Secrets: Chapter 27

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"Let's call it that then, shall we?"

In her cloud of humiliation, August had taken no notice of anything but her own mix-up. Now that she looked, James also seemed to have made peace with something. He stood tall, but not so rigid. The slight smile creases around his mouth and eyes had returned.

He was carrying a small paperback book. "Let's sit down," he said, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs.

August spent several seconds debating whether to sit across from James or adjacent. He started looking at her oddly, so she pulled out the nearest chair and sat, clearing her throat.

He slid the paperback over.

"The NSA, UCC and Donald Marsh—the Secret Underbelly of Information Science," August recited. "How have I never heard of this? I've read every article and forum post ever made, just about."

"That's what makes it interesting." James clasped his hands in front of him on the table. "Every trace has been erased from the internet. The author tried the usual websites and kept getting rejected. Finally he found a hole-in-the-wall publisher to do it, which went bankrupt after one printing."

"How do you know all this?"

"The author gave me the book."

"What? Really?"

"Would I make this up?"

August stared at the book, having to consciously relax her grip.

"I checked out what I could," James said. "There's nothing about it on the net. But the book exists. He didn't pull the story out of thin air. That almost makes it more believable."

"What's in it?"

"Read it."

"Now?"

"I've barely slept for three days. Wake me when you're done."

"Um ... righto."

James took himself off to the other room and collapsed on the couch. August felt her heart accelerating beyond the rate of her morning jog, then further, kettledrums thundering in her chest.

Mouth dry and eyes glued wide, she opened the book.

***

Reading the book took two hours of flipping back and forth and thinking furiously. Afterward, August's eyes hurt but her spirit was on fire. She went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. Her eyeshadow ran, so she washed it all off.

Putting makeup on for James—a farcical idea. Appearances would not be the thing to bind them together. Only the investigation could do that now.

August took a deep breath and walked to the couch. James was sleeping with his head on the armrest, one leg flat and one bent up, the same position August herself used for relaxing. She watched him for a minute before leaning over to touch him on the shoulder.

"James."

He groaned and opened his eyes. "Being awake for three days is bad."

"I'd say."

"You read the book?" He sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face.

"Yes."

"Tell me what you think."

August hesitated. "Well ... it's been my obsession. I'm not capable of being unbiased. Maybe you should tell me what you think."

"I think most of it is pure speculation." James gestured at her to sit on the other end of the couch. "But not the same garbage speculation the internet conspiracy forums are full of. I spent two nights reading through those, and by comparison, this book is sober and well-researched."

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