Shola took a sip of water from her glass. She and Pastor Keji had been in the study in the Pastor’s house for close to an hour. She kept reminding herself to be quiet and come across as submissive and obedient. There was nothing to gain by having a face-off with her Zonal Pastor who obviously was moved by an abundance of love and concern for her. But the issue in being the object of such feelings, in such a context, was that the possessor of such feelings often wants to take charge and make decisions on one’s behalf. She set the glass down and nodded in accent to what Pastor Keji was saying. Of course she knew she should not be “unequally yoked together with [an] unbeliever” she knew light and darkness have no “fellowship”, she knew all these things. But why couldn’t her Pastor see this case was different?
Joe was making efforts towards straightening out his life. He had made advancements in that direction – new line of business, a store, clients and stock. She would ensure he continued attending church. The fact that he had started attending was a good sign. He had shown commitment to her and she was sure she could influence him in the desired direction.
“Shola, I have a few questions for you. I do not need you to answer me now or ever. You just need to answer them for yourself.” Pastor Keji said,
“Yes, Ma’m?” Shola replied alert.
“Would you be proud to tell your parents the things you know about him? Do you know for a certainty that he will change? Are you sure he is not playing on your intelligence? Are you sure you have a future with him?”. With those, Pastor Keji led her in a short prayer, admonished her to pray more about it and let her leave.
The moment she was back in the car and Kola driving, she was on the phone again with Joe. He’d told her they had found out who owned the car – a certain man he knew from somewhere some time ago. They were yet to ascertain what the man wanted or if he posed a threat, but Joe would be in Lagos to have a talk with him. Shola asked if that was advisable, “Is that safe? Going to his house or something.”
“No biggies. I won’t be going in alone, and I doubt he will be stupid enough to try pranks”, Joe replied.
“Sweetheart, I have another call coming in, let me call you back when I have fresh information.” he added before they hung up. Shola was on one hand relieved that the mystery of the two guys had been kind of resolved and on the other hand disturbed by Pastor Keji’s questions.
Joe stood beneath the soothing stream of the shower. He had gotten into his Abuja apartment a few minutes ago. He had business to attend to in an hour. He’d caught the 1:30pm flight that Monday from Calabar out here. A flight he’d almost missed. He’d had a very long phone conversation with Dave, the one he called his ‘Oga’ but was really his partner. They had set up their operation together 2 years ago when they had left working for Mr. Anyakup – the man who owned the Range Rover the two guys who had been looking for Joe rode in. He thought back to those days when he’d been a common foot soldier for Mr. Anyakup – Buju as they called the fat fool. He’d risked his life often, been caught in a lot of tight spots and gotten a few scrapes for what he thought of, back then, as good money. Amounts he looked back on now as peanuts.
Buju, was in Lagos, his guys had found out. Joe was going to pay him a surprise visit. Dave had also agreed to this. Plans were in motion for Joe’s visit, guys were getting ready. “Think home fixtures!” he told himself as he dressed up. Here, he had legitimate business concerns to take care of. He could trust Dave to handle the Buju thing, he had trusted Dave with his life, and more, countlessly, the dude had never let him down. Dave was the best Operational wizard he knew in this business. He could have made the perfect field man too but for an unfortunate injection stab as a kid that had left Dave with a limp and the need for a cane ever since. He had carefully picked out these clothes with Shola’s help back in Tinapa. He needed to project a certain level of seriousness and business success at the meet. He was meeting his first legit client.
He spent another 4 days in Abuja. He had really enjoyed his meetings with the clients; documents had been signed and in a few days, he’d be making his first supply. It was time to hit Lagos and go celebrate with Shola. They had grown tighter since her visit to him in Calabar. She often told him how much she missed him, the truth was he missed her sore. He’d made the mistake of sorting her employment in Lagos, Abuja would have been the better choice. Well, he could sort that later, even if it meant her changing her employment. He was certain Ambrose could do a thing or two about that. Meanwhile all was set for him to go see Buju today. Dave had decided Joe dropped in on Buju at a bar Buju owned on the mainland. Joe was fine with it.
