Decode, Chapter 9: Dress to Spy

So I’m back after a little vacation with the next installment of my mystery web series Decode. I had to take a break from it while I finished The Jester’s Apprentice, but now that it’s out, more chapters of Decode are on the way.

If you’re new to the series, check out the first 8 chapters here:

Chapter 9: Dress to Spy

“I told you I’m just a web designer!” Veronica flung her hands in the air, Maddox frowning back at her. They sat at his kitchen island that night, a Brazilian jazz song filling in the background noise.

“And you have no idea who it was?” Maddox said.

“I was under the desk. All I saw was feet.” Veronica swallowed, hoping for all the world he couldn’t see right through her. She would find out why Jesse had been sneaking around in David Moore’s office, but she wasn’t telling Maddox a thing until then.

Maddox watched her through slanted eyes. Veronica tried not to flinch. “What shoes was he wearing?” he said. “Did he dress like me? Or more casual?”

Veronica hesitated, Jesse’s red canvas sneakers flashing in her mind. Maddox tilted his head, motioning for her to answer. “More casual.”

“How casual? Oxfords? Boots? Sneakers?”

He was starting to remind her of Guarini. “Are you sure you’re not really a detective or something?”

Maddox laughed. “No. But I’ve been playing one in my spare time. Now think. How casual were his shoes?”

“Does it matter?”

“It could pin down where he came from. If he’s an insider, the different departments have different standards of dress. If it was someone from the outside, his clothes might give him away.”

Veronica could feel her ears flush. Why did this guy need her anyway? He was practically a professional investigator. “Slip-ons, maybe? Not like your polished Italian leather shoes, but more…casual.”

Maddox raised an eyebrow. He expected her to be a little more observant than that. “What about his pants?”

“Oh, just, you know, khakis I guess.” Veronica clasped her hands under the table, trying to keep herself from twitching.

Maddox took off his glasses, leaning his arms on the table. Veronica could see his biceps flex under his black t-shirt and held her hands tighter. “I’m not a subtle person,” he said. “I prefer to come right out with what I have to say. So here it is. Either you didn’t see anyone in Moore’s office, or you’re protecting the person you did see.”

Veronica swallowed.

“Because I can’t see a reason for the former, I’m betting it’s the latter. And if it’s the latter, there’s only one person I can imagine you would need to protect. Your boyfriend, Jesse.” Veronica opened her mouth, but Maddox pressed a finger to her lips. “I’d rather you kept it to one lie per visit.”

“Then why keep me on? Clearly, I’m not cut out for this.”

“I disagree, or I never would have gone to the trouble of cornering you. But I can tell when you’re lying so let’s skip that part of the game. If you don’t want me to know something, don’t say anything. I’ll still know you’re hiding but at least we won’t waste time.”

“You weren’t kidding when you said you’re not subtle.”

Maddox smiled, his face a little less harsh without the glasses. “Would you prefer I was?”

Veronica bit her lip. She wasn’t sure why but she wanted to laugh. How could someone be that frank yet completely unreadable? “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

He stood up, his smile reaching his eyes. “Let me know when you do.”

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