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“Turn the air conditioner up some more” Zach said to the driver, peeling off his jacket in the back of the car. It was one of his boss’ many cars.
It was a hot day, he needed another shower and his terrace to clear his head. He had a few errands to run and decided since he was already out he’d just do them. He stopped at the laundry to pick up his clothes. The lady who ran the place was surprised to see him.
“We were going to drop off today, Sir, like you instructed. Didn’t know you needed it this early” she said.
“Not so. I was in the neighbourhood and thought to save you the trip” he said, paid his tab and got back in the car with his clothes.
He pulled up his note pad on his phone and looked at the groceries he had itemized to get on his return. It was a short list. He decided he’d just stop at the mall and get those as well. He had time to kill.
At the mall, he placed a call to Zaneta got a busy tone then an SMS:
“Can’t talk now, call me later?“
“Likely in a meeting” he reasoned.
He got the things he needed and took them back to the car.
A few minutes into the drive from the mall, heading to his house, he noticed he had picked up a tail. The driver was trying to be discrete, but the way he raced to catch up whenever Zach’s ride sped up and then fell back whenever Zach’s ride slowed down gave him away.
Zach wondered for a minute who it could be. He thought to call Malik, who had left their boss’ place before him in a different car, to ask if he had experienced something similar, but decided to focus, first, on dealing with his present problem.
He was going to shake his tail, he had to. But he was also going to learn who it was. If this weren’t within a city, say they were on some interstate route, he was in the mood to go on the offensive. But that would be ill-advised here on Ahmadu Bello Way.
“Mazi, at the next possible turn, please, make your way back to the house” Zach said, taking out his pistol and slipping it into the waist of his pants.
“You no go your place again?” Mazi asked.
Zach didn’t know if he could trust Mazi, “I need to make a stop somewhere and I might be a while” he said.
“Okay” Mazi replied.
A few more meters and they arrived at a stop in traffic. Zach took out his phone and put on the video recorder, opened his door and stepped out. “I will come for my things later” he said.
There was one vehicle between his and the tail vehicle. A quick look into the one directly behind his revealed a driver and four kids in uniform obviously heading home from school. He walked towards the car that had been tailing him, making a point of not looking at it or its occupant. Holding his phone, with the recorder running, by his side in his left hand, he walked across the front of the vehicle, keeping as close to the vehicle in front of his as possible. He flexed the fingers of his right hand, ready to draw his pistol if the need arose. As he walked past, he slowly raised the phone to his ear and pretended to speak into it, crossed the road divider, got on the opposite lane and jogged across the free flowing stream of cars.
He wasn’t going to keep his back to this person, “might be a hit” he thought.
On the other lane, he walked briskly in the opposite direction, found a commercial tricycle and hopped in.
“Enter with ya N50” the rider barked at him. He made no reply.
In the tricycle’s mirror, he could make out the guy who had been tailing him twisting around in his seat, desperately trying to see where he had gone.
“Some other time, bro” Zach murmured. He pulled up the video he had just made and smiled. “I’ll find you” he thought.
Zaneta collapsed into her office chair. There was work to be done.
She placed her notes on the table and began to read through them. It was a technique she had used in school – read the notes as soon as possible after taking them. It had worked well for her then and still worked now.
Notes digested, she got to work. About 50 minutes later, there was a tap on the door.
“Come in” she said without looking up from her work.
“Delivery for you” she heard Gladys’ voice.
“Huh?” Zaneta replied. The moment she saw the paper bag she knew it was from Zach. A mix of guilt, shame and joy washed over her. She had tried to forget about him since the last set of messages they had exchanged, then she had come to work today and gotten engrossed with work, pushing thoughts of him even further from her mind.
She smiled as Gladys placed the bag on her table.
“Mr. Z?” she asked. Zaneta nodded.
“Real thoughtful guy” Gladys said leaving.
“Yeah. Sometimes” Zaneta replied beginning to open the paper bag.
“Their network is everly fluctuating” Gladys said shutting the door.
In the bag was a printed note, neatly folded. She opened it and read:
I hope so.
I miss you.
She shook her head, a smile on her face. She opened the plastic plate – Yam and fried eggs. “This guy!” she said, picked up her phone and dialled him. They didn’t talk half as much as they used to in the early days anymore, but the feelings were obviously much deeper now. This mix of unavailability, thoughtfulness, mystery and good conversation surely had her hooked. She couldn’t deny it.
“Eaten?” he asked the moment the line connected.
“No, it just got here. Thank you, Zach” she said
“You are welcome, Zaneta”
“Are you at work?”
