Hired for Secrets

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This is it

Sofie stepped into the magical world of club Elandra one more time. By now she was familiar with the proceedings. The discreet phone call. The footsteps. The reveal of the immaculately dressed companion walking down the staircase. But she wasn’t prepared for her heart to still be skipping a beat when Philip touched her hand. Seeing him would never get old.

But there was something different this time. Philip’s performance wasn’t as smooth as usual. There was an urgency in his greeting and he turned to guide Sofie upstairs without the silent communication with the receptionist.

“Philip,” the new lady at the desk called after him, slowly shaking her head when he looked.

“That’s ok. Thanks, Rosie,” he replied, not breaking his stride.

“What was that?” Sofie asked as they were out of earshot.

“Your medical test is missing. But we don’t need it for today, do we?”

He looked at her as if to say ‘there’s a different risk in what we’re attempting, today’.

They reached his suite and Philip swiped his card. He moved the card too quickly and the door remained locked. Why was he so anxious? He wasn’t the one stealing the YubiKey on camera. Throwing her a quick glance, he tried again and this time the door opened.

As soon as she walked through the threshold he grabbed her arm and crowded her into a corner of the room.

“There are no cameras here, we can speak in private,” he explained.

Feeling the warmth of his body made Sofie almost forget the reason she came here in the first place. The same intense attraction she felt the night before had taken hold of her again. Was he feeling the same?

“You don’t have to do this,” he whispered, as if to answer her question.

His eyes lingered on her lips, waiting for her response. When none came, he closed in, his heavy body pressing her against the wall. She could feel the vibrations in his chest as he whispered against her cheek.

“I missed you.”

His hands were soft and warm and Sofie could not help but respond to them. She parted her lips and closed her eyes. His lips found hers in the kiss he denied her the day before. As she had predicted, that’s all it took for the underwood of their desire to ignite into a wild uncontrollable blaze.

As their kiss deepened, he seized her thighs and lifted her up, angling her between him and the wall.

The familiarity conjured up the intense pleasure he had given her before. And her body demanded to feel it again.

A moan tumbled from her lips as his hand brushed along the outside of her legs. Reaching underneath her dress, he caressed her buttocks and she instinctively rocked her hips against him; his hardness against her softness. Bolds of pleasure shot through her body as he gently cupped her breast and squeezed her nipples through the light fabric of her bra.

But amidst all this bliss, a small cog somewhere in Sofie’s brain kept turning. Kept processing. Kept analyzing. Why was he kissing her today? After he rushed out the night before? What had changed?

“Stop,” Sofie yelped breathlessly. “Let go of me, Philip.”

Fury was in her eyes as he set her down and backed away. Why did she let herself be pulled in by his charm, yet again.

“She instructed you to do this. Didn’t she?”

“Who?”

He sounded breathless and confused, like someone ripped out of a blissful dream.

“Ms. Hunt,” Sofie hissed. “She wants to make sure I am going through with… our deal. But that’s not necessary, Philip.” Moving closer she whispered, “I want the key and I’m prepared to act my part in your little play.”

She crossed her hands and looked down. This was embarrassing on so many levels.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, don’t pretend, Philip. Ms. Hunt wants Kerry gone. So she asked you to make sure that I’m taking the YubiKey this time. She wants the article published yesterday. And this is how you make people do things: you seduce them.”

“The deal was between us.”

“Was it? Then why the sudden change? Why pretend you want me today when you wouldn’t even kiss me yesterday?” She paused, giving him time to respond but he remained silent, “I tell you why, because you’ve talked to your fiancé since then. Isn’t that right? And she has given the green light.”

He looked away. Of course she was right. In some way it was a credit to him. He did not cheat on his fiancé. He was loyal to her even when Sofie was playing unfair. But that did not change the fact that he was acting on her behalf now.

“Yes, she gave me permission,” he admitted. “But not for the reason you think. Jasmit has nothing to do with Kerry.”

Sofie laughed. The keen collector of secrets, the man with razor sharp observation skills, who knew both women intimately, did not know about their feud? Who was he trying to fool?

“Kerry openly announced her vendetta against Ms. Hunt today,” said Sofie. “She wants to personally supervise the Royal Commission because they haven’t found anything on Ms. Hunt’s company yet. You are telling me that your fiancé has not mentioned this?”

“No.” He suddenly looked vulnerable, like he was reflecting on whether he at all knew his future wife and her motivations. “She was using me. Telling me that I needed closure. From you. Before…”

“You know what?” Sofie interrupted his stream of conscience. ”Just stop! I am tired of your lies. Let’s just get on with the plan and out of each other’s lives.”

Philip opened his mouth to reply but thought better of it.

“If that’s what you want.”

He forced a smile into his face and took her hand to pull her out of the blind corner to where the cameras could see them.

“Take a seat, Miss Carter. I’ll get us something to drink.”

He walked over to the drinks cabinet. He leaned on it for a second to steady himself, before starting to search through the assorted drinks.

“I’m sorry, Miss Carter, it seems I’m out of Champagne. Can I offer you something else. Or do you want me to quickly run down to the storage room?”

This was the opening of his play. Sofie hated improv but went along with it.

“No. Champagne is what I want. And you know how I love you going personally to make up for your mistake, instead of sending for room service.”

He gave her a look as if to say ‘could this be any more wooden? Just act normally!’

“Well, then. Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”

As soon as Philip closed the door behind him, Sofie was on her feet. She walked to the glass vitrine where the YubiKey was stored. It was locked. Of course. And the glass looked sturdy. She glanced around the room for a key. She didn’t really expect to find one. Philip needed it to look like a genuine theft rather than a set up.

