The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport is the main airport serving Abuja, the Nigerian capital city.
It was named after Nigeria’s first president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. And it is known to be busy most seasons of the year.
But today was even more intense.
While the taxi was still seating in the traffic jam at the airport’s drive-in gate, Mohammad Jibril paid the driver, got off the cab. He stole a glance at his wrist watch, and hastened his steps.
Mohammad walked towards the main terminals, letting his senses take in the sights and sounds. The smell of jet fuel. Mixed with the overarching smell of exhaust fumes from cars. Tightened security.
All his years working as a journalist, no one had ever asked him to meet for an interview in an airport. This had to be something of top secret.
The guy had called himself Bruce Akpan.
I hope I can recognize him from the passport he sent me.
Around the airport, stern-faced policemen with sniffer dogs littered here and there. A loud unrehearsed hiss from plane engines somewhere not far away.
He hurried into the arrivals. The place was teaming with people, reminding him of angry stockholders. Reminding him of the story he did on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Here in the airport, there were seats for waiting people. Lots of people seated had earpieces to their ears, some of them nodding to music. There was a whir of wheels beside him as a lady wheeled a trolley past, her perfume beginning to fade just after asserting themselves through Mohammad’s senses.
Boards on the wall showed planes due to leave and others due to arrive.
The caller had said to get here on time.
From the entrance into the arrivals, Mohammad’s eyes located the café in which he was supposed to meet his contact.
A hidden boom speaker announced the latest arrival as Mohammad turned into the café, and the first thing he noticed about the restaurant was its smell.
The place made him salivate.
The smell of fried onions, fish and that tinge in the air of baked flour. But food in places like these was usually bad for his budget. So, no thanks. I think I can manage this meeting without spending anything.
He swept his head this way and that and saw the man waving at him from the lone desk in the extreme corner. Dark skin. Piercing eyes. The guy did not change one bit.
But he looked like he was under some kind of pressure.
Mohammad walked to the chair.
“Hi. I was –”
“Sit down, Mohammad.” The man said. “You are late.”
“I’m sorry.” Mohammad said, “I was only –”
“It’s fine. I don’t have all day.” Bruce said, getting to business immediately. “I saw your report on the murder of Aisha Ali. And you insinuated some foul play. You think she was murdered by someone close to home.”
Mohammad looked around him in the restaurant, for the first time wondering about his safety. The people around him seemed not to even care that he existed.
Am I sure about this meeting? And how am I supposed to trust this guy now?
But it was late, he realized.
“Relax.” Bruce said, glancing at his wrist watch. “It’s not you they want. It’s me. My name is Bruce Akpan. I am the driver of the Senate president”
And how does this concern you? What am I even doing here?
“And I know everything about the murder.”
Okay. Good. Now we’re getting somewhere.
“Who are they?” Mohammad asked.
“The people who killed Aisha.”
“Just a minute.” Mohammad placed his bag on the table, produced a legal writing pad, and a pen. Then he picked out an ash-coloured recorder and a pair of finger batteries. He placed the batteries in the recorder, tapped the record button. Placed it on the table.
Then he grabbed a pen. “Who wants you? Who are they?”
“No time. First of all, tell me what you know.” Bruce asked, his eyes darting to his wrist watch again.
“The wife of a senator, retired General Omar Ali, was found in her hotel room, dead from an overdose of prescription drugs.” The journalist said. He saw the amusement creep into Bruce’s eyes.
“Okay?” Bruce said.
“This was what we heard on the news.” The journalist was not done. “But she was in fact murdered.” Mohammad leafed through his legal pad, his eyes searching through the notes. “I know that – just hold on a minute – yes, I know that someone walked into her hotel room, murdered her, and walked away with the evidence.”
Bruce said nothing. Mohammad loved the silence. He knew he was spot on.
“I also know the police has been effectively kept out of it by the SSS. I know she was pregnant before she was murdered. I know that her husband, Omar Ali, had his tubes tied years ago.”
Mohammad picked out an A4 paper and handed it over. “Medical reports. Don’t ask.”
“How did you get all these?”
“I said don’t ask.” Mohammad hesitated. “But if you must know, I do my investigations well. But this is what I’m missing. A man who couldn’t impregnate his wife finds out she is pregnant – or maybe he doesn’t – but then she dies when he is not in the city. Convenient, right?” Mohammad tapped his legal pad. “This? This right here? There’s something fishy going on. What I want to know is what connects these dots. It is either this is a cover up or she is not dead at all. Or she is, in fact, dead – murdered – and this is some conspiracy theory, and those who killed her want to sweep it under.”
“And you think her husband did it.”
