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“Hey” Zaneta heard Alice’s voice.
She looked up to find her friend smiling knowingly at her from the door.
“Thought you left immediately” Zaneta said.
“I did, came back for my slippers. Can’t do an extra minute in these heels” Alice replied.
“Pele” Zaneta said, not laughing like Alice had expected.
“Saw Zach driving out” Alice said
Zaneta said nothing.
“You guys resolved?”
Again Zaneta didn’t reply.
Alice sighed, walked into the office and took a seat.
“Pray, tell me, why are you so mad at him?”
“I don’t know, Alice” she said, rubbing her temples.
“Babe, you need to manage your expectations. Has this ever happened? I mean, according to you he has always been available when he said he would. Believe me, in today’s world, that’s a lot” Alice said trying to reason with her younger friend.
“Yeah” Zaneta replied.
“I think I know what’s wrong”
“What?” Zaneta asked smiling.
“You have fallen in love with him” Alice announced.
There was some silence as it sunk in. It had always been there lurking in the recesses of her mind – the thought of the possibility – but she had never confronted it. But Alice had now hit her with it like a Mack truck and it sucked the breath out of her.
“As much as I’d love to deny that, I think it’s true. And it’s annoying”, she sighed.
“Yes. I sorta feel it’s not right. He’s not right. No one is that right”
“Are you psychotic? Or some kinda girl that’s been so hurt by deceit that she just can’t see the good in anyone? Or you don’t believe you deserve better than your last?” Alice said, knowing she was on thin ice. But she had to be honest with her friend.
Zaneta sighed. “It feels right and wrong all at once. I’m confused. And I hate myself for being such a mess”
Alice rose and went around the desk to hug Zaneta.
“See, don’t over-think this. Just take it one day at a time. You guys are already off to a great start. I might be wrong but isn’t this the first time he’s done wrong?”
“It is” Zaneta replied.
Alice withdrew, picked up her bag, made it all the way to the door before saying “Wouldn’t you like to be given a second chance?”
The next day, Zaneta made an effort to round up work. She left the office for 5:25pm and headed straight for the Island.
She arrived at his office and hoped she would meet him at work. If he was really how he portrayed himself to be – work engrossed, he would still be at work now. This was pretty awkward for her – coming here to broach a truce, but she had admitted to herself that she had overstepped with her treatment of him the day before. Since he had left her office yesterday, she had not heard a word from him. Of course she had expected that. She only just hoped it was not too late to make up.
She had come prepared.
At the reception, she smiled her most charming smile at Clarisa who greeted her equally warmly.
“Is Zach in?” she asked.
“Yes, ma” Clarisa replied reaching for the intercom, “I’ll just buzz to let him know you are here” she added.
“Oh! No, please, that won’t be necessary. Help me preserve my surprise” she pleaded with a wink.
“Of course, ma” Clarisa said with a knowing smile. She replaced the intercom.
“Thank you, darling. And this is for you” Zaneta said, slipping a buffet voucher she had gotten at work across the table to Clarisa.
“Thank you, ma” Clarisa said with a bright smile as she deftly slipped the voucher into her bag. “You can find your way, no?” she asked, rising to her feet.
“Sure. Thank you” Zaneta said and headed for the elevators.
Clarisa watched the elevator doors shut Zaneta in as it prepared to whisk her to the appropriate floor, then she pushed a button underneath her desk.
Zach heard the buzzer and sat up. He had been on a call with Malik. Malik had found someone in Senator Danbazau’s camp, a staff in his campaign office, they could likely lean on for information, especially information of the financial nature.
Zack punched a few keys on his computer and pulled up the camera feeds from the elevators. He found what Clarisa was warning him about without needing a closer look. One more keystroke and the screen returned to his desktop.
“This is good” Zach said to Malik on the phone.
“Yes. If we can hurt the money, we can really hurt them” Malik said.
Zach understood what they would go after was a list of campaign fund contributors. Then comb the list for people they can flip or decommission. It was almost impossible to win an election in such a huge and diverse nation without an almost limitless campaign fund. It was a game of numbers.
“True” he replied. But his mind had now shifted of its own accord to an ascending elevator and its occupant.
“I’ll let you know when I make contact” Malik said.
“Standing by” Zach said and rung off.
He rose, put the phone down and crossed the room in quick strides. He unlocked the door and went back to his seat at his desk, picked up the day’s newspaper and put his feet up.
A few seconds later, he heard a slight rap on the door.
