and Terra are really taking off. Their populations are set to triple within the next few years and there are some really interesting storylines involved.”

Jack had known this was coming. It was a rumour that had hung around the department for so long that it had already been accepted as fact and some of his fellow Junior Content Producers had already begun fantasising about their new role at Sphera or Terra, two of the more successful projects which seemed to offer no end of satisfaction to those who worked on them. But Jack couldn’t think about that. He still had Laura to worry about.

“How are they going to write it out? I mean, do they know what events will be scheduled? Will Laura suffer?” Jack queried.

“The details of that are still being determined and, to be frank, I couldn’t share them with you even if I knew. Basically, the first round of redundancies is happening next month, and unless you can do your job a hell of a lot better than you’ve been doing it of late, I’m afraid that I’ll have to let you go. If I do that, it means Laura is going to have to get the chop earlier than planned.”

This comment hit Jack in the gut and he recoiled slightly in his chair. He wanted to walk out then and there in protest against everything he knew was wrong with this profession and this company and this project, but he still had Laura’s life in his hands, and he couldn’t abandon her.

Sensing how effective his threat had been, the Line Manager continued, “I can have Laura Tindell caught in gang cross-fire in the street, I can get an aneurism signed off for her like that!” he snapped his fingers in a superfluous gesture to prove his point, “and I can fire your arse Jack, I mean it. So if you want Laura to stick around a bit longer, and if you want to get paid until the end of the year and improve your chances of getting a good enough reference to get a position on any of the other projects at this company, you had better read this Manual again. Learn it off by heart.”

Jack nodded mechanically despite himself as he hauled himself out of his chair. As he shuffled towards the door, the Line Manager called after him in a gentler voice, “Don’t make me fire you, Jack. Help me remember why I took you on.”

Outside the Line Manager’s office, Jack passed Perry in the hall.

“How was it?” Perry’s bug eyes appeared even wider and more unsettling than usual.

“Could’ve gone better.” Jack was too exhausted to go into detail, “that your report?”

Perry nodded, clutching his bundle protectively against him. His report was much thicker than Jack’s.

“Do you think it’s too long? I’m a little worried about the length,” Perry sputtered, “I mean I tried to keep it succinct, but my guy David has had loads of stuff going on lately. I just couldn’t see a way of condensing the details of how his reactions to his scenarios have had multiple repercussions not just within his core family unit, but also within his wider ethnic community.”

“Huh. I don’t suppose it’s all champagne and roses either.”

“You’re right about that” Perry said, missing Jack’s sarcasm and grinning widely to display a mouth crammed with oversized teeth battling each other for prime position.

“I have a feeling you’re going to do just fine” Jack assured him before making for the lift, pressing the call button several times in quick succession. When the lift arrived, several more eager juniors shuffled out, their hefty reports clamped to their chests. He avoided catching anyone’s eye. It wasn’t even the fact that they would undoubtedly do better than him in their reviews that bothered him. It was the sheer pointlessness of all the work they’d been doing for the past several months when it was just going to be annihilated by some senior manager pulling the plug. Jack supposed he should’ve known better than to take the job in the first place, but it had seemed such a good option for young graduates like himself. Good working hours, great pay and a fast track promotion system for those who showed even the slightest promise.

Jack was alone in the lift travelling back down to the eightieth floor below zero. One literally started at the bottom here and worked their way up. Swipe passes let content producers out only at their own floor and their Line Manager’s floor as well as the communal areas like the cafeteria and gym. Line Mangers for the seventy-ninth and eightieth floors were all on level seventy-eight and each Line Manager looked after around twenty Junior Content Producers. They’d all started out as juniors themselves and had literally moved up. It was a pretty simple system. Jack knew he would never see the seventy-ninth floor.

