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, Saints and Sinners Chapter Seven
He started to understand why the voice on the phone had picked the market, the road leading to it was gridlocked and the traffic in front of him was packed full with vehicles and people oblivious to the plight of the people stuck in the slow moving afternoon traffic, except their own. He had failed to put into consideration the fact that it was a festive period and the market would be busier than usual, dread began to swim around in the pits of his stomach like ants on sugar; doubt started to claw at him, gradually stripping him of his confidence. He should have involved his superiors in this, maybe they would have come up with a better plan than his but deep down he knew involving them would have given it the sort of publicity that could have gotten his niece dead. He might be in over his head but at least he still had a chance to get his niece back alive.
He finally found a parking space and had to negotiate his way through a crowd of “okpa” sellers and sellers of small items, who could not afford to pay the rent of a shop in the market, so they set up small stalls in front of the market, they were subject to constant raids by the government task force, they were illegal occupants and caused unnecessary traffic.
“Oga bia go okpa di oku. (Come and buy hot okpa.)” A woman with a raffia hat said showcasing her ware, her okpa soiled knife, oily and caked in her hand, waiting to cut into the yellow flesh of the bean cake.
He just shook his head, clutched tight to the backpack and walked into Abuja line. As was the exterior, the little space between shops that ran for about fifty meters served as a pathway and was packed full with humans; some people had even displayed their wares on the pathway, making an already difficult act, even more so. The roofs of the one storey complex were covered all the way through, to shield customers and shop owners from the weather and so it was cooler in here than it was outside, the sounds of different generator, somewhere someone was playing the music just too loudly, but in the midst of all the other commotion, no one seemed to be bothered. In front of a shop that specialized in men shoes, it seemed, a couple of boys in the mid twenties were discussing football and seemed so engrossed in it. The path was littered with debris from opened cardboard boxes and strings of all kinds; a job for the cleaners, because nobody paid it any mind.
He squeezed his way through the crowd of people, wondering how people did this every day, shop owners beckoned at him as he passed by, immediately turning their attention to the next person when he did not oblige. He kept walking, that was what the voice said keep walking; he noticed side entrances that led to other corners and he hoped that they were manned by his men, he had noticed a couple of them in the crowd and that reassured him.
“Oga come check us na.” A man said pointing to a shop that looked like Aba had thrown up in it. “This one na grade one Italian and e cheap well-well.”
“I am not interested.” He made to move on but the man blocked his path.
“Oga oya come test this one, e go match this trouser wey you wear.” He said holding up a shoe and wearing a huge grin.
“Oga I say I no want!” That seemed to finally get to the man and he moved aside to allow him pass. Just then a young man moved in alongside him, his face cap drawn tight over his head and his face down.
Emeka did not think much of him, there were hundreds dressed like him here, so he continued to walk.
“Give me the bag, slowly, be careful I see all the police hiding in plain sight, we all know what is at stake.” He still did not lift is head.
“So how do we know you will keep your end of the bargain?” He asked tentatively.
“Take this.” He said handing him a phone. “You will get a call on this when she is on her way home.” He took the phone, a 99 Nokia. Who still uses these?!
When he looked up the boy was gone and with him the bag, he searched for him in the crowd and caught him dashing into one of the side streets, he immediately reached for his radio. All units be on the lookout for a male wearing a brown jacket over a blue jean and a palm slippers, he is carrying a black bag, approach him with caution, do not capture him but follow him.” He dashed into the path after him but he had disappeared.
He swerved through the crowd, taking his cloth off as he walked. He stashed the jacket and cap in a refuse dump and continued on; he looked around and began to search for faces that looked out of place in the market. When he reached the designated place, he ducked behind a pillar where another person was waiting to continue the journey. They moved the money into a new bag and the guy in the brown jacket, continued on with it, till he got to the parking lot where trucks were loading and offloading goods. He found one that was about to leave and dropped the bag in the back. Let the police have fun with that, he thought gleefully as he sauntered away.
“Sir we have no visual on the suspects but the bag is still in motion, it just left the market now.” Obidi said over the radio.
“Alright follow them, till they lead you to their hideout. I do not need to remind you to keep your distance.” He said firmly.
It had been a long and hectic day for Chima; it was the festive period and jobs came at him thick and fast and he loved it. More jobs meant more money and more money meant peace for him and for Christmas all he wanted was peace. His wife was already on his case demanding money for the purchase of Christmas clothes for the children, as if his parents bought him any when he was their age! He shook his head in anger but he had to do it, especially as his neighbor Ekene who was just a mere laborer had already bought for his kids the week before. His nagging wife would not let him hear the last of it, it was Ekene this, Ekene that, forcing him to spend most of his nights at a bar parlor and getting home drunk enough not to care about her bickering.
But he knew he could not shirk from his responsibility for too long, his kids deserved to look nice on Christmas day like other kids their age, there wasn’t any need denying them that pleasure, his childhood should not determine theirs.
