by Anthony Othuke Ominiabohs
I stood before the firing squad. Death raced towards me in the form of a bullet, arched in a projectile I could not distort. For I had many more guns trained at me. I could swear I saw the bullet leap out of its secure chamber, past an accompanying cloud of smoke. It didn’t dither or zigzag like I prayed it should. It soared towards me, focused, its golden case glittering in the eerie glow that bathed the room. I closed my eyes…..
The images of the last twenty-four hours flooded my brain . . .
I watched the video on YouTube for the umpteenth time. The pictures flashed haphazardly; mottled pixels without sound, macabre action without any iota of humanity. Then there was death, like no national media had witnessed in over a century of business.
I sat enraged.
No one—no one human being should get away with this, no matter the purity of their cause. I shifted uncomfortably on my chair. A day had almost gone by. The criminals were still at large. The long arm of the law hung limply around the waist of the cold statue of justice, tugging at her wrapper so the bureaucrats can once again, rape her blind.
I had traipsed every corridor of the Coleman Enterprise, searching for that one thing Inspector Ronke at A division must have missed. I found nothing. Either the curvy Inspector had been extremely thorough or there had been nothing left to find.
It had been a long day, and to say I was tired was an understatement. So far, all of my investigations had yielded nothing. The tough boss didn’t help either; he breathed fire down my aching neck.
“Results Ohmston! Get me results!” He barked as soon as I stepped into the dreaded hallway. I had just returned empty-handed from the scene of evil.
“This is a million-dollar case, that’s why you are on it. Snap out of your shell and get to it!”
I had muttered a few words about possible leads and hurriedly stepped into my office, locking the door behind me. My fame as the brain behind the article: ‘Myths and Legends of the Hinterlands’ had left me with a Pulitzer and five national awards.
On the news, the public outcry was enormous. It was a field day for the press, who had, as was expected, coined the slaughter, ‘The Coleman Murder’, supposedly after the Coleman mart where the horrible act was carried out. Nigerians on social media went berserk and others took to the streets, beating on the drums of justice.
A five o’ clock shadow bordered my chin, and as I stared blankly at my Penpad, I scratched the beard vigorously. Not because it itched, but because the only painless way I could vent my pent-up frustration was to beat my skin. I walked a thousand times around the four walls of my tiny office, keeping sleep at bay.
Pushing aside my blue-coloured drapes, I stared out into the city. Night had slowly crept up on me; distant city lights loomed larger than life, casting a weird glow upon the jostle between the long queue of coloured buses, the sleek cars of the CEO’s and the modest jalopies of the average Lagosian who hurried home after a long day of work to their scared families.
I soon realised that instead of seeing the madness down below, I saw a long complex algorithm; a series of possibles in a case in which I had earlier on, hit a dead-end.
Out of the jargon, came a name, shining brightly like a star.
I hit the penpad, scribbling away. Then I hit the ‘ENTER’ key. Picking up my phone, I dialled his cell.
“What brings you to me at such an ungodly hour?”
I laughed. It felt so good to hear his voice. “I just sent you a link on YouTube.”
“Good. I need you to make the images clearer and use your Lip-Read software to give it audio. Can you do that for an old friend?”
“Sure. Give me five minutes.”
“Ah! You, my friend, are a life saver. Yes, one more thing . . . can you identify the guns used and where they were gotten from?”
“Make it ten minutes then.” And the line went dead.
I stood. I sat. Time slept, ticking rather slowly.
Jordan was a geek I had worked with two years ago in Beirut; a murder investigation in the Shatila refugee camp that had gone horribly wrong. We barely escaped with our skins on our backs. But I learnt one thing—in geekdom, Jordan Marquis had no equal.
I crossed and uncrossed my legs, fiddling with my electronic pen.
Then the phone rang. Its shrill ring was unusually loud. My message folder blinked rapidly.
“The guns are Russian. Russian Kalashnikovs.” Jordan sounded excited; his squeaky voice was high-pitched. I could almost imagine him biting down his lower lip like he always did whenever he got carried away by his findings.
