Hired for Secrets

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Together we'll find a way

** Content note: Description of treatment is purely fictional **

Sofie sank down next to Philip’s slumped over figure. He was barely conscious and his breathing was slow and laboured.

“Philip, I’m here now. Let me have a look at you.”

She shone the light of her phone into his eyes. His pupils were tiny needle pins even in the pitch black of the night. This was a bad sign. The Tabun poisoning had already affected his nervous system. His lungs would be next. Filling with fluids. Until he couldn’t breathe. He needed a hospital, not a graduate in combat medicine from dark web university.

“You are too far gone, Philip. Let me call an ambulance. I’ll stay with you. They won’t hurt you.”

“No!” His words barely auditable with the little breath he had left. “Let me die.”

Sofie was taken aback. He fully understood his situation yet still refused professional help. What was he afraid of?

“I won’t let that happen,” she decided with a confidence she didn’t really have. She needed to stop this neural storm, raging inside of him. And she needed to do it fast.

With the phone between her teeth for light, she rummaged through her medical bag until she found a vial with Atropine. Poking the thin membrane of the bottle, she drew up the clear liquid into a syringe.

“This will help you breathe easier.”

She didn’t expect a response. He was slipping in and out of unconsciousness, by the time she pinched his arm muscle and pushed the dose.

That’s the easy bit. Giving him the antidote was what she dreaded.

He stirred. The drug started to circulate in his body. When he opened his eyes, his pupils were dilated and he looked like a startled cat. He took a couple of deep breaths before clenching his fist over his chest. Sofie could see the panic in his eyes, as he looked to her for help.

“What’s happening to me?”

“Your heart-rate has gone up. It’s the Atropine I gave you. This is good. You are responding to the drug.” Sofie went back to her preparations. He couldn’t lose any more time. “Try to stay calm.”

His eyes followed her hands. If the effects of the Atropine wasn’t unsettling him already, the various packages with needles and bandages she was laying out surely would.

“What are you doing?”

“I need to put a line into your arm for the antidote.” She tried to sound matter-of-fact but her apprehension was auditable.

“Are you trained to do that?” His voice hitched and he inched away from her.

“No.”

He stared at her for a second before trying to get on his feet.

“Look, I feel fine now. Just get me to a train station. I can manage from there.”

Sofie put a hand on his arm to keep him in place.

“Philip, the Atropine will wear off, but the poison won’t. You will be right back to where you were in about an hour. You need the antidote. And potentially another shot of Atropine later in the night to keep you going. The poison keeps on killing you until the antidote has fully neutralized it. And that’ll take a couple of hours.”

He looked miserable. Anyone in his situation would. No one should have to put their life into the hands of an amateur.

“Do you trust me?” Sofie asked, knowing that the answer was rightfully ‘no’.

“It’s all your fault.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “You do realize that!”

“How so?”

“Before I met you everything was under control. The journalists I slipped information to, knew when to stop. When the risks were too high. When the truth could become deadly. But not you. You covered yourself and hung me out to dry.”

Her work was hazardous. More than once, she put other people’s lives in danger for the sake of her story. For justice and the greater good. But these people were usually guilty. Caught up in the net of lies and consequences they made for themselves. These people had been doomed before she got to them. And they knew it.

But Philip didn’t. He didn’t see this coming. Whether that’s because he was innocent or ignorant was impossible to tell.

“Everything was lined up perfectly,” he continued, “I had a clean way out. And then you came along. With your morals and ideals. Making me feel things I haven’t… ”

He went silent and his face looked pale in the harsh light of her phone.

“What?”

“I’ve not felt like this... ever. And I don’t like it, Sofie. My life was simple before you. And now...”

Now, everything was falling apart. In just one afternoon, he was disowned by Elanda and cast out by his fiancé. He lost his whole support network. Was left to fend for himself with a lethal dose of poison in his system.

“What did you expect? A slap on the wrist?”

“I didn’t expect to die, Sofie!” His tone cut through her sarcasm. “I thought Kerry would resign and that’s the end of it.”

He shook his head and a hopeless smile distorted his lips.

“Well, you got me into this,” he said holding out his arm, “You get me out of it.”

“I’ll try, Philip. I certainly will try.”

That was the honest answer. She knew how to do it. She had done it before, except last time it did not end so well.

The pungent smell of the alcohol wipe filled the air, as she probed his arm with her finger. He was dehydrated and it would be difficult to find the vein even for a trained professional. Her hand trembled holding the needle against his skin. She sank it into his flesh but missed the vein and Philip winced in pain.

“Shit… Shit!” It wasn’t like her to curse but this called for it. “I’m sorry. I need to try again.”

He did not complain and to her relief the needle went in the second time without a hitch.

“This is Pralidoxime,” she explained, “The antidote. But your system cannot tolerate high dosages all at once, so I need to give you small amounts every 5 minutes over the next 30 minutes.”

