Obi sat at the passenger side of the 2018 Mercedes E300 and made small talk with the driver while they waited for Stella Jide-Coker to finish the last of her hobnobbing with an elderly chief and join them in the car. The meeting with the members of the International Polo Club had gone well and Obi had gotten an opportunity to interact with several of the movers and shakers he had heard about for so long. Stella had left them further impressed with the prospects of Rainmaker Capital and many had already pledged huge commitments to the company’s latest sporting venture. Obi had watched her talk, negotiate and work her magic and had come to the conclusion that devil or not, there was a lot to be learned from working with her side-by-side.
“Let’s go,” she said, finally jumping into the car and slamming the door behind her.
The chauffeur pushed the ignition button immediately. “Where to madam?”
She was preoccupied with her phone and seconds passed as both Obi and the chauffeur waited for a response. She looked up and saw him staring intently at her through the rearview mirror.
“Why aren’t we moving?”
“You didn’t say where to madam…”
“Well home of course. Where else cou…”
Obi was about to jump in and ask if she needed him to get out of the car and get a cab seeing as his work was clearly done for the night, but Stella’s attention had been dragged back to her ever buzzing phone. Her face lit up into a smile as she typed a message and kept them waiting further.
“Please, stop with the ‘ma’am’ bullshit. You were perfectly fine calling me Stella inside there so what’s the issue now?”
Obi scratched his chin. “Sorry ma…sorry Stella. Yeah?”
She chuckled lightly and shook her head. “Why so uptight young man? Anyway, what are you doing tonight?”
“Tonight? Err, it’s past eleven? And we just finished that four-hour meeting with the Polo Club investors…Stella…”
She looked at the back of his head as if he was the dumbest human to ever walk the earth and clicked her tongue. “I know what we just finished doing Obi, I was there with you remember?”
“There’s a party I’ve just been invited for and I’m extending the invitation to you, that is, if you’re down.”
“Well, you can think of it as more work if that’ll make you feel better about going.” She turned her phone to him to show him a picture as he unbuckled his seatbelt and half turned to collect the phone from her. “That’s Princess Adewura Olayieola. If you’re as smart as they say, you’ll know who her uncle is and how much business he generates for us through his hedge fund on a monthly basis. Tonight is her thirty-fifth birthday party and because we’ve been friends for years, I’m invited to turn up with her and the rest of the crew.”
Obi had been looking forward to a good night’s rest after the tension of the last few days with Ayo’s brother being in the hospital coupled with the increasing work pressure. He saw his chances of sleep being shot to hell before his eyes and cursed internally.
“So you want me to accompany you to this party?”
“Ooohhh, ‘accompany’. You make it sound so serious.” She teased. “Yes actually, the most important thing about this job you should have learned already is that it’s never about what you know, it’s only about who you know. And if I know Adewura well, her party is going to be popping with several hotshots in the financial industry. You said you were ready for the big time, now’s the time to put your balls where your mouth is.”
“Money where your mouth is,” he corrected automatically.
“The saying is ‘put your money where yo…” Stella had started to laugh out loud, not giving him the opportunity to finish. Even the chauffeur who had been silent all this while chuckled silently as if he was also in on the joke.
“Obi, listen to me. You really need to get off this…perfect employee high horse you’re currently on. I look in your eyes and I see all mad potential, but I need you to understand that you cannot keep separating your work self from the person you truly are.”
“I don’t understand,” Obi said, with a wry smile on his lips.
“Unless I’m mistaken, which rarely ever happens, you’re holding back on me Obi. You’re hiding that innate fire you need to be the very best at a job like this.”
“I don’t think you do. It’s not just about how smart you are or aren’t. See, fuck your brain. I need to see an animal, an animal who’s ready to do the work and take the necessary risks for this job. Our type of finance work takes big balls Obi; do you have the big balls I need?”
