In an instant, Ella was in stark darkness.
And then something sounded like the rhythm of a furious percussion band in her head. Her heartbeat. Growing loud in her ears. Each one sounding perhaps twenty years after the previous one.
Everything happened in slow motion.
Like Ella was outside time. Within every second. Beyond each one. Like she could control time. Yet could not even touch it.
It could have been for a microsecond or a million years. And then it all cleared out.
Only her heartbeat drummed on.
The next sensation to register was the cold surface on her palms. Then she realized she was on all fours, her palms open on the cold hard floor.
How did I get here? She turned her head rightwards. Broken glass littered the floor around her.
“Get away, Pete…” a voice started, and then faded, then it came back with a bang, “…there’s a sniper out there.”
The events of the last few seconds came to Ella in torrents. The driver standing there. Before the toilet door. The red dot on his forehead.
The realization that he was probably going to die. The other guy leaving the holding office down the hall – Olai. The blasted skull. The bloodied gray matter splattered on the closed toilet door.
Everything picked speed from that point, happening fast. Every nuanced sound in the background coming to her. Footsteps running across halls. Doors opening and closing. An explosion from far away.
Screams. Indistinct voices.
“That’s where the sniper had shot from…” a voice said beside her.
“He’s destroying evidence…” another voice began and subsided.
Ella recognized where she was now. Just outside the anteroom. A hand held her left arm.
“Are you alright?” the voice said, she let the man – whoever he was – pull her to her feet, and he was gone by the time she murmured her thanks.
“Ella?” A voice came on in her head, rising above the relentless band that was her heartbeat. The cordless ear bud was still on.
“Yuri?” Ella called. Her mouth felt dry, tasting like a bricklayer’s face towel.
“No. It’s Pete. I think Yuri’s out. What is going on?”
“A prime suspect has escaped,” Ella screamed to no one in particular. “Seal the building. Olai is on the run.”
“Yeah.” Ella heard Pete say. Her head was banging still. She faced the corridor heading down to the operations room. The walls were wobbling. Dancing.
Ella shut her eyes once. Shook her head to the left and then to the right twice. Opened her eyes.
The hall had stopped break dancing.
Then she turned her head to the direction of the broken glass. Cool breeze came through the broken glass wall, washed over her face.
I saw the shooter. It was a woman.
Ella’s eyes settled on the house. Outside the SSS building, beyond the fence walls of the SSS premises, beyond the gates, on the other side of the street. One of the high buildings.
There was a fire on that roof now. The sniper had shot from there. The bastard had to still be somewhere around. And Olai as well.
Ella turned to the corridor, hurried down the hall. She got to the operations room. Pushed the door open. Got in. Her breaths were in sharp bursts now.
The place was dark.
“Shut down the building.” She screamed before her eyes had adjusted to the darkness in the room.
“Done.” Pete’s voice came at her from the darkness. Ella stood at the door, the thoughts going on and on in her head.
I just lost my most important chess piece yet. She brought her hand to her head. A waterfall of sweat drenched her fingers from her forehead. A slight headache registered again. Her fingers trembled against her forehead. And where the hell is Yuri?
“Yuri?” She called.
A grunt came on in her head. Yuri’s voice.
“Yeah?” he sounded grouchy. “Yeah, just a mo–” and the voice was gone.
“The sniper shot from across the street.”
“I know.” Ella said. “And I want men there at once.”
“An emergency response team is already on their way there as we speak.”
“And I want everything useful they find there.” Ella said.
“Got that.” Pete responded.
And something else occurred to Ella.
How did Olai know just when to get out of the building. He had overpowered Yuri. The timing had been perfect. And there was no way else it could have been a coincidence.
Olai is working with the shooter from across the street.
He had to.
Ella walked to her desk, “And I want Olai all over the news. He’s the prime suspect for the death of the senate president. He’s working together with a sniper. And he just escaped custody of the SSS.”
“On it.” Joanne’s voice came from the computer desk.
