*Recap: Dami met Bello Yakubu, Toyin’s fiancé and found that he wasn’t what she expected. Natasha was convinced to start working for Mr. Phillips but she realized that she’d been deceived. Meanwhile, a new girl called Tolani started working at the restaurant and Dami tried to warn her but she didn’t listen. Nonso went missing and Dami realized she’s tied to the case in some way.”
3:30pm, 21st May 2016,
I’d been anxious ever since Friday. The Police had been able to tell us the point at which Nonso had been abducted. The CCTV cameras on campus had caught a tape of a hooded figure knocking him out and dragging him away into some bushes but after that, they were out of range of the cameras and no one knows what happened next.
At work, I could barely focus as I was thinking about how to find out who exactly was responsible for all this. Stalking me was bad enough but hurting those close to me was taking things too far. Whoever this person is, just proved himself to be dangerous.
“Dami! For crying out loud, I’ve been calling you for the past five minutes. Where is your mind?” Kevin frowned, walking up to me.
“You know, for a University student you sure lack vocabulary skills. Anyway, Kayla said you should be ready for your shift in the next thirty minutes. She’s been looking all over for you and asked me to find you. I didn’t even think you’d be out here.”
“I just wanted to get some fresh air.” I said quietly.
Kevin nodded but instead of walking away, he peered closely at my face.
“Is everything okay though?” He asked.
“Yeah, fine.” I said, although I suddenly felt uneasy.
He didn’t look convinced but he let me be. When he left and closed the back door behind him, I sighed and shut my eyes. I needed to come up with a plan, I needed to…
I gasped as a hand came out of nowhere and clamped against my mouth preventing me from screaming, a strong arm wrapped around me so I couldn’t run. I struggled, trying to break out of the hold but my strength was no match for the person restraining me. My screams were muffled and no one could hear me.
“Hush…” A male voice whispered.
I froze. I realised that didn’t need to find my stalker, he had already found me. The hand over my mouth loosened a bit and I could speak.
“You’ve been following me around. What do you want?” I asked. My back was still to him and he wouldn’t let me turn around.
“If I state my price, are you willing to pay?” He asked with a slightly teasing tone. Frankly, I didn’t see the humour in this situation and for some reason his voice sounded off, like it was coming through a muffler so I couldn’t even identify it.
“What do you want?” I repeated angrily.
“I think we both know the answer to that.” He said, running his free hand down the side of my face. I flinched away in disgust.
His grip around me tightened painfully and I could tell I’d made him angry so I tried another method; pleading with him.
“Please, just don’t hurt him.” I whispered. That seemed to have no effect. In fact, bringing Nonso up might have made things worse.
“He was getting too close and I noticed the way he looked at you. I watched you two all the time, don’t you know? I simply decided to get rid of him.”
My heart thumped in fear.
“He’s still alive right? Please tell me he’s alive.”
I’d just started to feel relief when a sharp pain pricked my neck. I realised he’d just slipped me an injection. I started to panic because I had no idea what it could be. Drugs? Poison? Oh God. I started to feel sleepy at the same time he loosened his grip on me. With the last bit of strength I had, I turned to face him but I was met with a black facemask. The type that was impossible to tell who was behind it. I watched helplessly as he slipped a piece of paper into my pocket and laid me down gently so I wouldn’t fall and hit my head.
The last thing I saw was his masked face before everything faded out.
“Somebody bring me more water!” A frantic voice yelled.
“Calm down, she’s waking up.” Someone said in a gentle tone.
I blinked several times, trying to get my eyes to focus. I groaned as I tried to sit up. Whatever was in that injection was definitely strong; I didn’t even know how long I’d been knocked out.
“Dami say something.” Daniel’s anxious face hovered over mine.
“Shit… my head.”
He sighed in relief and leaned back.
“She’s okay!” He yelled to coworkers who had surrounded us.
“What happened to you?” He asked, helping me up to my feet.
“I’ll tell you later, right now there’s something I need to do.”
I stumbled towards the employees’ room to grab my things, not bothering with taking permission. I needed to get out of there. Nonso’s life depended on it. As I pulled off my apron, something fell out of the pocket. It was the piece of paper the man slipped into my pocket and it seemed to be an address, although I wasn’t familiar with the area. Underneath the address he wrote;
48 hours left, the clock is ticking.
