Hired for Secrets

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You got your answer

Sofie held her throbbing arm. You have a week. She could feel the cold liquid Mr. Lee injected. It was spreading underneath her skin, infiltrating her body. What did he give her? A poison? A disease? A chemical? Whatever it was she needed to know. And the only way to find out was hinging on Phil to give up his secrets.

“I don’t need a week.” Phil struggled against the two bodyguards who had him headlocked on the ground. “You can have what you want. Right now. Just tell me how to save her.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Philón.”

Lee gave a casual nod to the bodyguards to release their captive. The goons stepped back but not without giving Phil one last shove. It put a spiteful grin on Lee’s face. When Phil struggled to his feet, Lee walked over to Sofie. He brushed the back of his hand along her cheekbones, wanting to provoke another outburst from Phil. “It would have been a shame to let this one die.”

A low growl came from Phil’s throat as he positioned himself between Lee and Sofie.

“What information do you want?”

Lee squinted his eyes, thinking about all the juicy secrets that were at his fingertips.

“Tell me about... Siri Tommer.”

“She founded several HighTech companies,” Phil replied without missing a beat, “She took a healthy profit from them and now invests into other tech businesses.”

“Don’t play dumb. That’s public information. I want to know what she tells you after you’ve banged her.”

Phil rubbed his twitching fingertips. The disrespectful statement was offending him and he itched to punch Lee again. But instead he settled for, “Why would she be a client of mine?”

Lee laughed and turned for the door.

“Sure, we can play it that way, if you prefer. But remember… it’s only a week before your little bird loses its chirp.”

The cruelty of his casual thread eerily hung in the air, when Sofie placed a hand on Phil’s arm to get his attention.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make this right,” he reassured her before calling after Lee. “Wait! You’re right. She’s a client and I have more on her.”

“No, Phil,” Sofie whispered. ”There is no need.”

“What do you mean?”

Phil’s eyes darted between Sofie and Lee.

“He’s bluffing,” she spat, looking straight at Lee, who stared back at her in disbelief.

“How can you be sure?”

“It starts in a week?” she quipped. “That’s utter nonsense. Most poisons or chemicals act straight away. Sure, pathogens can take a week. But they can’t be carried around like that. They need to be refrigerated or kept in an incubator. No. It’s a harmless saline solution, that’s all he injected.” Taunting Lee directly, she added, “and it starts with a headache? C’mon. You picked the most common symptom. I probably get one during your arbitrary one week deadline from -- I don’t know -- stressing over an injection. And if I do, chances are I’ll put pressure on Phil to give you what you wanted. That’s your master plan, isn’t it?”

Lee’s expression changed. It was too subtle for Sofie to read but Phil picked up on it easily.

“Yes, she’s right! You were bluffing.”

“Suite yourself,” Lee grumbled.

“Hang on.” A worried expression crept into Phil’s face. “The injection might have been harmless, but there’s something else... Something you’re not telling us.” He studied Lee a little longer before turning to Sofie, “but I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to gamble with your life, Sofie.”

He took a deep breath, before fixing Lee in a cold stare.

“Siri is moving to the UK. She has accepted a position at the Reserve Bank. She will be the Assistant Governor for Financial Markets. Regulating the flow of money for investors.”

“Kicking out old Rodney?” Lee was pleasantly surprised. “That’s interesting. Very interesting, indeed.” He paused to muster Phil, “And I take it she’s fond of your services.”

Phil looked to the ceiling and let out a resigned breath.

“Yes.”

“Splendid! I see we have an understanding here. Make her a regular, will you?”

Phil swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the distaste.

“You got what you wanted. Now tell me what the injection was about.”

“All in good time. I need to verify that the information you’ve given me is correct.” Grinning at Sofie Lee added, “she has a week, just like I said.”

Satisfied, he headed for the door. With his hand hovering over the handle he turned, “Oh and Philón, there is no point in being clever with me in the future. I know more than you think.” He gave Sofie a sideways glance. “For example, I know about Ashley Kang-Jal and that she left her husband for our lover boy here.”

Sofie pressed her lips together. So Rachel’s software was right in ranking Ashely and Ms. Hunt the same. Had Ashely been his backup in case Ms. Hunt did not come through? Or was there more? Was she his real mistress?

Sofie sank to a chair, as soon as the last of Lee’s bodyguards left the room. The problems and implications were getting to her, were draining all her energy.

“How are you feeling?”

Phil placed a hesitant hand on her shoulder.

“I’m fine,” she lied.

Physically she was, but the secrets never ended with Phil. What had she expected? Him to come back to her once the police was done with him? To confess his love and then live happily ever after with her? Ridiculous! He wasn’t the type and neither was she.

“I’m sorry, Sofie.” Phil’s voice sounded distant and tormented. She had saved his life and he was re-paying her poorly. “I never wanted to put you in danger.”

Sofie looked at him. The truth in his statement was obvious. He was a player and schemer but he would never let physical harm come to anyone around him. Neither his clients nor her.

“I know.”

Relief flushed his eyes as he sank to his knees next to her chair. “Thank you,” he breathed, leaning his forehead against her thigh.

