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Zach hated this guy already.
His voice was scratchy and annoying to the ears, his cologne was repugnant and assaulted Zach’s nostrils. But he was smart and a worthy adversary, that, Zach would concede.
“He must have an informant here” Zach thought, “How did I manage to overlook that possibility?“
Both men had starred each other in the eyes. Zach had seen the man had the eyes of one without remorse and would kill without one thought about it.
“So, Zach we meet again” the man said
“The pleasure’s all mine, Mr…..?” Zach said, trying to get under his skin.
“You don’t need my name, son. I have heard lots about you”
“Surely a bastard like you has no sons, but if you do, I hope you’ve said your farewells” Zach said looking over at Seyi to his left whimpering in the corner.
“You talk a big game. It’s allowed. I have seen your works. And that’s why I am here” the man said
“If this is a friendly chat, how about I put my hands down and we can talk better?”
“Keep your hands up, Zach” he said moving his aim from Zach’s back to his head.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“What about it?”
“I need the information on the Prof’s hard drive”
Zach laughed, “You could just have mailed me” he added thinking back to the hard drives, he had wiped one and left one intact, but had left both in the safe. He had not made a copy of the one he wiped. This dude had come, clearly, for that information. He didn’t have it, he’d have to bluff.
“Well, I’m here now. Feel free to refund my transport fare” the man said. Zach hated him even more.
“How much are you offering for it?” Zach asked.
“How much is your life worth to General Aliu?” he replied mentioning Zach’s boss’ name.
“This guy knows too much” Zach thought, “You might have to ask him” he replied with a shrug.
“Where’s the stuff you copied off the HDD, Zach? Before you wiped it”
“In my house” Zach lied. He had just created an impossible situation for the man. Two hostages and many miles to cover in a crowded city. That was the first move he could think of.
“Ok. Here’s what we are going to do. You will give Seyi your keys. She will go get your laptop while you and I get to know each other better” the man replied stepping out of line of Zach’s imaginary move.
“I have no interests, whatsoever in getting to you know you” Zach replied. The fact that this man could trust Seyi to go and return without raising an alarm meant he really had her in a fix.
“That’s fine” he said as he moved up to Zach and pressed the pistol’s barrel into Zach’s back while he took Zach’s pistol out of its holster.
As the man made to slip Zach’s pistol into his pants, Zach saw his chance – he spun out away from the pointed pistol, landing his left elbow to the man’s left temple, then a downward chop with his right hand on the hand that held the pistol. The pistol went off silently before dropping to the floor. The man staggered slightly to the right.
Zach could smell the expended gun power in the air as he faced the man properly. The man had regained his balance and came at Zach with a roundhouse punch with his left hand. Zach saw it coming and stepped in closer, avoiding the fist while protecting his right side with a raised arm.
The man was an experienced fighter, he saw what Zach was doing and quickly followed up with a right uppercut that caught Zach squarely on the jaw sending him reeling backwards a good five steps. Zach was trying to regain his balance when a foot came crashing into his chest sending him halfway across the room.
The man reach into his pants and pulled out Zach’s pistol, “Now, we were saying?” he said pointing it at Zach’s chest.
From the corner of his eye, Zach saw Seyi raise her arms together, “Gun?” he thought, but before he could catch what Seyi was doing, the man had swung his gun hand and fired. He heard the pop of the silenced shot. Zach looked in time to see a pistol drop from Seyi’s hands. Apparently she had picked up the pistol that fell during the scuffle and was trying to either shoot or make the man freeze. Whatever it was, it had backfired.
It all seemed to happen in slow-motion, the spreading red stain on the front of Seyi’s T-shirt, the pistol clattering to the floor for a second time, Seyi crumbling from her kneeling position and onto her side, the man’s gun hand swinging back towards Zach…
Zach leapt at him.
The surprise and force combined knocked the man off his feet. Both men travelled about half the room, over the centre table with Zach landing on top.
The man had once again lost the pistol in the attack but had immediately gone for Zach’s throat with both hands. Zach brought his left ankle close enough to reach, pulled out a switch blade with his left hand and sunk it ferociously in the man’s right side. He took it out instantly with his right hand, the man’s eyes widened in pain as Zach stabbed the man again, this time, in the left side.
