“No, Yemi, I need you back here immediately. You can’t trust her. She’s dangerous.”
Leela could sense the urgency in her boss’ tone but it didn’t make a difference to her. Her mind was made up.
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I can’t abandon Uzo. And I can’t let these people get away with what they did to Gbemiga.”
Her boss sighed and his tone softened
“I know you miss him. We do too. He was important to all of us. But Yemi, you can’t let your emotions dictate to you right now.”
Leela shook her head.
“This isn’t about my emotions boss. I’ve got an assignment, I see it through to the end.”
She heard him breathe over the line for a few seconds. She would hang up but she did not want to be rude.
“Boss, I need to go now. We’ve got to get to work. I’ll call you when this is over.”
“Gbemiga’s funeral is this weekend.” He said suddenly.
Leela swallowed a lump that instantly appeared in her throat.
“That’s- that’s rather sudden.”
“Yeah. I reckon his family wants to find closure as soon as possible.”
“I’ll be there.”
Her boss sighed but didn’t argue. He seemed to realize that nothing he said would make a difference.
“Let me know what you need. I’m here for you Yemi.”
Leela nodded and hung up.
She took a deep breath and stared blankly at her phone. She was seated in a small room that held only one bed. They had moved from her father’s house the previous day to a much smaller house in some obscure part of the town that Leela was unfamiliar with. It marveled her just how many contacts Ijeoma had but she hadn’t said anything.
Uzo was still sulking. That didn’t bother her. She would probably feel the same way if she were in his shoes so she simply let him be. He was by himself with Ijeoma in the living room. Good luck to them and their feeble bonding attempts.
She checked through the pictures on her phone and found an old one of Gbemiga. It was mainly his side profile. She had taken the picture one weekend she spent at his place when Uzo was away on some official trip. Gbemiga had cooked her dinner and while he did the dishes in the kitchen, she had taken the picture, teasing him about how he would make a great house husband.
They had talked about an early retirement that day. Everything had been perfect. She smiled.
“I miss you boo. I’d kill myself but I’m not sure whether you’re in heaven or hell, so I doubt we would meet up.”
She laughed this time and let the tears flow freely.
Uzo sat in the living room reluctantly pondering over his mother’s words. He had barely spent 24 hours in her company but his initial dislike towards her had only been further validated. There was no remorse on her part. No vulnerable emotion. She had not apologized for giving him up when he was born. Had not apologized for all the evils she had done. And when he asked for an apology, she had told him,
“I never apologize to anyone for anything. The word ‘sorry’ does not exist in my dictionary.”
It annoyed him, how she could be so cold and detached and unremorseful.
“I don’t believe you asked Leela to protect me because you cared for me. You do not care for anyone but yourself.”
Ijeoma had laughed and shaken her head.
“I am not Leela. Reverse psychology, emotional blackmail, these things do not work on me. Believe what you want but it will not change the fact I did what I did because I care about you. And while you’re looking around for people to dish out apologies, you might as well serve yours to Leela. I don’t know what you think you’re going through, but it is nothing compared to what she is dealing with right now.”
“You have no right to tell me what to do.” Uzo said indignantly.
Ijeoma had laughed again.
“Uzo, surely you’re not as naïve as you’re making yourself out to be.
I spent a great deal of time observing you. You are smart and reasonable. How can you not see how much that girl is hurting, and how conflicted she is?”
“Her relationship with me was a lie!” Uzo fired
“And so? You’re alive aren’t you?! Her best friend is dead! How would you feel if Nathan was killed and you felt responsible somehow? Stop being selfish and quit giving her a hard time.”
Ijeoma had left the house after that and Uzo had been forced to mull over her words. She was right. Although he still did not like her, she had spoken some home truths he couldn’t deny. He had been selfish and Leela did not deserve how he had treated her. He stood up from the couch and walked towards the bedroom where she was resting.
Leela heard the door open behind her. But she didn’t turn. She just stood there staring at her phone still shedding tears and hiccupping.
Uzo moved up close behind her and placed a hand on her arm. She smiled through her tears then turned around and let herself go in his arms.
