He had woken up at 6:20am, drenched in night sweats. He immediately went out to his SUV and had his driver take him to his house where he took a shower and changed into fresh clothes for the day. A quick call confirmed that the VP candidate had meetings all morning at a Party office on the mainland, so he headed there.
It had been the most torturous journey of his life, nothing else had ever felt like this. He wanted to get there quickly – before the guys who had Zaneta called Dr. Moloku, and at the same time, he needed the journey to take a while, so he could think and prepare to face his friend and break the bad news of how his ineptitude had allowed Zaneta be snared by dangerous men. Lanky had said it would come to him, it hadn’t.
He had simply resigned his fate to the hands of his driver and Lagos traffic.
As the vehicle pulled up in the car lot of the Party Office, Tunji knew he had to save the day somehow. He needed to look beyond the messy challenge to the opportunity that the situation presented – the “Chopportunity” as he had read in a book. All along, he had had eyes on the office of Chief-Of-Staff, and what better way to cement his position than to diffuse this situation? He wasn’t about to fold. Yes, he had freaked out and had nightmares and woken up shivering, but the battle wasn’t lost yet. Not even close.
He picked up his phone and called Lanre.
“Hello, Tunji” Lanre said on answering.
“I just arrived Japheth’s, any updates?”
“Do you know if he has been contacted?”
“I haven’t met him, I’m out in the car”
“Ok. Go in there and break the news. It‘s best he is ready before their call comes in”
“Ok. And your man?” Tunji said, immediately climbing out of the 2012 Lexus GX460.
“He’ll be here before COB. Let’s all meet at the Moloku house tonight”
“OK” Tunji said and rung off.
Fresh wind in his sails, he took the flight of stairs up to the room he knew Dr. Moloku would be in.
Zach stood just outside the closed door, but couldn’t bring himself to walk away.
He knew he could go upstairs and watch via the surveillance system they had set up in the room while Zaneta was in her drug-induced sleep, but he decided it was best he stayed with her through this. After all, he was her handler.
He opened the door and stepped back in. Both Zaneta and Malik ignored him.
“I will say this one last time: Call your Dad and tell him to step down immediately” Malik said taking one step closer to Zaneta who was backed up against the bed.
Zaneta made eye contact with Zach. Zach held her gaze and pleaded with her silently, mouthing the words “Please, do it” from behind Malik.
She seemed to get the message as she unlocked the phone and hit her uncle’s speed dial.
Zach watched her closely, she was avoiding looking directly at him. A quick glance at Malik showed he was in a prepared stance, he didn’t trust Zaneta to follow instructions.
Zaneta put the phone to her ear and locked eyes with Malik.
“Hello, Dad” she said when he picked up.
“Oge! You had me worried. Been trying to reach you. Was going to send someone to your office to check or get me your friend’s number. Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, Sir. I’m sorry I got you worried”
At this point, Malik threw Zach a “Will she just get on with it?” look.
“Daddy, I need to tell you something” Zaneta said.
“Yes?” his voice came over the line, concern laden.
“Some people have me” she dropped the bomb.
“I’m sorry, Dad, I have been kidnapped”
“Jesus My Saviour!” Dr. Moloku exclaimed.
“I don’t want you to worry. They want you to drop out of the race”
“The Vice Presidential race?” Dr. Moluku asked surprised.
“Yes, Dad. But I beg of you, do not do it!” she said.
She didn’t get to hear what her uncle’s response was as the force of the back of Malik’s right hand landing on the right side of her jaw sent her falling onto the bed and rolling off to the floor at it’s foot. Her phone clattered to the floor, screen up.
“Hello! Oge! Oge!!” Dr. Moloku shouted into the phone as he jack-knifed out of his seat.
“Drop out of the race, Sir. You have 48 hours” a cold voice said into his ear and the line went dead. He had heard his baby sobbing in the background.
Dr. Moloku was staring at his phone when Tunji walked in.
Malik tossed Zaneta’s phone at Zach who almost didn’t catch it. Then he squatted beside Zaneta on the floor and said “You try something fancy like that with me again, I’ll break your face”, got up then walked up to Zach.
“Listen. I don’t have time for this” he said pointing at Zaneta’s frame on the floor “handle it!” he added and left the room.
Zach walked up to her, bent and tried to help her off, but she firmly pushed his hands away as she continued sobbing. He waited. He needed to see her face to access the damage.
“Zaneta, please, let me see your face” he said.
“Get away from me, you devil!” she screamed.
Zach stood up and left the room quietly.
