“You really like the car, no?” Zach asked as Zaenta sat in the car and turned the ignition.
It was getting quite late and they had agreed she had better get going.
“Almost” she replied.
“What does that mean?”
“No. Talk, I want to hear all about it” he said, eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Just that I wanted customised plates” she didn’t like to call them Vanity plates, though Uncle Tunji had taught her that was the proper name.
“Vanity plates?” he asked
“Yes” she said rolling her eyes.
“What would they say?”
“Zaneta?” she said, now feeling embarrassed.
“Why on earth would you want that?”
“You and my pops belong together” she declared trying to shut her door. He held on to it laughing.
“Okay, I’m not saying never, but maybe not yet. OK?”
“Let me say it like this. Why don’t you wait till the name ‘Zaneta’ means something to everyone?”
“Hmm…” she said, not seeing the sense in what he just said but not about to be bothered. It was a forgone conclusion anyway. Maybe when she was able to afford to buy a car out of her own pockets, she could do as she wished with the plates.
“Drive safe, dear” he said, then bent and planted a kiss on her cheek.
“Good night” she said, shut her door and drove out.
He rode the elevator back to his apartment, his jaw still hurt and so did his chest, they weren’t about to let him forget his latest escape. Bizi had promised he’d have something in the morning. He’ll just sit tight till then.
His only worry was that this might only be the prelims.
He was just settling down at the office the next day when Bizi called
“Good morning” Zach said picking up.
“Good morning, Sir”
“Whachyu gat for me?”
“Yeah. But I did confirm our suspicion that they are on someone’s mandate. Finding that ‘someone’ is the only way to diffuse this situation”
“OK. Any other thing?”
“Nothing for now”
“Thank you” Zach said and rung off. “Why didn’t this happen when I didn’t have a mission like Operation Stephen?” he pondered then realised that was exactly why anyway.
Operation Stephen had taken him out to Ife, he had taken care of the Professor and wiped the hard disk as requested by General Aliu. It was the content of that hard disk that the bozo from the hotel had come for. Seyi was a personal asset he had acquired in Ife. That’s why they had found her and tried to leverage the relationship against him.
“Seyi. The poor girl” he thought shaking his head. They’d been introduced by his drinking buddy in Ife – Banji. Maybe he needed to reach out to Banji and ask a few questions, he was Zach’s only link to Seyi.
His worries were multiplying.
What would Seyi say when she came to? Surely it was a matter of time before the police would link him to her – he’d been footing her bills at the hotel where she was staying.
“Leaving early, I see” she heard Febi’s voice.
Zaneta turned to find Febi at her door looking in. She was packing up her stuff.
“Yes. Going to the hospital to visit a sick friend” she said, looking at her watch again to confirm it was past 5pm.
“Was planning on riding with you” Febi said.
“Oh! Sure, why not?”
“Give me a few minutes to round off my work, its even your work sef” Febi said
“My work?” Zaneta asked.
“Yes. Hiring an intern for your department”
“She say na department” Zaneta said laughing. The truth was she was the department. Alone.
“You’ll wait?” Febi asked, getting back to the matter.
“You won’t be long?” Zaneta asked.
“No. But if I am?” Febi challenged.
Zaneta shook her head. “What’s up with your car?” she asked.
“Alternator issues” Febi said and was gone.
Zaneta resumed her seat and got back to chatting with Zach.
“You drove yourself?” Febi asked, somewhat surprised as they arrived the office car park.
“Yep” Zaneta said.
They got in the vehicle and drove for a bit listening to the radio before Febi spoke.
“I’m not really one to pay attention to politics but the name Moloku, the VP candidate of the Opposition, it rang a bell when I heard it on the cab to work this morning”
“Yeah?” Zaneta asked, she wondered where Febi was going to with this gist.
“I knew I had seen the name somewhere before, so I ran a system search and found it. The name is on your CV, a referee and also signed your guarantor’s form” she said looking at Zaneta.
“Yes, that’s correct” Zaneta said meeting Febi’s look.
“Is it the same Dr. Japheth Moloku?”
“Yes, it is” Zaneta replied, inching forward in traffic.
“Who’s he to you?”
“That’s why you don’t have the Moloku name”
Zaneta giggled “That’s correct” she added.
“What’s funny?” Febi asked with a frown.
“You said ‘The Moloku Name’ as if it was ever a big deal till very recently”
Febi laughed, “well, it is now” she added.
“Indeed” Zaneta said “You have an impressive memory, though”
“Tools of the trade” Febi said smiling.
“Unless, of course you only just made that up after finding out some other way” Zaneta thought. She wondered how long before everyone, including her followers on Social Media, found out who she really was. And then Zach too. “Would he feel somehow about it? If he found out himself? Maybe I should tell him“
“Penny for your thoughts?” Febi broke her thoughts.