The last line was spoken with a certain deliberateness and Obi locked eyes with her, struggling to find if there was a hidden meaning to her words. Her eyes remained as they always were; intense yet cold and revealing nothing. He turned back in his seat and stared out the window. He knew what she was asking for, his growing ability to string the most complex deals together lay entirely in the persona he had created for himself and fine-tuned to excellence over time. It was this same persona he carefully hid at work and had been holding back from Stella all through their evening together, but she hadn’t stopped digging and it didn’t seem likely that she was going to stop. Either that or she was going to fire him without a second thought if she saw that he wouldn’t be able to fulfil all she expected of him.
Pablo had taught him the concept of the mask; the art of putting on different personalities to go about his daily functions and to keep his intentions well concealed. What Stella was asking for was the exact opposite, she wanted him to uncage his demon that he so carefully kept in check and on a leash. She wanted him to use this demon for business and for his success at Rainmaker Capital. She didn’t understand all what it came with and the damage it could cause if left to roam wild but if that was what she wanted, she would definitely get it. She was his boss after all, and he was just beginning to enjoy himself directly under her.
Obi tapped his fingers slowly on the dashboard as he pondered Stella’s words and numerous thoughts went flying through his head at the same time. Then he cocked his head from side to side, turned back to face her and smiled. If she wanted the demon, then she was going to get him.
“So, where is this party going to be?”
Ayo stopped at the front desk and slyly pushed a pack of cigarettes into the waiting hands of the nurse on duty. The elderly woman transferred it into the wide pockets of her uniform, winked at Ayo and waved her on. They had become friendly on one of the sleepless nights Ayo spent parading the hospital’s corridors, and during their lengthy conversation she had learned Nurse Ochuko’s favorite smoking brand, where she lived and the number of children she had, and finally that her husband was having an affair with one of their daughter’s friends and this was not the first time.
Ayo’s ability to unconsciously draw out the stories of other people and make them relate with her as if they had known her their whole lives was the driving force behind her career as a writer and journalist. From a young age, when her life at home began to fall apart, she had loved to curate and tell the stories of others, and she had developed the listening ear and other skills necessary to become the person anyone could relate with and unburden their heart to, although this role sometimes had her playing therapist to many and left her soul aching more than ever. She had stopped taking life seriously a while back and was simply content to exist on a day-to-day basis, taking care not to put much hope in the future or to place all her trust in humans.
She bounded up the stairs two at a time, turned a corridor, walked a few more steps and was finally in front of Damilare’s new room which he had been moved into after Dr. Odoh decided his case was no longer a life or death matter. She was about to knock and walk in to the room when the door opened from within and out walked the doctor himself. For a man who customarily wore the frown on his face the same way he draped a stethoscope around his neck, Dr. Odoh’s smile upon seeing Ayo was instantaneous.
“Oh please, call me Frank. This doctor business gets tiring after a while, if I knew the stress would get even worse after Medical School I would have just dropped out and chased my dream of becoming a politician.”
They laughed together. “Well Frank, I’m glad that my brother and I are the ones currently holding you back from looting our country some more, despite the stress we’re causing you.”
Doctor Frank Odoh laughed again. “What stress? In my line of work sometimes you come across those particular patients…and their relatives…and it just makes all the stress…worth it.” His eyes twinkled as he said the last part and Ayo smiled politely.
“Either way, thank you Frank. I really appreciate what you’re doing for us.” She finally looked beyond him at the door and made as if to sidestep past him and walk into the room.
“You’re here to see Damilare?” Ayo raised her brows and smiled sarcastically before the doctor realized the absurdity of what he had asked. He blushed. “Sorry, stupid question. Of course you’re here to see him, the problem actually is I just gave him another sedative. He’ll probably be out until early tomorrow morning.”
Ayo raised her wrist and checked her watch. She had contemplated that after three or four hours with Damilare overnight, she would go to see an editor at one of the bigtime magazines in the city who was an early riser and who wanted to commission her for an investigative piece into the world of pop culture and style, but at this rate the meeting would have to be postponed. One of the few benefits of being a freelance writer was working according to her own schedule because it always gave her room to accommodate issues such as this.