“What is it?” Tunji asked trying to be causal.
“Someone’s kidnapped Zaneta!” Dr. Moloku said with an ashen look. “I need the number of the CP” he added, picking up the intercom.
“That won’t be necessary, Japheth” Tunji said, taking a seat before his worried friend. He had to steady his nerves.
“Are you out of your mind, Tunji?” Dr. Moloku roared.
Tunji sighed, then said, “Japheth, why do you think I am here?”
It was then it dawned on Dr. Moloku that he and Tunji had no prior appointment and he had not directly intimated Tunji he would be here this morning. He replaced the intercom.
“Please, sit down, Japheth” Tunji said.
Dr. Moloku did as he was told.
“I got the intel that she was kidnapped yesterday afternoon. And I immediately swung into action. I was with our security contractors all night, in fact, I have only been home for a change of clothes. I came here in anticipation of their ransom call, and if I am right this is not about money”
“You are. They asked me to-” Dr. Moloku was saying but Tunji finished up for him
“Drop out of the race?“
“Good. We anticipated that. As we speak, Japheth, forces are already in motion to ensure Zaneta is returned safely to us” Tunji said, conveniently leaving out his previous surveillance of Zach and contacts the men he hired had had with him. That would make him look quite inept.
Dr. Moloku stared straight into Tunji’s eyes without a word.
“What are you going to do? I have told you what I am doing”
“I don’t want to take chances with Zaneta’s life”
“You can not drop out either. I can’t let you do that” Tunji said, striking the desk with his fist.
Dr. Moloku thought about Tunji’s words, then recalled Zaneta’s similar plea. “Only belief” he thought, “could make them say these things. They believe in me“
“Listen, Chief. These people are cowards. Do not let them see you sweat”
“They gave me 48 hours”
“Plenty of time” Tunji declared, though he feared in his heart that he was terribly wrong.
Just then, someone rapped on the door and a secretary’s head popped in, “We are ready for you, Sir”
“Thank you, Matilda” Dr. Moloku said. The door shut.
“Go have your meeting. Go about your usual business. I’m sure they’ll be watching, let them see their threats will not stop what God has ordained will happen” Tunji said, slipping in some God-factor as he rose to his feet. He’d learned a little talk about the Supreme Being could take you a long way when dealing with folks around here.
“Thank you, Tunji”
“Come off it, Japheth! I promised to have your back all the way. Nothing has changed”
“I am grateful” Dr. Moloku said, rising to his feet.
“Share this with no one. Not even the Senator. At least, not yet. Let us handle this in-house”
“Ok. I trust you”.
“We’ll meet at the house tonight” Tunji said as Dr. Moloku left the office.
Tunji sighed and collapsed in the chair the moment the door shut again.
He pulled out his phone and called Lanre updating him with fresh information, particularly the 48 hour deadline.
He got more reassurances from Lanre, ended the call and hauled his tired body back to his vehicle, asked to be taken to his house and immediately fell asleep in the back seat.
Zaneta was sitting on the bed. She had a raging headache that had come on since Malik had hit her. She had also hit her head when she involuntarily rolled off the bed. She had been fortunate enough and had not gotten her skin broken, but the jaw did hurt badly.
She held her head in her hands, not just because of the pain she felt in her body, but for the situation she had talked and walked herself into. It saddened her so much that, though she knew they had put in a lot of work and planning, she had willingly walked into captivity.
She began to think back to all the times she had had an urge to walk away from it all, walk away from the relationship with Zach, but had chosen to stay. She recalled the dreams Edith had told her about and the warnings. She recalled the uneasy feeling she had had severally, the most recent one being in the house on the day they had arrived Port Harcourt.
Her choices had brought her here. Here on this bed in a head–in–hands situation. She had ignored the check in her spirit, ignored the warning signs. She had even deceived her dad and security people to be with a man who had turned out to be a mercenary. She had gotten Alice to promise to lie and cover for her. She felt so ashamed.
“Lord” she prayed, “forgive me for my folly and have mercy on me. Let this only be a lesson to me and not my end. Please, have mercy, Lord” she began to cry as she lay down on the bed, continuously repeating the words “have mercy, Lord”.
She didn’t know how long it had been before the door opened and Zach walked in with a tray of food.
She sat up slowly, after wiping her eyes. They would not break her spirit. She needed her wits fully about her.
“Here’s some food for you” he said placing the tray at the foot of the bed.
“Thank you” she said, as the aroma of fried rice, dodo and chicken filled the room.
