Click here to read the previous chapter: Saint and Sinners Chapter One, Saints and Sinners Chapter Two, Saints and Sinners Chapter Three, Saints and Sinners Chapter Four, Saints and Sinners Chapter Five , Saints And Sinners Chapter Six
Music blared from musical equipment mounted on the back of the flatbed as it rolled slowly behind a dancing crew dressed in red and white; the men in tight T-shirts and flared trousers and the women in sleeveless tank tops with skimpy skirts.
The women danced and wiggled their waist to a popular tune by a Nigerian musician, whilst the men performed intricate, synchronized acrobatic stunts that elicited stunned gasps and cheers from the audience. In one instant they built a ten-man pyramid, after which the man at the apex, did a back flip with a mid-air twist before landing catlike on his haunches.
Following closely behind the acrobatic bunch were a troupe of full figured women dressed in colorful carnival costumes that left little to the imagination, their bodies swayed to the rhythm of the drums, their waist gyrating sensually as they moved their sweat glistened bodies to the delight of the onlookers, many of whom had cameras trained on them. The lead dancer was the main attraction, a buxom woman, garbed in a bejeweled lemon green bra; that was only managing to keep her massive breast in place, a diamond crusted link ran the length of her cleavage to her navel, where it continued in an arc around her curvy hips to join the crusted helm of her scant bejeweled G-string, around her upper thighs were tied ribbons the same colors of her ensemble. On her head was a crown of feathers also in lemon green, spiked with tall, grey, straight feathers. Her glorious crown continued down both shoulders in a cascade of lemon green, white and grey feathers that flowed to her ankle. Her feet were also clad in diamond crusted stilettos. She moved effortlessly with the grace of a prancing cat, the sun reflecting off of her many jewels and her oiled bronze body, causing her to radiate in the afternoon light; each step deliberate and sensual. A human peacock.
In the distant men draped in riding gears and helmets mounting varying degrees of machines from choppers of all kinds, to power bikes and ATVs made up the rear, the sound of their engines renting the air; the air heavy with the acrid smell of its fume. In the middle of the crew that looked like a biker gang, dirt bikes and power bikes were preforming wheelies, burnout, circle and 12 o’clock, in the space other bikers had created, to the delight of the teeming crowd. They gasped when one of the bikers lost control and fell off his huge beast of a bike; there was a moment of silence when only the idling sound of the many bikes could be heard, then the biker was up on his feet like nothing had happened, he walked casually to where his bike was to survey the damage done to it, when he was sure it had not suffered any significant damage, he was back on it performing even more daring stunts to the delight of the spectators and his fellow bikers.
In crowd Lawrence and Rebecca watched in awe and excitement, they had been watching the dancing troupe, till Lawrence decided the bikers made a better spectacle. He had always fantasied about owning a bike someday, nothing fancy but something fancy enough that anytime he straddled it, could feel the wind in his face, the open road before, wide and ready for the taking. It had been a fantacy he had since he was a kid, probably because of the many pictures he had seen of his dad on his Honda CD 125 bike, he had looked so bad ass and he figured he would too. His dad had called it “lady magnet”, his father had told him so many tales of his adventure on his precious machine; he had bought it soon after his return from the war in the late 1970 for about N30, he had been the first of his peers to do that, though there already were car owners in the village even before the war but he was definitely the first to own a CD 125 with its double exhaust and the metallic roar of a dragon. It was the 70s and he was considered successful, his textile business was doing well in the fledgling Onitsha market; that was in the process of rebuilding after the devastation of the civil war and thus his name was oft on the name of eligible spinsters, who would often cheer his name when he breezed by. Those were happier times, he had said, up was up and down was down, everything made sense and life had been simpler. With N2, one could buy enough drink to keep his whole crew sated for hours, because he was a spendthrift; people both men and women flocked to him like bees to nectar.
