I didn’t know where she was taking me. If this was her version of eloping, she was a joker. Gun to my face, she professed love. Said we were meant to be together for eternity. Said I couldn’t do without her.
“Let’s forget these men and all the things they make us do and disappear from the surface of the earth. Me and you. Hmmm? I have all the money that can take us to the moon and get us lost there. And even if it finishes, we have your daddy’s dough in reserve.”
Her lips brushed against mine as she spoke. I could almost taste the blood on her face.
“Come away with me, sugar. Shai Girl wants you. Shai Girl needs you. But if you don’t want to go away, we can stay and finish every single one of them. You and me together. I know we can do it. You used to be so brutal, Bianca. You had rage. You were fast on your feet and heavy with your blows. You hit like a boy. Brutal and violent. Then you went and joined the NIA and sat behind desks and traveled the world and became soft. I want my Bianca back. I’ve missed your violence.”
“Fuck off, Shiloh,” I sputtered. Long fingernails caressed my face before she forced her lips through mine. I jabbed her chest, sending her backwards, but before I could move, the gun was pecking my forehead again. It brought back memories. Cold, hard recollections of a time in Kaduna. Away from the world and family. I was tired of life. My light had become so dim that darkness was my only acquaintance. I had taken the trip from Abuja to Kaduna via train, and found my way to the family house. For two nights I doused myself in alcohol, but kept my head lucid enough to be able to plan my death.
That night was cold. I came out of the house, stood under the sky for a bit and watched the trees in the compound dancing to the blustering harmattan wind. Sometimes it more than blustered. It howled. It was the type of weather that slapped your cheeks and made your teeth clatter if you didn’t clench them. It went into your bones no matter how much you padded yourself with warm clothes.
I was holding my weapons of suicide. A pair of weights made from gym weight plates. I’d tethered heavy chains to them and fastened the chains to two metal cuffs. There was a creek outside the house that supplied water to a vast vegetation of fruit trees. It was there I went. I clasped the cuffs to my wrists and for a long time, stood by the bank of the creek. I knew it was not so deep, hence the weights. I wanted to sink down to the bottom and stay there.
I looked up at the sky. The moon was full that night. I wanted it to be the last thing I saw before I took the leap. I stared for a while before I shut my eyes, dropped the weights in and let them drag my body down under.
It was the same feeling of drowning I experienced that first time my handler pushed me to the bottom of the swimming pool years ago. My lungs hurt like they were being singed, but I knew it was going to be only for a moment. I knew death would come soon and I would be a statistic. This kept me going for the few minutes I struggled underneath. When I saw the utter darkness coming, I stopped fighting. I let go. I embraced it and everything around me ceased being.
Except the moon. It would not go away. It was there, shining above me. I didn’t understand why until I saw Shiloh’s face in my view.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?!” she screamed. “You can’t die!”
I felt something in my throat like my insides were being hosed out. I gagged and spurted out water. My body was pushed to the side and all I did for the next minute or so was barf out a mix of water and alcohol.
So, I hadn’t died? Like, what the fuck! I was pissed. And what was this bitch doing here? Or was this purgatory or something?
“Do you know what it took me to get you out of that stinking stream with those weights still chained to you?” she yelled angrily later on, after I had managed to drag myself back into the house with my burden of death. I was trying to unlock the shackles when she went on a rant.
“What were you trying to kill yourself for?!”
What was she doing here?
“You have everything, Bianca! Every fucking thing!”
My lips couldn’t move. My insides still burned. I wanted her out of my sight so I could get back to the business of killing myself.
“So, if I hadn’t stalked you for the past week, you would have died for nothing! You’re a coward, Bianca! A fucking coward!”
Freed from the weights, I stood up and left the kitchen to my bedroom. She followed me.
“Is there a reason you’re here, Shai?” I asked, taking off my wet clothes.
“I’m here because God sent me to you.”
Now, here was the bizarre thing about Shiloh. She considered herself a devout Christian. She believed God always spoke to her. She’d talk about the voice of the Holy Spirit. Constantly telling her stuff. I always believed she was full of bull.
