The Sebastian Files Ch. 01

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“I had a feeling it was going to be you.”

Laura Miller looked up from the file she was reading and stared at the person approaching. Tan jacket and dark khakis, ruffled sandy hair, a face irritatingly familiar—this had to be a joke, she thought. He was going to be her expert consultant? They expected her to work with her brother on this story?

“Funny, I forgot all about you,” she said.

Professor Karl Miller said, “Is this just a coincidence, or does somebody here have a strange sense of humor?”

“Maybe it’s a test,” Laura said. “How was my reaction?”

“You haven’t started yelling yet, so I think you passed,” Karl said.

But her mind was scrambling to find a way out. She knew she didn’t have enough clout with her editor to ask him to find another reporter for this story. Was she really stuck with this assignment? And if she was, could she use it to her advantage? She was trying to build a reputation as a solid journalist, one who could tackle anything—but she never thought she’d cover a story like this, and with her brother of all people. Could Karl help her career in this situation, or hurt it? Her psychologist brother. Her teasing, prank-pulling big brother. This was going to be awkward on a few levels.

The door to the office opened and her editor, Milton Harrison, filled the frame. “Come on in, you two,” he said.

“Let me do the talking,” Laura whispered to Karl.

“No problem,” Karl said. “I’ll just sit quietly with my uncomfortable thoughts.”

Harrison settled behind a large desk in front of an immense window. His jacket was draped on his chair and his white shirt was wrinkled. He waved them to their seats as he tapped at a keyboard. “Let me show you a video. It was posted last night. It’s one of those boring academic videos that nobody actually watches, but this has over a half million views so far.”

The monitor on the wall showed a split screen of two men. The one on the left, according to the caption, was Professor Frank Harold, Sociology, University of Chicago, a smiling bald man seated in front of an overflowing bookcase. The one on the right was Dr. Gavin Sebastian. His backdrop was a simple blue cloth.

HAROLD: Gavin, thank you for talking with me. I realize it’s been difficult for you lately. I hope we can have a good discussion, let you express some of your thoughts, and maybe clear up some of the controversy you’ve found yourself in.

SEBASTIAN: Thank you, Frank. I appreciate the opportunity.

HAROLD: Well, let’s get into this. [Holds up a book] The Complete Guide to Incest. Congratulations on the gaziantep escort bayan success of your book, but I have to ask—what is up with that title? A bit provocative, don’t you think?

SEBASTIAN: It is, yes. But it’s difficult to come up with a non-provocative title for a book about incest. I suppose the publishers agreed upon this one because they thought it would help sales.

HAROLD: And I believe they were right. But did you intend the book to be used as a guide, as some people are claiming?

SEBASTIAN: The book is meant to be a comprehensive look at the phenomenon of incest, with interviews with real people in real situations, and with a focus on the difficulties, the misconceptions, the unpredictability, the sheer improbability that such a relationship will occur. If anything, it should guide people away from attempting incest. And let me emphasize that my research has been entirely focused on consensual relationships between adults. Anything else is a terrible tragedy.

HAROLD: You have been absolutely clear on that, even your strongest critics have admitted so. Now, I know you’ve been researching incest for many years, so you must know it’s a difficult subject to discuss. It’s disturbing to most people, and yet, people seem to be very curious about it, if not fascinated. The reaction to your book must have caught you by surprise.

SEBASTIAN: Well, I never expected to have a bestseller, that’s for certain. Getting the book published has been a huge struggle. But I knew there would be some interest. I knew it would get some attention.

HAROLD: How do you explain the book’s popularity?

SEBASTIAN: Some of it is prurient, of course. And I think some people are purchasing the book ironically, as a gag. But I believe the majority of readers want to know more about the subject, even as it repels them. Incest is strange and confusing behavior, so it’s natural to be curious about it.

HAROLD: How do you respond to the charges that your book encourages incest?

SEBASTIAN: It’s nonsense. The people who are saying that clearly haven’t read the book. It’s hysteria and rumor-mongering. There’s no reason to be afraid of my research.

HAROLD: But you must be aware of what people are saying, the social media aspect of this, the pop culture, the memes, that there is some sort of underground fad happening, that people are experimenting, especially young people, college students, that your book is an invitation to explore…

SEBASTIAN: I would say that this is a political and religious escort gaziantep bayan backlash which has fabricated these charges. I’m aware of the memes and the jokes, and the anxiety of parents and communities, but I see no factual basis for the concerns that there is a so-called ‘incest fad’ occurring. I…

Harrison paused the video. Dr. Sebastian, bearded, middle-aged, overweight, had stopped mid-word, his eyebrows up, his eyelids half-down. Laura thought he looked like a preacher lifting his voice in song. What kind of congregation would he have?