“Just wondering when we’ll get to the mainland” she lied.
Zach had just gotten off the phone with Banji. He’d approached the Seyi matter with tact while recording the conversation so he could listen again for possible clues. But from the conversation, Banji was unaware of Seyi’s location or predicament. Zach had simply said he had been trying to reach her without success.
The conversation had not ended without Banji reminding Zach that his MSc was almost done and he would be coming for assistance with employment. He’d then mentioned to Banji that he’d left the bank and was with another organisation now but would render whatever help he could – standard gist to get the dude to relax.
Neither Bizi nor his Police Informant had called him and no one had tried to knock him senseless today.
He tried to remember what they said about no news. “Good news, yeah?” he thought. He poured himself some Gin and juice, washed down some aspirin with it and lay down on the couch. Aside the security men, he was alone in the office. The other offices would likely still be agog with activity, especially the financial institutions.
He tried to focus on his next step. It was simply to get Zaneta to agree to taking a trip with him. They had been chatting all day. He’d opted for that since he couldn’t get much work done. She’d mentioned going to the hospital again to see the sick kid, he had smiled. He knew exactly who’s kid it was.
“Good night, Sebastian” Zaneta said as she shut the door.
“Thanks for coming, Zaneta” Edith said.
“It is a pleasure. I’m glad you guys are leaving tomorrow”
They walked in silence till they reached Zaneta’s Accord.
“Would be nice if you came to the house tomorrow” Edith said
“I’ll think about it”
“When did you begin to talk like them?”
“Men. The commitment-shy ones”
Zaneta smiled, “Funny, I don’t know one”
“Good for you”
“Why do you want me in the house, Edith?”
“I didn’t like how the last time turned out”
“Yes, really. I have explained over and over, I don’t want to go down that road. 8 months is enough”
“You sound like you are saying you wasted 8 months”
“I said it was enough. Not wasted, Edith! Please, don’t put words in my mouth”
“He really must be something, this new guy”
“Can we not go there?”
“This is not about him. We were over before I met him”
“I want to meet him”
“No” was Zaneta’s flat reply before she realised Edith had said ‘dreams’ not ‘dream’. She looked enquiringly at her.
“Yes. You heard right. I had it again last night”
“Did you pray and cancel it for me?”
“Have you prayed about him?” Edith asked accusingly.
“Good night, Edith” Zaneta said, flung her purse – the one Zach had given her, into the car, got in and drove off.
She drove past a black Nissan Sentra. Inside sat the man who’d watched her last night with Zach.
Zach read the statement for the second time. He smiled. Seyi was absolutely brilliant.
It had been a few days after they moved her from ICU to a regular ward and she was recuperating fine. The Police had finally gotten her statement and his informant had mailed him a copy.
Basically, what she had said was that she had been staying at the hotel for a few days, had gone out to buy shawarma that night and while waiting for her order had shared a table with a man she didn’t know. He had been nice and they had talked genially. He hadn’t gotten her number or tried to pick her up. She had gotten her order, said “good night” and left. Someone had later turned up at her door asking questions about the man from the shawarma place. She had told the man (whom she said had identified himself as an undercover cop) she didn’t know who the man from the shawarma place was. She couldn’t remember the rest of the night clearly but the man from the shawarma place had suddenly turned up and a scuffle had ensued. When shown the picture of the dead AlphaTrag Operative, she had identified him as the man from the shawarma place.
Zach leaned back. He was impressed. She had stuck to the truth as much as she could manage without really giving anything away.
There was however the loose end of why she was at the hotel. That, Zach knew would lead back to him. He had to pre-empt the police.
According to the police report, security cameras had picked up the entrance of both men into her room and the exit of one. Their faces had not been captured and both had come in and left through a service entrance.
“So far, so good” he said, picked up his phone and dialled Seyi’s number. She picked up almost immediately.
“Zach!” she whispered.
“Hey, dear” he said in his best ‘I’ve been worried sick about’ you voice.
“I didn’t say anything” she said, still whispering.
“Shhhh!” He said, “I know. Don’t stress yourself. Are you allowed visitors?”
“Yes. Evenings. But a policeman is outside”
“That’s fine. I’ll see you soon”
“Do you need anything?”
“When you come” she said
“Ok” Zach said “Get well fast. You should call Banji too, he’s worried about you”
“Ok. I will”
“Bye” Zach said and rung off.
The following Sunday he was sitting before the police D.P.O in charge of the case. It was an orchestrated meeting.
His statement had been taken. All for formality.
“This is fine” the D.P.O said.
