Hired for Secrets

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You are with me

The little Cuban bar suddenly closed in on Sofie. The music and laughter around her felt distant and out of place. Coming here was a mistake, especially with the only exit being located behind Philip. He, on the other hand, looked calm, his face, a mask that could not be interpreted. This complete lack of emotion could only mean one thing: he not only knew MP Kerry had the opposition leader murdered, he probably even helped. He was a monster like here. That’s why he did not go to the police. He probably benefited from the murder himself.

“Ok...” Sofie’s voice faltered.

She could not believe how callus Philip was. She thought she knew him, at least his basic character. But she was obviously wrong. Pressing him further was her only option. Reminding him that every action had consequences.

”So you knew of the murder. But didn’t tell anyone? That is… criminal, Philip. Concealing a murder is illegal.”

“Hold on,” he said, lifting his hands in defence, “I know he was murdered, because everybody does. It was all over the news. And it doesn’t take much to assume it was for political reasons. I don’t know who murdered him but you having evidence that it was MP Kerry does not surprise me. Especially knowing her. But,” he shifted forward to emphasize his point, “that doesn’t mean I know anything more. If I did, I would have gone to the Police.”

He was lying!

“So Carl Durbing means nothing to you?”

There was a slight twitch in his jaw, when she mentioned the name he wrote in the newspaper ad. Was he nervous that she thought him an accomplice to something as heinous as this? Or was he lying because she was about to uncover how deep he was involved in all of this? Sofie reminded herself that it didn’t really matter whether he was innocent or not. Not anymore. He was just an informant. And her informants were usually guilty of one crime or another. It never stopped her from collaborating with them. Neither will it this time.

He wanted to share the YubiKey, whether it was to bring Kerry to justice or serve his own dubious ploy. Finding out his motivations was something she would worry about after she secured access to MP Kerry’s emails.

“You obviously know more, Phillip. Enough to know what it would mean to have one of the world’s largest economies led by a person who sees herself above the law.”

“Yes.” His answer was swift and the twitch in his jaw had become a gnaw. His hands moved forward as if to reach out for her, but he thought better of it. “I am glad that someone stands up to her. That takes courage.”

It was the most honest thing he said to her all evening, perhaps ever. He wasn’t a monster. He simply wasn’t prepared to risk everything for an abstract ideal. An ideal Sofie had devoted her life to. There were no companions, no relationships, no friends. Her life was duty and sacrifice. Dedicated to stamping out evil. And his acknowledgment of it meant a lot.

A sudden locomotion erupted in the bar. Engrossed in their conversation, they did not notice that the band had taken a break and guests walked to the bar for drinks. Sofie gestured to pause their conversation, while people passed their table. Without the music or conversations a tense silence sat between them. To distract herself, Sofie watched the people at the bar, though she was acutely aware how Philip’s eyes wandered her face and lingered on her lips. Was he trying to make her nervous? It wasn’t working. Or at least she hoped it wasn’t.

“There’s something missing.” He took up the conversation seamlessly once the traffic had settled, as if he had just mentally reviewed the transcripts of all their past conversations, instead of looking at her.

”You have the evidence. But you can’t link it to Kerry, not in a way that would stand up in court. That’s why you can’t write your story… and instead have to sit here with me.” There was no trace of humor in his face. “But… you’re hoping to find it in her emails. Am I right?”

His reasoning was on point. Sofie found the hitman who murdered the opposition leader. He was a small-ticket low life and would have been eliminated to tie up the loose ends, had Sofie not gotten to him first. He was willing to talk, if he got a reduced jail sentence. 30 years in prison was preferable over certain death by the hand of a fellow assassin. So, he was the evidence but the link to MP Kerry was still missing. He only interacted with one of her staff members and Sofie needed to find proof that MP Kerry ordered the hit herself or at the very least knew about it. Her emails were the most likely source for that. People are careless in casual conversations, especially the ones who fancy themselves too powerful to be touched.

“But, Miss Carter.” Philip leaned forward. “I can still call you Miss Carter, right?”

Sofie nodded, swallowing down a, “Or Sofie”, as his arm brushed against hers on the small cast iron table.

“So, here is my problem, Miss Carter. If you find the proof in her emails. I’ll be in the firing line. Everybody will know that I gave you the YubiKey.” He pressed his lips together. “And we both know how that’s going to end for me.”

Philip might like playing with fire, but he knew very precisely where to draw the line. He was not willing to risk his life, bringing MP Kerry to justice. This was a transaction for him, not a matter of moral principle.

“That’s why the key must not leave Elandra. Whatever you have to do to get access to her emails, needs to be done there. If you take the key she will know instantly and neither of us will have time to prepare for the fallout. That’s why I keep inviting you back. But there is another reason,“ he paused to drive the next message home. ”You see, Miss Carter, I need to capture the thief on video. I need to prove that it wasn’t me.”

