CAPTAIN’S RESDIDENCE/ PRESENT DAY
Desire endured a full body search at the gate before she was allowed into Captain’s private quarters. It was a chalet, different from where he officially lived. People were hardly allowed into this part of the mansion but Desire had unlimited access.
She walked with short, hurried steps to the front entrance where a soldier let her in. She was told Captain was in his study and would be available shortly. With hands on her waist, she rounded the small anteroom and listened as guard dogs in the distance tried to outdo each other in a howling contest. The anteroom was dimly lit with expensive but dark furnishings. There was a black statue of a naked woman with an external bleeding heart—a dark version of the Madonna—and it stood beside a smaller statue of a naked man stretched out ‘Cleopatra style’ with an erect phallus on a marbled bench, facing the entrance door. There were also dark gothic life-size paintings on the walls but the room held no other furniture except a lone couch that stood by a wall which opened to a corridor, leading to Captain’s study.
An armed soldier emerged from the corridor and made a barely visible sign to Desire to follow him and she obeyed. He continued down the corridor but Desire opened the first door on her right. She walked into an airy room caked by bookshelves lining the left and right walls from top to bottom. Another wall facing a work table was covered halfway with small security monitors and in their middle, a large plasma television. Unlike the anteroom, this was a brighter room and during the day, it permitted a lot of sunlight through large windows.
Captain was seated, facing the door. Smoke from a freshly lit cigarette wandered off his lips to form a cloud above him as he introspectively scratched the grey stubble on his chin. Desire stood by the door and waited to be invited in and he nodded her over. She walked to his desk and stood before him.
“Make it fast. I need to get to bed.” He twirled a blue diamond ring on the little finger of his left hand as Desire walked to him and went on her knees. He leaned back on his chair and scratched his earlobe.
“Young lady, the last time you went on your knees before me, you directly disobeyed an order afterward that almost had you killed in a senseless revenge mission. Now you’re here again, doing the same thing. What do you want?”
“Permission to hunt down and kill anyone who touches Hamza’s life.”
Captain laughed and shook his head at her affectionately. “It’s always a game of vendetta with you, isn’t it?”
“It’s not a game, Captain. It’s my brother’s life.”
“You know what? I will not grant you that request but I will hold off Sefia for two weeks and if you’re able to get the money to me before she does, your brother can go free.”
“But Captain,” Desire stood, “Sefia’s dating Hamza’s friend. She knows where that money is but I know nothing. Sending me out there is setting me up to fail…”
“Desire,” Captain called gently. “Have I not always treated you like my own daughter?”
“You have, Captain.”
He smiled warmly at her. “I cannot grant your request, darling. What you’re dipping your feet into is beyond you. It is not just about the money and I’ll advise that you let it go.”
“Then please, tell Sefia not to touch Hamza. Please, Captain. Hamza would never steal from you. I’m very sure. He’s being influenced by someone.”
Luke flicked off ash from his cigarette.
“You and your brother have two weeks exactly to return my money to me or he’s dead. You may leave.”
Desire lingered for a while but when she saw the look of finality on Captain’s face, she made for the door.
“Nafisa,” Captain called and she turned around.
“Don’t do what I think you are planning to do.”
“Yes, Captain.” She nodded but he didn’t fail to notice the pure resolve in her eyes before she turned back to the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hamza felt a tremor in his stomach and he stopped the present activity he was engrossed in. That was the fifth time he was having the same feeling that evening and he knew it spelled doom. He didn’t require a soothsayer to tell him something dark was lurking around.
“What’s wrong?” The girl he had in his arms asked and he shook his head, bringing her lips to his to resume what he had begun just minutes before. There was no rush in the movement of his hands over her body. He wanted to take his time, to get lost in her and erase the tugging in his heart that begged him to stop. As he marked out little circles with his fingertips on her back, he wondered how much more of these mindless copulations he had to go through to expunge the guilt sitting deep in him. For three long weeks, twenty-one days exactly, he had had sex every single night with different girls. He wasn’t a player and was appalled by the idea of being labeled such but his nights had suddenly turned cold and terrifying with death itself banging at the door of his sanity every moment his head hit his pillow in dreamless slumber. The girls had become necessary and the need for them unquenchable.
“You’re beautiful,” he said to the girl, kissing her, and momentarily, his fear was abated.