“Can I go see her now?”
“Sure” he said, “SP Tina has assured me that you are a law abiding citizen, we have nothing to fear about you being around the lady”
“Thank you, Sir. You are very kind” Zach said leaving an envelope on the couch as he rose.
“You are welcome” said the man, “but be careful. It seems your lady friend made friends with the wrong crowd in her short stay in town”
“You know how naive women can be, Sir” Zach said with a sorrowful shake of the head.
“No, problem. We have round-the-clock security on her. Once she is fine, we will make sure she returns to school” the officer said as if a two and a half hour trip was all she needed to be out of harm’s way.
“Thank you, Sir”
“My regards to General Aliu”
“He’ll hear” Zach said, leaving the office.
It seemed no one bothered to remember the General was retired. He couldn’t blame them, he was practically the President’s boss. He was a kingmaker in his own right. Everyone wanted to be on his good side. Well, everyone aside these folks fomenting trouble for the ruling party.
He drove down to the hospital and found Seyi’s room. He greeted the policeman who sat outside looking bored and tired.
“24-hour security” Zach scoffed silently.
“Hey” she said as he walked in. She was alone reading a book.
“You look good, darling” he said planting a kiss on her forehead.
She was wearing a flimsy hospital ward gown.
“Be winding me there” she said smiling.
“I’m so sorry, Seyi. I wish I had stopped him sooner” he whispered in her ear.
“I have spoken to the police, everything is fine. Told them you came to see me and I put you up in that hotel, but that I had not had the chance to look you up before the incident” he added.
“Okay” she replied.
That done, he took a seat at the foot of her bed.
“Don’t laugh, oh! Is it me or are you dressed like Lucious Lyon?” she said.
“Lucious who?” he feigned ignorance.
“Lucious Lyon. He’s a character in a TV series”
“Ah! I see” he said
“I noticed last time I came to your office too, but….” she left off
“I don’t know who that is, but is this a compliment?”
“Of course!” she chimed.
“Then I should give my stylist a bigger tip” he said making her laugh.
He rubbed her feet. He could see the bulge of the bandage around her tommy.
“Talking about money, I brought you some” he said pulling out an envelope and placing it in her laps just as the door opened.
An older woman who Zach instinctively knew was Seyi’s mum came in carrying a bag.
“Oh! Sorry. Mi o mo pe o l’alejo” the woman apologised, making to retreat.
“Good evening, ma. Please, its fine. I was about leaving” he said rising from the bed.
“Good evening, my dear” she said, shutting the door behind her.
Zach turned to Seyi “Please, the moment you feel strong enough, let’s get you back to school. I will arrange it. Do not wait until you are discharged, you can continue your care in Ife”
“Ok, Sir” she said.
As Zach walked down to his car, he spotted someone on the other side of the road pretending to pee. Pretending because he heard nothing.
He took a look, while feeling in his jacket for his gun. The man looked in his direction and their eyes met. Zach instantly recognised the face – the staff he’d bumped into while leaving Seyi’s hotel room the other night!
“He had to know something” Zach surmised.
He didn’t want to draw his weapon, there were people all over. So he turned and walked towards the guy.
On realising Zach was coming for him, he began to walk away.
Zach picked up his pace and the guy broke into a run.
Zach stayed on the guy’s heels keeping him in sight by going at a steady jog. Next thing the guy ran into a the car parks and disappeared.
Carefully, Zach walked into the car park, right hand on his pistol butt. He stayed in one spot listening and watching.
A little young kid walked past him smiling and sipping from a bottle of Viju, he smiled back and looked away. He noticed the kid hesitated so he looked back at the kid. The smile was still there, a knowing smile.
“Did you see the man who ran in here?” Zach asked on a whim.
The kid pointed to Zach’s left.
Zach looked in time to see a red Corolla blast out of a lot and towards the exit. Instinctively, he made a dash for the kid, grabbing him and making it out of the way with about a second to spare before the car blew past them crushing the boy’s half-empty bottle of Viju splashing its content over Zach and the kid.
The guards on duty were shocked out of their routine. Two of them rushing to the road to look at the departing vehicle.
“Weyrey!” one shouted.
“Oga, na your pikin?” the other asked concerning the young boy Zach had saved.
Zach looked at the boy, the smile was gone now, he was pale with fear.
“You guys get on the radio and stop that car before it leaves this premises” he barked at them.
“Radio?” they both chorused.
Zach didn’t bother with them. “Get that child to his mother” he shouted as he raced to his car parked in a different car park. There was no way he would catch up with that guy on this premises.
The only possibility was to catch him on the open road.
He jumped into his Volvo, spun it out of the lot and shot towards the exit.
