Hired for Secrets

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Thank you for trying

** Content note: Description of symptoms are purely fictional **

MP Kerry’s death was on every channel. The peculiar circumstances, the unknown man she was with, the chaos of leaked information, it was the perfect fodder for a media storm. With little actual information and the mystery man on the run, speculations were boiling over.

“There are no charges raised against him,” stressed the police chief on Sofie’s screen, ”but we urge the public to report any sightings. Do not approach the man, he is considered armed and dangerous.”

Sofie switched off the news. They were talking about Philip. Who else would be with her at Elandra? Given what kind of chameleon he was, she wasn’t sure what to make of the circumstances. Maybe he and Ms. Hunt decided that Sofie exposing Kerry’s crimes would not go far enough or was too slow. Maybe one of Kerry’s other enemies murdered her at Elandra to add insult to injury. Philip might be the perpetrator like the Police assumed or an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire.

Or it was the email breach that caused all of this. Someone was cleaning up. Starting with MP Kerry before putting Philip and herself next on the hit list.

Sofie’s blood ran cold. She knew how to handle herself. All she needed to do was leave earlier than planned. But Philip might not be so lucky. His safety depended on Ms. Hunt and whether she would protect him. But both of them knew the risks of playing with fire, so getting burned shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With a sigh, Sofie started packing her belongings. She was renting a furnished apartment and could be out of here in an hour. Was she being overcautious? Moving her life when she didn’t even know whether the murder had anything to do with her. Perhaps. But better safe than sorry. Sofie had all she needed and could write her article from anywhere now. All this place did anyways was reminding her of Philip and how he was toying with her emotions despite the miles between them.

Her eyes fell on her mobile. But what if Ms. Hunt did not protect him? What if he was innocent? Who could he turn to? Who would he ask for help?

Forget him!

She had work to do. While Kerry’s death had removed the urgency from her original story, there was something much more intriguing to write: was her death linked to the opposition leader’s? Did she paint a target on her back? Was there someone even more powerful and ruthless behind all of this? Seizing power after clearing out all the established players?

Sofie put the last of her clothes into the suitcase. She folded the white sundress she wore that night in the meadow. It still smelled of grass and wildflowers and she could almost feel Philip’s hands on her hips gently guiding the rhythm.

Dammit!

If he was innocent, she could not just leave him out to fend for himself.

With a frustrated growl, she called the camera’s SIM card. It was a longshot, but if he was in danger and abandoned by Ms. Hunt’s, he would keep this lifeline open.

It hardly rang twice before Philip’s voice came on.

“Hello?”

There was heavy traffic in the background and it was hard to hear his voice over the noise.

“Where are you?”

“Sofie, thank god.” His voice sounded thick, and he formed his words slower. “There isn’t much battery left and I need your help.”

“Why aren’t you with Ms. Hunt?”

“Jasmit didn’t… she called off our engagement, because I was there when Kerry died! And now…” his voice trailed off.

“She has no use for you anymore. You are no longer media-friendly, are you? If anything, you make her look like a suspect.”

“Yes…” he sniffed.

Was he pretending to cry?

“Sofie, you need to help me. I have no one else.”

She could hear him wiping his nose. This was such bad acting. He had been more convincing in his meaningless pranks, when the stakes had been much lower. If ever there was a time to be persuasive, it would be now. He needed her to take him in, after Ms Hunt and Elandra booted him out and with the Police being on his tail.

“Why do I care?” she countered, trying to sound convincing.

But who was she kidding? She had already silently admitted that she cared, by calling him.

“Sofie, something’s... wrong,” he winced, ignoring her question.

“What do you mean ’wrong’? Wrong with what? You? Trying to con me again? I agree.”

“I can’t...” He searched for the right word to describe the sensation, “think.”

Her snide sarcasm evaporated. He was serious.

“How else do you feel?”

“My whole arm is wet and everything is so … dark.”

The sniffing wasn’t from bad acting or crying. His nose was running. And together with the localized sweating, restricted pupils and lower blood flow to the brain, these were the early symptoms of nerve agent poisoning.

“How did Kerry die?” Sofie asked, emphasizing each word, to let the significance of her question sink in.

“One minute she was fine... A headache... And then she couldn’t breathe… I tried to help her… but there was nothing I could do.”

“Did you notice a smell? Something unusual?”

He fell silent. Sofie could hear his rugged breathing above the noise of the street.

“It wasn’t her usual perfume... She smelled like … apples… or ananas, perhaps?”

MP Kerry did not die of a heart attack! She was murdered! Poisoned with Tabun. A nerve agent with a subtle fruity smell that stopped the breathing. It was used in the Iran–Iraq War and since been banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. But it survived as a highly prized assassination weapon; virtually untraceable and deadly in even minute quantities.

It could easily be used in social settings. Unlike other nerve agents that were highly volatile, Taubin could be handled without a mask. The assassin could just wipe a drenched cloth over the victim’s skin causing death within one to four hours after exposure.

“Where are you?”

Sofie could not keep the alarm out of her voice. If she was right, Philip’s life was in grave danger.