The man’s hands fell away from Zach’s throat as he began to gargle and blood showed up in his nostrils. Zach twisted the blade before withdrawing it forcefully.
Zach got off him and rushed to Seyi’s side. A quick look then he rushed into the bathroom, got a towel, folded it up and brought it to her. He placed it over the bullet wound, “Hold on to this. Don’t let up on the pressure” he said.
He got up and went back to the man who was now crawling for the door. He grabbed him by the back of his pants’ waist and stabbed him again just below the neck and held the knife there keeping the man in place. Now blood was gushing out of his nose and mouth.
“Who the fuck are you?” Zach whispered.
The man coughed chocking on his own blood. Zach pulled the knife out and turned him around, intent on getting some information out of him.
“Who are you?” he asked again, now with the knife to the man’s jugular, “I’ll kill you, man”
The man coughed, laughed a bit, coughed some more, then said “You are a dead man, Zach!” before even louder and bloody coughing.
“Save me! Zach, please, don’t let me die” Seyi suddenly cried, reminding Zach of her condition.
Zach got up, picked up the hotel room phone and carried it to Seyi, he dialled reception and when it began to ring, he handed her the receiver. She took it with a shaky hand.
“Call for help. I was never here” he said looking into her eyes “you understand?” he asked as he rose after a kiss to her forehead. She nodded with tears still flowing down her eyes.
He kicked the man’s pistol under the bed, picked up his, stepped over the man’s body and exited the room.
“Help me!” Seyi screamed into the receiver as Zach shut the door behind him.
He left as he had come, through a service entrance. As he rushed along, his head banging, someone opened a door, almost running into him.
“I beg your pardon, Sir” a young male hotel staff apologised, moving aside to let Zach through.
Zach said nothing, keeping his pace and direction.
The walk to the car, his drive home and making his way to his apartment seemed to have taken ages, but he was finally in his bath, under a running shower.
His jaw was tender and his chest hurt. He’d not been this evenly matched in a long time. Too many things bothered him about the night that had just ended.
Who was the guy? How did he know about Ife and everything else for that matter? How had he found Seyi? And what did he have on Seyi? Was he working alone or with a team? How much had the informant known? Would Seyi make it?
“Faaaaaaccckkkkkk!” he shouted in the shower.
“Think! Think!!”Think!!!” he urged himself, but the pain would not let his brain be productive.
“Why did he say I was dead while he seemed quite glad to be dying?”
Now he regretted not making a copy of that disk before erasing it. He hadn’t run a simple “format” command, he’d run an advanced overwrite software on it that he’d gotten from a friend in Army Intelligence. He was sure there was no way anyone could get back anything that was on it.
It did seem these folks thought he had the content. He hadn’t even bothered going in-depth. The moment he had ascertained it was the right external HDD, he had simply begun the process while doing other things on his laptop.
“Shit” he said as he dried off with a towel.
There were people out there willing to kill and blackmail to get the information he had erased, following his orders to the letter.
He took a pain killer with a can of energy drink then placed a call to the head of security of the buildings in his care – his home and office inclusive, asking that security doubled – men and dogs – until he said otherwise.
That done, he called their contact in the Police Force asking for information on a shooting in a hotel room on the island. He purposely left out specifics. A few minutes later she told him what he needed to know – Seyi was alive and was in the theatre in a government facility on the Island. She hadn’t given any useful information, but a dead man had been found in her room with multiple stab injuries. He was yet unidentified.
“Thank You” Zach had said after getting the address of the hospital, then hung up.
He got in bed, turned off his alarm and typed out a message to Zaneta:
“Excited about tomorrow“
sent it, turned off his phone and shut his eye.
He wondered if he should tell Malik about what had happened.
He knew the standard procedure. Once an operative began taking heat from past jobs, he had to go under till the heat blew over. That meant he’d be pulled off his present assignments. He couldn’t have that. He couldn’t have someone else handle Zaneta, no!
“Find a way” he murmured.
