Olai’s eyebrows were raised now.
Inside the car the air-conditioner buzzed, but his palms were sweaty.
After General Omar’s scream in the dim darkness inside the luxurious car, and the calm with which he had responded to him, he knew he was done for.
I didn’t. I didn’t kill her. Someone else did it. Not me. I’m sorry. I was there. But I didn’t.
Olai couldn’t say anything even if he tried. His throat wouldn’t cooperate. I’m so sorry.
“I’m not sorry,” Omar said.
“What?” Olai blurted before he stopped his mouth from spilling out the many things going on in his head.
“I am not sorry she was killed,” Omar repeated. “Did you know she was pregnant?”
Olai’s mouth went dry.
“Oh yes.” The calm voice came from the dim darkness. “She was. Two weeks. And I just found out. You know why I’m not sorry she got killed?”
Olai said nothing.
“You. Know. Why?” Omar emphasized every word in that question.
“No.” Olai’s voice was croaked.
The scream came this time.
“Because that was not my baby.” And then his voice went back to the gentle whisper. “She was not carrying my baby. I,” Omar trailed off, he sniffed, “I cannot have children.”
What? Olai knew now that he was in some real deep trouble. Olai had never seen the general crying. Talk more of getting all emotional like this. But even now, he couldn’t bring his eyes to look on Omar’s face.
“I heard what happened. The police told me plenty.”
Olai held his breath.
Oh, here it comes. I wonder what the police told you now.
He waited for the bomb to drop.
“And they told me how you kept her safe when someone tried to kill her at home,” Omar said. “And then she had to get to the hospital. How you were there for her before she went missing.”
Silence. Olai wondered if this was what hell felt like. This had to be somewhere close to that.
“And then he seduced her to a hotel room.” The whisper was as indifferent as rain. “They were going to spend the night together. And perhaps he is also the father of her child.”
No sir. I am not the father. I swear I had no idea.
He opened his mouth to talk. No words came. His lips trembled now.
Olai wanted to explain everything before it got ugly. But he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Who was to say the general didn’t have a gun somewhere in this car? Who is even to say the general had not planned to end me right here?
Olai looked at the tinted glass windows. They were locked. Why else would Omar have locked the car doors?
There was an expression on Omar’s face that turned Olai’s insides out.
“What do you think should be done to him?”
Olai froze in the dark. This was it. This was really it. Not in a million years would he have thought that his life was going to end in a car, with a bowel pumped full of lead from the gun of an angry husband.
Olai opened his mouth to explain. His throat caught. No words came out.
“I have fixed the news. Nothing about this gets out to the press. The good inspector will handle it.”
Good indeed. He’s a punk. That’s what he is. Who knows what he told you? Omar was still speaking.
“But this man who has wronged me, he will not go free. And you know what?” the general said. “I want to deal with him in the worst way possible. I will take my time.”
The hairs on Olai’s nape were at their ends now.
“I am going to take my time. And it is going to be slow. Painful.” The general said. “He will beg for God to end his life. And just when he wishes his life is over, then I will really start with him.”
Those words. They sliced through Olai, bringing with them the memory. The general had said the same then.
It happened years ago. A story about the general had appeared in a newspaper. Something about him being one of the men funding Islamic terror groups in the country.
Omar had contacted the journalist, demanding an open apology and a retraction. Unknown to Omar, the journalist had recorded the call, and had released it online with an article having all manner of defaming words.
Journalists from every part of the world had called the general for a response. He had neither denied it nor accepted the allegation.
All he had said was “God will vindicate me.”
In the room that day, he had said these same words to Olai.
“And just when he wishes his life is over, then I will really start with him.”
Two years went by.
One dull morning, mister journalist had a mild fight with his mom, in which he threatened the woman. Mom died next day. Journalist’s fingerprints found on the murder weapon.
Nobody could tell how the recorded argument got in court, and although the reporter agreed it was his voice on the tape, he argued that it had been tailored to say things he didn’t tell his mom during the fight.
He got a death sentence. Three days before due date, the man was found dead in his cell, having bled to death by a wound in his left eye, his left eyeball gone.