Uzo held her as she wept. He could feel her heart beat steadily against his chest, could smell her sweat. It had been too long since she was that close to him and he could not deny that he had missed her. He had come to apologize but he wasn’t quite prepared to see her like that.
He wanted to smack himself for being insensitive to her hurt. She had shielded it so well. And he had been too self-absorbed and resentful to think of her for a minute. So what if she had been paid to look after him? So what if she had lied? She was the reason he had not wound up dead that night and in his place, she had lost a friend. Well, more than a friend. That part still stung.
Before he could think of anything further, Leela pulled back from the hug and kissed him deeply on the lips, her tongue running a riot in his mouth. There was something different about the way she kissed him in that moment. Something very different and really intense. Uzo kissed her back, tasting the saltiness on her lips and savouring every bit of it.
Leela was working on her laptop when Ijeoma walked into the room and dropped a sheet of paper at her feet. Leela picked it up and looked at the names that were printed on it.
“Bankole? Is that-?”
“The Lagos state governor’s daughter, yes and she is engaged to the son of the speaker of the National House of Assembly. We’re taking them both.”
Leela gulped and nodded.
“Okay. And the third name? Aisha Yakubu?”
“That’s the youngest daughter of the National Security Adviser.”
Leela’s eyes widened.
“No way! Are you crazy?!”
“I know what I’m doing. You just have to trust me.”
“Umm, no. I can’t. We will be branded terrorists. And do you even know how much security surrounds these people? How do you think you can get to them?”
Ijeoma tapped her forehead slightly impatiently.
“I spent most of my life planning things like this Leela.
Look, if you want out, that’s fine. But I assure you, these people have branded you an enemy and if you go back to Lagos now, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it from the airport to your home.
And oh. Let’s not forget that Gbemiga’s killers get to walk free. I thought the major reason you were still sticking around was because you wanted justice for him.
Or is it Uzo? You might act all you want but I know you love him and want to ensure his safety. But then it’s not up to me to decide for you. Do whatever you want. I hope your conscience gives you peace with whatever you decide.”
Leela gaped at Ijeoma and shook her head slowly. She was stunned.
“Wow. You really know how to spin things. Nicely played.”
“So what’s it going to be?”
Leela considered briefly then answered.
“I’m in. What’s the plan?”
“Good. I’m calling in a few favours here and there. Putting together a team. Everyone should be here by the weekend. I always had this as a backup plan so it should not be hard to execute.
Once they know I am the one who has their kids, they will call in Walrus to take care of it. They will not involve regular security forces because they know how good I am at what I do.”
Leela sighed and Ijeoma raised an eyebrow
“I have never been on the wrong side of the law before. Gbemiga and I. We prided ourselves on being the good guys. The ones who always played by the rules and did everything right.”
“Oh, you are playing by the rules. Only, these are a different set of rules. These are my rules. And from where I am standing, we are on the right side of the law. Perception is everything.”
Leela shook her head.
“Gbemiga’s funeral is this weekend. I’ll be flying down to Lagos to attend it.”
“When you say fly? Exactly what do you mean?”
“I’m booking a flight with Aero right now. Using a different alias.”
Ijeoma shook her head.
“Don’t underestimate these people. I keep telling you.
A friend of mine has a private jet. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind giving you a ride.”
Leela rolled her eyes and feigned surprise.
“You have friends? Who would have thought?!”
“No. I have people who owe me favours. Actually I should have just said I was calling in a favour. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You can’t stay the night though. I’ll organize for a private jet to take you to Lagos, a cab to take you to the funeral and then the same jet to bring you back.”
Leela shrugged. Ijeoma was bossy and manipulative and annoying but she was way past caring. She just wanted to attend Gbemiga’s funeral, then do this final assignment and leave the country. She had friends in France that she could stay with while she tried to sort her life out. There was no way this Ijeoma’s plan would end well and leave it possible for her to stay back here. She was already in too deep any way. There was no backing out now.
Ijeoma walked out of the room and Leela unwittingly found herself thinking about Uzo. She had no logical explanation for why she had kissed him. But she knew that whatever it was that they had was over. She had battled with herself, trying to ascertain if any of it had been real. If Gbemiga had been right and she could not find any conclusive answers. And she still felt guilt over Gbemiga’s death.