He caught a 3pm flight to Lagos and called Shola when he landed.
“‘Sup, Babe?” he asked
“Hey, Baby! I’m good, you?” she replied
“I’m fine. Guess what.” he said as he spotted Razak walking towards him, “What?” she asked excitedly, “Just landed at the Airport.” he said, “Which? Lagos?” she asked, “Yup!” he said.
He knew she did not like it very much that he had not intimated her of his movements until now when he’d already arrived.
“You know what, Babe? It’s Friday, let’s hang out after work. ” he bribed, “Ok. That would be nice. But traffic oh!” she said, “No worries, I’ll be at the 4 Points. That’s not far from you and I’ll personally drive you home.” he said. She agreed. She did not know where it was but said she’d ask at work and drive down.
It was 10:46pm as Joe pulled up outside the bar. This was where Buju was. Dave had called him on his way to drop off Shola, it had been confirmed that Buju was upstairs at the pool table in the bar. Joe said he’d be there in 15mins, increasing speed. He had told Shola what was about to go down, she had looked worried but had been surprisingly quiet about it with only a “take care” when she got off at her gate. Joe was pretty glad she had started to adjust and take it all easily. As he got out of the X6, he checked his phone. There were 5 messages from different guys confirming their presence on the premises. He’d walked into hotter spots and gotten out, this would not be an exception. The calibre of his guys on ground was impressive. “Dave at his best!” Joe thought as he headed for the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, he saw them. The two guys who had stopped Shola. They were sitting in sofas with a third guy, a few steps from the pool table itself where Buju was chalking his cue stick while his opponent, a young lady, lined up a shot. A quick scan revealed possible weapons and an alternative exit if things got messy. In his jacket he had only a tactical folding knife, but then, with the lack of quality he saw in these goons, that was more than enough. The way they sat deep in their seats gave away their level of unpreparedness. Failing their drawing guns and shooting, no one could stop him from going past to Buju at the pool table. He was standing beside Buju who was bent over a shot he was taking, before the guys recognized him.
All three guys sprang to their feet, hands reaching into jackets or pants, Joe was unperturbed. He simply took the other cue stick from the lady with a “Do you mind, gorgeous?”, she was a little surprised but gave it up anyway. The three guys were close now, but still no threat to Joe, they seemed to have noticed Joe meant no harm and were waiting for definite instructions from Buju. “Hello, Joe! You are looking well.” Buju said as he straightened up and extended a beefy hand to Joe who calmly ignored the greeting and went about setting up his own shot on the same ball Buju had failed to put away. “With all due respect, Buju, your pool skills suck and so does your security.” Joe said slamming the ball squarely into a pocket. Buju laughed loudly. “Its OK,” he said to his boys and “go get yourself a drink, Linda.” to the lady.
Both men played pool for the next half hour while talking alone. It turned out Buju had an offer for Joe. It sounded pretty simple but Joe did not like the uncertainties on the other end of the operation Buju described. The payoff was a nice figure though, but Joe had been around long enough to be able to look past the cash. He had come this far by balancing things deftly with Dave’s help. He was not about to risk getting stuck in a poorly put-together operation for any amount of money. Only the living and free enjoyed riches. “I apologize, Sir, but you have the wrong man.” Joe said leaning his cue stick against a wall.
“Joe, why don’t you go and give this a thought? Then we can talk again in a few days?”, Buju said. He signaled over the balcony for his guys. One of them came swiftly upstairs and handed Joe an envelope. He was one of the ones who had stopped Shola.
Joe took the envelope from him, tapped him twice on the forehead with it, then said “Do not go anywhere near my girlfriend ever again.” and with that went down the stairs. As he drove off, he got messages from the guys saying they were also leaving the bar. Dave called before he left the street the bar was on. “What’s up?” Dave asked, “Fool has a job for me.” Joe replied, “And?” Dave asked, “Turned his ass down, pronto.” Joe replied, “Ok. See you at noon.” Dave said then hung up. Joe looked at the envelope he had dropped on the front passenger seat, it was a 7 by 10 brown envelope, it looked quite crammed. He knew it would contain every shred of info he needed for the job. Still there was no way he was doing any work for Buju. Those days were long gone, $260,000 or not.
