“It’s not bad. Just needs a bit of a tweak. The highlights on the edges don’t look good. Take them out. It makes the design look a little more bogus rather than solid.”
Uzo looked at Nifemi in silence.
“What? You wanted my opinion didn’t you? Abi you thought I would wash you and say it was pure gold?”
Nifemi looked from Uzo to the design on his laptop screen and back to Uzo again. Uzo looked on and gradually, his face loosened up into a smile he struggled to conceal.
“What’s doing you now?”
He snorted, once, twice, then burst into full blown laughter. Nifemi looked around self-consciously. Uzo flicked his fingers over the trackpad on his laptop and soon an image filled the screen. Nifemi gasped.
Uzo maintained a smug look on his face.
“You were saying?”
Nifemi smacked his arm
“You’re so useless I swear! I was legit seconds away from going to HR and asking them to review your appointment. But this-”
She waved her hand over the screen as she spoke.
“This is priceless. I see why they hired you now.”
Uzo grinned and tipped his head.
“Gracias. I wanted you to be blown away, so I thought I’d lower your expectations a little bit first. That design was from six years ago when I first started designing.”
Nifemi nodded, impressed.
“Amazing. We’re all set for the launch then. Have you run this by Toba yet?”
“Does he know you call him by his first name?”
“Do you really think I care?”
Nifemi shook her head.
“It’s a great design. I’ll be glad when this is over. Run it by Toba, if he okays it then we’re all set for the private exhibition in two days before the actual launch in 2 weeks.”
Uzo shrugged. Nifemi walked away and again, Uzo caught himself staring. It didn’t matter how hard he tried, he could not get Nifemi out of his head. She had proven herself a good friend and was great company to be in. She was funny and extremely hardworking, drove herself harder than anyone else at their level and it was impressive. He could tell she poured both heart and soul into her job from the way she dealt with clients, partners and investors. She was a walking wonder.
“Uzo, your final design is due in an hour. I hope you don’t keep me waiting.”
Uzo turned around to see the devil himself, Mr. Toba.
“It’s actually ready sir.”
“Then why isn’t it in my mail?”
Mr. Toba walked on by to his office and Uzo turned his attention back to his laptop and sent him the email. He knew the design was flawless but he expected Mr. Toba to have a complaint or two. The man was too full of himself and never accepted that anyone’s first attempt at any task was good enough. He would always send it back on some flimsy excuse even where the job was the epitome of perfection. Nifemi had given him the heads up and he had experienced the man’s annoying nature first hand in his first week on the job. He was impossible to please.
As he stood up from his desk to go have lunch, an email popped in and he hovered the mouse over it reluctantly. It was from Mr. Toba. When he opened the mail, he was shocked. Mr. Toba liked the design and had given the go ahead for it to be used at the exhibition.
“Well would you check that out?”
He whistled happily and walked off to Nifemi’s desk.
“Do you believe in miracles?”
Nifemi looked at him curiously.
“Mr. Toba liked it. Said it’s good to go.”
“Congrats. I’ll have Mosun double check our reservation for the exhibition.”
“Oriental hotel abi? What time again?”
Nifemi typed on her laptop without looking up.
“Oriental hotel. 11am. I hope you have an actual suit.”
Uzo caught the tease and smiled.
“Only if you have a piping hot dress.”
“Careful what you wish for mister.”
She still didn’t look up and Uzo grinned.
“I do hope my wishes come true.”
He double tapped his fingers on her desk and walked out.
“Do you want to explain what exactly happened Barrister Benson? Because right now you aren’t making any sense.”
Benson shifted his weight from one foot to the other and kept his head down. He realised how ridiculous his story sounded. Some woman accosted him, smashed his glass and stole the piece of evidence he had been handed. Yeah. Definitely ridiculous.
“Actually, she had a gun. That’s why I was trying to be careful.”
Benson licked his lips and nodded.
“What did she look like?”
“Somewhat tall, 5’4 maybe. Dark skinned, well built, low-cut hair.”
The man who stood a few feet away shook his head. Benson could tell this was not the man he had been talking to on the phone but this person had obviously come from him.
“And she didn’t say her name.”
“No she didn’t”
“If she shows up again or contacts you. Let the boss know.”
The man walked away and barrister Benson adjusted his shirt collar and walked away. If this woman thought she could shake him easily, she was in for a shock. His mechanic had taken the car last night and he expected to have it back tonight. He flagged a taxi down and gave the address to his house. It was almost 6pm and he was hungry. He shut his eyes and decided to take a nap all the way to the house, trusting that he would meet a decent meal at home. His wife always came through.
