TADE’S BAR/ A FEW MINUTES BEFORE RICHIE’S DEATH
The table was silent. Bottles of beer were left opened but unconsumed, except for Richie’s which was presently glued to his lips and had no plans of making it back to the table. Tony looked at him blankly, his eyes clouded with unshed tears. His elbows briefly rested on the wobbly plastic table before him and the ignored bottles of beer shook, threatening to be toppled over. No one bothered about the table or the beers; each person was mourning Tina in their own silent way. Her death had come as a rude shock to all of them. Moses, in particular, still believed someone was pulling a nasty joke. He refused to accept that Tina was dead even after he saw her lying lifelessly on Tony’s bed just after midnight that morning. It had been surreal for him to watch Richie and a doctor friend relate the altered news of her death to her mother. Stranger still was the way the woman threw herself to the cold hospital floor the moment a relative who had gone into the mortuary returned and confirmed that Tina was indeed dead. To Moses, it was too out of this world to be happening around him. He believed that when he finally got to bed and had his full rest, he would wake the next morning to hear Sefia tell him it had all been in his head. So he remained wide awake that evening, doing his best to imagine Tina somewhere else and not on the cold, steel table in St Andrews Hospital mortuary where he last saw her. But it would take Richie’s brutal murder to jolt him into reality.
Who would have thought that the conversation they had at the table that night would be Richie’s last? He had risen up the moment the alarm on his phone went off. It was a loud, chirrupy sound that got everyone’s attention at the table but no one complained about it. Instead it urged down the tears Tony had held all evening.
“She hated that sound.” Tony’s said as he rubbed his eyes.
“Yeah, she did.” Richie stood and staggered a little, almost toppling down his chair.
“Easy,” Sefia said, her hand steadying the chair.
“It’s not worth it!” Richie exclaimed in an angry burst. “They’re watching us! I got the envelope, you all got it and I’m sure Hamza got it too! And you guys still want to go for the money? As in, are you all insane?! They killed Tina just last night for heaven’s sake!”
“We don’t know that they killed her,” Tony said.
“Then what did she die of? Heart attack?”
“Rich, sit down, abeg.” Tony took Richie’s hand and pulled him down, making him land hard on his butt.
Richie burped out at full volume and grabbed his car key from the table. “Me, I am not interested in that money anymore! Which normal person builds an underground structure like that with a safe or should I call it a warehouse where he’s hiding that insane amount of money?!”
“Rich, the owner is dead,” Sefia retorted.
“So it automatically makes the money ours?!”
Moses partially agreed with Richie but he was not interested in the argument. He was with the majority and they were all for going back to Tony’s late uncle’s home to get the goldmine they had stumbled upon. He needed the money desperately. Barely getting by on his meager salary, he was tired of being the constantly broke one in the group. He hadn’t complained about his struggles but they were taking a serious toll on him. His rent was up and he had a few debts to pay plus Sefia’s birthday was around the corner and he needed to do something big for her. All he needed was enough to settle his problems and a little more to start off his business as an independent barman. While he calculated how much it would cost him to do all that, Richie went on, stressing his point.
“Some bad guys own that cash and me, I don’t want to have anything to do with it!” He made an exaggerated gesture of washing his hands clean. “You guys can have it; it’s not worth dying for! And my number is six! I hope you have Tina’s and I hope that as you go opening the safe with it, you do remember that she died because of it! It is blood money! Her blood money!”
“Come on, Rich,” Sefia chided gently but Richie paid no attention to her. He rose to his feet again, staggered about, this time missing his chair, and did an unnecessary shaking of hands with Tony and Moses before turning to the street. “Six!” he shouted. “Number Six!”
The table was silent after his departure. No one except Moses watched him as he staggered to where his car was parked. Moses was also the first to catch the speeding SUV coming from the adjoining street and heading in Richie’s direction. It was the look of alarm on Richie’s face as he turned around that deepened Moses’ concentration. A loud crash tore into the air and shot right through his bones and had him on his feet. His eyes were forced to watch in gruesome detail, the appalling death of his friend as Desire began what she started by ramming into Richie a second time. It was only after she had gone off into the night that Moses finally came to accept all that had occurred in the past eighteen hours.
