He got off the phone with a “Have a good evening” and resumed his seat next to Malik.
“How’s that going?” Malik asked, slipping one end of his headphones off the ear on Zack’s side.
“Pretty well” he replied, looking at the four men on the screen.
“Envisage any issues?” Malik pressed.
Zack gave Malik’s question a thought, ‘Do I actually envisage any issues?’ he had noticed the increased security around her. The drivers were not just drivers. They were trained operatives from a private security firm in town. He wondered how well-trained they were.
He had been in and out of tough spots; in the dust and heat of Sudan as a part of the Nigerian envoy on the UN mission there. After his unceremonious exit of the Nigerian Army three years ago, he had done countless tasks in his new role, many had been tough in their own way.
His mind went back to his last assignment, the one in Osun State; taking out the Professor in O.A.U., who everyone knew was very likely next in line as President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. A man that was vehemently against the present government and their bid for a second term. Getting into the office of the ASUU president would supercharge his potential to hurt that bid.
The professor was the first casualty of Operation Stephen. The things he knew and had on his HDD had made it unavoidable.
‘He’d been an easy mark’ Zack thought.
“You gonna answer my question this year, lover boy?” Malik teased.
“Don’t call me that” he shot back.
“You gonna answer or what?” Malik would not relent.
“I’m a professional” Zack spat then slipped his headphones on.
He felt Malik’s eyes on him but couldn’t care less. He didn’t report to Malik, though he knew Malik was somewhat higher on the chain of command, being that he was with the boss 24/7 as his personal guard and head of security, still he was an autonomous agent on his missions and Operation Stephen was no exception. Zaneta’s name was on his mission list and he would handle her as he saw fit in light of his deliverables.
She stood beneath the shower, with all the annoyances and stress of the day, somehow, Zack had brought her some sunshine. In the mirror, she could see the box of, almost finished, chocolate cookies on the bed.
She had asked him about that. “Why did you choose the box of chocolate cookies? I really liked them” She couldn’t help it. What with all of Alice’s talk about it. His reply to her sounded like he shrugged then said “I know these things” to which she had almost replied “Ose, Professor X” but had instead gone “Hmm…. Ok.”
She wasn’t about to try and hide the fact that she liked him, a lot. There was no point. Alice had been on her case to meet and at least get to know new people. They had become fast friends less than a week of her arrival at the company. Alice had been there to ‘hold her hand’ through the breakup with her ex, but she had very carefully kept her affair away from Alice.
She stepped out of the shower, standing on a foot mat. As the water dripped off her body, she had a flashback. Standing like this many months ago, fresh into the relationship with Dare, she had just taken a shower and the bleeding had still not stopped.
It was scary. It was the first time they had had sex, it was not her first time, but the bleeding had shown up. She had written it off thinking it was a tear – she probably wasn’t properly lubricated or maybe because it had been a long while she had sex. But the bleeding had been persistent and she had eventually freaked out and called a doctor friend who had referred her to a gynaecologist.
It had turned out to be early stage cervical cancer. Treatment had begun immediately and her bank balance had quickly felt the hit. At the time, Dare was “in between jobs” as he liked to put it, so there was zero financial support from his end. It had been a real trying time for her, having to pay for it all and he being unable to do beyond being emotionally supportive. He had promised to always be by her side; that had swiftly changed after he got a job with a global computer technology company that paid him more than nine times what he earned at his long-forgotten last employment.
“9.6 times exactly” she said to herself as she crossed the distance between the bathroom door and her bed where her night gown lay.
Their relationship had taken a nose dive as a particular colleague of his slowly but surely crept into the picture. It had hurt her badly, the breakup, the cheating before it and mostly, all of the sacrifices she made for him while it had lasted. He was now an Island Big Boy. When she couldn’t take the reminders anymore she had blocked then unblocked him on Twitter, unfollowed on Instagram and unfriended on Facebook.
“Fuckboy!” she swore.
Her health had gotten better; the doctors had told her she had nothing to worry about as long as she let them keep an eye on it for her. Through it all she had not mentioned it to her uncle or his wife with whom she couldn’t claim to be exactly close.
After the episode with Dare, she had sworn never to be of the ‘surulere’ crew anymore. The crew that stuck with broke boys in hopes that one day their often shabby or unrealistic dreams would come true and they’d actually appreciate all of a girl’s ‘years of service’ and support and make them the queen of it all.
“Bleeeeh!” she said, slipping into her night wear. Such boys were rare. She had decided to be on the other team, she wouldn’t let no one come take a free ride on her heart and emotions. Yes, she was an angel, but she was done descending into hell to save men. If they wanted to have her in their lives, they had better have a slice of heaven prepared for her.
“So far, Mr. Zack AKA Baba Raiden seems to be showing promise” she said as she dropped in bed. She chuckled. She had actually forgotten to ask him about his dog.
She popped open her IG page. The likes on her last post had stolen to 71. She scrolled through the last few comments, the ones yet unread.
said the message from Zack. She smiled, then looked up from her phone and at Alice. When she had Alice’s attention she nodded so slightly, she worried Alice might have missed it until Alice winked back.
‘Zack in the building!’ she thought.
It had been 2 weeks and 4 days since the chocolate cookies and flowers arrived. Now the man himself had shown up. In the last week, their communication had picked up tempo, quantity and depth. They’d often chat late into the night and pick up again early in the morning – texts, images, voice and video a few times.
