CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Continued)
Sitting in the back seat of the cab, Olai allowed his mind roam. He turned the ideas around in his head. Bruce. Patrick Ama’s driver. Was this the same Bruce? And if it was, what the hell would he want with Aisha?
Aisha’s voice came through.
“Bruce? For Pete’s sake, I told you not to call again until this is over. I can’t do this with you distracting. I’m scared.”
What were you planning with Bruce, Aisha?
Olai hated the sinking thought that came through. What if they had planned to pin the murder on me? For what purpose?
He perished the thought. Aisha had never been suicidal. She loved life too much to want to play any such games. But what could they possibly be talking about? Was Bruce Aisha’s killer?
Had Aisha been lying when she said she had been scared that night? Olai thought through it all in a second. It wouldn’t have been difficult for him to miss it.
He smacked his forehead.
It made no sense.
Why would Aisha come to a hotel and plan to invite me, seduce me, only to be killed? Or maybe she didn’t know she was going to be killed.
Or perhaps Bruce had been in the room with her when Olai had called that night. But she mentioned Bruce’s name. That detail made no sense to Olai.
Olai felt the cab slow down. He raised his head, and they were at the large gate. The cab driver horned once. A man dressed in military camouflage khakis came out of the compound.
Olai got out of the cab. Paid the driver – who seemed only too eager to drive away. He identified himself to the soldier, and was ushered into the compound.
They had been expecting him.
This should be easy. He walked to the front door, and tapped the doorbell. No one came to the door for a few seconds.
He tried again. On his fourth try, someone opened the door. A young man of no more than twenty-one years of age, dressed in black jacket, and no tie.
Anyone could have guessed from his dressing that he belonged to the family, but Olai knew the Amas had only a daughter and no sons.
Maybe this guy was a servant in this house. A well-dressed servant.
Olai wondered if all this guy did all day was sit around and open the door when someone rang the doorbell. From inside the hall behind the young man, Olai heard the sound of footsteps.
He ignored it.
“Good morning.” Olai said, trying his best to match the lad’s smile. “I was told that you were expecting me.”
“Are you from General Omar Ali?” Olai heard a pause in the footstep from inside the house.
Olai nodded. “Yeah. My name is Oluchukwu Nnam. Or just Olai.”
“Please,” the lad’s face lightened up. “Come in. You can call me Daniel.”
The footsteps inside the house continued. This time, it was more hurried.
Olai walked through the door, turned his gaze to the direction of the footsteps. Someone – the house cook – dressed in a chef’s hat and an apron, had just ran down the staircase and was hurrying away into a side door.
That had to be the kitchen door. The door opened. The young lady slipped through it. Olai’s eyes made out kitchen cabinets in the room before the door shut with a low bang.
There probably was nothing to it, but something about the cook’s movement alarmed Olai. He just didn’t like it.
She moved with a slickness too smooth for a house help.
The clap of the main door as Daniel shut it dragged Olai’s thought away from the house help and the kitchen door.
He turned his gaze, letting his eyes drink in the beauty of the house. And yes, it was gorgeous. The tiled floor. The three-seater sofas. The staircase leading up. Olai’s eyes took it all in with one sweep of his eyes from left to right and then from right to left. This was the life, mehn.
And there was that smell of baking bread in the house. No. It was cake.
“I was asked to invite you to the small parlour upstairs, Mister Nnam.” Daniel said.
He seemed to have done this for a long time. He spoke with a good accent and had a good command of the English language.
Olai followed the lad to the staircase, climbing up after him.
When they got close to the top of the staircase, there was slow love songs coming from one of the rooms. The loudspeaker was one of good quality. Daniel turned to Olai.
“There.” He pointed to the arrangement of three cushions and a table at a lobby-like opening just off the top of the staircase. “Just wait. He will be with you shortly.”
“Please, can I get you something to drink?”
“No. Nothing.” Olai said. “I won’t be here long.”
The young man turned and began walking down the stairs.
“What about Bruce?”
Daniel stopped in his tracks. “He went out. Errands.”
Good. I need to know if he’s the Bruce I’m looking for.
“Okay.” He said to Daniel.
The lad continued down the stairs.
Alone now, Olai walked to the small palour, dropped into one of the cushions. Daniel’s footsteps faded downstairs.
Three minutes of looking around the place was all it took to get Olai uncomfortable.
He glanced at his wrist watch. It was already ten minutes past eleven. The loudspeaker from the nearby room had finished playing one track and had just started another one. I need to leave this place.
He knew that every second he spent not looking for Aisha’s killer brought the police closer to discovering that he was the one with Aisha the night she was killed.