HAMZA’S RESIDENCE / THREE EVENINGS LATER
Hamza’s fingers slightly pulled at the edge of the curtain of his bedroom window and he peeped out. The room was dark, giving him a good view of the exterior from within. The street was busy as cars sped by and people walked up and down the flood-free stretch of smooth tar. Unlike the other streets in the neighborhood that struggled with deluged gutters and sidewalks, this was the only one that had a good drainage. After-work hours usually saw it crowded with vehicles and pedestrians, but as the night would wear on, it would become silent, bringing on the typical hush of the neighborhood. Before Hamza’s world turned upside-down, his preoccupying thoughts most evenings were on how he wanted the rainy season over so that the silence he once enjoyed after work could return. But now, peeping outside his window, he reflected on how he hadn’t the freedom to think about such trivial things anymore. He had become a fugitive, hiding away in the dark like a wanted criminal, waiting for some killer to come claim his life like Tina’s and Richie’s.
He sighed when he thought of Richie, but he pushed the thought away quickly. His brain hadn’t quite assimilated the shock of both deaths and he doubted that it ever will. His life for the past few days had not felt like his own. So many times he found himself wandering the length and breadth of his house, rambling mindlessly. He had not contacted any of his friends since the night of Richie’s death and he was afraid to, not trusting anyone around him. However Tony and Moses had visited earlier that evening and Tony, without apologies, let Hamza know that he was interested in getting the money from his late uncle’s house. Moses didn’t seem thrilled by the idea but he made no objections. Hamza told them he needed time to think over the issue but Tony stressed that there was little time left and the possibility of any of them remaining alive after that night was nil. Hamza could smell the alcohol in Tony’s breath as he spoke and knew his sense of judgment was clouded but he remembered Lanre’s instructions and acceded to Tony’s wish. Immediately they left the house, he dialed Lanre and relayed the news. Lanre assured him that he was safe, reminding him that all he needed do was leave his phone on at all times. After the phone call, Hamza walked to the window with the aim of finding something unusual outside; perhaps, even to see his death as it approached him. But the more his unobservant eyes scanned the street as much as they could, the more his fear mounted. He knew Lanre’s guys were out there and that knowledge was supposed to make him feel secure but he wasn’t.
A sound behind him made him swivel around very quickly and it would take him added seconds to adjust his sight to the person standing by his bedroom door.
“My God, Nafi! Why did you scare me like that?”
“Shouldn’t you be asking me how I got in? You’re supposed to be holding that gun I gave you. Anybody can just come in and kill you as you’re unprotected like that.”
“Nafi, Richie is dead,” Hamza divulged but he guessed she already knew.
“I know and I don’t care. All I care about is you. You still haven’t told me where you disappeared to that day.”
“Are we still talking about that? I told you I went to Ibadan; my boss sent me.” Hamza left his bedroom to his sitting room where he connected his phone to charge.
“I know you didn’t go to Ibadan.” Desire followed him but he walked back to the bedroom, his disturbed mind taking a few seconds to recall what she was talking about before replying unconsciously.
“I went to the police. I told them everything that has been happening.”
“You what?!” Desire stopped. “Are you crazy?! The police? Hamza, you cannot trust anyone! I told you!”
“I had to tell someone in the authorities, Nafi.”
“I told you to let me handle it! In fact, I had handled it! All I needed was for you to leave the country! And I’m still begging you to.”
“I can’t. Someone has to know the truth just in case I end up dead!”
“Well, with the way you’re going, you can as well just end up dead now!”
Hamza chose not to listen to what she had just said. “The police said I should convince my friends to go back to that house and I don’t want to do it, Nafi. That house scares me to death.”
“Why do they want you back there?”
“I don’t know but they bugged my phone and said they’d use it to get information once I’m inside.”
Desire looked around the dark room with searching eyes. “Is that the phone in the parlor?”
“Give me the names of the policemen.”
“Inspector Etim and another guy, Lanre.”
“I see.” Desire looked around the room as before. “You have to get out of this country, Hamza.” She lowered her voice noticeably. “You cannot trust the police.”
“But they’re watching me.”
Desire clenched her teeth. “I told you to trust me! God!” She took a step closer and whispered into his ear. “You are getting out this night. Don’t go anywhere, don’t look for me; I’ll come back. And please, no more talking to anyone.”
Hamza nodded and followed her like a zombie as she left the house. As he locked the door, he chose not to tell her that he had already made up his mind to follow Tony and Moses to get the money.