“What would you like for dinner?” Zach asked standing by the bed, looking down at her. He noticed her jaw was slightly swollen, but otherwise she looked okay.
“Some cereal and apples will do” she replied, not making a move for the food, though her tommy growled.
“Go ahead, eat” he urged.
“I need a pain killer” she said, ignoring his last statement.
“I’ll bring you some” Zach said, then added “I’m sorry he hit you”
She looked up at him and said “Don’t be”
He thought for a few seconds for something appropriate to say, when he could find none, he turned around and left.
Zach went upstairs where he found Mike and Malik laughing.
“Lover boy, she wants pain killers” Malik said.
“She hasn’t been introduced to pain” Mike replied.
Zach looked from the screen where he could see Zaneta eating her food to Mike’s face, then asked “Where can I get some pain meds?”
“In the kitchen” Mike replied, then as Zach headed for the stairs, he asked “How do you reckon this is going to end, Zach?”
“I’m sure her Uncle can wait four years, Mike. What do you think?” Zach threw over his shoulder as he descended the stairs.
Zach found some Panadol Extra and took a strip to Zaneta. He stood watching for a minute as she laboured to chew her food.
“Use some of that and let me know if the pain gets better” Zach said and left.
It was 7:51pm when Lanre walked into Dr. Moloku’s living room in company of a tall man who wore a suit. In the living room, awaiting their arrival were Dr. Moloku, and Tunji, who now looked much better after resting all day.
“My apologies for our lateness. Henry here just flew in from Cairo and we had to take care of certain things before heading here”
“Thank you for coming” Dr. Moloku said.
“We are at your service” Lanre said, taking a seat. Henry remained standing without saying a word.
“So, where are we on this?” Tunji took charge of the meeting.
“From intelligence we have, we know she is being held somewhere on the outskirts of the city”
“Port Harcourt?” Dr. Moloku asked.
“Yes, Sir. A house or facility with sufficient grounds to have a helipad of sorts. Somewhere secure and secluded. And we know she is safe, at least for the next day or so. However, we need to buy more time and find a way to force their hand as well” Lanre said.
“How do you propose we do that?” Tunji asked.
“I was hoping you would tell us, Sir” Lanre said, looking over at Dr. Moloku. “You spoke with her, did she say anything helpful?” he asked.
“Nothing really. She sounded calm and defiant. That was why the bastard hit her. She told me not to yield to their demands” He explained.
“Sounds just like Zaneta” Tunji said, shaking his head.
“Henry here is an expert at tracking down scumbags like these. He’s also very good at finding people who do not want be found, in the event that is what this is” Lanre said, directing his last line at Dr. Moloku.
Dr. Moloku’s jaw dropped. It had not crossed his mind that Zaneta could ever have a direct hand in the situation.
“Are you suggesting Zaneta is involved in this somehow?” Tunji asked.
“Until we are certain, we will assume the worst” Lanre said.
“Are you seriously considering she did this to me?” Dr. Moloku asked, flabbergasted.
“I’d like to see her room” Henry spoke for the first time. His voice was quiet but authoritative. The kind of voice you would rather not argue with.
“Sure” Tunji said rising to his feet and leading Henry to Zaneta’s room.
Tunji stood at the door while Henry looked around, picking up items and replacing them properly, checking under the bed, in the bath, closet and going through her clothes one after the other. This took almost 45 minutes. Finally Henry turned off the lights and walked past Tunji without a word.
Back in the living room they met Lanre giving Dr. Moloku an instance of a girl who had run away with a lover with whom she had extorted her businessman dad, a diamond miner, of over $2million before Henry had found them in a little house on the coast in Gabon. She was pregnant and living with her lover and his brother in opulence.
“That doesn’t sound like Zaneta, Lanky, trust me. But we will not in anyway impede your work. Let us know what you need to get this started right away” Tunji said when Lanre had finished his narration.
Lanre looked over at Henry who was standing by a window looking out. All eyes followed suit.
“I want her car. The red Coupe” Henry said.
Dr. Moloku and Tunji exchanged glances. Lanre smiled at them.
“Sure. But why, if I may ask?” Dr. Moloku asked.
“When I find her, I need her to know where I came from” Henry said and left the room.
Lanre rose, “Ok, Sirs. I’ll take my leave now. I will be in touch. You also know how to reach me. If anything comes up, call me immediately. I also need you to record all calls from her” he said as Dr. Moloku and Tunji followed him out.
Henry was leaning against Zaneta’s car when Dr. Moloku got to him with the keys which he had retrieved from the driver who had washed it that morning.