* * * * * * * * * *
Desire stood across the street from Hamza’s home and stared with uninterrupted concentration at the silhouetted figures kissing by Hamza’s bedroom window. It was way past bedtime for many of the residents in the neighborhood and there were hardly any cars driving by. A cigarette burned away between her fingers rapidly, urged by a fairly strong wind that blew through the street. A couple of guys returning from a late night out ogled her as they passed by but she ignored them and set the cigarette to her lips. With one long drag, she finished the stick and flicked it off with her tongue before she crossed over to Hamza’s. As she approached the front door, she noticed that the figures by the window had disappeared and the light had been dimmed considerably. She pulled out a key from her jean pocket and inserted into the lock of the door and with one click, the door was undone. She grabbed the handle and walked in.
The sitting room was neat and nothing was out of place. Frank Ocean was playing in the background as Desire chose the settee facing the television to settle in. She picked a remote control from the center table and clicked on the power button to turn on the 64 inch plasma TV on the wall. The dark sitting room became illuminated with light and she relaxed to watch soundlessly, a Nigerian movie.
The minutes dragged on and extended into a full hour. The movie rolled its credits and still Hamza had not emerged from his bedroom. Desire became restless and impatiently got to her feet and made it straight to his door. Without knocking, she barged in. Luckily for Hamza he wasn’t doing anything but lying naked, going through his phone. He bolted up when the door flung open, waking the girl sleeping beside him who spotted Desire and let out a fearful scream.
“Are you insane?!” Hamza covered his privates with a pillow and tried to calm the girl.
“Sorry,” Desire muttered and looked away. “We need to talk.”
“Who is she?” the girl asked Hamza, already pulling a jealous face.
“One minute.” Hamza wore his jalabiya and hurried to the door. He grabbed Desire by her hand and led her out to the sitting room.
“If you ever do that again….”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been waiting for a while.”
“Why are you here?”
“You need to sit for this one.”
“No, Nafi. I’m tired of you appearing and disappearing in and out of my life like that. You come, you go, you leave no notice…”
“Someone wants you dead.”
Hamza shut his mouth and studied Desire carefully.
Hamza perched on the armrest of the settee closest to him while Desire sat on the center table to face him.
“You have to listen to me carefully.”
She related to him all she felt he needed to hear, emphasizing the gravity of his crime against Captain. Hamza listened attentively, his mounting fear manifested in micro expressions. Towards the end of Desire’s tell, he stood up and began to pace round the sitting room with his hands rubbing his temples agitatedly.
“Hamza, you have to get out of the country immediately.”
Hamza stopped and turned to her. “I can’t.”
“Nafi, ba zan iya ba.”
“What is ba zan iya ba? You have to leave!”
“You know I’m not a thief ba?”
Desire nodded and he stopped before her.
“Let me tell you what really happened.”
* * * * * * * * * *
A MANSION SOMEWHERE IN EPE/ MARCH 2013
Hamza stood with no breath in him. The air around him was frozen and his mind was finding it difficult taking in the sight before him. Shivers took over his body and he was rudely taken back to the time when he walked into his father’s bedroom and saw him lying dead on his bed. He shook his head at the memory and stepped back a little. On the floor before him was a dead man, the reason for his present state of mind.
Hamza turned around to face a long corridor. He walked into it and stopped a good distance from the corpse. There he stood with crossed arms and thought about his life and where it was heading.
He had a good job, he had a good relationship with his family, he had a good relationship with God. But he had bad friends. They were men sold to wine, sex and revelry; and with guile, they had drawn him into their web. He met them just two years earlier at a sports bar where he was watching the finals of the UEFA. The bar was packed full and he had been lucky to get a separate table for himself. As he sipped on his bottle of malt, three guys appeared and asked to share his table. They introduced themselves as Tony, Richie and Moses. Hamzahad easily recognized Tony as an upcoming musician who had featured Naeto C in his first single. His stage name was T-Man and was already a hit amongst the ladies because of his Tyrese-like looks. Moses was a professional barman and Richie a theater nurse. They fast became friends and Hamza looked forward to spending time with them during the weekends to ward off boredom and loneliness. They were not his kind of crowd but they kept him occupied, Richie especially, with his perverse tongue.
