Shola stood before the mirror, the only item she had on was Joe’s ring. She looked her body over, her reflection stared back. “You must be strong.” she said to it. Joe could have all the clandestine meets and trips he liked, he would not drive her crazy. She was determined to sit it out. At least she had decided to give him enough rope to hang himself with. If in the next 6 months, he did not get his shit together, she will break up with him and be prepared to stay single for as long as it takes for a good man to find her. And if a good man didn’t find her? Well, she’d take her chances alone. It was 11pm, she had work to get to in the morning, and she would not let this take her sleep any more than it had. She got in bed, and said a prayer “Help me be still, Lord, while you do your will in my life. This is beyond me. I trust your love for me, Lord. Do your will.” The tears were back.
Joe sat in the car. He sent an sms to the guys on ground to announce his arrival – “I’m here. All eyes on the game.” it said. He took off his seat belt and exhaled. He had really hoped his days as an operative were over. He could not chicken out now, he was in this and had to find a win in it somehow. A win-win situation, maybe? Buju was in this for the win too, so they’d just have to work out a way to make this deal go through with minimum loses to all parties – his, Buju’s and the clients who had ordered the supplies. This could still work. He said a prayer, one of the Psalms he had heard in church and had later learned using the NLT Bible Shola had gotten him when he had complained about the language of the KJV. “O Lord, rescue me from evil people. Protect me from those who are violent, those who plot evil in their hearts and stir up trouble all day long.” He said.
He reached under his seat and got out a small knapsack, reached in and retrieved a .45 Auto Glock 21 pistol. He checked the magazine, it was full – 13 rounds. He slipped the pistol into his jacket’s inner pocket and exited the vehicle. He headed straight for the pool table upstairs. A very angry Buju was pacing the floor by the pool table. “I have been calling you!” he roared the moment he saw Joe. “I was driving.” Joe said calmly. Spotting a bar stool by a wall, he went over and sat on it. He was just a few steps from an exit, beside the fire alarm and had a good view of the room, the stairs and some of the bar below. The same three guys were here again, Joe paid them no mind, but knew to keep an eye on them. “What gives?” Buju asked sitting on a sofa across from Joe. The other guys kept standing, “Nothing yet. We’re still searching. I’m afraid something has gone wrong. Likely he was hijacked. Maybe killed, maybe captured or on the run.” Joe explained. As much as he wished this was not true, he had to sell it to Buju that his organization had taken a loss. “You know those supplies are worth more than gold in that zone presently. People would go great lengths to get their hands on them. The question I need you to answer for me is who else knew about the shipment?” Joe asked. He had gotten Buju right where he wanted him, he could see the fat man cool down, frowning in thought. “You think someone double-crossed us?” he asked. “Looks like it.” Joe pressed. “Jesus! I am going out of my mind here, Joe.” Buju groaned. Joe almost smiled. This was one of the reasons why he had left Buju, the fat fool could not think under pressure. A huge failing in this line of work.
“Here is my suggestion: Call your client. Let him know we are having troubles with the shipment. Then let us see to getting another set across.” Joe said. “That will take a while and a whole lot of money.” Buju countered. “What other choice have we got?” Joe shot back. After a long pause, Buju asked for his phone. One of his goons handed it to him. Joe knew it would be tough sell, time was the commodity in the whole equation none of them could redeem. He understood the loses the Client would suffer if he could not get supplies to his men in time.
“We could also make a refund too.” Joe chipped in as Buju dialed a number. Then it happened: The power in the bar went out. The place was suddenly dark and the music seized. Joe looked at Buju, he could see in the light thrown on his face from the screen of his phone that he was surprised. That was Joe’s cue.