“Sir, I need you to make it clear to everyone that you are not going to drop out of the race. Put out a press statement if you will” Henry said taking the keys and unlocking the car.
“Tonight?” Tunji, who’d also arrived asked.
“Once I am in place. I will let you know” Henry said, got in the car and drove to the gate.
Tunji signalled the confused guard to open the gate.
“You should not be doing that” Zach said.
He had just walked into the upstairs living room where Zaneta was on the screen taking a bath.
“Dude! Cut me some slack” Mike replied.
“You could give her some privacy, it wouldn’t kill you, you know?”
“She is a hostage, bro. Not a house guest. What if she tried to kill herself in the bath? Drink down the shampoo or something?”
“She won’t” Zach said, standing his ground, though he knew it was a weak one.
“And you know this how?” Mike asked, he was clearly testing Zach’s will.
“Guys!” they heard Malik’s voice from downstairs.
Quickly they both rushed down the stairs. The news was showing.
“The newscaster was reading the news when she suddenly stopped and said she’d been told the VP candidate for the opposition was in the news room and would be coming on air” Malik explained.
Just then Dr. Moloku came on set and sat next to the newscaster.
“Holy Shit!” Mike swore.
“Don’t do this” Zach thought.
Malik turned up the volume.
“Good morning, Sir”
“Good morning, Emma. I won’t take too much of your time. I wish I didn’t have to be here this morning. This is not about the polls. This is about my daughter who was abducted two days ago by yet unknown individuals. Their singular demand? That I drop out of the Vice Presidential race. I need them and their masters, whoever they are, to understand this day, that the Lord has made, that that will NOT happen. My daughter is the most precious thing to me, make no mistakes about that, but if you want to stop me, if you want to stop my party, if you want to stop this change, you will have to do it the proper way – AT THE POLLS! Scare tactics won’t work. I am here to let the Nigerian people know that their faith in me and the presidential candidate – Senator Danbazau – is not misplaced. Come April the 15th” he rose from his seat “your voices shall be heard across the world! God Bless you, God Bless our nation Nigeria!” And with that, he left the set.
Emma struggled to regain her compose as the camera focused on her.
“Sweet baby Jesus! This guy is a lunatic!” Mike said.
Malik’s phone began to ring. It was the Retired General.
Zach quietly left to the gym, set up the punching bag and began to punch. His mind was in a haze. Dr. Moloku had done the one thing they had not prepared for.
“How are you holding up?” Tunji asked as he walked into Dr. Moloku’s bedroom.
The Vice Presidential candidate was preparing for a trip to go join Senator Danbazau for a meeting in Kano. He was pulling on a jacket absent-mindedly when Tunji walked in.
“I’m worried, Tunji. Scared even. I seriously hope this plan works” he said.
Tunji helped him tug on his jacket then patted his shoulder, “It will, Japheth. I trust that Lanre is totally on top of this. He’ll smoke them out. And you must understand that we have the advantage now”
“And they have my baby”
“We’ll get her back, man. Have faith, keep to the plan” Tunji said then handed Dr. Moloku his phone “The IGP is on hold for you” he said.
Dr. Moloku took the phone, with a frown, “What does he want?”
Tunji shrugged, then said “Maybe he wants to congratulate you on single-handedly putting 25% between us and his bosses at the Villa in the latest opinion polls” with a wink.
After the last VP Candidates debate, opinion polls had stood at about 17.5% in their favour, reflecting about 7.3% rise that period. It had grown by another 10.3% after Dr. Moloku’s strong statement on live television two days ago. The whole Nation was agog with the news of Zaneta’s abduction and Dr. Moloku’s non-negotiation stance. And clearly, many of the electorate had rallied behind him.
Social Media was afire with all manner of hastags: #FreeZaneta , #StandWithMoloku , etc.
The sitting President had come out to condemn the act and stated that neither he nor his office were aware until Moloku’s announcement. He urged for peace and promised security operatives would find the abductors and bring them to book while rescuing the “innocent girl”.
The police had however not gotten in touch with Dr. Moloku till now.
Dr. Moloku smiled before answering the phone. “Hello?” he said
“Good morning, Sir. First I’d like to empathise with you about the situation with your daughter”
“Thank you” Dr. Moloku said, coldly.
“Sir, I am dispatching the best hands from my office to come down to Lagos and begin an investigation and I can assure you -” he was saying before Dr. Moloku cut in.
