Let’s say you will be murdered tonight. Statistically, your killer will most likely be someone you’ve met. Someone you know. Someone you even love. And this person loves you too. Or used to.
This is what the assassin thought as her right hand loosened on the throttle of the Honda.
Its lights out and its tires rustling on the gravels, the power bike came to a halt under the solitary pine tree behind the fenced villa.
Her right leg, encased in a knee-high leather boot, kicked the bike stand out. She jumped down.
Against the skintight leather clothes she had on, the soft wind felt icy on her, the dancing leaves of the trees nearby making whistling sounds with the breeze.
The assassin listened as the sound of the forest enveloped her. Fireflies did their thing in the dark, marking the fence wall. A toad welcomed the assassin with a singular croak. An owl announced its presence from one of the taller trees far away.
But then, save for the whistling from the wind’s dance with the trees, the silence settled.
“Our Father, who art in heaven,” she whispered, adjusting the strap of the suitcase hanging on her shoulder, “hallowed be thy name, thine Kingdom come.”
A cricket from somewhere behind the assassin called out its amen. The owl asked it to shut up. Another toad made a croaky jab at the owl. Another cricket laughed. The owl had no witty come-backs.
The silence returned.
Ignoring the exchange, the assassin grabbed some fronds lying around on the floor, with which she camouflaged the Honda, hiding it in the darkness.
Then she pushed the strap off her shoulder and, placing the suitcase flat on the floor, she bent down.
“Thy will be done on earth tonight.” She popped the suitcase open. Inside of the case was dark, but she didn’t need light. She already knew her equipment. The suitcase was felted to hold the contents: a suppressor-fitted Russian sniper Rifle in a groove.
This bad boy was deadly, light, and had a pistol grip. Its telescope, an S&B 5-25×65 Day Scope, laid in a groove beside the rifle.
“As it is done in heaven.”
In the darkness, she grabbed the gun, picked up the ‘scope – powerful enough to magnify its view up to twenty five times – finishing it off on the lethal weapon.
The assassin hung the rifle behind her, letting the strap of the gun run cross from above her right shoulder bone down to the left side of her hips where it reconnected to the gun’s barrel behind her.
Then she moved closer to the high fence wall. On the other side of this wall was the large estate on which sat the solitary building she had studied for days.
The target will be in that building in seconds, she thought. And the woman’s dull entire miserable life was about to end.
It is the will of God.
The captain had spoken about the new bodyguard. Olai. The captain had said the guy’s good. One of the best.
Tonight, I’ll kill him. And the woman.
The assassin’s right thumb fingered the digital watch on her left wrist, and the thing flashed its red figures.
The red digits on the face of the watch clicked, flashing the hour mark.
Eight pm. On the dot.
The sight started her heart going. She felt the first surge of adrenalin in her blood. I’ve missed this.
The target should almost be here now.
From over the fence, the assassin’s ears picked up the faint rattling sound of the main gate of the villa sliding open. Next came the low rumble of a car driving into the compound.
The right equipment in her hand, the assassin cut through the coiled electric barbed protection wires lining the top of the fence wall in seconds. She was noiseless.
She just started her climb down the wall into the darkness of the compound when the growling engine of the car died down.
The silence was soothing for a bit before a car door banged shut. Stomping feet thumped across graveled earth. Someone was angry.
Crouching low to the ground, the assassin began a short dash for the darkness here behind the lone duplex in the vast compound. Umbrella trees lined the walls of the fence, and they would be a perfect cover.
But just as she began her run, she braked when a heavy footstep on the gravels punctuated the night, revving up the sound of the assassin’s heart beating in her ears.
She swept wide eyes across the darkness, and saw the movement in the blackness beside the first tree.
The man was a mountain. And he faced away from her. Tight-fitted black T-shirt, military camouflage khaki trouser tucked into brown combat boots, his bulky muscles clearly defined.
An AK47 hung by a strap on his left shoulder.
The assassin made to move towards him, but then the soldier turned, his head bowed, both of his hands fumbling over his crotch, struggled to zip up his fly.
He raised his head, wiping his urine-stained hands on his khakis. And then, as he moved forward, his left leg lifted in the first step he was to take, he froze. Like a mannequin in the dark.
That instant, the assassin could not completely see his shadowed face, but she saw his eyes in the dim darkness, as alert as the eyes of any gunfighter she ever encountered.
In that instant, he moved.
But it was all over in under two seconds.
The sudden jerk of his right arm, that flighty spring creeping into his muscles. She half-saw his eyes grow bigger as he noticed the killer-rifle hanging behind her.