“I had a strong vibe about you and I followed the voice of the Spirit. He said you needed help. So, I went after you. Thank God I was here on time.”
She spoke about God and yet her eyes feasted on my nudity like she hadn’t seen a woman without clothes before.
“I’m fine now. You can go.”
“So that you can kill yourself again? No boo, I’m staying until the demon is cast out of you.”
She was serious. She stayed in that house with me for four days, rescuing me a second time when I drove a knife into my stomach. I was going for another stab when she stepped out of the bathroom and freed the knife off of my hand. She hit me across the face with a handgun. I fell to the floor, and she hit me again. She picked me up, hand clinched around my neck, pushing my back to the wall.
“God says you have to live. Do you hear that? You cannot die! You will live!”
She brought in some nurse to stitch me up and put me to sleep. The days that followed were hazy for me. Shiloh sedated me to ensure that I didn’t harm myself. When I finally regained full consciousness, I was no longer in Kaduna, but in her house in Lagos. There was nothing in her bedroom that depicted her personality. The room could have easily belonged to a young man in his early twenties. It was lackluster, except for the large poster of the Last Supper that was shoddily pasted on the wall facing the bed.
I left the place when she went out to run an errand. She had locked me in. I escaped through the ceiling. Thoughts of suicide were gone. The darkness had cleared. A couple of years later, I would be ordered to take her life. I would thump her senseless, but find it hard to repay her by killing her, although I would tell her that the next time I was ordered to, or got the urge to, I would not hesitate.
This was not one of those times. I still didn’t want her dead. Maybe I could never take her life. Captain said she was not like the rest of us. People like her needed to be taken off the face of the earth. But was he right? Were certain people born evil? Did some have something lying dormant in them, waiting to be awakened? Shiloh murdered her abusive stepmother, yes. She already showed traits of psychopathy without being groomed, but how different was she from me?
I had trained with children who had not been able to be what Captain wanted them to be, and thus were killed because they were weak. How come I aced all my challenges and became this ruthless killing machine? Why didn’t I fall away like the weak did? Why was I still breathing the same air as Shiloh and doing the same things if we were not two of a kind?
“I’m taking you somewhere special, sweetie,” she said, with her gun refusing to leave my face. I heard the click of an assault rifle from outside my bedroom. The door burst in and three armed men charged in. Shiloh took a step away from me.
“Take her,” she ordered.
My wrists were bound behind me and I was herded out of my bedroom. Duru and the gateman were tied back-to-back in the living room. A fourth man was checking to see that the ropes binding them were secure as we walked past.
We entered a waiting van with small, tinted windows. Shiloh followed us in, wearing a sheer robe over her lingerie-clad body. I was just noticing that she had no shoes on. In the back of the van, we sat facing each other. I was flanked by two men while she sat alone, her foot to my crotch. The Sia song that had been playing in my room from her phone was on repeat. I was sick of it and of Shiloh’s voice singing along. It was about death and how one escapes the snare of the grim reaper, having been haunted and coming close to heaven’s gates. Shiloh had an obsession with death. Forget that she hated the idea of me dying. She was jealous that it wasn’t her was trying to romance the grim reaper. The only difference was that she wanted her death to come via the hands of someone else. That person being me. It was why she wanted me. Why she probably took on the job of going after my family. She wanted to push me to the place where I would have no choice but to kill her.
The van wheezed past buildings in the darkness. The roads were near empty, save for the infrequent car racing past on the opposite lane. The driver of the van didn’t care for traffic lights. He flew past intersections carelessly. But this didn’t carry on at the next intersection that had him burning his tires when he went full force on the brakes.
An SUV was parked sideways on his route. To keep from crashing, he decelerated and veered to the side in a screech. This was of no use, though. We had run into a trap, surrounded by three other SUVs. All four points of the intersection were blocked.