“Yeah? It’s open” he called out from behind the newspaper.
He heard the door open and shut. Then he smelt her perfume. A knot formed in his chest. He wasn’t mad at her, he was half sad, half glad she had come.
He really liked her now, he knew that. But what was coming her way was going to be quite unpalatable and he would be its conduit. He really wished she stayed away from him, he would be glad to report, for the first time, that he had failed his mission. Yes, he liked her that much. In the same vein, he was glad she hadn’t left his world for good.
“Hey, Boss” she said standing before his desk.
Slowly he put the paper down. He was torn between saying “You really should have stayed away” and “I’m so glad you are here”. He instead went for a safe “Hey, you” with a small smile.
“You don’t look surprised” she said, still standing. Usually, by now, she’d have plunked herself in the sofa and he would be on his way to join her.
“Your perfume” he quickly said before she could think about it.
“Yeah. But aren’t you surprised you smelt it at all in the first place?” she pressed.
He rose. “Please, sit down, Zaneta” he said.
She felt a twinge of guilt as she sat. He resumed his seat after she was seated.
“See, I’m sorry about my outburst and how I treated you yesterday. I really am” she said.
“That’s all gone now, I’m just mighty pleased to see you. Maybe I’m not surprised because I have been willing it all day” he said with a smile. The knot in his chest was still there.
“Why are you being so gracious?” she asked, meeting his gaze directly for the first time since she arrived unannounced.
“Because some things are worth putting my hurt and pride aside for” he replied still smiling.
“Thank you” she said, almost ashamed of herself but glad she had resolved this and he had not made it hard for her one bit.
“Thank you too. Hungry?” he asked.
“Not yet. And let me not lie, I came for your pasta” she said making him laugh.
“In that case, we must leave” he said rising to his feet and picking up his jacket. “Mission resumed!” he thought.
She smiled and rose too. She almost said “I love you”. She bit on her tongue and stopped herself. A friend back in University had told her “You either tell him or show him, never both!” She would rather just show him.
They had eaten and drank and were lying together in silence on the rug in Zach’s living room when he suddenly spoke.
“Why were you so mad, though?” he asked.
“I dunno” she shrugged.
“Sure?” he pressed.
“Maybe because the last time a man started with the work excuses for disappearing and unavailability, was the beginning of the end of the relationship”
“OK” was his quiet reply. “I’ll never take you for granted. I need you to understand that”
She nodded and snuggled closer.
“And I also need you to know there’s no ‘She’ out there” he said kissing her.
“Sure?” she asked, being naughty.
“No, I’m not sure” he said, tickling her and making her scream.
“I didn’t even gist you” Zaneta said as she and Alice had lunch in Alice’s office.
It had been about a week since she reconciled with Zack and things had been ok. He was out of town again for work but she had made her peace with that.
“Yeah?” Alice replied then sipped from her mug.
“Kunle called me a while back”
“Ok?” Alice asked, interested.
“He went on and on about how one person can think another is out of his league then perspectives change and blah blah”
“Bottom line, he is considering” she stressed the ‘considering’, “proposing to Jade on her birthday”
“Huh? Which Jade?”
“Which other Jade?” Zaneta fired back laughing.
“O ma gaa o” Alice said, making Zaneta laugh some more.
“Abeg, don’t make me spill my food” Zaneta managed. “Wait, so you guys don’t know?”
“I don’t. Maybe his padi does”
“Ah! Cos he expressly mentioned you and Bode being there”
“Then guess the icing on the cake”
“Mba! I won’t even try. I can’t get on his wavelength” Alice gave up. Zaneta could not stop laughing.
“He wants me to bring Max-Tee along for it” Zaneta finally announced.
“Choi! I haff die!” Alice shouted.
Both ladies burst out in uncontrollable laughter. They didn’t notice the door open.
“What are you guys laughing so hard about?” they suddenly heard Febi speak from the door. Beside her was the IT guy, Mr. Benson.
“Girl talk” Alice said, shutting down.
Zaneta smiled. She knew Alice had an issue with Mr. Benson.
“Zaneta, you good?” Febi asked.
Zaneta nodded. She had noticed Febi had gone just a little softer on her since the revelation of how she was related to Dr. Moloku.
“Mr. Benson is here to take a look at the printer” Febi announced.
“Finally” Alice said sarcastically. Got up, packed her partly eaten meal and left the room.
“Excuse me” Zaneta said with a smile, did the same and left.
When they finally settled in Zaneta’s office, Alice asked, “So, will you bring Max-Tee?”
