Hired for Secrets

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This feels like a date

With her heart pumping, Sofie went straight for the table where Philip and Ms. Hunt were seated. Ms. Hunt whispered something in Philip’s ear and he laughed at her joke, stroking gently the back of her hand. It looked so easy and natural, like they’ve been lovers for years. Keeping her eyes fixed on the twosome, Sofie almost ran into a life-size chocolate statue of Annapoorna, the Hindu goddess of food. The statue’s delicate bowl dislodged from one of its four hands and almost tumbled to the floor. Thousands of little chocolate grains rained over Sofie. In a tizzy, she tried to brush them off before they could leave little brown stains all over her corporate blouse. Being flustered like this was part of her original plan, impersonating one of Ms. Hunt’s employees who was sent to fetch the big boss for a company emergency. What wasn’t part of it, was how little she had to pretend. Seeing Philip’s hand intertwined with hers was pumping red hot rage through her body.

Philip looked over to the commotion the tumbling statue had caused. He spotted Sofie and his smile dried up. His jaw clenched while he searched the room for a waiter to alert. He did not want her to interrupt his perfect little world. Well, too bad!

“Ms. Hunt,” Sofie shouted in her most panicked voice, ignoring Philip’s furious expression. “I need to speak to you.”

Ms Hunt turned in her chair to look at Sofie, like an irritating bug about to be swatted.

“Who are you?”

Sofie hurried closer to deliver her well-rehearsed monologue, just as Philip successfully alerted the waiter. Before she could reach the table the waiter grabbed her arm, profusely mouthing apologies to Ms. Hunt while trying to drag Sofie away. His fingers dug into her flesh as she struggled against him and Philip’s fist clenched at the sight. Was he distressed by how Sofie was handled or about her breaking free and spoiling his evening with Ms. Hunt?

“I work for your mother,” Sofie shrieked, shaking off the waiter and sprinting to Ms. Hunt’s chair. In high alert, Philip jumped off his own chair to dart around the table, trying to protect Ms. Hunt. Ignoring the pain of Philip’s overnight shift in allegiance, Sofie continued with her plan.

“I work in finance, ma’am... But it was Mr. Ibuvio who sent me here tonight... to fetch you.”

“You don’t make any sense, girl,” Ms. Hunt snapped but waved the waiter away and gestured for Philip to sit down. ”Why would they send you? And why are both finance and public relations in?”

Everyone’s in, ma’am. They urgently need to fix… ahm...” Sofie glanced at Philip, pretending to search for the right word to use in front of an outsider, “...a matter. They sent me so they could get started on putting a plan together before you arrived.”

“You can speak freely in front of him. He’s my fiancé, now.” Despite her mood Ms. Hunt could not hold back a smile. She liked having claimed him and wanted to let the world know.

”Congratulations,” she said dutifully and giving Ms. Hunt the satisfaction of gawking at her enormous engagement ring. “But Mrs. Khan said not to go into specifics. In front of no one. Instead, I’m supposed to give you this.”

Sofie handed over a folded paper. It was ripped out of the company’s note block and had a hand scribbled message on it.

“I see,” Ms Hunt huffed after reading the message while fishing for her phone.

“No,” Sofie gasped, “ Mr. Ibuvio said you cannot call. Not with your phone.”

Ms. Hunt paused and fixed her calculating eyes on Sofie. “Ok. If it’s that serious, then what’s their plan?”

“Oh! I don’t know, Ms Hunt,” Sofie spluttered, “I wouldn’t know where to begin... It’s so complicated... The books are all off and the informant...”

“Are you stupid, girl?” Ms. Hunt lunged at Sofie to stop her from spilling company secrets right here. “I wouldn’t ask you how to fix the issue.”

Philip placed a calming hand on her arm and Ms. Hunt took a deep breath. “I’m simply asking how to get to the company. I can’t just call my driver out of the parking lot without the paparazzi getting wind of it, can I?”

