Secrets: Chapter 30.1

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Chapter 30.1

Conducting the search from devices owned by other people was only the beginning.

August recopied the data to ten more email addresses, then to a flash drive which she continuously mailed to a PO box so that it was always in transit. Every time she left home, she stopped somewhere unmonitored to apply her blonde wig, blue contacts and heavy eyeshadow. Every time she examined her data she did it from a different location.

Her precautions were extreme considering that she was only exploring correlations claimed by Stephen Cruze, none of which could directly implicate anyone in anything. She was doing it more to get into the habit. Depending on what James came back with, the investigation could quickly veer into the red zone.

Five days of sorting data and August still wasn't done, though she was getting better at skimming and homing in on keywords. One more day ought to do it. There was only one problem.

It was Christmas and all the stupid libraries were closed.

For August, Christmas was a motivator to get buried under a mountain of work. Inactivity produced thoughts of putting up a tree, decorating, buying presents—thoughts quickly squashed like unwelcome roaches. The extent of her holiday was to send a text message of Merry Christmas to the contacts on her Australian phone list: John Ward, her foster parents, a favorite former professor, and two school friends with whom she had not quite fallen out of touch. By next Christmas, there might be no need to send any messages at all.

Therefore, work. With no library anonymity, however, figuring out what she could safely do was hair-pulling aggravation.

August decided not to wait. In addition to her usual security measures, she connected to the net through five extra proxies. If anyone ran a trace, they would have to backtrack through all those dead ends. It almost certainly wasn't beyond the capability of the NSA to find her, but she doubted they would try just for the data she currently had her hands on.

The extra precautions took two hours; combing the rest of the data took eight. When she finished, three hours remained until Christmas would have thankfully come and gone for another year.

August stared at her phone until 9:30, arguing with herself over all the reasons it was stupid to call. She finally growled in disgust and hit the button to dial.

It rang so many times that she was ready to hang up when the call finally connected. A voice said something like hello, though it was hard to tell over the raucous background noise: a hellish din of pounding music, multiple televisions, at least half a dozen conversations, and over it all a few people belting Auld Lang Syne off-key, at the top of their lungs and a week too early.

"H-hello?" August said.

"—lo?" said a voice. "Hello?" Clearer now, because he was shouting, but still crushed beneath overwhelming ambient noise.

"Can you hear me?" August yelled, wincing as the sound echoed wildly through the emptiness of her apartment.

Blessed silence descended. "Alright, sorry," James said. "Had to step outside."

"What the devil is going on?"

"A party at Donald's house."

"A ... party?"

"Yeah. I'm doing it tonight. This zoo is my cover, and as you heard, it's more effective than I ever imagined."

"The flash drive, you mean? Tonight?"

"Unless there's a reason I shouldn't."

"Um, no. No, tonight is fine. Brilliant."

"Good." There was a short silence. "So, what's up?"

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