“Thank you, IG. That’s very kind of you. But all of that won’t be necessary at this time. I’ll let you know when I need your help”
“But, Sir -“
“Kindly respect my wishes, Chudi” Dr. Moloku said, calling the IGP by name. Tunji arched an eyebrow in surprise.
“Ok, Sir, I am here for you and your family as the IGP; and as Chudi Mgbe, I’d like you to know that I am completely behind you”
“Very well, I’ll take your word for it. Good day” Dr. Moloku said and hung up.
He handed the phone back to Tunji who said “I think he’s a good man in a very corrupt setup, if you ask me”
“If so, how’s he been able to sit at the helm this long?” Dr. Moloku asked and walked out of the room.
“Well, when you put it like that….” Tunji said to an empty room.
“I’m leaving” Malik said leaning against the door. “The General needs me” he added, as Zach looked up at him from the book he’d been reading.
“Ok. What’s his instruction about this?” Zach asked concerning the situation with Zaneta.
“We hold our ground. Soon, Moloku will realise we are not kidding. The girl must be kept here and safe for now” Malik explained.
“Ok. Called the chopper?” Zach said, not liking the uncertainty about Zaneta’s safety.
“Let me drive you out”
Zach was on his way back in his Volvo XC60 from dropping off Malik when his phone rang. It was Bizi.
“Bizi” Zach said, picking up.
“Who have you gone up against, bro?”
“Are they sacred yet?” Zach asked, not in a hurry to give anything away.
“Some serious heat is coming your way, bro”
“Tell me about it” Zach said, slowing down.
Later that night, upstairs, Zach and Mike had placed another TV beside the one that ran Zaneta’s surveillance cameras and were playing Soccer on Mike’s PS4. They could see Zaneta in bed reading a book Mike had given her earlier when she had requested for something to read.
“Dude, you should know not to play against me with such a weak team!” Mike said victoriously as he put down his pad and rose. He had just beaten Zach 3 – 1. “Change your team, bro. And let’s have another go. The night is young”
“I’m rusty is all. I’m confident I can beat you with my team” Zach said confidently.
“Restart then” Mike said and left.
Zach got to setting up his team afresh for another game.
Mike returned a few minutes later with two glasses, handed one to Zach and settled down with the other. “You know its poor players like you that take so long setting formation, yeah?” he said taking a drink from his glass.
“Shut up and pick up your pad” Zach said, hitting the start button, then rose. Let me microwave something.
“I’d love some too” Mike called after him as he made for the stairs.
Zach returned, picked up his pad, took a sip from his drink and they started the game. At half time, he asked Mike to help bring up the food. The scoreline was 1 – 0 in Zach’s favour, a mostly lucky goal from a corner kick.
“Come on, man! Let’s finish the game”
“Stop gripping man, I am leading here” Zach grinned at Mike who put down his pad and rose reluctantly.
“You want to enjoy your lead, yeah? I’d suggest you kiss it goodbye too, cos when I get back you are toast” Mike said on his way ried rice, handed Zach one and resumed his position before the screen.
“I should ask you to help refill my glass too” Zach said, picking up his pad and dropping his now empty glass on the side stool.
“Joker, cos of a halftime 1 – 0 lead, yeah? Halftime oh! No issues, when this game is over, I’m sure you’ll be on laundry duty for a week”
“Play, dude” Zach said, hitting the play button.
The game had ended 1 – 0 in Zach‘s favour. They had then eaten amidst endless jabs from Zach about Mike’s loss.
“Do the dishes, son. Then take the first watch, I’m sleepy from that resounding victory” Zach said, laughing at Mike as he left to his room. He shut the door, lay across the bed fully clothed and shut his eyes.
“Get up!” Zaneta heard Mike’s harsh whisper.
“What’s happening?” Zaneta asked, shocked out of her sleep. She‘d dozed off reading the book Mike had brought her.
“Not one sound!” Mike said, putting a pistol to her face.
Zaneta nodded in accent, wide eyed in fright.
Mike shoved her towards the door, maintaining a vice-like grip on her arm. “Put your shoes on” he ordered. Zaneta did as she was told.
As they walked down the hall, Mike pulled out her phone and said “Here’s your phone, unlock it. It’s time to talk to Daddy about some money” handing it to her while pressing the nozzle of his pistol into her back.
Zaneta was terrified as she took the phone with trembling hands.
“Where is Zach?” she ventured as they stepped outside the house.
“Your sweet boyfriend is sleeping it off. Now, shut up and walk!” Mike barked.
Upstairs, Zach opened his eyes.