Desire heard the securing of a bolt and a subsequent click of a padlock at the backdoor before she was comfortable to leave the house. She hoped Hamza would remain sane enough to keep himself locked in while she was away. She took a short walk and appeared on the street. With honed eyes she picked out an old taxi that was parked in a strategic location from across the house with two figures sitting in front. Clearly they were not the police; she suspected them to be from a more organized security service. Her eyes pulled away from them and trailed the entire street for anything else amiss but she found nothing.
She began her journey away from Hamza’s, keeping an alert eye on her surroundings. It didn’t take long for her to notice a car was tailing her. Moving at a snail’s pace on the opposite lane, it was hard not to miss it even from her side view. She stopped briefly and pretended to pick something off the ground and the car stopped also, flashing its headlamps at her twice. She got the code and kept on moving. It was one of her people. When she got to a junction ahead of her where a crowd of people were waiting for transportation after a long day at work, the car turned the street and parked up ahead. A few of the commuters rushed to it but Desire pushed her way through and the backdoor was unlocked for her from within. She slipped in and shut out the sounds of angry people, distant thunder and a noisy street.
“It’s going to be a heavy downpour this night.” The driver behind the wheel said, not looking at Desire as he steered the car back onto the road. Desire glanced at him in passing and turned to the person seated beside her.
“Hello sweetie,” she said with a snide smile. “Sorry for your loss. I heard Richie was a good friend.”
Sefia looked at Desire for a split second before she grabbed her wrist, jerked her close and locked her other arm tightly around her neck. Desire tried to speak but could only get a few grunts out as she struggled under Sefia’s unyielding grip.
“Sefia, stop it,” the man driving ordered. Sefia held on a bit, and then released Desire who began to cough. She was given a brief moment to collect herself and when she finally did, she gave Sefia a smile.
“That was a rush.”
“Dee, were you responsible for what happened to Richie this evening?” asked the man behind the wheel and Desire searched for his eyes in the rearview mirror but saw nothing.
“No,” she answered. “I did not kill Richie.”
“That’s a lie. You killed him.” Sefia sounded calm but Desire could hear the anger in her voice.
“I did not go near him,” Desire said off-handedly and looked at her handler. He was now waiting under a traffic red light and had turned to fix her with an intense, icy look. She recalled the days that particular look had given her nightmares. He always used to tell her that his eyes alone could kill and she believed him. Captain had given him the responsibility of handling Sefia, herself and a few others, completing the training Captain had begun in them. He was a more brutal instructor but the most trusted amongst Captain’s men. No one wanted to be handled by him. Desire had believed she was going to die by his hands in her first year with him but somehow she had made it and she never regretted being under his tutelage. From his hands she had learned the perverse language of death. She was taught to accept and find bliss in her murderous nature, to equate the feel of the best pleasures of the world to the feel of taking a life, to believe there was a hole in her soul that could only be filled with the blood of another. And that was what drove her in every murder she committed, even Richie’s.
“Desire?” The man cast his eyes on Desire again and she stared back. “Don’t lie to me.”
“I did not touch Richie,” she reiterated.
“She ran into him,” Sefia retained.
“You should know better how I work, Sefi,” Desire remained calm, her arms crossed underneath her breasts.
“I’m not going to listen to you two go back and forth like wild cats. All I want is results and from what you’re letting me believe, Sefia, you can’t do this alone.”
“I’m not done speaking. So far, this is the clumsiest work I have seen you do. What is wrong with you? Have you lost your edge? This was supposed to be a clean job. You were given the necessary resources but you somehow managed to come up with nothing in three whole months!”
“Tony doesn’t have what we’re looking for.”
“It is in that house, Sefia.”
“If you insist but I…”
“At any rate, I don’t blame you. Captain should have made this an outside job. Infusing you into that group of friends was unwise. Well, since Desire has a dogged interest in the case, I am throwing her in.”
Sefia shut her eyes and ground her teeth as she turned her face away from Desire.
“The instructions have not changed. Get into the house, get Tony to give you what Captain wants and get out. Of course, everyone involved with the money has to go.”
“And Hamza?” Desire asked.
“Hamza goes free as long as your job is done successfully.” The handler obeyed the green light by putting the car into motion again.
Sefia’s phone rang.
She received the call as both Desire and the handler listened in silence. After she was done, she let them in on what the phone call was about.
“Tony, Moses and Hamza are going to get the money tonight. They’ll be there in an hour.”
“Hamza is going?” Desire asked. “I told him to stay home.”