“Secure her,” Shiloh ordered her men. The one on my left grasped my arm. Shiloh peeped out the window behind her. A masked face appeared. Another appeared beside it. I looked backwards and it was the same on my side. Captain’s men were here.
“Shit!” Shiloh swore.
“Tell them to open the door so that I can walk out without any drama,” I said, “or you and your boys would be dead.”
I was lying to her, and she knew. Whenever Captain’s men went out in masks, they took no prisoners.
There was some hesitation from her. But she couldn’t hold me any longer. Whatever her plan was, it had been poorly executed.
She nodded at the guy holding me. He unlatched the backdoor, and next thing we saw was his body falling backwards. He had been hit. His colleague went down too. As did the other men seated in front of the van. Shiloh helped me out of the van. Not because she cared. I was her ticket to having her head left on her shoulders. She kept the muzzle of my Smith and Wesson on my neck.
“Drop it,” I told her. “Don’t tempt her.”
‘Her’ was Desire. Standing before us in an all-black ensemble, face behind a woolen mask. I couldn’t mistake her spicy eyes for another’s. That bloodlust in them was distinct.
Shiloh curbed her madness and cut me free from my restraints. But Desire was not satisfied. She kept her rifle trained on her.
“Don’t,” I whispered, taking my gun off Shiloh’s hand. Desire wouldn’t budge. I stepped in front of Shiloh, between them. “Not today.”
Desire’s hand dropped down. The other whirled a finger in the air and the masked men she came with disappeared into their cars. Shiloh pulled me back, whispering into my ear. “I asked nicely. I won’t ask next time, Bianca. I’ll come taking things from you.”
I followed Desire into the SUV the van had almost run into. She unmasked herself once she got behind the wheel.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
She fingered a few hair strands dropping to her face before firing up the vehicle.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Captain ordered me to bring you.”
“I thought he was on bed rest.”
“Bed rest is a code word for a meeting of The Six. They’ve summoned you. Seatbelt, please.”
I strapped myself in. Desire was a speed demon.
“What’s with you and that lunatic?” she demanded as soon as we were off. “Where was she taking you?”
“I don’t know.”
“And you let her? B, you could have singlehandedly smoked all of them if you wanted to. What’s going on?”
I didn’t know. I was sapped, worn-out. It felt like I was carrying the burden of the world. I wanted my family safe. I didn’t know how much Jet’s near-death experience affected me until I visited the family house the other day and saw him rested and healthy. But then there was Tanko. Whatever Shiloh had done to him those five years had led him to the state he was. I didn’t know if he was going to recover. Who was going to be next? Muna? Polo? Idris?
Shiloh was not the threat. She was just a mercenary. I craved to eliminate the men behind her, but nobody wanted me to just yet. Lanre said to wait. Captain said to fuck off. My blood was burning to drop people like flies. This was draining me. I was depressed. I’d been here before. It was not heaven on soft clouds and angels’ wings
“Nothing’s going on.”
“You’re fucking her or what?”
“No. Can we just concentrate on the road, please?”
We didn’t end up at Captain’s. Desire took me to a mansion cut off from town. The place belonged to a late computer genius who had designed a bug that would have enabled Captain have control of systems run by multinational companies, banks and the government, had he succeeded in his coup five years ago. The man’s name had been Doctor B. Captain built the house, not just to hide Doctor B and his pet project in, but to stash away hundreds of millions of dollars, execute untraceable crimes and also have meetings with The Six. The Six were the top members of the Cabal, Captain inclusive. They were only five now. Captain had lost his brother during the raid on his family by the Acre Society. It was rumored that Desire would be granted the sixth spot, even though there were people of higher ranking. No one knew about the activities of the Cabal and The Six more than she did. But I doubted that she was interested.
She and I went through two tiers of security at the gates of Doctor B’s imposing mansion. We drove down a long promenade and came to a fountain that marked off the entrance of the house. The place looked like a hotel, having three floors, two other buildings, a garden, an outdoor bar and a swimming pool. There was an underground structure beneath us, but one could never guess unless told. It was there bad things happened to good people.