The flow was easy and topics were endless, but she knew there were folks who were fun on chats and stuff but were much less fun in person. Today was their first date and second meeting, she would find out. He’d been really quiet on their first meeting, she had asked him about that and he had ascribed it to the fact that they were yet strangers at that point.
“Ok. Meeting almost over. Be down in a bit”
she replied. The time was 5:54pm, she needed this meeting to end. It was a Friday and she was about to hit the town.
Her uncle had almost spoilt it for her. The new rules at home included her saying beforehand if she would not be coming home after work and where she would be going. So she had had to ask Zack, when he suggested they hang out after work, where exactly they would be going. He’d told her the place; she knew it. A bar and grill not far from her office. She had reported this to her uncle who had then asked her if she wanted the driver to get her home after her hangout. She had promptly said ‘No’.
Her uncle had given her a look, which she had ignored, before he got back to preparing his speech for the late Prof. Akinsanya’s funeral service that weekend. His appearances on shows, print media and at events were getting a lot more recently, however, his wife had not been in the country for quite a while. To Zaneta, it almost appeared she was distancing herself from it all on purpose.
“But then, who wouldn’t want to be the wife of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?” Zaneta thought as her finger depressed the unlock button on the side of her phone. There were no new messages from him.
Zack pretended to read a magazine while quietly watching Gladys and the other staff who were beginning to leave for the day. He’d never been in these offices before but he had read everything he could find about the organisation and staff. With their LinkedIn profiles fresh in his head, he could tell who was who as they walked past, some with a greeting while others ignored him.
He had assessed that none of them was a threat to him or his mission and anyone who became such, he could easily handle. His eyes had picked out every security camera in the reception area and beyond – in the hall way. He adjusted his hat to better suit its real purpose. He had decided to come across more like a Sugar Daddy than a Boyfriend. And who better to tailor his appearance after than the character, Lucious Lyon of the Empire series that Seyi and Zaneta never shut up about?
He had spent a whole day going through every picture of Mr. Lyon he could find online, satisfied, he had then gone shopping. Then he had seen a few episodes of the TV Series and now, he was ready. He’d admit it wasn’t a bad show at all, he could now see why the ladies loved the cast.
On his arrival he had noticed her car and driver were absent and there was no sign of her uncle’s security people on ground. He wasn’t going to kid himself that they would not show up at some point during the night. Information he had was clear on the fact that three men had been assigned to the household in her uncle’s absence.
The man was headed to Abeokuta, Ogun State for the burial of the Professor. The police had written it off as a domestic accident just as he had hoped. His only pain was that the police had not tracked down Bimpe – the pilfering girlfriend of the late Professor. She must have found her lover dead in the bath, helped herself to some more money or all of it and then taken to her heels.
“Lucky little devil” he thought.
His phone buzzed, he looked down at it on the seat beside him
“Heading down”, it said. He looked up at Gladys, who had also been looking at him, and smiled; she smiled back shyly.
He refused to look in the direction of the elevator doors, a few moments later, as they wound open. He caught her voice in the midst of the others as they got off. He pretended to be engrossed in the magazine he was holding.
“Hello, Zack” he heard her say, a split second after he caught the whiff of her perfume – Aqua Di Gioia Essenza. She had told him; just like she had told him what she was wearing today even before she let home.
He had a picture somewhere in their chat of her taken by her this morning. Still he was impressed when he looked up at her
“Hi, Zaneta” he replied getting to his feet. Ignoring her outstretched right hand, he enveloped her in a brief hug.
“You smell nice” she said
“Not even near as nice as you smell” he replied
“Hmm… I don’t believe you” she said, taking a step back
“Facts of the matter” he said, then looked past her at Alice who had just walked off the elevator. Zaneta turned her head to follow his gaze.
“That must be Alice” he said
“Yes” she replied
“Hello” Alice said, arriving.
“Good evening, Alice” he said taking Alice’s offer of a handshake.
“Zack, I presume?” Alice said curtly.
“Yes” he said.
“Pleased to meet you” Alice said.
“So am I” he replied with a smile.
“Okay! So, would you give me a minute to pack up or you’d rather come along to my office?” Zaneta asked him as Alice walked away
“I’d love to see where the magic happens”
Zaneta laughed briefly before managing “Magic sha!”
“Lead the way, would you?” he said, gesturing in the general direction of the offices.
She moved off and he followed behind. She had quick strides but he had no problems keeping up.
Zaneta was tempted to look back at him; she could bet he was looking at her backside. She had on a pair of jeans that did ample justice to her curves and a top that tried to subdue things, without much success.
Zack, on his part, made a show of looking at his phone all through the 30 seconds it took to arrive at her office. He wasn’t about to get caught staring.
“This is quite nice” he said the moment he walked through the door she held open for him.
“Gracias!” she replied, then added “Please, make yourself comfortable, I’ll be with you in a minute”
In less than half an hour Zaneta had freshened up and they had both driven in his SUV to the place. Zack parked across the street.
As they both crossed the street amid slow-moving traffic, he spotted him – one of Zaneta’s uncle’s security people. He standing by a street light not far from the entrance smoking a cigarette.
Zack almost shook his head, “Bloody amateur” he thought.
He got off the phone with a “Have a good evening” and resumed his seat next to Malik.