Zach lay back in bed as the nurse, an elderly woman with a friendly smile, packed up her stuff and made to leave the room.
“Please, turn that up” he said, referring to the TV.
She did as he requested, waved the remote in the air with a small “Hallelujah” and left.
Zaneta was on the screen being led from a private jet to a an SUV by Tunji. He was looking all stern while making sure to be seen supporting her. The press were present in full force and a human wall of security agents were struggling to keep the frenzy at bay.
Zach clapped for him mentally; he had just scored top points both with his boss and for his Party. All they had to do now was keep up the tempo, in a few weeks it would be E-Day and the electorate would sweep out the incumbent.
That was all good for them, but “Where does that leave me?” Zach thought. His whole operation, something he had carefully worked on for over 9 months had simply unravelled. From within and without. He still wondered what sort of demon had possessed Mike to make him pull a double-cross on the team, on the General, on the Party. He wasn’t a politician, he was an operative. But really, maybe it wasn’t a demon, maybe he could read the tides better and he saw it was a futile mission after all.
Here he was, like a kite in the wind, cut loose from its grounding post. He was at the mercy of the forces at play. He knew soon, he had to make a clear choice and then face the music of the other side.
He’ll wait for the elections.
He turned on Henry’s phone and called Bizi. The place Bizi had directed him to turned out to be a serviced apartment with connections to the underground. He would lay low here till he was strong enough to make his next move.
“I need a SIM card and access to my accounts” he said.
Zaneta stepped out of the bathroom. She was bone tired and her neck still hurt from the whiplash of the collision. She thought about Henry, the way he had been moaning in pain and confusion. She wondered about his welfare. Then she thought about Zach.
A knock on the door made her jump.
“Yes” she said, wrapping her towel tighter around her.
“Alice and Bode are here to see you” Tunji said, peeking around the door.
“Wow! At this time?” Zaneta said with one glance at the wall clock. “I’ll be out in a minute”
Quickly, she threw on a sweat shirt and a pair of joggers, tied up her hair in a scarf and headed downstairs.
“Guys! It’s past 3 in the morning! You should both be in bed!” she protested the moment she arrived the living room where the couple waited.
The whole house was alive with people moving around like it was day time.
“Babe, I am so sorry” Alice said, rushing to hug Zaneta. “I never for once stopped praying for you”.
“Thanks, Alice” Zaneta said, then “Good morning, Sir” to Bode.
“Zan! I’m so glad you are back. My wife’s been worried out of her mind. And I have done a poor job trying to calm her down, I was scared myself” Bode said, hugging Zaneta.
“We came the moment we heard the news” Alice said.
“How did you hear?” Zaneta asked them.
“Febi called me. I’m sure she’d have gotten here first, but she’s away in the US for her elder brother’s wedding”
“Oh! Cool” Zaneta said.
“You are fine?” Alice said looking her over.
“Yeah. I am fine” Zaneta said. She recalled the instructions Uncle Tunji had given her on the ride home. She was to talk to no one about the events leading up to her kidnap, the kidnap, nor the rescue. This was fine with her because she was also unwilling to talk about what she had finally done. It was best this way. She could trust Zach to keep her secret, provided Henry was dead. She had never truly wished anyone dead till this morning.
“Now, we have seen you, we may now rest and keep thanking God” Bode said into the silence.
“Yeah, you both need go home and do whatever married folks do then get set for work” Zaneta said making them laugh.
“I’m set for work. I’ll just drop her at home and head out” Bode said. It was then Zeneta noticed all he was missing was a tie and jacket. The investment banker was often at work before the sun contemplated rising.
“You are the true heroes”
“You forgot to add ‘Unsung’” Bode replied.
“Biko! Biko!! Oga, don’t go there. Unsung as how? All your armed robber salaries!” Zaneta replied making them laugh. “Hey! How about you go on ahead to work and leave my friend with me here?” she suggested “I could use some company”
“Sure. Why not?” Bode replied.
It was about past 10 in the morning, Alice was asleep upstairs in Zaneta’s bed. She had taken the day off on Zaneta’s account and it had been immediately granted. Everyone at work had called on Alice’s phone to welcome her.
The press were still camped outside the gates, hoping for a story. Her dad was due back soon from Abuja.
She strolled into the study and found Uncle Tunji, just as she had suspected.
“Are you going to wait on me all day?” She teased, “I assume you have more important things at hand”.
“I’m waiting for your Dad actually” Tunji said, putting down the paper he was reading. On the front page was a picture of them at the airport earlier in the day with the headline “Moloku’s Daughter Returns!”
“I wonder what the polls look like now” she said taking a seat opposite him.
“I have no faith in those” Tunji said looking closely at Zaneta. “Does your neck hurt?” he asked.
“Yeah, a little. Bad sleeping position, I guess” she lied.
“We will get every one of those bastards, I assure you”
“Who is Matilda?”