He reached under his chair and felt the money again, that was more than enough to buy Christmas clothes, a small goat and still have some to spend on his girlfriend Nkechi. He felt a stirring in his loins, they were to meet tonight, she was finally going to allow him visit her after many weeks of asking, she was a waitress at the beer parlor he frequented. For weeks she had given him many a sleepless night, his dreams were often filled with images of her tight young body and he always hated waking up next to his wife with her sagging body. Tonight was the night to make his dream a reality.
He pulled up at his home and was just getting down from his truck when he was surrounded by armed men, shouting commands at him. Thieves he thought to himself, they had come to steal the money he had spent all day daydreaming about. His wife would never believe him!
He lay flat on the cold floor, his nose immediately filled with the earthy smell of the ground, his body shook with fear, apprehension and despair.
“Where is the money, where is the girl?!” The men kept yelling at him.
“What girl? Oga I no know wetin you dey talk about!” He managed between blows and kicks landed on him by expert hands and heavy boots. “The money dey under my seat.”
One of the men reached under his seat and pulled out the plastic bag. “Sir, it is just thirty thousand here!!”
“I found the bag!” A voice called from the back of the truck.
He had a brief reprieve as the men all went to see the said bag, what bag are they talking about? He wondered. His question was answered when one of the men who had been pummeling him came up to him with an empty school bag.
“How did you get this bag?!” The burly man who had been kicking asked.
“I swear oga, I never see that bag for my life!”
“Talk true!” Another said smacking him above the head.
“Oga na true, I no know where e come from. As you see am, na so I see am.”
The burly man moved aside and started talking into the radio.
“Sir, this is Obidi, we found the bag but the money is gone. We have a man in custody, the bag was in his possession. Yes sir, we will bring him back to the station.”
“Ah Oga, station?! Wetin I do na?! Na work I just dey close from now. I no do anything oh!! Abeg, I no do anything oh.”
His entire plea fell on deaf ear as he was handcuffed and bundled off in a police vehicle.
Catherine had just finished saying her rosary when her phone rang, she did not recognize the phone number, she hesitated, deliberating whether to pick it or not, ever since the kidnap of her daughter, she had become suspicious of unknown numbers. The phone rang and stop and began again and the third time she finally picked.
“Hello?” She squeaked.
“Mommy, mommy, turn on the TV, Rebecca is on TV!”
“She is on SETV, I just saw her now. Turn on the TV!” Why did Isabella sound so excited, her heart was ramming fast against her rib cage, threatening to burst through. Had something bad happened to her Rebecca? Why was she on TV? Oh God please keep her safe.
She turned on the TV and rewound the footage, thank God for modern technology. She screamed for joy when the image of her eldest daughter and her boyfriend appeared, she did a little victory dance round the table.
“Hello Isabelle, yes I just saw your sister, she is free, and this is live. She is free, she is well. Lemme call your uncle.” I hope they have not given them that money, she thought to herself as she dialed Emeka’s number.
After Emeka hung up, he sat at his desk, a torrid of emotions coursing through him. These guys had played them all for fools, from the get go; they had had them chasing ghosts. Was it really a kidnapping if there wasn’t an actual kidnapping? It might not be that was left to the court to decide but if they were guilty of anything, then it had to be extortion and that in itself was a grievous crime.
The criminals had vanished into thin air, the only suspect they had in their custody was a lowly truck driver who just happened to be bait in a real big game of catch and release. He had long being released, he had made a call to the family of the boy who was supposedly kidnapped alongside Rebecca and like them, and they had parted with some money, even though it was considerably smaller than theirs. The police were under orders to search anybody with a backpack or any bag of any kind, all trunks and all cars leaving the city, he knew that they were casting their net in shallow waters but they had to try, they could get lucky but even he had to admit that the chances of that happen was next to impossible.
“Obidi, come in.”
“Obidi here, over.”
“Any development on the case? Over.”
“Nothing yet, we have some people in custody but I suspect that we do not have our targets. Over”
“Okay, keep up the good work. Over and out.”
The police had asked them to get down and everyone was being searched amidst silent protests and grumbles, there were two people in front of him on the line waiting their turn to be searched, the bag had passed through the hands of about five people before he got a hold of it and as per the plan, was to deliver it to Ice Man in Port Harcourt and Chijioke was determined to carry the plan through regardless.
Without hesitation, he dashed in between two cars and disappeared into the bush, conscious of the voice yelling for him to stop but he did not stop. Something wheezed past his ear and before another bit into his midriff knocking him to the ground. He stood up gasping for breath; he could hear movements in the bushes around him and more gunfire, bullets were flying around him like fireflies, he crouched as he made a break for it, aware of the wet, warm liquid sliding down his jeans and the aching pain burning in his side. He just needed to put a huge distance between him and the police.