This was when his raised foot came down. Heavy combat boots against the gravel, sounding like a gunshot against the silence.
When his hand moved for the rifle hanging by a strap on his shoulder, his right fingers closing round the strap of the gun, pulling it off his shoulder, the assassin moved, crossing the distance between them.
As the soldier’s fingers closed round the grip of the AK, the assassin was already in the air. Her left knee could have been doing a full hundred and twenty when it connected with his chin.
When they both landed on the floor, she was on both feet, one spread apart from the other in perfect balance, ready for a finishing kick, fisted hands raised in Tae Kwon Do stance, chest heaving in fast breaths, while the soldier was on his back, arms flailed, the rifle flung into the darkness behind him, he himself knocked out cold.
The assassin looked around the darkness.
No one in sight.
A syringe appeared in her left hand. She removed its cap. Felt the soldier’s neck. Found his carotid artery. Inserted the needle. Gave him enough dosage to keep him knocked out for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams, baby.
The device vibrated in her pocket. It had to be the captain. She tapped the wireless bud in her left ear and listened.
“Yes,” she panted. “In position.”
She paused, letting the man on the other side of the lines say whatever bullshit he had to say.
“Yes. All good.” She said.
As the line went dead, a lazy flicker of light came from the building. Three of the windows on the ground floor now had light. The living room.
She saw the target in the house.
The assassin pulled the strap of her rifle off her shoulders.
Noiseless, she ran into the darkness behind the large building, slamming her back against one of the trees, raising her eyes to the lighted windows.
Each of the windows were fitted with venetian blinds, but the first two windows from the right had their blinds pulled shut.
The blinds on the third window were open, and on the gravels just before this window, light through the venetian blinds made a slanted rectangle with narrow parallel lines running across it.
But her eyes were not on the rectangles on the floor.
In the window a woman in a beautiful gown hurried away from a man and towards the window and the assassin, a frown across her face.
The assassin recognized her.
The assassin felt the tingles begin in her fingertips when she realized Aisha was walking to the staircase beside the window.
Is this my only chance? I’ll have to take her out through a window upstairs, the assassin thought, scanning the windows on the top floor.
But then Aisha stopped at the window, her left hand on the rails of the staircase, her right leg on the first of the steps leading upstairs, her narrowing eyes looking towards the trees.
Another thought materialized in the assassin’s mind, her breathe catching in her throat. Aisha has seen me.
But then, Aisha’s face showed no alarm. She remained standing there, a blank expression on her face.
Then Aisha turned, facing the man standing on the extreme of the living room, his back to the entrance door.
The new bodyguard.
He was in his early thirties. Glistening black skin. Head shaved completely bald and smooth, glinting under the chandelier.
His eyes looked like those of them smooth talkers who at a party would come on to a woman – any woman – as if she were the only woman in the world, and make her believe it. No beards. Shoulder span two miles long. Black sleeveless shirt that exposed long muscular arms.
In another time and another place, you, sir, would have been my kind of guy.
His full name was Oluchukwu Nnam. But the captain called him Olai.
The lips shaped in a small ‘o’, then the tongue tapping the roof of the mouth. A quick diphthong completing it.
Her eyes on the man now, the assassin mouthed the name.
His security system sucked, though. For all I know, he is clumsy at best.
It had taken the assassin nothing to beat his security system. And she was about to bore a hole in Aisha’s head.
Shutting her right eye and placing the left in the telescope, the assassin clutched the bony fingers of her right hand tighter under the barrel of the rifle, placing her left index finger before the trigger.
She saw Aisha take a step towards the bodyguard, stop, and then push the thin strap of her gown off her left shoulder, and then off her right.
The assassin paused. Is she trying to seduce him?
Aisha stood there, facing away from the assassin and the window, naked from her waist upwards save for a thin piece of bra that connected in the centre of her back. On the bodyguard’s face was a conflicted look, his lips pressed together in a slight grimace.
Her clothes gathered in a bunch around her hips, Aisha started her walk back towards to the bodyguard.
She took another step and stopped. The assassin placed her target point on the back of Aisha’s head and an image passed through her mind of Aisha’s skull exploding.
And as if a referee had just blown the hell out of his whistle, the couple in the living room rushed at each other.
Seems the bodyguard fell for her after all.
The assassin smiled. This would definitely make for a good news story. Woman murdered while kissing husband’s bodyguard.
No wonder she needed to be put out. She’s going against God’s will. His will for this marriage.
“In the name of the Father,” she said, the cross hairs of her scope following the base of Aisha’s skull as she moved across the room, “and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The couple met in the middle of the room.
The bullet went home.
