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, Saint and Sinners Chapter Eight
He kept running but his legs felt weighted down by led, in the distance he could see the door; his escape route but try as he may he could not reach it, the door seemed to be running away from him. Behind him he could hear the wails of sirens, the barking of pursuit dogs and the pounding of feet as the police followed hot on his tail, he looked around for a place to hide but in the darkness, all he could see was the door ahead and not much else.
He could feel a sweat run a cold, slippery, path down the burrows of his back and melting into the helm of his jeans, his feet made a squishing sound in his shoes as blood from the wound in his side filled it up.
The pain in his side felt like an icy jolt of lightening each time his feet hit the moss covered ground. The bag on his back made a “pam” “pam” noise as it bounced around, its weight doing little to aid his escape, the door was coming more and more into perspective as he came closer to it, he could see the dogs; big as rams, their shaggy bodies weaving expertly through the darkness, their eyes like burning lamps in the blackness, their yellowed teeth glistening, lit up by the fire from their eyes. If only he could reach that door, he could shut this nightmare behind him, he put more spring in his steps, his outstretched hand reaching for the door.
Suddenly he could not move, try as he could his legs would not obey his command, the darkness gave way to light and he found himself standing ankle deep in mud; where had it come from. The dogs and their keepers were drawing closer, screams of “kill am, kill am” filled the air, he was sinking now and the more he tried the faster he sank, the wetness of the ground had now reached his chest and he knew that he would soon be buried in this wet, rubbery, red soil, the door had disappeared, in its place were bright lights and its luminosity was blinding him, forcing him to momentarily forget that he was sinking and shield his eyes from the fierce, bright light.
“Chijioke, Chijioke.” One of the policemen slapped him hard across the face. He felt helpless, disappointment filling his heart, he had failed, after all they had been through; he had failed them.
He opened his eyes to find a scrawny looking man hovering over him in a dimly lit room, his face furrowed in concern. He sprang up alert but the pain in his side forced him to lie back with a wince.
“Chijioke, what mischief have you been up to now?” His cousin Chuma asked. “You came here bleeding like a Christmas goat last night and blacked out as soon as you walked in.”
“Where is the bag?!” Chijioke asked wide eyed.
“Relax nwokem, I kept it in the corner,” he said pointing to the blood stain covered bag, “and do not worry, I did not open it, whatever problem it is you have caused now, I do not want to be party to it.” After a brief pause, he continued.
“Are you the reason there are policemen roaming the streets?” When his cousin did not answer, he left his side to go look out the window.
Chuma was not under the illusion that his cousin was innocent, he had heard rumors of his exploit as a cultist, it had been hard to accept it because he was still the same boy who had been a mass server as a kid and led prayers during the Block Rosary, whose parents were outstanding members of the catholic community! The apple did fall far from the tree on this one. He had seen it coming, the friends he kept were far from saints and all advice for him to steer clear of them had fallen on deaf ears.
That was a gunshot wound, he knew that for sure, he had seen a number of cadavers with the same wound and was certain the gunshots from the night before and the presence of the police in the area were all connected to his cousin but he had learnt long ago to always mind his business and he was going to do just that.
“Jioke, you know you cannot stay here? You have to leave, I do not want any problems with the authorities, I would be graduating in less than six months and I do not want to jeopardize that. I hope you understand.”
Slowly rising from the bed, his every movement marked by pain, he felt run over by a fourteen wheeler, his left side where the bullet had lodged was on fire causing him to grimace with pain. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, his body print marked by sweat from lying down on the bed, his head felt woozy as he tried to stand, so instead he reached for the shirt his cousin had given him and shrugged it on, heaving a sigh when it was finally on.
“You can fear sef! Jew man!!” His cousin just sniffed and continued looking out the window.
“You still have that your cab guy’s number?”
“Yes I do.” Chuma replied going to collect his phone, he gave Chijioke the number and returned to his post at the window.
An hour later the cab arrived just in front of the self-contain apartment, Chuma helped his cousin to the door, sorry to have turned him out but knowing it was best for both of them, as it was only a matter of time before the police commenced door to door search.
“Nna be careful.” He said his voice laden with emotion as he hugged him.
“E don do na, leave me before the taxi waka leave me.” Chijioke joked as he opened the door and walked into the bright light of the afternoon.