“Alright then,” She turned back to the doctor. “I guess I’ll just come back later. I really should be calling you in advance so I can know about stuff like this. As it is, I don’t really have where to go because my night was already planned to the minute at all.”
“Well I did give you my card during our first meeting before your friend in the suit rushed in. You’ve either lost it or aren’t ready to use it. Regardless, it’s your fault madam.
Ayo smiled. “You’re right doc, it is my fault. Don’t worry, I won’t make such a mistake ever again.”
“Great! I’ll be expecting your call, in the meantime though, you said you have nowhere to go…”
“Well it’s not really that I don’t have…”
“No matter,” Dr Odoh cut in immediately. “I was just about to go on a break before I start my nightshift proper. You can join me in my office if you’d like, I have tea, coffee, soft drinks or anything else you might need. We can just talk and yunno, get to know each other better.”
Ayo considered his offer carefully. It sure beat the hell out of spending another uncomfortable night in the waiting room or trying to navigate the lonely roads back home by this time of the night.
“I’ll say yes only on one condition.”
“Which is?” An excited doctor Odoh asked.
“Do you have any alcohol?” The doctor laughed then shook his head and started to lead the way to his office.
“You’re in luck, I think I might have a bottle of whiskey buried underneath some files. Right this way.”
Pablo eased the car into a tight spot right under the streetlight which hadn’t come on in months and killed the engine. He got out and surveyed his surroundings, paying particular attention to any unusual noise or suspicious looking characters still idling about so late at night. Satisfied with how things were looking, he walked to the other side of the car beside the cracked sidewalk, unzipped his fly and took aim at a spot just beside the rear right tyre. The sounds of him relieving himself filled the air for several seconds, just enough time for the people listening in to conclude that it was indeed Pablo, as earlier arranged.
He finished his business, zipped his pants back and reentered the car. He pulled out his phone, opened his Twitter app and began to swipe up and down. He had been inside the car barely two minutes when the passenger door and back door both opened and closed simultaneously and he was joined by two men in dark, thick clothes.
“It took you guys long enough,” Pablo began, addressing the both of them.
“Boss, no vex.” The one to his right answered, his unruly dreadlocks peeking out of the front and sides of his navy-blue head warmer. “We just wan dey extra careful, like you asked.”
Pablo eyed him without saying a word, then they all laughed and shook hands.
“But boss, I been think say the signal na just for you to piss on top your tyre o,” the man at the backseat quipped, “I no know say you don put tanker inside your trouser.”
“My friend will you shut up?” Pablo asked, still laughing.
“No be lie o Pablo, you sabi piss gaan. I be even wan tell you say if this business no work out, you fit go rep naija for Olympics…”
“Abi na ‘olym-piss’?” the guy at the back interjected again and Pablo made as if to get out of his seat and go behind and strangle him. He pleaded mockingly with his boss and they continued to laugh and joke around for a while.
“On to business,” Pablo addressed the guy sitting behind him, “check under the seat, pull out the duffel bag.”
The man did as instructed and passed the bag to his counterpart in front who opened it, looked once outside the window to check and started to speedily sift through the bag and its contents. He was done in a bit and closed the duffel bag and looked at Pablo.
“Everything dey here boss.”
“Good. So Dada and Ijebu, as we talk before, una gats sell off all this product before next week land. As I dey like this, I dey expect new market tomorrow and we never even finish to dey offload the one wey still dey warehouse.”
“Nothing dey boss,” Dada answered him. “Remember say that summer party abi wetin dem call am still dey sup later tomorrow. All those rich kids for there go easily comot all this one from our hands. No lele.”
“And even if e remain, I still get one or two plugs for this side who go help us move the extra weight.” Ijebu added from behind.
“No wahala, I trust you guys na why una be the only street vendors I still dey deal with directly. Just continue the good work and I go soon carry una comot from these streets and even put more people under una sef.”