“No be only Max-Tee, na Banky” Zaneta said with a hiss.
“In other news, Zach and I are planning a getaway”
“Hmm….. Nice one”
“He wants a whole week, I can only do a weekend, And that sef has to be with plenty planning ahead”
“A whole week? Abi he sef wan propose?” Alice said, laughing.
“I doubt it. I know he likes me a lot, but to propose? Maybe much later if he is still around”
“You sound quite pessimistic, I must say”
“I don’t know why” she said, “maybe Edith’s stupid dreams?” she thought.
Alice sighed. “You need to let go of your past, babe” Alice admonished.
“I’m trying. But this feels more like something else” she said, contemplating whether to tell Alice about Edith’s dreams when there was a knock on the door.
“You have a delivery” Gladys said, peeking into the office.
“Bring it” Zaneta said flatly.
“OK” Gladys said and disappeared.
She reappeared a moment later with a box and a sheet for her to sign.
Zaneta signed and handed the sheet back. She didn’t touch the box until Gladys had left the room.
“From him?” Alice asked.
“I guess” Zaneta said and began to open the parcel. “Wow!” she said as took the wrapper off.
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“An Apple watch” she said. Just then her phone beeped.
It was a message from Zach:
“Choose any weekend next month.
I really want this.
I hope you like your gift“
“How did he know-” she left off as the answer to her question struck her.
“Know what?” Alice asked.
“I was going to ask how he knew I had received the gift” she said, getting back to unboxing her present.
“Delivery notification” Alice said.
“Yup” Zaenta agreed, picking up the watch itself. It was a beautiful white piece.
“This is really nice” Alice said, “and here you are forming reluctant”.
“We are going. He has accepted to do a weekend”
“Oh? Great. When?”
Zach sat across from the lady as she scribbled out an account number. She was a single mother and used to be an auditor in one of the most prestigious accounting firms on the continent. But she had gotten pregnant for one of her bosses – a married man, shit had hit the fan and the guy had thrown her under the bus. She had been dismissed while he stayed on to become a Managing Partner. For a while she had been out of work and had later volunteered to work on Senator Danbazau’s campaign team almost 5 years ago.
They had realised she was an asset and soon she became a full time staff and then a staff on the Senator’s team when he assumed office after a landslide victory.
Today, she sat across from Zach because she had plans of her own. They had looked into her and learned a few things. She would be very useful.
“I need to know why” Zach said as he took the piece of paper containing the account number from her.
“Why what?” she asked. She had only agreed to meet him here in a hotel room after repeated assurances that she would be protected.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why do you ask?”
“It is important I know why so we can adequately ensure it is taken care of” he said. He knew Malik and the Abuja team were listening in the next room.
“My son” she said after a long time contemplating.
“Ok?” Zach said, realising it wasn’t political. “Much better” he thought.
“That sick bastard wants to take my son from me. After all he has done to me. I need the money to fight back” she said.
“We know all about Mr. Odebode and the relationship between you two” Zach said with a smile that said “Trust me”.
She looked closely at him, but said nothing.
“Henry has the best mother he could ever hope for. And now that you have chosen to work with us, he will remain exactly where the love is – with you, his mum”
“How-” she was saying.
“Dorah, relax. Going forward, we are on your side in this fight. No one will take Henry from you”
“Thank you” she said, looking away, then “promise me we will be safe. I have no interest in politics, in fact it disgusts me. I only work there because I need to take care of my son”
“I understand this is nothing personal for you. Just for the money, right?” Zach asked.
“That’s it” she said, suddenly letting some strength show.
“Great. You and your son will be kept safe” Zach said and rose.
“I’ll take my leave now” she said rising too.
“When do I expect the list?”
“24 hours after the first instalment”
“Tomorrow night” Zach said, then added “Check your account when you get home”
“I will. Thank you, Zach”
“A pleasure” Zach said opening the door for Dorah’s exit.
The moment he shut the door, he called the next room. “Keep an eye on her. Round the clock” he said when he heard someone pick up.
“Do you believe her?” Malik asked.
They were sitting together in Zach’s hotel room discussing their progress.
“The facts are facts. I can’t say I really know her motives, she might not be totally sure herself. But if she won’t dump us at the slightest sign of resistance is a different matter” Zach analysed.
“Or give us away” Malik added.
“We’ll take our chances, won’t we?” Zach said.
“How about Zaneta?”
