Zach looked at the screen of his phone.
The Rtd. General hardly ever called anyone. Everyone just gravitated towards him. You called him and he decided whether or not to speak with you. If he ever called you, understand that your well-being depended on it. He wasn’t called the Mai Yaki for nothing.
Long before he retired from the Army, his fame had spread through all of the Armed Forces and Defence arms and then into Government and Politics. His exploits in Sierra Leone where he commanded an ECOMOG company that played a pivotal role in shutting down the civil war was legendary.
There were rumours back then of how the then Major General Aliu made a fortune selling or facilitating the illegal sale of conflict diamonds. But they had been just that – rumours.
Zach hadn’t served with him, but Malik had, Zach had served under another Commanding Officer, a younger cousin to Aliu. He was now late, but had been the man that brought Zach into the fold. The man had found him, brought him into politics and four years ago, had picked up a relatively unknown Banker and literarily made him President. With connections in the armaments business, he easily became the nation’s number one military contractor both for equipment and security personnel.
“Hello, Sir” Zach replied, almost standing at attention.
“Malik is on his way to pick you up, be ready” he simply said and hung up.
Quickly, Zach called Malik
“Zach, ready?” Malik answered.
“Do I need to pack?” Zach asked.
“No. It’s a meeting. Banana” Malik said, stating the purpose and place.
“Ok. I’ll be by the gate” Zach said and hung up.
He looked himself over in the reflection on one of the glass doors as he made his way down the stairs. He was in a T-Shirt, a pair of joggers and slippers. He couldn’t go back to change, what would he tell Zaneta? Where would he say he was suddenly off to at past 8pm. It was best he left this way. His worry was how long this would take.
He couldn’t go back for a weapon either so he stopped at the security office and picked up a standard issue S&M pistol, slipped it into the pocket of his joggers and walked to the gate. They’d asked him if he needed anyone to come along, but he’d declined the offer. He never liked fraternising with the security on the various premises where he served as Facility Manager. They knew he was much more than a FacMan and accorded him plenty of respect and leeway.
He stood by the gate, away from the light, hands in pockets, observing the road. He knew if the mandate at AlphaTrag was still active, which it very likely was, someone was out there watching him. Now he thought back to the night at the hotel with Seyi, could he have managed it better? Maybe he should have just owned up to not having what they wanted? But he realised then, as he did now, that pursuing such a line of action meant he became useless to whoever wanted the info and that automatically meant he wouldn’t matter to them dead or alive. They most likely would choose him dead since they already made contact.
“Show yourselves,” he murmured, “please, make a mistake”. He knew sooner than later, they would and he would pick up the thread again.
The guy who had been at the Hospital, the one who ended up dying in the car crash, he had found out was a staff at the Hotel. Whether or not he was involved with AlphaTrag Zach might never know. But he could bet all that he had that he was likely the snoop in the Hotel that informed on Zach to the dude with the sledgehammer punches.
He rubbed his jaw in reflex as he spotted an SUV indicate a right turn. It pulled up beside him and the window rolled down.
It was Malik driving a Discovery 4 2015.
“What’s up?” Zach said as he opened the door and climbed in.
“I dunno. Got a call to pick you up for an urgent meeting”
“Where were you?”
“Out” was Malik’s flat answer. Zach didn’t like it but knew he couldn’t do anything about it.
“Nice ride. New?” Zach asked
“Just got it”
“Congratulations” Zach said genuinely. Wondering for a moment what had become of the Infinity FX45 Malik owned before this.
“You should change yours too” Malik suggested about Zach’s SUV.
“Maybe when I earn as much as you do” Zach said.
Malik laughed and left it at that.
“Anyways, my Volvo is barely 3 years on Nigerian roads and it’s a 2010”
“So was my FX”
“I guess we are back to the same spot – money”
“What do you do with all your earnings, though? You’ve had some good jobs in recent times and your salary is steady from the Holdings” Malik said referring to the Real Estate company that paid Zach’s Facility Manager salary monthly.
“Wife and kids somewhere in the diaspora?” Malik chided
“You would know, wouldn’t you?”
Malik nodded with a smile. He was a 34 year old fighting and killing machine that had also left the Army for the good life the Retired General offered. If Malik had always been this close to Aliu and the diamond rumours were true, then Malik was a very rich man without all he made as Aliu’s head of security.