Her phone was suddenly working again, it had been beeping all morning, her voicemail was filled, she had almost a thousand messages across various messaging applications, she caught the eyes of the driver looking at her funny and read the question in his eyes. She put her phone on vibrate and placed it aside till it finally stopped vibrating. She picked it up again, the first message was from her friend Claire;
“Babe how far, I know say you dey flex, that boy go use enjoyment kill you.” as generic as always.
Isabella had sent her an astounding hundred messages, what the hell? She thought. She would have a talk with her when she got home, she was no longer a kid and needed to learn to respect her space, this was no longer cute. “Where are you, you cannot call again abi? I am worried jor, call when you get this oh!”
“Daddy was taking to the hospital today! I do not know what is going on but somehow I know it is connected with you!”
Her father had been hospitalized, what happened?! She dialed her kid sister’s number. She picked on the first ring. The squeal at the other end made her pull the phone from her ear. When she returned it, her sister was asking a barrage of questions. Like where she was, how she was doing, what she was doing, she was coming home. She let her finish before she spoke.
“Bella where is daddy?”
She heard the sigh and the drop of emotion in her sister’s countenance. “Mommy says his condition has not changed.”
“Where is mommy?”
“I don’t know I have not seen her once all morning, it is chaos here; it has been ever since your kidnap.”
That took her aback, did she say kidnap?! “Hold up! Who was kidnapped?!”
“You.” The phone almost fell out of her hand. “Who says I was kidnapped?! I have been in Cross River with friends, like I told daddy.”
“Lawrence abi? Wasn’t he kidnapped with you?!”
“No! no one was kidnapped!” She snapped.
“That is what Uncle Emeka said but I wanted to find out for myself.”
“Why all the kidnap question?”
“Just hurry home and find out for yourself.”
When the cab pulled up to the gate, true to her kid sister’s words the house was swarming with policemen, one of the two posted at the gate walked up to them.
“Wetin una dey find here?” He said in a gruff voice.
“I live here.” Rebecca stated tersely, she had little patience for policemen.
“How we wan take know say you dey live here? Driver reserve, go park for the other side.” When the driver seemed to hesitate, he cocked his rifle. “Oga I go bust this your tire! Come on move this your kpalasa comot for here!” He barked; his face a mask of anger.
“Isabella I am at the gate, these policemen would not let me in.” She said eyeing the men with disgust.
Seconds later her mother and kid sister stormed out of the gate, a picture of raw emotion, their hands waving in the air, their screams mixing with the chaos of the afternoon traffic. She climbed out of the car to meet them, surprised at their reaction; she had only being away a couple of days, yet they were acting like she had been away for years. Was it the kidnapping thing? Maybe Bella was not lying after all.
“Nwa’m oh! (My child!)” Her mother cried, scooping her delicately off the floor, her bosom pressing into her. “Nwa’m.” She kept saying, touching her all over as if checking for an affliction. Tears flowed freely down her cheek soaking her blouse.
“Mommy stop it.” She said quietly, conscious of the eyes beginning to gather around them.
“Ehn, let us go inside, have you paid the taxi?”
“Sule, come help my daughter carry her luggage inside.” She said softly to one the policemen.
“Mommy, where is daddy?”
“We will talk more when we get inside.”
When inside, she braced herself for the worst, expecting to hear stories of her father’s demise, the kidnap was a ruse to keep her mind occupied before they broke the sad news to her. She did not know how to handle the news when it came but it was going to come anyway.
When her mom started to talk, it felt as if someone had opened a floodgate of fire and it was consuming her one emotion after another. While she was frolicking, someone, an evil bastard had plotted to steal money from her family and in the process had sent her father to the hospital. Only one person could have done this, someone who had her itinerary and knew to manipulate the situation such that her parents felt she had been kidnapped. Ice Man. Rage boiled hot inside of her, as she listened to her mom sob through her narration, her body quivering with the heat building up inside her head. He was not going to get away with this, she would see to it.