Ella sunk into her desk. Her head was hurting. She hated the hardness in her heart.
This is square one all over again. We have nothing. Absolutely nothing. No evidence whatsoever. No concrete thing. And the one piece of the puzzle, who could have told me everything, I just lost.
She closed her eyes. The pictures formed in the darkness on the insides of her eyelids, one replacing the other in quick succession.
The driver sitting in the interrogation room before she stepped in. He was going to ease himself. The anger on his face. The unease.
The pictures slowed down. Bruce opened his lips. The words. “The ring, I gave it away.”
Ella’s mind clicked. The guy had also said there was a video camera chip on the ring.
Did the sniper know there was a ring somewhere?
Why else would he target the driver?
Why else would he want the driver silenced? But how had the killer known that the driver was going to use the toilet at the time? Did Bruce plan it with the killer?
Ella shook her head. It all didn’t make any sense. Why would Bruce connive with a killer to have himself taken out? To protect a secret?
With his life?
This is even harder than I thought. Ella opened her eyes.
“What do you have about the driver at the airport?” she asked.
“He had a meeting.” Pete said. “At a restaurant.”
“Good.” Ella said. “You have a video?”
“One of the airport security cameras caught him.” Pete said. “I’m just having a little problem hacking into it. Will have it in a second.”
Ella bowed her head, closing her eyes again. It seemed to be the only idea that made sense. The driver had planned with the sniper to have himself killed. Was there some kind of higher power involved in all of this? All of the secrecy. For a piece of ring?
A secret cult of some kind?
“Because it had a video chip on it.” Bruce’s words came back to her.
But why would you give your life for a ring?
No answer came back this time.
No. That isn’t it. They could not have been working together. Ella remembered the fear he had seen on Bruce’s face. He had been scared for his life. He couldn’t have known he was going to be killed that soon.
And in that manner.
If he had known, and if he had consented to it, there would have been some kind of relief in him. When people decide to take their own lives, they usually stop being afraid of death. But there had been none of that whatsoever.
The driver didn’t know he was going to be killed. Period.
But how did the sniper know the driver was going to be using the toilet? How did he – no, wait, it was a woman – how did she even know that Bruce was in the SSS’s custody.
Ella raised her head when the next idea hit her. A creepy feeling swept down her spine.
Is there a mole in the SSS?
She got to her feet. Her eyes ran across the computer desk. Everyone seated around the table worked with their eyes focused on bright computer screens, fingers dancing over keyboards. Is there someone in this room who worked with the killer? Pete?
Joanne? She swept her eyes across the other men. Yuri?
Ella’s fist closed into hammers of fury.
How uncanny. Someone here feeds the sniper with information. Was that the guy who had met with the driver before we picked him up?
“Where’s my video, Pete?” Even Ella noticed the sharp bite in her voice.
“Almost have it.” Pete said.
That idea kept bouncing back. Something is not alright. Even if there is a mole – for which I don’t have any evidence right now – how had the killer known where to set up his weapons? How had she known that Bruce was going to use this particular toilet?
Okay. The mole could have told the assassin that. But why did Bruce need to use the toilet at the time he did?
Something is not right.
Unless he was part of them, which of course he didn’t seem to be, then someone had to have induced him to use the toilet somehow. A drug? Maybe in food?
The door creaked open. Yuri walked in.
He had a scowl on his face. Anger. His clothes looked disheveled. Olai must have done a number on him.
“Where is Essien?” Ella asked Yuri.
“He’s in his office.” There was a croak in
“Bruce is dead.” She said.
“I just saw the body.”
“Where is Essien’s team?”
“Working the scene right now.”
“And where’s Essien?”
Yuri took the empty seat at the computer table, a hard frown on his face.
“He’s in his lab.” He hissed.
Ella mind came back to the dilemma on her hand. Why would Bruce need to use the toilet at the exact same time he did.
“Did Bruce visit any office before getting set up in the interrogation room?”
