“I want nothing to do with you. I only want the boy’s mother. Call your agents off and send the boy back to me. His mother will come running.”
Kunle laughed mirthlessly and stroked his beard as he regarded Malik’s boss. Kunle was in his mid-forties and completely bald. He was quick-witted and had an ever pleasant disposition but was known to bring down the hammer without hesitating whenever necessary. He was Leela’s boss and had been at the security agency for almost 20 years.
“You know that’s impossible. My job is just as important to me as yours is to you.”
“You’re treading dangerous grounds.” Malik’s boss said stiffly.
“Isn’t that what I signed up for? Why does that bother you?”
“You have no idea who I am or what I can do. You really do not want to remain in my way.”
Kunle smiled and revealed a perfect set of teeth, complimented by slight depressions on each cheek.
“I do not take kindly to threats. Actually, no one in our line of work does. I came here out of courtesy. Keep your dogs off Nathan.”
Kunle stood up to leave but Malik stepped in to bar him from getting to the door. Kunle laughed again and this time the sound rumbled from the depths of his stomach, through to his throat and bubbled over, out of his mouth.
“You’re honestly not thinking of preventing me from leaving are you?”
Malik stared at him pointedly, his gaze unflinching until his boss spoke.
“The woman you are helping is an enemy of the country. It is in our national interest that I find her and hand her over to the relevant authorities. Whatever you think you’re involved in, it is way bigger than you. You need to step aside before it is too late.”
Kunle’s smile disappeared.
“You have your bosses and I have mine. So you have your orders and I have mine. Do what you need to do. But if any of your dogs come close to Nathan again or anyone remotely connected to Uzo, I assure you personally that you will look for their corpses to bury but you will not find it.”
He turned to Malik and said
“Get out of my way.”
Malik cast one quick glance at his boss before stepping out of the way. Kunle strode out of the office and slammed the door shut behind him.
“What did you find in Kaduna?” his boss asked.
“She stayed a night at some church but that was it. One of my boys was chatting with the security guard at the church and he told him about some strange woman whom the pastor had offered a place to stay for the night. She matched Ijeoma’s description. I asked lots of questions but no one seems to have seen her since then. My boys are still on it.”
His boss walked towards his laptop and began typing into it. Malik stood looking at him for a few minutes before he looked up and said
“Why are you still here?”
“What would you like us to do sir?”
“Leave Nathan alone. Go over Ijeoma’s files and see if you can find anything new. Call me that psychologist guy. I need someone to profile her appropriately. She is up to something. This isn’t about her making a clean break like I thought.
Also, this guy that came here today. Find out who he works for. If he has a team, I want to know its size. Find me a weak link.”
Malik nodded and proceeded to leave the room.
“Oh. And tell Kachi to hold off on that latest arms deal. I need to speak to the General. Ijeoma went to great lengths to protect herself. We just might be more compromised than we know.”
Malik nodded again and walked out.
Leela was lying in bed half asleep when her phone rang. She reached for it, hoping that her boss had some good news for her. Without checking the caller, she picked up and yawned before speaking.
Leela became fully alert instantly and was out of bed in a flash.
“I don’t know where you are and I don’t want to know. I’m guessing Uzo is still alive. Please keep him that way. I need more time.”
Leela tried and failed to steady herself.
“Where are you?!” she thundered.
“Where have you been?! Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused?! My fiancé is dead because of you!!”
Leela was nearly bursting with rage. How dare Ijeoma ask her to calm down?
“Calm down?! Do you have any idea what you have done?! What do you mean calm down?!”
She heard Ijeoma sigh almost impatiently over the phone and the veins in her neck nearly popped.
“Leela. You’re a professional. Get your shit together right now.” Ijeoma said firmly.
Leela breathed in and out consciously as she tried to steady herself.
“Ijeoma, I walked into a battlefield completely blindfolded. I have no idea what I am dealing with.”
“Well, the lesser you know, the better for you. Just keep it together. I’ll be gone for a month and then I will be back to fix this. I promise.”
Leela wasn’t sure she’d heard right.
“A month?! Are you joking?”
She heard a click and suddenly realized she had been cut off. She could not believe it. There was a rage within her that she could not comprehend or even contain. Perhaps it stemmed from the pent up frustration of being stuck with Uzo for so long, or from losing Gbemiga and not being able to mourn him properly or from having more questions than answers. But something within her snapped and she shrieked out loudly in frustration.
Her phone rang again and she picked it up ready to vent then realized it was her boss calling.
“Ijeoma was working with a group of people whose tentacles run deep into the government. You’ll need to come home let’s wrap this up Yemi. We can’t help her.”
“I’ve been doing my research and I met with one of the men who is hunting her and well, Uzo. These people are dangerous Yemi. We need to end this now.”
Leela rubbed her hand over both eyes.
“What happens to Uzo?”
Her boss was silent and Leela sighed.
“We can’t abandon him boss. You’re not thinking of doing that are you?”
“Leela, I’ll send a chopper for you tomorrow morning. Uzo isn’t our problem anymore. Come back home.”
Ijeoma lay in the hospital bed at Shika thinking of how her life had played out and how she had gotten to this point. She didn’t trust Dr. Haliru 100% and none of the threats she made to him were valid. She had only employed her skills as best as she knew how to. Blackmail. The fine art of manipulation. It seemed to come naturally to her.