Once on the highway, Zach floored it.
In less than 3 minutes, he spotted the red corolla up ahead, switching lanes and going quite fast. But it was no match for his 3.0L XC60. Soon he was directly behind him.
“Stop motherfucker!” Zach said, flashing his beams and hoping the guy would realise the futility in his efforts, take a cue and stop.
They blew through a roundabout, he saw the corolla skid a little on the approach and then skid a whole lot on exiting. Zach shook his head.
He tried to pull past but the Corolla kept blocking him.
“This is stupid, you should know that!” Zach said, frustrated.
he didn’t want to ram into Corolla, that would cause an accident, so he stayed back. He didn’t even want a scratch on his car.
He took out his white handkerchief, rolled down the window and stuck it out with his left hand. Either the guy didn’t notice, didn’t know what it meant or just didn’t care, for he pulled away even more.
Zach gave up, pulled his hand back in and gunned the engine. “I’m gonna get you” he said.
He hadn’t quite gotten the window back up when the Corolla overtook a commercial bus, tried to get back in front of it in time to avoid another commercial bus, but somehow pulled in too early.
The back of the Corolla struck the front of the bus, the commercial driver responded quickly, swerving to embrace the spin. The Corolla did the opposite, trying to correct against the anti-clockwise spin from the hit.
Zach went wide. Passing both buses, he saw the Corolla ahead still trying to regain control.
“Slow down! Slow down!!” Zach shouted, not minding the futility of his words.
The Corolla suddenly went right, ripping through a mesh fence and slamming into a pile of concrete interlocking bricks with a deafening bang.
“Shit!” Zach said as he went past the accident.
It took a while for him to stop some distance up the road.
By the time he walked to the vehicle a handful good samaritans were on the scene trying to help.
Zach took one look at the cabin of the Corolla and turned around.
“Another dead end” he murmured.
“Eat your barbecue, madam” Zach said, holding a chicken lap to Zaneta’s closed mouth.
She shook her head furiously.
“I warned you while you were getting these, they were too much, but your hunger won’t let you listen” he said giving up on force-feeding her.
“I was starving” she said lying on his laps.
“Never serve food by the force of your hunger. My mama told me that”
“First I’ve heard of her. Never knew….” she left off chuckling.
“You thought I fell from the sky?” he asked
“You are that awesome”
“Hmm… I wish. She’s late” he said kissing the tips of her fingers.
“And your pops?”
“Pele” she said, pulling him down for a kiss.
A month had flown by, literally, in Zaneta’s eyes. Their relationship had been pretty stable too. She had also succeeded in shutting Edith out, zero response to communication. Her DMs were still ablaze as always but no one came close to what she had with Zach. She would not pretend to be fully taken, after all he hadn’t asked for her commitment and neither had he given his.
What they had was fine. For now. Useful. Comfortable.
She was keeping her options open in a sense, but since she spent most of her spare time with him, when he was available, it was frustrating most other efforts.
In truth she wasn’t sure she was ready for a proper relationship. And still she held back the truth about her uncle from him.
Zach looked across the room at the TV, it was mute, its light cast warm shadows over the living room. It was a politics program showing. He saw the hashtag #DanbazauMoloku and wondered when she would finally speak up about her relationship with the Opposition VP candidate.
The past month had been quiet for him and he’d begun to relax. Seyi was back to school and was rounding up. Nothing had come out of all of Bizi’s prying for information about the AlphaTrag connection. No one had come on to him too and even the political scene was pretty stable. The candidates were travelling and campaigning and all.
He’d been on a few trips with the Retired General, regular security detail. Nothing out of the ordinary.
It was too still. It was like the calm before the storm hit.
He knew one day soon, he would get that call that would change everything.
He looked down at her, her eyes were closed.
“I can feel your eyes on me”
“Of course you can. Aren’t you a witch?”
She smiled, but kept her eyes shut.
“Can we watch something?”
“Let’s stream something, abeg” she said, sitting up and grabbing the remote control.
“Knock yourself out, I’m going to walk Raiden” he said slipping on his slippers.
“When do you think the trip would be?” she asked as he got up.
“Our trip?” he asked, surprised she brought it up.
“Yeah” she said without looking his way.
“I’m yet to get the exact dates. Trying to get someone who’ll cover for me from one of the other locations. But no one wants to work in Lagos, it seems”
“You can’t blame them now, can you?”
“I guess not”
“So, no dates yet?”
“Where are we going, sef?” this time she turned to face him.
“That’s a surprise” he said smiling.
“Mr. Romantic” she teased and turned back to her search for something to watch.
Just as he stepped out of the flat, a call came in.
It was Rtd. General Aliu.