He’ll put all of his resources into this from tomorrow. But for now, he’d rest.
He let sleep pull him under.
Zaneta drove to work in her car and alone for the first time in a long time.
Of course she knew the car had a tracker and all of the security that her uncle’s people could get. But at least she was alone and could go anywhere, anytime without having anyone babysit her.
Well, not exactly anytime. She had to clear that with the powers that be.
“Nice car” Gladys said as she walked in.
Zaneta rolled her eyes. “Gladys, Joel is not here today, can I pass in peace?” she said to Gladys who was standing in her way grinning.
“You came alone, what’s up?” Gladys pressed.
“Why don’t you let me be and call your boyfriend”
“He’s not my boyfriend” Gladys countered.
“Yimu!” Zaneta said and pushed past Gladys.
As she sat at her desk she looked through her phone. There were numerous notifications. “The disadvantage of driving” she said to herself. She had no plans to text while behind the wheels. Aside the danger of a road traffic accident, there were corrupt punitive traffic police and officials looking to pounce on drivers who used their phones behind the wheels.
First she called Zach. She’d woken up to find an SMS from him, had tried calling back but his number was unavailable. And it was still so now.
“That’s odd” she thought.
There was a “Please, call me” text from Edith. She called her.
“Hey” she said when Edith picked up.
“Zaneta, good morning”
“Good morning, Edith”
“Is there a problem, Zaneta?”
“Yes. You never acknowledge my messages, not in anyway. I’ll send you a message and just wait and wait for a response and weeks will go by without one”
“I’m very busy, Edith”
“We all are, Zaneta. That’s what adulting is about – busyness”
“Adulting” Zaneta thought. Where had she seen that term before? “I’m sorry, ma” she said.
A few moments of awkward silence passed between them. Whatever Edith was doing was beginning to get to her – hearing the older woman’s soft breath over the phone was unsettling in some way.
Zaneta broke the silence “How’s Sebastian?”
“On admission for 2 days now” Edith said.
“Oh? I’m sorry. What happened?”
“Malaria and an infection”
“Which hospital? Are you there with him?”
“Same one on my road. I came home to get some sleep. The doctor insisted”
“I’m sorry. Why didn’t you-” she left off, biting her lips.
“Call you?” Edith asked, coming back to her unavailability. “Well, I wasn’t sure you’d take my call. Thought it best to send you a ‘call me’ and wait till you’d find the time”
“I would have” Zaneta said.
“Well…” Edith left off.
“I’m at work now, I’ll drop by after work if you guys are still at the hospital” she said and almost slapped herself after.
Edith kept quiet for a moment, said “Ok” and hung up.
Zaneta held the phone to her ear listening to the beeps, thinking about what she had just done. The last line hadn’t come out right one bit. She exhaled.
Zach was skipping his morning workout.
He was having a cereal and some juice for breakfast and had been on the phone with Bizi all morning. They had found what Private Security outfit the man from the hotel room worked with. That only served to underline the fact that they were an independent body in this for the money. Nothing personal. But who had hired him? They couldn’t tell.
“Do you have any contacts inside?”
“Inside AlphaTrag? Are you insane? Do you even know these guys?” Bizi screamed.
“I danced with one last night. He’s on a slab now” Zach said calmly.
“Zach, listen. You are like a brother to me. You may not be lucky next time. I don’t know what went down last night and honestly I don’t want to know, but I know security agencies are buzzing about it and I bet my ass AlphaTrag won’t take it lying down. These guys are Israeli and Russian trained. They have not lost a man in years. Whoever has them on your tail wants you dead real bad”
“Not dead. He had more than his fair chance to kill me, he didn’t”
“What did he want?”
Zach pondered for a moment. “Does your brother still live in Yaba?”
“Come on Zach, don’t be like that. I’ll never sell you out”
“He wanted information”
“I think I do”
“It’s worse than you think”
“I don’t have it”
“You don’t have the info?”
“But they think you do”
“Yes. I would feel the exact same way if I were them”
“Shit” Bizi said
“Yeah, shit” Zach agreed, fingering his sore jaw. He could not recall ever taking a punch like the one the guy had dished him at the hotel. “Fucking Jack-2” he thought.