“Yes. She has to be one of the staff. Either yours or the campaign office”
“Name doesn’t ring a bell, but I will ask. Definitely not one of my lawyers” he said, then asked “Why?”
“I thought someone mentioned that name while I was there. Were you negotiating through her?” she asked. She remembered clearly what Mike had said to Matilda over the phone but she wasn’t sure she could trust Uncle Tunji.
“We didn’t negotiate. Your Dad left no doubts about that. We had other plans and we pulled it off. Here you are” he said with a grin.
She had to bite her tongue to keep from asking about Zach again. She also couldn’t bring herself to ask after Henry, though she was dying to know his state.
“I’ll be in my room” she said rising.
“Ok. Your Dad will be here any minute now, they already landed at the airport”
“Ok” she said and left the study.
While she was upstairs in her room ordering a new phone online, Tunji placed a call.
“She knows. Leave immediately. Get on the first available flight you can. Call me when you settle in” he said when it was answered.
The weeks flew by for Zaneta.
She had resigned her job and had been hired by the Danbazau-Moloku campaign team as the head of Digital Media and Engagement. She had immediately hired Alice, with her slight baby bump, as her team lead (with a salary that was twice what she was earning at their former employment) and they had both set up a small war-room in a building next door to the Moloku residence fully funded by the Campaign Organization. She never went anywhere, never saw anyone except her team and family. She was mostly too busy to do any other thing anyway.
Edith had tried several times, but she had refused to see her.
She had refused to answer every and any question about the kidnapping and had abandoned all of her social media accounts. If it wasn’t work-related, she wasn’t touching it.
Mrs. Moloku had also arrived to lend her support.
With each poll, the ticket had come out a few more points ahead than the last.
Finally, it was the end of E-Day. She, Alice, Bode (who had brought Alice in that day and stayed on) and 3 staff members were in the small office following and measuring every shred of stats they could find.
The victory was sweeping and resounding. The National Electoral body had confirmed what they already knew.
“I need to go congratulate my Dad” she said rising to her feet. Everyone around her was aglow – they had done it! “Shut down the office. We are done. You all are fired. Go home” she said as she picked up her MacBook and exited.
As she was escorted by a security operative in dark suit and shades, to the house through a side gate that she had installed so she didn’t have to get on the street, her phone buzzed. It was a new line that had come with her phone and she had decided not to retrieve her old line. Less than 10 people had the number.
She tapped on the SMS;
I miss you so much, Sweets“
Her heart did a little jiggle and she smiled.
“How did he find my number?” she thought. Though it was the first time she had received a message from him. He had kept in touch by using her ATM card.
Every 2 days, he’d ‘check in’ by using the card. Each night she would check the email linked to that account, and every other night, without fail, she would find a debit alert for N1000. With that, she had kept track of his location as he moved. The last one, which was yesterday had been from the same ATM for a week now. It was somewhere near the Kogi State University, Ankpa Road, Anyigba, Lokoja. She had looked it up on Google maps.
“Not as much as I have, dear.
I have gist for you“
She fired back.
Zach smiled, got on his used Haojue DA135S and rode into the post-election traffic, easily blending in.
“Good afternoon, Sir. Your guest has arrived” the receptionist said in heavily accented English.
“Send her right up” Tunji replied and replaced the receiver.
He was in a small but cozy hotel in Vaud on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. He was Chief of Staff of the President’s Administration now. For all his handwork and vital contributions in bringing home the victory, he had asked for time off to come relax in Europe and also catch the Austrian Grand Prix.
“15 working days only” the President had said with a smile, while the VP had asked “Tell me, Tunji, are you getting married secretly?” making everyone laugh.
He was the only single man in the cabinet, but it was well known how much power he wielded. He knew for a fact that the party had chosen Moloku to run the country. Danbazau had only been the foothold to get him in. Danbazau was from the North and was a seasoned politician who had just finished a 2nd term as a senator. It was likely a record that one that young had served 8 years in the Federal Senate.
Tunji made a mental note to check that as he looked himself over in the mirror.
Moloku had been relatively unknown until he had blasted onto the scene – A firebrand, hard talking man with results to show. He was also squeaky clean with a zero tolerance for corruption and shoddy politics – exactly what the nation needed. Then all the drama with Zaneta had happened and the sympathy votes had gone through the roof.
Tunji was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Though Henry had been traced to a hospital in a coma and later declared brain-dead and Zach had disappeared, Zaneta had come out stronger, taking charge of the digital media end of things for the campaign. She was also his colleague now at the Villa, being the Special Adviser to the Villa on Digital Media and Communications. She led a very quiet life and did an excellent job. He was fine with the outcome.
He opened the door just as she knocked on it.
“Tunji” she said, throwing her hands around his neck.
“Matilda” he said, before kissing her.
“I thought you’d abandoned me. You know? Chief Of Staff and all” she said.
