Secrets: Chapter 35

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Chapter 35

It was even harder than August had expected, watching on TV as the ball dropped, every couple around them stuck in a sloppy liplock, pretending it didn't bother her that James was thinking about someone else.

But August wasn't going to complain. She would only have to endure this night once. Saying, "Happy new year, James," and him saying it back, became something she could keep forever.

And he would remember, too. That she had wanted to be there with him.

The bar was a riotous din; convenient, because the noise made James lean closer. August talked more than listened: about her childhood, her adolescence, her adulthood. Everything. And nothing, in the sense that none of it mattered. There were no deeply formative or informative events in her past. Even the death of her parents was outside living memory—a story she had been told, not one she had lived.

That suffocating lack of wowza moments was probably what had driven August so keenly toward doing some great deed, one that would have lasting impact on something larger than just her life. After meeting John Ward, stoked by his similar ambition, that drive grew until it surpassed everything else.

The opportunity to go to America had seemed like providence. UCC was at the nexus of almost every modern conspiracy theory. They were so far beyond cutting edge that the cutting edge would spend decades catching up. In John's opinion, that alone was worth investigating. UCC had something.

There were simply no resources available to find out what that something was. The world that had seemed relatively stable in the late 1990s began a long spiral downhill with the events of 9/11 at the World Trade Center. By 2018, governmental and financial systems were toppling one after another. Australia lost so much of its economy in the scandal and crash that the ASIS was nearly abolished. Diehard national security interests won out, but employing volunteer agents on low-priority projects—something that would have once sounded ludicrous—became common practice. August was one of the first.

Pouring it all out for the first time, August recognized both how crazy her actions sounded, and also how she had come to change.

It's never too late.

When she looked up, at two hours past the drop, the table in front of her was covered with empty glasses and most of the other revelers had gone.

James was sitting back, looking far off into a distance. Parting was the last thing August wanted to do, but was probably a better option than falling asleep in a puddle of booze, either before or after throwing up on herself. She opened her mouth to suggest they call it a night when the sound of a phone interrupted, beeping and whistling with shocking clarity in the becalmed bar. James almost overbalanced his chair in surprise, steadying himself with a hand on the table.

"James here. What? Right now? Way too much. Yeah. Okay." James hung up, stared at his phone, then at August. "Let's go."

"Go?" She had been about to suggest it herself, but from the expression on his face came trepidation: a desire to stay right where they were, forever if possible.

"To your place," James said. "On foot. I'm too drunk to drive and so are you. I'll sleep on the couch."

"What's happened?"

"First thing in the morning, we're going to the mansion."

"We are? Why?"

Even in the fog of too many drinks and too long a day and too broken a heart ... still a surpassingly stupid question.

"He found something," James replied.

***

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