“No.” Yuri said. “We brought him straight from the airport to the interrogation room.”
Okay. So he was not given anything.
Ella’s thought stopped in its track when the image came back to her. The man had been given a cup of coffee. She felt her heartbeat double, pounding in her head all of a sudden.
Ella got to her feet. She hurried out the door. Turned left. Down the corridor. Past the team working the scene where Bruce’s body had been. Through the door of the anteroom. She flung open the door of the interrogation room.
There it sat. The cup Bruce had used.
Standing there, staring at the plastic cup, Ella realized she was trembling. Her legs felt weak under her weight.
She walked to the lone table in the room. Extended her left hand. Picked up the plastic cup. The drink was finished. Gone.
On the inside walls of the cup though, light brown droplets of the coffee drink hung here and there.
Ella dipped the index finger of her right hand into the cup. Got it wet. Brought it to her mouth.
When her tongue touched the stained finger, tasted the liquid, she knew this was not just coffee.
It tasted milky and rich. But then from the back of her tongue, there was a stabbing taste.
Sour. And bitter at the same time. The taste was slight. Just underneath the sugary sweetness.
She didn’t have any proof now, but Ella was sure that this drink had been laced with something.
The faint taste registered in her senses like a fire of bitterness spreading from the back of her tongue, sideways to both left and right sides, making contact with the insides of her cheeks.
Isn’t this how laxatives tasted?
She picked up the cup, careful not to lose the remaining coffee in it.
I’ll have the new lab intern – Jennifer – test it for a laxative.
I hope that is even possible.
The assassin slipped through her bedroom door. She locked it, and then sauntered into the living room.
Darkness. Cool air.
She listened for a second. The sounds came to her. Buzzing air conditioner. Traffic from downstairs. A ringing telephone from somewhere outside the room. Her beating heart banging in her head.
As the cool air washed over her, some calm returned to her.
The assassin’s left hand snaked to the click on the wall. Brightness descended on the room. Everything looked just as she had left it.
Beginning to relax, she walked into the room, taking off her black gloves from her fingers.
I need a long cold bath.
Thank you, Lord.
She collapsed butt-down onto the bed.
Lazy fingers untied the lace of her boots. Her right leg flung a boot into the corner. Right foot kicked the other boot off her left foot. Oh, I need a bath right now. It’s another target down.
On the table across on the other side of the bed – close to the window – the table sat just like it was when she had left in the morning.
The laptop was open on it, but it was switched off, a pair of wired earpieces connected to the laptop’s audio jack, lying across the laptop’s keyboard. A cell phone lay there beside the laptop.
The assassin turned her face away from the table, her left hand pulling off the stockings from her left foot. And then from her right.
She unbuttoned her shirt, peeled the clothes off her body, spreading them out on the cushion beside the bed. Then went her trousers.
Now in just a bra and matching panties, she got to her feet, crossed the distance to the bathroom.
I need a long cold bath.
“Thank you, Lord.” She whispered. Then she rolled onto her back. Her left hand reached for the head of the bed. Grabbed the King James’ Version Bible lying on the head of the bed.
A white paper in the middle of the pages indicated where she had left off. She opened the Bible to that page, pushed the white paper aside. Then her eyes read the words highlighted in green.
“And Moses said,” She read out loud, “Thus says the LORD: About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne.”
The assassin closed the book, got on her feet. Turned to the bed, went down on her knees, her elbows on the bed.
She brought her palms together, her eyes closed, her head bowed.
“Thank you, Lord.” She said. And then she began to pray.
There was one more kill. In Egypt, this time.
The firstborn of Pharaoh.
It was early evening.
The sun was already going back to its hiding place, burning the skies in fiery shades of red and orange, when a small twin-engine plane, green and white, touched down onto a secondary runway at Lagos’s Murtala Mohammad International Airport.
The aircraft slowed, taxied down, and stopped in a hangar with three Mercedes SUVs already waiting to receive its passengers.