“Ok. Who deals them?”
“Lucky for you, only one man in the world supplies AK’s to the African market—Vladimir Topovsky.”
“Where can I find him?”
“That’s a tough one. Vladimir and his family reside in a fortress in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk. And if you are thinking what I’m thinking you are thinking, then I’ll have to tell you no way. His files cannot be accessed from a remote location, except of course my CS-3 Trojan is installed into his mainframe on-site. Then my old friend, I could manage a Telnet from anywhere in the world. But getting to that mainframe is suicide, and I want no part of that. I was able to get a higher resolution for your video, and sound too. I just sent you a picture of Vladimir’s villa. Call me if you are as crazy as I think.” And he hung up.
I fell back on my chair, massaged my temples and clicked my mail.
Now I could see the horror, presented in sharp images. I heard the blood curdling screams as the hostages were shelled like experimental guinea pigs. Something caught my attention, and quickly, I hit the rewind tab.
All was calm. The hostages sat quietly in a corner of the mart. The armed men walked with precise steps. Too precise for comfort, I thought. They wore balaclavas over their faces. They were decked in fatigues and Rodentin boots—the finest military footwear in the world. The gunman whom I guessed was the leader—from the way he carried on, and he was the only one not carrying an automatic rifle—muttered something about a delay to his subordinate. Then a young girl stood, disbelief etched around her large innocent eyes. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen.
“I can’t believe this?” She whispered, a slim long hand jumping to her mouth. I could see her stark look of terror, the determined set of her mouth and the glitter of sweat that framed her horror-wide eyes.
One of the gunmen rushed at her and smacked her on the face. She went down, her skirt riding up to her waist, her long thin legs, spread wide.
The leader’s cell phone rang.
All he said was a metallic, “Yes sir.”
Then something happened, something that left me mad with rage.
He walked up to the small girl, pulled her up from the ground with her long black curls and withdrawing a dagger from his fatigues, he slit her throat. Blood flew all over the place as the girl let out a muffled sound, like air escaping a balloon.
The five-man team started lining the frightened hostages against the wall.
And the execution began.
The way they held the Kalashnikovs, and the angle at which the bullets hit the victims, confirmed my thoughts—these men were cold-blooded professionals, and I could bet my job that they were either military or ex-military with a grudge.
Who had made that call, I wondered.
Who was the little girl?
And what had she seen?
I had the leads I had prayed for and I didn’t know where to begin.
Arkhangelsk. It was the most dangerous lead, and at the same time, I knew it was the most viable lead I had. It would take Kemi, my secretary almost four days of non-stop work to get the name and address of the little girl using the NIMC-database. I didn’t have four days. I needed a name, and I needed it fast. If only Inspector Ronke could be less secretive with her investigations and a little more accommodating with my presence. I was pretty sure she must have gotten the names of the victims by now using the Fingerprint Analyser of the police.
Opening my drawer, I picked up my Colt, checked and double-checked the magazine. I oiled the firing pin and cleaned the metal till it shone. I opened the small wardrobe I had installed in my office for just a time like this, and withdrew a black t-shirt, a faded pair of blue jeans and my crepe rubber soled shoes. I changed into the street clothes and wore a black leather jacket over my get up. Oblast was a cold city.
I made a list of all I wanted Kemi to achieve while I was gone, and heading out of my office, I drove straight to the airport. While I waited for my flight, I called Jordan and enlightened him of my decision. He sent the software into my phone and told me what to do. In no time I was airborne, on my way to Moscow International.
I took the train to Arkhangelsk. This was a freaking cold city. There was a fine blend of ancient and modern structures which gave the place a traditional feel. Finding Vladimir’s fortress was easy. The villa stood east of Oblast, its back facing the Northern Dvina River. I noted the advantages that would have accrued a night invasion, but I needed to be back in Nigeria by first light, besides, this wasn’t the first time I was breaking into a fortress of this magnitude. I studied the movement of the guards with binoculars from a nearby grocery store from whence I bought the tools I needed for the break-in. Satisfied I had found an opening, I moved in.