They never discussed how to steal the YubiKey. Philip clearly did not want to know anything more about this than he had to. Yet the faith he put in her abilities to get the YubiKey out of a secure cabinet and access the emails in just 15 minutes was astounding. She had to smile. But it was not unfounded.

She took out the device she brought with her and assembled it. It was a suction cap with a metal arm on it and a little diamond cutter at the end. Tracing it around in a circle sliced through the thick glass seamlessly. She pulled the suction cap and the circular glass plane came off. The opening was just large enough for her hand to reach through and grab the YubiKey.

She hesitated. Could there be a pressure sensor that triggered an alarm? Tracing around the outline she could not feel any wires so she went on instinct and pulled the key out.

Silence.

No alarm.

At least none that could be heard.

Her heartbeat drummed in her ears when she opened the laptop and stuck the YubiKey into the USB drive. She brought up MP Kerry’s email account and typed in the password, “Kerry4PM”. The system prompted for the second part of the authentication process and Sofie pressed the little button on the YubiKey.

“Something you know and something you have,” she muttered under her breath as the account unlogged. It revealed the treasure trove of MP Kerry’s emails, with three unread emails on top.

Re: Royal Commission needs to nail the bitch - We found something that will sink them: Hunt has an offshore account for a shell company...

Fwd: New funding sources - Dear Mrs Kerry, we might have a new revenue stream for your campaign. We can make it legal if we declare it as travel…

Changes to your upcoming Elandra visit. - Dear Mrs Kerry, we regret to inform you that your regular companion is not available anymore. We would like to set up…

Oh this is good already. She logged into the terminal and typed in a command for downloading the entire email folder. As soon as the data started transferring she closed her laptop. This would finish in the background and she had to concentrate on returning the YubiKey.

She glanced at her watch. If Philip’s timing was on point she had less than 2 minutes left. She scrambled to her feet and placed the YubiKey back into the display. Squirting glue on the rim of the circular pane, she carefully spread it along the sharp edges of the cut glass. The last thing she needed was for the tips of her false fingerprints to be sliced or get caught in the glue. Appearance can be changed easily; fingerprints not so much. She lifted the glass in place and removed the suction cup.

When inspected closely the cut was glaringly obvious but from a distance it could easily be mistaken for a trick of light or speck of dust. She was proud of her handiwork and slid back into the seat where Philip had left her, breathing a sigh of relief.

Mission complete!

The lock on the door clicked and Philip entered with two bottles of Champagne, as promised. A flicker of confusion crossed his face as he saw her lounging leisurely on the couch.

“I hope the wait wasn’t too long,” he probed, dropping the bottles at the drink cabinet.

“Not at all, Philip. But it reminded me that I have another appointment today. I’m sorry but we’ll have to cut this short.”

She stood to gather her bag and walked towards him and the door.

So, this is it.

For all her cold determination she could not stop a hot spark flaring inside of her as their eyes met. She stepped closer, leaning into his body. Her hand slipped into the opening of his collar, feeling his skin. She drew him closer and their lips met in a hungry kiss.

One last time.

“Goodby, Philip.”

She broke free and hastily turned for the door.

“Wait.” He caught her arm to stop her from leaving. “I’m not ready yet, Sofie,” he whispered, gently turning her around.

His hand slid up her back to pull her closer for another kiss. This one wasn’t passionate. This one was desperate and resigned. The last majestic flight of a dying swan.

He shut his eyes and breathed her in.

“I’ll walk you down,” he sighed, avoiding her eyes.

Sofie’s stomach cramped when they arrived in the lobby and he held out his hand. With a casual smile he wished her farewell. He was a damn good actor. If only she could figure out which version of him was the act. But from what she knew of him, likely all of it have been the act and she never actually met the real Philip.

Let it go and move on. You got what you wanted.

As soon as Sofie arrived home she opened her laptop to look at what this grueling ordeal and fresh heartache bought her. There were more than 500,000 emails in MP Kerrie’s account.

Luckily Sofie had a hint where to find the needle in this haystack. She opened the ones from the 24th of May, the date Philip specified in his ad. But all she could find was meaningless communications between her and her staff. What else could 24 and 50 stand for? Unless it wasn’t 50 but something else, like ‘SO’. Dammit! It’s SO24, the postal code for Winchester, where she picked up Carl Durbing.

She was back to square one. But reading the equivalent of 200 books worth of emails was simply not feasible before the election. She needed to automate this. Firing up her secure messaging app, she reached out to her network.

SofiaBlack: Need a computer program to find something in a lot of text. Who can help?

It only took seconds for the “...” to pop up. Someone was replying to her message.

SlimRat: I have a new NLP algorithm. I want to tune the hyper parameters on a real-world-dataset to see what the accuracy is.

SofiaBlack: Can you say that again? In English this time?

SlimRat: I can help you. Do you know what you’re looking to find in there? I can feed my software with expected keywords.

SofiaBlack: Excellent. Need to warn you: this is dangerous.

The “...” popped up and disappeared several times. SlimRat took multiple attempts to word a reply. Was SlimRat scared? Impossible, that person was just as versed in staying underground as she was. Though she never actually met SlimRat, they had teamed up on several other projects before. No, SlimRat wasn’t scared, there was something distracting.

SlimRat: Not expecting a walk in the park, Sof. Send the encrypted file the usual way. I’ll have something back by tomorrow, unless the news keeps distracting me. There’s something big going down in England ATM.

SofiaBlack: You are a trouper. Thanks.

Sofie switched on the news to find out what SlimRat was talking about.

“The circumstances are rather dubious,” the anchor announced, “A spokesperson told NewsTonight that she suffered a fatal heart attack. But why she was at the country house or who the younger man is, she was with, remains yet unknown. We now switch live to the house...”

The picture changed to a helicopter view of Elandra and the ticker at the bottom of the screen read: ‘Breaking: MP Kerry found dead.’

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