His antics did not seem to attract the attention of the beautiful maiden whose parents ran the beer parlor which he always patronized, she always wore her dark hair full; as was the style back then, and helmed it with a ribbon; a different color every day, her slender figure was always fitted into a flowing gown that covered her knee. She had eyes that captivated anyone who had the courage to look into them, whenever she dared look up at you; she was nice to the patrons, many of them who always tried to act inappropriately whenever the drinks got to their heads, she always knew how to negotiate herself out of those squeaky situations, her voice when she spoke was a little husky but firm and confident. His father would always admire her from far, his eyes searching the parlor for hers anytime he came around, she was friendly with him but she never let it get too far. She would always say;
“Mazi leave me before one of your girlfriends decides I am trespassing and calls thugs to beat me up.”
They would laugh it off but it did not stop his dad flirting and trying to win her hand.
One day, just after the “e wa ji” festival (New yam festival), at the village square, he had noticed her and her siblings walking down the road, he trailed along beside them, trying to get them to stop, they only giggled and laughed and continued walking, he had to drive ahead and park, his bike blocking their path.
“I would like to marry you nne, you are the most beautiful maiden in all of Uka and I have admired you for months and I know I can be a good husband to you and you a good wife.” She laughed a throaty laugh; he said he remembers till date. Before replying;
“Just like that, you want to marry me, without knowledge of who I am or what I am like?!” She asked bemused.
“Your name is Nkiru Maryann, you are twenty-four, these are your sisters, Oby and Nneoma, you were a student in University of Nigeria; Nsukka before the war broke out. So yes, I know you enough to say I would like to take you on a date sometimes.” She looked at him in awe, surprised that he knew that much about her, so she agreed to go out with him but only if her father gave his consent, her father readily gave his consent to one of the most eligible bachelors in the village, who wouldn’t want an in-law who had fought for his fatherland and was doing well in business at a time when the East was going through a makeover?
For their first date, he had wanted to impress her, so he planned to take her to a town some kilometers from their hometown that boasted of having the best bush meat and palm wine in the area. He could not recall much of that day but he said he would never forget how it felt having her arms around his midsection as she clung on for safety or the feel of her breath on his neck as she spoke to him, he wanted to drive forever but time passes by fast when you are having fun and in no time, their ten kilometer journey was at an end. His father would credit “lady magnet” for helping him land their mother, something she vehemently denies, even though halfheartedly.
Lawrence could still hear the nostalgia in his father’s voice as he told the story of his first date with his mother, he could still see the excitement and happiness in his every description and it made him happy to think that his parents were once in the same position as he found himself now.
“Knock, knock, anyone home?”
Lawrence crashed back to the present with a start. “So sorry.”
“It was you who was all psyched about going to the festival and here you are daydreaming, while life is happening before you. What are you thinking about anyways?” She prodded.
“It’s nothing really; just thinking about my mom and the fact that I have not spoken to her since we got here.” For a brief moment they both stood silence, their minds occupied with thoughts of families who were probably worried sick while they frolicked. He did not know how many minutes had passed but he knew the silence had become unbearable, “the upside is that tomorrow we would be headed home.”
“Yes.” Rebecca grunted, all of a sudden she wished she was already on the plane home. She could not wait to run into her mother’s arm, feel her father’s warm embrace or the excited squeaky voice of her little sister. Her brother was still abroad, so she didn’t miss him as much.
“Hey it is the camera, wave.” Lawrence said excitedly as the man with the huge television camera on shoulder panned the camera in their direction. She waved enthusiastically, wondering if anyone she knew would see.
“What station is that?” she asked.
“I cannot tell for sure but it seems to be SETV.” “Do you think anyone we know will be watching?” She asked smiling.
“I sure hope so, I have never been on TV and it would sure suck if no one I know sees it.”
“Abi?!” They both roared in laughter.
The air was crisp with tension, so electrifying the people in the room could actually feel it course through their bodies, it was past twelve and the phone still hadn’t rung. Everyone in the room was huddled around the table on which the phone was seated willing it to ring, every second that passed by felt like an eternity, and then the phone lit up and filled the room with its sound, somewhere in the room, someone gasped. Emeka picked up the phone and put it on speaker.
“Hello?” He said tersely.
“I want twenty million in stacks of hundred dollar bills, which should fit nicely in a large school bag; I will give you an hour to put it all together, no funny business. I will call by 1.30 with further direction.” The phone went dead immediately.