“I’ll keep digging, hopefully you all can settle this like gentlemen” Bizi said.
Zach laughed, almost spilling his juice. “You really should stop watching cartoons”
He called the office.
“Clarisa. I’m out of town. Call me if anything urgent AND important comes up. Thank you” he said and hung up.
Zaneta didn’t like how her heels clicked on the tiled hospital floor as she headed to Sebastian’s room with a bag full of goodies and 3 bright balloons.
At the door, she knocked quietly and waited.
Edith opened the door looking tired.
“Hey” Zaneta said
“Hey. Come in” Edith said, taking the items off Zaenta’s hands. “Thank you” she added.
“How’s he?” Zaneta asked looking at Sebastian, who was asleep with a line in his arm.
“Getting better” Edith said, trying to tie the balloons to the foot of the bed.
“Let me help you with those” Zaneta said, brushing fingers with Edith as she took the balloons from her and tied them to the top of the IV stand instead. A spot Edith could not reach without climbing. “Why was that so charged?” she thought about their brief contact.
“Thank you” Edith said, taking a seat on an empty bed across from Sebastian’s.
Zaneta took the chair and sat quietly.
“How’s work?” Edith asked after some minutes of silence.
“Work’s work. How are you holding up?”
“Good, I guess. What choice do I have?” Edith replied
Zaneta smiled as the silence returned.
After a while, she stole a look at her watch, it was 5:46pm and she still had to drive back to the island to meet Zach at work.
A few seconds later Edith asked “How did you come?”
“Drove down” she replied “Is this a good time to tell her I got a car?” Zaneta wondered.
“Whenever you are set, I’ll like to ride with you to the top of the road, need to get some stuff”
“No wahala. Won’t be long now, I still have to get back to the island”
“No” Zaneta replied but holding back a clarification as to why she was going to drive back to the island when her house was in the GRA, Ikeja; and it wasn’t for work.
“In that case, I suggest you get going. You have a long drive ahead”
Zaneta laughed a little “Not like I’m driving to Sokoto”. She noticed Edith didn’t as much as crack a smile as she got up.
“Shall we?” Edith asked, “Don’t worry, he’ll be asleep for some time” she added when Zaneta shot a worried lock at her sleeping son.
“Ok” Zaneta said, picked up her bag and rose as well.
At the car, Edith asked “This is new?”
“Yeah. Belated birthday present”
“That’s nice. I’m happy for you” Edith replied with a smile.
They drove in silence till Edith indicated her stop. Zaneta pulled into the parking lot of the store.
“Thank you for coming. I’ll let him know you came”
“I have missed him. Wish him a speedy recovery for me” Since their break up, Zaneta had made it a point to either attend the first service and leave immediately after or stay home on Sundays. That way, she had never run into Edith or her son in church.
“I will. Thank you”
“Here, this is for you – the bills and all” Zaneta said handing Edith N20,000 in an envelope, “please, manage it” she added feeling awkward.
Edith pause for a while, Zaneta prayed she would not reject the money. She didn’t know why she had such fears.
“Thank you, Zaneta” Edith said, taking the envelope.
“I’ll call you” Zaneta said, with a dismissive hand gesture for the thanks.
“Wish you’d stay the night” Edith said opening her door while looking into Zaneta’s eyes.
“I could swing by tomorrow after work, but I have to be on the island this evening”
“Date?” Edith asked.
Edith nodded, made to exit the car, changed her mind and instead moved in for what Zaneta expected was a peck. It was a kiss full on her lips. She had to pull up all of her will power to resist kissing her back.
“We are in public, Edith” she almost said, but kept mum instead.
“See you tomorrow” Edith said and exited the vehicle.
Zaneta watched her walk into the store, picked up her phone and texted Zach she was on her way before she got back on the road.
She’d not gone a few meters when he called her back. She took the call using her car’s Bluetooth call function.
“Hello, Sir” she said
“Where are you?”
“I’m on my way. Driving” It sounded so good.