The rest of the afternoon, she spent it answering a number of questions from the police, most of which were asked by her uncle; who had seized to be her uncle the instant she sat before him, a man he called Obidi was also present in the room, taking notes. They wanted to know her whereabouts for the past week; who she had been with, where they had stayed, they also wanted to know everyone she had spoken to and their phone numbers. They also wanted addresses and room numbers of all the places they had stayed in. They also grilled her about Stanley the bellboy; that had caught her off-guard, she had been so fixated on Isaac she had not giving thought to the idea that he had to have had accomplices keeping tabs on them. Pimply faced Stanley had been so nice and so innocent looking, that she would have argued in his stead if her uncle had not shown her the picture they had taken in the hotel room but he had been conveniently cropped out.
Her chest felt as if a rabbit was running circles in it, leaving her feeling faint and breathless. Who else was involved, God not Lawrence too! The thought of the man who she hoped someday to be married to being involved in extorting her family, made her feel dirty. She embraced herself, somehow trying to shield herself from the shame that would come with the knowledge.
As if sensing her doubt, her uncle said; “Your boyfriend’s family was extorted too, we went to visit the family, when the news broke. I thought he was involved; turns out I might have been wrong. But we will still be keeping a tab on him.” Her uncle’s statement seemed to be a rock off her shoulder, leaving her paralyzed with relief. He was innocent; she felt that in her bones.
She was both physically and mentally fatigued by the time she was done with the police men, she literally had to drag herself to her bedroom, where she fell asleep immediately she laid her head on the bed. They would go see her dad later in the day, her mom had promised.
The pile of money sat on the table, crisp and clean, its scent filled the cool interior of the hotel room, Chijioke was seated in the only sofa in the room nursing a flute of champagne; once in a while he would grimace, as his wound still restricted his movement.
Sixty four thousand dollars! He had never seen or touched that type of money in his life. He touched it again, just to ascertain he was not dreaming, burying his face in it for good measure. This was the stuff of dreams. He whooped at the top of his voice startling the other occupants of the room. Chijioke and Loretta.
“I am fucking rich man!!” His voice was rich with pride and excitement. “Babe I will give you the world.” Loretta guffawed.
He had had his doubts while he cooked up this plan; he had expected a few hiccups but save the Engineer’s stroke and Chijioke’s brush with death, the plan had gone flawlessly, though he had to admit to himself that there was a time when he thought Chijioke had absconded with the money. When the money did not arrive at the appointed time, he had tried Chijioke’s number and found it had been switched off, he reached out to their other associates and they assured him that he had left and was headed to Cross River to meet him. An hour later, he still had not arrived, he ordered his associates to find out if he had being arrested and that too came up as negative. To say he got any sleep that night was a fallacy, as he tossed and turned, wondering what had become of Chijioke and his ransom.
When he heard the knock on the door the next day, he almost exploded with joy when he found a pale looking Chijioke at the door, loot in hand. First thing he did, was leave his place and rent a hotel in one of the worst parts of town, he would lie low there for a few days before he made his next move. The police were probably onto him now, both Larry and Becca; especially Becca would not hesitate to flip on him when they find out what he had done, so keeping a low profile was an absolute necessity now.
“Here is your share, make sure you share in amicably amongst yourselves. You guys did an awesome job; the police are still chasing shadows. I do not have to remind you of the need to keep your head down till the heat cools off.”
“Haba, you no need tell me.”
“Here is something for you to go treat yourself.” He offered him a wad.
“Chairmo! You too mush!”
“This is for me and my people.” He said putting a larger pile, bundle after bundle inside a duffle bag. “By next week, I go don jaway from this country.”
“What about my share?” Loretta chimed in.
“My share is your share.” He said with a forced smile. He noticed her forehead furrow into a frown. I hope she does not turn out to be a problem for me or else. He let the thought drift away, she could be taken care of; he need not worry too much about her.
“Chijioke call down for a chicken pepper soup, I need to wash down this happiness with something hot and peppery.”
Two weeks had passed since the kidnap saga and the police had not managed to make any arrest, the closest they had come to making an arrest had been a bust, as the guy was already in the wind but they had a name and they were adding more and more names to the list on which Isaac sat as number one.