The lift doors buzzed open and Jack made a right down the long, thin corridor towards his cell. They were called cells only because they were so small, not because one was locked in. Jack peered through the tiny window into each as he went past, seeing each Junior Content Producer with their character beamed up large on the screen in front of them. Some of the Juniors were not even looking at their screen, but scribbling furiously on their touchpad at their desk, coming up with new storylines for their character, their Manual splayed open at page 8005 for ‘Relationships post-puberty’ or 1008 for “Coping with the loss of a loved one”. Most of those key pages and chapters one ended up knowing off by heart. The manuals were detailed about how to introduce a scenario, how to sustain it, develop it to climax and then bring it down to neutral again – the famous “status quo” which on average should take up around eighty-five to ninety per cent of most characters’ lives, with the exception of those involved in organised crime or living in some of the more disaster prone areas of the project. If content was too fast paced or too slow, it would cause a glitch in the system and the Programming Department on the sixtieth floor would send the script back to the Content Producer with an error code asking them to ‘rectify’ so programming could go ahead.

Given the ratio of status quo to dramatic climax, one rarely saw much when they peered into someone else’s cell. It was mainly people sleeping, kids arguing with their parents, teenage boys masturbating. But sometimes, Jack would witness something more chilling. He had once peered into Sally Morgan’s cell just as her character was learning about the death of their child, and had been invited to see Brad Derwent’s character being told they had a terminal illness. Brad was a bit of a rising star on their floor and his story lines were often picked up by management as examples of best practice on training days.

Jack wasn’t the only one who had trouble hacking the job, though. There was a relatively high turnover rate on his floor. Jack remembered one girl, Gillian, who had left the company some months back. That day, as he was returning from his lunch break he’d seen her weeping in her cell. She’d come out afterwards and without speaking to anyone had gone straight to hand in her resignation. They’d found someone else only too willing to pick up where she’d left off and the replacement Content Producer was now in the same cell busily scribbling away. Gillian’s character, who had been the sole survivor of a car crash that killed the rest of her family, now seemed to be doing well. Only ten at the time of the accident, she was now reading law at Cambridge and had a dapper boyfriend who was head of the Dining and Libation society. The new recruit had done a good job, it seemed, of bringing the character back to a perfect status quo.

It was that critical resting point of status quo at which Jack had tried so hard to keep Laura, desperate to shield her from the jagged claws of tragedy that hid on every other page of the Manual which so many of the other Content Producers seemed to dole out so generously to their characters. Yet his good intentions had ultimately led to his pitiful performance at his review and the threat of having Laura killed off with an aneurism or rogue bullet from gang warfare.

On his way back to Laura, Jack passed Don Cochrane’s cell. The door was open and a few of the other juniors had congregated around the screen, guffawing every few seconds and slapping their knees. Jack couldn’t see what all the fuss was about until he went all the way inside to join them. It became immediately apparent that Don’s character, a rather feckless young man called Gary who considered himself somewhat of a lothario, was having intercourse with his latest conquest in a series of the most outrageous positions any of them had ever witnessed. His eventual climax brought cheers from the group. Shaking his head, and without even having been acknowledged by the other guys, who were too busy congratulating Don on his ever-expanding repertoire, Jack went back to his cell where half an hour earlier he’d left Laura asleep in her bed. She was now up and sitting glumly over a cup of coffee at her tiny kitchen table, tears staining her freckled cheeks.

“Laura, what are we going to do about you?” Jack said under his breath, bringing her into a close-up so he could better see the clarity of her green eyes. He sat back in his chair and flicked back a few pages in his notes to remind himself what was due to happen to Laura that day. It was Sunday morning and Laura’s flatmate had gone away with her boyfriend for the weekend leaving Laura to her usual misery. Self-defeat and a feeling of worthlessness featured highly in Laura’s life. In trying to protect her from some of the more challenging scenarios in the manual, he’d managed to create someone whose life was deeply unfulfilling precisely due to its lack of stimulation. Laura had been born into a supportive middle-class family, had completed a degree in Arts Management at a good university and had since found uninspiring but steady work as a project coordinator in a community arts centre. She was relatively bright and attractive, had nice enough friends, was in good health and had a decent shot at achieving many of the things she set her mind to. Yet she was chronically unhappy and this had been the major thread of her life story for as long as Jack had been writing it. In Laura’s life there had been no great tragedies, but there had also been no dizzying highs. Her comfortable achievement of her modest goals had left her with a deep sense of self-loathing and underdeveloped self-confidence.