I hired a boat. The middle-aged Russian didn’t ask questions as he dropped me at the edge of the famous Ukrug cliff. Through this jagged, almost impossible cliff I climbed. Twice I cut my skin against the sharp rock edges, almost toppling over into the Dvina. I got to a ledge from whence grew out Vladimir’s fence. Over the high wall I threw a slim rope. Pulling at it to make sure the mini hawser I had affixed at the end would hold. It did. Then I climbed effortlessly into a small rose garden. Birches and sycamores grew wild in the vast compound; I was surrounded with lilies and roses, and a field as green as a tendril. The villa was no doubt, one of Oblasts’ finest.
There was no guard in sight. I searched for and soon found a nest of CCTV cameras. From the schematics Jordan had been kind enough to send me—“I don’t want your corpse packed in a drum of cement and thrown into the White Sea,” he had said—I knew I was three hallways, three left turns and two rooms away from Vladimir’s mainframe.
Staying close to the ground, and moving round the surveillance system, I crawled to a giant metal door. Inserting two thin spikes into the keyhole, I opened the door a notch. Facing me, with a red face and steely grey eyes was a powerfully built guard. He was dressed in fatigues. A red beret completed his no-nonsense look. His FAMAS .22 was pointed at my forehead. I reacted instinctively, driving the metal door into his bulk. He reeled back and lost his footing. I didn’t give him time to recover; I attacked, slashing his throat with my stiletto.
Claiming his weapon, I ran down the hallway, my crepe soles masking the sound of my movement on the marbled floor. I took a left and walked some distance then took another left. I sprang back as a guard suddenly emerged from nowhere. It was too late. I had been spotted.
I fired two quick shots from my silenced colt. The guard toppled to the floor, blood oozing from his brain. I ran past him and made yet another left turn. The hallways were unnaturally quiet. Way too quiet.
Talking excitedly in front of the computer room were two heavily armed guards. I was upon them with lightning speed. Crashing ones skull with the butt of the FAMAS and dealing the other a paralysing blow to the gut with a pivot kick. He stooped. I fired two shots from my colt into the back of his head. I faced the automatic door and entered the set of codes Jordan had provided; it swung back with ease. I rushed to the second door and keyed in another set of codes into the keypad. It swung open.
Standing in front of me was one of the largest arrays of consoles and monitors I had ever seen. Light Emitting Diodes blinked rapidly like there was an electronic war going on. Jordan had told me to plug my phone into any USB Port in sight. That I did. Then I keyed in the Fibonacci sequence he had provided.
A beep and a pop-up displayed the progress of the upload.
Twenty per cent . . .
Twenty five . . .
Fifty . . .
Seventy five . . .
Ninety . . .
Then I heard the voices.
There was a loud shuffling of heavy feet. I heard a flurry of Russian expletives, and I knew I had been discovered.
Ninety eight . . .
I looked for a place I could hide. There was none.
I was trapped.
“Hands on your head. Slowly!”
I heard the clack-clack of a thousand guns as Vladimir’s guards released their safeties.
A rapid beep told me the upload was complete. I dropped my gun and raised my hands, placing my palms slowly on my head.
A tall guard stepped forward and frisked me, missing nothing, not even the stiletto I hid in my belt.
The guards stood aside and in walked a short thick-set Russian dressed in flamboyant clothes.
I recognised him immediately from the pictures I had seen.
He stepped forward and regarded me with sleepy eyes. The ghostly glow of the monitors made me feel as if I was staring down at an alien. Then he faced the tall guard who had frisked me.
“Yuri, I have no time for petty thieves. Kill him.”
He turned and walked away.
The bullet danced and zeroed in for the kill.
About the series: The Weth Chronicles captures the life and times of intrepid Investigative Journalist, Ohmston Anthony Weth, as he navigates the murky waters of crime, politics, and love.
Anthony Othuke Ohminiabohs (http://ohmstonweth.wordpress.com), a Computer Scientist, has authored many short stories and poems.