Hired for Secrets

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What did you do to her?

Sofie entered the hotel where the Hungarian had arranged for them to meet with Mr. Lee. She was curious to find out who the mysterious stranger was, even if seeing him without a mask would drive home what they’ve done the night before. Would amplify her guilt. She betrayed Philip. Physically and emotionally. She wanted to stamp him out from her heart, but all she managed to do was burn him in deeper. It made her realize how much she needed him. And how important today would be. If everything went well, she would walk out with the intel she needed to prove Philip’s innocence and potentially get him back in her life. Then, what happened between her and the Hungarian would become nothing more than a dirty little secret, no one needed to know about.

Sofie felt a mix of anticipation and trepidation as she followed the maître d’hôtel to a private lunch room on the upper level.

“The lady has arrived, Mr. Lee,” the maître announced as he opened the heavy felted door. “May we start the lunch service, sir?”

With a dismissive wave Lee gestured for the host to leave and close the door behind Sofie. He sat at the head of the table and his strangely pale eyes judged her, like an eagle would estimate the distance to his prey. His dark hair shimmered blue in the midday sun. It made him stand out like a visual anomaly in the otherwise warmly decorated room.

Despite the light and airy feel of the space, towering over the roofs of London, Sofie felt trapped. Starved of oxygen. Lee was a predator. Experienced and remorseless. He would not be fooled easily. If they set even the slighted foot wrong, Lee would know. And he would not let her walk out of here unharmed.

Her gaze escaped to the Hungarian who sat next to Mr. Lee. His back was towards her and he seemed to be staring out the window. Lost in his own world, not even noticing her. I am his mistress. I love him. Despite the guilt, she was glad that she formed some kind of bond with him last night. He had been a good lover. Gentle and skilled. At least, that was something to cling to while she was stuck in this fighting arena with the two opponents. If things went downhill he might come to her aid.

“My love,” the Hungarian suddenly said, still facing the other way. His voice sounded different. Gone was his accent. It was replaced by a tone that was oh-so familiar. The man turning to welcome Sofie as his mistress was... Philip.

He was fully recovered and he looked good; someone was taking care of him. Giving him resources, sheltering him from the Police and making his life comfortable. The excitement of seeing him again all too quickly evaporated into hot anger. He was back with Ms. Hunt! Back to his old self of trickery and scheming. He seduced her to come here today, even if it wasn’t necessary. All he needed to do was ask. She would have followed him. Stood right beside him, no matter the risks. What was it with this man and his games? But more importantly, what was it with her and not being able to resist him? Why was she throwing herself at him? Disguised or otherwise?

Sofie focused her mind, there was more at stake than her emotions. She fixed a smile on her face and stepped forward to greet him.

“Who are you today?” she hissed through the fake smile, “Phillip, the Hungarian, or Philón?”

“You’ll see.”

It was loud enough for Mr. Lee to hear, but that didn’t seem to concern him. He wrapped his arms around her and silenced any further questions with a kiss. For a brief second Sofie’s worries melted away. She knew this looked real, because it felt real. This inexplicable pull towards him that defied rhyme or reason consumed her once again.

Mr. Lee cleared his throat, “What did she ask?”

“Who you are,” Philón replied, without taking his eyes off Sofie. “I asked her here on a lunch date, so this is a bit... unexpected. I’m sorry, darling.”

“Philón, Philón, Philón,” Lee scolded, “you either haven’t quite grasped your situation or you think that your Mistress will love you even without your money. Which is it?”

Sofie looked at Philón. None of this made any sense. Especially the expression that crept into Philón’s face. Was it doubt? Insecurity? Shame?

“Oh dear,” Mr. Lee laughed. He had noticed it too. “Looks like we’ll find out together. I wonder how your bird will react to your news?”

He gestured for her to sit next to him. He had already decided what the outcome would be. “What’s your name, little bird?”

“It’s either ‘Darling’ or ‘The Ex’, depending on what this is. Philón, what’s going on here?”

“Hoho, feisty,” Lee muttered, ”I’ll definitely take you home.”

“You better sit down.” He pulled out a chair next to him and away from Lee. “You remember the stocks I was marrying Ms Hunt for?”

This casually uttered sentence sucked the air from Sofie’s lungs. He finally confirmed what she was so desperately hoping for. The marriage was fake! He didn’t love Ms Hunt. He only did it for the money. Or... Or was that just the thing to say to a Mistress? He didn’t bring Ms Hunt here today, did he? Didn’t put her in harm’s way. He brought Sofie. Was that because he loved Ms Hunt too much or because he trusted Sofie more? The only thing that wasn’t in doubt was his faith in Sofie’s ability to figure out this background herself. The credence that none of this would surprise her.

“Yes. You were going to sell them,” she said, playing along. “So you can be with me.”

It felt good to say this out loud, even if it was only pretend. Or was it? When she looked into his eyes, there was warmth and joy. He liked hearing it, just as much as she liked saying it. A genuine smile had snuck into his face, but it died with his reply.

“Yes, that was my plan. But now, I’ll have to sign some of them over to Mr. Lee. It’ll still be enough for us to live comfortably. Just not in luxury, as I had planned.”

“Why?”

Sofie glanced at Lee. He leaned back to enjoy this spectacle unfold.

“He has offered to help me with my current situation.”