“Laura, what are we going to do about you?” Jack said under his breath, bringing her into a close-up so he could better see the clarity of her green eyes. He sat back in his chair and flicked back a few pages in his notes to remind himself what was due to happen to Laura that day. It was Sunday morning in Laura’s North-London flat. Her flatmate had gone away with her boyfriend for the weekend leaving Laura to her usual misery. Self-defeat and a feeling of worthlessness featured highly in Laura’s life. In trying to protect her from some of the more challenging scenarios in the manual, he’d managed to create someone whose life was deeply unfulfilling precisely due to its lack of stimulation. Laura had been born into a supportive middle-class family, educated at good schools and completed a degree in Arts Management at a good university. She was relatively bright and attractive, had nice enough friends, was in good health and had a good shot at achieving most of the things she set her mind to in life. Yet she was chronically unhappy and this had been the major thread of her life story for as long as Jack had been writing it. In Laura’s life there had been no great tragedies, but there had also been no dizzying highs. Her comfortable achievement of her modest goals had left her with a deep sense of self-loathing and underdeveloped self-confidence.

Seeing what was going to happen to her in the coming days made Jack sigh. At his last review, his Line Manager had accused him of “making Laura’s life purposefully dull in order to protect her from pain”, yet the Line Manager had pointed out that “there are different forms of suffering and I would advise you to reread chapter 604 at page 40,048 in order to understand how your recent writing has affected Laura negatively despite your trying to make her life more comfortable for her.” He had been encouraged to “take Laura out of her comfort zone and allow her to be freer with herself. Regret and pain may result but explore these to their full potential. Show that you are able to develop this character fully.” His specific targets: one grade I and one grade II calamity within the following six months.
In response to this, he had done his best to take Laura out of her comfort zone whilst not pushing her too far. Firstly, he had her enrol in a Karate class, something she’d long meant to do but had lacked the confidence for. At this class, she’d taken a shine to a fellow student and on the last night of the term, when the group had gone out for drinks together, she had got blind drunk and plucked up the courage to ask him on a date. Needless to say, it had gone very badly, and she’d ended up both rebuffed by the chap and abandoned by her two female friends from the group who had left her alone in the bar assuming she’d be embarking on a sizzling one night stand. She’d ended up getting a taxi she could ill-afford home and falling asleep fully clothed on her bed after unsuccessfully trying to remove her knee-high boots which in turn prevented her from taking her jeans off.

He had already submitted the following two weeks to programming and felt guilty about how little reprieve from this embarrassing incident he had been able to factor in. The consequences of actions chosen for one’s character were pre-set and one couldn’t get these changed unless they showed “good cause” and submitted an application well in advance. In Laura’s case, memories of her fall from grace would be on almost constant replay and would make her cringe on as many as three hundred and two separate occasions. Moreover, because she feared seeing her crush again, she had decided to discontinue her Karate lessons and despite all this she was still scheduled to have an embarrassing encounter with the very same bloke in an off-licence on a bad hair day. These scenarios always seemed like such small fry, so much better than sickness, injury or the death of a loved one. Yet, there seemed no end to Laura’s misery. The emptiness of her daily life had brought her to her knees and was keeping her there.

Jack heard the Line Manager’s words again, ‘an aneurysm like that’, ‘caught in cross-fire’. There was another way to dispose of Laura, of course – one which would seem to be a fairly logical tie-in to her present state of mind and which would at least give him a feeling she had a hand in her own end, but he couldn’t bear the thought of it. That option could be considered only in the most extreme cases, the Manual said, and had to be signed off by both one’s Line Manager and the Head of Department before being implemented.

“No Laura, I’m not going to give up on you that easily. We’ll find a way. Hang in there.” Without thinking, he reached out and touched her face on the screen in an attempt to wipe away a tear. Feeling immediately embarrassed by this involuntary and utterly ridiculous action, he spun around hoping that no one was peering into his cell at that moment. Relieved to find they were alone, he cringed nonetheless. Falling for one’s character was not just frowned upon, it was pathetic. Frustrated, he got up and left the cell to refill his water bottle in the kitchenette.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a hand came down on Jack’s shoulder and Don Cochrane’s boomed into his ear, jolting Jack out of his thoughts.

“Hey, Jack, did you see that? Did you see Gary?”