It was simple, someone had put out the power for some reason, which could not be good. And if Buju was surprised then Buju was not behind it. Joe too was not behind it, and so knew he had to get out fast. “Fire! Fire!! Fire!!!” Joe shouted as he punched the fire alarm, dropped off the stool and flat on his chest. Instant mayhem broke out. Other people took up shouts of “Fire!”, people were scrambling for the exits screaming and in panic. Whatever the plan of those who cut off the power, he’d just messed it up. Then he heard it: The distinct sounds of gun fire. Shooting had broken out downstairs. His false alarm had forced the hands of the other guys – whoever they were. Now all hell was let lose. He crawled quickly to Buju’s feet and dragged him to the ground. “Joe!” Buju yelled trying to get away. “Shut the fuck up and stay down.” Joe said sternly in his ear. “What’s going on?” Buju asked, “They’ve come for us. We gatta go!”
Now the shooting was getting closer. A flash at the bottom of the stairs, loud bangs, and Buju’s goons were howling. One of them seemed to have escaped the shots and was now returning fire. Joe knew, he could not stay a second longer. He crawled as fast as he could to the exit, got the Glock out, got in a crouch, pushed the door open and fired two shots down the narrow stairwell. From experience, he knew someone would be watching this exit or coming up it. He was right, he heard a scream and wild firing. Still in a crouch, he kept a steady crawl down the flight of stairs. He needed to get to his car and get away from here fast. He was now at the bottom of the stairs. He saw a body sprawled on the ground, blood stains around the stomach, an automatic rifle beside it. He could see people running unto the road, people jumping into cars and driving off.
He kicked the rifle away from the body, crouched over it and got searching the pockets. He needed to know who these guys were. He found only a knife and a pack of cigarettes. No ID of any form. He looked closer at the face, it was foreign, but still an African. Joe rose, and stepped over the body. As he made to walk away, the man grabbed his leg and tripped him. In the fall, Joe lost his pistol, quickly he rolled unto his back and shoved his foot into the advancing man’s face. The man grunted, but didn’t stop advancing, sharp pain in Joe’s lap sent the message that the man had gotten the knife and plunged it into him. Again Joe kicked out with the other leg connecting his toe with the man’s jaw, he quickly followed with another kick to the neck making the man roll off slightly. Joe saw his chance.
He moved quickly, grabbing the wrist with which the man held the knife while landing two quick pointed-knuckled punches to the man’s gullet with his other hand. The man dropped the knife, Joe let go of his wrist and picked it up. The man was holding his throat with both hands, gargling. Joe raised the knife to sink it into the man’s chest, he saw the man’s eyes widen in fear. Joe dropped the knife as he spotted his Glock on the floor. He made a dash for it, picked it up and made for his car. The pain in his thigh was bad, he didn’t want to look at it just yet. He could still hear shots as he got into the BMW and drove off. “SHIT! SHIT!! SHIT!!!” he yelled as he sped through the streets, heading for the highway. This was bad. Real bad. He pulled out the phone from the pocket where the pain was, he howled but managed to get it. It was broken. Apparently, the knife had gone through it.
He threw it in the general direction of the backseat, then pulled his other phone from the other pocket. Quickly he dialed Dave’s number. Dave answered on the first ring. “Dave! get out, man. Guys came for us. Heavy duty shit, Dave. Mercenaries, these were no school boys. Call the others. Esosa has got us all fucked! I think Buju is dead. Lots of bloodshed tonight. I’m out.” Joe poured, hung up and pressed the accelerator pedal as flat as it would go as he hit Ikorodu road. The X6 shot into the night, roaring. He was bleeding. He needed to get patched up, he needed to plan his exit clear headed but the pain would not make that possible. He needed help. He needed someone strong and composed. Someone that would not freak out and will keep it to herself. He needed her now. For her love and support and prayers, he needed Shola.
Joe was in her room, he was calling her name, standing by her bed. Shola jerked awake to the sound of Joe’s ring tone. As she reached for the phone, she peered around the room, it had been a dream, Joe was not here. “Hello” she said, pulling a wrapper over her body. Even over the phone, she somehow felt uncomfortable being nude just because it was him. “Grab a pen and paper.” Joe said. When the call was over, Shola felt like she had been hit in the stomach, the room seemed to be spinning around her. Her fears had finally materialized. He had told her something had happened and he was injured, not at home, hiding out somewhere he would not say yet. She was to get to his house and pick up the stuff he had dictated to her. Shola looked at the time, it was 11:38pm. “Oh! My God!” she said as she got dressing up, then called a cab service.
