Zach stretched his legs in his business class seat and looked out the window. They had begun their decent. He looked at his watch – 08:58. Across the aisle from him was Malik reading the inflight journal. For all of his irritation at Malik’s overbearing attitude of late, he still respected the professional in him.
They were travelling light. Two regular business types dressed in suits on a short trip with nothing but small carry-on. Everything they needed for the mission had been arranged and was waiting for them. Some things were simply almost impossible to bring on a commercial flight for even ex-military types.
In less than a quarter of an hour, they were seated in a vehicle on their way to the hotel reserved for them. Zach switched on his phone and sent a message to Zaneta:
“Just touched down. Heading in for meetings, talk later“
He and Malik had only a few days to work out here, he knew there would hardly be any slack time. He switched his phone to silent and decided to enter his expenses in his expense manager app. He had created a category for Operation Steven; every Naira he spent in the course of achieving his stated objectives, including everything he spent on or for Zaneta, was duly noted in his expense tracker. Weekly, he made an excel document, mailed it to the finance guy and he was reimbursed within 24 hours. He had been given authorisation to spend at his discretion.
At the hotel, they checked in then drove to a different hotel where they met their contact – Uche. His hotel room was the command centre of sorts to handle everything connected to their reason for being in the city.
“Welcome gentlemen. Have your seats. There are drinks in the fridge but for food, we’ll have to go into the room across the hall place your orders and have your meals there”. He said with a slight Igbo accent.
“Thank you” Malik said as both men sat before a white board with pictures pinned up and numerous marker scribbles. Zach could guess house-keeping would never be allowed in this room until all of this was over.
“Food first or we get right to it?” he asked.
“Right to it” Malik said without even as much of a glance at Zach to seek his opinion.
Uche looked at Zach inquiringly, Zach nodded accent.
“Ok, this is Chief Somto Ndubuisi, he was a caucus leader in this zone until recently, we have never had a problem with him since 1998 and he has been duly rewarded. His sudden move came as a surprise to us. Though he has been angling for office – House of Reps to be precise, we have a more qualified person in that role and frankly he is more useful to us in the party leadership than in government. Plus he has been handsomely rewarded over the years.
“These five members left with him” Uche said running a finger across five photographs on the board. “I won’t bother much about that lot, they have no capacity to think on their own” he added dismissively.
“But they have influence” Malik said.
“Yes, but they are loyal to Ndubuisi and will go with him even to hell” Uche explained.
“That’s fine by me, please go on” Malik said, crossing one leg over the other.
“Our conclusion is that the opposition, through this man” he pointed at another picture “has gotten to him. Some sort of leverage or promises. But gun to my head, I’d say its leverage, because Ndubuisi is a ‘pay before service’ spare part dealer type. He isn’t swayed by promises”
“Who’s that guy?” Zach asked.
“Some SAN working with the opposition, Dayo Elegbede. He’s been spotted around the zone and we can confirm he has had at least one meeting with Ndubuisi. He came out of nowhere literarily, but we know where he belongs”
The meeting lasted about two and a half hours. At the end, they had gotten a very clear view of the situation. When Uche finally stopped, Malik rose walked to the fridge and grabbed a can of malt. Zach stood too and walked to the board. He took a closer look and ran all the relationships through his mind again.
“You say he’s happily married?” Zach asked with emphasis on the happily.
“Oh, well….He’s married” Uche said beginning to laugh. He stopped abruptly when he realised no one else had as much as cracked a smile. He cleared his throat, “we looked into his family, there’s nothing there”.
As Malik and Zach drove back to their hotel, Malik spoke “You know there’s something there, yeah?”
“There’s something” Zach said
“My worry is how long it will take us to find it”
“The SAN knows it”
“It was fed to him”
“Who is the Judas in Ndubuisi’s camp?”
“One million dollar question” Malik said.
Zaneta collapsed into her chair. It was the first day of that time of the month and she had just gotten out of a lengthy meeting with her boss that had started since 8:15am. The clients had been with them over Skype to go over some details. She was tired and cranky.
She unplugged her phone and went through her messages. She tapped out a quick reply to Zach’s:
“Hey! Just saw your message. Been in a meeting all morning myself. Need something to lighten up my mood. How’s asset acquisition going?“
Then she read Edith’s
“Gud AM, Z
“Hwz work going?