They got her phone. And it is very possible that the hotel had video cameras. I probably have to watch my back from now on. There’s no telling when the police would put a word on the street against me.
Olai’s mind was still looking around, intensifying that sinking feeling that all was not well, until he raised his eyes to the bedroom door just down the lobby.
He had looked at it several times since sitting here. But now, there was something different about the door.
His mind clicked on something. He got to his feet. There was something wrong with that door. Not the frames. The finishing on the door was excellent. No. Not that.
His instinct rested on the door knob. It had to be the doorknob. Olai couldn’t tell at first what it was, but he just knew something was wrong with that knob.
It stood like every normal door knob. Round. Clean. Stainless. The light reflecting from it. Its key hole had turned slightly to the right, but it looked awkward.
Olai walked to it. And his mind made the connection. It clicked. He knew a picked lock when he saw one.
Someone had picked this door.
He thought fast now. His mind settled on only one thing. The house cook he had seen downstairs. Her hands had been in a black pair of gloves.
Whoever had black gloves on, when the weather was nowhere near cold? A house cook? Black gloves?
Olai stretched his hand towards the doorknob. Touched it. Turned it. The creak of the door as it swung into the room sent his heart on overdrive.
The first sight he saw penciled his blood. There was a closed door on the left. The bathroom? Red liquid on the door. Blood. Fresh blood. The rugged floor in front of the bathroom had blood smear on it.
Again, just like with Aisha, Olai should have whirled round at the door now, ran past the small parlour, down the stairs and he should have taken himself as far away from here as possible. But he stayed.
He stepped into the room. And then turned his gaze rightwards to the bed.
The sight sent an explosion down his spine. He staggered backward, his stomach feeling horribly queasy.
But he still could not tear his eyes away from the horrible sight.
Ella got to her feet.
“What was Sisera’s job?” she asked no one in particular. But everyone in the room heard her.
“He was the leader of the King’s armed forces.” Pete replied.
“Like the chief of Armed forces?” Ella wondered where the chief of Nigerian Armed forces is right now. The defense headquarters was not far away from here. It was in the heart of Abuja. Was that the next victim?
Was that what the clue meant?
“Much more than that.” Pete said. “The military was in charge of the politics in Canaan in the days of Sisera, so he was greater than all except the king on the throne.”
“Like the Vice President?” Ella’s fingers trembled a little as it dawned on her. How could I have been this slow? How could I have allowed this elude me this long? Am I losing my touch? “Where is Mister VP?”
“He’s outside the country, and no.” Pete explained. “There was nothing like a Deputy President in those days. He would be more like the Senate President.”
Ella’s mouth went dry. The man’s name appeared in her mind even as Pete finished explaining.
Why hadn’t I thought of that till now? She balled her hands into a fist, her teeth biting on her lower lip now.
It was actually simple. Had always been. The killer left it right there for her to see. No wonder his driver had been on the scene that night.
The driver had come for the ring. What was in that ring?
Was the Senate president the same person as Sisera? Was he the killer’s next victim? Ella shook her head.
Olai’s eyes fell on the bed, and the sight penciled his blood. That ice cold zombie hand grabbed his spine again. This time, it was shivering.
The bed, the bed frame, the pillows, the headboard, and even the walls on which was glued the headboard of the bed frames, were covered in curved lines of blood.
The picture looked like the liquid had been shot out of tiny pressured hoses. Like from a fountain of blood. Ruptured veins.
But those were not what caught Olai’s attention right now.
On the bed, Patrick lay on his left side, his head facing Olai. His eyes closed.
He looked asleep. Peaceful. Dead.
The image of Aisha’s body back in the hotel bathroom snapped through Olai’s mind. The tiles. The bloodied stabbing knife. The knife wounds. The three grooves in the blood.
His mind cleared. Olai knew he would never forget this image before him. This was going to haunt him forever.
Drops of hot blood were dripping to Patrick’s face from his upturned temple. Down his brows, down to his nostrils. Across his face and down to the pool of blood in which his head laid.
Saliva flooded Olai’s mouth. He felt sick in the pit of his tummy.
He was going to vomit.
Ella looked at Bruce Akpan’s picture on the screen. Was this why the Senate President’s driver went to the hotel.
Something was wrong somewhere. Something was not right. Was that the next victim? She was scared to ask the question on her tongue, but she did.
“What happened to Sisera?”
“He was defeated by the Isrealite forces in battle.”
Oh thank God.
“Okay,” Ella said, “so Sisera was killed in battle?”
“By Isrealite soldiers?”
“No.” Pete said. Ella’s heartbeat doubled. Pete continued. “According to the Bible, Sisera was killed by a woman.”
Ella raised her eyebrows. “How did he die?” Ella said. “I mean, how did the woman kill him?”