Philip leaned his head against the tree trunk and stared into the distance while Sofie pushed the antidote into his body. She knew the procedure was painful. The Pralidoxime was burning his veins. It usually would be mixed into a saline drip. But this was a luxury Sofie couldn’t offer. All she could do was flush his blood vessels with saline solution after each dose.

“I don’t feel different,” he remarked when she was finally done with all 6 doses.

“It only dislodges the Tabun from your enzymes. You still have to metabolize it.” Seeing his puzzled look she clarified, “It breaks down the poison so your body can get rid of it. Beyond that, it doesn’t have an effect.”

“How come you know so much about this?”

His face was barely visible in the dim light of the phone, but there was admiration in his eyes. She could also hear it in his voice. Most people had a romantic fascination with someone’s dangerous past, especially when that someone was reformed or apparently harmless, like Sofie.

But she could not bear him looking at her like this. There was nothing romantic or admirable about her past. And his question brought back unwelcome memories. Memories she wasn’t ready to deal with right now.

“I had this happen in the past,” she said, trusting he would catch her tone and drop the topic.

“To yourself?”

“No, and I don’t want to talk about it, ok?”

It was harsher than she intended. Certainly harsher than he deserved. But she couldn’t help it. She turned away to wipe a stray tear from her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t notice. It was years ago. She should be over it by now. But she still felt the pain like an open wound.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, placing a hand on her back.

It felt warm and reassuring. It would have put her at ease, if it wasn’t for the fact that he read her like an open book, once again.

“I got to him much later,” she said, feeling the need to explain herself. “That’s why he died. You’ll be fine Philip.”

He let out a sharp breath. He had been worried. Of course he was. Learning that someone else died under similar circumstances would have phased anyone.

He did not probe further and Sofie was glad to leave the rest of her past undisturbed. They sat in silence until Sofie’s phone alarm went off to start the next round of treatments.

“So, what now?” he asked, opting for a conversation to distract himself from the pain.

“After we are done with this, you need another dose in about an hour. I’ll take you home with me and we’ll do it there. I have a safe-house in London. We can stay there for a couple of days while we figure out what’s next.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“You said it yourself: you are in this situation because of me. Would be pretty heartless not to help you get out.”

“You think I can get out of this?” He sounded hopeless.

“Yes, we just need to figure out who really murdered MP Kerry.”

“Sofie.” He reached for her hand. “I am really grateful that you believe in me. You didn’t have to do this. You could have... let me die.”

“And miss out on your company?”

A weak smile came into his face. She was parroting his line from yesterday.

“It was only yesterday, wasn’t it? It feels like a lifetime ago.”

A sudden shiver ran through his body.

“You are freezing. It’s from all the fluids I’m pumping into you. It’ll be warmer in the car. Do you think you can walk?”

Philip nodded and scrambled to his feet. It took them almost the full 5 minutes between injections to walk the short stretch to her car. Climbing into the back seat, Philip collapsed, exhausted and shaking.

By the time Sofie put down the syringe of the last dose, Philip had stopped shivering inside the warm car and the windows had fogged up from the condensation. It placed them into a protective bubble. Away from the world and inside a realm of their own.

“Why didn’t you want to go to the hospital?”

It puzzled her why he was prepared to die, rather than receive proper care.

“The police were there way too quickly.” He recalled the events. “Someone knew Kerry was going to die and called them before she even entered my room. Someone was planning all of this and wanted to make sure I had no time to run. Someone wanted to pin this on me.”

“But they poisoned you too, wouldn’t that have proven your innocence?”

“I don’t think they meant to poison me. Kerry and I, we never... we’re not physical. I never touch her, not even a handshake. She likes me to watch. Tell her how to satisfy herself. Had she not collapsed against me, I wouldn’t have been exposed.”

“So? Once you realized that you were poisoned, you could have safely gone to hospital. Rather than risk your life out here.”

“Once I was poisoned, they needed me to disappear. What are the odds of two people having a ‘heart attack’ like that? Trust me, I wouldn’t have made it to the hospital. And there are worse outcomes than death.”

“How did you escape, if everything was so well planned?”

“I climbed over the roof when the Police were on their way up.”

He went quiet, contemplating something different while dragging his fingers through the condensation on the window and leaving sad little trails behind.

“I lost everything.” He choked as if he’d just realized the magnitude of his predicament. “All the sacrifices, the planning, the risks... It was all for nothing.” He let his head droop against the glass. “I can’t go back to Elandra. I can’t access my bank accounts. I can’t go back home. I have absolutely nothing left.”

Sofie took his hand, interlacing her fingers with his. Their hands fit perfectly, like they were made to be together. Just like that, writing her story had lost its appeal. She didn’t care anymore who murdered whom or what the consequences would be for the world. Instead, she pictured lazy Sunday mornings with Philip, hearing the leaves rustle during long walks together in the autumn forest, or kissing him on New Year’s Eve. It had taken her a long time but she was finally ready to love him. All of him. With her whole heart.

“You are with me now, Philip. And together we’ll find a way.”

She smiled at him, even if it was too dark for him to notice. Or for her to see his response.

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