“Wz wondering if we cud maybe hangout after work someday this week
Pls, let me know“
Zaneta sighed and closed the chat, on a second thought, she ended it. If she didn’t see it on her chat list, she wouldn’t be reminded – of the invitation, its sender and how good last time had felt.
She unlocked her MacBook Air and resumed her search for a car. After about an hour, she had a few interesting links. She compiled them all in a mail to Uncle Tunji her uncle’s right hand man. Uncle Tunji had been there from her first memories of her uncle.
One day, she had gotten back from school and had met two men in their home speaking with her step-mum, she had greeted and made to walk past into the room to see if she would be fortunate to find something on her plate – a blue plastic plate that had been assigned to her – that hot afternoon, when her step-mum had called her back.
“Do you know this man?” she had pointed at her uncle.
“No, ma” Zaneta had replied after looking at the well-dressed man she had never seen.
Zaneta had been conceived and born after her Uncle had left the country. There was no way she would have known him. No one had shown her pictures of him either.
She had found some food that day – cold porridge – then gone about her business. A few minutes later, her dad had arrived and in another hour, her dad sent for her.
“Zaneta, you will be going to stay with your uncle Japheth for a while…..” her dad said. She didn’t hear the rest of her dad’s lengthy speech; she had died of pure joy. Her step-mum had packed her things – it all fit in her school bag, her Sunday dress, her school uniform and about 5 other items of clothing. Uncle Tunji had taken the bag from her and her Uncle had carried her all the way to the car outside. It was love on the first day.
Zaneta wiped a tear, sent the email and turned her swivel chair, backing the door.
She had later found out Uncle Tunji was a lawyer and they had come with documents for dad to release her into her Uncle’s custody. It wasn’t “for a while” like her bewitched father had said, it was permanent. That night in her new room – one she didn’t share – she had knelt by her bed and earnestly begged God to let her stay here “forever and ever”.
Zaneta smiled, allowing the tears roll down her cheeks. Her phone rang, it was Uncle Tunji.
“Hello, Sir” she said, trying hard not to sniff. If she as much as gave him a hint she was not OK, her uncle would be on the phone in a minute.
“Hello, Zaneta. I got your mail. Seems you are settled on a Honda coupe”
“Ok. I will have someone look into them. Hopefully they are within budget”
“Budget keh?” she asked surprised.
“Of course, dear. There’s always a budget” he said laughing.
“Uncle Tunji, don’t do me like this naa!”
“Don’t worry, dear, I’m sure it will cover”
“Is our future VP broke nii?”
“Good day, Zaneta!” Tunji said roaring with laughter as he hung up.
Zaneta smiled and put the phone away. “Uncle Tunji the chronic bachelor” she murmured, “I should try and hook him up”.
The plan was in motion.
Last night Barr. Elegbede’s driver, KC, had been out looking for a good time in town. A girl had approached him and he had taken her back with him to his hotel room. She was 17.
Malik sat in a car across the road from the Barrister’s hotel as two plain-clothes policemen identified themselves to KC, showed him some pictures on a phone and slapped handcuffs on him. Before anyone could get a grip of the situation, he had been whisked away.
A few minutes later, Malik saw Barr. Elegbede discussing with the hotel manager. He couldn’t hear what they were saying but it was obvious that the Barrister was rattled and annoyed. Malik smiled.
From the girl, they had acquired information regarding where KC and the Barrister were headed today. If it was important and urgent, their bet was that the Barrister would go on without KC – this was their hope – if not, he would waste his day looking for KC who it had been arranged to have taken to the Police Command HQ and denied access to anyone for at least 24 hours.
If the Barrister was actually headed for Awka as KC had told the girl, they had a very good idea what route he’d use.
Malik watched as the Barrister got behind the wheels, a bellboy put his stuff in the trunk and slammed it shut. The Barrister looked at his watch for the umpteenth time as the manager bent beside his window pointing out directions for him. The Barrister nodded and drove off.
Malik started his engine, picked up his phone and dialled Zach.
“He’s on the move. Alone”.
Zach put his phone back in the cup holder of the Audi A4 2010 Uche had gotten him. He had particularly asked for a Black Audi under 10 years and in good condition. He was impressed when Uche had brought this with dealer plates on it.
He pulled onto the highway and sped off. The Barrister was going to go through Onitsha. That meant the rendezvous would be along the Owerri-Onitsha expressway.
