As the helicopter rose steadily from the earth, Zach looked around the grounds and access roads to the helipad while he ignored Zaneta who was busy taking pictures. He spotted two vehicles he had noticed at different times on their way here. They were parked together and he could make out men standing around, one of them was on the phone frantically making a call.
He had kept a steady pace after they had departed the house, watching his back and sides at every junction. He knew if they had caught wind of his destination, they’d have tried to stop him. The helipad had apparently been a surprise to them, and for that, he was grateful. That had told him something – even at this critical stage, his team had not shown any sign of breaking ranks, no mole, no leaks. Every leak, so far, had been traced back to Zaneta.
He had carried the bag of weapons from the car. When Zaneta had asked what they were, he said they were stuff Malik had asked him to help take to Mike’s. Mike was the friend who had sent the chopper. Zaneta had asked if he knew what was in it and he’d said he didn’t.
“Daddy Raiden, look here” Zaneta’s voice broke into his reverie.
He looked in her direction, she took a picture of them. He took the phone from her to take a look at the picture she had taken it was nice. Both of them in Aviator glasses, headphones and all.
“For the ‘Gram” she said.
He shook his head. “May I?” he asked, taking permission to scroll through her recent images.
She consented with a nod, but kept her eyes on what he did.
He scrolled through the pictures. She did have a knack for taking nice photographs. He smiled and handed the phone back to her.
“FIND OUT WHERE THAT CHOPPER WENT!” Tunji screamed. He was beside himself with rage.
He was in his office in Lagos. Three Junior Associates were with him bringing him up to speed on a matter while he drank some wine when the call came in. He had smacked the glass down on the table spilling wine over some documents. One of the female Junior Associates had jumped to rescue the documents when Tunji had yelled into the phone making the girl jump back.
“So? Call someone at Air Traffic Control or something” he said.
then “They won’t talk to you?”
and “I have a bad feeling about this, Tega, a very bad one”
and finally “I DON’T CARE. FIND THEM, TEGA! JUST FUCKING FIND THEM!” he yelled again, tossed his phone on the desk before him, then screamed “BASTARD!” picked up the half empty wine glass and threw it at the Weatherman’s face on the 40 inch LED TV that hung on the left side of the room. The glass shattered on impact, breaking the TV screen and shutting it off. The Junior Associates shrieked, with one immediately fleeing from the office.
He rose from his seat, and marched past the other two who stood there trembling.
What was he to tell Japheth?
The helicopter touched down with a soft thud, they thanked the pilot and got out into the sunshine.
“That was a blast!” Zaneta shouted, refusing to be silenced by the gust and noise from the helicopter blades.
“I was worried you’d be afraid or get sick or something” Zach replied as they walked towards a Silver BMW 520i 2014 parked in a port.
“Me?” she laughed, “you don’t know me oh! Its like you forget I’m a proper Delta babe. Having mind is in our DNA”
Zach laughed, pulling out a key from his pocket. He pushed a button, popping the trunk of the car.
“There’s no one in it?”
“No. I guess Malik left it here last time he was in town” Zach said as he put the bag in the trunk.
“These your friends though! Who parks a car like this out here and just leaves it like that?” she asked as they got in.
“But it is safe here. This is private property”
“Oh! Ok” she said looking out the window as the Zach drove down a small road.
In a few minutes, after a few turns, a house appeared before them. Zach drove up to the house and pulled into a similar car port to the one at the helipad.
“Here we are!” he announced.
They got off and walked hand-in-hand to the door. Zach rang the bell and they waited. Zaneta could not help but notice how Zach visually scanned the area. She couldn’t see his eyes, but the way he methodically moved his head around gave his actions away.
“We forgot the bag” Zaneta said, making to return to the car to get the bag Zach had put in the trunk
“He’ll get his shit” Zach said, tightening his grip on her hand.
“What sort of half-hearted favour did you now do him?” she asked looking up at him.