Desire and I entered the building and went up the last floor. Two guards manned a door at the end of a long hallway. Desire flashed a card over a panel by the door and it parted open to lead us into a room. The place looked like one of those dimly-lit, luxurious lounges you would find in an exclusive club where businessmen liked to sit and play chess and discuss world matters. The setting was Victorian and regal. Soft lighting and measured shadows gave it a comfy feel. There were bookshelves and paintings. The art was mostly African. Hyperrealistic paintings of angels and babies covered the ceiling. They looked as if they could drop down to the floor any minute.
Desire led me towards the center of the room. The Six, now five, were seated leisurely, having drinks over discussions. Captain looked up at us and called us over.
“You look like shit, Bianca,” said Judith, his second in command, and probably the real power behind the Cabal. Captain did not do anything she didn’t approve of. They had been lovers back then, and maybe even now. They had had a son together. Ramsey was his name. Once a trigger-happy soldier who was honorably discharged from the army. Now, he was no more. He had been killed by the Acre Society. Judith had held his dying body when the Acres attacked that night. She too had been hit, and it had taken her a long time to recuperate. I had seen her only a couple of times since the attack. It was good to have her back.
Captain pointed at a chair, asking me to sit. I told him I preferred to stand.
“Do you know how much trouble you’re in, Biyankavitch?”
And so, he went ahead to tell me how the thing I was doing with Lanre was conflicting with the operations the Cabal had planned for the Acres. He also reminded me that he had pulled me out of the Kashimu mission, but I had defied his orders.
I kept my expression plain. He spoke on. He was normally a man with few words. If he added a few more for you, it meant you were getting on his nerves. If he went silent completely, you were in shit. Good thing he still had something to say.
“The plan was to have you on a compulsory vacation. Travel out for a bit. See the world. Even take that Kentoro’s bastard along with you since you can’t get your hands off him. Just leave the country.”
“I’m sorry, Captain, I cannot.”
Cold eyes met mine. I think mine were colder. I didn’t give two. I was tired of taking orders from all corners.
“Why can you not?’ he asked. He was always polite before he struck you.
“If I may…”
“I mean no disrespect…”
“That’s always said before something disrespectful comes,” Judith stated.
“I seriously mean no disrespect…”
“Just get on with the damn thing, young lady!”
It was Alhaji Gafar who spoke. Lanre’s father. Yes, he was part of The Six.
“The night I was taken from home, I was lying in bed and wondering what book I’d read the next day. I loved books, and I was such a good reader for my age. Idris got tired of buying me children’s books that were age appropriate, so he’d get me bulkier ones for older kids because it’d be hard for me to finish them before dinner.
“Books meant escape, although I had nothing to escape from. My family loved me. I had elder brothers who spoiled me, parents who gave me everything. But we all know how that princess fairytale ended. I was only eight years old when I was kidnapped. Only a child. I wasn’t even allowed to scream. The man who took me held my mouth and jaw so tightly I thought he’d crush my face in. I was kicking and crying, but nobody heard. Nobody saw. From that day, I ceased to exist. I was raped and beaten and starved and turned into a murderer. Let’s not forget, a zombie too. I didn’t have a life. Not the type I read in my books. Not even the type I used to have before I was taken. I lost everything. I forgot who Bianca was…”
Captain shifted in his chair. My eyes, staring at a painting of a burdened African mother before now, dropped down and sought his.
“You took everything from me. And you know what? I loved you. I don’t know how that could have happened or still happens, but it did, and still does. Maybe it’s because you made the effort to take Idris’ place when you saw that my soul was gone. You tried to be my reading companion, to be a father to me. But make no mistakes, my family comes first. All I did—the people I fought in the academy, the ones I tried to kill—it was all for the Bahagos. I know Victoria is the devil’s bitch and she’s responsible for all I went through and what my family is suffering today. I have made my peace with that. Same way I have accepted that I can never have a normal life. But what I cannot accept is what you’re asking me to do. Right now, I’m grasping at straws, clutching at walls to keep me and my family from falling. And I will keep doing so until every last enemy of the Bahagos kisses the dust on my feet. So, no, Captain. I am going nowhere, and whatever plan you have for the Acre Society needs me in it.”