July nights are usually cold in Abuja, and the wind usually has a biting touch to it. But it seems twice colder when you’re a bodyguard to a military General and his wife is trying to seduce you.
Multiply that number, if she looks like the girl of your dreams.
As Olai crossed the distance between the Range Rover Sport and the front door of the house, his legs felt heavy on the gravels.
He still felt dizzy from the kiss in the car. He still perceived that minty scent, but even as the icy wind swept her smell away from him, Olai hated the ache in his stomach.
A part of him wished his nostrils could have somehow stored it. He already missed her touch.
And he had touched her too.
She had started a fire deep inside of his stomach. And she had done it in only two seconds. Or was it five? Or thirty? A minute?
Everything had moved too fast, and yet too slow. Olai couldn’t even remember how long they had kissed for. And he had kissed her back. Shit.
Good thing he stopped himself in time.
Or did he?
Halfway to the door now, Olai noticed the lights had not come on in the windows. She probably ran upstairs straight from the car.
But things cannot hang this way. We need to deal with this.
Apart from the grating sound of his boots plodding against the gravel as tired feet carried him to the house, the compound was silent.
He remembered the pain that plastered her gorgeous face as she ran away from him, embarrassed after he pulled away from the kiss.
She hadn’t even stopped to listen to his apologies.
And then there had been that spicy scent. Her scent. He was surprised at the hurt tugging at his heart. He didn’t know he even felt this much care about her.
But she’s the wife of my friend. My mentor.
It didn’t help matters that she had problems with the retired general, whatever the issue was.
But try as he did, Olai knew he had felt it. The chemistry back there in the darkness of the car had been fire and lightning.
He got to the door now, placed his hand on the door knob, and hesitated. He waited for two seconds, but they seemed like seven days.
The unmistakable sound of cool breeze wafting through the leaves of the trees in the compound came to him. The smell of rain.
Bracing himself, he turned the knob on the door and felt in his grip the click of the latch.
He swung the door open – is that how loud door hinges usually sounded? – and stumbled into the silence.
Olai’s first step into the darkness of the house was a gunshot. He raised his right hand – how heavy his arms felt – to the light switch on the wall to the right. His fingers searched the wall for the switch. Found it.
Olai was going to move his right hand to grab the pistol hanging from his belt, but stopped – his hand still on the switch – when he recognized the voice.
Forgetting about lights and switches, his military-trained senses picked out her location in the room. There. She stood a few feet away from him.
And then there was that scent again.
He could barely see her silhouette in the dim room. The atmosphere had suddenly become thick as syrup.
“We shouldn’t do this.” He said to her.
“But you kissed me back.” She spoke barely above a whisper.
A flash of cold rushed over his bare arms. Spread through his chest. He so wanted to close the distance between them and tear that gown off of her.
“The General is my friend.”
In reply, she took one step towards him, and the sound echoed throughout the hall. Her smell thickened around him like a bubble.
An image passed through Olai’s mind of an air bubble inside a jar of honey. If her scent was the honey, he imagined himself inside that bubble. And how he wanted that bubble to close in even more.
But he knew how these things usually ended.
She was sweet trouble. Forbidden territory. Delilah’s wine.
No wonder Samson fell.
“You are married.” Even as he said that, he knew he sounded pathetic. He was pleading now. And she seemed to know his resolve was leaving him.
“To hell with him.” She said, her voice strained. “He doesn’t love me anymore, and you know it.”
“I cannot do this.”
Only his beating heart pounded in his ears.
“I understand.” Her voice was music when it finally cut the silence, and he winced, hating the sliver of relief sliding through his belly. “But I want you.”
“Aisha.” He moaned her name. Wait. Are you considering her logic?
“No one has to know.” Her voice was pleading now.
In another place and time, in another context, Olai probably would have screamed at himself for being this stupid.
What are you still doing here? Get out of here at once.
But his legs won’t carry him away. Aisha took another step towards him. The sound almost deafened him. Immediately, everything became a slow-motion movie. Each second became a minute. Each minute would be forever.
He watched her approach as if she were a creature in a sweet dream.
She was this close now. But Olai could not bring himself to move away.
A hundred cold needles pricked the insides of his stomach. He was a mass of knotted nerves. All six-foot-three-inches of him. Aisha was fire. And she was under his skin.
In his blood.
She made him want her in ways he had never wanted another human being.
I can’t betray my friend and mentor.
“He screws everything in skirts except his own wife.” The crack in her voice drove a fast dagger through Olai’s heart. “Please, I need this. And I know you’ve wanted me as well.”
She reached out with her hand, touched his left forearm. He couldn’t stop himself from moving forward. She got on the tip of her toes.