Zach looked him over, he wore a flowing Jalamia with combat shorts under. Zach knew somewhere in those pockets or in this vehicle was a very good pistol or two.
“What are you looking at?”
“Trying to ascertain who she is”
“The babe you were with before the call came in”
“Die trying” Malik replied making Zach laugh.
As they were buzzed in at gates of the Banana Island residence of Aliu, Malik spoke again.
“Where’s the girl?”
“Zaneta?” Zach didn’t care much for that sort of reference. He knew Malik was messing with him.
“Yeah, lover boy, Za- fucking -neta!”
“You know where she is dude” Zach said, getting out and shutting the door of the SUV on Malik’s laughter. He looked around, spotted a Mercedes ML 320 2014 that didn’t belong there.
“Here we go” he said to himself, as he walked to the door.
Zaneta picked up her phone. Zach had been gone for almost an hour!
“How far did he walk the dog naa?” she said sitting up and pausing the movie she was watching.
She dialled his number, it rang out. She tried 2 more times, same thing.
She rose and took the intercom off the wall, she dialled ‘1’ for reception.
“Hello” she said when someone picked up.
“Good evening, ma”
“Please, is Zach there?” she asked, refusing to sound worried.
“He stepped out, ma”
“No, ma. He walked”
“With Raiden? The dog?” she added, the person might not know the dog’s name.
“No, ma. Alone”
“Ok, thanks” she said and hung up.
She picked up her phone and hammered out a message:
“Where are you, Zach?“
Now she was fuming. How would he just walk away like that? Then the lie about walking Raiden!
“This nicca had better not try me” she said, trying his number again twice. Still no answer.
She switched off the TV and walked unto the terrace. “What the heck is this? What have I become, though? That some dude can just leave me in the house and walk off into the night. So, what? I’m supposed to sit here and wait like some subservient girlfriend?” she said pacing.
Zach felt his phone buzz in his pocket, but there was no way he was pulling it out.
He was seated in a living room with his boss – Rtd. Gen. Aliu, the President’s Chief of Staff with two of his men and Malik. It wasn’t a good meeting. The bosses and the president himself were worried about the recent turn of events. Not only was the opposition gaining unprecedented popularity with the electorate, they were leading in most polls and they seemed to be creating problems for the incumbent and his party on every turn.
The politics and performance of their candidates were however, not the reason for this meeting. It was the other factor – the fact that the opposition was playing dirty.
“Sir,” the Chief of Staff spoke after some silence, “I know our men have done well in plugging leaks and quelling full scale anarchy, but I think it’s time we stopped being reactionary and get on the offensive for a change, Sir”
Even the CoS knew to punctuate his address to Aliu with ‘Sir’ often.
“I agree” was all Aliu said.
“What has come of the documents we seized from the Lawyer and Silas?” the CoS asked.
“The juicy stuff has been prepared for release. Come the debates, some journalists will have interesting questions for Danbazau and Moloku after which they will be leaked online” Malik replied.
“Forgive me if I am not excited about that, we might have lost the elections before the debate at this rate” the CoS replied, avoiding Aliu’s stare.
Then he turned to Aliu and asked a question that shocked Zach “What about the trump card we spoke about? The stuff about Moloku?”
Aliu looked over at Zach, then said “He is on it”.
Every eye in the room fell on Zach for a moment. He didn’t move or utter a word.
“Ok” the CoS finally said, then “I will tell the President -” as he rose, but Aliu cut him short.
“I will call Dimeji myself” Aliu said, mentioning the president’s first name. A reminder to the CoS that he needed no intermediaries. “Your concerns have been noted. Watch this space” he added gayly, making nervous laughter flow from the President’s men.
Once the CoS and his guys were out of the house (Aliu hadn’t risen to see him off, Malik and Zach had taken a cue and remained glued their seats), Aliu spoke “come closer”
Malik and Zach immediately took seats on both sides of him.
“I want you guys to find anything and everything there is to find and tighten the screws” Aliu said.
“Yes, Sir” they both replied.
“And what’s this with you and AlphaTrag?” Aliu said, turning to Zach.