An hour later the money had been packed in the school bag in hundred dollar stacks as the caller had instructed, while Emeka waited impatiently for the phone to ring.
“What if we give them this money and they kill my daughter?” Mrs. Eze asked and rebuked herself immediately for thinking such evil thought. “But such things have happened, what if these guys take the money and still refuse to release my daughter?!”
“Nne Chidi, you need to stop thinking like this, just pray everything goes as planned, so far they have not given us reasons to doubt that they will release Becca, moreover I have over fifty men working on this case and we will try to intercept them during the exchange. So do not worry, I will do everything in my power to bring my niece back home safely and to your arms.”
It had been a hectic afternoon, gathering the twenty million had been harder than expected even though the money was readily available; the curb on daily withdrawal from the banks had made it almost impossible to remove large sums at a time from the bank either from the ATM or over the counter, so they had had to use several accounts and different people, the trick was trying to keep a low profile and not to raise suspicion, which was going fine until they had gone to make the last withdrawal; which involved him going with his sister-in-law to the bank; this was a joint account her husband and her had shared for more than two decades and had used to save for the kids and a rainy day; it could not get any rainier than today.
“…I am sorry ma, but due to the CBN directive, we cannot allow you make such withdrawal and I will have to notify management, who in turn are duty bound to report to the police.” The clean shaven man behind the marble counter stated diligent and unsmiling.
Mrs. Eze wanted to scream, but her brother-in-law’s arm on her shoulder acted as a pacifier of sort, so she breathed in and said calmly,
“I have done business with this bank for more than a decade, I have known all Branch Managers and every cashier by name and for Christ’s sake, it is my money and I can withdraw however much I want!” She could not help the last part.
Calmly the bespectacled Cashier said; “It might be your money, but I am not allowed to give it to you; that is the law.”
What happened next caught the people in the large ventilated space off-guard, first Catherine Eze had gone mortally silent and Emeka had braced himself for a tirade of words but instead her face crumbled and she started to cry, to the dismay of the Cashier, who looked completely uncomfortable about the whole situation, searching left and right for a colleague to come help him out but no one came, they all seemed as perplexed as he was. All transaction stopped as he and Catherine became the center of attraction; the various eyeballs felt like a million darts and made him feel uneasy.
“Catherine you have to get yourself together, we do not need to attract the wrong kind of attention.” He spoke calmly into her ear.
“What is left for me, eh Emeka? My husband is lying in the hospital and my daughter is God knows where and these people do not want to give me my own money! Which kind of country do we live in, where no one has no control of their own lives?”
“Play it cool please, people are watching!”
“Let them watch!! Ah, ah, what is it; this is just too much for me! Let them watch Emeka. Ike agwu gom! (I am tired)”
“What might be the problem?” A man garbed in a well-tailored suit asked, entering the booth of the Cashier attending to them. “My name is Agaba Dura, I am the BM here, and how may we help you?” He sounded genuinely eager to help them but Emeka knew he was trying to avoid a PR disaster; this was just damage control.
“Can we speak somewhere private?” Emeka asked softly.
“Of course, let’s go to my office.” He said with a smile, before leaving the booth. “Carry on.” He said to the Cashier, flashing a smile to the other customers.
He led the way upstairs to a glass partitioned cozy office, not to too small but functional, a huge photocopier sat on a small stool behind his swivel chair, a small printer; a file holder and an open laptop were the only occupants of his big table.
He waited till Mrs. Eze regained her composure and was settled in, before asking; “How may I help you?”
To avoid another round of water works, Emeka cut in. “We would like to make a withdrawal of 10,000 dollars from a joint account owned by my sister-in-law and her husband; my cousin. It is an emergency and we would need it for immediate medical purposes abroad.”
“I understand your plight but due to the CBN….”
“I am Chief Inspector Emeka Udoh; the head of SARS in Awka etiti, here is my identification.” He said flashing his card; I would not be doing this if it was not a matter of life and death. So please help us and I promise to come back here myself and explain everything.”