She had never known her father and her mother had worked really hard to give her a sound upbringing and secure her future but Ijeoma had never really been cut out for an honest life. She hung out with local touts in her street and would serve as lookout whenever the boys went to steal livestock or foodstuff from the neighbours and then she would put on the most exceptional poker face when questioned about it.
Her mother soon gave up on trying to get her to change her ways. The beatings did not end her lying, neither did the scolding and yelling stop her from hanging out with her friends. When she turned 14, she ran away from home because she was convinced that her mother wanted to kill her, having been told by “friends” in the neighborhood that she was a witch.
She stuck to street urchins, most of whom admired her ability to spin tall tales that they knew were obvious lies yet were enthralling because of the manner in which she told them. It was on the streets that she met Jide. Jide was in his late twenties and rode a fancy car. He would come to the neighbourhood where she loved to hangout and visit his mum then buy drinks and cigarettes for her friends.
Jide was non-judgmental and would often sit and chat with them. The first time she spoke to him, she was nervous and shy. Her friends encouraged her to share some of her stories to impress Jide but she was tongue-tied. There was something about him and the way he related with them that made it difficult for her to say anything meaningful.
Jide had laughed away her discomfort and told her he thought she was beautiful. She was sixteen at the time and it was the first time anyone had referred to her like that. She began to seek his company more and more and as she got comfortable, she spun her tales with ease. She was the daughter of wealthy parents who had died in a plane crash and lost everything to greedy relatives.
It did not matter that her stories were inconsistent. Jide found her fascinating and always gave her money which she squandered on drugs and alcohol with her friends. Few months after meeting Jide, he started trying to clean her up. He told her she was smart and could have a great future but she did not believe him. She let him spend money on her, buy her good clothes and take her to decent places to eat but Ijeoma did not feel comfortable in her new skin. Leading him on was very easy. She always knew what to say.
Then came the night when Jide told her he had fallen in love with her. She blushed and told him she felt the same way too but she knew deep in her heart that she was incapable of loving anyone. She let him make love to her that night at his apartment and the following morning, she left his house with a lump sum of cash alongside some money she had been saving over time then skipped town.
When she got to her new city, she hit the streets again, telling more tales, emotionally manipulating unsuspecting and gullible individuals. She made quick and easy money for a few weeks until she realized she was pregnant. Then she decided to keep the baby because it could help her hustle and she was right. People were more sympathetic towards her.
Then she met Col. Maiva who was an ex-soldier. Col. Maiva was moved by her story of how her wealthy parents had died and greedy relatives had taken all the money. And how she had been raped by a street urchin who had promised her shelter and food after she ran away from home. Col. Maiva took her into his home and took care of her until she had the baby. The moment he was born, she dumped him at the doorsteps of a church, determined to continue her life as she knew it. Then Col. Maiva told her he knew a way to make her life better.
Maiva introduced her to his team, soldiers who had been expelled from the army for various reasons but who had formed a special forces unit on their own. Their plan was simple. Get back at the government for ruining their lives. Or so they said. They carried out kidnaps, blackmailed governors, bullied politicians and helped cause chaos wherever necessary.
Ijeoma was fascinated by and obsessed with them. She learnt how to shoot and trained in the art of combat as well. Within a few months, she was quite skilled. Her first major assignment was at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria where she was given a false identity as a student and tasked with blackmailing the vice chancellor and other senior officials at the university. This she did effortlessly for two years until some of them forcefully resigned.
She climbed up the ladder from blackmail to hitman and continued her career in that line. No permanent friends or enemies, just business all the way.
Then a year ago, Col. Maiva was killed by members of the very unit he had founded. She was really close to him as he was the closest thing to a family that she had and that was her breaking point. That was when she decided she was done. She would bring down the team and then flee the country. It was the most daring idea she’d ever conceived but she had nothing to lose. She and Maiva had often spoken about retiring and going off to Cuba. She had spent a better part of her life as a criminal and she had made so much money but once Maiva died, nothing held any meaning for her anymore.
Way before Maiva died, she had found the family that adopted her son and had dutifully kept an eye on him. There were days where she longed for a relationship with him and when his adopted parents died, Maiva had stopped her from reappearing suddenly in his life. Now Maiva was dead and she had nothing and no one.
Dr. Haliru walked into the room with two other people and she watched him put on his latex gloves. The call to Leela earlier had been made from his phone. Once she got a facelift, she would get another chance at life. Start over, maybe build a relationship with Uzo, just be normal.
“We’re going to sedate you in a few minutes. This shouldn’t take more than 6 hours at the most.”
Ijeoma nodded. She took a deep breath and told herself to relax. She thought of Maiva and his throaty laugh and his love for catfish pepper soup. She thought of his constant mantra to her “you’re all head and no heart” and that memory brought tears to her eyes.
As Dr. Haliru brought the syringe close to her, Maiva’s face flashed before her eyes again and Ijeoma struggled with a lump in her throat.
Dr. Haliru’s hand was raised mid-air with the syringe as he looked at Ijeoma in surprise.
“Stop! I don’t want this anymore.”