“Yeah. Came in for a few things and then decided to have lunch”
“Then you thought about woman and whether she had eaten”
“You already know”
“You are the kind of guy that shared his lunch with girls in primary school, abi?” she teased.
“Funny enough, no” he said chuckling.
“Tell me more” she pressed, leaning back in her seat
“I had only one friend. A guy. Same one friend all through till we finished our HNDs”
“Where’s he now? Still friends?”
“He passed. Ill-health. A few days to convocation”
“Ouch! I’m sorry. That’s rather sad”
“Eat your food, madam”
“Yes, Daddy Raiden” she said laughing. “Speaking of which, how’s he?”
“Will see him in a bit. Not been home since my arrival” he said, his mind flying through the incidents since his arrival at the airport. Where exactly had he picked up the tail? From his boss’ house? The laundry shop? The mall?
“Zach?” he heard Zaneta call.
“Yeah? I couldn’t hear you for a moment there, what did you say?” his mind had drifted from the call.
“Was asking how your trip was”
“Was fine, thanks” he said.
“What did you bring me?”
“Now, that’s a surprise, why don’t you wait till we see?” he asked.
“Hmm… And when will that be?”
“Whenever your highness pleases” he said, scribbling a note to himself to get a gift.
She laughed then said “Oga, you are high!”
“Please, don’t ‘Oga Zone’ me” he said drawing even more laughter from her as he rung off.
Zaneta put the phone down. She truly was hungry. She decided to eat first.
Zach had sent screenshots of the video showing the plate number of the vehicle that had tailed him and the face of its driver to his resource person.
He sat at his desk waiting for a response. He picked up the intercom and buzzed reception.
“Clarisa, I need you to go to the mall and get me something” he said
“What would that be, Sir?” came the efficient reply.
“Whatever you would like, get two. Something that you won’t have to bother about sizes. One should be red” he said.
“Right away, Sir”
“Let me know how much you’ll need, I’ll send cash to your account”
“Ok, Sir. I’ll be on my way”
“One more thing, Sir”
“Someone’s here to see you”
Zach went quiet on the line. “What is happening?” he thought. He didn’t believe in coincidences. Why did Seyi whom had paid off and had not been in contact with suddenly appear at his office on the same day he was tailed, just after a field trip?
“Sir? Do I send her up?” Clarisa asked.
“No, I’m busy. I’ll call down for her” he said. He needed time to think.
After some thought, he called Bizi. Bizi, his resource person, was a tech guy, he had access to all manner of information and many field agents outside government used him. He made it a point to swap information. You had to bring him something useful before he gave you information. The value of what you gave him determined what his bill would be. Very rarely did he owe anyone. But he owed Zach.
Zach had saved his younger brother from an NDLEA snare. A phone call just in time had given his brother a window to flee. He had never forgotten the unrequested favour. That single phone call had mended his relationship with his brother. Before then, his kid brother had been recalcitrant and Bizi had given up on him. The kid was impressed and grateful that Bizi had known how and when to save him, surprised too, because he had never told Bizi what he was up to.
“Zach, I was about mailing you”
“What have you got?”
“The plates are a dead end. The face, I showed to a few people. No one knows for sure. My guess is he’s a PI. One of the swanky firms with high profile clients. Heavy duty crew”
“Thank you. Send the details in the mail” Zach said and hung up.
Zach rose and paced a while. Then stopped at the window watching the road below. Nothing seemed out of place. He called Malik.
“Hello” Malik said.
“Did you have any problems leaving Banana Island today?”
It took a heartbeat too long before Malik responded “No”. Zach could tell he was now more alert, if that was possible. Malik was always…..well, Malik.
“I caught a tail, lost him in traffic though. Getting his information as we speak” Zach said
“Who is he?”
“From the girl’s uncle’s peeps?” Malik said referring to Zaneta.
“Maybe. Then an old friend just turned up out of the blues”
“Deal with it” Malik said and was gone.
He walked to the couch, took off his jacket and shoes. “How did they find Seyi?” he asked himself. He put his pistol on the couch, put a throw pillow over it and lay down, closing his eyes with a worried frown.
A knock on the door woke him, it was Clarisa.
“You called?” he asked.
“No, Sir” she said placing a bag on the table beside him.
“What did you get?” he asked, still lying down.
“Clutch purses, Sir”
“Ok. The receipt is in there, yeah?”
“Ok. One of them is yours. Leave the red one” he said
“Thank you, Sir” Clarisa said with a grin taking a black clutch purse from the paper bag.