Zach was too much in awe to be surprised, but managed to find his voice “Slight scrape, Sir. I didn’t bring it up because I thought it was unrelated. I was approached through a personal asset”
“I’m sure you don’t believe all that yourself. I admire your courage, taking the heat alone and sitting on it is also commendable, but you must realise this is a team and we are as good as our weakest link. Don’t fall for the isolation technique, it is older than the book” Aliu admonished his soldier. He was a very well read man, beyond his reputation for action, he did tend to talk up his men.
“I’m sorry, Sir. Thank you, Sir” Zach said.
“What did they want?”
“The contents of the Professor’s hard disk”
“Do you have it?”
“My orders were to destroy, Sir” Zach said, reminding the Rtd. General what his orders had been and also making it clear those were what he followed. Unquestioningly.
“How is she now?” Aliu asked.
“The lady in question?” Zach asked, thinking of Seyi.
“Moloku’s daughter” Aliu clarified.
“More trusting” Zach simply said.
“Do you envisage any difficulties?”
“Aside AlphaTrag and her uncle’s people? No” he replied, thinking “Oh! And you pulled me out here to listen to that retarded CoS ramble for an hour while she has been trying to reach me – big fucking problem, Sir!“
“They are one and the same” Aliu said, dropping a bomb shell. Even Malik looked stunned.
“One Tunji Ashiru, SAN, Moloku’s right hand man was the one working with the Prof, trying to get him in as head of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. That in itself would mean they had that pressure group in their pockets. You know how greedy those ones are. When that train derailed, he thought the next best thing was to get his hands on the info since the Prof, who promised to sell it to him in exchange for the ASUU throne was no more” Aliu explained.
“God punish the smart little devil!” Malik swore.
“There you all go again. This guy is not ‘little devil’. He has brought Moloku this far, he clearly will stop at nothing to finish what he started. He came from nothing but has aligned himself with power and wealth. Do you know he introduced Moloku to his wife?”
“No way!” Malik exclaimed. Zach was just too shocked for words.
“Get to work, guys” Aliu said, rose and left the room.
Outside as they made their way to Malik’s SUV, Zach checked his phone. She had left him 7 missed calls and one SMS.
“Shit” Zach thought. How was he to explain this to her?
He tried calling twice, she didn’t take them. He only hoped he’d meet her in the house, after all, it was a Saturday night. But he had serious doubts.
“Well, she hadn’t sent another message to say she was leaving” he rationed. “Maybe she was just mad and deciding not to answer my calls“
They rode in silence till they arrived at Zach’s place.
“How about a few drinks with me, man? The night is still young” Malik asked.
“Drinking is a solitary sport, man. Have fun” Zach said and climbed out.
He rode the elevator to his floor. His door was unlocked. He opened it and called out her name a few times. No response. Her shoes and bag were gone. He looked out on the terrace and then in the bedroom which she had never entered, but she was gone. The kitchen was clean – she’d cleaned up the dishes they’d used.
He sighed, poured himself a drink and sat on a stool.
An incoming call interrupted her music as she sped home on third mainland bridge.
She looked down at the phone, it was Zach. She ignored it and kept her eyes on the road. Yet another call from him came in, she hissed.
“You’ve gone to see her, now you are looking for Zaneta” she said, then hissed again, “it’s not your fault” she added.
Sunday crawled past for Zaneta. She had ignored her alarm in a bid to sleep a little extra but had then woken up late for church. She then cancelled the idea of church completely, switched her phone to silent and soaked in the bath, reading a novel.
After a good long soak, she made herself some breakfast – a rare event and ate downstairs at the dining table while watching TV. The news was good for her Uncle whom she hadn’t seen in a while. Uncle Tunji too had been pretty scarce. She had gotten used to being alone in the house with the staff.
After her breakfast, she sat at the table trying to fathom why Zach had acted the way he had. She wrote it off to “See finish” and already knew what his excuse will be – Work. Well, it was time to crank up her value some by reducing her availability.
By the time she got back to her phone, she had 5 missed calls. 2 from Edith – likely trying to track her down in church, 2 from Zach and another 1 from Kunle, Bode’s best man. The last one was a surprise, so she called him back.
“Hey” he said as he picked up.
“Good afternoon, Kunle”
“Good afternoon, you were still in church when I called, I presume” he began.
“Yes” she lied, not wanting to get into the ‘why didn’t you go to church?’ gist with anyone. Nigerians were notorious for that.