I gasped and rushed out of the room but stopped abruptly when I almost ran into Kevin. The paper fell from my hand and he picked it up, glancing at it briefly before returning it to me.
“Whatever you’re doing, you’re about to make a big mistake.” He said, staring at me with a strange look.
“What are you talking about?”
He glanced quickly behind him before shutting the door firmly.
“I heard a bit of what happened out there before I called for help. Someone’s been following you, isn’t that right?”
I nodded slowly wondering what he was getting at.
“Dami, listen to me very carefully because nothing is as it seems. Did you see the person’s face?”
“I thought as much.” He sighed. “Whoever this person is, is just baiting you and if you fall into this trap you have only yourself to blame.”
“Didn’t you hear what he said? He has my friend, he could kill him.”
“And very soon, he will have you too if you’re not careful. Take this matter to the Police and let them handle it. What makes you think this man will not just kill your friend even after everything?”
My shoulders sagged as I realized I’d never even thought about that.
“Dami, do you remember the girl who used to work here? Her name was Bukky.”
“Yeah Mr. Hassan told me she resigned.” I wondered what that had to do with my situation.
“That’s true, but do you have any idea why she resigned?” He asked.
The door swung open just then and Kayla walked in.
“What’s going on here?” She asked, watching us closely.
Kevin stepped away from me and shrugged nonchalantly.
“Nothing’s going on. I’ll talk to you later Dami.” He said, walking out of the room.
Kayla frowned and turned to face me.
“The boss said you should take the rest of the day off to recover.”
She nodded and left. I sat down and dropped my bag beside me. I realized that rushing off without a plan was only dangerous to both Nonso and I. What I need is a plan. Getting the Police involved was the first step because they were already looking for Nonso and I now had a clue of where he might be.
After I left the restaurant, I went back to the station and spoke with the Policeman who was in charge of the case. After discussing the details, he agreed to gather some officers and meet me at the address early the next morning. When I returned home, something kept bothering me. It was what Kevin said about Bukky, the former employee. We were never close and I never really thought of what made her resign, not until today. When Chioma returned, I told her the news and she was relieved that we now had a way to track Nonso and hopefully get him out safely. My phone rang and the caller ID showed it was Daniel.
“Dami, are you home?”
“Yeah, the boss gave me the day off.”
I was also glad it was Saturday. That meant no work till Monday.
“Lucky you, although seeing you unconscious like that was a bit scary. You still haven’t told me what happened.”
I gave him a brief narration of my encounter with the man.
“Shit Dami, this is just getting worse.”
“I know but tomorrow, things would be sorted out because we now have another clue. The Police will handle it.”
“Okay, just be safe alright?”
“I promise. Everything will work out just fine.” I smiled to myself before ending the call. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come so we could put an end to all this.
10:30pm, 21st May 2016,
Natasha stood with a small group of girls by the roadside. They were all scantily clad to show off their body to the best advantage. The girls were well-acquainted as they were the same ones in Andre’s house the day Mr. Phillips dropped her off. Each of them had a small purse that to anyone it would seem like a lady’s usual accessory.
A metallic grey Audi pulled up to the roadside and a man stepped out.
“Which of you girls is Tasha?”
Natasha stepped forward reluctantly, knowing what was to come. The girls and Andre had explained the process to her and the consequences if she doesn’t comply.
“That’s me.” She managed a small smile.
The man was in his early Thirties but looked much older. His face was rough looking and unfriendly, his teeth were stained yellow from years of cigarettes and strong drinks.
“Get in the car.”
She obeyed and soon, they drove off. During the ride, she wondered at how she had landed herself into this mess. She’d been terribly deceived by Mr. Phillips. She scolded herself for not suspecting a thing when she had been offered the job for a position she had no experience or qualification for. They never even asked her for a trial or interview. She should have known she couldn’t have been that lucky and that something fishy was going on. But she was so desperate for the money.
Now she knew that Mr. Phillips wasn’t who he presented himself to be and that underneath the cover of a real estate manager, he was a crook who ran several underground businesses.
“I’m sure you have my package, honey?” The man asked.
She didn’t even know his name. Frankly, she didn’t think it would make a difference.