Thirty minutes later, the cab pulled up in front of the house and Benson got out. He ran the short steps up to his door and pushed the bell. His wife came to open it and peered curiously behind him, as though expecting someone else.
“What’s up mama?”
Benson rolled tired eyes.
“Really? Is this a joke? I’m tired mama. Let me in.”
His wife raised eyebrows in a frown.
“Who is joking with you? Where’s my son?”
Benson furrowed his brows and stared intently at his wife as his brain tried to process what she was attempting, yet failing to communicate.
“What do you mean?”
“You sent a text saying you would get him from school and your number hasn’t been reachable all day.”
“Me? Text? What text?”
Benson’s wife grabbed him by the collar, eyes sticking out, veins popping.
“Stop this useless joke Benson! Where is my son??!”
She continued shaking him and yelling as Benson tried to calm her down and suddenly he snapped.
He pushed his way past her into the living room and retrieved his cell phone from his pocket. He scrolled through his text messages but there was nothing there to his wife.
“Bring your phone!” He barked. She handed the phone over to him all the while yelling dramatically and placing both hands above her head. Barrister Benson hissed and tried to think. What the hell was going on? Sure enough, on his wife’s phone, there was a text message from him telling her he would pick up their son but he had definitely not sent it.
His mind immediately went to the lady from the previous day and he instantly went into panic mode. Who the hell was she?
As he scrolled through his call log to find his handler’s number, his phone rang and the contact read “Unknown”
“Hi Mr. Benson…”
He recognised the voice but he was not going to assume.
“Who is this?”
He heard a short laugh over the phone and the voice came on again.
“Nightmares need no introduction Mr. Benson. How’s your evening going? Having fun with the family?”
Benson was seething
“Where is my son?! I swear if you hurt him-”
“If I hurt him nothing would happen and life will go on. So shut your dirt hole and listen up.”
Benson gritted his teeth and kept quiet.
“I asked you before and I’ll ask you again. Who do you work for? And don’t give me that bullshit talk of your clients otherwise I’ll chop off one finger from your son’s hands till you’re ready to talk.”
Her voice, more than her words chilled Benson to his spine and he broke into a sweat. His wife was stared at him in nervous anticipation, breathing heavily and whimpering.
“I- I don’t know. I swear, I really don’t.”
The line was silent for a few seconds and Benson suddenly heard an earth shattering scream that almost deafened him. It was his 8 year old son crying out.
“Stop! Stop!” he yelled. His cry was frantic and his wife went into a panic, tugging his shirt and crying out,
“What? What are they saying? What?”
Benson yanked her hand off his shirt and rushed off to the guest bedroom and locked himself in.
“Don’t hurt him, please. I’m begging you. He’s only a kid. I’ll tell you anything. Please.”
“I’m not a very patient person Mr. Benson. So it’s best you don’t test my resolve. So let’s try this again. Who do you work for? Start talking.”
Benson spilled everything he knew about the case, the man who had hired him- he didn’t know his name, the phone conversations they’d had, documents that were mysteriously sent to him, evidence that were falsified. When he was done, Ijeoma replied.
“Your son will be back to you tonight. Next time your boss calls, tell him to back off. Tell him I said I am the last person he wants to lock horns with.”
Benson heard a click and the line went off. He moved slowly to the bed and sank into it. What kind of trouble was this?
“The lawsuit isn’t random. Whoever caused the crash is behind this as well. They really have it bad for you.”
Chief Ubong looked over the rim of his scotch glass and into Ijeoma’s face.
“You know I’ve got this right?”
Chief Ubong nodded.
“I’m going to Lagos tomorrow morning. Is there anything you need?”
“How much can you afford to part with right now?”
Chief Ubong turned questioning eyes to Ijeoma again.
“You’ll have to give those families something eventually. No matter how little. How much? You name a price and I’ll make sure they take it.”
Chief Ubong shook his head.
“Have you ever heard of something called the floodgate argument? If I pay these ones off, the rest of the world will come to make claims.”
Ijeoma shook her head.
“Non-disclosure agreements. They’ll have to sign those. If they ever talk to anyone about it, then they lose the money and you can sue them for a breach of contract.”
“How many families are there?”
“10 million. One million naira each.”
“I can work with that.”
Chief Ubong sipped from his glass then set it down.
“Alright. Get in touch with barrister Jide so you can both handle the negotiations together.”
Ijeoma looked him over.
“Is that a joke?”
“He’s my lawyer and a good friend. I can’t have him kept in the dark.”
“I choose whom I work with chief. You know this. Just tell him not to worry, it’s being taken care of. If he was such a good lawyer, you wouldn’t have needed to ask me to make this go away.”
