Hired for Secrets

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He is dangerous

Dawn was breaking when Sofie pulled into the driveway of her safe-house and it felt like a new beginning. The golden rays of the rising sun danced over Philip’s face. He was sound asleep on the passenger seat. The tortured expression he had for most of the drive from the blinding headlights shining into his dilated pupils was finally gone and he looked peaceful. There was a subtle smile on his face. Was he dreaming?

“You are beautiful,” Sofie whispered as she leaned over to brush a stray hair out of his face.

His eyes flew open and darted around the car’s interior before finally settling on hers. His jaw clenched to suppress a yawn and he drew in a sharp breath.

“I must have fallen asleep.”

“Yes, you slept for most of the drive. We are at the safe-house, already.”

Sofie opened her door and the pungent stink of old tires and leaked motor oil nearly strangled her lungs. The tiny bungalow was right next to a scrapyard. It wasn’t prime real estate but it was deserted. Exactly what they needed right now.

“It’s not what you’re used to, I’m afraid,” she laughed, seeing his large frame crowd the dilapidated cottage. The kitchen-diner was the largest room of the house. But even so, there was barely enough space to pull out the chair from the dining table without falling onto the smelly green-corded couch in the corner. Two other rooms led off the space, but they were in even worse condition. One was missing a door, making the corridor look like a toothless grin. Mocking them.

“No, it’s not...” The disquiet in his voice disclosed how much it pained him to realize what depth he had sunk to. Being stranded in a dump, without money or a way out.

“But I’m grateful... Of course,” he added, collapsing on one of the shabby kitchen chairs and holding out his arm. “Can we get started with the next injections? I want to get the needle out.”

He propped his head onto his free arm, occasionally rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hand. This was how he remained for the 30 minute treatment, giving Sofie only one word answers at her attempts of small-talk.

“I am really tired. Do I take the couch here?”

“No, there’s a bedroom. It’s through there”, she pointed to the door-less frame. “Is it ok if I duck out? You should be out of the woods and I need to clean out my old apartment.”

With a brief nod he rose and disappeared into the dark room, leaving Sofie to cover their tracks.

She first returned the hire-car into the exact same spot. An audaciously placed pylon had preserved the spot and with the help of a GPS spammer it would look to the rental system as if the car never moved. If someone wanted to find her next hiding spot by tracing back from her old apartment or Elandra they would be out of luck. She next focused on scrubbing the apartment of any traces that she’d ever been there.

It was early afternoon when Sofie arrived back at the safe-house. She found Philip sitting at the kitchen table. He was wearing only his pants, with damp hair and smelling of fresh soap. For someone at the brink of death only hours ago he looked stunning. No, he looked stunning full stop.

“The shirt needed washing,” he said, shifting in his chair, “and there wasn’t anything else to wear.”

“You look good that way,” she said, deliberately brushing against his naked skin as she walked through, “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks.”

“You know,” she said, moving closer and letting her palm glide over his shoulder, “I can think of things to do while we wait for the shirt to dry.”

“Sofie,” he breathed, getting up from the chair. “Stop playing with me. I don’t deserve it, at least not anymore.”

“I’m not playing,” she smiled, trailing kisses along his chest and feeling his body respond. “I don’t have an agenda anymore. I just want to be with you.”

He gently moved her back and kept her at arm’s length.

“Sofie, you saved my life and I’m in your debt. But...” His tone was sharp and he waited for her to realize the change in him. “I don’t intend on repaying you with sex.”

What?

How could he think she wanted payment for her help?

Oh no!

Because that’s what this has always been. A job. Nothing was real. He merely played the part he was supposed to play. And he was too damn good at it.

The soft morning light flooded through the window and tinged his eyes in a honey brown. It played over his chiseled form, giving him the magnificence of a marble statue. Cold and unmoving. Yet there was a heat radiating from him that screamed to Sofie his body was ready for her. Wanting her. How could this not be real?

“I don’t want this to get confusing,” he continued, “I need you, and there is an agenda. You said it yourself. We need to get to find out who murdered MP Kerry. For your story, for the country’s sake and for mine.”

He was so close, yet completely out of reach. Sofie reeled back, gripping the table for support.

“I understand.”

It sounded as numb as she felt.

“I don’t think you do. But thanks for pretending,” he said, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “So? How should we start? Finding out who did it.”

Watching him put as much distance between them as the small room allowed, felt like pouring molten lava over her bare skin. She took a deep breath to settle herself. How could she have gotten this so wrong? Misread his signals so badly? But then again, she’d never been good at relationships. Could never read people. They bored her too quickly. No one could keep her fascination for long. And neither would have Philip. The only thing keeping her attention was her work. She would have forgotten him over the thrill of chasing another story. So why not start with that right now?

“I asked someone to sift through Kerry’s emails,” she replied as if nothing was amiss. “Let’s see how far they got.”

She opened her laptop and typed into her secure messaging app.

SofiaBlack: How did you go @SlimRat?

“You are Sofia Black?” he gasped, taking a step back from her. “That explains... a lot.”

“Does it?”

She was flattered that Philip knew about her work. Was he a fan? A lot of people were. They wanted to meet her. Pick her brain. Hear about her stories. At least that’s what the tens of thousands of comments under her article said.

“Your stories are dangerous. Had I known who you were...”

He did not finish the sentence, instead he closed his eyes and shook his head as if to say ‘It doesn’t matter anymore’.

“Then what?” she pressed. “What would you have changed?”

She wanted to know what he really thought about her. It was too important. Too self-indulgent. She needed to hear it. Remind her what this was about.

He fixed her in an icy stare.