Just then the door opened and there stood a handsome looking man in a jersey, shorts and slippers smiling down at her. He was considerably taller than her and a head above Zach.
“You must be Zaneta” Mike said
“Yes, and you must be Mike” she replied taking his outstretched hand.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you” Mike said, then to Zach “‘sup, chief?”
“I’m okay” Zach replied as they shook and hugged.
“Been a long minute, no?” Mike said letting them in.
“Your stuff’s in the trunk” Zach said, uncomfortable with the fact that his pistol and other weapons were so far away.
“I told him to let me bring it in for you, oh!” Zaneta chimed
“Oh! Yes, let me get them” he said, then added “Zaneta, please, make yourself at home, pay no mind to this uncultured brute that brought you” he said.
Zaneta stuck her tongue out at Zach as Mike walked out.
“Do not let him work his charm on you”
Zaneta laughed “I can’t help it, he’s a fine specimen of a man”
“Say the word. I’d gladly call for the chopper and leave you two to it” Zach said taking a seat in the tastefully furnished living room. He looked around, it had been a few years he’d been in this house. It surely had taken a new look since then.
“Are you jealous, Zach?” Zaneta asked giggling.
He ignored her, turning the TV volume up a bit.
The house and lands, according to what he’d learned, had been payment from a former Governor who had been faced with a messy impeachment attempt that Rtd. Gen. Aliu had swiftly quelled. Since then, it had been an outpost of sorts for operations and a get away place for operatives.
He’d only met Mike a few times at the Rtd. General’s. They had never worked together, but he knew the guy had been in private security in the US for a few years after his degree before having to return home. Why he came back to the country, 4 years ago, Zach did not know. He did know however that he had been in the Organisation since then.
He heard the back door open and shut. He knew Mike had gotten the gear in.
“Excuse me” Zach said rising. He needed his weapon.
“Can I switch from watching wildlife though?” Zaneta asked.
“Didn’t he say make yourself at home?” Zach threw over his shoulder as he exited the living room.
“Ok! Zach, you are jealous” she shot back.
Zach found Mike in the kitchen where he was unpacking the bag.
“Where’s mine?” Zach asked.
Mike pointed at a drawer. Zach pulled it open and took out his pistol, and an extra clip.
“I have been briefed, but let me run my understanding by you, as the operative in charge” Mike said.
“Sure” Zach said, leaning against the sink, looking out the window.
“You can relax, bro. We have perimeter fencing. Hi-tech shit. I’ll know if there’s a breach” Mike said.
“Land and air?” Zach asked.
“Land. We’ll have to listen for air”
“Ok. This is the last pre-determined stage of this arm of Operation Stephen. Are you familiar with the Mission?”
“Yes. OS is basically to silence all voices that prove detrimental to the incumbent under our watch”
“Basically. You know who she is?” Zach asked nodding in the direction of the living room. They could hear a music video on the TV.
“Yes, and I understand why she is here”
“Good” Zach said, pushing away from the sink and heading back to the living room.
“I follow your lead” Mike said.
Zaneta was laughing so hard. Her tommy had begun to ache a while back, but she couldn’t help it. Mike was a damn good storyteller and jester in her opinion.
He had asked Zaneta a few questions about growing up and her job. She had given him her scripted replies – the stuff she told almost everyone else, aside those who were really close to her – An only child, she had been born and had grown up in Ilupeju, Lagos before the family had moved to G.R.A. about 3 years ago. She studied History, but had picked up Digital Tech skills while in school. She was an Online Community Manager.
Then he had began telling about experiences he had had on his many travels.
“But, I like it here” Mike said “Nigeria is home and this house affords me all the peace and quiet I so desire” Mike said.
“Tell him about how you lied to me the first day we met” Zach said rubbing her arm fondly.
“Ah! Don’t make me look bad naa” she said laughing.
