Aso Drive is a double-laned road, located on the northern edge of the three-arm zone in Maitama, Abuja. On this drive sits the SSS headquarters complex, informally known as the ‘yellow house’ for its yellow- painted walls.
Across the double-laned road from the headquarters, and in an alley between two tall buildings, was where the assassin parked her Honda power bike.
Dressed in tight fitting black leather, the assassin looked down at her bike from the top of the building she was climbing. Then she heaved her light bulk onto the flat roof. The breeze sweeping over the roof felt cool on her skin.
Crouching low so as not to a4ract a4ention, her suitcase in her hand, she ran on the roof – her footsteps barely making any noise – towards the road. Her eyes scanned the yellow building across the large road. Her target was in that building. The SSS headquarters.
The light trembling began in her fingers. She took a deep breath to calm herself, loving the increasing heartbeat.
A quick glance at her wrist watch. Right on time.
She popped open the suitcase. Her left hand picked out the rifle, its weight making a statement. And then she attached the scope onto it.
She swept the gun over the yellow target building, her eyes in the telescope, scanning the house.
Crested on the wall at the top of the five storeyed building was the Nigerian coat of arm. A red eagle, wings spread, standing on a black shield. Horses neighing on each side of the shield.
Underneath the coat of arm, the yellow walls gave way to glasses, arched at the top of it. It looked like the coat of arm was just about to land on an inverted semicircle.
From the semicircle, the glass wall came all the way through five storeys straight down to the ground, where a rectangular door opened into the building, a pair of pillars outside this door holding up a concrete porch above the door.
On the left and the right sides of this tall glass wall, the building had concrete walls extending this way and that.
From the assassin’s view, the building had the shape a text book would have if it is opened down the middle and made to stand with its open pages at ninety degrees, with a mirror the height of the book placed between the pages so that it made a capital letter ‘A’ from a bird’s eye view.
It was a beautiful building.
In the premise, there was a large black slab with STATE SECURITY SERVICE engraved on it, behind which stood two white poles the height of the building, the Nigerian Green-White-Green flag flying at the top of both poles.
A black SUV drove into the SSS gates, pulled up in front of the large building. The assassin watched a woman walk out of the car and into the house.
That’s my cue.
Ella climbed off the SUV, crossed to the entrance into the yellow house. Minutes later, she walked into the operations room on the top floor.
The typing fingers on the laptops stopped when she walked in, as eyes rested on her momentarily, recognized her, went back to their screens, the fingers resuming their romance with the keyboards.
“You have a call, Ella.”
She turned. “From who?”
“Doctor Essien.” Joanne said. The name caused a sinking ball to drop in Ella’s tummy. She felt the shiver creep up her fingers.
He has found another note.
Ella walked back to the computer desk, picked up the wireless phone, and walked away to her table at the end of the dim room.
“The bodies have not been dead for more than an hour.” He said. “The palor is still in the range of…”
Ella said nothing, but she was no longer listening. She knew that could not have been the reason he called.
She waited for it, a sudden need to breathe overwhelming her. Like the air in this place was becoming stuffy.
Essien was still explaining. “…and that suggests the time of death. You get me?”
Nope, I don’t. “Of course, I understand.”
Ella wondered how long he had been speaking for, trying to explain his jargons.
“But there’s something else though.” He continued.
Oh here it comes. “Yeah, what is it?”
“I found a note underneath the pillow. Just like the one from the hotel.”
Ella felt the cold come over her. Of course there had to have been another note.
“Can you read it out to me?”
On the telephone lines there was some interference. A pause. Another interference. Silence.
“Are you still there?” Essien’s voice came through.
And then there was that fluttery empty feeling deep in her stomach. Voice it out already, doc. But she said nothing. She waited.
“There’s a -” Essien paused, “hold on, Ella.”
Ella balled her free hand into a fist. She could have driven it through Essien had he been standing before her. A creepy feeling crawled over her arms, setting the hairs on her skin on their edges.
“It’s addressed to you.”
Ella could not take the anticipation anymore.
“Out with it, Essien.” She heard someone scream, and realized it had been her.
The eyes of everyone in the operation room were drawn to her now. Even the other guy with the earpieces over his ears turned to look. Ella turned her back to her audience at the computer table, facing her desk and the wall.
“James.” Essien’s voice came through, “One. Fifteen. The Charioteer. 1630. Goliath.”
“I don’t understand.” Ella said. “In how many lines?”
“Four lines.” The voice sounded in Ella’s head. “First line reads ‘James. One. Colon. Fifteen.'”
“A Bible reference?”
“Yeah.” Essien said. “Second line reads ‘The Charioteer.’ And third line goes ‘1630.’ ‘Goliath’ is the last line.”
“Thanks.” Ella said. The line went blank. Ella walked back to the computer desk, and dropped the phone. James. One. Fifteen. The Charioteer. 1630. Goliath. It made no sense whatsoever.
“Pete,” Ella said, “what are you working on right now?”
“The Senate President’s details. Yuri asked that we put together a trail of everyone he contacted in the past two days.”
“You do that.” Maybe I should focus on this alone.