“Going well. We leave in 3 weeks”
“Second week of the new month?” Malik asked.
“Second weekend” Zach clarified, “she accepted today”
“What did that cost you?” Malik said, laughing.
“It’s not always about money, bro” Zach said.
Malik nodded. He didn’t like that angle one bit.
“Let’s stick around till we get the list tomorrow night” Zach said, going back to Dorah.
“That’s better” Malik agreed.
Malik and Zach poured over print outs of the list of campaign funders for the Danbazau/Moloku ticket.
Dorah had come through and they had sent her the rest of her money.
As they both looked through their copies, often one person or the other will call out a name. Mostly names they recognised but were surprised to find on the list. The others were either expected to be on it or unknowns. This was not the list the public will ever find. This went way deeper. Over 60% of the names on this list would not want word to get out as to what they were doing. A good number too were also funding the Incumbent ticket.
“Two-Timers” Zach thought shaking his head. “More like insurance, though” he accepted.
They were still going through it when Malik got a call. He spoke for a minute and Zach could tell who it was on the line – Retired General Aliu.
“He says we get on a bird and bring the list. He’s assembling a team to do the leg work. We are also to highlight the ones we think we can flip or neutralise” Malik said after the call ended.
“Yup. Expected that” Zach said, pulling on his shoes and beginning to pack up his stuff.
“It’s going to be a long night” Malik said, exiting the room.
It was another 36 hours before Zach left for his own home.
They had flown back, that night, to Lagos, been whisked to meet Aliu and 4 other guys and they had worked on strategy going forward.
Aliu had sought Zach’s opinion on a few issues, one being if they should leave Dorah alone.
“She gave me her word and I gave her mine. And we might need her for more stuff. I think if we press her some more there could be something juicier to find. Anyways, I’m having her watched” he had said.
7 names had been identified to be contacted by the team. They were to either make them stop the funding of the Opposition ticket or be taken out. That was the first phase.
But Zach had been exempted from the mission, he was to focus on Zaneta. For this he was glad, but had not shown it.
He sent a text to her before he hit the bath saying he was finally home and had missed her.
She texted back that she would swing by after work.
“Hello, Dad” Zaneta greeted Dr. Moloku. It had been a while she had meet him in the house.
“How are you, Ogechi? How was work today?”
“Fine Dad. How’s the campaign trail?” she asked taking a seat beside him.
“God has been faithful” he said with a satisfied smile.
“I’m happy for you” she said hugging him.
“I should be preparing for the ANTV sponsored VP debate on the 13th” he said, “but I need a few days to rest first” he said.
“13th? I guess I’ll be watching it with Alice”
“Alice?” he asked.
“Yes, naa. My friend that recently got married”
“Oh! Where will you both be watching from?” he asked, knowing this was leading somewhere.
“We are going on a road trip”
“To?” he asked
“We were planning on visiting a tourist destination. Still trying to decide on which will be the most fun and least stress” she lied glibly. There was no way she was telling her uncle she was going away for the weekend with a man.
“Is her husband going with you?” he asked.
“That’s the plan, Sir” another lie rolled off her lips.
“Whatever you people decide, keep Tunji in the loop. I don’t want you girls wandering off without someone at least looking out for you”
“Dadddddddd! We are adults o! Alice is a married woman o!”
“Do you watch the news, Ogechi?”
Zaneta made no reply. She knew what he was talking about – the rising cases of kidnapping and election incised violence breaking out across the country.
“The polity is really heated, no thanks to the present leaders who do not want to relinquish power even in the face of their own abject failure and the clamour for change from the electorate”
“I understand, Dad”
“As yet, the best I can do is doing whatever it takes to keep me and mine safe. By the grace of God in a few months, we will be in office and we can begin to correct the rot. So, please, don’t think I’m trying to spoil your fun. Just do as I have told you or stay here”
“Yes, Dad. I know it is because you love me”
“I’m happy you know”
“When is mum coming home?”
“Why don’t you ask her, Ogechi?”
“Ok, Dad, I will”
Dr. Moloku shook his head as Zaneta left his side. He would never be able to make the two most important women in his life truly live as one.
Zaneta sat on her bed. “It is time” she surmised.
She picked up her phone with a sigh and hit Zach’s number, it was never too far down on her call log. She checked the time on her wrist watch as the phone rang, she was wearing the white Apple Watch he had gotten her like she had done most days since she got it.
“Hello” his voice came over the line.
“Hi” she said.
“There’s something I need to tell you, Zach” she said.