I ended my speech, expecting the worst, but having no fear for whatever was to come. Captain put his glass of brandy to his lips and swallowed.
“Thank you for the speech. Totally unnecessary, but appreciated. If you had listened to me, I said ‘the plan was that you should go on a vacation’. Not is. We very much need you here right now, even though you’re a problem.”
“A big problem,” Judith emphasized, eyes behind glasses and her face on her phone.
“Have a seat.”
I obeyed this time. The coziness of the chair reminded me that I needed to sleep badly.
“This thing with you and Kashimu, give me details.”
Captain sat in fascinated attention as I presented my proposal to him. As I spoke, I saw that the others were listening in. I made my voice louder, emphasizing the need for securing Kashimu’s weapons business.
“So, you’re willing to give up your last name just to see this deal go through?” Judith probed. She had just taken off her glasses.
“A Bahago will always remain a Bahago.”
“You have no idea what marriage is all about, do you, dear?”
“This is a marriage of transaction. Not of feelings. We both benefit from it.”
“And it puts you on a hierarchy, no matter what. If the Acre Society falls, you remain untouched. If it remains, it’s the same. If the Cabal takes over and controls it, you rub shoulders with your superiors. You’re actually smarter than you give off, Bianca. Not the foot soldier I’d always thought you were. Are you sure you’re not from Victoria’s loins?”
I showed a smile. “I’m more from yours.”
Judith didn’t have a single bone of violence in her. But her mental ability was as powerful. Attending her classes at the academy had been one of my most enjoyable moments. Not just anybody got to be tutored under her. She chose her students, and I had had the privilege to be one of them.
“Has Kashimu told you how he intends to secure a top spot in the Acre Society?” Captain asked.
“He was married to the daughter of one of the original Acres, making him eligible to be one of the originals.”
The original Acres were the ones that started the society. Kentoro was one of them. Nobody got into their circle unless you were either related to them by blood or by marriage.
“Tell me what you know about Kashimu’s late wife.”
“He married her quietly because he put her in the family way,” I said. “Her father had no choice but to assent to their marriage. They tried to keep it all hushed but the news broke out and became a scandal because Kashimu was a Muslim and the father of his wife was an Anglican bishop when he wasn’t ruining lives. Both father and daughter were killed somewhere in the north a year later, of a terrorist attack.”
Captain laughed, as did Judith.
“They weren’t killed by any terrorist,” Captain corrected. “Guess who killed them.”
I had a faint idea.
“Victoria. Your darling ten-headed dragon of a mother. Of course, she would argue that the girl was not her target, that her nosy father was, but she killed them both, alongside the father’s driver and the girl’s PA. They were all in the car, here in Lagos, when a bomb went off. It didn’t happen in the north. That was all PR by the family. Saying they were killed by terrorists made the bishop something of a martyr. But what was the man’s crime? He had traced Victoria’s foreign bank account and found out that she had been stealing from the society. He confronted her and threatened to expose her if she didn’t give him his share. She deceived him, sending him some cash and implicating him before killing him. And that was how your fiancé lost his wife.”
Judith leaned out, facing me. “Victoria is what she is. But she’s not the one you should be afraid of right now. It’s Kashimu Lamidi. For one, he hides the son he got out of that marriage. The obvious reason is that he’s keeping him safe. But the truth is that the boy is what gives him the right to claim his position as an original Acre. If the boy dies, Kashimu cannot taste that power. Have you asked yourself why he wants to marry you? What he is after? What if you find out that he’s the one who’s pointing the gun at your family? What would you do then?”
“I’ll do what needs to be done. Just as I’m doing now. Like I said, it’s just business between us. Nothing more.”
Kashimu was no Archie or even Lanre. He was great to be with. Remarkable, intellectual company. Bomb dick, but if he touched anyone I loved, I’ll be serving him his guts for dinner.