“Boss!” Dada and Ijebu hailed Pablo together. “No worry at all oga mi,” Dada continued, “We dey loyal die. This your ministry go yakpa for this area, just dey watch us in action.”
“Na so e suppose be my man,” Pablo said.
They spent another three minutes discussing specifics before Dada and Ijebu exited the car as quietly as they had entered and disappeared into the night, leaving Pablo completely alone once again. He waited a little while longer, counting down the seconds in his head before he started the car, pulled away from the sidewalk and navigated his way back on to the main roads which were unsurprisingly free. He made it back to the apartment in no time and parked in his designated spot beside the building. Obi and Ayo were not home yet and would probably not be coming back considering the time which would leave him alone in the apartment, just the way he liked it sometimes.
He retrieved his belongings from the trunk, locked the car and proceeded up the flight of stairs, on to the darkened hallway and to the door with the tag ‘4’ displayed proudly above it. He selected his key out of a host of others, pushed it into the lock and was about to turn it when he heard a slight movement behind him. Pablo’s defensive instincts kicked in immediately and he threw his bag to the ground and grabbed the person behind him in one swift move, wrapping his hand around the intruder’s throat and slamming the person into the wall. He was about to release one or two punches hard and fast into the space where the intruder’s head was covered by a hoodie when she coughed suddenly and began to struggle against his hand constricting her throat and pinning her to the wall.
“Pablo…” the intruder coughed out. “Pablo…it’s me…”
He relaxed his grip on her throat and she fell into his body, still coughing and gasping for air. He reached behind her head and pulled back her hoodie to reveal the mass of blonde colored hair that came bouncing on her shoulders. Her scent was unmistakable, she had been using the same Arabian oud for years and he wondered how he hadn’t figured it out from the beginning.
“Uju?” he cradled her face in his hands as they finally sank to the floor together under her weight.
“Uju what the fuck are you doing here?”
The music was loud and raunchy, vibrating clearly to every corner of the underground club where the party raged on. Obi was sharing a couch with some other partiers and sipping on his third vodka tonic for the night. He had come in through the main entrance with Stella then they had taken an elevator down below the ground, far away from the regular club surroundings that ordinary people partied in and into the underground area reserved for VIPs and other special guests. Stella had introduced him to the celebrant and other financial hotshots who had been slightly tipsy then and had become drunker and drunker as the party progressed further.
He clinked the ice cubes in his glass and observed the party filled primarily with people who looked to be under forty. There were the dancers, mostly drunk and high, lighting up the dancefloor like nobody’s business, rocking and grinding sweaty bodies against one another. Several other people occupied the chairs and couches scattered around the club; smoking, drinking and even one or two were already nodding off, leaving Obi to wonder how anyone could sleep with such noise pouring from the speakers. Groups of three and four stood and engaged in slow conversation in dark corners, giving off the impression that business deals were still going down despite the alcohol, drugs, nakedness and everything else going on. All in all, it was one hell of a party, and Obi had been thoroughly shocked by what he had seen from several of the new generation, young guns of the financial industry.
He relaxed further in the couch and out of the corner of his eye he saw Stella walking towards him with two drinks in tow. She sat on the hand of the couch, just above him, and replaced his empty glass with a fresh one.
“How are you enjoying the party?” Obi couldn’t tell if the gleam in her eyes was from alcohol or a reflection of the many colored lights rhythmically lighting up the club.
“It’s pretty good, although I did not expect these men and women to get so wild.”
Stella laughed in a manner that suggested she was indeed slightly tipsy. “It’s been a long week. They’re just letting off steam after the difficulties of holding up the country’s money. Give them some time and they’ll get even wilder, I promise.”
Obi smiled and they continued sipping their drinks without talking. After some time, one of the women on the couch was dragged to her feet by some of her friends, and there was suddenly enough room for Stella to sink in right beside Obi in the small place that had been created between him and the end of the couch. His right knee came to rest just below her partially exposed thigh and the heat from her body spread through her clothes and on to him. She shifted in her seat and turned her face to look at him directly.