“A tent peg was hammered into his temple,” Pete said with a note of finality, “pinning him to the ground.”
The room began to spin. Olai raised his hand to hold his head steady.
He didn’t hear the footsteps climb up the staircase. He didn’t hear the footsteps hurry to the door. The picture before him had him glued to the floor, his knees wobbling.
The most haunting part of the picture was not the pool of blood in which the man’s head pillowed. It was not even the blood dripping down his face.
It was something else.
That point. That spot between Patrick’s ear and his eyebrow.
His temple. There.
Right there, from where the blood dripped to his face and down onto the bed.
It reminded Olai of Sisera. The Biblical account of the military general.
That spot. Olai could only see the handle of the knife sticking out of that spot.
The blade was buried in the man’s head up to its hilt.
Pinning the man to the bed.
A violent shiver rocked Olai.
He still had his eyes on the knife – the visible part of it. The handle of the dagger was an exact replica of the one he had seen on Aisha.
This had to be the same killer. The house cook from downstairs. A thousand hot pins attacked Olai’s head. How could I have missed it?
When the sound of footsteps from the staircase registered in Olai’s brain, it was too late for him to move. A soldier’s combat boot slammed the master’s bedroom door, flinging it open.
“Get away from the bed.” A voice bellowed. Olai heard the cock of a gun. He turned his head to the door.
Two soldiers in camouflage uniforms stood there, a pistol in each of their hands. Their faces were stern, their walks animated.
This is a setup. I didn’t do this.
“It wasn’t me.” Olai said.
“Put your hands where I can see them.” The second man said.
Olai turned, took a step towards the men, his hands lying idly by his side.
“Listen to me,” he began, “this is a setup. I didn’t do-”
“Stay right there,” the first man screamed, “And put your hands where I can see them.”
“Put your damn hands in the air.” The second man said.
Olai looked at the window. It was burglar proofed. Not a chance.
“Don’t even think about it.” The first man said, “Get on your knees and raise your hands where I can see them.”
Olai went down, first on his right knee, and then on his left. He raised his hands. This was the end. Olai knew that if these men took him away, he stood no chance of finding the killer.
I didn’t do this.
Olai saw the first man drop a hand – the left hand – to his belt line. A pair of handcuffs came off with the hand. The first soldier took a step forward, his right hand holstering the pistol to his waist.
The other soldier had his pistol pointed square at Olai.
“Stay down.” The first soldier said. Those two words brought with them long lost memories and all the anger associated with it. Stay down, coward.
Olai zoned out. He was eight years old now, and the big boy just pushed him down. First day, new school. It just rained.
Oluchukwu on all four, his palms and knees in the muddy ground. It was in the middle of the football pitch. His new school uniform soiled.
And the entire school looked on, the football match suspended, everyone cheering the bully.
“If you tackle me like dat again eh,” The big boy barked in a special brand of pidgin English. “I go show you who own this field, idiot.”
Young Oluchukwu hated the pain in his guts. He wished he could muster up Superman’s powers.
“I no be olodo.” He mumbled. His pidgin English was not so good, but it would have to do.
He brought his right foot under him.
“See this Ajebo.” the big boy stopped. “I go wound you oh.” Oluchukwu brought his other foot under him, but was still bent down.
The cheering crowd was divided now, but only in their words. Some people cheered him on, urging him to his feet. The others implored a punch or a kick from the big guy.
“Stay down,” the big boy screamed, his sneakers connecting to Oluchukuw’s tummy.
The blow stung hard. Oluchukwu rolled onto the muddy ground. His school uniform was gone now. Muddy. Mum would kill him. That was official now.
“Stay down, coward.” The big boy spat, and walked away. Olai balled his hands into fists, he was Superman now.
He blinked. He was now kneeling in front of the two soldiers, his hands raised, Patrick Ama dead on the bed behind him.
The first soldier took another step forward, the shiny cuff grabbed at Olai’s left wrist.
I am not a coward.
And this was when he moved.
He sprang up, diving with his head into the face of the first soldier. Cartilage cracked. The soldier dropped the cuffs on instinct, his hands nursing a bloodied nose, eyes wide in panic at the speed of the unexpected attack.
Olai’s foot connected with the second soldier’s cheeks. The man lost his gun, sending it across the room floor, while the soldier himself went careening into the bathroom door, knocking it open as he went.
Olai closed the distance between him and the man with the bloodied nostril. His knee met the man’s tummy, knocking the air out of his lungs.
Olai didn’t hear the footstep at the door. He didn’t know there was a third soldier. Just when he noticed the man in khakis, the third guy was already in Olai’s space, driving the end of his rifle into Olai.