Thirty minutes later they were seated at home waiting for the phone to ring, Emeka could not wait to get on with the day, since Ifeanyi had called him about the kidnapping, all he had dreamt of was nabbing the kidnappers, so he could add them to his list of achievements since he was made the head of the special division on security by the state Governor. Plans were already in motion to get them behind bars, he fingered the school bag; marveling at the fact that this small back contained TWENTY MILLION! Where did these guys get the nerve to ask for these exorbitant sums, what right did they have to reap where they did not sow?
His finger ran over the tiny ridge where they had buried a tracker, he allowed himself a small smile of victory, he had them cornered.
The phone rang at exactly 1:30 and without hesitation Emeka picked the phone.
“Go to Eke Awka, when you get there walk down Abuja line, someone will meet you there. Remember, no police should be in sight. The girl will be released when we have the money.”
Eke Awka was the biggest and most popular market in the state capital of Anambra; Awka. At a time it had over a hundred thousand people in it; including customers, shop owners, delivery people and freighters. Because of its size, the market was divided into aisles, which over time had become known as “lines” and each line catered to different class of customer. Abuja line specialized in the sale of men clothing and was one of the busiest parts of the market but it was nothing compared to the produce market. Emeka wondered why they had not picked the produce line, where they had a better chance of getting lost in the crowd.
“What guarantee do we have that you will let her go?” He asked nonchalantly.
The voice snickered and answered, “I told you, you have to trust me. You have my word; Rebecca will be with you by the end of the day.”
“But…” The phone went dead before he could finish. Without wasting time, “Obidi you still have your men on standby?” He asked the burly man who was standing in the corner waiting for instructions.
“Yes sir, they are ready and waiting.”
“Okay and Joseph put a call to the DPO at B division; tell him to dispatch mufti men to secure all entrance leading in and out of Eke Awka and all roads to and fro also.”
“Right away sir.” He said disappearing through the front door of the mansion.
“The rest of you will come with me, make sure to keep out of sight and at a very safe distant, I do not want to spook them. Grab the money, is the tracker working?”
“Yes it is sir.” The technician a pimply faced man, who looked 20 but was actually 28, answered. He followed the others out of the house, his laptop hugged close to his chest, a headset hanging from his neck.
“Catherine, I promise you I will do everything in my power to get your kid home.” Emeka said reassuringly at the door.
“I do not care about the money, just get my daughter home.” Emeka could see the tiredness in her eyes and felt sorry for her. He hugged her and disappeared behind the huge French door.
Catherine knew all she could do now was hope and pray and so she reached for her bible and did what she knew best.
When the door opened the night before, Mrs. Dike had been astounded to find her packed and ready to flee the nest but instead of scolding her, she had led her into the kitchen for a one on one talk. She had gone on to tell her how her sister Rebecca had been kidnapped; which explained why her calls were not connecting, their father had also suffered a minor cardiac arrest as a result of the stress of it all and was currently at the hospital. They did not tell her because they did not want her to worry but that was an oversight on their part and she apologized and promised to be forthcoming henceforth.
When Isabella had enquired as to when she could go back home, Mrs. Dike had said she could only go home when her sister was safely home and all the chaos there had subsided, their mother did not want her around the police or near enough to hear any news untoward. She was safer away from the house.
After their talk, Mrs. Dike had made her chocolate drink and then walked her to bed.
When she woke up, Chi-Chi’s bed was empty but she had failed to wake her, as she had done since they had been sharing a room, after doing her morning chores, she went to the living room to join her friend but Chi-Chi left the instant she came in.
“Chi-Chi, I am sorry.” She cooed.
Chi-Chi just hissed and headed upstairs to the room they shared together, torn between following on her heels or giving her some space, Isabella picked the latter, her friend just needed time to cool off, she was still angry at her for getting her whooped the night before. So she settled into a chair and picked up the TV remote, the Dikes had probably left for their places of business, leaving her and Chi-Chi in the care of the Help and her older siblings.
She flipped through several channels and finally settled on one, where they were having some sort of fair, there was a lot of dancing and Isabella was a sucker for dancing, so she put the remote down and watched, she was totally engrossed in the activities on the satellite TV when she noticed it, it caught her off-guard, so she did not take note of it immediately. She waited patiently for the camera to pan that way again, when it didn’t, she rewound it and paused just when it came to view, true to her imagination, she was correct. She let out an ear shattering scream.