Ella walked to her desk. She grabbed the Bible in the first of her drawers, and opened. Essien had said it was James.
James. That was after Philemon and Hebrews right? Ella remembered the rhyme with which she had memorized the Bible books as a child. James.
She leafed through the pages. Hebrews. She thumbed through once more. Some more pages. And there she was. James. Chapter one. Ella scanned the page before her.
Her eyes ran across the words, as she mouthed them. “Then when lust hath conceived, it brings forth sin. And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.”
She heaved a sigh, hitting her palm on the Bible page.
This doesn’t make any sense.
Assuming Olai’s the killer, what is he planning to tell me now?
“Where’s Olai?” she asked.
“He’s in the holding office.”
“Who’s with him?”
“One of the guys.” Pete responded.
“Yes,” Pete said, “and cleared to shoot if he makes any stupid move.”
I’m going to ask you, Olai. And you better tell me what you’re up to.
Ella hated that thought nagging her somewhere at the back of her mind. What if it was all a set up? But what would he be doing in the bedroom? I will find out.
The numbers. 1630. What the hell do they mean? The password of some kind of lock? An ATM pin? A year?
Ella decided it might be a year. But how do I go about checking out how the year 1630 relates to everything?
She sighed. Glanced at the scripture opened before her. She hated the unease that began in her throat. Not being able to put two and two to get four was difficult.
The Charioteer. Goliath. 1630.
“The Charioteer? Goliath?” Ella whispered. I need Yuri here to think with me. She raised her voice “Where is Yuri?”
“He’s with Bruce Akpan.” Pete responded. “Interrogation room two.”
Ella got to her feet. “Can I have that on screen two?”
“Coming up.” Joanne responded. Ella bowed her head, resting her forehead in both of her palms.
It’s a long day already, and I haven’t any shred of concrete evidence. She closed her eyes. The snapshots came in quick succession, one replacing the other. Those bloodied lines Grace’s fingers had made on the walls of the bathtub. That hole in the woman’s forehead. The blood in the grooves around Patrick’s arms. That fly.
Cold air swept the hairs on Ella’s arms. She ran her left hand across her right arms and her right hand across her left arms in an instinctive effort to send the standing hairs back to sleep.
Screen two flashed. Ella turned her eyes to it. The camera was from an angle in the ceiling. On the screen, the room was bare, ash coloured walls. Brightly lit.
In the centre of the interrogation room, Bruce sat at a desk, his elbows propped up on the table, his head bowed, hands together, fingers intertwined. There was a cup of coffee beside his elbow on the table.
Bruce took his elbow away from the table, relaxing his back on the backrest of the chair.
Ella’s eyes scanned the man for emotions. His blinks were even. Regular. His fingers at rest. His movements relaxed.
“Zoom into his face for a while, Pete.” She said. Bruce’s face filled out the screen.
Ella looked hard at him. His breathing seemed relaxed. His lips steady. There was no sign of apprehension. It was either this guy had learned to control his expressions, or he really had nothing to hide.
“Okay.” Ella said. The view on the screen went back to default. And then Yuri walked into view, taking the seat across the table from Bruce, his back to the camera and to Ella’s view.
Bruce raised his head, looking into Yuri’s face.
Yuri made a gesture with his hand. Bruce raised his eyebrows, his lips moving.
“Why don’t I have sound on that?” Ella snarled.
“Oh, so sorry.” One of the men said from the computer table.
There came a beep from a speaker in the operations room. And then a crackle.
“Just connect the radio cord.” Pete whispered to someone at the table. Some interference came from the speaker, like someone was trying to tune into a radio. And then it was gone.
Ella’s eyes never left Yuri and Bruce on the screen as they conversed on the muted screen.
Bruce’s lips moved on the screen, and then his voice boomed into the operations room. “I know.”
Ella noticed Pete move beside her. “You are not being fair.” Yuri’s voice, from the speakers, was calm and controlled.
Ella looked daggers at Pete, expended her reprimand with that one look, and then turned back to the screen.
“I’m going to ask you this question once more.” Yuri’s voice came through.
“Here,” Pete whispered beside Ella, holding out his open palm, a wireless bud in the middle of his palm. “Yuri has one on him too. Whatever you say, he can hear.”
“What were you doing in the hotel that night?” Yuri’s asked from the screen. Ella picked up the bud from Pete’s palm, inserted it into her right ear.
“I cannot speak to you. I want my lawyer.” Ella heard Bruce’s voice on the bud just a fraction of a second before it came out of the speaker in the room.
“Is this how you want to play this?” Yuri voice sounded in Ella’s head.
Bruce said nothing.
“What were you doing at the airport?” Yuri asked.
“I had a flight. And you’re about to make me miss my flight.” Bruce said. “And of what business of yours is it, anyways?”
“Do you know where Aisha is?” Yuri said. “She is the wife of your boss’s friend, right?”
There still was no shift in the man’s facial. “You want to know if I know whether she is dead.”
Ella smirked. This guy knew his game. “Ask him what he did with the wedding ring.” she said.
“You know,” Yuri said. Then he paused. “I already know what you came to the hotel to do that night.”
On the screen, Bruce said nothing. His expression betraying no emotions.
