Continuing from last week’s story found HERE…….
A shot rang out in the corridor at the exact same time the bullet hit my chest, knocking me into the wall. The guards spilled out at once, rushing towards the sound of the blast, leaving me spread-eagled on the marble floor. Seconds later came the distant spitting sounds of machine gun fire. The noise grew until it filled my ears.
“Ahh!” I woke up in shock. Searing pain spread through my chest. Sitting up, I looked around. There was no guard in sight. I unbuttoned my shirt and tore out the bullet proof vest. I stood up with a little difficulty and picked up the rifle one of the guards had carelessly dropped. Unplugging my phone from the USB port, I pocketed it and headed out cautiously towards the corridor. A guard lunged at me from nowhere. His right fist sailed through the air and pounded on my ribs, his left buried into my left temple. I staggered backwards, the FAMAS clattering to the floor. The heavily-built guard came at me again, this time sweeping in a wide arc, his huge knuckles swooping in for the kill.
But I was ready for the attack. I fended him off with a slight move of my wrist. Wrapping my fingers around the uncontrolled fist, I drew him to me and head-butted him on the bridge of his nose, delivering powerful jabs to both sides of his ribs. He staggered backwards with a broken nose. He spat blood, eyed me with contempt and drew out his side-arm.
The shot rang out. I saw his eyes suddenly snap and down he went like one pole-axed. Standing behind him, gun trained at me was the last person I expected to see—Inspector Ronke.
“W-what are you—?”
She lowered her weapon. “Hurry, we have to get out of here now.”
Without waiting for my reply, she raced down the corridor. I ran out into the corridor to meet a mass of slain bodies. I spotted Vladimir lying stone cold dead among his guards, a thin film of blood seeping from a hole in his head. Already, I could hear more guards shrieking “ruthenian!!!”, as they rushed towards the scene.
I turned on my heels and fled.
We headed straight for the Plesetskaya railway station. Inspector Ronke paid for two seats back to Moscow and within seconds, we were out of the station, racing past the countryside and towards the capital.
We sat silent, feeling awkward at the other’s proximity.
“Thanks for saving my life.” I said at last.
She regarded me with cold, unfriendly eyes. “Did you get what you came for?”
She looked away, eyeing the greens that flew past with exaggerated interest.
“How about you: what have you uncovered so far?”
“That’s none of your business Ohmston. And next time, keep out of my way.” She fidgeted with her buttons, her pencil sharp eyes moistening a little. She bit down on her lip, pushing out her pointed chin. Her breasts shoved against the fabric of her shirt, pushing out like fresh mounds.
I took her hand. She hurriedly snatched it away.
“Don’t you dare.” Teeth bared, she shifted away from me.
“C’mon Ronke, don’t tell me you are still mad at me, besides I think we should work together on this one. I’m certain we’ll get results faster.”
“Results! Results! All you care about is results. Oh . . . so you expect me to fly into your arms after all the humiliation you put me through?” she laughed, “You can’t be serious.”
“I—” the loud whistle of the train signalling our arrival at the Capital drowned my words.
We hopped out and grabbed a taxi to the Sheremetyevo International Airport Terminal. We booked our flights back to Nigeria and after a few torturous hours of waiting, we were airborne. Seating side by side, no one would ever have guessed we were once very close friends. We acted like total strangers, keeping our voices to the confines of our thoughts. I had apologised a million times, but Ronke would hear none of my pleas.
We touched down in Lagos at exactly 4:30am. A police van stood waiting for the Inspector just outside the arrival lounge of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. We headed out at the same time, but while she walked to her van, I headed to the car park where I had left my car two nights ago.
I stopped and turned to face her.
“Come help me with this case,” she avoided my gaze, her voice unsteady, “and after this we are even. You hear me. Even!”
I nodded, a small smile creeping into my eyes.
“Lukman will get your car. C’mon, you are driving.”
The middle-aged driver jumped down from the van, taking instructions from me on where to find the Mercedes, he hurried off.
The streets were deserted as we drove through Ikeja, past Maryland and finally arrived Yaba. Bright street lights illuminated the macadam, casting the yellow glow upon the buildings that lined the road. Up in the sky, the moon was aglow, tailing us we headed for the station.
Lagos was a sight to behold.
The Nigerian police headquarters in Lagos State is a massive four-storeyed structure. We climbed the serpentine steps to the third floor. I stood behind Ronke while she unlocked the door. I marvelled at the grace she exuded, her every step jiggling her considerable round bottom. She flicked the light switch. The room was immediately bathed in a pool of white light. She walked smartly behind a huge brown desk and fell on a bloated armchair. She regarded me with a curious look. I sat down facing her.
Just then, my phone rang.
Jordan Marquis’ oblong face scrolled through the rectangular screen
“Major Taiwo Smith. That’s the man you are looking for.”
“Who is he?” I asked, my earlier assumptions confirmed.