“Well, I didn’t say that. But I’d like to know.”
Mohammad watched Bruce pull in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. This guy is under some kind of pressure.
Bruce began talking.
“You really want to know what is going on?”
Mohammad watched Bruce look up from the legal pad and the medical report. Their eyes met.
The driver held the gaze.
Mohammad had the feeling this man was trying to figure out if to trust him or not. This could be the story that finally breaks me out as the ultimate investigative journalist. This probably is going to be the story of the year. What if there are others involved. What if the president is even a part of it? What if the pregnancy was just the first layer of the onion? Perhaps there’s something deeper. What if this even involves some kind of ritual involvement? It is possible.
The different possibilities excited Mohammad. But he kept his cool. Bruce’s gaze still burnt into Mohammad’s.
The journalist lowered his eyes to the legal pad and pretended to read through it.
“You know why I agreed to meet with you?”
“No.” Mohammad said, raising his eyes to meet the driver’s. “But I’m guessing you know something, and you want the world to know it too. The truth.”
“I called you because I need someone fearless to handle this,” Bruce said. “And if you get involved with this, there are forces that will come after you.”
“Let me have it.”
While Mohammad was still speaking, the driver put his hand into his pocket, and when his fingers came back out, they made a fist. He opened his hands, palm up, and in his palm was a golden ring.
What has a golden ring got to do with this? Mohammad wondered.
He didn’t have to wonder. Bruce was soon to tell him everything.
“Turn off the recorder,” Bruce said. Mohammad didn’t move at first. The men held their gazes for all of five seconds. And then, slowly, Mohammad raised his hand to the recorder. His fingers tapped it off.
Bruce cleared his throat, stealing another glance at his wrist watch. Why is he in such a hurry to leave, anyway?
Mohammad picked the pen, positioned to take notes.
“Can I take notes?” Mohammad asked.
“You won’t want to.”
A short distance away from the room and bed where Patrick Ama and Grace gasped in fiery passion, their legs locked in the tangled sheets, three black Toyota Hilux trucks – lined up one after the other after the other – braked in front of the black gate that was the entrance to the compound.
Each truck had ARMY written on both sides in bold white block letters.
The first of the trucks honked twice. A tall soldier, armed with an AK, came through the gate. He was dressed in a gray Tee, ARMY printed across his chest, and camouflage baggy pants tucked into combat boots. Over his eyes were a pair of sunshades.
Ten soldiers – eight men and two ladies – due to report at the Senate president’s for the afternoon shift, got off the trucks, all dressed in clean razor-sharp camouflage uniforms.
A yawning security guard opened the gate.
“I.D Cards.” He said. They all held up their identities. It was standard procedure.
The guard in the gray T-shirt took one sweeping look at all the ID cards and nodded his approval.
The gate went open, the soldiers filed into the compound, every one of them hurrying to the boys’ quarters behind the main building – some kind of temporary accommodation situation for the soldiers guarding the premise.
The eight men walked in front, bitching about football and politics and the intricacies of weaponized aircraft, while the two army women hurried to catch up behind them.
“I wonder why this olodo insists on always checking our IDs.” One the women said to the only other.
The second woman, in a hurry to get started on her work, said nothing. The first woman continued. “It’s not like we don’t know ourselves, and it is not like someone is going to have the guts to try and sneak in dressed like a soldier.”
The second woman chuckled at the joke. But she said nothing.
Her mind was busy.
At the first turn leading away from the main house to the boys’ quarters, the second woman slipped away from the group, and soon found herself at a door behind the main house.
She listened for any sound of another human.
The sounds of her army colleagues from the boys’ quarters came to her, but she could barely make out the words they said. She didn’t care.
A quick glance at her wristwatch quickened her pulse. The assassin had only three minutes to finish this.
Producing a black pair of hand gloves, she clothed her fingers in them and turned her attention the door.
A snap lock secured the door. The right equipment in her hand, she bent down before the lock and went to work.
Mere seconds were all it took. The beveled bolt was pushed back. The door swung open. The young woman slipped into the dark room, shut the door, careful to not make a sound.
She took a deep breath – the smell of baking bread registered – and then emptied her lungs slowly, giving her eyes time to adjust to the darkness inside the room.
I wish I had brought my night vision along. This will never happen again.
Her eyes made out three small lights, positioned a little distance away from her, each of which was no bigger than the size of a coin, arranged in a straight horizontal line. A red light, a yellow one, and a green.
Slow. Very slow. Like in a movie, the darkness in the room gave a little. From somewhere in the background, she heard the click of a switch.
And then she heard footfalls. One. Two. Three. Four. The footsteps got louder with each one.