“What does he do?” Peju, Shola’s eldest sister asked her. For their private talk, they sat in the Honda Crosstour outside her home in Epe. Joe had given Shola the gist from last night and so all was back to normal. She had gone to loan the ride that morning but Joe had insisted on coming with her to Epe to see her sister, who having covered for her last weekend had demanded to see her. “House fixtures and fittings.” Shola replied smoothly. “You mean like lamps and baths and the likes?” Peju asked, “Yes, Sista mii. He imports them for sale.” Shola replied. “I thought he worked in Abuja or so.” Peju asked, “His outlet is in Abuja, that’s where he operates from.” Shola said. Apparently, her mum had mentioned a few things about Shola’s new boyfriend to Peju. “You are no longer a kid, Shola. I’m sure you know what’s good for you. He looks like a good guy to me, sha.” her sister said watching Joe playing hard with her kids.
Three weeks passed by with things going smoothly. Shola noticed Titi had taken her place as the Assimilation Unit head, she could not be bothered. She always came to church with Joe these days and left immediately after service. Joe’d made one business trip to Italy for a few days, stayed in Abuja all week, every week but came into town each weekend. Work was fine for her and she had made a new friend. Joe was spoiling her silly with gifts and what he called Prayer Offerings. He kept sending good sums into her account and whenever she asked what it was for, he’d say it was a Prayer Offering, asking her to keep praying for him. She did so diligently, daily asking God to change Joe’s heart for good and keep him for her, so they could enjoy the rest of their days in peace. So far, it all seemed to be turning out well.
Joe had connived with Kola to obtain one of Shola’s fashion rings that fit perfectly on the fourth finger of her left hand. Being left handed, that finger was slightly bigger than the one on the other hand. On his trip to Italy he had bought the perfect proposal ring. It was time he got that part of their relationship done. He could not keep the ring in his house in Lagos since Shola was always all over it – cleaning and all. She practically lived there during the week sometimes, so he hid it in his Abuja apartment and planned the perfect proposal. He was going to take her on a trip, probably Dubai, call it a shopping trip or something, then propose to her there. He’ll also get it on tape. He had made it a habit to chill in her home after church on Sundays and so had met every member of her immediate family, those living in and those who visited. The time had come.
“Esosa is taking the Job.” Martin said as Joe sat down. All 7 of them were at Martin’s for a meeting Martin had urgently convened. Joe looked around, he’d been the last to arrive, he had had to cut short a beach trip with Shola to meet up, still he was late. “What job?” Joe asked hoping his instincts were wrong. “Buju’s” Chima said shifting in his seat. No one was meeting Joe’s gaze, at the moment, it was fiery. “Dave, are you in on this madness too?” Joe spat. Dave splayed his hands “I don talk tire.” he said, helpless. “Esosa! What is this shit?” Joe asked fighting to keep his voice down. “Since you don’t want it, bro, I thought I’d take it.” Esosa said. Joe was mad for several reasons. They had talked about this the day after the offer from Buju and no one had objected to turning it down. And if anyone was stupid enough to take it, why did it have to be his own cousin?
Esosa drove an old Accord ’07 and still stayed with his mum. That was not because he didn’t make money, but because he spent like an idiot. Joe knew Esosa was jumping on this for the money, but didn’t know how he’d gotten Martin, Chima, Ovie and Silas to support him. He’d personally brought Esosa in, and as an older cousin, he had to look out for the silly boy. “Let it be known, I don’t like this at all. I think this is a bad idea.” Joe said after close to two hours of deliberation, went to his car and got Buju’s envelope for Esosa. “Its a simple in-and-out, move, Joe. Relax.” Silas said. “Yeah. Easier said. I’ll contact Buju and let him know.” Joe said wondering what exactly was going on. “Gatta go, people.” he added, rose to his feet and said his goodbyes.
As Joe drove through the Saturday night traffic, a tiny seed of fear took root in his heart. He had to do something fast. But first he dutifully called Buju, “I have the man for your job.” he said.
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