Secrets: Chapter 26

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Chapter 26

James had the taxi drop him off at a mall instead of his apartment. Why go home? There was nothing for him there.

He wandered. Almost all the people he passed were retirees loitering on benches, drinking coffee from the food court in their patchy outfits from better days. The air smelled old, like their lives were overripe.

James stopped in front of a book store. How long had it been since he'd read an actual paper book? Did anyone still do that? He worked at a library, so apparently people did, but he wasn't one of them.

James browsed mindlessly through the racks, not really seeing books. He needed to think, but trying made red rage boil up until he was in danger of losing control. How had he ended up in the position of weighing his mother's existence against his loyalty to his oldest friend?

But that was a false dichotomy that August was leading him into. In reality, there were other options.

Why not go directly to Donald?

Donald was nauseatingly rich and successful. To James, the amount of money required to maintain his mother's care was essentially infinite. To Donald, it was a child's allowance. The man could probably buy the hospital if he wanted to.

James had never brought it up because he hated to put his responsibility on anyone else. He had accepted Angela's assistance because she was part of his family, and his mother's, at least in a way. Even contemplating asking Donald was humiliating without end.

August's offer was different. She wanted something in return, something that only James could provide. Accepting payment was only natural.

What bizarre morality. How could it be bad to ask for help from a friend, and somehow less so to accept help from someone using him to break the law? When had his compass of right and wrong been magnetized to such a twisted pole?

James stopped in front a rack of "deep discount bargains," also called junk that someone wanted to get rid of. Familiar uppercase letters on the spine of a thin volume caught his eye.

The NSA, UCC and Donald Marsh—the Secret Underbelly of Information Science. The inner cover was subtitled, What the Internet Doesn't Want You to Know.

"Good eye you have there, young man."

James turned to find the shop clerk, a mustachioed character in an anachronistic bowler hat, coming around the counter to greet him.

"Do I?" James re-examined the book's cover. It was blank except for the title and the author's name: Stephen Cruze. Not at all the usual sensationalized conspiracy nonsense.

"Sure do." The old man leaned forward on a polished walking cane. "Great history to that volume."

"History? It's two years old."

"Lot can happen in two years, son. Did you know, the author tried to publish on the internet, and was rejected by every digital publishing company, even the free ones? And that when the author started trying to give the story away on forums and self-publishing sites, he was blocked at every turn? He was finally able to publish through that little-known paperback house. As soon as the first edition was printed and sold, know what happened?"

"What?"

"They went bankrupt. Only a few hundred copies of that book around. By rights I should be charging a premium, but seeing as no one wants it, be a little pointless."

James turned the book over in his hands. "You seem to know a lot about this, for a story that was suppressed left and right."

"I should. I wrote it."

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