“Oh! You did that? Pray, do tell” Mike said, looking genuinely interested. Zach rose, picked up his and Zaneta’s glass and left for the kitchen.
“He gave me a ride from the mall; a total stranger, was I just to take him home?” she said in her defence.
“Ok? So what did you do?” Mike asked laughing.
“I got off like two streets before mine, discharged him and walked the rest of the way home”
“Smart, I must say”
“Before I will goan show a stalker my house” she said laughing
“But he knows your house now, no?”
“Of course he does” she said smiling.
“I’m happy for you both” Mike said.
They were silent for a minute, letting another new Nigerian sound fill the room before Zach walked back in with both glasses refilled.
“Here you go” he said handing her a glass, then sitting down beside her and immediately drinking from his.
She placed her glass on the stool beside her, “Thanks, dear” she said.
“You are welcome” he said, then “I’m just sitting here sipping my drink and wondering how many other lies she had told me” to Mike who immediately started laughing.
“Haaaaaaaaa! Zach! Its not fair o!” Zaneta protested with a punch to Zach’s arm.
“Well, that is a legitimate concern. I completely understand” Mike jested.
“You guys!” Zaneta shot at them, then she faced Zach, “It is not your fault nah, shebi if I had given you a wrong number you won’t be here now shading me”
Both men laughed.
“I’d have looked for you till I found you. There was no way I was missing out on having you in my life, babe” Zach said looking into Zaneta’s eyes, “Trust me, I’d have found you” he added, holding her hand.
“Awwww! You two look so cute right now. I have a guest room just down the hall, feel free to make use of it” Mike said sarcastically.
They paid Mike no mind as they kissed briefly.
“When you say these things, what am I to say or think?” Zaneta said, holding Zach’s gaze.
Zach noticed Mike rise and leave the living room.
“I don’t say them to illicit responses, I say them because they are true” he replied, running a thumb over her lips.
She looked away.
“I am not a man that gets easily tempted, but Mike’s offer is super tempting at this minute”
She smiled at him. “You know he was being sarcastic, yeah?”
He rose, glass in one hand, taking her by the hand with the other, she rose too.
“He’s silly. Don’t forget your drink” he said, reminding her about the drink she hadn’t touched since he’d brought it.
She lifted the glass to her lips and sipped from it, then followed Zach down the hall to the guest bedroom.
Zaneta stirred. The room was cool. She inched into the covers some more then moved her leg to the side of the bed Zach had lain in after they had made love, but it was empty. Slowly she sat up and looked around, it was the same room – the guest room at Mike’s.
“Zach?” she called, thinking he was in the bathroom, but silence was all there was. It seemed the whole house was still.
She swung her feet to the floor quietly, pulling the duvet over her naked body. Across from her in an open wardrobe were her gown and underwear.
She rose, hugging the duvet to her body, tip-toed to the wardrobe as if afraid of breaking the silence that presently reigned, got her stuff and dashed into the bathroom, abandoning the duvet on the floor by the bed.
“Zaneta! You have a plane to catch” she scolded herself. Apparently Zach had not wanted to disturb her sleep and was surely out there dressed waiting for Sleeping Beauty to awake and then they could be on their way.
As she pulled on her clothes, she noticed it was dark outside! Confused, she looked at her wristwatch for the first time since she woke up. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
“It must be broken” she thought, dismissing the 1:19am her Apple Watch had indicated.
She dashed back into the bedroom, slamming the bathroom door, without a care about the noise it made. She found her shoes, slipped them on and was in search of her phone when the door opened and Zach walked in looking completely unperturbed.
“Hey” he said, shutting the door and leaning against it.
“What time is it?” she asked. “I hope there’s warranty on this thing, it says 1 something” she said raising her left arm.
“Its right. Its past 1 am, Zaneta” he said.
There was something off about his voice, it sounded like it had come from a total stranger. A stranger that pronounced words like Zach, but a stranger still.