“I don’t know… I was at Elandra and then... I must have walked.”

Judging by the heavy traffic he was near a motorway. Sofie pulled up the satellite map of Elandra’s surroundings.

“What do you see?”

“Trees.”

“C’mon, Philip, something unique? Anything you walked past? Or a sound you can hear?”

“I can’t remember…” his voice sounded tired, “There’s shouting now… goal...”

“Goal? As in soccer? Ok, so there is a sports field nearby.”

According to the map there were two sports grounds within walking distance from Elandra. One with patchy green turf the other bright green, obviously synthetic.

“Can you see the soccer field? What color is it?”

“I can’t.”

This was like pulling teeth. He must already be in a state of confusion to offer so little help.

“Can you walk there?”

She could hear him vomit. That was her answer. Judging by how fast he was deteriorating, he would be lucky to still be alive by the time she got to him. If she found him at all, that is.

This isn’t working!

“Philip, you need to go to the hospital. You are poisoned. Like Kerry. Call the ambulance. They can triangulate your phone and find you better than I can. Hang up and...”

“No!… They’ll get.. I’ll be...” The fear in his voice was unmistakable, even if the rest was incoherent. “Sofie, please,... you are...”

‘… my only hope’, she completed his unfinished sentence in her head.

“I’ll find you, Philip,” she said, forcing her voice to sound calm and confident.

Once again, he put an unreasonable amount of faith in her abilities. Luckily for him it wasn’t completely unfounded.

Anyone in her line of work knew how to diagnose nerve agent poisoning. Some even carried an emergency pen with the antidote. These autoinjectors were top-shelf black market commodities, directly from the army. Sofie didn’t have the funds or connections to obtain them, she had to make due with the individual drugs. Memorizing their dosage and administration regime. She looked over to the medical bag that was already neatly packed with the rest of her belongings. She had restocked it just days ago.

But all of her knowledge and training did not matter, if she couldn’t reach Philip in time.

She searched the sports field closer to London for anything unique that could be seen from a distance.

“Do you see some sort of broadcasting tower? With lights on top?”

“No.”

Her heart sank. If he was near the other field, he would be dead by the time she arrived. There were no direct roads from London. It would take more than 2 hours to get there. Time he did not have.

“Wait… yes… red lights?”

“That’s it!” At least she hoped it was. “I’ll be there in an hour. Hang in there, Philip. I’ll check back in when I’m on my way.”

She hung up, grabbed her medical kit and rushed out the door to one of the share-cars nearby. She was on the motorway out of London when she dialed Philip’s number again.

“Sofie?...” his voice was weak and the traffic around him had died down, ”I called, but...”

“You cannot reach me, because my number…” she started before realizing that in his current state of mind he would not understand a word she was saying. “Only I can call you. Don’t worry, I’ll be there soon. Have you moved?”

“I… I can’t remember.”

“How are you going?”

There was silence on the line. Was he contemplating her answer or did he pass out?

“Please...” His voice sounded distant as if he was too weak to hold the phone up. “Don’t hang up... I… I don’t want… to be... alone.”

“Philip, I have to hang up. You said your battery is already drained. We need to preserve it for when I’m actually there. Otherwise I can’t find you. The sports ground is too large. You need to guide me on the phone. I’ll be there in 20 minutes. I’ll see you soon. OK?”

“Yes…” There was resignation in his voice. “Thank you... for trying… Sofie.”

He knew he was dying and hanging up on him made Sofie’s heart ache. But it was the right call. Unfeeling and objective. And she was good at making those calls. She floored the gas pedal of the little hatchback and arrived at the sports ground 15 minutes later.

Jumping out of the car she dialed his number again. There was no answer. The phone kept ringing until Sofie heard his pre-recorded voice, “Please leave a message and I’ll call you back.” She tried again but the phone kept ringing out. This wasn’t good.

He is unconscious or, worse, he might be …

She stopped herself from going there.

He said he could only see trees, so he must be in one of the woodlands surrounding the field. The whole area was vast and deserted. It was hard to imagine that there had been a soccer match going on when she spoke to Philip first. Unless... this was at the wrong place after all. Looking around, the broadcasting tower could clearly be seen, and it’s lights were yellow, not red.

“Phillip,” she shouted at the top of her lungs. But there was no answer, only the pitch black darkness of the forest.

Panic rose in her. She wasn’t going to find him! There had been so little time left.

Not knowing what else to do she tried to phone again. This time, the line connected.

“Philip? Can you hear me?”

“Yes.” It was a grunt, he must be in pain by now too.

“I’m here, Philip! Where are you? Can you see the headlights of my car?”

“Look… to the… trees.”

There were trees everywhere and Sofie realized that in his condition he wouldn’t be able to guide.

“Switch on the light of your phone and wave it.”

She let her eyes glide over the dark treeline, searching for the small lightsource.

There!

Like a tiny glow worm dancing above the ground. It disappeared almost as soon as she’d spotted it and the line of the phone disconnected. The battery of his phone had died. But at least she had a rough direction. She sprinted towards the treeline.

There was a dark figure propped against a tree.

She found him!

But was there enough time to give him the antidote?

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