When their lips met – for the second time this evening – Olai knew he was in trouble. Sweet trouble. She bit his lower lip. He tasted blood. He didn’t mind. Her arms closed behind his neck. His hands connected at her back. Olai let out the air backed up in his lungs.
His mind snapped.
He pushed her gently away, and stepped back, doubling over from the pain in his lungs.
Breathe, Olai. Breathe.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, filling his lungs with air, “but I can’t.”
When he said those words, Olai heard the labour in her next short breathes.
“You,” she paused, spat the next word rather than said it, “coward.”
He saw her turn in the darkness, beginning her dash to her bedroom upstairs. Her words became military combat knives with serrated edges, piercing the fleshy part of his heart, through his chest bone.
Olai blinked in the near darkness, and the image passed through his mind that instant.
That scar on mother’s right eyebrow.
Her face before the debate finals. Oluchukwu was nine years old now. Primary school. Every one of the smell came back to him. The vomit he had just dumped in the toilet before going to tell mum he was scared to face the crowd. Mum’s breathe. Puke. And alcohol.
Nine-year-old Oluchukwu blinked back the tears welling up.
In a slow-motion movie this time, mum’s lips parted. She opened her mouth. Her nostrils flared. Hate in her eyes. No. Not hate. Something close to pity. Exact same words.
Olai blinked. He was back in the dark room and Aisha had just taken her second step away from him and towards the staircase.
Olai’s fingers connected with the switch on the wall. Bright light flooded the living room, and he hurried after her. When he reached the middle of the room, she was at the staircase. He stopped.
She had a foot on the first stair, trembling slender fingers on the rail of the staircase, and she was shaking. In her gown, Aisha was a stamen of a flower made of silk.
The pain burned Olai’s belly. His nose bridge was also on fire.
He balled his hands into fists, his nails breaking skin.
“I am not a coward.” He was surprised at the cold steel in his voice. “And this is going to be a one-time thing.”
He heard her sigh a relief.
When she turned, facing him, there was a little smile beginning to play on her lips. Her eyes held subtle amusement and promise in them, and Olai hated the power she just wielded over him.
The strong bodyguard in him had gone to sleep.
“Deal.” She said, turning away from the staircase to face him.
She raised her left hand to her right shoulder, pushed down the thin strap of the gown. Her right hand did the same thing to the strap of her gown on the left shoulder.
Olai gulped, his eyes drinking in the lovely sight. Her clothes were bunched around the flare of her hips. The curve of her hips disappearing into the remaining part of the gown bunched at her waist. Her belly button in the middle of her flat belly. A dot of imperfection in the sea of smoothness.
Simple flaw in ardent beauty.
His eyes traveled upwards, drinking in the sight. The strapless bra and the tear-shaped promise they held within them. He moved his eyes up. Met her gaze, and swore he wanted to drink the sunlight in her skin.
Aisha had an amused look on her face, but it was her hair, shining under the chandelier’s influence, that did it for him.
Aisha was a stunning creature.
And there was that scar on her right eyebrow. Just like mother’s scar. Exactly like mother’s.
She took a step towards him.
And this was when Olai first saw it.
Beyond Aisha’s left shoulder. Beyond venetian blinds. Beyond the glass window. Behind the house. Across the yard. Olai thought he saw movement among the trees. His eyes narrowed. Something long and narrow behind the house reflected light.
Aisha took another step towards him, bringing his attention to the beautiful sight before him.
But then the sliver of light from within the trees outside moved again, and Olai’s mind flipped.
He felt the tension travel down his spine, but this was a different kind of tension as the realization settled in.
Someone is out there in the shadows of the trees.
The alert bodyguard was awake now.
He narrowed his eyes at the glint of light, and was sure it was metal. Shiny metal. Among the trees.
His mouth was dried of saliva as he realized he was looking at a rifle, metallic black, the scanty light rays glinting off the gun. Olai took off in a sprint, half wondering why his sensors had not picked up the intruder as he ran for Aisha. Aisha also ran for him, raising her arms for an embrace.
As her arms moved up, waiting to close behind his neck again, Olai dived for her, twisting as he went. His arms closed round her waist, and he was pulling her away from the window when he saw a firefly blink from the trees.
He knew the crack of a shot from a sniper in the darkness when he saw one.
The glass window exploded, sprinkling glasses all over the floor, as Olai heard the slug sing past his right ear, impacting the main door behind him, the sound of the crashing window pane reaching him an instant later.
When Olai hit the floor, Aisha was sprawled on top of him, screaming her lungs out. Panic. The sensors in the house picked up the signals now, blaring its alarm.