“Give us a moment,” said Captain. I stood up. Desire and I left the room. We took a walk down the hallway.
“That was gutsy, B.”
“It wasn’t the aim.”
“At some point, we all get tired and snap. I snapped too. It was when Captain said I couldn’t protect my brother from some attack planned by him. I was like, ‘Captain, with all due respect sir, fuck you.’”
“Not exactly in those words, though.”
We stopped at the end of the hallway. There was a window there. I looked down. It was facing the pool.
“Just don’t slip up while doing whatever it is you’re doing. And this Shiloh thing…”
“We have history,” I said. It was all I could reveal. Desire understood that I didn’t want to say more.
“Just so you know, she’ll kill you given the chance. Be extra alert.”
“And if you ever need help…”
She stood beside me, looking down as well.
“Have you ever wondered what your life would have been like if you had not been brought to the academy?” she asked.
“I’d be married now, I guess. Maybe a lawyer or something. You?”
“A fucking hajiya, probably divorced.”
We both laughed.
“Don’t you want to have kids?” I asked.
“God, no. I’ll probably murder them in their sleep one night when I snap.”
And there I was, thinking I was the only one who wanted to kill myself sometimes in the most painful way or kill a horde of people, just to claw out the demons in my head.
“We’re messed up, Bianca. Really done for. If you ever find normalcy, cling to it with everything you’ve got. Forget Captain and all of this. Cling to your escape. And don’t listen to me. If you want babies, have them. As many as you can. Fill your house with them and let them bring you joy and laughter, make you forget all the bad things you’ve done. They may just be your saving grace.”
And just like that, she switched the topic. “I’m glad Aunty Judith is back. Captain has been thinking out of his ass lately. She’s more…diplomatic. Asides that, I think she likes you.”
“It was she who asked to have you brought here. She doesn’t subpoena anyone without a reason. You’ll like what she’ll have to say.”
We stayed a little longer until one of the guards came to inform us that Captain wanted us back in. We returned to him and the others.
“You know why I told you to stay away from this Acre shit?”
“Because you wouldn’t know who to hit and who to have under your feet. Besides, you don’t have that power yet to have any of them under your feet. All you’ll do is blindly attack anyone that stands in your way, and in so doing, you’ll terminate the ones we need to make our allies.”
“We already have a force that’s Acre-focused,” Judith revealed. “Nafisa is one of the superiors in that force.”
I looked at Desire.
“Not yet sure if you’ll have a role to play there. But seriously, that nonsense you’re doing with Olanrewaju is just a waste of your time. So, you better choose now, where you stand.”
Judith’s chin went up in anticipation for my response.
“Your girl is ever loyal, Aunty Ju.”
“Good. So we actually love that you will be walking down the aisle with Kashimu.”
She made emphasis on ‘we’, subtly letting me know that she was referring to herself.
“It couldn’t have been scripted better. We already have a mole in the AS. But you know it’s not enough. It’s even risky, being that the mole is closely related to one of the original Acres. We need somebody who has no ties to them, as such. Somebody whose sole objective there is for his own personal advancement.”
“Kashimu,” I said.
“You’re thinking well. We need him to work for us. And we are counting on you to make that happen. Can you?”
“Affirmative, Aunty Judith.”
“The Acres will be ours soon. The same way they struck us, we will strike them.”
“Tell Kashimu to see me in my office tomorrow,” Captain ordered. “0900 hours. Alone.”
“You may leave.”
I bade them a good night.
“One more thing,” Captain said. “Desire will show you something before you leave. It’s our little gift to the millions of hopeless Nigerians out there.”
I was curious when Desire and I left the room, but I asked no questions.
We went downstairs, stopping in the kitchen for mini bottles of freshly-made watermelon juice. She led me into a sitting room. There was a door there that one could mistake as the entrance to a restroom. But once she opened it, we were facing elevator doors.
