Know the enemy
Was it bold or downright delusional to think Sofie could snatch Philip away from Ms. Hunt? Unlike Sofie, Ms. Hunt was an exotic beauty, fabulously rich, and used to getting what she wanted. She wouldn’t give up a date just because Sofie asked her to. Neither would Philip. He’d see the evening through, out of loyalty or fear. So if she had any chance of luring him away, she needed time alone with him to convince him that leaving Elandra was the right choice. For that, she had to come up with a plan that made Ms. Hunt want to leave but not before Philip was safely out of Elanra’s clutches.
To come up with this perfect plan she needed to know the enemy. She spent the past week observing Ms. Hunt. Like Philip, the woman was absolutely dedicated to her work. Maybe that’s what they bonded over? She left for the office at 5 in the morning and seldom came home before 8 at night. She ate at the office, had her deliveries sent there and even received her personal trainer and beautician there. Good. This made it easier to come up with a believable emergency, because there was only one address she could be called to: the office.
Sofie’s basic plan was simple. It would have to do with the Royal Commission. If they found her skeletons, things could go pear shaped quickly and a late night emergency sitting of the executive team was plausible. So all she had to do was fill in the details. Who else would be at this meeting? What would convince Ms. Hunt to come? And how would she get there? All of this information could be found inside Ms. Hunt’s headquarters. But that was easier said than done. Sofie wasted two days, trying to secure a fake badge, before giving up. It was her last day and she had to resort to trickery to get in.
“Shoot, I almost forgot you...” Sofie wheeze, jogging back to the reception desk.
She pretended to have come from the elevators of Ms. Hunt’s insurance company and be on her way out of the building. This place was built to impress, taking up the entire footprint of the high-rise building and sporting a ten-meter high sculpture in the middle. During rush hour, it was bursting with the thousands of employees working here, but at three in the afternoon, only the 10 people operating the reception and check-in gates were around.
“What can I get you?” Sofie’s overly excited voice echoed from the marble cladding as she called out to the lobby staff.
One of the security guards looked up from his newspaper. He had a tired, resigned look on his face, like he was done with the day already.
“I didn’t bring a birthday cake this year,” she said as if that explained anything. ”Evil carbs, and all... Instead, I’m getting everyone a COFFEE.”
Sofie smiled stupidly as if this was the brightest idea she’d had all year.
“What are you on about?”
His tone turned hostile, the last thing he needed today was an enthusiastic moron to deal with.
“It’s all in the email...” A quick glance at his name tag and jam-smeared shirt armed Sofie with enough information to start her scam. “Didn’t you get it, Larry? Oh, by the way, how are the kids? You still have to do the school-runs?”
“Um, yes... How’d you know?”
His sleep deprived brain wasn’t catching up, instead it told him to feel guilty for having forgotten who she was. He helplessly looked to another guard but that person just shrugged, his job was to sign-in people not bond with them.
“I’m the same, remember? But I dropped to part-time a while back. Now, I’m only in on Mondays. Makes it so much...”
“Happy Birthday.” A guy with a nervous twitch under his left eye interrupted their conversation lacklustre. “I’ll have an Americano.”
It wasn’t clear whether he believed her or just wanted his next caffeine fix. Either way, Sofie was grateful, because it opened the floodgates for the others to shout out their own coffee orders.
“Hang on,” Sofie pointed to the fourth receptionist, “did you want a Latte or Cappuccino? You know what, can you write it down?”
Perfect. This would be her ticket back in. With an arm-full of coffee, they wouldn’t try to scan her batch and buzz her straight through.
With the list in hand, Sofie headed for the little coffee place around the corner. She pushed open the door at the same time as a woman in her late thirties rushed out. Inevitably they collided, sending Sofie’s valuable list to the ground along with the women’s phone and lunch order.
“Watch where you’re going, dumb bitch,” the women hissed, boring her ice blue eyes through Sofie. She flicked her perfectly curled blond hair over her shoulder and tried to bend down to pick up the dropped items. Her tight skirt and four inch heels made the process harder than it should have been. It was like watching a frozen tree sway and creek in the arctic winds, except this ice queen chose her predicament by donning this impractical outfit. After a couple of failed attempts she gave up and snapped at Sofie.
Sofie sighed and collected the paper bag for her. The woman’s phone was still unlocked when Sofie reached for it. It showed a half written message to Boris Kluger saying ‘Photo-ops w/ Ms Hunt 2mr @ Ba-’.
Photo opportunity with Ms. Hunt tomorrow at…
She didn’t finish the name of the place. Why was the Ice Queen emailing a paparazzo? He usually snapped B-list celebrities for tabloids, not business women. Was she earning a quick buck on the site, leaking information about Ms. Hunt’s diary? If so, where would she get that information from? Unless... Sofie smiled, this was better than getting inside the headquarters, this was like tapping straight into Ms. Hunt’s brain.
“You are Ms. Hunt’s secretary,” Sofie announced, pretending to just recognize her.
“Personal assistant,” the woman corrected while looking in disgust at the picked-up napkins Sofie was handing her.
“I’m so glad I ran into you. I’m new and Ms. Hunt asked me to call her driver. But I screwed up and forgot his name, can you...”