Someone was heading in this direction.
Another click of a switch, and a line of horizontal light appeared on the floor to her left. The assassin recognized it as light under a door. It came from the hall behind that door, and someone – the footstep – approached.
The room had lightened up a bit, an imperceptible change in brightness, but now the assassin could see the difference between the door and its handle.
The smell of baking bread intensified, made her want to eat. She took a quick look around her and recognized a deep freezer – the red and yellow and green lights were indicators on the body of the freezer.
She noticed the gas cooker. The hanging compartments. The sink. This was a kitchen. And it told a good story of wealth.
A footfall came from just behind the door.
The assassin heard the door knob begin to turn. Her breath catching in her throat, she crossed the short distance to the door, glued her back to the wall just beside the door hinges.
Then came the clap of the latch as it came off the door frames. The door began to swing in, concealing the assassin.
A column of light – from the adjoining hall – widened on the floor as the door opened, blotted by the moving shadow of the intruder.
The assassin’s gloved hands connected with her beltline, found the fiber wire hanging under her belt.
She had made the weapon herself. It consisted of a short strand of a guitar string, a handle at each end. Simple and short. Easy to use. Effortless. Quick.
The first footstep in the kitchen dropped.
“Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teaches my hands to war.” The assassin mouthed, her hands spreading out the fibre wire. A handle of the weapon in each grip of her hands, the wire straight between her fisted hands. “And my fingers to battle.”
This would take no more than fifteen seconds. She had done this many times before.
A second footstep dropped. The door began to swing shut. The column of light on the floor narrowed. The assassin felt the effect of the adrenaline coursing through her blood. Her pounding heart.
“My goodness and my fortress,” the assassin’s eyes made out the intruder. Dressed in simple house clothes, the woman had a baker’s cap on her head and a chef’s apron on her body.
It was not difficult to figure out this was the house cook.
“My high tower and my deliverer.” The door hit the door frame. The latch lodged itself with a small clap. “My shield, and he in whom I trust.”
The chef raised her fingers to the wall, searching for the light switch.
This was when the assassin moved.
It happened like clockwork.
One silent footstep behind the chef. The fiber wire above and over the woman’s head to just under her chin. Darkness. Speed.
The chef didn’t notice the wire before her neck. The assassin pulled back, overlapped the handles of the wire, turned around – her back fusing with the chef’s back – and then leaned forward, bowing from the waist, pulling the woman onto her back, tightening the grip.
It all happened too fast for the chef to respond.
Before she knew she was under attack, the wire had cut deep into her neck, crushing her carotid artery and windpipe, her hand flailing this way and that in the darkness, her body struggling to contain the shock. The muted glottal stops, sounds of suffocation from her throat, died down in seconds as her body stopped thrashing.
The assassin released the wire.
The body dropped lifeless.
In the next minute, the assassin was dressed in simple house clothes, had a baker’s cap on her head and a chef’s apron on her body.
It wouldn’t be difficult to think she was the house cook.
Her weapons lodged underneath the disguise now, the assassin edged her way out of the kitchen and onto the staircase.
Noiseless, she ran up the stairs.
Her target was in the masters’ bedroom.
Grace Ama pushed her husband’s hand away from her body.
Careful not to wake him up, she slipped away from him to the edge of the bed.
Oh, he had been good. He always knew how to take care of business in bed.
The candle was still shining, but would soon go out. Had they been in bed that long? Ed Sheeran still did his thing from the speakers in the room.
Grace studied her husband’s frame under the bed covers. A smile crossed her face. It wouldn’t matter. Today was for them both.
And I’m not even done with you either. You just rest a while.
But the smile on her face didn’t last though, as a sad thought pierced her. She looked at him sprawled on the bed, snoring.
Please come home to me.
He was here now. But she knew he had been fooling around with someone new. She didn’t have any proof. But somehow, she knew.
I just know.
Grace heard the honking from the gate. Nude, she walked to the window, pushed the curtain aside a little bit. Three Hilux trucks were just reversing at the gate. Soldiers. They had come to drop off some of their colleagues.
I wonder if all this is even necessary.
She released the curtain, let it close back over the window, and for a second, saw nothing. Her eyes adjusted to the dim room in the next second. And then she made her way to the bathroom.
She got under the shower, and just let the water run over her body.
Her mind was in thoughts.
But she could never have guessed that an impostor just killed her cook downstairs.
Neither did she hear the click on her bedroom door.
Ella took the Bible to her desk.
Leafing through it, she opened the passage.
Exodus Twenty-three, verse twenty.
Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
She looked up at the computer guys. The sound of their fingers on the keyboards was all she heard. Their faces, straight and determined, reflected the light of the computer screen.