She stabbed an ‘arrow-down’ button on the wall and the doors parted to let us in. She then pressed a button that read ‘-2’. We were headed underground, I guessed.
The elevator rolled down and stopped. The doors opened. Before us was a wide access strip that seemed to stretch on forever. An entire structure lay before us. I wouldn’t have believed it was that big if I wasn’t there in person. You could not tell that it existed from the outside. Lanre had been here before, but not this section of it. I wasn’t sure he knew this side existed.
Fluorescent lights ahead of us lit up as we went down the strip, and went off when we walked past.
“So, what’s going on here?”
“The Academy 2.0,” Desire responded. We didn’t get to the end of the strip. We stopped before a door on our left.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
I didn’t know what I was to be ready for. I gave no answer. She produced her access card and slid it over a blinking red light beside the door. The door gave way. A massive office-like area welcomed us. There were numerous work spaces with people in them, facing computer screens. There was also an area marked off for offices separated by glass walls. There were people in there also. No one cared for our presence. Whatever they were busy with was more important.
“Duru trained here. He learned to hack right in this room.”
“So, these are hackers?”
“Yeah, and they do a lot more. I don’t even know what they do sometimes. They remind me of soldier ants. Always busy.”
We kept moving until we came to the other end of the room. Two glass doors parted to let us into a smaller room. There was a lady behind a desk, smiling up at Desire as we approached her.
“Bianca’s access?” Desire inquired.
The lady pulled out a card that looked like Desire’s from a drawer in her desk. I was given a digital notepad on which I appended my signature.
“For anytime you come here, you must have your access with you,” Desire instructed as we continued on. “But you may not need it all the time. There are certain quarters you can’t get into without your palm prints. This is one of them.”
We were now in front of yet another entry. She gave me a nod and I pressed my palm over a glass screen. A flash of light appeared underneath it and the door glided to let us in. It was a massive space, just like the other. But this didn’t hold work tables. It was reminiscent of a place we called the Arena back at the academy. It was there we flexed our muscles on each other every Sunday.
This place, however, was like a sitting room meets the arena. Save for the large square space in the middle on which two guys were engaged in a brutal session of the legendary Hausa fight called Dambe, the rest of the space was for lounging. There was a bar and dining area, Ping-Pong, pool and foosball tables, and also stripper poles. I observed the faces of the people in the place. They were mostly in their twenties. I could tell from just one stare that they were killing machines. It was there in their eyes. The savagery. The haughtiness. That bearing that made them look like they could take on the world. Why were they here?
My eyes shifted to a guy coming towards us. I recognized him. He was older than the rest. He had been at the academy with me.
It wasn’t a warm reunion when he came to stand before us. At the academy, I had been considered snobbish and a lone ranger. Nonetheless, I was courteous with my greeting when my colleague attempted being polite.
“Is everything set?” Desire asked him. He was codenamed Darkmark. His actual name was Marcus and his complexion was as dark as the night. You do the math.
But Darkmark was one of the most lethal hit men I’d ever worked with. He was inhuman.
“Have you come to join us?” he asked me.
“Yes, us. The Alter Natives.”
I questioned Desire with a twitch of my brow.
“Oh, you’ve not been told?” Darkmark put a smile on his lips as though he had one over me.
“The Alter Natives is a rebirth of Bloodbath,” Desire answered as she started towards a door on our left.
“Tell me you know the Bloodbath, at least,” Darkmark muttered in a mocking tone as we walked away.
Bloodbath was both a militia and a codename for Captain’s failed takeover of the government. The militia had been established to ensure that the takeover happened. I had been part of them, in a sleeper cell, waiting for instructions. As such things went, we never knew the details. We simply followed instructions and acted on them. But Captain’s plans never materialized. The 43, headed by Lanre and Inspector Etim, sullied Bloodbath to an extent. The Acre Society did the rest.
Desire entered a room that had both office and bed space. It was spotless in a manner only she could achieve. It was also grey. Dark grey and a little bit of blue. Just like the rest of the underground edifice.