“I wouldn’t have engaged with you. You don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire. People die while you plow through to get to the truth. No wonder you didn’t stop.”

“Yes,” she replied sourly, “you should have stayed away. That way you could have crawled from one golden cage right into the next. Continued to be handled like an exotic creature. I’m sorry I set you free...”

The ping from her computer interrupted Sofie before she could tell him what she really thought about him moping about what he lost instead of what she’d given him back.

SlimRat: Got your link: Kerry ordered the hit. Gloated about it in 10 emails. Too bad she’s dead. Would have made a good story.

SofiaBlack: Yeah. But *who* murdered her is an even bigger story.

SlimRat: I knew you’d say that, Sof. I already found lots of emails about the mystery man from the news.

Sofie glanced at Philip. He was standing by the window looking out. No doubt still fuming about her judgement over his life choices.

“I’ll be in the other room.”

“Sure.” He did not even bother to turn around.

SofieBlack: His name is Philip…

SlimRat: That’s his “stripper” name. He works for Elandra. It’s sex-club for women, can you imagine? Anyways, his real name is Philón Chase.

SofiaBlack: He was with her when she died.

SlimRat: He wasn’t only with her, Sof. I think he did it.

Sofie’s eyes shot up, watching Philip’s back through the open door frame. Could he be a killer? If so, did accidentally poison himself? Or was this his insane plan to get away with murder?

SofiaBlack: Why would he kill her?

SlimRat: Philón collected a lot of stock options from some big insurance company. He was planning to marry the CEO and force her to put something in the prenup that allowed him to sell those options. Kerry got wind of it. So he killed her.

SofiaBlack: I don’t get it.

SlimRat: His motive was money. Selling the stocks would have made him *very* rich.

Sofie swiped her tongue over her lower lip. Philip was used to living in luxury. Gaining financial independence to keep his lifestyle after Elandra made sense. Especially if he was planning to leave Ms Hunt. But was it enough for murder?

SofiaBlack: Ok, but that’s not illegal.

SlimRat: Oh, none of it is. Philón is too clever for that.

SofiaBlack: Then why did Kerry have a problem with it?

SlimRat: Putting so many options on the market would cause the price to skyrocket.

SofiaBlack: Ok? But that’s the CEO’s problem, not Kerry’s.

SlimRat: Well, Ms. Hunt would know ways to correct the price. For her, it’d be just a temporary volatility. She might even see it as a romantic gesture to her new husband. Women can be funny that way. But for Kerry it’s a big problem. The Government Bonds have shortened the stock. Probably on Kerry’s recommendation and what she knew about the outcome of the Royal Commission.

SofiaBlack: So if this goes wrong the government might lose trillions.

SlimRat: Yes and Kerry needs to stop this at all costs. But before she could tell the Royal Commission about Philón’s deal, he murders her.

SofiaBlack: But if Kerry feared for her life then why go to Elandra to meet with him?

SlimRat: Who says she had a choice?

A shudder ran through Sofie’s body as she looked up to find Philip staring at her. Did he know they were talking about him?

SofiaBlack: He got poisoned too.

SlimRat: How do you know?

SofiaBlack: Because he’s with me now.

SlimRat: What? Are you crazy? Philón is dangerous! Don’t let his pretty face fool you. You need to get away from him.

SofiaBlack: You don’t know him.

Sofie chewed her lips. Did she know him? She was wrong about him so many times already. He could be a murderer and she wouldn’t have a clue. She watched the “...” appear and disappear while willing Philip to stay in the other room. If only there was a door to put between them.

SlimRat: I’m coming to you. Next flight leaves in an hour. I’ll be in England tonight. Tell me where you are.

SofiaBlack: I’m at my safe-house. I don’t need your help!

SlimRat: What do you mean you don’t need my help? You took him into your safe-house, for crying out loud! You’re having your arse murdered over there, babe. The hell you don’t need my help!

Sofie should be fuming right now, having her judgment questioned like that, but instead there was a warm fuzzy feeling spreading inside her. SlimRat never got protective before. It was strange to think that there really was a person out there who cared about her. SlimRat had been with her through some of her toughest cases. A more sentimental person would call SlimRat her best friend.

SofiaBlack: And I should trust you? Sounds like you too want to murder my arse!

SlimRat: If I was interested in any of your body parts, I would have made a move long ago. I’ll send you an address. Go there NOW. I’ll see you tomorrow. IRL.

Sofie closed the laptop and her smile instantly dried up. Philip, Philón or whatever his real name was stood in the door frame, examining her.

“So? What did your informant tell you about me?”

“Who says we talked about you?” She tried to look neutral. To not give him anything. But he knew. “Do you have anything you want to tell me?”

She wanted to give him a chance to explain. To lift the secrets between them. To tell her that he wasn’t a murderer. But he did not reply. He just watched her.

“If you’d excuse me, I have another errand to run.” It sounded neutral and plausible, but all she wanted to do was get out. Get away from his probing eyes. “I’ll be back tomorrow. There is food in the cupboard.”

A dark cloud rolled over his face.

“So that’s how it is now?” he said, putting his arm against the door frame to prevent her from passing. “I refuse to have sex with you, and you punish me by not trusting me anymore?”

It was a trap. He wanted her to defend herself by saying that it was the new information not the sex that made her suspicious. But she wasn’t biting.

“Yes, Philip. I take rejections very badly.”

“I see.”

He stepped out of the way to let her leave. He must have realized that he wouldn’t get anything out of her. But there was a strange fire burning in his eyes. He had just made a new plan. One that didn’t require her.

Had the tables turned?

Was Sofie the curator of secrets now?

Had she become a risk that needed to be removed?

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