Shola had followed instructions. She had told Kola that Joe was on the street and she just wanted to see him briefly, gotten in the waiting cab and gone to Joe’s. She picked the stuff up (she had used a torch light. He’d insisted she should not put on the lights in the house), then had the cab take her to the place he was hiding. A house somewhere in Yaba. She had called him at the door, a few minutes went by before he opened it. She stepped in and he locked the door behind her then practically collapsed onto her. Somehow, she had kept her balance. She dropped the two bags and slowly helped him to a seat. That was when she saw the bandage around his left thigh. It was soaked through with blood. Her own strength and composure surprised her. Quickly she got out the First Aid kit from one of the bags and got to work.
“We need to get you to a hospital, Joe.” Shola said when Joe woke up later. It was a few minutes before 5am. “No hospitals.” Joe mumbled. Joe had lost a lot of blood and Shola was getting worried. She had cleaned out the car too where she had found so much blood on the driver’s seat and floor. She had also seen something that had sent a shiver down her spine – an automatic pistol. She had promptly put it back in its place under the seat. She had called Kola to tell him she spent the night at Joe’s and would be going to work from there, Joe was a little ill. Luckily, her mum had not noticed her departure nor absence. “Should be leaving for work in a bit.” She said helping him up and to the bathroom to pee. “Ok.” he said. “Where is the small black pouch I told you about?” he added when they were back in the room. Shola got him the pouch then proceeded to have a shower; she still had to organize what to wear to work this morning.
The sight that welcomed Shola back to the room was another shocker to her. Joe was injecting himself with something. There was a plethora of vials, syringes and needles on the side table complete with a tourniquet. “What are you doing?” she asked standing at the door. “Fixing the pain.” he replied, finished up and packed the pouch away. She loved this guy, but this was getting too much for her. She had left home, been up all night and nursed him without a clue as to what had happened. He seemed to have stabilized now and she needed to sit back a bit too. Get away from it all. He had mentioned getting out of town for a while – that would help. She’d just stay away from him for a while and get her bearings right. “Alright, Joe, I have to go now.” She said, he didn’t respond, he’d been knocked out by the injection. She kissed his forehead and left the house with tears in her eyes.
Shola had called Joe well over 15 times at considerable intervals without an answer and just when it was break time and she thought of rushing to go check on him, he called sounding Ok. She had called her dressmaker to deliver something to her that morning before 7:30 at work. Being a Friday, an Ankara jacket over her black T-shirt and Jeans had cut it. She had paid dearly for the express service and delivery. She had gotten made up by Lola, her friend, at work who had noticed something was wrong. She told the girl her fiancé had taken ill. At close of work, Lola had given her a ride as far along as Yaba, from where she got a cab to the house. Joe seemed much better when she saw him, he could not use his left leg much but he was better. She called her folks and told them Joe was ill and she’d be at his place.
In the morning, she could not find Joe in bed, she called out but heard no response. Something had woken her, but she could not place it. After a minute without a sound in the house nor sign of Joe, she got up and went to the bath. There she found him on the floor. Clearly he had fallen on his way to the toilet bowl and struck his head on the sink, taking that out of its place, causing it to break in pieces as they both struck the tiled floor. How she had managed to sleep through that, she didn’t know. “JESUS!” Shola screamed as she saw a fresh stream of blood oozing out of a deep cut on Joe’s forehead. “Joseph!” she screamed, rushed to his side and turned him unto his back. Quickly she tried to stem the bleeding, packing up the cut. Next she found the keys to the X6, brought it as close to the door as she could then went back in and half-carried, half-dragged an unconscious Joe unto the back seat.
She was on the street with the house locked and the keys in her pocket when she remembered the pistol under the seat. She spun the car around, jumped out at the house with the gun, ran in and threw it under the bed then ran back to the car and took off again. She needed help – a doctor. Hospital. Private. Discrete. She called Kola first.
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