“What the actual hell?” she cussed. She tapped the watch and squinted at it “I slept for 11 hours?” she almost screamed. “OMG! I’m so sorry, Zach. We missed the flight? Why didn’t you wake me? Shit! I’m so sorry” she added walking up to him and throwing her arms around him.
He said nothing. He just stood there and let her hold him.
“Are you mad at me, hon?” she asked looking up at him.
“No” he said.
“Did you reschedule the flight at least?” she asked.
“There was no booking” he said flatly.
“No booking?” she asked surprised. “So, how are we leaving?” she added.
“No one’s leaving the premises anytime soon” he said, taking her hands off him as he walked to the bedside, picked up the duvet and placed it on the bed.
“Is there a problem, Zach? You are acting odd” she said.
He made no reply as he stood there avoiding eye contact.
“Please, do you have my phone?” she asked. If he was going to act odd, talking nonsense about not leaving, she was going to book a flight and be out of here at first light.
“Can I have it, please?” she asked stepping forward.
He locked eyes with her then said “I’m sorry, I can’t let you have that”
“Why?” she asked, now beginning to get really irritated.
He made no reply but looked away.
Zaneta hissed long and loud and exited the room, slamming the door on her way out – this time, on purpose. She marched down the hall to the living room where she found Mike watching a movie.
“Good morning, Mike” she said.
“Hello, princess” he replied.
“Please, can I use your phone for a minute?”
“Sorry, love, no phones for you. At least, not yet” he said flatly without taking his eyes off the TV screen.
“Were these men high on something?” she thought as she scanned beside Mike for his phone, which, she had noticed earlier, was never far from him. It was then her eyes caught something beside him on the couch. It was a gun! She inhaled sharply.
Mike looked up at her and said coldly “Please, go back to your room”.
She ran all the way to the guest bedroom where she found Zach sitting on the bed.
“What is going on, Zach? Why does Mike have a fucking gun?” she shouted as she locked the door behind her. She was a few degrees away from freaking out. It felt like she was trapped in terrible nightmare, only that this was real.
“Can’t talk about that now” he said
“How do you mean? This is kind of a big deal right now, Zach” she protested, barely keeping from yelling.
“As big a deal as you think this is, it is nothing compared to the things that could happen if you don’t listen to me”
“You are kidding, right?” Zaneta said, feeling quite disoriented. She needed him to burst out laughing with a “Got ya!” telling her this was all some silly prank, but he didn’t.
“Listen to me, Zaneta. You’ll be here by yourself for the rest of the night, sometime later today, all of this will become clearer. For now, relax and use that bell over there if you need anything” Zach said pointing at a switch by the bed. With that, he exited the room, took the key with him and locked her in!
Zaneta had never been more stunned speechless in her entire life.
“No, was that Zach?” she asked after a full minute staring at the locked door mouth agape with incredulity.
Her mind went in a million directions. She could not fathom what was going on. She didn’t understand why her lover and his friend were suddenly cold towards her. Nothing made any sense.
A quick inspection of the doors and windows revealed that there was no way she could get out without someone opening the door with the key. Accepting her fate, she sat on the bed and tried to think through the situation. Only then did the reality begin to dawn.
Tunji sat across the AlphaTrag Field Commander in an office somewhere in Lekki. The sun was almost up and Tunji was tired. He’d been running on adrenaline since he got the news of Zaneta’s disappearance with Rtd. Gen. Aliu’s Operative – no food, no sleep.
“Listen Tunji, you and I go way back, I’m surprised you didn’t mention all of this to me. The way you explained when you brought us in, it was a simple exercise of keeping tabs on this fellow and then retrieving information from him. No indication that he was in company of a high value asset or that they might want to use the said asset as a chip. All of this is why I put those men on it. I should have handled it myself with a very different tact and set of personnel” Lanre explained, looking so put together you’d think it was 9am and not the 4:29am it was.