She sighed. She had apologized to Uzo after kissing him and he had held her close and told her he understood. Whether or not he really did understand was not her problem. He was becoming that warm, affectionate, empathetic person she had known just before the incident and she knew she did not want that. It was better if he held on to the anger and bitterness. It was a lot easier for her to deal with.
Malik and Kazeem stood side by side at a distance, watching as Gbemiga’s coffin was lowered into the ground. Their eyes scanned the crowd in search of Leela. They expected her to be there and their instructions were to bring her to the office alive. They had been there for over an hour and there was still no sign of her.
There were dozens of mourners at the funeral site. Gbemiga’s mother appeared inconsolable as she wept loudly while sympathizers held on to her firmly. They gradually led her away from the grave as others stood around to pay their last respects. Still, no sign of Leela.
“I don’t think she’s going to come. The funeral is almost over and there’s no sign of her” Kazeem said.
Malik stared intently at the group by the graveside then turned in the direction of a car that had just pulled up in tinted glasses.
“Or maybe she’s just running very late.”
He nudged Kazeem and angled his head in the direction of the car. A lady matching Leela’s height and frame had just alighted from it. She was wearing a simple black dress with a scarf over her head and sunglasses that shielded her face.
“Is that her?” Kazeem asked.
“It’s got to be.”
Malik was already walking towards the direction of the grave which was where Leela was headed. Kazeem increased his pace to keep up with him.
“Are we just going to grab her here? That’s not sensible na. There are too many people here.” Kazeem said.
“I just want to be sure she’s the one.” Malik responded.
About a hundred feet out, he stopped and stood staring. He still could not make out the face but he was almost certain it was Leela. A man seemed to appear beside her from nowhere and Malik recognized him as the man who had threatened his boss in the office. The lady was certainly Leela.
“We can’t take her. At least not here. Go get the car. We’ll tail them as they leave.”
Kazeem nodded and walked off in the opposite direction. Malik stood watching.
Leela retrieved a singular rose from her handbag and dropped it in the grave as the men continued filling it with sand. Her eyes brimmed with tears and her lips quivered as her boss held her firmly by the shoulders.
“They are here. But we’ve got a number of our guys on ground. They’ll take care of them.”
She barely heard him. She stood there, staring at the grave, eyes unseeing. She had never attended a funeral her entire life. Watching the men heap sand over Gbemiga’s coffin was extremely overwhelming for her.
Just before she passed out completely, she felt her boss scoop her up in his arms and walk rapidly away from the site. In a matter of seconds, she was lost in blissful oblivion where she could neither see nor feel anything. It was all pitch blackness.
“You’re stretching my patience Malik. You’re really stretching it! For God’s sakes, do I have to do everything myself?!”
Malik shifted his weight from one foot to another, head bowed. They had been outnumbered at the funeral site. Their car engine had been tampered with and at least six heavily armed men served as a human shield to Leela and her boss after she passed out by the graveside. They had no opportunity whatsoever to capture her.
“I’m sorry boss.” He mumbled.
“Sorry for yourself!
Have you spoken to the tech guys? Just how many of our files are missing?!”
Malik looked up.
“Most of the files are intact sir but she copied everything, including the ones on the last elections.”
He saw his boss struggle to maintain his cool and it bugged him to know that there was nothing he could do about it.
“Alert the guys in Abuja. If anyone remotely resembling her shows up at the airport or any of the motor parks, I want to know. This is about Maiva’s death. The National Security Adviser ordered it. Ijeoma is vengeful. She will go after him. It’s not just about us right now Malik. If she has the files on the last election, then she knows the NSA ordered Maiva’s death and she’ll be going after him. Get me my personal line!”
Leela walked into the hotel room feeling much better than she had felt when she got in the previous night. She had showered, rested, eaten and she felt good. The team Ijeoma had put together were already on ground and working. She was going to meet them that morning. They had changed locations from the shabby house to a hotel that was simply nice and largely understated.
The moment Leela shut the door, she heard a laughter she recognized vaguely. She turned around abruptly and sure enough, there was Gozie, leaning by the fridge and laughing.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Leela said under her breath.
“Hello Yemi, we meet again. And under very interesting circumstances. Surprise surprise.”