About 20 minutes hard driving later, he pulled off the road, switched off the engine then called Malik.
“Still on course?” he asked.
“Yes. We’ll be with you soon, I’m falling back. He drives real fast. Be ready” Malik said and hung up.
Zack popped the trunk and got out of the car. He walked to the trunk, opened it and got out a bag and a mat. Leaving the trunk open, he walked to the right side of the car, spread the mat and dropped the bag on it. Quickly, he got on his knees, shielded away from the road by the car, placed his phone on the mat so he could see any incoming calls, opened the bag and began assembling a PSG1 rifle. It had been a while since he assembled a sniper rifle but it wasn’t something he could forget. His training had been comprehensive and there were videos all over the internet to help you anyways.
Rifle assembled, he lay down on the mat with his upper body mostly under the car, he had put the gun to his right, facing the front end of the car. He faced the opposite direction, looking out to the road from the rear end of the car with his phone in his left hand. He tried to get as comfortable as the space and posture would allow.
His phone rang, it was Malik.
“2 minutes out” Malik said.
“Same silver Mercedes?” Zach confirmed. They had found out what car the Barrister drove last night. In fact, they had found all that could be found about him. Contrary to Uche’s belief, he hadn’t come out of nowhere. He’d been around a while – the grunt work expert from Tunji’s firm. Everyone was playing dirty it seemed. They hadn’t bothered updating Uche’s information, it wasn’t in their JD.
As Zach pulled on a pair of gloves, his phone rang again – Zaneta. “Not now!” he thought. He was going to just ignore the call, but then he remembered he had not been in touch for over 24 hours.
“Hello” she said when he picked up.
“Hi, darling” he said, keeping his eyes on the road.
“So, I have some information for you”
“I’m torn between two cars. I’ll read out what I have on both to you and then you tell me what you think” she said excited.
“Uhm, babe, can I call you back? I’m pressed and can’t think straight right now”
“Oh! That’s ok. Did you eat something that’s upsetting your tommy?”
“I guess” he said, his tone not quite conversational.
“Let me just send it to you, call me when you get out of the loo”
“E pele” she said.
He simply hung up and dropped the phone as a silver Mercedes appeared far down the road. He moved to face the other way, preparing for the passing of the Mercedes. Taking his shot before the car drove past him meant risking the car careening in his direction if the Barrister couldn’t keep it straight. He couldn’t vouch for his target’s driving.
He positioned the rifle for the shot. In a few seconds, the Mercedes blew past him. Zach lined it up and took three rapid shots. He heard two loud pops and watched the Mercedes zig-zag around for a bit before going off the road into some vegetation. He had aimed at the tyres and got two of them. He got out from under the car, placed the rifle in the bag, packed up the mat and tossed them in the trunk as Malik drove past.
He got in the Audi and raced off, overtaking Malik and arriving at the accident scene first. He pulled off the road, switched on his hazard lights, put his pistol in his jacket and got out of the car. As he walked towards the crashed Mercedes Malik arrived and got out too. Zack knew they had to move quickly before other vehicles began stopping to help.
The airbags had deployed on impact, it had struck a tree trunk that had been felled likely for firewood. It seemed the Barrister had passed out, he was leaning back in the seat. As Zach opened the door, he could hear Malik arrive behind him. He touched the Barrister’s temple feeling a pulse, he turned to face Malik and said “He’s alive”.
“Look out!” Malik shouted.
Zach turned swiftly to find the Barrister raising a pistol from the right side of his seat. Instinctively, he dove to the left of the door, slamming the door shut on the Barrister with both hands. He heard a muffled bang as he landed on the ground. Malik ran forward, pulled the door back open and put his pistol to the Barrister’s forehead.
“Give me a reason to blow your brains out” Malik said.
Zach stood up. He picked up the Barrister’s pistol which had fallen out when Malik had opened the door. The door had hit the Barrister’s hand, forcing him to shoot into the floor by the door frame as the pistol was knocked out of his hand.
The Barrister put both hands up.
“Out!” Malik ordered.
As Barrister Dapo got out of the car, Zach smacked him on the head with his pistol butt, instantly lacerating his scalp. Barrister Dayo passed out at Malik’s feet.
“Now you have to carry him” Malik said, putting his pistol away.
Uche splashed water on Barrister Dayo’s face, bring him to.
