Hired for Secrets

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Creature of luxury

Philip offered to share his secrets with Sofie. But only if she was willing to sleep with him. Not out of passion or as a power play, it was a test. A test to determine if she could be trusted with the explosive information he would be providing.

“That’s a high price. How do I know you actually have anything worth that much?” Sofie asked.

“I love your confidence.” He almost laughed, shaking his head. “Let me assure you that the information I have is worth far more than whatever value you place on spending a night with you.”

Seeing her anger rise, he leaned closer to add, “Not because you are not beautiful or unique, because you absolutely are,” he paused to observe how his calculated compliment affected her, “...but because you are only one person. Now, weigh that up against the risk of getting the information into the wrong hands. This would have consequences for a lot more people.”

“Including you?”

Gone was her anger, replaced by genuine concern. She knew that Kerry’s secrets were deadly. And Philip was the first in the firing line.

“Likely,” he said with a dangerous smile.

He likes playing with fire.

“Ok, let’s assume you have valuable secrets, in general. How do I know you’ve got the one I’m interested in?”

“Did you know,” he replied as if to divert the topic, “that the Monach Butterfly is considered the queen of the butterflies? Do you know where the name comes from?”

“Um, because it’s the largest butterfly?” Sofie knew nothing about butterflies but was playing along to humor him.

“Sure, it’s big and beautiful, but that’s not where the name comes from. It’s because it has a very unique skill... It can cheat death.”

Where was this conversation going?

“You see...” His words were dripping with subcontext, “most butterflies only live three weeks. But if a Monarch butterfly is born just before winter, it can survive for eight months. During that time it migrates; conquering and ruling above the laws of physics, if you will...”

Conquering and ruling? Was he talking about MP Kerry?

Kerry certainly saw herself above the law and god knows what she was planning to do as Prime Minister. But even if he was talking about her, being driven and skillful wasn’t a secret. Some of her supporters hailed them as the qualities that set her apart from the other politicians. The real question was: did Philip have dirt on her?

Sensing her doubt he continued, “the secret to this uncanny longevity lies in its genes. Scientists have created a machine that can read these secrets. It’s not much larger than a USB stick.”

Sofie swallowed.

A USB stick to read secrets?

This wasn’t an article from a New Scientist magazine! He was talking about a YubiKey, a device that looks just like an USB stick but functions as a digital key to protect online information. Was he telling her that he had Kerry’s YubiKey?

“Isn’t that valuable indeed?” He smiled, pleased with how Sofie caught his meaning

Sofie’s heart raced. This was better than she could have hoped for. The key was the central part of Kerry’s two-factor authentication system. By giving it to her, Philip was essentially serving all of Kerry’s shady deals on one silver platter.

Philip leaned back in his chair. He looked relaxed. Calm. Oblivious.

He doesn’t know! He thinks he only gives away the key but not the actual access.

Sofie steeled her features. He didn’t need to know that the key was the only thing she still needed to gain access. She already had the second part of the two-factor system: the password.

It was ‘Kerry4PM’. Kerry for Prime Minister. Utterly predictable, yet it took Sofie’s spies nearly two months to find it out. Kerry rarely had to type it in. It was only needed to authorize new devices and only worked in conjunction with the YubiKey; something you know, and something you have.

When her spies got the password for her, Sofie never actually expected to use it. Because getting her hands also on the key was considered impossible. The MP wore it around her neck and had a proximity alarm on it. Stealing, “borrowing” or copying it was out of the question, essentially making the password useless to Sofie. ‘Something you know’ is worthless without ‘Something you have’.

Just like Philip probably thought the key would be worthless to Sofie without the password. Well, he was wrong! And soon she would have an all-area access pass to Kerry’s secrets.

Hang on! Sofie’s alarm bells started ringing. This was too good to be true. Why would Kerry give the key to Philip? A Gigolo, out of all people? He certainly wasn’t the most trustworthy person in her network.

Dammit! This left only one conclusion: Philip was lying! He was just playing with her.

“‘Valuable’? More like ‘unbelievable’! Why would you have the USB stick?”

“What USB stick?” he asked with mock surprise, ”The one to read butterfly genomes? Why would I have such a thing? I’m not a scientist.”

Sofie took a quick look around the empty restaurant, before lowering her voice and biting out, “the YubiKey!”

“Ah,” he smiled as if she had just uttered the magical pass phrase to the thieves’ den.

“It’s the backup,” he replied mimicking Sofie’s hushed voice. “For emergency access. In case the other one’s lost.”

“But why would she give that to you? Why not her husband? Or her staff? Or put it in a safe?”

Philip reclined and let his eyes glide over the green hillside beyond the veranda.

“Did you know,” he said in a similar tone to his first story,” that the Owl Butterfly has a very special marking on its wings? Do you know what it looks like?”

“No. I. don’t.”

“C’mon, take a guess.”

“An owl?” Sofie sighed.

“Almost,” he smiled “It looks like the eye of an owl. One eye, to be precise. It needs to find a partner so that they together can pretend to be an owl. Two eyes looking at their enemies.”

Sofie stared at him blankly. The frustration of having to play along with his ridiculous games was mixing with the fury of not even getting the meaning this time. She had no clue how to decipher his riddle. Why would MP Kerry need a second butterfly? For protection? Unless...