“Oh! Yes, of course, sorry, ma’am.” Sofie scurried backwards out of reach in case Philip’s influence wouldn’t stop her from lashing out after all. ”There’s a car waiting for you out the back. If you’d follow me.”

“Jasmit, don’t go,” Philip interjected, looking at her intently. Was he trying to warn her?

“Phil, darling,” Ms. Hunt chirred. “You know my company comes first. We’ll celebrate properly tomorrow. I promise.”

Sofie winced at how naturally he used her first name. She wasn’t a client to be kept at arm’s length. And neither was he Philip, the infamous gigolo. Instead, they were Jasmit and Phil, the newly-engaged, who already knew how to bring out the best in each other.

Philip nodded and followed them through the busy kitchen to the back door where Sofie’s car was waiting.

Sofie opened the back door for Ms Hunt to climb in when Philip pulled Ms Hunt back into his arms, whispering something in her ear.

“Just making sure you are safe,” he explained out loud while glaring at Sofie.

He tapped against the window of the driver, indicating for him to lower the tinted glass.

“Whose company are you working for?”

“Um... Ms Hunt, sir? Is there a problem, sir?”

“Do you know her regular driver?”

“Ah, yes, sir? It’s Jerome.”

“Where are you driving Ms. Hunt, tonight?”

“To the headquarters, sir. It’s just around the corner from here.”

Sofie threw a gloating smile at Philip. She was too prepared for Philip to foil her plan like that. But her glee was short lived as she watched Ms. Hunt gliding her hand along Philip’s abdomen and around his waist.

“See, it’s all good, Phil. Shame, I have to go though,” she whispered against his ear. ”Seeing you so protective brings out the ‘Sofie’ in me.”

Philip’s eyes darted to Sofie. Was he embarrassed? No, it looked more like triumph. How on earth could he book this as a success?

“We’ll have plenty of time for that,” he replied, focusing back on Ms. Hunt, “You’ve booked up my remaining time. I am all yours from here on in.”

“That you are, Phil.” Ms Hunt grinned before climbing into the luxurious SUV.

Sofie was about to close the door when Ms. Hunt barked, “aren’t you coming?”

“No, ma’am. I’m to make sure the press doesn’t realize you’re gone,” she glanced at Philip as if to say ‘the company isn’t trusting him’.

“Fine. But don’t try anything, girl. He is mine.”

Sofie slammed the door shut, a little harder than needed, after hearing the exact words she had wanted to say to Ms Hunt.

“That was quite the performance, Miss Carter,” Philip said evenly as the car rolled off, not giving away how he felt about his ruined engagement celebration.

“I’m not quite finished. But first...” Sofie pulled out a metal security detector. “...I need to search you for wires. For your and my sake.”

He sighed but held up his arms and spread his legs.

“What was written on the paper?” he asked while Sofie swiped the detector along his body.

“They found the skeletons.” Sofie paused to look up at him through her lashes. “It’s what she said when you...”

“...when you spied on us. I remember. And the company paper? Where’d you get that from?”

“The receptionist gave it to me yesterday. Their coffee orders were on the other half... I suppose I never fetched them.”

Philip’s lip twitched. Even he had to admit how well-orchestrated and cunning her plan was.

“And you obviously prepped the driver. But she’ll know it’s fake as soon as she arrives at the office.”

Sofie stowed the detector back in her bag. There weren’t any wires. Not surprising. This was meant to be a private celebration. And Philip was never the suspect. It was Elandra.

“They’re not going to the office.”

Philip turned in alarm.

“Where is he taking her?”

“Relax, she’s perfectly safe.”

“I need a little more than that. This is my future wife, we’re talking about!”

Sofie struggled to keep a calm exterior. She reeled from this final sucker punch. My future wife. He truly loved her. He wanted her to be his wife.

“The driver will instruct her to call the meeting room from the car’s phone. But all she’ll get on there are actors who’ll keep her distracted. She won’t realize that they’ll be driving in the wrong direction. And when she does, it’ll take time to turn the car around, especially in London traffic.”