Sofie instinctively reached down to stroke his hair. His thick brown strains ran through her fingers and it felt like they were back in the Meadow. When everything was simple and easy. When all it took was swooping into his life and taking him away from all the lies and madness. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Sofie cupped his cheeks and leaned down to kiss him.

“I can’t...” He turned away and got up. Hugging his shoulders, he wanted to say something but decided against it. Was he thinking about feeding her another lie?

“Why do you do this?”

“Because that’s how I manipulated or paid people in the past.” It pained him to confess this. “And I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to pay people with money. That’s why I want to hire you to investigate the case. Find something on Lee. So I can get my stocks back.”

Of course. Money. That’s the reason for everything. Did he even care about the consequences to her?

“What if Lee catches me?”

“He won’t hurt you. He needs you. You are his only bargaining chip.”

“That’s not quite true, is it?” Sofie replied. “There is Ashley and Jasmit and god knows how many other women. Lee might have better leverage with one of them.”

“Sofie...” For a moment he was speechless. “He has all the leverage already. I don’t want to see any of the others get hurt, but... you are different. I’d do anything to keep you safe, Sofie.”

The way he stressed ‘anything’ let goosebumps rise on Sofie’s back.

“Because I saved your life?”

“No. I mean... yes that too, but... ” he stopped to gather his thoughts. “Sofie, I am not free. As you put it, I’m trapped in a golden cage. I am bought and sold. And it probably will never stop. I’m in too deep. Have too many secrets. Collectively, they’ll never let me go. But if I were free…” Sofie felt the gravity of what he was about to say. “I’d come with you in a heartbeat. The others are beautiful, wealthy and powerful, but nothing comes even close to how I feel when I’m with you.”

He wanted her. Over all the others. He said it. This time she wasn’t imagining it. It was there plain and clear. But could she believe him?

“Philip...” Sofie shook her head, “It’s hard to tell what’s the truth with you. You are so good at... pretending.”

He closed his eyes. If he was telling the truth it would have been a hard blow. Hearing that she didn’t believe him. That he had cried wolf one too many times.

“My real name is Phil. Philón Csasz.” The way he pronounced his last name sounded like Chase. “My family is from Hungary. But when I was 14 they sent me to a boarding school here in England and from there to Uni. They invested everything they had in my education. I was meant to become a Psychologist. But when the fees increased... I got into this.” He looked out the window, following a flock of sparrows on the horizon. “At first, it was easy money to get me through uni. But when Elandra got involved. The pay got larger and the women I was paired with... they weren’t just interested in the sex anymore. They genuinely appreciated having someone to talk to.” A sad smile whisked over his face. “In a way, I was still helping people. Except the money was more than I would have ever made as a psychologist. It was a no-brainer. At least that’s how it felt back then. But after a while, I wished I’d never fallen in with them, until… now.” He turned and took Sofie’s hand. “Now all of it has been worth it because it has let me to you.”

His confession was raw and sudden. It touched her heart in a way that took her breath away.

“I want to be done with the secrets,” he continued, “and I wish there was a way out of this mess. But if there isn’t... I want to remember us. Imagine what might have been. But for that I need you to believe me.”

Sofie felt tears well in her eyes. She’d never felt so conflicted before. His words sounded real. They sure were what she’d been dying to hear. But he didn’t act the part. And if there’s one thing she knew as a journalist it was that only actions mattered.

“You never kiss me first.” She picked the first tangible thing that was a red flag to her. “You always hold back, even when you wore the mask and I didn’t know who you were.”

“It felt wrong to deceive you like that.”

“But it’s ok to pretend you were someone else to get me here?”

“My plan was to set up the meeting with Lee and then call you. I didn’t expect to run into you at the ball. And when I saw you…”

“...you wanted to play?”

“No!” Hesitantly he added, “I wanted to meet you new. Without any background. Not as Philip. I wanted to see how you would react. If you treated other men differently. I guess I wanted to know whether I was special.”

Sofie swallowed. She had treated them exactly the same. She flirted with both. Was stringing them along. Only to then use them for her own gain. Nothing has changed. That’s what he’d concluded. He acknowledged his feelings for her, embraced them, while she went straight back to her old tricks.

“How does that prove anything? It was you all along”

There was a rugged edge in her voice. It dawned on her that she indeed had his heart until she’d lost it yesterday.

“But you didn’t know that. You didn’t recognize me.”

“So that’s your answer then?”

“Yes.” He looked down. “But that’s ok! Actually, it’s a relief. I have to go back to being Philip. And it’s easier if I know that this won’t affect you.”

“Why wouldn’t this affect me?” She refused to accept this conclusion without having her say. She lifted his chin. “Phil, look at me...”

He caught her hands.

“You feel hot!”

“What?”

He touched a hand to her forehead.

“You’re burning up. Let’s get you to a hospital. We need to know for sure what he injected.”

Sofie’s head was spinning. Had she been wrong about the injection? Was her body in overdrive to fight an infection? Or was it her head, trying to make sense of Phil’s emotional rollercoaster? The only way to know for sure was to find out what Lee had done, for both their sakes. If he injected her with a pathogen, it would be reckless not to get on top before she might be contagious.

“Fine,” she conceded, “but no hospital, I have a place to go.”

She got up from her chair.

“And Phil… this conversation is not over yet!”

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