August leaned against the side of the shower stall. A soft groan escaped as the heat melted accumulated tension.
Steganalysis was not her expertise, but August was confident in her math. Every statistical technique in the book had revealed nothing at all strange about the documents. Not the slightest inconsistency. It was maddening; even if she couldn't break the steganographic process, she should be able show that the payload existed.
If it existed.
The payload could be so minuscule as to have no effect on character distributions, but if so, it could just as easily have been hidden in a single file or written on a sticky note and kept in someone's wallet. Why gin up such a massive store of fake documents? That almost made it seem like the whole thing was a game, or a distraction.
Teeth grinding frustration.
August had to consider the possibility that James was behind it. Why had he clued her in that the documents seemed suspicious after telling her that he wanted to prove Donald's innocence? Was he stringing her along, making her feel like she was getting something in exchange for her money?
But she trusted him, even if for no reason. So she had hit a conceptual wall.
Three options remained.
One: John Ward. Assuming that he cared to listen after the finality of their most recent conversation, he had enough pull with the agency to get the data analyzed. If it turned out to be nothing, his ambitions were as good as done for.
Two: Imran Muhammad. He might have contacts that could help. But handing over stolen documents to someone she knew nothing about was foolhardy. And if Imran's stories of surveillance were true, the odds of him getting caught red-handed with the documents were high.
That left only option three: call James.
That seemed the most idiotic of all. What could James possibly do? The further August could distance him from all the intrigue, the better. There was no reason to call him, and every reason not to.
Except ... she wanted to.
Too tired to make a rational decision, August toweled off, dried her hair, and slept almost before her head hit the pillow.
August rose in the early light, donned her jogging clothes and ran, breath misting in the frigid winter air. Then she showered again, as hot as she could stand it, ate yogurt and toast, and sat on the bed, phone in hand.
She growled in frustration, got up, and decided to focus on her actual job for the first time in forever. In three hours, she had a tidy little scenario that would do nicely for her next shift. Pleased with herself, she sat down at her computer to tackle the Donald Documents again.
Thirty minutes was all it took for frustration to settle back in. Despite three years of practice at going nowhere, a tiny taste of progress had her sense of urgency rising unbearably.
She made the call.
"James here," came the response.
August hated the flush of warmth in her chest just from his stupid voice. "G'day," she said.
"Did you turn Australian again?"
"I've always been..."
"For a while, you sounded American."
"If you've a liking for fair dinkum Aussie, I'll give it a burl, but don't crack on to me for it."
"Again, in English."
YOU ARE READING
No Life to LoseMystery / Thriller
James Kirkpatrick's difficult life leads him to take solace in virtual reality—a momentary peace soon shattered by mystery, intrigue, and unseen forces bent on plunging the world into chaos. An epic tale of love, loss, and the boundless influence of...