“Yes.” She answered quietly, wishing everything would be over quickly.
The man smiled and turned off the engine as they arrived at a shady looking building. He led her to a room and first asked her to bring out his package. Natasha opened her purse and brought out her tube of lipstick. She opened the tube which didn’t actually contain anything other than a little packet of a white substance; cocaine. The man grinned in satisfaction before locking the door behind them and moving on to the next phase of what he had planned for the night.
Later that night when she was alone in her room, Natasha cried herself to sleep. Her phone beeped with a message. It was from Andre.
You did well tonight. I had no complaints from the customer. You will receive your pay tomorrow morning, you earned it sweetheart.
But when she saw the alert the next morning and the substantial amount of money she’d received, she felt nothing at all. There was no joy or relief. She felt completely empty and drained of emotions. She dragged herself to her feet and went to the bathroom to freshen up before heading to the hospital.
“Good morning mom, how are you feeling?” She asked walking into the hospital room quietly.
“Chidera, come and sit with me dear. I’ve missed you so much.” Her mom patted the bedside. “I feel better already just seeing you.”
She went to sit with her mother, not bothering to mention that she had dropped that name a long time ago. No one apart from her mother called her by that name anymore; no one else was allowed to. She looked around the hospital room and sighed softly.
“I’m getting you out of here today mom, I’ve already paid the deposit. You can’t stay in this place anymore.”
Her mom blinked and focused on her daughter’s face.
“You’ve… paid? Where did you get the money, Chidera?” There was something urgent in her voice.
“I have a job, don’t worry.”
Her mother stared at her for a moment before nodding slowly. She assumed it was the restaurant job she told her about, not knowing that she’d been fired.
“I trust that you’re wise enough not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Her heart thumped as a painful reminder of what her mother was referring to. The reason the two were left alone after her father’s death. She wasn’t the only child of her parents. She’d had an elder sister named Ufoma who had taken up the role of breadwinner of the house, but her means of earning income had caused more damage. Ufoma died of AIDS and her death caused them to tumble into a state of sorrow and depression.
As she left the hospital with her mom, she swore to herself that she was going to get out of this mess.
Later that day, Natasha was back at Andre’s house. True to his word, Mr. Phillips had never come to check on her and not once did he even contact her on the phone. He had handed her over to Andre’s care completely. Andre was half Spanish and American so he had a slightly mixed accent. He didn’t bother her much except to give her details of her next client and appointment.
She was seated in the living room waiting for him to arrive when one of the other girls walked out of one of the many rooms in the house.
“Tasha, you dey early today oh,” Rashida said as she sat down on the couch beside her. “Shey no wahala?’
Rashida was one of several girls who lived with Andre, they were all either homeless or they had some kind of family discord or financial issue that pushed them to seek outsiders help. Natasha realized that she wasn’t too different from Rashida who was from a desperately poor background. Rashida was a typical example of a Ghetto Girl. Andre had tried his best to polish her up for clients but he couldn’t completely erase several years of her upbringing.
Natasha shook her head, even though she knew this whole thing was a huge problem.
“I just want to see Andre.”
Rashida nodded and went to the kitchen to grab a packet of juice and two cups. She filled them with juice and offered her a cup.
“Your face is saying something else oh.” She said to Natasha who sighed softly.
“Rashida, I want to ask you something.”
“This job we’re doing… I’m thinking of quitting.”
There was silence. Natasha looked up to see Rashida staring into her drink.
“You wan quit.”
Slowly, Rashida began to chuckle. Natasha looked up startled.
“What is funny about this?”
“Do you think you’re the first one? Ronke tried to do the same thing before but look where she be today. She been promoted to manage her own group of girls, the kind money she earning now silence her. Amina go as far as to double-cross the boss and she end up with permanent limp. Now, she rarely even gets customers.”
Natasha looked her in the eye.
“And you? Did you ever try to quit?”
“Heck no! This is what sustains me.”
She frowned at Rashida’s response, not believing that she could be content with this. After walking into this blindly, she already hated it. Now how could she remain the same way when she knew what was really going on. The girls heard the gates open as a car drove into the compound. Andre was back. Rashida got up to go to her room.
“Whatever you are trying to do, no forget say neither Andre nor the boss is to be messed with. Just be careful.”