“You know what young man? I don’t think I’ve seen you dance all night…”
“You know what Stella? I don’t get why you keep calling me young man. I’ve dated women who were older than you and they didn’t make it as much of a big deal as you’re doing.”
“What?” Stella laughed out. “How did that even come up? Okay-okay…I’ll stop calling you young man.”
Obi continued to chuckle and just shook his head, not giving her any reply so she continued.
“So…you’re into older women…cougars and such?”
Obi shrugged, a reckless look in his eyes. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. What’s it to you Stella?”
“Absolutely nothing.” She drained her drink in one go, got to her slightly unsteady feet and pulled Obi up by his suit. “Let’s dance Obi.”
She dragged a dumbfounded Obi to the middle of the dancefloor, stopped and then began to sway and sashay around him. Obi at first struggled to contain his laughter, which slowly turned into awe as his boss pulled off some of the sexiest and most seductive moves he had seen in a while. He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that the woman wiggling and whining her waist so professionally in front of him was the one and only Stella Jide-Coker, when she suddenly reached over and pulled him into her embrace; her hands wrapped around his neck and his slowly circling her waist.
“So?” she said right into his ear, her voice raised a couple octaves higher to be heard above the music.
“I’m impressed.” Obi replied. He truly was, but his boss was seemingly not done yet.
“Impressed? Ha! You haven’t seen nothing yet.”
Stella untangled her hands from his neck and spun slowly around until her ass was positioned directly in front of his groin. She pushed into him slowly and his hands went back around her waist. Involuntarily and despite all his efforts at control, Obi began to feel a familiar stirring in his pants. Stella continued to grind against him, gyrating her considerable rump in tune with the hot jams blasting from the speakers. She placed the back of her head against his chest and reached up to pull his face down beside her.
“Is there a knife in your pants or are you just really happy to be behind me?” Her breathing had become unsteady and Obi wondered if it was because of the alcohol or something else.
“Actually it’s a carrot. You see I was saving it to eat later aft…”
Stella burst into laughter and slapped his arm playfully. A moment later, his back was against the wall and she was grinding him into the smooth marble while he struggled to hold on for dear life. The DJ picked that moment to switch the music and play a slow oldie that everyone cheered and started to sing along to. Stella spun back around and crushed her chest into Obi’s and looked up at him. The tension and electricity between them was unmistakable as they gazed into each other’s eyes for several seconds.
Stella breathed in and out slowly and carefully considered her next line of action. This wasn’t something she would be able to blame away on alcohol when morning came. Whatever she decided to do, the full consequences would be waiting for her when the sun rose. She had never been in such a situation with any of her employees or subordinates at any point in her career, but there was just something about Obi that made her unable to help herself. She decided to take the plunge and go all in.
“Do you want to get out of here?”
Obi’s eyes met hers once more and he could feel the recklessness inside him slowly taking over and making decisions. He gave her a wicked smile and linked his fingers with hers. He was in for the full ride.
Damilare opened his eyes slowly as the effects of the sedative he had been given began to wear off. The monitor beside his bed beeped in its steady rhythm. From experience he knew the time was anywhere between three and four am, as this was the time he had been waking up since he’d been in the hospital, upon which he would then spend the next two hours in complete solitude; contemplating on his life and his many mistakes.
Today however, Damilare had the niggling feeling that he was not alone in the room. He cleared his drowsy eyes with the back if his hand and looked towards the room’s door. All of a sudden, he found it hard to breathe as his eyes slowly registered the two shadowy figures in the room; one sitting at the foot of the bed and the other standing by the door.
He recognized them instantly even as he began to shake and shiver beneath the blankets. He told himself it was a dream and tried to force his brain back to sleep or to wake up, whichever would be less terrifying than his current situation. But out of his nightmare, he heard the voice of one the people in the room call out to him and he realized that there was no running away.
“Damilare my guy. Man-eater, original gangster. Tinko killer, rasta worker.”
Scorpion had found him.
To be continued