“He’s an ex-ECOMOG soldier, dishonourably discharged from the Peace Corps on several counts of gross misconduct, including rape and the murder of several unarmed rebels in Liberia. He pulled out five of his loyalists from his battalion and went rogue, selling his skill to the highest bidder. He is rumoured to have affiliations with top politicians in your government.”
“Interesting. Any idea where I can find him?”
“The Major is currently on the Interpol’s most wanted list. He’s got a nasty reputation for disappearing. Let me see . . . I could piggyback on the signals of your telecommunication network at the exact same time that call was made. That means I have to input new codes into TACAS that’ll enable the software check through over a billion calls that fit into the search perimeter for that time frame. This could take the whole day, not to mention the fact that I’d be breaking over a dozen Human Right laws. But I’ll get to it. It could give you a lead, but I’m not promising anything.”
“Thanks man. I’m grateful.”
“How was Archangelsk? I hope Vladimir was quite charming.”
“Oh he was, he was. So I’ll be expecting you call.”
“Sure thing.” And he dropped the call.
“Do we have a name yet?” quizzed the Inspector, her eyebrows raised to the roof.
“Yes. Major Taiwo Smith, ex-soldier.” Briefly, I narrated all I just learnt.
She nodded, taking notes.
“So what have we got so far?” I asked.
She cleared her throat. “In a hostage situation, the gun-men kill the hostages before the police arrive at the scene, disappearing without trace. A little girl by the name of Laura Okosun seems to have recognised one of the armed men. That, I am sure must have led to the massacre, the sudden change of plan.” Ronke scratched her nose and sat forward on her chair. “But what I don’t get is the phone call. The phone call definitely authorized or influenced the massacre. Then again, there is the issue of the gun-men’s motives. Why were they at the Coleman Plaza that day? They made no demands. They stole nothing that we are aware of! Nothing! And what still puzzles me is how they left the building without anyone catching a glimpse of them. They just . . . they just fizzled into thin air.”
“What is the implication of the massacre on Chief Coleman’s candidature for the presidency?”
Ronke screwed up her eyes and cut holes into her blotter with a pen knife.
“Honestly I think it favours him. The press has been going on about what a great achiever he is and how these hoodlums want to drag his image in the mud before the eyes of his beloved country.”
“You sound as if you don’t buy it.”
“Of course I don’t. That’s utter crap and you know it. That man is no saint. But I can’t place him on the same level with the likes of Taiwo Smith either. The million dollar question: what was the ex-soldier’s grievance against Coleman or better still what were his objectives, his motives?”
“You are right: what was the mission of the Major and his brigands in that plaza? Why had they taken a group of innocent people hostage? Beats me. By the way, have you run background checks on every one of the hostages?”
“Yes I have,” Ronke replied. “Only one young boy’s fingerprint flagged an error. We had no details whatsoever on the John Doe, which I also found odd. It was as if he didn’t exist. ”
“Now that is interesting. Can I see the body?”
“Sure. Let me call the Police morgue attendant to prepare it. Weird man, he sleeps in the morgue.” She reached out for the landline on her desk, picked up the receiver and dialled the morgue. It rang thrice. There was no answer.
“He is probably fast asleep.” She rose to her feet. “Let’s go wake him up.”
They climbed a step lower and walked along a dimly lit corridor till they got to a cul-de-sac. She walked towards the last door on the left and pushed. Without delay, she reached for her gun. I did same as I saw her shoulders stiffen. She moved in cautiously peering into the darkness. She flicked the light switch and her hands flew to her mouth in horror. The smell of death and gore pervaded the room. Spread on a worn armchair, his head resting on his chest, a gaping hole on the center of his head, was the morgue attendant. Blood spilled over his face and onto his chest. Its metallic tang was pungent, odorous. I touched his wrist. It was warm. He couldn’t have been dead for more than five minutes. I beheld another horror on the examination table: lying headless on the shiny silver slab was John Doe—the dog-tag on his chest had his identity.
My eyes swept the length of the morgue. There was no possible hiding place here. The killer couldn’t have gone far. I raced out of the room and ran down the corridor, taking the steps three at a time. I was just in time to see the tail light of a car disappearing around the bend. I hurried back to the morgue. Ronke rested by the window, her sad eyes staring into mine, a billion questions in them. I walked around the room, scanning the scene for something that could give me a clue to the killer’s identity. I walked to the cup of tea and blood stained plate of bread which was beside the morgue attendant. The man was probably having breakfast when the killer walked in. I noticed a dark ring of blood on his thigh. A second bullet hole. From the position of the two shots, I could safely tell there had been quite a struggle between both men.
I knelt and looked beneath the chair. There was nothing but months-old dirt. I walked to the cabinets, moved them around and searched the crevices, there was nothing. On impulse I stared at the tray on which the food was laid. Most of the tea in the tea cup was spilled in the tray, splashed here and there. I walked to the food tray, knelt by it and fished in the half empty mug. I found what I was looking for—a small red bead like those worn by African Chiefs. I slipped it into my pocket.