When Rebecca had informed her uncle of her suspicions, they had mobilized men to search the premises of his said uncle’s house, only to discover it was a house on lease and its owner was abroad and was in no way related to Isaac. They had tracked down his family but they too had not being in contact with him for months, careful scouring had unearthed a blurry image of the cap wearing fiend who had taken the bag from him, captured by an unsuspecting girl who was just taking pictures, an ATM camera had also captured another man carrying what they hoped was the same bag, heading away from the market, it was not much but it was enough to rustle the leaves and cause them to make mistakes and hopefully smoke them out. These pictures had been circulated around all stations in the country and an APB had been placed on all of them including their inside man inside the telecomm giant company.
Emeka knew that as days turned to weeks and weeks to months, the chances of their wide spread net capturing its targets grew slim but he trusted that they would make a mistake as was human nature and they would be captured. For now they had to bide their time, his hands were filled with trying to explain to his superior why they were left in the dark about one of the biggest kidnap cases to have hit the state in recent times. He puffed out his cheek in frustration and went back to the paper work on his desk.
His mom was getting better according to the doctor but needed to undergo the surgery as soon as possible to enable her continue her recovery, the dilemma was finding the money, his dad had exhausted all options open to him and all he did now was pray, every moment of the day, pray that God will somehow miraculously cure his wife, which he thought was pathetic. God had forsaken them, if he hadn’t, his mother would not be lying in bed near death. His decision to travel to Cross River after his school closed for the semester instead of Abuja where his family lived was firmly because he wanted to be as far away from the depressive and death wrenched air that had encompassed his family of late. It still hung heavy in the air but somehow he did not feel affected by it.
He felt his mother’s frail hands, her pulse was weak but it was there, she had barely opened her eyes in the past couple of days, all she did was sleep and eat what little she could and sleep again.
“Mommy, you will be okay, I promise.” He said caressing her arm gently. Somewhere in the room, a patient released flatulence, to his disgust; he could not wait to get his mother out of this pigsty of a ward!
His phone rang, it was Becca, their relationship had become strained since they got back, she partly blamed him for her dad having to walk with a cane for possibly the rest of his life, if he had not walked Isaac into her life, all these would never have happened. They had fought every time they spoke and they were both avoiding talking to each other, it had been close to a week since they last spoke now and Lawrence found himself wishing she was not begging for a fight as he was not in the mood for one.
When he was outside the ward, he answered the call. “Hello.” He said emotionless.
“Hi babe, how is your mom?” She had not called him babe for the longest time.
“Her condition is still the same, she still needs that surgery.” He heard her sigh.
“I wish there was something I could do, I had planned on asking my dad to help but then this happened.”
There was a moment of awkward silence that seemed to last an eternity, with nothing but their breaths coming over the phone.
“I got to go babe. I will call you later; I think the doctor just went to my mom’s bedside.” He lied, as the silence was making him uncomfortable.
“Alright, I will call you in the evening. I love you.” “I love you too.” He said, a few weeks ago he would not have doubted if he meant it but nowadays it felt so untrue. As he made to go inside an orderly brushed past him in a hurry. “Oh boy watch where you dey go na!” If he heard his protest, the man did seem to be bothered as he continued on in a hurry.
“Idiot!” He spat out.
When he got to his mother’s bedside, he found a package with his name waiting for him. There was about eleven thousand dollars in the box and a brand new iPhone, the phone started to ring and he answered.
“Baba, how you dey now, you don get your share abi? If no be you this deal for no happen. Money wey dey there dey enough to carry your momsy go abroad for treatment. Keep your head low brother, I hear say eke dey find me upandan; me, Chijioke, Earnest and Ukpaka. I dey SA as I dey talk to you now, boy flexing for Naija na joke, choi! I dey plan enter Europe soon, you know say mans need dey waka around. Try jaway as soon as your mama well, you hear?” The phone went dead immediately.
Tears welled up in his eyes; finally his mom was going to be okay, when he did not hear from Isaac for a while he had thought he had disappeared with his share of the ransom. The last week had been a torment, worrying about being caught had left him emaciated and a shadow of himself, his family had being worried and had chalked it down to his mother’s condition, if only they knew. He had been racked by guilt for deceiving his girlfriend but he had no choice, his mother’s life was at stake and he had made the not so hard decision to indulge in crime to get her better health care. One day he would confess his crimes to his beloved and he hoped he would be rich enough to pay back the Eze’s, for now his mom was his number one concern.
His mother stared in bed and opened her eyes, Lawrence smiled at her. “Don’t worry; everything will be alright from now on.”