Zach stepped out of the bathroom. He could see the notification light blinking on his phone. He knew the message was from Zaneta even before he swooped the phone up.
“Yeah, but going to bed now and so should you”
“Sure” came her reply
“Sweet dreams, Z”
Her reply was a kiss emoticon.
He put the phone down and walked outside onto the terrace. The wind was quick and crisp, he inhaled deeply. He didn’t know why but his mind kept going back to the last mission in Ife.
He walked back inside, picked up his phone and dialled a number from memory.
The reply was almost instant – “Hello”.
“I need to know where Bimpe will be next week” he said, picked up his jump-rope and walked back out onto the terrace.
“Same Bimpe from last-” the voice left off
“Same one” he affirmed
“Weekdays or weekends?” came the reply.
“Both” he said then hung up.
He put the phone on a recliner, unwound the rope and began to skip.
Zaneta checked her phone again, wondering if he had replied. There was no new notification.
She had let him kiss her, she had even encouraged him by kissing him back, now she had sent that kiss smiley to test his response. But the dude had just dropped off the chat.
“Most likely dozed off” she thought.
Now that she had encouraged him enough, it was time to pull back a bit and see if he bites. There were lots of men she wasn’t interested in trying to get her; this one seemed interested and interesting. He also seemed to check the right boxes, if she was going to take a risk with him, she was going to make sure she got as much out of it as he got.
“Game on” she murmured, replaced her phone at the charger and snuck back in bed beside her friends.
“Where are you?“
she sent. She didn’t want to sound desperate or something, but this dude was stretching her.
“Be there in a bit“
was his instant reply.
She hissed. Now she was upset. She hadn’t spotted him in church. No strike that. He was NOT in the church, she was sure. And he didn’t deem it fit to say anything to her? Call? Text? Yet his phone was on his person, in his hands, in fact.
“What was it with these men?” She thought as the train arranged themselves into a file behind the bride. It was time to dance into the reception hall.
“We are at the reception already“
she sent, low-key telling him he was running late.
She stared at her phone for a bit, watched as a tick became a D and then an R and then silence. He didn’t reply. She hissed again.
“What’s up?” the closest groomsman to her asked.
“Nothing jare” she said, not at all in the mood for small talk.
She was not in the mood for this rubbish. Earlier, in church, when she had changed her DP, Edith had messaged her saying how lovely she looked and how much she missed her. She had ignored the message as usual.
“And there was Mr. Kiss-Stealer AKA Rhino-in-Charge AKA Baba Raiden not even acknowledging or saying anything until I hit him up” she thought.
“He will now appear here with one story for the gods? He will see my other side today!“
She was taking her first bite of cake, in fact her first bite of anything since the asun she ate at the party last night when screams and shouts rent the air. She jumped, turning around, almost knocking the cake-laden tray over.
The hall had erupted in a frenzy of excitement. People were jumping, dancing and shouting. Those who weren’t were trying to see the stage. She turned towards the stage and standing there was Max-Tee. Zaneta couldn’t believe her eyes!
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honour to be here” he began.
Zaneta wasn’t listening to the rest of his introductory speech, she was busy rummaging in her bag for her phone. She’ll be darned if she didn’t catch all of this on camera.
“Freaking BN Weddings moment!” she said excitedly.
The DJ had switched the sound to one of Max-Tee’s biggest singles – “Now and Forever”.
“Yaaaaaaas!” Zaneta added her scream to the others’. She got in a vantage position, raised her phone and started recording as the song started.
“This dude is dapper! Lawd!” she thought, running her eyes over him at close range for the first time.
Soon everyone was dancing along, many recording, many taking pictures as Max-Tee invited the couple to dance with him.
Zaneta could not fail to notice the look of glee on Alice’s face. Even Jade had taken the liberty to join in with Kunle the best man.
It was a fantastic 3mins 14secs. As the music faded, Max hugged the bride and groom, congratulated them and then turned to Jade and Kunle and said, still on the mic, “You guys look good together” making many cheer.
In a flash he was standing before her smiling. She didn’t know what to do or say. He hugged her surprising the life out of her. She could have fallen to the floor if he weren’t holding her so dearly.
“I’m sorry we were late, it was all my fault” he said into her ear, then on the mic “Thanks for bringing me, Zaneta”, turned around, handed the mic to the MC and walked out amid cheers. As expected many went after him.
She didn’t understand what had just happened. Alice and Bode were staring at her open-mouthed. Almost everyone was.
