Secrets: Chapter 23

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Chapter 23

 August worked a few shifts, played some poker, and avoided Shattered Land like the plague. It all went on automatic to the extent that when she looked at the calendar, two weeks had passed. She had agreed to work with the man calling himself Imran Muhammad, but had made no promises of time frame or results. She would do it her way, or not at all.

Though at this rate, her way was not at all.

Talking to James was the only way to advance her new mission: a mission similar to the old one, only with no subterfuge. No misdirection. No pretending.

That was the problem. August was so used to playing a role that the idea of confronting someone unmasked—especially James—was as daunting as anything she had faced. As daunting as boarding the plane to leave home had been—a flight that had ironically taken her from Canberra to JFK International Airport.

A skilled player's mission in poker was to avoid situations where it came down to luck. Maybe that meant August was unskilled at real life, since now it seemed all she could do was lay it on the table and see what happened.

Three more days passed, then five. Having worked up her courage, she logged in to Shattered Land a few times. Then a lot of times.

James never popped up.

It wasn't as if he had dropped off the face of the earth. But thanks to Imran Muhammad, August knew that her window of opportunity was limited. There was an expiration date on the deal she had on offer.

In the end, it was too outside of August's nature to walk up to James and announce herself. She typed out a text on her phone.

G'day! August Evans here. Looked up your number, hope it's not a bother. Haven't seen you around lately. Thought you might want to get together for a coffee or a bite ... not in game. Somewhere real. Hope you're doing well. Get back to me any time.

August read the message five times, tinkered with the phrasing until nothing sounded right, gave up and sent it. A comma in the wrong place wasn't going to make James accept or refuse, and if he did refuse, August would bang on his door anyway.

Why she was even doing this was a matter she had never settled. Patriotism? Justice? Vague camaraderie with a mysterious Iranian whose true identity was a mystery? Unwillingness to admit she was on a fool's errand after so many years?

Or was it loyalty to John? Though he had said August could give it up, his career was on the line, or at the very least his chance of promotion. It had never been his sole decision for her to go; he had asked, she had accepted. He was not her superior. He was her lover, her confidant and her friend.

Well, he was her friend. Whether two people who had spent no intimate time alone for years and no longer had conversations that did not involve work could be considered lovers or confidants was a debate too long in coming.

August queued up another text, this time to John Ward: I need to speak with you.

Then she sat back and waited to see who would respond first.

If anyone.

***

August spoke to John on the second day. A brief conversation, but afterward she felt exhausted and disoriented, like she had run backward around the block ten times.

The morning of the third day, her phone buzzed at her bedside: directions to a burger joint half way across town. Unsigned, but it came from the number she knew belonged to James.

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