“Yeah, I saw it. Good one,” Jack lied.

“Thanks. I thought I might test it out on him first. I’m thinking of implementing it myself. You know Severine, that chick from the sixty-second floor? I’m gonna ask her out this weekend.”

“No, I don’t know her,” Jack had seen the girl Don was referring to and was quite sure she wouldn’t give Don the opportunity to replicate Gary’s recent triumphs.

“The really hot one. Anyway, I thought I should have a few tried and tested moves up my sleeve…”

“I thought the guidelines forbade testing things out for personal gain.”

“I’ve always taken that to mean emotional stuff. It doesn’t say anything about not being able to try out a new sexual technique. I mean, how are they going to know if it’s something I want to do or not? Who cares? Anyway, we’re never going to be able to completely divorce our own psychologies from our writing – that’s impossible!”

“That’s what I was trying to explain in my review this morning.”

“You had it? How’d it go?”

“Badly. I don’t think I’ll be here after the end of the year.”

“Don’t worry, they’re writing the whole thing out anyway. Did your manager say anything about that?”

“Yeah, he confirmed it. What I don’t get is why they created the whole thing to begin with if they knew they were going to write it out.”
“Gees, where were you on induction day? To see what might happen in real life in different scenarios and to be able to avoid bad stuff based on the results. Anyway, how do you know they knew it wouldn’t work out? Maybe they hoped it would but it just didn’t. It happens.”

“But why can’t we just apply logic to find out what would happen?”

“Because add stupid, unpredictable humanoid nature to the mix and there is no logic. You can’t ever know anything for sure until you have scientific proof, until you’ve actually done it for real along with all the elements of arbitrariness that you can’t plan for.”

“How is this scientific? We sit here and make up boring stories for people who don’t realise their whole lives are pointless experiments. And however similar to us they seem, we’re constantly being reminded by management that they are not like us at all. So how can we even be sure that their reactions are going to be the same as ours? Maybe we wouldn’t act the same way in the same situations which makes the whole thing unscientific.”

“Let’s hope we wouldn’t act the same way. They’re pretty messed up down there. Anyway, the point is that they’re similar enough to run the scenarios on.” Don hesitated, then his face exploded in a goofy grin, “that’s why you’ve got a mega crush on your character!”

“What? I have not.” Jack felt his cheeks start to burn slightly and it annoyed him no end to be blushing in front of Don.

“You do too. I see you in there. I’ve seen you just staring at her, not writing anything”

“I just feel sorry that her whole world is going to end soon, that’s all. She’s a nice girl and she doesn’t deserve it.”

Don’s already unattractively chubby face now appeared to Jack like a ridiculous clown’s head, “Hey, if you’re up for it, we could hook her up with Gary. I mean, I know they live like five hours apart, but if you want to put her through her paces, I’m willing to make it happen…I mean, maybe they could both take a weekend trip, meet in some youth hostel…?”

Jack’s tolerance was depleting rapidly, “I don’t think so.”

“Why not? Cause you’re jealous? Rule 101 of Content Producing, never fall for your character!” Don let out a squeaky giggle.
Jack finished filling up his water bottle and tried to make an exit. Don followed him down the hall towards his cell much to Jack’s disappointment.

“I bet you make her take a lot of showers” Don continued.

“Just drop it. I’ve had a bad day alright?” Jack snapped before regretting it as soon as he saw Don’s eyebrows begin to rise in a way reminiscent of the Line Manager’s. Surprisingly, though, Don took on an uncharacteristic air of seriousness as they stopped just outside Jack’s cell door.

“You act like they are so innocent.” Don said, his tone steady, “but they do bad stuff as well. Who’s to say they don’t deserve it? Maybe they do. Look at what they’re doing to all the animals down there. Pigs giving birth to rats in labs, ears growing off mouse’s backs, I mean, come on. They’re just as bad as us. What do you expect? They’re made from roughly the same stuff. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes as they do, and that’s why Laura has to exist, and Gary and who the hell knows who else? Would you want the kind of stuff that’s happening there to happen here? Would you want your mum or your sister to go through the stuff we put some of these characters through? It’s the only way to make sure it won’t happen to us. That’s the whole point of scenario testing – to keep us safe, to make sure that the bad stuff that happens in scenarios will never really happen.”