At the door she stopped then said “Miss Olofin is still downstairs, Sir”
“Send her up” he said rising to his feet.
Taking the pistol along, he sat behind his desk and waited.
In a few minutes Seyi walked in.
“I’m sorry to barge in on you unannounced -” she began, Zach’s raised hand stopped her mid-sentence.
“Sit down, please” he said.
“So, what’s up? What was so urgent and important that you couldn’t call ahead?” he asked
“Just wanted to see you. The way we ended things… I don’t know how to explain myself, but I just wanted to see you so we could talk things over” she said, unable to keep eye contact.
Something was up and Zach knew it.
“Ok. I’m quite busy these days, if you had come earlier in the day, I’d have been absent. I was away for a few days” he said
“Yeah, I know” she said
“I know?” Zach thought, but went on “In fact I have not got my luggage and stuff, I had to rush here to work on some stuff”
“Ok. I know you are busy, but I’d like you to please, make out some time so we can talk things over” she said
She was sounding like a broken record, rehearsed. “That’s fine. I need to go get my stuff now and attend to other things. I’ll call you tomorrow” Zach said, reached for the intercom and called Clarisa
“Clarisa, get a cab for Miss Olofin” he said and hung up.
“I thought I’d stay with you, I can’t go home” she said
“Can’t go home?” he thought. He paused a while then picked up the intercom again “Clarisa, have Miss Olofin checked into a hotel, thank you” he said then replaced it.
“Hotel?” Seyi asked.
“Yes” he simply said rising up, “shall we?” he asked, coming around his desk to her side.
Seyi reluctantly rose and they both walked out of the office.
At the elevator, he said “Crap! Forgot my jacket. Go on, I’ll meet you downstairs”. She agreed. Once the elevator doors were shut, he went back into his office, got his pistol and jacket then took the emergency stairs out the back. He crossed the street and climbed in the first cab he found and gave the driver his address. He called Clarisa from the cab telling her he’d left and asking her to send him the details of Seyi’s lodgings when she had them.
He picked up his Volvo XC 60 and drove to Banana Island to retrieve his stuff. All the way from his office to his place and then to his boss’ house and on the journey back home, he kept an eye out for a tail, there was none.
He’d had numerous missed calls from Seyi. As he settled down to an evening on the terrace, he called her
“Hey, Hon” he said softening her up.
“Haba! You just disappeared” she accused him.
“I’m sorry. I was on my way down when I got a call to attend to some stuff, just got home now, I’m exhausted” he explained. Listening carefully for any voices or strange sounds in the background.
“Oh! I was worried when you refused to pick my calls. So are you going to come and see me?”
“Not tonight” he said. He needed her to get comfortable before making his move. “A few more days” he thought.
Zaneta was livid!
The car had arrived. She’d found it at home after work. Everyone was smiling at her but she was mad.
“Where’s Uncle Tunji?” she asked one of the security men.
“He’s not here but we are expecting him”
“Who brought the car?” she asked.
“He sent someone” Joel replied.
She turned to face him, but held back her rage. “Look at his stupid grin!” she thought.
“You don’t look happy” he said.
She made no reply, she simply turned around and marched to her room from where she called Tunji.
“Seen your car? I hope you like it” his voice came across. It sounded like he was in a car.
“I like the car, Uncle Tunji” she said, close to tears. She was frustrated. How could he act like everything was ok when it wasn’t?
“You don’t sound like it” he observed.
“Uncle Tunji, I asked for special plates!” she wailed.
“Oh, that! Is that why you are upset?” he asked laughing.
“Yes, Sir! I am very upset” she affirmed. “What went wrong?”
“Your dad decided against it. Someone at the licensing office called his office to apologise for the delay in getting the vanity plates, he was informed and he cancelled it”
She rolled her eyes.” And he didn’t care to ask me? Uncle Tunji, is it fair?” she asked, pained.
“Sorry, darling. I didn’t know too until it arrived my office this afternoon” he explained.
“Ok. Thank you, Sir. Good bye” she said and ended the call before he could say anything else.
She was really getting tired of do-gooders trying to curry her uncle’s favour. They had always found ways to spoil her fun with whispers here and there into her uncle’s ears all her life. Principals, HODs, even her VC had called him once about her participation in “too many social activities”! It was annoying!
She flung herself on her bed. “They will not let somebody be great” she said. “Is that how they call everyone about delays? Idiots! They won’t do their work, they will be looking for cheap points upandan” she said.