Five men, one of them dressed in a black suit jacket and the other four in military khakis, got off the plane and into the cars.
The cars drove away from the airport – in a file – and towards the bustling city of Lagos.
Some twenty minutes later, the Mercedes cars drove through the gates of Dodan Army Barracks, Lagos, and stopped at the administrative building.
A man got off the first car, ran down to the second car and opened the back door.
General Omar Ali stepped out of it, black shades over his eyes.
The soldier who had opened the door saluted, but Omar Ali was already walking away into the tall building before him. When the general stepped into his room, he was tired. The international security summit had been a complete success. It had been hectic all through, but representing Nigeria at the international security summit would never have been one of his wildest dreams when he was still a cadet at the Nigerian Defence Academy.
He peeled the jacket from his body. Got off his shirt and trouser, and settled on the bed. And then Aisha’s face went through his mind. I miss her.
Even as he remembered her, the pain came back. And his last words to her hadn’t been ones of love.
He wondered if Olai had found something already. But then he didn’t have to wonder for long. When he put on the TV, Olai was the first face he saw.
Omar Ali grabbed the remote control, notching up the volume a little. The story was short. The senate president had been killed, together with his wife. Olai had been the last person with him, and was currently at large.
But somehow, even as the woman on the screen reported it, Omar Ali knew that this was a fabrication. Olai would never do something like this.
The phone in the inner pocket of Omar Ali’s jacket began to ring. He crossed to the other side of the bed, where the jacket lay across the one-seater sofa. He fished out the phone from the jacket, while his other hand tapped on the remote control, bringing the TV volume down.
“Hello.” He said.
“Good evening sir.” The words was hurried. Omar didn’t recognize the voice at first. “It’s me.”
Then it registered.
“You’re on the news.” Omar said.
“I didn’t do it.” Olai’s voice was tense. “It was a setup. Someone’s trying to bury me.”
“I believe you, Olai. Relax.” Omar said.
A second of silence passed on the line.
Omar heard Olai’s sigh. “Where are you, Olai?”
When Olai spoke, a certain calm had crept into his voice. “I’m in Abuja.”
“Are you going to leave town for a while until this all settles down?”
“No sir.” Olai said. “I only called to tell you what is up. I’m going to hunt down who started this thing, and put an end to it.”
“Anything,” Omar said. “Anything you need. You just let me know, and I will make it happen.”
“Thank you sir. I owe you.” Olai said.
The line went off.
Omar grabbed the remote control, tapped off the TV.
He hoped the SSS never got hold of Olai.
That would be bad.
Ella raised her eyes from her desk, letting it run over the people with her here in the operations room. Joanne. Pete. The others. Yuri was not among them.
Someone here is betraying me.
And it could be Yuri.
For what, Iscariot? Thirty pieces of silver?
Ella walked to her desk and sat in it. The emotions welled up in her as she remembered that scene from last week.
James Donabal’s office.
The secretary was still protesting behind her when she pushed the door open, and walked in.
Shocked, she watched the person kneeling before James, head bobbing up and down her boyfriend’s crotch.
And the head turned.
When she saw the stranger, her legs were swept away. Large eyes. Faint eye brows.
Full moustache. Beards.
James didn’t just cheat on her.
He did it with a man.
“I have the video.” Pete’s voice broke through the bad memory, bringing her back to the Operations room in the SSS building.
She blinked back the tears welling up.
Pete was looking at her from the computer desk.
“Are you okay?”
Ella ignored his question. I’m fine.
“Good. Let me have the video on screen three.” She said, looking at the third screen.
The screen turned white. And then a still image settled on it.
On the screen, the camera was looking down on a restaurant. There were some solitary drinkers at some of the tables, but the place was scanty. Very few customers in the restaurant. At the corner of the screen, Bruce sat alone at a desk.