“Never really happen? It happens to them. It’s real for them. Their lives are all they know,” Jack retorted.

“Nobody’s life is perfect. We don’t exactly love being stuck eighty floors underground working ten hours a day do we? But it’s better than working for the Department of Statistics. So we get on with it. Sure, a lot of them have tough lives, but who doesn’t? At the end of the day, most of them live, laugh, love and drink copious amounts of low-quality alcohol. They have some happiness and that makes it worth it. Just like us. What do you think they want? What they don’t know can’t hurt them.”

“But it does.”

“I hope you didn’t put that in your Review.”

“I did.”

“Gees, well maybe you should consider working for the Department of Statistics.” Don’s face spread into another of his goofy grins, bringing them back to the usual coffee-break levity, which Jack was grateful for.

“What will you do if you get fired?” Don asked as they stopped outside Jack’s cell door.

“Go back to school I guess. Maybe I’ll do a doctorate. I want to do research that shows how wrong some of this stuff we do is. Anyway, it seems I’m not so good at writing, so I guess something in research would be better for me. What about you? I mean if they have to start making cuts to the department… do you think you’ll stay?”

“I think I’m going transfer to Sphera. I put in an application for it some time back and my Line Manager said based on my progress she’s going to recommend me and it should go through no problem. Sphera’s a better project. There are also loads more people on Sphera so the scenarios are more dynamic – no six degrees of separation and all that, which makes it so boring. I mean my Gary is going have to start shagging the same girls twice he’s had so many, and he’s only twenty-eight! Here’s a tip off for you: apparently, there’s loads of freelance work on offer as they phase out the project. It’s going to get real nasty and most of the writers just can’t hack it, so to keep people on, they’re going to offer huge bonuses. I heard some of the storylines feature diseases that eat people from the inside out, dead bodies in the drinking water and crap like that. That’s why it’s freelance – most of the characters only last a few weeks, then you take on another one – they’ll be dropping like flies towards the end. Can you believe there are only nine billion characters in this project, but they have levels of serious crime higher than Terra and Sphera put together and those have populations twice as large? You can make six hundred a day up there! I reckon if I have time to spare I might do it, make some quick cash and take a holiday before I start at Sphera. To be honest, I’m getting a bit bored of watching Gary get laid.”

“Sounds like you’ve got it all planned” Jack mused.

“Hopefully. Anyway, I’ve got to go. I have a meeting with Joao in five. My character is going on holiday to Rio for Carnival next week and we thought we’d do a hook-up with his chick. We’ve got to plan how they meet and all that. She is so hot, I cannot wait to see this! If you can afford to take a break from your character’s lethargic existence, come and watch. I’ll send around an email. It’ll be ten times better than what you just saw.” He patted Jack on the back and walked back towards his cell snickering to himself.

Back in his own cell, Jack watched Laura weeping in her bathroom for a while. Maybe Don and his Line Manager were right. Maybe it was pointless to try and protect Laura and even more pointless to try and fight for her continued existence. Perhaps her life wasn’t too dissimilar to his own despite the many time zones that separated them and the differences in their genetic codes. They were both people living their lives, being pulled in various directions by a system bigger than themselves that they didn’t always understand and didn’t necessarily agree with.

Glancing at the clock on his wall he was surprised to see how late it had got. He scribbled down the last of his notes onto his touchpad and pressed the send button to get them to programming. Whatever might happen to Laura over the coming months and years would happen, whether Jack liked it or not and it gave him some comfort to know, even if Laura didn’t, that in every cell over many hundreds of floors, there were millions of characters just like Laura wondering why their lives were the way they were.

At that moment, Laura looked up at herself in the mirror.

Jack sighed, “I’m so sorry Laura. I wish things could be different.”

With that, he brought up the time sheet on his computer, pressed in his hours for the day and signed off with his pin code. He packed his Manual away in his briefcase and left the cell flicking off the ceiling lights as he went. Now the large screen with Laura on it was the only source of light in the room. Her face was on close-up as he shut the door behind him, leaving her alone, eighty floors beneath ground level, crying in front of her bathroom mirror.

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