Maybe Aisha’s killer meant this in context. Had the killer not said to tell this to Sisera?
Did he mean to say that he was an angel? And for God’s sake, what is the place he had prepared? Ella lowered her eyes to the pages of the Bible before her. Verse twenty-one.
Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.
She thought for a while. Making no headway, she turned her attention to the computer guys.
“I want to know Yuri’s position with the Bruce Akpan.” Ella called to the computer table.
A few second later, the answer came.
“Yuri’s got Bruce Akpan.”
“Good.” Ella said. “Get him here as soon as possible.”
Picking a lock is an art, not a science.
This is because every lock is different, although the same principles apply. Most times, that is.
A gloved hand touched the shiny door knob. Gentle not to make a sound, the hand twisted the knob. The master bedroom door was locked.
The assassin had expected this, and had come prepared. Her hands touched her hair, and the right tools were in her hands in a second. A hairpin and a Bogota rake.
Time was of the essence.
She heard a tap from inside the room. She froze. Listened. Slow romantic music came from the other side of the door. A whisper came above the music.
The assassin’s eyes widened into a full cycle. A tapping sound came from the other side of the door. The assassin noticed her heart hammering against her chest. Was that a footstep? What if someone came out of the door now?
To the best of her knowledge, there was no security camera in sight.
A left thumb and its index finger. A hairpin between them. She inserted the hairpin into the bottom of the keyhole, and applied slight pressure, turning towards the right. She had done this numerous times. Should be easy.
From inside the room, there was a slight bang. And then the sound of a running shower. Someone was bathing. The assassin held her breath, willing her trembling fingers to relax. They did.
Her right thumb and index inserted the Bogota rake – just the size of the hairpin – into the top of the keyhole. Scrubbed the pick back and forth in the keyhole. The assassin was sweating in the air-conditioned hall.
A little more pressure on the hairpin. She heard the slight clink sound from the lock as a lock pin dropped. Scrub back and forth with pick. Pressure on hairpin. Two more click sounds. A third one. A fourth one.
Done. It only took her all of fifteen seconds.
She pushed the hairpin and Bokota rake back into her hair. Turned the door knob. She pushed the door a little. The creak of the hinges was loud. But it was soon lost within the music.
A low snore told her someone was sleeping.
The assassin slipped into the room, swept her eyes round the room, her ears quick for the sounds. The place smelled like sex.
A man slept in the bed. That had to be the woman in the bathroom. Two people. This would be no trouble for the assassin.
She remembered the words she had read. Smite Amalek, and utterly destroy. Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
The door of the bathroom began to open. The assassin whirled round, a silenced pistol appearing in her hand as she did.
The woman dripping water in the bathroom doorway was frozen in horror. Naked. Like on the day she was born. The assassin pointed the pistol to her breasts. The woman looked beautiful for a moment until the silenced automatic flickered.
Blood exploded from the naked breasts, the bullet pushing her a step back into the bathroom. Another shot put a hole between her eyebrows, pushing her even further back into the bathroom.
The suppressed shots sounded like whispered hisses. The bleeding woman slipped on the wet bathroom floor, crashed into something.
The assassin shut the bathroom door and turned to the man on the bed.
He snored on.
The assassin heard the honking car from the gate. She walked to the window, pushed the curtain aside. At the gate downstairs, she saw the cab. She saw the man get out of the taxi. Saw him pay the cab driver. Saw the cab drive away. Saw the soldiers open the gate for him. She hadn’t expected him to get here so soon.
But he was right on time.
The assassin knew now that she had to finish this and get away as soon as she could.
Her hand closed round the handle of the dagger on her waistline. She walked to the bed.
The man was still sleeping.
“Sisera was Amalekite.” Someone from the computer table said.
Ella raised her head from the Bible she was reading. “Pete? You just told me he could have been Egyptian or Philistine.”
“Yes. But these people and eras borrowed the name. It came originally from Amalek.”
“Okay?” Ella closed the Bible, her eyes meeting Pete’s from across the room.
Pete lowered his eyes to the computer screen before him.
“Sisera became commander of the Canaanite army under King Jabin of Hazor,” Pete read, “but his parents were Amalekite immigrants.”
Ella listened. Her mind was going this way and that, but there was no connection. So right now, for all I know, Sisera is not a place, it is not a time.
It is a person.
Tell this to Sisera. Tell this to the Amalekite.
I will smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
Ella’s mind connected the notes. This was not a note about Aisha’s death. It was a note about the next kill.
The killer was not telling me why he killed Aisha. He was telling me the next person on his list.
And I totally missed it.