Sofie was taken aback by his directness.

“And I’m supposed to be that thief?” Of course she was, but being thrown under the bus like that was a new experience for her. “How do you picture that to end for me?”

He leaned back. Calmly studying her. He heard the accusation but it did not phase him the slightest.

“That’s what you are preparing for, Miss Carter, isn’t it? You will uproot your life and disappear before the article is published. You’ll take the consequences. Why should anyone else be impacted, if it’s not necessary?”

A million thoughts raced through Sofie’s mind. But his unashamed self-preservation angered her the most. She knew that her ideals were more extreme than most people’s but his heartless self-interest was blatant. Sofie took a deep breath. Why was she getting upset about the moral compass of a gigolo? He was about to marry one of the richest women in the world. He reached the pinnacle of success. Why would he give that up? And as long as Sofie got access to the YubiKey, it didn’t really matter what he did or didn’t do.

“I suppose there isn’t a need to involve you further,” she concluded, looking away. “Though there will likely be consequences for all those other secrets in your head.”

“Let that be my concern,” he replied in a tone that indicated he took her jab more seriously than she’d expected. “Shall we do the exchange tomorrow?”

“Yes. Fine.”

She felt frustrated.

It would be the end of their interaction and she somehow felt like a failure. She had invested too much in this man, mentally and physically to walk away unscaled. With a sigh she added, “You could have been this open when I asked you for the key the first time. It would have saved us months of dancing around.”

“And miss out on your company?”

Sofie did not respond. I didn’t feel like a joking matter to her.

“Look, I am in a different situation now...” he revised his answer.

“Yes. You are engaged now. To be protected by Ms. Hunt. You couldn’t care less about Elandra. As far as you’re concerned, that place can burn with MP Kerry once I publish my article, is that it?”

“Something like that.”

There was clearly more to it. The pain in his eyes screamed for a release from an unnamed burden. But his distant stare made it clear that this conversation had ended.

He watched the band take their seats and strike the first chords of ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’. With a deep breath, Philip stood and held out his hand to Sofie.

“Business’s over,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Let’s pretend this is a date. Will you dance with me?”

She wanted to say ‘no’. With business over their interactions should be over, too. After all, he was just her informant. And on top of that, a morally dubious and engaged informant. But against her better judgement, she stood up and took his hand. One dance doesn’t hurt.

With a quick tuck he had her in his arms and led the cha-cha, like the highly-trained escort he was.

Feeling the music, Sofie let herself be swept up by the moment. The risky rhythm and Philip’s smooth movements against her body made her feel a carefree excitement she hadn’t felt in so long. She swayed her hips and savoured the glances from the other patrons in the bar. She knew they made a beautiful pair, confidently commanding the small dancing space amidst the vines and lanterns of the open air backyard.

“You can dance,” Philip laughed.

He also noticed the stares around them and instinctively pulled her closer. Sofie could not help but reciprocate this strange possessiveness. It was like trying to cram all the potential future they might have had together into this very moment. No one was allowed to get between them, at least for tonight.

When he sent her into an outward swing she let her free hand glide along Philip’s abdomen, like Ms. Hunt did earlier. But unlike her touch, Sofie’s could draw a response from him.

“You’re such a tease, you know that?”

He gently pulled her closer, his lips brushing over the shell of her ear. “And you are the most courageous person I know, Sofie.”

She could feel his heartbeat. It was faster than their gentle rhythm would have brought on. It was matching hers.

He nudged her away from him into a turn and when their bodies met again he wrapped both arms around her waist, this time not letting go.

“I’m glad you took me away tonight,” he said, touching his forehead against hers and closing his eyes for a second. ”This is how I want to remember you... Remember us.”

His simple statement sliced right into her heart, leaving it bleeding from a thousand cuts.

Who was she fooling? Pretending to not care that Ms. Hunt took him from her? Why was she giving him up without a fight? There was something between them. The sparks were undeniable. They had been right there from the first moment she met him. This doesn’t happen very often. If she missed this chance, would there ever be another? All she wanted to do was fan this spark and see it ignite into a roaring fire. Stop being so damn controlled. Leave this moral high ground of yours and fight dirty.

“You are with me now,” Sofie breathed against his skin as she tilted her head up to find his lips.

One kiss, that’s all it would take to ignite the embers between them. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe there was a chance. Maybe this gigolo would choose the penniless journalist if given a chance.

But before she could enact her ruthless plan he abruptly let go of her.

“I am sorry. I can’t,” he muttered as if he only just remembered that he was freshly engaged. “Not here.”

He grabbed his jacket to leave but hesitated and looked at her.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

His face reflected his turmoil.

Confusion.

Conflict.

Temptation.

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