Was there an accusation in Phil’s tone? I have to do this because you abandoned me? Or was this her guilt putting words in his mouth? Ignoring her insecurities, Sofie continued acting her part.

“With the police?” She turned to Mr. Lee. “Oh, so you know who really killed MP Kerry?”

“Your Mistress is exceptionally well informed, Philón. How cute. Well, let me be equally frank with her: Yes I do, and for my help I’m taking all his stocks.”

Lee’s lips curled into a smirk as he scratched his wispy beard and watched the bombshell land. Philón did not see this coming and the shock was written all over his face.

“Oh… And one more thing: you need to call off your wedding. You’ll keep working at Elandra... as my informant.” He gave a bored wave towards Sofie. “You can keep your little floosie. Smart choice, bringing her instead of your fiancé.”

Philón rubbed a thumb over his forehead, the pressure leaving angry red marks behind. Judging from his chagrin expression, he contemplated accepting even these escalated terms. He seemed convinced that there was no other way out even if he was frantically searching for one.

It was Sofie’s chance to take over the conversation. Maybe she could help turn the tables and get Philón out of this one-sided deal.

“How exactly do you plan to help Philón?”

Lee looked at her amused, like she had just performed an adorable little trick.

“I have information that will put the police on a different lead. One that points away from Philón.”

“And you want payment for that? For doing your civil duty? Mr. Lee, having knowledge of a crime and not reporting it is a felony.”

Lee’s eyes darkened. He obviously saw himself above the law, as the puppeteer, holding the strings. He did not care what Sofie considered legal or illegal.

“You can have all the stocks,” Philón interrupted, “but I’m not betraying my clients to you.”

“How noble. But that’s not the deal I’m offering. You see, I’m not actually interested in your stocks.” He sounded smug, “I’m wealthy enough. There are only so many summer houses, hotels and yachts one can buy before it gets boring. But it would be a big deal for you.” He leaned forward. “I cannot allow that. I want you to keep working at Elandra. Because what I am interested in is protecting my wealth. And for that, I need insider information, which you will get me.”

The hopelessness of the situation was sinking in and drained all color from Philón’s face. With a satisfied smile, Lee turned back to Sofie. “And for you and your little threat: The information I have might be just a rumour, or worse a defamation. I could even get sued. And who wants to waste precious police resources, when they already have the right man?” He nodded towards Philón.

“If it’s so circumstantial, why would the police drop the charges against Philón?”

“Listen,” Lee banged his first on the table. It must have been a long time since anyone spoke back at him, “I want Phillip to work, ok? So I’ll make sure the police stops chasing him. I have my ways.”

Oh yes? Tell me more? This was exactly the information she was after. The incriminating details that would be his downfall. Sofie had licked blood. She was about to sink her teeth in, when Philón placed a hand on her arm, just like he did with Ms Hunt.

“Where are the papers to sign?”

“Excellent choice, Philón. For a second there I thought you wanted to make this… interesting.” Mr. Lee pulled out a form from his briefcase. “The account details are already filled in. All I need is your signature.”

As Philón scanned the document, Lee stared at Sofie. No doubt going through how he would have tortured her had Philón not yielded.

“Wait.” Sofie gasped as Philón reached for the pen. “You didn’t kill Kerry.” She left the subtext of ’I know that now’ unspoken. “The police might find this out too.” Or get help finding it.

A subtle nod confirmed that he understood her meaning. That he heard her offer to help loud and clear.

“Gosh,” Lee interjected, “you are so naive, ‘Darling’. I take it you are still ‘Darling’? The police have a suspect. They want to clear this one off the books quickly. Especially with such a prominent victim and such a suitably shady suspect. Who would take an interest in clearing his name? The Ms. Hunts of the world? Certainly not. And I hear Elandra already has a new Primo. So get that into your pretty little head: No one. Cares. About. Him. At least no one important who could actually help.”

Turning to Philón he added, “And you my friend have work to do getting back to the top. The women who’s secrets I need will not settle for second best. They want Elandra’s Primo.”

Philón took a deep breath before signing the papers. “It’s just money”

“No. It’s not. It’s your body and conscience, too.” Sofie brooded. He clearly had more faith in Mr Lee’s ability to help than hers.

“Well, we’ll see about that.” Phil looked at Lee. “You might find that I don’t have any relevant secrets. Most things are so circumstantial anyways and I wouldn’t want you to get sued.”

With a nod, Mr Lee stood from his chair.

“Philón.” His tone was condescending, like talking to a naughty schoolboy, “I’m sure we’ll find incentives. Something that makes you re-evaluate your threshold for what you consider circumstantial.”

Before he had finished his sentence he pulled a syringe from his pocket and jabbed it into Sofie’s shoulder. He pushed the plunger and the clear liquid shot into her muscles as she let out a pained cry.

In an instant, Philón pulled Lee away from Sofie and pinned him against the wall.

“She had nothing to do with this,” he seethed, pressing his arm into Lee’s throat “What did you do to her?”

Before Lee was forced to answer, the room crawled with security guards. Two men seized Philón and kicked in his knees to make him crouch in front of Lee.

“You do care about that one, don’t you?” Lee coughed out a surprised laugh. “Well, you’ll find out what I injected after you give me the first secret. I reckon she has about a week.”

He looked to Sofie while straightening his blazer.

“It’ll start with a light headache, darling.”

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