“Find anything?” Came Ronke’s weary voice.
“No. No, nothing.”
“I think the fastest way to find Taiwo Smith is to find Laura Okosun’s family. They might know what she knew. I already got the address.”
“You are right.”
We headed out.
Lukman the police driver loitered on the sidewalk, a stick of cigarette dangling between his scarred lips. He flung away the cigarette as soon as he spotted his superior.
She pretended not to notice. “Lukman have you been here long?”
“No madam. I go . . .” he pointed to the stand-alone structure beside the main police building. “I go for toilet madam. Belle dey run me since last night.” he scratched his bearded face. “Madam I fit go house now?”
“Yes Lukman. Take the van. Let me have the keys to Mr Weth’s vehicle.”
He staggered to where Ronke stood. He reeked of alcohol. The toilet tale was probably a spiel. He handed over the key and staggered to the van. Opening the door, he got in. My Mercedes was parked some feet away from the police van. We began the long walk. We hadn’t gone very far when suddenly a loud explosion rocked the earth, flinging us both into the air. The glass windows and doors within a mile of the police headquarters building shattered into a billion fragments, zooming into the air. Shrapnel flew in all directions. A glass shard cut into my cheek narrowly missing my left eye. A ball of fire rolled into the air, smiting me with suffocating heat. I lay flat on the tarred road, my hands over my head, blood seeping from my nose and my ears. Inspector Ronke lay a short distance away. I crawled to her side only to see the dark pull of blood that had gathered around her waist.
Inspector Ronke wasn’t so lucky; she had a huge gash on her right thigh. The knee cap stuck out of its flesh, dangling loosely like a piece of white stick. Her right arm too hung limply by her side. I cradled her. She was unconscious. I reached for my cell phone and dialled the emergency unit of St. Luke’s.
Within minutes, the street was alive with medical personnel, sirens blaring, tires screeching to a halt amid the burning smell of rubber and fuel. Inspector Ronke was taken away on a stretcher. The police van, with Lukman inside it, was a ball of smoke, its fires climbing steadily into the approaching dawn.
I rode beside Ronke to St. Luke’s.
I was quickly attended to by a shy nurse who seemed befuddled by my presence while Ronke was wheeled into the theatre. As soon as the last stiches were in place, I asked to see her. I walked into the theatre. The doctors and nurses were already scrubbing, preparing for the surgery. I walked to her bedside, beneath a thousand rays of light. She was awake. She smiled weakly at me. I held her hand and as the activity within the room got flurried, I was asked to take my leave. She tightened her grip around my hand, pulling me closer to her. The cold look in her eyes was gone. Instead I saw the girl I once loved, the girl who once loved me so much in return that she could give up anything just for me. I wiped the tear that crawled down her face.
“I’m scared,” she blurted.
“Don’t be.” I said, wearing my softest smile. My face ached. “I’ll be right outside that door when you open your eyes.”
“You sure?” she asked, her eyes widening.
“No 12 Nennynina Street, off Odogunyan Cresent, Ikorodu. That’s where you’ll find Laura’s parents.”
I nodded again then made to walk away.
“Wait . . . Ohmston,” she whispered; her voice as gentle as the eerie silence that had crept into the operating room. “Please buy me a rose.”
I paused for a moment to ponder on what that meant, but I responded: “I will.”
I kissed her forehead and I stepped out of the theatre.
I had barely shut the door behind me when my phone rang.
“Hello Jordan.” I didn’t bother to look at the screen.
“It’s me Amber.” Came my fiancés small voice.
“Amber how are you? I’m sorry I’ve been so b—”
“Ohmston there is someone here who wants to speak with you.” She sobbed lightly.
All my senses automatically came on red alert.
What was going on?
My breath caught in my throat and suddenly I needed air. I unbuttoned my shirt till my chest lay exposed.
Then the calm, composed voice of the enemy floated to me.
“Mr Ohmston Weth, I have just one question for you: are you the police?”
“I shook my head like a trapped lizard. “No . . . no I-I’m not the p-ppolice.”
“Please don’t hurt her. Please just tell me what you want. Please leave her out of this.”
The caller ignored me. “Why then are you digging up trouble where there is no trouble? Anyway, that’s not why I’m calling. You have something that belongs to me. I want it back by 4:30 this afternoon. Tincan Island, pier 13. A minute late and you’ll never set eyes on this pretty lady again.” He paused, his breath coming slowly. “And I know all about you Mr Weth. Do not play tricks with me.”
The line went dead.
I stood frozen in time, wondering what sort of monster I was dealing with. I took heavy steps into the morning, determined more than ever to beat the criminal at his own game. I fingered the bead I had picked up at the morgue.
Why would anyone go through so much trouble for a worthless bead? I wondered. I shrugged. I had to act immediately if I was to save Amber by any chance. But first, I headed into the gift shop just opposite the hospital—I had a rose to buy.