Chief Ubong picked his glass from the table and stared at the golden brown liquid in it. He swirled the content around slowly without saying a word then took another sip from his glass and continued swirling it.
“Yemi and I will get in touch with the families and ensure they take the offer. I should have this sorted in a week then I’ll go back to piecing together the puzzle.”
Chief Ubong nodded.
“I’m going to Lagos tomorrow with Fola. If you need anything, just call.”
Ijeoma nodded and stood up to leave. As she walked out, she dialled a number on her phone and Leela picked up.
“Get a list of the families involved in the suit, contact address and personal information. I want to know what each individual representing each family does for a living. I need that information in 24 hours.”
“Sure thing. I’m on it.” Leela responded.
The elevator dinged and opened on Uzo’s floor. He caught one last glimpse of himself in the mirrors and was satisfied with what he saw. He had on a maroon blazer, a white shirt and blue trousers. He also had an ash lapel flower pin as well as an ash pocket square on the blazer. He walked past Mosun, the front desk lady and she gaped at him in amazement.
“Wow. You look great Uzo!”
Uzo laughed, said thank you and waved as he made his way to his desk. He walked past Nifemi’s cubicle but she wasn’t there so he set his bag down at his desk, took out his laptop and proceeded to set it up.
He worked steadily for an hour, looking up and checking out Nifemi’s desk every few minutes but she was not there. It was quite unlike her to be late to work, especially considering that they were meant to be heading out to Oriental hotel in a few minutes. He took out his phone and called her.
“Madam, where you at?”
“Printing room. The interns are packaging the brochures for the exhibition. I’m supervising them.”
“Na wa for you o. What could possibly go wrong with that process?”
“Ask the grand president of micromanagement.”
Uzo chuckled. Of course, Mr. Toba must have asked her to oversee it.
“Alright then. You want me to come join you? We actually need to start heading out otherwise we’ll be late.”
“Naah, we’re done here. I’ll be out in a jiffy. Just gather your stuff and meet me downstairs at the car park.”
“Okay. We going in my car?”
“Yes please. One of the drivers will bring the interns with the brochures. I’ll be down in 10 minutes”
Uzo hung up, packed up his laptop and headed downstairs. He didn’t even wait up to 10 minutes before Nifemi showed up and when she did, Uzo’s jaw dropped. Nifemi had definitely undergone some transformation between last night when she left the office and this morning. Her hair had been done, the weave falling graciously over her shoulders, nails shining a deep blue shade and makeup that held the signature of a professional artist. She wore a sleeveless black jumpsuit that hugged her curves perfectly. A maroon blazer hung on her arm as she strutted towards him in blue court shoes, and a blue bag in her hand.
Nifemi looked at him oddly when she walked up to him.
“Close your mouth before all the flies in Lagos make it their head office.”
Uzo shut his mouth and laughed nervously
“So are you. I mean, you clean up pretty nice. I had no idea you could match colours like this. And we’re wearing the same blazer. Interesting”
“Tell the truth, you peeped into my window this morning to see what I’d be wearing then you copied it.”
“You think I’d look up to you for my fashion choices? You flatter yourself too much.”
She opened the back door and deposited the items in her hand then shut the door and turned to catch Uzo still staring.
“Oga, can we go?”
Uzo nodded and got into the driver’s seat same time as she got into the front passenger seat. They slammed the doors and Uzo drove off. They were at the hotel in 15 minutes and Uzo offered her his arm as they made to ascend the stairs. Nifemi smiled and took it and they walked up together. They waited for the elevator together in silence and as it opened up, a young man whose eyes were glued to his phone walked out it, almost bumping into Nifemi who Uzo managed to snatch out of the way just in time. The young man looked up hastily and began to apologize when he met Nifemi’s eyes. He suddenly froze and the words he had begun to utter were left hanging. Uzo turned to Nifemi and watched the colour drain from her face as she stared at the stranger.
Nifemi could not believe her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but the words wouldn’t come out. Her palms were sweaty and suddenly there was a buzzing sound in her ears.
The man gulped.
Nifemi made a sound that was somewhere between a snort and a laugh. This was Fola. The first man she had ever been in love with. The one who abandoned her after he went off to the UK for his masters.
“You’re alive. That’s good to know.”
She made to go past him but Fola held her arm.
“We should talk.”
Nifemi smiled and turned to Uzo.
“Darling, aren’t we late for a meeting?”
Uzo nodded and took her arm, ushering her into the elevator. He pushed the button to the second floor and they both stared at Fola as the elevator doors shut.