Hired for Secrets

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Our new case

A happy ending was in Sofie and Phil’s reach but then everything became unravelled. Lee tracked them down. Forced Phil back into his old life. Ripping them apart. In one ill-fated heartbeat, Phil wasn’t fighting for his freedom anymore but his life, taking a bullet that was meant for Sofie. Tears welled in Sofie’s eyes. It was 4 months ago but it felt like yesterday.

“Here it is! Hot off the press.” Rachel stormed into the kitchen with Sofie’s story in the World Times. “Secrets and corruption in high-finance turn deadly, by Sofia Black.”

Sofie smiled weakly and wiped the tears from the corner of her eye. Under all the layers of sadness and guilt, she was proud of the article. It was her most in-depth exposé yet, revealing Kerry’s crimes and unmasking her killer. But writing everything up made it painfully obvious how avoidable the sad outcome would have been. She was close to the truth so many times. If only she had kept digging a little deeper, been more persistent, she could have stopped Kerry, Lee, and herself from hurting people. From hurting Phil.

“Oh this is good,” Rachel pointed to the section titled ‘The murder of the murderer’. She started reading out loud, ”Tequan Lee, a UK businessman and chairperson of finance and insurance companies, ordered the murder of MP Kerry that weakened the government’s ability to regulate the financial system. A witness confirmed that Lee hired James Yates, a former guard at the facility where MP Kerry was found dead in June. Traces of the nerve agent used in the assassination was found in Yates’s cellar. However, Yates and his accomplice will not be answering for their crimes. They were found shot dead at a south London residence, in what was likely an argument gone wrong. The private cell phone signal of Lee himself was traced back to the crime scene.”

Sofie winced. Writing had never been her strong suit but it brought the information across. And it had been a complex plot. Untangling the connections and finding the airtight evidence that led to Lee’s arrest, had been challenging. Not because Lee was careful. His too-big-to-sink attitude made him sloppy. But finding witnesses who were willing to testify against him took Sofie almost 3 months.

“I love this part…” Rachel held up the concluding paragraph of her article. “Kerry’s murder was a heinous crime, born out of greed and calculated self-interest. But even worse was that it prevented justice from being served. Kerry died before she could be convicted as one of the most corrupt politicians of our time. Instead, Lee’s conviction will have to serve as its proxy in demonstrating that no one is above the law.” Rachel smiled at Sofie. “Intense words.”

“Well, Kerry would have been the trial of the decade, showing that power and influence does not keep you out of jail.” Sofie paused before adding,” everyone has to take responsibility for their mistakes.”

“You did not mention Phil in the article.” Rachel knew that Sofie was referring to her own mistakes, but had refused to talk about this sore topic in the past.

“There was no need. The police dropped all charges against him.”

“You never really told me what happened after you asked me for Ashley Kang-Jal’s number that night.”

Sofie sighed, it was painful to recall the phone call she had to make.

“I told her where the ambulance was taking Phil and that she was the only one able to protect him now.”

“And? What did she say? Did she help?”


Sofie felt red hot jealousy flame up in her. She had to give him up, because she failed to keep him safe. With life-threatening injuries she simply did not have the resources to protect him from Lee’s reach. But Ashely could, he was safe with her.

“Have you spoken to him since?”

“He disappeared from the hospital that night.”

“So he… died,” Rachel asked cautiously, unsure whether the word would spook Sofie into shutting down.

“Ashley certainly made it look that way. To Elandra, the police and everyone else who was hunting him. But that’s what she said she’d do.” Sofie’s voice wobbled. “Apparently, the two of them had worked out all the details. They were planning to run away together, once he sold the stocks.”

“But that was before he met you...”

“Yes. He must have told her that he changed his mind. Because it was one of her conditions for me to never try to find him.”

“But you don’t intend to keep that promise, do you?”

“Rach, I’m no use to him. It’s like trying to release the last white rhino into the wild. He cannot survive from love alone. He’s too valuable and has lived in captivity for too long. He might hate his golden cage, but it’s the only thing protecting him. It’s what he’s used to.

“Don’t you think he’s disappointed?”

“Of course. Everything was new and exciting. But what happens when routine sets in? It might not be this year or next, but one day he’ll wake up wondering why he has given up safety and comfort for me. I will disappoint him sooner or later. So I might as well do it now. That way he has a chance to hold on to his old life.”

“Seriously, Sof? You’re giving up? Just like that?”

Sofie let out a huff. It had been the most painful decision of her life. What made it bearable was knowing that Phil was safe and that he was with the woman he once loved. Perhaps he could love Ashley again.

“Sometimes you have to let go to protect the ones you love.”

It was a hard lesson for her to learn.

“You are such a martyr. It’s not even funny anymore.”

“Well...” Sofie forced a grin on her face. “This martyr has a new case. Do you want to hear about it?”

Throwing herself into work was the only way she knew how to deal with her emotions.

“You are a freakin’ robot, you know that?” Rachel scolded. “And I’m not talking about the nanotrackers.”