A while later, Tony met and started dating a girl, Tina, who immediately became Hamza’s constant interest and the reason why he remained friends with them even when his better judgment warned him off. Tina reminded him of Nafisa, striking in him something that was not just sisterly but also amorous. She was neither as smart nor as beautiful as Nafisa but she possessed a warm nature that endeared everyone to her and with a gap-toothed smiled that was shy and energetic at the same time, she was an agreeable character with the opposite sex. Outside their circle, Hamza spent most of his spare time with her. The relationship bordered on a secret affair so many times but he believed his respect for her had to exceed his emotions. They grew very close and he became the most trusted friend she had until Sefia appeared on the scene just three months ago. Moses introduced her as his girlfriend and no one found the relationship odd except Hamza. The pair was mismatched in every way. Sefia was loud and boisterous and had muscles that scared boys; Moses was laid back, not so loud, unfit and lanky as a straw. Hamza knew they were together because someone was getting it good in the downstairs department and he knew that someone was not Sefia. But there was something else about her that unsettled him and he wasn’t sure what. She spelled some sort of doom to their circle, especially to Tina, who turned materialistic and sassy overnight. Hamza mourned the loss of her virtue silently even while he was aware of the shameless affair that Sefia had begun with Tony right under their noses.
From then, Hamza began to withdraw, spending fewer moments with the guys, but on the first of March, Tony’s birthday had pulled him back in. Tony himself had personally turned up at his office to invite him. After signing autographs for Hamza’s gushing female colleagues, he threw his invitation and Hamza accepted.
It was a special getaway of three days at Tony’s uncle’s mansion in Epe for all six of them. The house was an art of rare marble that had three floors with twenty-six rooms, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a pool bar and a botanical garden. Tony told them he had the house all to himself because his uncle was away for some business. They were free to do whatever they wanted.
The weekend went well and Hamza enjoyed himself, having not had a break in a long time. With just one day left, he hung at the poolside alone, stretched out on a pool lounge to enjoy the cool evening the setting sun was promising, but his tranquil moment was cut short with a shrill scream coming from Tina within the house. He hopped to his feet and with the others found his way up to the third floor. Double doors leading to a large, empty room at the end of the corridor were thrown wide open and Tina emerged from them, green about the gills. Hamza got to her first and held her.
“What happened? Are you okay?” he had asked.
“What’s wrong?” Sefia was next on the scene.
Tina shook her head and pointed towards the room behind her and they all rushed in. There they found Tony on the floor, kneeling over the decaying corpse of a man in his mid-fifties with a gaping hole in his heart. The marbled floor beneath him was stained with dried blood.
It was at this point that Hamza was struck with the memory of his father’s demise and he withdrew back to the corridor. He stood there for a long time in deep thought while he heard his friends arguing amongst themselves. Not long after they filed out of the room and it was Sefia that spoke to him first.
“We have decided not to inform the police because they’ll hold us for his death…”
“Who was he?” Hamza asked.
“I thought he was out of town.”
“Same thing Tony thought but it seemed he never made it out. Tony said he constantly complained that people were after his life. Well, now I think they got him. But we can’t go to the police or we’ll be in deep soup.”
“But doesn’t the man have relatives?”
“He was an orphan. His only sister, Tony’s mother, died three years ago; she was a single mother.”
“Wow.” Hamza sighed. “So what do we do?”
“What?” Hamza looked past her into all his other friends’ faces and saw that they were all in agreement with her. And with persuasive words, they swayed him over and he gave in reluctantly, sealing his fate with theirs.
Later that night by the poolside, as they sat after an extremely quiet dinner, one which none of them could get past the third bite, Hamza began to ask himself questions he had been afraid to consider earlier.
What if Tony had murdered his uncle?
What if the reason he invited them for the weekend was to make them culpable alongside him?
But what would make him kill his own uncle?
Disrupting his introspection, Tony emerged from the house with a bottle of beer in his hand and a tune to his lips.
“Do you think he’s drunk?” Hamza asked Tina.
“No, he’s not. If he is, he’ll be singing all the songs from his latest album, and not with his studio voice,” Tina replied.
“What’s up! Wetin dey?” Tony greeted. “Kilonse? Why the whole place dull like dis naa? I fit invite people for party o!”
“Abi?” Sefia agreed in a dry tone.
“Party keh? I have work tomorrow.” Richie shook his head.
“Me too,” Hamza added.
“Come on, guys. See, I’m sorry the weekend turned out this way but my uncle is gone and I can’t bring him back.”
“Exactly. Let’s just drink until we pass out and forget the whole thing. See, even Hamza is taking alcohol,” Sefia laughed lightly.
“To get the taste of death out of my throat,” Hamza murmured.
“Okay, I know you are ready to but before we go…” Tony flashed a piece of paper before them, the light from a lamppost nearby barely illuminating it.
“Wetin be dat?” Moses asked.
Tony took out a pen from his pocket and scribbled down six numbers on the paper.
“What’s that?” Hamza echoed.