“So,” Laura said, “this is his first appearance since that disaster of a book signing in Philadelphia last week?”

“Yes,” Harrison said. “He’s dropped off the map. Disappeared. But that’s not your assignment—I have people out there looking for him, trying to get an interview. I want you to write a long piece on the guy’s background. A big profile, in-depth. There are gaps in his history that nobody has been able to fill. So find out as much as you can. You have until next Monday. I’d give you more time but I don’t know how long the public will stay interested. The story could get dropped altogether, just a warning. Personally, I think by next week nobody will be talking about him or his book.”

“Really?” Karl said. “I’ve been hearing a ton of talk about him in my circles, from both colleagues and students, and it’s a solid book. I only read it out of professional curiosity, by the way. No other reason.” He cleared his throat. “You do realize that Laura and I are brother and sister, right?”

“I am fully aware of that, yes,” Harrison said, folding his hands. Laura turned to her brother. Karl gave her a small shrug and mouthed ‘sorry’. Harrison said, “Tell me, Professor Miller, what did you think of the book?”

“It was thorough. He has done a great deal of research. He has some interesting ideas. Well, not that interesting, right? But it’s a fascinating psychological study. So yeah—well written, catchy title, runaway bestseller, I’d give it three stars.”

“Why is my brother here?” Laura asked.

Harrison leaned back and smiled. “First of all, your brother has done excellent work as a consultant here before and I don’t see the need to search for somebody new. And second, I hope you’ll indulge me in a slight experiment—I want to see if pairing you two will produce some interesting results, maybe some sort of insight that others wouldn’t see. I know it’s a bit of a stunt, and I understand the awkwardness of the situation, but it’s not going to be a gaziantep bayan escort problem, is it, Laura?”

“No, sir, not at all.” Keep your head down, she thought. Just another story. She ignored her brother’s smirk.

“Good,” Harrison said. “You have all the relevant files. Dig into Sebastian’s past, talk to his colleagues, find out what exactly he’s been up to all these years. Any questions? Good. Karl, thank you for coming. Laura, keep me informed on your progress.”

Harrison turned back to his monitor as they stood up. Karl followed Laura out of the office.

“A stunt,” Karl said as they walked back to her desk.

“Welcome to the new media,” Laura said.

“I doubt there’s anything more to this story than an odd psychologist doing odd research,” he said. “And I wonder how much of an impact his book is actually making. I don’t think there’s an incest fad. The fad is saying that there is an incest fad.”

“We still have an assignment. Unless you want out?” She hoped he wanted out.

“Hey, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’m on board. I just feel sorry for the guy. Sebastian obviously wasn’t looking to get caught in the spotlight, to become the focus of the online hivemind.”

“He’ll come out of this fine. His book is selling. He just needs a better publicist.”

“Who knows, maybe we’ll dig up something interesting,” he said. “This will be fun. We hardly see each other anymore. We’ll travel, spend some time together.”

“Aww, I heard you two were going out on a date,” Daniels said from the desk next to hers. “You guys make a cute couple.”

Karl laughed and popped a finger gun at Daniels. Laura hid a scowl. How many people already knew about this assignment? Was nothing going to go smoothly? Why did she suddenly feel this was going to be the biggest challenge of her career? She took a deep breath. It wasn’t a difficult story. The subject matter was distasteful but not horrific. She got along with her brother reasonably well—most of the time. She just had to find her balance again. It was going to be a simple assignment. What could possibly go wrong?

She sat down and started looking flipping through the files. “So where did Sebastian first begin his research?”

“Princeton. He was a professor there.”

“Do you know anybody at Princeton? Somebody willing to talk to us?”

“Well, actually, maybe, yeah. I can call her. Is that where we’re going?”

“Sure, why not,” she said, opening drawers and gathering what she needed. “Not too far away, and we have to start somewhere. We’ll drive down there, poke around, do some interviews, see where that gets us. Sound good?”

“Yep,” Karl said. “Listen, I’ll behave. I admit I get a little intimidated in this place. This is your world, not mine. I compensate by joking around, if you want a little self-analysis. I’m going to be completely professional, okay?”

“Great. I knew you would be. Let’s go.”

“Separate rooms at the motel, right?”

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