The Game: Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

August Evans spent Sunday analyzing the problem of how to approach James Franklin Kirkpatrick.

It should have come naturally. August was a scenario designer, a poker player, and an investigator, all of which had something in common: a deep need for strategic thinking.

Scenario design was just storytelling in three dimensions; you took a story and brought it to life. Poker was also about storytelling: constructing a believable story through actions, inviting the enemy to follow along so that however they moved, you had been there first, laying the trap. Investigation was not creating a story, but recreating a story; you unearthed all the pieces and constructed something as closely resembling the original as possible.

Creativity and reconstruction: two sides of a coin, and August Evans knew them both.

So it really should have come naturally. James Kirkpatrick was a non-entity. He was neither formidable nor wary, the very definition of a soft target. Donald Marsh, Daisy Egan and the impenetrable UCC defensive measures that cloaked them had proven beyond August's capabilities for years. Against that, James Kirkpatrick was a plump and juicy peach, low-hanging to the ground ... though the scenario itself was not the usual straightforward fare. This time, August could write only half of the story. James Kirkpatrick—his thoughts, tendencies, motivations and connections—made up the other half. Writing half of a story well enough to mesh it into someone else's half was a worthy challenge.

August could normally have tackled such a challenge with relish. If only she wasn't wavering.

After eight hours of little more than procrastination and doodling in the design space, August took off her headset and laid down on her white leather couch. The armrest was so plush and soft under her neck that a pillow would have been redundant. She stared up at the white stucco patterned ceiling, eyes wandering, finding shapes in the grain that weren't there: a tormented face, a yapping dog, a sword in a cloud. The psychological term was pareidolia: perceiving significance or familiarity in things which contained none.

August often used some variation of this exercise to calm her mind. After twenty minutes on the couch, finding fish and foxes in the splash of the stucco, she felt a little less frustrated, but no less wayward. A sailor on the sea with a star chart for guidance, and night after night, only clouded sky and rain.

Use any means necessary to get in good and find something. Understand?

Any. Means.

August fought the urge to clench her teeth. Grinding them was a bad habit that worsened when she was upset.

She had run out of options. UCC was too well defended. Donald Marsh was too brilliant, Daisy Egan too cunning. August didn't have anything like the resources that they had, and in infiltration as in war, the defender had the advantage. If there was a new angle to exploit, or even a hint of one, August had to exploit it well. She would use anything at her disposal, be it intellect, trickery, or feminine appeal.

If only John would seem even a little bit concerned. Or appreciative. Or ... anything. Anything except that annoyed disregard that seemed to be the limit of what he had to give, anymore.

With a ferocious mental effort, August put all the disquiet into a small box in her mind, envisioned locking it up, and let the key disintegrate into the wind. Today there was only one objective: James Franklin Kirkpatrick, and finding out what he knew.

August stared at the ceiling for another two hours, eyes flitting back and forth. She no longer saw the stucco at all. She saw only the scenario, and as it took shape, the familiar feeling of satisfaction began to grow. By the time midnight rolled around, she was too excited to sleep.

A plan. When she had a plan, she was ready for battle; convenient, because battle was the plan. Within a week, August Evans would go to war.

And little did James Kirkpatrick realize he would be fighting on August's side.

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