“Arrrrghhhhhh!” he moaned, trying to free his bound hands. He had been bound to a chair.
“Hello, Barrister, we have a few questions for you” Uche said.
“But before we go on, let me make it abundantly clear that I have no qualms whatsoever killing you. I have a feeling there’s nothing you want to tell me that I don’t already know” Malik said pointing at the Barrister’s laptop. It was turned on and on a table across the room.
“Play nice and maybe we’ll let you live” Uche said, taking a seat before their prisoner.
Barrister Dayo didn’t utter a word.
“How did you get Ndubuisi to leave?” Malik asked
“Leave where?” Dayo said. That earned him a smack across the face by Uche.
“Your fiancee works at Access Bank Adeola Odeku. I already sent her a mail from your box asking her to meet you somewhere. I have one question, does she mean anything to you?” Malik asked.
Zach stood quietly in a corner nursing his pride. The bloody Barrister had almost shot him. “If Malik hadn’t been there….” he thought, “I’m getting rusty. But if Malik hadn’t been there, wouldn’t I have been better focused?“
“I need a drink” he said and left the room.
It was a construction site, the perfect place for an interrogation, execution and body disposal. He found the drinks Uche had brought and opened a cola, sat down and read through the messages Zaneta had sent.
He called her.
Chief Ndubuisi came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He had left only Isioma in the room but here was a man standing before him pointing a pistol at his belly.
“Hello, Chief. Please get in bed” Zach said.
“Please, I have money. Let’s settle this amicably, eh? Like gent-gentlemen” he said climbing into bed beside a naked Isioma.
Zach pulled out his phone and took some pictures. By now Isioma was crying.
“Please, tell her to quit crying” he said to the Chief.
“You stop crying!” the Chief said, Isioma covered her mouth with both palms.
“Thank you, Chief” Zach said pulling a seat across from the bed.
“Ok, my brother, what do we do now?” the Chief said
“Is this why you left? Because those slimy bastards found out about this?”
“Are you from National?”
“I’m asking the questions tonight, Chief”
“My brother, you won’t understand” Chief said.
“I understand that this is your wife’s younger sister. I understand she is married to a young man who works for you in Ghana. What else is there?” Zach asked
The Chief sighed.
“Isioma, get in the bathroom, shut the door and turn the shower on” Zach said. Isioma all but flew into the bathroom and locked the door. Zach heard the shower come on.
“My brother, how can you help me, please?”
“How old are you, Chief?” Zach said putting the pistol away.
“And aren’t you on heart medications?”
“Yes, I am. Lisinopril.”
“The way I see it, Chief. You can either retire from politics or die peacefully in your sleep tonight” Zack said.
“It has come to this?”
“You have acted disgracefully both privately and publicly. You are of no use to us anymore. You have lost respect and any form of value to the people who matter”
“Which will it be, Chief?” Zach said holding out a small vial in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other.
“Give me the paper” the Chief croaked. Zach could tell it was an emotional decision for him. He got up and handed Chief the paper.
“As you can see, just you and I are privy to this conversation. I will report on how you promised to cooperate” Zach said as the Chief read the document.
“Is that all? Nothing will be heard about….” he nodded at the bathroom.
Zach smiled, “Don’t worry about that. Next time if you have an issue, come to us. Don’t be pressured into disgraceful behaviour”
“Thank you. But I want to make it clear that I had no hand in the razing of the offices”
“We know that. Have that out by 9am tomorrow. One second later and we’ll withdraw the offer of retirement. Is that clear?” Zach asked walking to the door.
“One last question. They offered you House of Reps, no?” Zach asked
“I was offered” Chief Ndubuisi replied.
“Have a good night, Chief” Zach said and left.
He snuck out the way he had come, went through the generator house of the Guest House where he exited through the space between the wall and the roof.
He got into the Audi. Malik was waiting in it.
“You swapped the pills?”
“Yes” Zach said, dropping a sachet of pills in the glove box, “Poured Moxonidine in his drug bottle. They also offered him a ticket for the House”
“After or before blackmail? Bloody snakes” Malik said.
As Malik drove off, both their phones chimed. They looked at each other. Zach pulled out his and checked.
“Opposition ticket. Unopposed. Dr. Moloku is on the VP slot” Zach said.
Malik didn’t say anything, but Zach could feel his eyes on him.