I was let into the room but Darkmark was shut out.
“Yep. Now Alter Natives. Same agenda. Different modus operandi. Captain has learned a thing or two.”
“When is this going to take place?”
Desire looked at me with a coy smile. “So you’ll run off to Dada and tell him everything?”
“I already gave my word.”
She handed me a device. On the screen were photos of young people like the ones I just saw now, all of them in hoods, faces obscured by darkness.
“Truth is, I don’t know when this will happen. But at midnight, the civilized side of the Alter Natives would be birthed online. People will wake up tomorrow morning to a new dawn.”
“I don’t understand. The civilized side…?”
“Call them superheroes. At least, that’s something you can relate with. You’re looking at them.”
I stared at the screen, clicking on one of the images. I couldn’t make out the face, except that the person was female.
“The Alter Natives, as far as the public knows, is a movement of young people who are tired of the corruption, heartlessness and nepotism of the government. They would be launching campaigns, driven by hashtags on the internet, to end certain injustices carried out by arms and parastatals of the government. For example, police brutality and the sorry state of healthcare in our hospitals that are causing the deaths of many. The movement would be backed by capable lawyers, government officials, celebrities and notable businessmen. It is open for anyone and everyone interested in seeing change in the country.”
“It is, actually. And then when Bloodbath comes, this same humane face of the Alter Natives would lead a nationwide protest asking for the president and his entire cabinet to resign or the country would be shut down. But that would only be a distraction from the main revolution that would be taking place in the corridors of power.”
Main revolution translated to be the systematic execution of all AS members, the president, inclusive. Nationwide protest was also a cover for massive bloodshed that would be aimed at destroying certain members of the elite class. I still remembered the key points of the former Bloodbath manifesto. Nothing much had changed except that the Cabal had now gone digital. They were going to use the power of the people against their enemies, so that when they eventually accomplished their goal, the masses would feel they were part of the change that took place.
Desire spoke with passion. She believed in the cause. I did not, but I had no issues with it. The leaders of the country would get what they deserved, and the only person capable of serving them justice was Captain.
“So, what would be my role in all of this?”
“Seeing that your hands are already full with Kashimu, I doubt that I’ll be bugging you over the little details.”
“But you’ll keep me posted on progress?”
“As needed. If needed.”
I told her I was tired and desired to sleep.
“You can bunk here with me.”
“I have to go home.”
“It would be like old times.”
A long time ago we used to lie together on a small bed and read to each other. She’d plait my hair. I’d paint her nails. Sometimes, this was after we’d carried out some gory jobs for Captain. We used those moments to divorce ourselves from our reality. It was funny how we found peace after such undertakings.
“Muna’s pregnant,” I told Desire. “We have this family tradition that the first person you tell when you discover you’re pregnant would prepare breakfast and pray for you for a whole week.”
Desire looked puzzled.
“Don’t ask.” I spared a laugh. “It’s from Victoria’s side of the family. I think it’s a good thing, though. The idea is to get the sperm donor involved in the pregnancy from the start. He’s typically supposed to know first. But um…it became a competition amongst the ladies. My cousins and aunts are always going around asking who plans to get pregnant and then calling dibs, just in case.”
“So far, I’ve escaped it. Muna made sure to trap me.”
“It’s fine. I just… It gets so lonely these days.”
I did the unusual and hugged her. She was taken by surprise. Desire had always loved me as a sister. And always crushed on me too. I had that thing that drew girls to me. Desire said I made her feel safe. I didn’t know what that meant.
She accompanied me out. There was a driver waiting in the SUV we had arrived in.
“I assigned a security detail to you,” Desire informed me, already shutting down my incoming protest with a raised hand.
“Judith’s orders. You’re more than an asset now. We can’t have Shiloh doing what she did earlier. Be safe.”
I got into the vehicle. Home was a long way off, but I had to be with Kashimu and relay Captain’s message. I instructed the driver to take me to Kashimu’s. On the way there, I slept off, clutching my S & W which someone had graciously left in the backseat for me.