She hissed long and loud, got up and undressed.
After a shower, she felt better. She lay in bed for a few minutes, letting the cool air our over her naked body. Then she called Zach. While it rang, she thought of breaking the news to him but decided she’d show him instead.
“Oga” she said when he picked up.
“You never listen” he said laughing
“Shift jooor” she said “This one should better not let me transfer aggression to him” she thought.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“Not bad. Yours?”
“Same ol’ same ol’” he said.
“You make your job sound so boring” she said.
“It is. I don’t need to make it sound so”
“You want back in the Army?” she asked. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she knew if her uncle got into the Villa, that could be arranged, but she wasn’t even sure she’d like that.
“Would you like that?” he asked, as if reading her mind.
“I dunno, it’s not my ass that BH kids will be shooting at” she said making him laugh.
“I can’t go back though” he said with a sad note of finality, drawing her out.
“The ‘circumstances of exit’ thing, yeah?” she said.
“And if that could be fixed?”
“How?” he was pushing her now, “Unless you have someone really high up revisit the case”
“I duuno” she ducked, “What exactly did you do?”
He sighed. “Can we talk about this in person?” he pleaded.
“Where will you be after work tomorrow?”
“Work” he said chuckling.
“Daddy Raiden respect yourself right now, ehen!”
“Mummy Raiden, call me after work”
“Ok. I’ll do just that” she said, ignoring the jibe.
“See you tomorrow” he said.
Zach switched the phone to silent and slipped it into his pocket as he got out of his Toyota Camry.
For 2 days after Seyi’s arrival, he had ignored her calls and texts but had kept her tab open at the hotel – paying for the room, her food and drinks. Tonight, he was going to solve the mystery.
He found a spot across the road from where he could watch Seyi’s hotel.
At 10pm on the stroke, she appeared outside the hotel, then called him. He let it ring out as he watched her. After two more trys, she started walking up the street. By now he was on the street. Sticking to the shadows, he followed her till she walked into a shawarma place. He hung back a bit, waiting to see if anyone of interest would join her. No one that piqued his interest came. There was no way to look in at her without being seen himself. So he maintained his position.
Almost half an hour later, she exited with a branded bag from the shawarma place. He turned, walking as if towards an ATM by the road as she walked past. He doubled back in time to see the guy who had tailed him leaving the shawarma place and heading up the road on foot.
Zach smiled. He turned and headed back to Seyi’s hotel.
She was surprised to see him at the door, he put a finger to his lips warning her not to make a sound. He had a feeling they – whoever they were – had planted listening devices in her room.
He showed her his phone screen, she read it out:
“No, I didn’t order dinner, thank you” she said.
He shut and locked the door behind him and led her into the bathroom, shut the bathroom door then turned the shower on. He looked her over. She was in a flimsy nightie, with panties on.
“Who was he? The man at the shawarma place” Zach said.
“I ah- d-don’t uhn- understand” Seyi lied.
In a flash, Zach’s pistol barrel was to her forehead. “I’ll ask one last time. Who was he?”
“Heeeeeeyyyy! Z-Zach, p-please, I don’t k-know. He came to me in Ife said he would make my life better if I got information about you for him, and if I didn’t I would disappear. I was scared, Zach, please” she said fingers snapping. She’d never faced a gun before, had no inkling he had one.
“Who does he work for?”
“He didn’t tell me” she said sobbing.
“So, you thought it best to sell me out? You couldn’t warn me?”
“I’m sorry, Zach. I was confused and scared” Now she was dancing as if pressed. He almost found it amusing. Almost.
“You came to my office with a recording device, no?” he asked.
She nodded. Now the tears were flowing in torrents.
“I should kill you, Seyi. For your stupidity”
“Ha! Jesu gbami” she cried.
“Shut up” he barked. He listened for a bit, he thought he’d heard something.
He put his hand in his pocket and gave her an envelope “Here’s 50k. Leave everything and run as far as you can. If they find you, that’s on you” he said, lowered the pistol and walked back into the room.
He watched as Seyi hurriedly got into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt he remembered buying her.
He stood behind her as she unlocked the door.
“Back inside” a voice ordered from the doorway.
Zach found himself face to face with his tail. The man had the advantage over him, pistol pointing at Zach who had already put his pistol away.
A whimpering Seyi walked back into the room.
“You, face to the wall and keep your hands where I can see them” he said to Zach, then “You, get over there” he said to Seyi, pointing at a spot between the bed and the cupboard.
They both obeyed.
“Fucking hell!” Zach swore under his breath.