“No, because Perro removed them months ago. I tell you, the dialysis was painful. But, c’mon, are you interested in the new story or not?”

“Ok, yes I am. Tell me.”

“There is a company called BioVaulting. It pays people to get infected with diseases in foreign countries and bring them to their lab. It’s known as pathogen muling.”

“What? Why would anyone do that?”

“Because it pays a lot of money. We’re talking millions here.”

“Why do people have to get infected to transport pathogens? Can’t they be shipped?”

“Countries own the pathogens that emerge inside their borders. So they can stop the export of samples and test tubes, but they cannot stop infected people from leaving. Especially citizens from other countries.”

“But why would they collect sniffles and tummy bugs from around the world?”

“They are not interested in the diseases that are already in the community. They want the Ebolas, SARSes and Nipahs of the world. The really nasty bugs that are locked away in secure facilities and kept secret.”

“But how do the mules get into those?”

“That I don’t know yet. I also don’t know what BioVaulting is actually planning with all these pathogens. But having people infected with the most deadly diseases known to men and then travel across borders is a ticking time bomb. According to my information, many of the mules die because there is no treatment.”

“Well, investigating this would be reckless and dangerous. And sounds just like a Sofia Black story.”

“Are you in?”

“Of course I am. But I wouldn’t know where to start. I assume BioVaulting is not a public company so how would we find a digital trace?”

“I’m way ahead of you.”

Sofie pointed to the secure messaging app through which she used to reach out to Rachel. The message she sent an hour ago was still at the top of the screen.

SofiaBlack: Need insider information on BioVaulting. Who can help?

As she showed the message to Rachel, the three dots below her message started to dance. Someone was replying. Sofie’s heart stopped, when the reply finally popped up.

HungarianFox: I can help.

Sofie stared at the message. All the feelings she managed to bottle up for the past 4 months exploded into her. She felt hot and cold at the same time and had to grip the table for support.

“What’s wrong? Why don’t you write back?” Rachel asked.

“It’s him, Rach.” Sofie gasped. She had barely enough oxygen to whisper.

“Who? Phil?” Seeing tears glistening in Sofie’s eyes, Rachel didn’t need an answer. “He found you! That’s quite impressive. He must have done little else over the past months than troll through online forums to search for you.” Handing Sofie a tissue she added, “he doesn’t look like a helpless rhino to me, Sof.”

Sofie opened a private messaging window and invited HugarianFox.

SofiaBlack: Thank you for saving my life.

HungarianFox: I said I would do anything to keep you safe. I mean it.

SofiaBlack: I’m sorry I let her take you away.

HungarianFox: Don’t be. It was the right decision.

His reply hit her like a blow to the gut. Her heart drummed. She typed, deleted and re-typed the question she was afraid to hear the answer to. Are you together with her? But before she could send anything, Phil’s message popped up.

HungarianFox: I’m not with Ashley.

Sofie’s hands flew to her face to press against her trembling lips.

SofiaBlack: Will I see you again?

HungarianFox: Yes. And it can’t be soon enough. I miss you.

SofiaBlack: Where are you?

HungarianFox: Won’t you say that you miss me too?

SofiaBlack: Why do you think I’m trying to help you get back?

HungarianFox: You can’t help me, Sofie. I need to prove to Ashely that I’m not going to get back together with her. Otherwise she won’t let me leave.

SofiaBlack: How?

HungarianFox: By staying for another three months without anything happening between us.

SofiaBlack: And you can?

Sofie saw the provocative lingerie photos in her head that Rachel could not help but drool over. How was Phil ever going to resist her for three months?

HungarianFox: I can’t decide what irks me more: how little faith you have in me or how oblivious you are to your own sex appeal. I can be a monk for three months if the price at the end is you.

SofiaBlack: I count on it because this price is not winning itself.

She didn’t even know what that meant. It sounded clever but the truth was she didn’t know how to respond to their offensive wager and his gallant attitude towards it.

HungarianFox: I suppose you meant: will we stay in touch? Yes. But I need to sneak out to the local village to get on the internet. So I can’t do it every day or stay for long.

SofiaBlack: I’ll be waiting for your messages.

HungarianFox: I know you won’t. Remember, I’ve met you. You’ll be working on our new case, as you should be.

Sofie smiled. Our case. Yes, that’s what they’d discussed. Lying in the bedroom of the little shack, they let their imagination run wild. Transforming the mouldy water damage on the ceiling into villains that the investigative duo Black and Chase would bring to justice. They had teased each other about which of their skills would contribute to solving the case more. Her fearlessness or his ability to read minds.

SofiaBlack: Our new case, is it?

HungarianFox: Yes. You and Rachel have probably no clue where to start. So you clearly need my help.

SofiaBlack: You might have a small point there.

HungarianFox: That was never in question. Ok, so Siri was approached to invest in BioVaulting a while back. She declined because the CEO was a total creep. His name’s Vladimir Grogeriov. I would start there.

And she suddenly felt certain that whatever life was throwing at them they would see it through. And that she was going to be in his arms again soon.

SofiaBlack: I can’t wait for you to get back home. I miss you too!


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