No, she wasn’t going to shutdown, she ran after Max.
She caught up with him downstairs in the car park taking photographs with fans. As she approached him, people made way for her.
“Hey! Come let’s take a selfie” he said, the moment he noticed her approach.
“Sure” she said, getting in place beside him.
He took her phone from her and raised it for the shot, she gave her best ‘this is no big deal but i’m excited smile’ as he took a few shots of them both.
“I don’t understand any of this, but I want to thank you” she said as he handed her the phone back.
“We cool, Z. Don’t thank me, thank him” he said nodding in the direction she was backing.
She was already certain who she was going to find smiling his boyish smile when she turned around. He didn’t disappoint.
Zach stood by a wall, a huge Boerboel on a leash he held loosely in his left hand.
“That must be Raiden” she thought canning her excitement.
She turned around and gave Max a hug, “Thank you, Max” she said, “God bless you”.
He laughed, then said “Please, don’t be mad at him, its my fault we were late”.
She didn’t know why but she somehow felt Max was seriously pleading. It didn’t make sense. “No problems. Good bye” she said.
She shook the odd feeling off and crossed the distance towards Zach.
“Baba Raiden, nice of you to finally show up” she said sarcastic.
He laughed at the name she’d just called him. “I’m sorry” he said, taking his sunshades off.
“Raiden?” she asked.
“In the flesh” he replied.
“Can I touch him?”
“Sure” he said, stretching the hand that held the leash to her.
She took the leash. The dog looked up at her again, surprisingly calm, in her opinion.
“Good boy” Zach said
“So why were you late?” she quizzed as she robbed the dog’s head.
“I was trying to get Max here. He was busy” he said. That was a half-truth. Yes, he had got Max to come do a song at the reception, but Max had been ready since 9am. Zach had been the delay. He had had a meeting.
Things were heating up politically. Rallies were about to begin and already strong voices had begun to rise up for the opposition. There had been a riot in the east where the ruling party was beginning to loose ground swiftly since a few key party members cross-carpeted. This morning, a party office had been razed, a few police shots fired and many arrested.
Zach didn’t care much for politics, he understood missions better. And his mission couldn’t be clearer. A few more names had been added to Operation Stephen.
“Let’s go upstairs” she said breaking his thoughts.
“Ok” he replied
“And Raiden?” she asked about the dog which was now standing between them.
“He’ll wait in the car” he replied pushing off the wall and leading the way to his SUV.
Zaneta walked behind as Raiden more of led her to the car than the other way around. Zach opened the back door and the dog hopped in. He took the leash off, tossed it in the back and shut the door, windows down.
“Shall we?” he asked, turning to her.
“Ok” she replied. She had noticed his clothes – a very well-tailored black native attire. “Ose, see packaging! Away jersey as well” she thought. He didn’t disappoint after all.
“You smell nice” he said, “different. What’s it?” he asked.
“Thank you. ‘Always Red, Elizabeth Arden’” she replied, impressed that he’d noticed. She’d forgotten her perfume and had had to use Jade’s.
They stood on the terrace looking out at the sea, some distance away. She’d been around for almost an hour before he suggested they got some fresh air.
“This is a nice place” she said in the most subdued way she could. This guy was either trying to blow her mind or just barely welcoming her into his world. She wondered, though, what his reaction would be if and when he found out who’s (adopted) daughter she was.
“Thank you” he replied.
It was the Sunday evening after Alice’s wedding. She hadn’t gotten over his magnanimity towards her friend and so couldn’t say no when he invited her over. She was still fatigued from the wedding stress, but now, she was glad she made the trip.
“Thanks again for the gift you gave Alice and Bode”
“We gave them” he corrected.
The N100,000 gift card they had presented the couple had read “From Z & Z”.
“Thank you” she repeated.
“You are welcome” he said, then “we could sit out here if you like” he added pointing at the recliners.
“That would be nice” she said with a smile.
“Great!” he replied.
“Let me get our drinks first” she said heading back into the apartment.
Zach’s phone vibrated, he took it out. There was a message. He read it:
“Mon-Thur = School
Fri-Sun = Pelican Hotels, Ajah“
He put the phone away just as Zaneta arrived with their drinks.
“Thank you” he said, taking his from her.
“Where’s Raiden” she asked.
“Downstairs. It’s almost time for his walk sef”
“Would you like to walk him?” he asked.
“No. Not today. I’m too tired.”
“Next time then?”
“Definitely” she auto-replied.