“My uncle once sent me a text with these numbers and said if anything went wrong with him, I should use them to open the very ground I’m standing on.”
They all looked at him in confusion as he bent over the lawn beneath him and began to roll it away like a carpet.
“It’s synthetic?” Sefia stood and so did Richie.
“Yes it is.”
Tony rolled off a large portion of grass and exposed a metal surface that gleamed under a full moon.
“Oh my God!” Tina stood. “What is that?”
“None of our business, clearly,” Hamza replied, remaining seated.
“It’s an underground compartment,” Tony replied. “The old man talked about it but he had never let me in.”
“What would he be doing with an underground compartment?” Hamza inquired.
“Well, let’s see.” On all fours Tony went and tapped at numbers on a touch screen panel over the metal surface. A long beeping sound was heard and the surface began to slide open. They all gave way and watched in silent fascination as it opened entirely.
“Na wa o,” Richie muttered and sneaked a look.
“I see nothing.” Sefia peeped into darkness below and immediately bright lights switched on illuminating a ladder that pointed downwards.
“Omo! See technology!” Tony exclaimed.
“What did you say your uncle did again?” Hamza, who was now at the scene, asked curiously.
“He was an IT specialist working for the government,” Tony responded distractedly, taking the first step down. Sefia tugged him on and he continued in. Immediately his feet touched the concrete floor, the central cooling and oxygen systems switched on with a low hum. “Ah-ah! Uncle, you be badt guy! See technology like say na film!” He looked up at the others who were still peeking in from outside with guarded awe.
“Una no go enter? Come down nah! Abi una dey fear?”
Richie shrugged and climbed down. The rest followed.
“Why is the place blank like that?” Sefia asked, walking in ahead. Tony looked around and true to her words, the place looked characterless—white plain ceiling and walls, two doors before them, also white with metallic handles… and that was all. Sefia continued forward.
“Let’s see what’s behind the doors, shall we?” she said, heading for the doors that stood side by side.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” Hamza mumbled, walking in with slow steps.
“Curiosity kills the cat, Hamza. Kills, not killed. And you know why? The cat has nine lives and I’ve not even scratched the surface of my third.” She winked and tried the door on the left but it remained locked. She used more force but got no budge. “Locked! Let’s try the second.”
“Let’s go home.” Tina stood beside Hamza and held his hand.
“I’m going nowhere,” stated Tony as he turned the handle of the door on the right. It made a click and Sefia pushed in, opening the door wider. A spacious room lay open before them and the moment their eyes beheld it, they all stopped in their tracks and their jaws dropped open.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hamza looked into Desire’s eyes and said earnestly, “I am a stockbroker and deal in numbers every day, Nafi. I have seen virtual millions of dollars but that was the first time I ever came across them in reality and God knows I lost all sense of reasoning that night.”
“So you guys decided to share the money you found in the room?” Desire asked. Hamza pushed back to the wall behind him to rest his back.
“We reasoned that if we were to go by what Tony told us, then it meant his uncle’s murderers might be after the money and might still come after us. So we gave ourselves a period of two months and if nothing happened, we were to go back there and share the money amongst ourselves. But to do so, we had to reset the code with each person holding a secret number that no one else knew…”
“So that when you opened the safe, you’d open it together,” Desire completed.
“And how many days are left till this your grand opening?”
“We’ve only spent twenty-one days. And I haven’t been able to sleep.” Hamza walked back to Desire. “I have felt this bad fear hanging over me like a… like…” He sighed. “I know I’m going to die, Nafi.And now you’ve come here to confirm it. Tell me you’re lying.”
Desire shook her head. “The man I’m talking about has no heart. He will kill you mercilessly. He’s like a chess player and loves a good hunt. He had already started plans to get the money and every single person that touches it long before you guys went to that house. And that is why you have to leave the country now.”
“Haba, I can’t just leave Tina. She’s…” Hamza began to protest but Desire’s ringing phone stopped him. She walked towards the kitchen to take the call and spent mere seconds there, returning shortly.
“Well, you no longer have any reason to remain here,” she informed him.
“I have to get Tina out of trou–”
“Forget it!” Desire shouted. “Tina is dead!”
Hamza blinked in confusion, shutting his mouth instantly.
“Tina is dead,” Desire repeated. “That was what that call was about.”
Hamza stood still and his stomach churned badly. He felt flaming tears pooling into his eyes and he did nothing to stop them. A strong vibration shook him from his pits and spread all over his body and it wasn’t after he heard his own voice ring out that he realized he was crying.