Sofie instructed the driver to head to a part of London where Ms. Hunt wouldn’t dare to leave the car. And with her mobile signal blocked inside the cabin, she wouldn’t have anyone to ask for help. But Philip didn’t need to know that.

”So we have enough time.”

“Time? For what?”

“Talking, Philip. I’m going to tell you exactly why I need the YubiKey. So you can make up your own mind. Decide for yourself what’s important.”

“Why now? You could have come to Elandra to tell me this earlier?“ There was suddenly an edge in his voice. “Why didn’t you talk to me yesterday?”

Yes, why? There was no answer to that. At least none that kept her dignity intact. After seeing them together today, she wouldn’t dream of confessing that she too wanted to take him away. Offer him a way out from Elandra, like Ms. Hunt had done. Perhaps offer him her heart too, just like she did. Doing that would make it into a competition. Over a gigolo. A competition Sofie would lose. Even if he weren’t in love with Ms. Hunt, someone like him would always choose the woman with the deeper pockets over a penniless journalist.

“For all I know, your room is under surveillance,” she replied instead. “I can’t talk about MP Kerry’s crimes there. I can only speak freely out here.”

“Go on then. Tell me.” He sounded frustrated.

“Not here.” They were standing in the back alley of the restaurant, surrounded by dumpsters and empty cardboard boxes. Their conversation was echoing off the brick walls and could probably be listened to from the street. “There is a Cuban bar just around the corner. It’s more private. We can talk there.” She paused to add, “Besides, I hear you got engaged. We should celebrate.”

“Oh, that’s rich… Even for you.”

He was right and Sofie wasn’t sure why she said it. The bitterness in her heart somehow needed venting. And she felt guilty about it already. She was about to apologize when he sighed, “fine, let’s get that drink.” Did he want to make the most of the breathing space he was given between Elandra and the engagement to Ms. Hunt?

The bar was small with round candle-lit tables and a live band in the corner. The low vibration from the bass resonated in Sofie’s belly and the guitar and saxophone created the latin rhythms that made it hard to stay still. The scent of spicy food and exotic cocktails swirled around them as they took a seat in the cobblestone-clad backyard.

“This feels like the date you wanted to have,” Philip remarked drly.

“But it isn’t!” She wasn’t going to admit that that’s exactly how it was meant to feel. A date, to remind him what freedom tastes like. To convince him to come with her. To leave Elandra for her. But that was before. “Why would it be a date? We only work together, that’s all!”

Philip smirked silently. She’d overdone it and Philip saw right through her bluff. Sofie’s skin suddenly felt hot. If there were any more chocolate grains from the statue they’d be melting into small embarrassing puddles, just like how she was feeling. As she watched him take off his blaser to hang it over the chair, she reminded herself that it doesn’t matter anymore what he thought about her because he was Ms. Hunt’s. But when he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and looked at her, he instantly transformed from Ms Hunt’s future trophy husband into the casual Philip, who snuck out to meet with her in the meadow. Seeing him like this made her heart reject reason and she resented the command he still had over her body.

“I’m a journalist, Philip,” she said, pushing through her insecurity, ”I investigate serious crimes, political corruption, and corporate wrongdoing. The fallout from my pieces are substantial. So much so, that I have to leave the country afterwards and create a whole new identity for myself somewhere else.”

“So your name isn’t Sofie.”

She looked at him puzzled. That’s what he took from this revelation?

“No. It’s not my birth name. Nor the name I write under. But it is my legal name for now.”

“Until you leave and become someone else again.”

“Yes...”

She didn’t like where this was going. He, of all people, should know what it’s like to live a pretend life, for a purpose. Besides, this wasn’t the point. Getting the conversation back on track, she added, ”And I’m currently investigating MP Kerry. I have evidence... that she murdered the opposition leader.”

Sofie paused to search for any emotion in Philip’s face. Surprise, shock, outrage, denial, remorse.

But there was nothing.

Perhaps he was a monster after all. She had been convinced he was before they’ve met. Before he dazzled her. Confused her. Made her fall in love with him.

If that’s what he was, what would he do to her, now that she showed all her cards?

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