Leela frowned and suddenly felt tired. Gozie was the last person she needed to see. He was a freelance security agent, whose major skill was tied to cars. He was an expert driver and could fix or wreck any engine available. Ijeoma had done well to hire him but Leela did not want to work with him.
Leela remained by the door as Uzo who had been seated on the bed sat up.
“You too know each other?” he asked
“Like hell we do.” Gozie responded with a smirk.
He left the fridge and walked to the middle of the room. They were the only three people in the room.
“I know Yemi like the back of my hand. The woman is a walking catastrophe, everything she touches goes up in a giant ball of flames.”
Leela’s eyes darkened in rage. She bit her lips furiously and drew blood. She moved towards him almost threateningly and said through tightened teeth.
“Gozie, don’t you dare.”
Gozie laughed. He seemed really pleased with himself.
“Don’t I dare what? Tell the truth? Oh please Yemi. You’re a wrecking ball. You ruin everything that comes your way. Gbemiga isn’t your first casualty on the job. And he sure as hell won’t be your last.”
Leela bit her lower lip even more furiously. She clenched her fists tightly to steady her shaking arms but Gozie’s next words did her in.
“I don’t know why your agency still keeps you there. The best on the job my ass. The only time you’re the best at anything is when you’re on your back.”
Leela swung a heavy punch right into Gozie’s face and the impact of the punch plus its unexpected nature caused him to stagger backwards.
“Jesus! Leela!” Uzo was stunned. He jumped off the bed and reached out to grab her and restrain her but she pushed him violently with a strength that dazed him and had him crashing across the room. With that same intensity, she lunged at Gozie whose bleeding nose was covered in both hands and shoved her knee right into his stomach. Gozie doubled over and sank to the ground on his knees. Leela’s arms were around his neck in a flash, knee digging into his back and she wrung her arm tightly till he could barely breathe.
Uzo managed to get over his shock then got off the floor and approached her slowly, arms raised in a plea,
“Leela, please, stop this. Please, don’t hurt him.”
Gozie kept wheezing as he struggled to breathe. Leela looked at Uzo, she was breathing heavily and her eyes were blazing but she held on for a few more seconds then looked down at Gozie and said,
“If you ever say shit like that to me again, I will snap your neck without thinking twice.”
She released her grip and let him fall to the floor then she stormed out of the room and slammed the door shut. Uzo exhaled loudly, relief coursing through his body as his shoulders sagged. He looked at Gozie who was coughing and holding on to his broken nose in pain.
“All the time I have known Leela, I have never seen her get mad at anyone like that before. You are quite an ass.”
Gozie did not respond. Wearing a rather ugly frown, he staggered to his feet and made his way albeit clumsily to the bathroom. Uzo watched him move but made no offer to help. As soon as he got into the bathroom, Uzo left the room in search of Leela.
It did not take too long to find her. She was bent over the railing on the balcony, rocking her body back and forth. He approached her cautiously.
“Babe? How are you feeling?”
Leela smiled stiffly and turned.
“Not bad, considering I nearly committed murder.”
Uzo maintained a distance between them. “Well, he deserved it. He shouldn’t have said those things to you.”
Leela shook her head. “No. I deserved them. He was right. I’m a mess Uzo. Everything that comes my way usually ends up a disaster.”
Uzo went closer to her, “Hey, don’t say that.”
She laughed and he could not quite tell why she was so amused.
“Uzo, you and I aren’t in some movie. This is real life, not the scene where you get to tell me ‘no baby, you’re not all that bad’ and then we kiss and make up. This is me and my reality. I’m a mess and you don’t even know the half of it.”
“What I do know is that I’m alive because you have risked everything for me and kept me safe in the face of dangers I could never have imagined existed. I owe you my life Leela.”
Leela laughed softly and walked into his arms.
“You really are acting out a movie scene right now but I’m sorry, I can’t indulge you. I got paid to keep you safe and that is exactly what I did. If you owed me anything, that debt has been paid by your mum.”
She traced a finger over his eye brows and smiled but he did not smile back. Not that she expected him to. But the look, the look on his face was one she was struggling to decipher. Consequently, his next words took her by surprise.
“Leela, I love you.”