“I’ll have someone walk him” he said walking up to an intercom on the wall. He gave instructions, asking that a specific person and no one else takk the dog on the usual stroll.
Zaneta stretched yawning.
“You look tired”
“You won’t believe how tired I am”
“Sorry” he said, sitting next to her in his seat.
“I almost didn’t come, but I already promised” she said, looking back at him. She wondered what was on his mind as he looked at her.
“You always keep your word?” he asked, not looking away.
“I try” she held his gaze.
“Nice” he said, then looked into his glass as if expecting to find something aside the gin and tonic that he’d poured himself.
“I almost went back when I got here and the guy downstairs said your place was the penthouse” she said laughing.
“Yes o! I’m sure he noticed the look on my face ‘cos he quickly added that it was a short elevator ride”
“Key word being elevator, yeah?” he asked with a smile, still looking into his drink.
“You already know” she said laughing some more.
“So if they are out of order?”
“Hmmm. Nice move Mister. I see what you did there – using ‘are’ and not ‘were’” she thought observing him. She made no reply.
He looked over at her, decided against pressing it. His boss had asked, on their way to the meeting today, about how things were going with her and he’d said everything was going as planned, to which the man had replied “Good”. Malik had given him a look he’d simply ignored.
“You never talk about your folks” he said, watching her closely.
“There’s not much to say” she said.
“Still I’d like to know” he pressed.
“Mum’s late, dad’s remarried” she said effortlessly.
“That’s all?” he asked casually.
“That’s enough” she said, thinking “what’s doing this one now? Is this why we are here?“
He pulled out his phone, tapped a few times and music poured onto the terrace. She looked at him, eyebrows raised. He smiled.
“Mobile app” he said with a shrug.
“Cool” she replied, emptied her glass and lay as far back as her recliner would allow.
In a few minutes, she was fast asleep.
Zach got up, pushed the timer button on his watch then covered her with a blanket. He walked back into the apartment, dumped the content of his glass in the kitchen sink then headed for his laptop. He needed to, first, locate Pelican Hotels. Then there was the small matter he had to look into for Max, he had plans to wrap that up before Bimpe’s arrival.
She coughed. It was cold. She turned, trying to orientate herself. She was on Zach’s terrace, she realised. She couldn’t believe she had slept off. She took a look at her watch, “10:28!” she shrieked.
Zach heard Zaneta’s voice. He pushed the timer button on his watch then went over to her phone, picked it up and unplugged it.
The music was still playing, but Zach was not on his seat beside her. She pulled off the blanket and stood to her feet, truth be told she felt refreshed. Quickly she folded up the blanket and placed it on the recliner. As she turned to walk towards the apartment Zach was standing before her. She screamed in fright.
“Hey! It’s me” he said holding her in an embrace.
She laughed nervously, “You scared me” she managed.
“I’m sorry” he said, then “here, its literally ringing off the hook” he added, handing her her phone which she’d left charging.
She took the phone from him and swiftly entered her PIN code.
Zach caught it. “0653, I wonder where that came from” he thought. He had tried her birthdate and birth year earlier, both had failed. But now, he knew it.
“I have to go” she said, dialling back a number.
“Ready when you are. Let me get my keys” Zach replied, though he knew he would not be needing them.
“Hello” Zaneta said into the phone.
“Hello, ma” came her driver’s voice.
“Just saw your missed calls, I’m sorry was charging the phone” she said walking into the apartment. “Where are you?” she asked.
“In the car park” he replied.
“Ok, I’ll be down in a minute” she said and rung off.
“Your driver is here?” Zach asked.
“Yes. Asked him to come back for me” she lied. The truth was, her uncle had asked the security personel to drop her off and pick her up after 3 hours. Her uncle’s initial position was to have him drop her off, wait till she was done then bring her back. But this had caused and argument between them and so they eventually settled on the option of the security detail returning later to pick her up.
“Cool” Zach replied, dropping his car keys on the table a little too loudly. He had to act like he hadn’t known her security was around.
Zach watched as the chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz R-Class left the lot, taking her home.
They had kissed on the elevator ride down, then talked about seeing again. She had said she’d look him up at work during the week. A suggestion he had accepted. He knew what she was doing, and he was well prepared.
He walked back to the elevator and rode to his apartment. He went straight to the kitchen, took out the left over bottle of tonic and emptied it in the sink.
He pushed a button on his watch and looked at it “109mins”. Now, he was sure just how much sedative was needed for the job.
His only concern, a slight one, was whether she’d noticed her drink was laced.