“You girls need to hurry there now.” The handler boosted up his speed and maintained it until they stopped at an auto shop ten minutes later. Desire was given the key to an SUV similar to the one she had crashed into Richie with. She climbed in and found a loaded weapon waiting on the driver’s seat. With expert hands, she checked the capability of the handgun and settled in, waiting for Sefia who was receiving additional instructions from the handler. When she got in, Desire looked at her with a grin.
“Just like old times, sweetie.”
“Me and you are not a team, Nafi. And if I were you, I’d watch Hamza the entire time.”
“Touch him and your mother dies.”
Desire keyed the engine and drove away from the auto shop.
Hamza looked into his rear view mirror as his power bike growled towards a tanker loaded with diesel. He felt Moses shift apprehensively behind him as he changed gears without warning, accelerating to a speed of 220km/h.
“You dey craze?!” Moses shouted and Hamza, drunk with speed chuckled silently and turned the bike to the left, overtaking the diesel tanker in front of him. In seconds he was ahead and saw a huge tyre on the right side of the road but had no time to wonder why it was left there when he spotted a broken-down trailer up ahead. At that moment, his thinking process shut down as it had been doing in recent times and he totally lost control of his hands; but thankfully, Moses who was alert, reached from behind and swerved them away from an oncoming vehicle.
Regaining his composure, Hamza immediately took over from Moses and diverted the bike away from the parked trailer, his fingers already going for the brakes.
In an eerie rhythm, he heard the sound of his heart thumping and he shut his eyes for a split second, praying away the inevitable but he was tuned into his senses… and it was his ears that responded first…
A deafening, screeching sound behind them broke into the night air and immediately, a ghastly crash followed. Hamza dared to open his eyes but his hands could no longer move. He knew he was still on the highway and his bike had stopped but he did not remember how he had managed to get himself out of danger. All he was aware of was something had gone terribly wrong. Behind him the hordes of hell were already on the scene. Blood was spilling, smoke was rising and he could sense evil as it burned through the huge trees that flanked the road on either side.
Something snapped him back and he dared to turn, screaming after Moses, who was already on his feet, running back the way they came. He kick-started the bike and turned it around and went after him but even before he got to where Moses was now standing, he knew what had happened.
Having an analytical mind, he went through the details:
Before all of the chaos began, Tony was shadowing him in his jeep. Speed demons they were, they loved to race each other on lonely highways; it was something they did quite often and not even their recent tragedies could stop them. Tony had even said the race was a tribute to Richie and Tina just before he offered a libation on their behalf and consumed what was left of his bottle of Jack Daniels. The race began where the road became lonely and void of serious traffic. As they had always done, the opposite lane was not off limits. Well into the race, Hamza, as usual was in the lead as he gained speed over Tony when he overtook a diesel tanker ahead of him. Tony tried to do same but saw an oncoming vehicle on the opposite lane and swerved to the right to catch up with Hamza. There, he was met with a huge tyre in his path and he swerved again to avoid hitting it but crashed head-on into a broken-down trailer parked by the pavement.
Now what was once Tony, was a jumble of broken bones, mangled flesh and a split head, spattering out blood.
A couple of cars on the highway stopped at the scene and two men teamed together to help Hamza get Tony out of the contorted metal while Moses stood aside in utter shock. When they had successfully removed Tony’s remains and laid it on the pavement, someone threw a jacket over him but Moses flung it off and bent over him and began screaming out his name.
“T-Man! T-Man, no dey joke like dis! Tony, wake up! Wake up, man!” he cried desperately, his voice loud enough for the night to bear witness.
“Stop”, Hamza said in a weak whisper, almost pleading but Moses couldn’t stop screaming hysterically. “Stop!” Hamza repeated, now raising his voice as he placed a firm hand on Moses’ shoulder. “He’s gone!”
Moses shoved him away but Hamza held him strongly.
“Stop it, Mosko! Tony’s gone!”
He managed to pull him away and the jacket was thrown over Tony again. By now, more cars were stopping at the scene and a considerable crowd was gathering. Moses looked about him in a haze as Hamza dialed Lanre to break the news. When Moses finally regained composure, he stretched out his hand to Hamza.
“Give me your key!”
He snatched the key to the power bike off Hamza’s hand and walked past him.
Moses started the bike, “I’m putting an end to this!”
Heading back into town, the bike growled. Hamza didn’t have the luxury to ponder on Moses’ last words as his eyes focused on something else on the opposite lane. He had seen the black jeep that had been tailing them all night and as he headed towards it, immense rage boiled within him.