The weapon impacted his belly, threatening to tear through his abdomen and produce itself from his back, but at the same time, as if changing its mind, retreating with the muscular arm of the soldier.
The impact sent a shock wave of pain from Olai’s guts to his spine. It traveled up his spine and exploded in his skull. He felt himself lose breathe for a second.
On instinct, he doubled over, his guts on fire. The burning in his intestines was nothing compared to the pounding in his head.
The pain crumbled his legs, making them too weak to carry his frame. He felt the tears well up in his eyes, obscuring his vision. He didn’t even notice the snot hanging out of his nostril.
Olai’s lungs lost air. Emptied. There was a quick feeling that he was never going to breathe again, and then in a millisecond, his lungs filled with cool, fresh air.
But that didn’t last for a second. Another punch tore his abdomen now and he staggered backward, his lungs burning, his weakened knees crumbling under him, his body thudding onto the floor.
He tried to sit up on the floor, but only had a microsecond to see the soldier move his feet, before the dirty combat boots connected with his cheeks.
The lights exploded in the back of his eyes. He tasted blood. The room began to turn upside down, but stopped when Olai’s head slammed onto the hard floor.
He saw the light first dim down, and then go out.
His last sight was of the man in the bathroom staggering out, cursing expletives that would be inappropriate on a page of even the dirtiest thriller novels.
Olai’s eyelids closed now, welcoming the darkness.
In the operations room, the only sounds that came was those of a dry buzz of the air conditioner and the constant rattles from the computer desk as fingers flew over keyboards.
Ella walked back to her desk, hating the sinking feeling in her guts. Perhaps I’m seeing things where there is nothing. But she could hardly shake that feeling that the Senate president was in danger.
Sisera had been killed by a peg pinning him to the ground.
Ella raised her hand to her face, wiped the sweat on her forehead. Did the operations room just get a shade darker? She turned her head to the picture of the driver on the first screen.
The door clicked open, revving up Ella’s heartbeat. Yuri walked through, shutting the door after him.
“The driver?” Ella asked.
“Interrogation room one.” Yuri’s words came quick. “But something else is going on.”
Ella raised her eyebrow.
“You’re not going to like this.” He said, walking towards her.
“What is it, Yuri?”
“The Senate president has been killed.” The words put a stop to Ella’s heart for a fraction of a second.
Silence descended upon the room. The typing from the computer desk came to a halt. Every eye in the room watching the exchange now. Rapt attention. Even the air conditioner seemed to have quietened down a bit.
A shiver swarmed down the back of Ella’s legs like leaf-cutting ants marching along a twig. Slow. Uniform. Deliberate.
She sat in her chair, trying to steady her melting legs.
“Well-” Ella cleared her throat, brought her voice a notch lower. “When did it happen?”
“Not five minutes ago.” Yuri said.
“How did it happen?”
“A knife.” Yuri said, the words cut through Ella. She had expected something like that. “Pinning his temple to the bed while he slept.”
Ella swallowed the lump in her throat. “Sisera.” She whispered. But everyone heard her.
“And they have the killer.” Yuri continued.
Ella raised her head to meet his. This was good news. It got her going again. It was time to end this. “Who is she?”
“It was a man.”
“Oh?” Ella raised her eyebrows. It was supposed to be a woman, Yuri. Wasn’t it Jael who killed Sisera? Ella didn’t speak those thoughts though. Yuri was still speaking.
“Him.” Yuri said, moving his eyes to the picture of the guy on the screen.
Ella followed his pointed gaze to the screen.
Ella got to her feet, shaking off the dread. I need to see the dead man. And Olai.
“Did you get the driver’s phone?” She asked.
“Yeah,” Yuri said, opening his palms to reveal a small cell phone.
“Good.” She fingered the power button on her laptop, holding it down a few seconds. The laptop went off. “I want that phone hacked into. I want to know who Bruce Akpan spoke with, and the content of the conversation from three days ago. Pete,”
Ella ran her eyes from Yuri to Pete, “get it ready by the time I get back.”
Yuri took a step towards the computer desk. Dropped the phone on the table. Pete’s fingers closed around it.
Ella was still speaking.
“Yuri, I want that compound sealed. No one leaves, and no one gets in.”
“Already done that.” Yuri said.
“And I want Essien’s team on sight. I’m going to see about Olai. By the time I get to the murder scene, I want to know everything there is to know. At least a prelim.”
“Got that.” Yuri said.
“And no one dares lay a finger on Olai. Not a finger.” Ella said, walking to the door. “We’re going there. I want Essien there too. With his team.”
“Noted,” Ella heard Yuri say before she walked onto the corridor outside the operations room, and shut the door.