And when Olai had heard about the death in the cell, he had known that Omar had everything to do with.
No one ever crossed him and remained the same.
“Do you hear me?” the darkness in the car whispered again.
Olai blinked. Gulped. A thought crossed his mind, but he quenched it even as it started. Running away was never an option.
The general had eyes all over the world.
He had loyal eyes and ears in the military, the police, and in international circles. Olai really was in hell.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Omar said. “I am not.”
Two seconds of silence went by.
“I just want you to do me a favour.” The general broke the silence.
Olai hadn’t heard right. Couldn’t have.
“The man? The one who seduced Aisha? Who killed her? Find him.” The general paused. “We have to find him first.”
A cold blanket came over Olai.
“The policemen are working on it too.” Omar continued. “And I hear the SSS are making investigations as well. But I trust you more than any other human being alive right now, and I know that you are good at what you do.”
Olai opened his mouth. No words came.
“Will you do this for me? For Aisha?”
Olai nodded. He didn’t trust himself with words right now.
“And you must find him before these idiots do.”
“If they find him, he goes to court. And then to jail. And I don’t want the publicity.” He paused.
Olai looked at the man. There was a faraway look on his face. The hard face softened. Relaxed. Curved into a smile. A wicked smile.
“But that does not mean he gets to walk away free. I have to be away now. I have a flight to catch. I trust you can deal with this before I get back tomorrow. I expect some news.”
Olai understood. He nodded again. Twenty-four hours was what he had. He took a deep breath. Then he let it out slowly. But then his heart almost shot out through the tinted glass when Omar’s phone began ringing in the darkness.
It could have been coming from a DJ’s loudspeaker at a night club.
Omar killed it.
“Hello, Patrick.” He spoke into the phone. “Yeah. You have it now?”
Olai thought of the turn of events. So the police didn’t tell him anything after all. But come to think of it. What did they even know?
Olai thought of the first thing he was going to do. My priority right now is proving I was not there last night.
And then he would have to find the real killer. He needed to find out what the police knew. He needed to find out what the SSS also knew.
Olai had no idea how he was going to do all those.
And who the hell was Bruce anyway?
Perhaps he would have to find a private investigator for that.
“Can you send Bruce to get it to my house?” Omar was saying into the phone.
Bruce. Olai’s mind recoiled. He turned his eyes to the general. Omar knew who Bruce was? There was a Bruce in close quarters? Of course, it doesn’t have to be the same Bruce.
But I will start with this Bruce.
“Okay.” Omar said. “I’ll send my bodyguard to come get it.”
He paused for a while. And then said his goodbyes before cutting the call.
“I need you to get to the Senate president’s house.”
Olai said nothing. He was thinking. Bruce.
“He has a package for me. Get it. Keep it safe. By the time I get back tomorrow, I expect some news on the investigation.”
“Bruce.” Olai said.
“Bruce – Patrick’s driver – is on an errand, and cannot bring it down.” Omar clicked the right button. The doors clicked. They were unlocked now.
“Okay.” Olai now knew who the guy was. He opened the door. Stepped out.
Banged it shut.
Bruce. Patrick’s driver.
Senate President Patrick Ama lived in a large house, in a secluded neighbourhood somewhere close to the heart of Abuja.
He lived in a duplex, sitting in the middle of a large compound with a black gate. Soldiers deployed from the army headquarters watched the gate – and indeed the entire compound – round the clock, detailing the SSS.
It was a solitary building in the compound, sitting between palm trees, tall lemon grasses, and beautiful shrubs arranged to give the compound the cool feeling of a garden for lovers.
Upstairs, Patrick Ama got off the bed, dressed in nothing but his boxer’s shorts. He walked to the dressing table in the bedroom. Sank into the swivel chair. Grabbed his suitcase from under the desk.
Then his eyes caught his image in the mirror sitting on the dressing table. He looked tired. But he was happy. Today was day off for him.
“Oh no, darling.” It was Grace’s voice from the bathroom, “you are not going to spend today attending to any senator business.”
“This won’t take long, I promise.” Patrick opened the suitcase, produced the papers he needed – two A4 papers stapled together. He pulled open one of the drawers on the dressing table, produced a brown envelope from it.