When Ella saw him, the image from minutes earlier all came back to her. That red dot she had seen on his forehead. That same forehead furrowed on the screen right now. The blasted skull that had remained after the bullet had done its job. The thud of the body to the floor. The bloodied smear of red brains all over the toilet door in front of which Bruce had been standing.
Ella felt a cold sensation sweep up over her calf and up to the hollow behind her knees, pulling to erection the hairs on the skin.
She turned to the computer table, met Pete’s gaze.
His finger connected with the right button on his computer’s keyboard. The video on the screen began to play.
On the screen, Bruce Akpan checked his watch. The restaurant in which he sat was scanty. Not much people around him. Bruce kept looking around, checking his watch.
Waiting for someone.
That someone didn’t take long. From under the camera’s view, a man walked into the scene. But his face was hidden.
“Who is that?” Ella asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
The man walked straight up to Bruce, taking the seat at the desk. They didn’t even shake hands. The man brought out a recorder. And a pen. Put on the recorder. Said something to Bruce. Bruce responded.
Bruce’s face looked mirthless. Emotionless. Bruce said something. The man stretched his hand. Touched the recorder. Ella saw the man put off the sound recorder on the table.
They remained like that, speaking for a while. Ella walked back to her desk, her heartbeat slowing down to normal.
When she turned back to the screen, Bruce had dipped his hand into his pocket. Brought out the hand, placed it on the table. A closed fist.
When Bruce on the screen opened the fist, a wedding ring sat in the middle of his palm. Ella recognized the ring.
It was the exact one she had seen on Aisha in the video from the hotel.
That ring. That was what he had been doing at the airport.
I had to give it away, Bruce had confessed. Because it had a camera chip in it.
“Who is that guy?” Ella asked again.
“You’ll see.” Pete said.
And then the meeting ended. On the screen, there was a satisfied look on Bruce’s face. A little smile. The other man got to his feet, turned to leave.
“Pause it right there.” Ella said. The video stopped. On the screen, the other man had his face lowered, but he was facing the camera. Ella looked at the face.
She knew she had seen that face before, but she just couldn’t place it.
“Fast.” Ella said, and then the door swung open, dragging Ella’s attention to it. Yuri came through it. Her gaze met his.
“What do you have for me?”
“The shooter from the roof destroyed everything.” Yuri said, “apart from one thing.”
Ell’s tongue swiped over her dry lips, wetting them.
Yuri talked about how the response team had found fragments of a suitcase and weapons. A sniper rifle.
Ella didn’t care about all that. Her mind was going round and round. Apart from one thing. Out with it already, Yuri.
“Apart from one thing.” She raised her voice a notch.
Yuri paused whatever he had been saying.
“What?” the look on his face said he was confused.
“What did they find on that roof?”
“Just a note.” Yuri said, dipping his hand into his pocket.
Ella felt her heart begin all over again. A note. Yes. She had forgotten. I knew she would leave a note for me.
Yuri’s hands produced a white paper. It had a part of it burnt out. Ella saw her name written across the paper, and felt a million cold pins attack the insides of her intestines.
“It was far away from the blast site, but it was just beginning to burn when the men got there.”
Written on the paper was Ella’s name. She picked the paper from Yuri’s hand, and walked away to her desk, her mouth suddenly dried of saliva. I need a glass of water right now.
Her eyes on the paper, Ella sat in her chair. Then she noticed her fingers were trembling. She opened the paper.
Her eyes ran across the sentences, the words penciling her pulse as she read them.
A sentence. A number. And a Bible reference.
The words were a threat, Ella’s eyes growing wide with each word they encountered.
This time, it was Pharaoh’s son?
The paper in her hand, her heart kept pounding.
The Complete Novel, Sisera, is currently being considered for representation to publishers in both the US and the UK, and for this reason, we would (unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view) have to discontinue the series.
I hope you enjoyed Olai’s story so far though.
Thanks a lot for the support. It is encouraging.
Wanna talk? Follow this Contact ‘Nonso link, and say hello.