MP Kerry and Club Elandra were each powerful. But together, they were impenetrable. No one would dare to make an enemy of both at the same time.

Sofie grinned. Except her. Yes, she was that daring, not afraid to jump into danger with both feet. Not beating around the bush. It wasn’t her style. And that’s precisely why Philip’s puzzles were getting on her nerves. Either he was willing to talk or not. No need to make a game of it.

“Why do you speak in riddles?”

“I immensely enjoy playing with you, Miss Carter,” he said with an enigmatic smile on his lips. “But in this case, it’s out of necessary. If you can read between the lines, I know that you already have the information. I don’t intend to reveal anything new to you, Miss Carter.” Dropping his eyes to her full breasts for the first time, he added, “not without my payment.”

“Fine,” she said, ignoring how her nipples tightened and body had turned into a traitor who helped the enemy succeed. No! She was going to treat this like any other business negotiation. Taking a calming breath she added, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

For a second he looked confused. He knew she’d already accepted his offer. Why stall? It was a good offer, a small price to pay for getting access to all the information she’d ever wanted about Kerry. Sofie even rationalized it as being a simple physical chore. Something necessary to reach a goal; like going for a jog on a rainy morning. And just because the sun was out and she might even enjoy the expertise, didn’t make it less necessary for staying fit.

But stalling was necessary. It was her habit to sleep over any big decisions. And the ache between her legs warned her that she might indeed not be thinking very logically right now. That she could be completely intoxicated by this man, who was as smart as he was handsome.

“Miss Carter, I cleared my schedule tonight. There is no need to wait.”

How confident! He had been expecting her to take the deal. Was it because he thought himself too irresistible, or her too single-mindedly to delay gratification? Either way, it wasn’t flattering and the worst thing was that he could be right.

There was something deeper than desire or curiosity. Something that nagged her to throw caution into the wind. She sensed a kindred spirit in him that she found hard to resist. His observational skills were as sharp as hers, perhaps sharper. A rare asset generally, and absolutely vital for an investigative journalist. She could picture herself working with him, side-by-side digging into cases. His charm and her logic, the perfect combination.

She pulled herself out of this daydream. It was far more likely that all of this was an elaborate web of lies; fabricated specifically for her to dial up the heat-level and blind her to his real intentions. It could very well be a trap. Maybe he was working with MP Kerry after all. Or it was a game. He could be toying with her until a carefully applied ‘Our time is up, Miss Carter’ would bring everything crashing down when he’s had enough of her. So what was it?

“What’s in it for you?” Sofie asked, not bothering to lower her voice this time.

Philip sat back, resting one leg leisurely on the other with the fine wool of his italian designer pants accentuating his muscular calves. He studied her in silence. Was he miffed? If so, it wasn’t because he was afraid of being discovered. He looked relaxed. In control. He let his foot sway in the air. The sole of his leather shoes were absolutely pristine and unscratched. They were either brand new or he indeed never left the softly carpeted compound. Who was this man? What was his life like?

The metal clasps of his expensive silver timepiece jiggled as he checked the time. He was waiting for her to break the silence. But not this time. This time, she needed him to answer. She needed to know why he was doing this before she could even thing about taking him up on his offer.

“Spending a night with a beautiful woman,” he finally replied, “that’s what’s in it for me.”

Yeah, right! Even if she was his idea of irresistible perfection, he wasn’t the type to carelessly give into his desires. This man was a calculated creature of luxury. Wrapped in cotton wool by the carefully stacked layers of wealth and power inside the Club.

“That’s what you think I want to hear?”

Why did she even consider anything else? For Philip, only pleasure and games existed. He was so far removed from the struggles of the real world that he couldn’t even comprehend the monstrosities MP Kerry would unleash on the world if elected PM.

“Yes, Miss Carter, I indeed think that’s what you want to hear, whether you admit it or not. But…” He reached for her arm before Sofie could get up to leave, “what you should be hearing is that winter is coming. The Monach butterfly will migrate. And once it has moved up in the world, no one can reach it anymore. Who knows what laws it overthrows next.”

Winter is coming? He was talking about the election. It was a mere 10 months away and once elected, MP Kerry had powers that made her untouchable. So he knew what electing her meant. Just like her, he was concerned about the absolute power Kerry was after.

“Yes, Philip. Time is running out! So stop playing games and give me what I need!”

Sofie’s anger rolled off Philip like water off a lotus leaf.

“Miss Carter, you said my information is not for selfish reasons and I understand that you cannot say more. So I’ve asked for a deed instead. It’s the only thing I can verify in here and it speaks louder than words.”

“I see,” Sofie nodded, acknowledging the subcontext in his answer. He was a prisoner, trapped inside Elandra, without communication to the outside world. But even so, it did not make him any more trustworthy. If anything, there were more angles to consider. “I’ll get back to you with my decision.”

He needed to see that their relationship was one of equals. She was as important to him as he was to her. If he wanted to stop Kerry, he needed to stop dictating the terms.

“You know where to find me, Miss Carter.”

His tone was playful. It said ‘Look who’s playing games now!’

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