Not missing a beat, Olai rolled with Aisha away from sight and towards the staircase. Another shot rang out. More shattered glass.
When they reached the staircase, Olai bounced to his feet, running up the stairs, Aisha’s fragile trembling form on his broad shoulder. Another shot came. But it missed him. Just barely. Aisha screamed.
She’d been hit.
The alarm was blaring wild now. Olai knew the soldiers at the gate – as well as others on watch around the compound – would be in the main house in no time. But they would be late.
There was one priority. Secure Aisha.
And then take out the threat.
He reached the master bedroom, turned the door knob, and was beginning to push the door inside when a window inside the bedroom exploded, the bullet making a hole in the master bedroom door. Aisha was thrashing about on his shoulder now, her screams giving them away.
Olai turned towards a second room standing away from the back of the house. He pushed the door open. This was his room – where he slept.
His heart pounding now, he laid Aisha on the floor, placing his large palm over her lips, smothering her shout.
“Shut up.” He said it once. She whimpered, and nodded several times in a row. She probably would have kept nodding forever if he hadn’t stopped her.
There was blood on her gown. He pushed it up and noticed the bleeding wound, hidden under springing blood. Few inches below her right knee.
That’s where the bullet entered.
He wiped the pooling blood from the wound. A bullet hole sat pretty in her right calf. In the next second, blood had gathered again, hiding the wound under red liquid.
She’d live. It wasn’t lethal. Nothing serious.
Olai looked her in the eyes and the pain he saw there broke his spleen.
“You need to go after him.” She said through clenched teeth.
“I’ll be fine.” She added.
He dashed to the table in the room. The drawer slid open almost before he touched it. He grabbed the silencer in the drawer, slamming the drawer shut.
His hands opened the drawer beneath the first one. A pack of cotton wool came out with his hands. He grabbed some wool, pressing it on the bleeding wound.
“Just put pressure on that.” Olai said.
He waited for both of her hands to replace his own over the cotton wool, before he removed his bloodied hand.
“You’re going to be alright.”
She nodded, whimpering.
Olai hesitated. He fished out his phone, dropped it beside her.
“Dial 911. And Doctor Eze.”
She nodded. He dropped a single key beside the phone on the floor.
“Spare key.” He said, getting to his feet. “And remain on the floor.”
She nodded again.
An automatic pistol appeared in his right hand as he slipped out of the room. Locked the door. Inserted the key in his pocket. Turned right.
Crouching, the bodyguard ran down the corridor to the fire escape at the end of the floor, screwing the silencer onto the gun as he went. Is the shooter still there? I hope to God that he is.
Olai knew there was only one shooter.
And even as he ran, he thought of the possibilities. Where could the shooter be?
On the top of the fence wall? Someone crouched in the compound? Shadows in the darkness of the trees?
He got to the end of the corridor, slipped through the door, slid down the ladder in one quick noiseless move, and was behind the house in a heartbeat.
Immediately he ran into the darkness, Olai heard footsteps running.
He wished he had had time to put on the floodlights, because the time it took his eyes to adjust to the darkness behind the mansion amounted to only a fraction of a second but it felt like forever.
His eyes made out the moving silhouette in the darkness.
The moving shadow between the trees was lightning fast, moving in the darkness towards the fence wall. The shooter moved out of the darkness between the trees, went past a ray of light.
Olai raised the pistol in his grip. Squeezed out a shot. Too late.
In that fraction of a second before the shooter disappeared into darkness again, Olai’s brain – like a camera’s memory – caught the image.
Slim, dressed in all blacks, a long rifle hanging by a cord on the killer’s shoulder, a flat low cut hair.
And the accentuated curves of a young woman.
The shooter was running to the fence wall in an instant, her hand touched the wall and in the next instant, she had disappeared over the fence wall.
Olai pursued, running for the wall, and just as he reached it, he heard the low growl of a bike engine.
The sole of his Adidas marched the fence, and as he lifted off the floor, his left hand grabbed the top of the fence wall where the assassin had cut the security barbed wiring. Muscular arms heaved him up. Both feet landed on the other side.
By this time, the sound of the roaring engine already began to die out as it increased its distance from Olai, its taillights, two red unblinking eyes, thinning out in the darkness of the forest behind this fence wall.
It was a power bike.
Olai tightened his hold on the pistol, his free hand balling into a fist.
The shooter had been a woman. Low cut hair. Shiny leather clothes. And I just let her go.
He turned back to the fence wall.
Get Aisha to the hospital, Olai thought, and she’ll be safe.
He had no idea.
This was only the beginning.