“Just leaving Maryland. Went to see someone at the hospital”
“Oh! Ok, let me not keep you on the phone too long. Can you find your way to the house?”
“Eeerrrmm, I guess”
“When in doubt, use google maps”
“This your new found humility. Are you compensating for the pride you feel from the new car?” he said laughing.
“I hate you” she said, laughing too.
“Feeling’s mutual” he said
“See you soon” he said and hung up.
He called the Police informant again getting updates on Seyi and the guy at the hotel. Seyi was out of surgery but was in critical condition, they had reached out to her folks and they had come. Concerning the dead guy from the hotel room, they still had no clue who he was.
He sent a text to Bizi:
In a second his reply came back:
“Give me till the morning“
Zach paced around his house. “This is getting interesting” he thought.
He opened the door for her then kissed her long and deep, pushing his concerns aside.
“Uhhhhh, am I safe?” she said catching her breath.
“Mummy Raiden. I have missed you” he said leading her into the living room.
She couldn’t help smiling, “This guy!” she thought, and then asked “When did you get home?”
“Haven’t left the house today”
“Nothing. Day off” he lied.
“So, what have you been doing?” she asked as she sat where he indicated.
“Playing game, cooking, resting” he replied, helping her take her shoes off.
“You and games. I sha want to be like you when I grow up”
“Trust me, you don’t want to” he said, meaning it with all his heart.
“Now, who’s being humble in the face of a valid source of pride?” she asked stressing the valid. She touched his head as her second shoe came undone.
“You just sit tight, let me get you what I made for you” he said rising to his feet.
“What did you make?”
“Pasta like you have never had” He bragged.
“Uhmmm! Daddy Raiden, the romantic” she teased as he disappeared into the kitchen.
They had eaten and he was showing her how to play Grand Theft Auto.
“See, I will never pass this stage” Zaneta lamented dropping her pad.
“Babe, it’s not that difficult”
“Maybe because I’m too full” she said rubbing her tommy. She had enjoyed the food and had an extra helping.
“I warned you. Are you planning on showing me the car, though?” he asked with his boyish smile.
“Oya, let’s go” she said straining to rise.
He laughed, then gave her a helping hand, but not without stealing a kiss.
“It’s curious how you have never really told me what you want with this” she said, making a ‘you and me’ hand gesture as they got in the elevator.
“Patience, darling” he said kissing her again.
She sighed. “One day, I will acquire the power to resist you”
“Until then….” he said kissing her some more.
They looked at the car, he drove it around the neighbourhood a bit and then came back to the parking lot.
“Real sweet” he kept saying, “You’ve got great taste” he added looking over the car one last time.
“Thank you for your help too” she said throwing an arm around his neck as they made their way to the elevators.
A security guard walked a watchdog past the couple. He nodded a greeting at Zach who nodded back.
Back in the apartment while Zaneta got comfortable on the terrace, Zach went into the house and returned with a bottle of wine, some chocolates and one glass. In addition, he brought her gift.
“Awwwwww! I love it” she cooed, as he gave her the clutch purse.
“I’m glad you like it. Purposely chose red to match the car”
“Oh! I sent you pictures of the final contenders” she said grinning.
“Thanks, dear” she said as he poured a drink.
“Thought about our little holiday?” he said, took a sip from the glass before passing it to her.
“Actually, yes. We need to sync dates. I’m assuming it’s a weekend, yeah?”
“I was thinking a week” he said smiling.
“How about a month, Sir?” she said sarcasm dripping from every word.
“Why can’t you?” he asked, looking serious. He had to pull this off. Must.
“Dude! I live with my folks” she cried.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way” he said stretching out on the recliner next to hers.
“Easy for you to say, Zach”
“I’m sorry, hon, didn’t mean to press. Just think about it is all I ask” he said looking over at her.
She looked back at him, “I will” she said, passing him the glass
“Thank you” he said and took a sip.
Across the road in an office, someone put a call through
“Hello” a voice came across the line
“Mr. Tunji” he said, letting his binoculars drop to its hanging place around his neck.
“Confirmed. She’s with him”
“Affirmative” he replied.
The line went dead.