“What did you do with the wedding ring?” Yuri voice came on in Ella’s head.
The loudspeaker in the operations room echoed it an instant later.
On the screen, Ella noticed the effect of the question on Patrick’s driver. It was instinctive, and fast, but she saw it.
The man blinked twice in quick succession. His tongue darted out once, wetting his lips.
You devil. I knew you were hiding something.
“That’s enough.”She said. “Tell him I’m coming to talk to him, Yuri. I need you to take care of Olai.”
Ella pulled the ear piece from her ear. “I’m going to talk to him.” She said to Pete. “I want you to pay attention. Whatever information he gives me, I want it checked for congruence. And get back to me as soon as you find anything. I’m assuming you have another one of these for yourself?” she held up the wireless ear bud.
“Yeah, I do.”
Ella walked to the door. Opened it. Then stopped.
“And Pete,” she said. Pete raised his eyes from the laptop screen. Ella continued, “I want to know what the driver was doing at the airport. I want to know everything he did there. Who he talked to. Who he smiled at.”
“On it.” Pete said.
Ella turned to the open door. Walked out onto the corridor. Shut the door. The holding office was her destination.
She turned right, walked up the corridor. The sound of her stilettos against the hard floor echoing off the walls. She read the signs on the doors lined up as she passed along the hall.
Records. Administration. Conference. Room 1.
After the Conference Room door, there was a long wall before the next door. Oh, there it was. Holding Office. Fourth door from Operations.
Ella stopped at the door, but she didn’t walk in. The rectangular door was made of wood, with a transparent glass opening running in the middle of it, diving the door into three equal parts.
Wood. Glass. Wood. From top to bottom.
Through the glass, Ella saw the men inside the office. It was a small office, like the one HR used for job interviews downstairs.
A man, dressed in black uniforms, stood just inside the door. Beyond this man was Oluchukwu Nnam. Someone had called him Olai. His was seated at a desk, his head bowed.
And he was not cuffed. Good.
Ella turned. I’ll deal with you when I’m done with Bruce Akpan.
She already saw the news headlines that would grace the evening paper. Veteran Special Agent Cracks Double Murder Case Within 15 hours.
And then I’ll retire. What a career.
She turned the other way, and walked down the corridor. Down the hall, Yuri emerged from the interrogation room. The offices swept by her as she walked.
Conference Room 1. Administration. Records. Operations Room. Chief of Records. Operations Room. Chief of Investigations – Jeffery’s office.
Jeffery’s office was the last one on the left before the lobby overlooking the gate. To the left was a glass wall. Ella looked through the transparent glass to the gate downstairs, the double-laned road outside the gate, and the residential buildings on the other side of the street.
She did a double take. Did I see someone on the top of that roof?
When she looked again, the roof stood there, just like every other roofs.
I must have imagined it.
To Ella’s right, just opposite the glass wall was the conveniences. Two doors.
Staff Convenience. Visitor’s Convenience.
This was when Yuri, walking up from the door of the interrogation room, walked up to her.
“He’s playing hard ball.” He said.
“I know. Let me deal with him. Keep Olai entertained.” She walked past him.
Ella held up the ear bud between her left index finger and thumb. Inserted it into her left ear.
As Yuri hurried down the hall behind her, she held the knob on the door through which Yuri had just stepped out of, she turned it, and walked into the anteroom.
The place was dim, and stuffy. The room didn’t have a window, and Ella wondered if the AC had stopped working again.
The anteroom was a dark room before the interrogation room, through which psychologists and investigators covertly observed the goings on inside the investigation room, through a one-way mirror. A glass wall. Three men and a woman stood before the glass wall, turning to look at Ella when she opened the door, the light from the hall behind her casting her shadow onto the floor.
She recognized them. They were from Records. In the darkness behind them was a range of equipment for recording investigations going on in the room on the other side of the glass.
Seated in one of the chairs, Ella recognized Jeffery Benjamin.
Through the glass, her eyes fell on Bruce Akpan, seated at the lone desk in the interrogation room. His head was bowed, his elbows on the desk, his fingers intertwined. A cup of coffee sat beside his elbow.
Ella shut the door behind her, blotting out the light from the hall. “Play the good cop.” Jeffery said to her.
“I thought I was supposed to be the bad cop?”
“Don’t do anything that would hit us back if this goes to court.” He said, “That’s all.”
“Of course.” She said.
Ella took one more glance at Bruce, knowing that he couldn’t see her through the glass if he tried, then she walked to the metal door, placed her hand on the door handle.
“Hi, Mister Oluchukwu Nnam.” Yuri’s voice came on in Ella’s head. She remembered the communication bud in her ear. “My name is Yuri. Hope we-”
She yanked the bud away from her ear, and Yuri’s voice in her head died with it. He’s was already with Olai.
She opened the door, stepped into the interrogation room, and banged the door shut.
The investigation was about to take a radical turn.
She had no idea.
On the other side of the street, watching through the scope of her sniper, the assassin watched Ella converse with Yuri.
She had ducked away just in time when Yuri looked this way. She hooked her hand before the trigger.
I can’t wait to take out the target.