He asked about her welfare and work and folks and kept rambling about non-issues. She rolled her eyes, “Nicca, get to the point already!” she thought impatiently.
They were not chums or stuff. They just happened to have met a few times around Alice or Bode. All three went to school together.
“I need a favour” he finally cut to the chase.
“Yes?” she asked.
“You know how you can assume, for a decade, that someone is out of your league and then you suddenly realise, one day that you have been looking at it all wrong?”
“Yeah…” Zaneta said, not knowing.
“Ok, that’s how I have been with Jade. But since the wedding – Bode’s wedding – I have suddenly seen it from a different perspective and I have changed my approach towards her”
“Oh! Cool” Zaneta said, knowing now what this was about but having no clue as to how it was her concern. “Why are you calling, bro?” she thought.
“We have been talking and we have seen a few times, I’d had to travel to Abuja twice”
“I like her a whole lot and I see she does like me too”
“I plan to propose to her on her birthday, that’s in 4 months. And this is where I really need your help”
“If I still feel this way and this sure about her by then, I’d like to have you all and Max-Tee present. In fact, I need him as a kind of star appearance for the occasion”
“Huh?” she said. “Ok? What is this?” she thought.
“I know I sound all loony and stuff, but I think I’m in love” he said, laughing nervously.
“Hold on. I’m happy for you both and all of this sounds really nice. Alice, Bode and myself, I assume, are the ‘you all’ you meant, yeah?”
“Correct. And Max-Tee for the wow-factor”
“Max-Tee for the wow-factor” she repeated. “This guy was reaching!“
“And this is happening in four months?”
“Correct. The thing is, you know how busy and booked these guys are, I was thinking you could maybe whisper the date to him and he could kinda make time to be there. Just a few minutes, I assure you”
Zaneta was quiet. Her mind was trying to work, but the whole conversation felt like swimming through pap.
“Are you there?” she heard his voice.
She wanted to ask “Wait, you are kind of planning a proposal that you are not yet sure will happen on a date that is 4 months away and you want me to bring a celebrity, a superstar just like that? And you are not even sure yet!” but she didn’t.
Instead she said “I haven’t been in touch with Max-Tee in a while, but I’ll try”
Kunle suddenly exhaled. “Thank you” he said.
“No guarantees, but I’ll try” she said with the understanding that what he believed was what Max-Tee had said about her bringing him to Alice’s wedding. To her knowledge, the only other person that knew how it had truly happened was Alice.
“Thank you, Zaneta. Thanks a lot”
“I’m happy for you both and I hope it works out” she said, sincerely. Though she didn’t care much for how he was approaching the proposal thing.
A few more lines of niceties and she rung off.
“Hian! These guys sha! ‘If I still feel this way and this sure about her by then…’ which kind bants?” she said to herself laughing. “So he can change his mind, then call us all to cancel, plus Max-Tee! I am dead!” she laughed so hard it hurt.
“Girls have suffered sha!” she said, her mind going to last night. “The knucklehead who could actually make Kunle’s plan work was acting like a…..” she left off. Quickly she brought her mind back to the present. She needed some distraction. “No wallowing” she assured herself.
She picked up her phone and dialled Alice.
“Hey, babe” Alice spoke the moment it connected.
“Mrs! Wassap?” she said.
“I dey o”
“Una go church?”
“Na wah! This honeymoon no dey finish?” Zaneta teased.
“Aunty Zaneta, if it is the honeymoon you want, go and marry” Alice replied.
Zaneta laughed for almost a whole minute before speaking again; “I’m coming over jare, get dressed. Let me steal you for the rest of the day. Bode no go vex”
“Oooose! Where are we going?”
“As the spirit leads” Zaneta replied, honestly having no idea but knowing once they joined forces, fun would happen. It was a given.
“You have kuku not washed your car for me”
“Verily, verily I say unto you, today is the day!” Zaneta declared.
“Yes! Praise Master Jesus. Let me go and take excuse from Oga”
Zaneta was still laughing when Alice hung up.
She pulled open her closet doors. She was going to be scandalous today.
It was almost 10pm when they pulled up in front of Alice’s place.
“Thanks for coming out with me”
“What? It was a date nii” Alice said laughing.
“Yeye. You are married”
“Oh! So you do girls?” Alice teased.
“Naaah!” Zaneta said. “That’s all behind me now” she almost added, but held her tongue.