When Andre walked in, for some reason she couldn’t gather up the courage to tell him what was on her mind. Rashida’s warning kept ringing in the back of her mind. In the end, she left there with yet another assignment instead of being free from the clutches of prostitution.
Around midnight, Natasha stood by the roadside again. This time, she was in an area on the mainland that was well-known for late night revelers. Andre advised the girls not to stay in the same area for too long so as not to create any suspicion or get caught with hard drugs. It was one of the reasons customers weren’t allowed to visit the girls in the house, so they didn’t attract unwanted attention. She stood with another girl named Tricia who was from Ghana but had been brought to Nigeria through human trafficking with promises of a bright future and education.
It was a cold night and Natasha wished she could wear warmer clothes but she knew it was out of the question. She stood up straighter when a car drove toward them. Most of the girls who usually stayed in that area had already been picked up leaving the newcomers; herself and Tricia.
She walked closer to the car, hoping to get away from the cold air. The window slid down but the man didn’t get out. This was a bit unusual. The men Andre sent usually got down to find the girl they were directed to. The girls never knew the identities of these men. All they had to do was wait for them to come along.
The car’s interior light came on and her eyes widened at the sight of the man in the driver’s seat. He looked nothing like the men Andre usually sent. Those men were the type to resort to hiring female companions as they were not blessed with either good looks or personality. The effects of hard drugs were also evident on them and all they had to their advantage was money. But this man didn’t look like he needed to hire anyone so what was he doing here?
Natasha decided not to let that bother her. She moved to stand beside the passenger window, leaning down to look into the car.
“Do you need some company?” She asked, knowing she was breaking protocol but she just wanted to get off the road.
His dark eyes watched her carefully and he nodded for her to get in. She got into the car without trying to bargain on a price. The men usually paid Andre and he in turn paid the girls. The car felt warm compared to the brisk wind outside and there was a pleasant scent in the air. She closed her eyes for a moment, pretending she wasn’t a call-girl in a car with a man who she didn’t even know.
“What’s your name?” The man asked, his deep baritone voice breaking the silence in the car.
She opened her eyes and looked at him in surprise. No one ever asked for her name, they usually didn’t care.
“Natasha.” She answered quietly, fiddling with the hem of her skirt.
“Natasha…” He repeated, as if committing the name to memory but he didn’t introduce himself.
They lapsed into silence again. Meanwhile, she was waiting for him to ask about whether or not she had the drugs. That was usually the major thing on the customer’s mind. He arrived at a hotel that seemed busy even for how late at night it was. She followed him up to a room and sat down on the bed, still waiting for him to ask her for his goods.
“Would you like a drink?” He asked.
“Yes, thank you.” She replied. She was very thirsty and tired from standing for so many hours without food or water nearby.
He opened a small refrigerator and asked her which drink she liked before grabbing two glass cups and serving them. She took the drink gladly, wondering why he was so unlike any other customer. The man smiled at her briefly before sitting down in a chair. She thought it was strange that he didn’t choose to sit beside her. Natasha finished the last of her drink and set the glass cup down, looking at him expectantly but he didn’t even move. He just watched her with his sharp, intelligent eyes.
Slowly, she began to feel light-headed and uncoordinated. Her eyes refused to focus and she suddenly started giggling for no reason. The man smiled in satisfaction and got to his feet, his tall frame towered over her. He brought out his wallet and held up a police badge.
“I’m Inspector James, from the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. I’m following a case of reported missing persons and illegal activities. A few days ago, I received a tip that a group of unusual night-workers were in the area. I have a few questions to ask you, Natasha.”
She began to feel dread creeping up within her.
“What did you do to me?” She whispered, her speech was slurred.
He picked up the empty glass cup and held it up with a smug smile.
“Oh, you mean this? I simply slipped some Sodium Pentothal in it.”
Natasha was confused.
“Truth serum. It inhibits the rate at which your body sends messages to your brain. Basically, you can’t concentrate long enough to form a lie.”
Natasha blinked groggily, already feeling her mind slipping. Inspector James grabbed his seat and brought it closer to her. He opened the recording app on his smartphone and placed it between them.
“Now, shall we begin?”
Natasha was powerless to withhold any information she had.
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