He heard the hinges from the bathroom door sing as they swung.
“Can a woman just have some time with her husband without some distractions?” She walked into his view. She was barefooted, dressed in a white bathrobe with a rope emphasizing her narrow waist in contrast to the flare of her hips.
His eyes followed her as she bent down at the large stereo deck. She ejected the CD in it, changed it. And then tapped the play button.
She closed the short distance between the stereo deck and the low fridge. Opened the low fridge, grabbed an open bottle of wine.
She caused two glasses to appear on the table, and even as she poured the drinks, her light movement, her perfume filtering through his nostrils, did things to him.
She pushed one of the glasses into his hands, and pushing his chest so that his back hit the backrest of the chair, she sat her fanny down on his laps.
“I get to have you to myself today.” She said.
“Are you getting jealous?” he asked smiling.
“Because I have every right to be.” She took a sip from her glass, and set it down on the table, looking him in his eyes.
“I love you when you do this boss thing.”
“Right now, I’m the boss.” She said.
“But you married a senator.” He said.
“Poor me.” She pouted, pulling the string tied around her waist. Untying the rope. Revealing the naked flesh of her upper thigh as the white robe came apart a little bit.
“Oopsie.” She said, opening her mouth in mock surprise, “See what I found under this robe.”
“You married a bad girl.”
“You married a senator.”
“And I didn’t just marry any kind of senator. I married the best of them all.”
“Exactly.” He said.
The stereo speakers began a slow serenade.
“Is that Ed Sheeran?”
“Yup.” She said, planting a quick kiss on his lips.
“You devil,” Patrick said. “You know I have a weakness for Ed Sheeran, and especially this song.”
“Do I know that?” she smiled, singing along with the music. Patrick joined her in the song, his eyes not leaving hers.
“Darling I will be loving you till seventy,” they sang together. “Baby, my heart could still fall as hard as twenty-three.”
Grace took Patrick’s glass from him, set it on the table. Then she kissed him again. This time, it was no quickie. Time disappeared. Patrick lost himself.
The only thing that mattered to him was the soft caress of her lips against his, the beating of his heart against hers.
“So honey now,” Ed Sheeran did what he did best, from the stereo, “take me into your loving arms.”
They had been married for twenty-five years, but Patrick had always found it difficult to turn her down. He loved the very smell of her.
Every part of her.
“Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars.” Sheeran persisted. And then the image passed through Patrick’s head, of another woman in his arms. A tinge of regret spread all around him, stiffening him. Grace broke the kiss.
“What is it?” she said, looking him in the eyes. There was all the love in the world in those eyes. And it broke his heart to know that he had broken her trust. He had always thought of what it would be like once or twice in the past – or maybe it was twelve or thirteen times – but he had never really cheated on her. Until recently. And he hated himself for it.
“Place your hand on my beating heart.” The stereo implored them.
“My hero,” she said, that endearing look in her eyes. It broke him. Tore him to pieces. She was perfect. Gorgeous. And he had broken her trust with someone younger. “What is it?”
Patrick turned his face into a smile. It was quite an effort, but he managed it.
“I know when you’re really smiling.” She said. “Is it work?” she grabbed the remote control, turned down the volume of the music.
“I just need to sign these documents. Someone is on his way to get them.” Patrick grabbed a pen, turned the document to the page, signed on it, and put the papers into the envelope.
Then he heard the volume of the song rise again. Patrick turned to see the remote in his wife’s hand as she turned up the volume.
She dropped the remote, grabbed his hand, pulled him to the bed. Not like he needed any encouragement. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from those big brown beautiful set of eyes. And he couldn’t stop hating himself for doing her like he did.
It would tear her heart apart if he ever confessed the truth to her. He knew she would never do him so. She would never even think of going after another man. Her left hand hugged his head, as she pushed her right index finger into his chest, penciling his blood, leaving cold fire wherever she touched him.
Her finger on his chest pushed him down, his back on the bed. He was sure she could feel the fire in his pulse.
“Whatever it is,” she said with all the care her voice could convey. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to tell me about it, if you don’t want to.”