“Don’t mind me, jare. It was fun. Thanks”
“Bode hasn’t called?”
“No. I promised to be back for 10, I’m on time”
“Wait! Remind me again, what did you say to that guy that was trying to chat you up with his Jand accent?” Alice asked, already giggling.
“Jand sha! If I hear. Dude was too fake abeg!”
Alice laughed, the said “Yes, I’m trying to remember how you told him off, the exact words”
“Nicca backflip, jooor” Zaneta repeated for Alice’s benefit. She shook her head as Alice laughed.
“You will not kill somebody, you this girl. Backflip sha!”
“Kai! You just killed his morale. Deflated his swag”
“Ko pele” Zaneta said.
“Sure you didn’t take out your anger about Zach on him?” Alice asked now serious.
“No correlation. Different kinds of silly” Zaneta said. She had told Alice what Zach had done when he had called again in her presence and she had sent him the busy tone. Twice.
Alice had advised she’ at least’ heard him out. But she hadn’t budged. She wasn’t convinced with Alice’s benefit-of-doubt theory that it could have been some kind of emergency. She was almost 100% certain it was another woman.
“Alright. Let’s do this again soon” Alice said, picking up her bag.
“More cars to come”
“Amen o. The ones I will buy with my own money” Zaneta replied.
“Well, it seems you will be moving to Aso Rock soon, the way the thing dey go”
“Please, don’t get my hopes up, abeg” Zaneta said, dismissing the political discussion.
Alice’s phone rang.
“Bode” Alice said.
“10pm” Zaneta said, looking at the clock on her dashboard.
“Ok. Good night”
“If he calls again, please, pick up, we have to forgive them, ehn, if we don’t who will?” Alice said as she climbed out of the car.
“Their mothers will” was Zaneta’s retort.
Alice only shook her head and left.
As she stepped in the shower she wondered why he had not made an effort to find her at home. At least he knew her place, even if he had never been in. She had actually asked the security men if anyone had come asking after her.
She shrugged the thought off and began to hum a tune.
Zack put the jump-rope away. He thought about calling her, but decided against it. It was now clear she didn’t want to hear his explanation. He was also determined not to text, the situation could easily escalate with one misunderstood or improperly worded line of text. He had to handle her with extreme care. With the Presidency and Party depending on him to deliver on his mission, he couldn’t blow it over some “lovers’ quarrel”.
He was sufficiently exhausted from his workout, “Sleep should come easy” he thought as he walked off the terrace and into his apartment.
She was tired and hungry. The meeting had started late and had lasted two times the amount of time allotted for it. She wished she could hand this particular client off to someone else, but she knew it couldn’t be done.
The elevator ride to her floor was too slow for her this evening. As she got off and walked to her office she listened to her heels click against the floor. She opened the office door to her office and there he was, sitting at her desk, his back to her.
She didn’t have to hear his voice or see his face to know it was him. His perfume, his hair, her heartbeat were enough. She pulled herself together before she spoke.
“Who let you into my office?”
“The guard downstairs. Gladys had gone for the day” he said, rising to his feet and turning to face her.
“Great. I hope whatever you tipped him with will sustain him till he finds a new place of employment ‘cos he is fired”
“Come on, darling, don’t be -“
She held a finger up as she walked past him to her desk. She sat on the edge, facing him, placed her MacBook on the surface, then crossed her legs.
“I don’t want to hear what you have scripted and practised to say. Lies are what they are” she said, looking at him calmly.
“May I?” he asked pointing to the seat he had been sitting in.
“No. You may not sit”
“I don’t want to hear you say ‘it was a work emergency’, I know it wasn’t. I know she sent for you. It’s fine. I don’t even want an apology”
He kept smiling.
“The smile won’t work, Zach. No one ever takes me for granted; I’m not cut from that cloth. Do not treat me with such blatant disrespect ever again” she said, fire in her eyes.
He turned the smile down a notch then, said “Ok. I get it”
“I really hope you do, Zach” she said, got off the desk and went to her seat.
“I was thinking we could -“
“No. I have work to wrap up” she cut him off.
Now Zach was beginning to boil, but he kept the smile on with all he had.
“Ok, Z. When do we get to see again?”
“I’ll call you when I’m up to it. Good night, Zach”
“Fuck this” he thought, turned around and marched out of her office.