“No,” the Ice Queen interrupted, looking at her like she was a rodent about to be devoured. ”I arrange her travel.”
“Then you can give me his number,” Sofie pressed on, ignoring the crawling feeling you get when realizing you are talking to a psychopath.
Without another word, the Ice Queen rushed out of the shop. She didn’t expect Sofie to follow, no one in their right mind would push their luck further after this exchange. They were half-way down the block when the Ice Queen noticed her tail. “I said ‘No’, are you deaf?”
“Don’t be like that. I need your help. I don’t wanna screw up the first thing I’ve been asked to do.”
“Newsflash, mousy: incompetent people won’t make it here.”
“You are a backstabbing bitch,” Sofie muttered, “and I thought you were just distracted by this thing tomorrow when she introduced me.”
It was a gamble and could very well backfire. But this psychopath was her best chance of getting all the information she needed. She just had to poke her where it hurts. And if the messages she sent to Boris was about Ms. Hunt’s date with Philip tomorrow, she had a good chance of finding a sore spot, because she had inside information.
The Ice Queen stopped in her tracks and wheeled around.
“Who said that? And how’d you know about the dinner?”
“I’m his cousin,” Sofie shrugged, going all in with her bluff.
The Ice Queen’s cold eyes evaluated her. Had she extended herself too much? Was this too far-fetched? Was it all coming crashing down?
OK. She was at least buying that there could be nepotism in Ms. Hunt’s company. This gave Sofie a bit more rope to carefully apply pressure; see if something cracks.
“I don’t need to… I’ll just tell Ms. Hunt that she’s right about you. See, how long you keep your job.”
“Good luck with that,” the Ice Queen laughed. “If anything, I’d get a pay rise for weeding out dimwits.”
Dammit! Wrong move. She probably should have known: It takes another psychopath to tolerate one as her personal assistant. Sofie needed to think fast, if there was any chance to turn this around. And the only way to ‘proof it’ would be to know where they were going.
Unfortunately, Sofie had no clue. All she knew was that it was a hyped up new restaurant in West End. Her research had narrowed it down to five options. And she’d been so sure that it was a toss-up between Calbresi and The Flame House, that she didn’t look carefully at the other options. But since the restaurant had to start with “Ba” both choices seemed to be wrong. With the Ice Queen’s unnerving eyes on her, Sofie racked her brain for the other two names, and whether one of them was actually starting with “Ba”.
“It’s Bamborino,” Sofie said with all the confidence she could muster.
Ice Queen’s face froze.
“You’ve seen it on my phone.”
This time Sofie did not have to fake confidence. She watched as the Ice Queen realized that she never wrote the full name and how slim the odds were of picking the right name out of thin air. The wheels in her brain visibly turned as she calculated how to best exploit her opportunity to help a family member of Ms. Hunt’s lover.
“Let’s start over, shall we?” she canted, like the psychopath she was. “I’m Jennifer. You wanted her driver’s name right? It’s Jerome and this is his number.” She held up her phone.
“Hey,” she casually added while Sofie was copying down the number, “do you know what’s it about?”
“What’s what about?”
“Ms. Hunt asked me to slip the paparazzi where she’d be tomorrow. She’s planning to announce something. Do you know what?”
Oh, so she didn’t leak the info, Ms. Hunt directed her to. Interesting! What was the other psychopath playing at?
“Yes,” Sofie lied, wondering if the curious secretary would leak more information.
“And…? Oh I see. You don’t have to tell me, just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’: Does it have to do with MP Kerry?”
Sofie had no idea what the connection could be but getting more information about Kerry was a bonus.
“I knew it,” Jennifer smiled. “Kerry’s office gave us a courtesy call yesterday.” Her air-quotes around ‘courtesy’ let slip what she really thought about their intentions.
“I heard,” Sofie pretended. “They just wanted to scare us, right?”
“That’s what I said! But it totally worked on Mr. Ibuvio. He ran around like a headless chicken all day.”
“Who’s Mr. Ibuvio again?”
“Hello? Head of public relations?” Jennifer mocked. “You aren’t the brightest, are you? Where did they slot you in?”
“Oh, c’mon. Nepotism department, much? Everybody knows that the chief financial officer is Hunt’s mother.” Jennifer rolled her eyes. ”Just because she calls herself Mrs. Khan now doesn’t fool anybody. Hunt was her first husband.”
So hiring family was actually a thing. No wonder Jennifer believed her on the spot.
“Well,” Sofie faked offence, “but I’m not family.”
“Didn’t you say you’re the cousin of that finance guy she’s going out with? She’s quite cagey about him so I guess it’s pretty serious between them.”
Obviously not, if she’s having her pictures taken with Philip tomorrow. Poor guy, he’s probably getting dumped instead of proposed to. Although she might come back to him after Philip vanishes from Elandra.
With satisfaction Sofie went through the checklist in her head. She had more than enough to beef up her plan and make it believable. She glanced at her watch.
She left the Ice Queen standing like she had done the other way around just moments earlier.
It was time to get back home. Time to log into Philip’s camera, just like she had done twice a day for the past week. But tonight was special, even though he did not know it yet. Tonight would be his last night at Elandra, and Sofie wanted to commemorate that on his behalf.