“I’m sorry.” He said, making an effort to smile. He knew it was of no use. She knew him. Knew his genuine smile.
“For what?” she chuckled.
For cheating. On you. On our marriage. With my heart. With my body. For going after someone younger. And for bringing shame to you.
But he said nothing.
“I love you.” She said.
“And I don’t make that easy for you. I know-”
“Shhh.” And then she brought down her lips on his and he felt like he had fallen into the abyss that was her eyes. Grace stepped back. Dropped her robe, stood before him in her briefs. She picked the lighter on the side table, lit the candles standing on the bedside table.
The sight of her, her movement, pierced Patrick Ama, and his breath caught in his throat. Grace had stretch marks on her lower abdomen. Her breasts were not large. No longer as young and as curvy as they once were. No longer had the cleavages he had known them to have in their younger years. They had a sag to them. But they drove him crazy all the same. Standing right here, she looked even more alluring than on their wedding night.
“‘Cos honey, your soul could never grow old,” the stereo echoed his thoughts, “it’s evergreen.”
She reached for him, her fingers intertwining with his. He pulled her down to him.
A click on the light switch took out the fluorescent light.
The candle got its chance to shine.
Ed Sheeran kept on and on.
“Is this on the news yet?” Ella called across the room to the hacker guys, pulling the phone from her ear. She cut the call.
The call had been from Inspector Ben Adams. Something about the senator not wanting his wife’s pregnancy mentioned to the press.
“No, but it will be soon,” Joanne announced.
“They know nothing about the pregnancy. Right?”
“And you gave them nothing about her killer?”
“She wasn’t even killed. Prescription drug overdose.”
“Good job.” Ella said.
She went back to her desk. In the paused video, Aisha still had her left hand on the receptionist’s counter. Ella fast forwarded the video a little bit. Nothing interesting. On the video, people came into the hotel, walked to the receptionist, walked away towards the elevator.
Some others walked in and went straight to the lift. While some others just came in and headed for the staircase. Ella kept her eyes locked on the video as it continued to play.
Who killed Aisha? She turned her eyes again to screen three. It definitely wasn’t Bruce. Aisha had died before Bruce got into the hotel. If it wasn’t Bruce, then it was someone who came into the hotel before Bruce.
Just as she thought that, Ella lowered her eyes to the video, and saw the man walk through the hotel entrance doors.
Olai. He looked distressed. And there was an alarming bounce in his step like he was being chased by someone – perhaps the killer.
Or was he the killer? There was no sign of a weapon on him. But the killer had used a dagger. It wouldn’t have been difficult to hide a dagger.
Ella watched Olai hesitate. Was he deciding on whether to talk to the receptionist?
Body language never lied. Ella knew this.
Everything from this point happened fast. Olai stepped into the lift. Elevator doors slid shut.
Ella paused the video.
So he had gotten into the hotel in time.
“Sisera,” Pete said. Ella raised her head from the video, listening.
“Yes? What do you have for me?”
Pete read from his laptop screen. “Sisera was mentioned in the Bible book of Judges, chapter four and five. The name Sisera-”
“The name Sisera,” Pete continued, “has been speculated to be Philistine, Hittite, Hurrian, ancient Egyptian, or ancient Amalekite.”
Ella’s mind clicked. Amalekite. Wasn’t that what had been on the note? Amalekite.
“What does the word mean?” She asked.
“I only have its meaning in ancient Egyptian.”
Pete lowered his eyes again to the laptop screen. “It is pronounced ‘Ses-Ra’ in Egyptian, meaning ‘servant of Ra’ – the Sun god.”
Ella thought of it for a while. Maybe that was something.
Sun God. Egypt. This doesn’t feel like Egypt to me. I think I prefer the Amalekite story better.
“Okay, Pete,” Ella said. “I want you to follow the Biblical story. Sisera. Everything relevant. Also follow the ancient Amalekite history? Documented history. I want connection. Go.” Pete bent over his laptop with renewed fury.
Ella’s eyes narrowed. Sun god? What did it have to do with anything? What is this killer trying to tell us about Aisha’s death?