“I am sorry, Lanky, I didn’t know who this guy was until a few hours ago. I didn’t know about his skills and all”
“He is a highly skilled assassin with a superb hang on social engineering. I’m sure your girl will likely laugh and dine with him, hell, even sleep with him till the last minute and then when she realises what he is, it will be too late”
“No, no, no, no! Lanky, it must not get to that stage. I need to arrest this situation pronto!” Tunji said rising to his feet and looking out the window of Lanre’s office. Downstairs he spotted Lanre’s G550 2015, one of many Mercedes he owned. The guy had done well for himself. They had met while in Law School and had become fast friends. They had lost contact after Law School until one day in the UK, while Tunji was running his Masters Program, he had come home to find his TV on showing a live match of the Super Eagles.
He had thought maybe he had left it on until he found 2 beer cans and a pizza on the table. He lived alone and no one but his landlord who stayed across town had his spare keys. He was going to run out of the room when Lanre had appeared from the bathroom smiling. That was the day Lanre had told him he was now a private security expert and had spotted him at a train station days before, tailed him and learned where he stayed and then decided to pay him a visit on the day of the match..
“Now that we have a clearer view on things, we shall act accordingly. Speaking of arrest, I hope you have not reported to the police? These guys catch one whiff of a cop, and they will be halfway across the world in 24 hours, we will be lucky to find her corpse which we might have to even pay a ransom for. And anyway, the political nature of it all is sure to have the police tied up in endless red tape as to make them ineffective in the matter“
“Bro, you make it sound so terrible” Tunji said returning to his seat across from Lanre.
“I am not making it sound terrible. These guys are extreme. Sitting here I can count 5-6 high profile killings in the past year that I have traced directly to this crowd. And there are likely more”
“What do we do?”
“Number 1, do not piss them off. Agree to whatever they demand when they contact you. Since her number is unavailable, they have taken over her phone. If this is for leverage as we suspect, they will contact someone soon”
“And what are you going to do?” Tunji asked. He was far from reassured.
Lanre smiled “I have recalled the team in Port Harcourt. Their replacement is on his way into the country as we speak”
“One man?” Tunji asked, now irritated.
“More than enough” Lanre said, rose and made for the door. “Get some rest. Mabel will show you to a room in the BQ. I mean it, Tunji, rest and let the experts earn their billing.”
“What do I tell her uncle?”
“It will come to you” Lanre replied shutting the door with a soft click.
“Good morning, Zaneta. We haven’t met. My name is Malik”
Zaneta stood up from the bed, her eyes felt sore. She looked at the man before her, truly she had never seen him. But beside him stood her lover looking as disinterested as a stranger on a bus, in his right hand was her phone. She looked away from him and back at Malik without a word.
She regretted not reading the book her uncle had given her, but she had scanned through once and knew a key to survival was staying calm. Since it all started, she had channelled all her energy to staying calm.
“I’ll get right to it” Malik said when he realised she wasn’t about to speak, “Zach is going to hand you your phone, you are going to make one phone call to your uncle – Dr. Moloku, you are going to tell him to pull out of the race on whatever grounds he can come think up, because only then will he ever see you again. Are we clear?” he explained.
“Yes” she said as the reason for her captivity dawned on her – Power, not money like she had thought. “This was about my uncle’s race for VP. Has always been. Zach had been in my life all these months for this very reason. I have been such a fool” she thought.
She stepped forward as Zach held the phone to her. “So, I was a pawn in your game, yeah? I always knew you were too good to be true” she said with a bitter smile and a few claps of her hands.
“Just do what you are told and everything will be fine” Zach said as she stood before him. He saw her eyes begin to tear up.
The slap that followed was resounding, sending Zach’s head in a slight bob to the right. He blinked at the sting. From the corner of his eye he could see Malik smiling as Zaneta snatched the phone from his still outstretched hand.
“Tell him to tell Tunji to get his dogs off my back too while you are at it” Zach said and left the room.