“I no fit” he said, leading her to the couch where they both sat.
“Tell me, how did that happen? Becoming CoS” she asked as he poured them some wine.
“I swear, na God! I didn’t see that one coming. I was just doing my bit for the campaign, you know? The greater good”
“To you, The Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” she said as they clinked glasses amid laughter.
“You look real good, Matilda”
“Barrister Olatunji Fadipe!”
His work here was done.
He’d sleep the rest of the night and be off to his hotel in Styria, Austria for the Grand Prix. He had a 9 hour road trip, at least, ahead of him. He needed the rest. He had just parted with $50,000.
He shut the door behind him as he saw the taxi take Matilda out of the premises.
The TV suddenly came on and he saw himself gisting with Matilda on the couch.
“Yeah, I know we lost some good money, but you must agree it made sense to have a double edged plan” he was saying to Matilda who kept repeating the words “$5 million” with so much pain it was comical.
“The moment that guy called you, Mike or what’s his name – your boyfriend, -” he was saying “We never dated!” Matilda cried, “Ok, Ok Your Ex-FWB?” he went on “The fact that you came to me immediately was a smart move. It was an unexpected event that could have gone in our favour too…”
The video went on. How they he had planned to get Mike shot the moment he delivered Zaneta and then share the ransom with Matilda. How sad it was that Henry found and killed him first. And how Matilda didn’t have to worry, because the next 8 years, at the minimum, was going to be a money tsunami for them both.
Tunji stood transfixed. By now he sensed someone behind him, but he was too scared to turn around. He could already tell who it was.
The video paused as he and Matilda began to kiss and undress on the couch.
“The rest is for mature viewership” a voice said behind him. “Have a seat, Barrister Fadipe” it added.
Tunji walked to the sofa and sat. For the first time, he saw Zach in person. He looked more impressive than in the photos, plus he was pointing a shiny pistol with a screwed on silencer in his direction.
“Please, don’t kill me” Tunji begged. If this was the guy who put Henry in a coma, he had every reason to be afraid.
“You already did that yourself. I’m sure the VP would like to know how you tried to wring $5million from him by using his only daughter as a pawn AFTER knowingly putting said daughter in harm’s way” Zach shook his head, “You are a piece of work”
“You won’t understand”
“Of course not. I do not have disloyalty and greed coursing through my veins”
“Let me explain -” he was saying, but the ripping of the throw pillow beside him by a bullet shut him up.
“Save that for Dr. Moloku. I have a question for you. If you give me bullshit, I will kill you. Understood?”
Tunji nodded rapidly. “Why am I so pressed?” he thought.
“What was on that HDD in the Professor’s safe?”
“You don’t have it?”
“Oh! The other guy died before he could tell you that. I fragged it. What was on it?”
“Dirt. Leverage and screws on certain influential and crucial people. It would help us bring the Academic and Non-Academic Unions of Universities in line. It was the Professor’s bargaining chip to get the helm of ASUU but that seat was to go to someone the General had chosen whose name was also on it”
“In line with your agenda, yeah?”
“For the greater good”
“I’m quite tempted to kill you. You actually believe that crap you say? How does your mouth taste after saying it?”
Tunji rose to his feet. He had to take charge of this situation. He thought “If he was here to kill me I’d be dead by now“
“Listen, Zach” he began, tearing his eyes from the pistol and fixing them on Zach’s “Why don’t you tell me why you are really here? It’s a long trip from home, you know? So can we get down to meeting your needs?” he said in most steady voice he could muster.
“You have your office at the Villa, get off my tail. I want my freedom back. I see one AlphaTrag guy 100 miles from me, I will rain down hard on you, after I kill him. You see, killing is what I am trained to do. I hunt and I kill”
“Understood” Tunji croaked.
“Great. Is there something I can do for you?”
“The video” Tunji said, slightly emboldened.
“Let’s call that insurance” Zach said, putting the pistol away in its holster.
“Ok, then” Tunji said stretching out his right hand for a shake.
In one deft move, Zach grabbed him by the wrist, pulled him forward, spun him around and locked him in a choke hold.
The grip was vice-like, Tunji’s eyes bulged and he began to trash as an acute lack of air set in.
“Listen, Tunji, I am not one of your puppets. I could snap your neck right now, I could sustain this long enough and gift you with permanent brain damage, you see? You do not want to fuck with me ever again. I will kill you, man, believe me”.
The trashing slowed down and Zach released the grip a bit. A little longer then he let him slide down to the floor unconscious. Zach looked down at him. He took a long breath, glad that it was over.
When Zaneta had mentioned to him the week after the elections that Mike had been on a call to a certain Matilda whom she suspected was on the inside, he had gotten Bizi to run a check. Interestingly, a certain Matilda who was a campaign staff had left to Europe on the day Zaneta had returned. They decided to keep track of her movements. When she had not returned after the elections, and Tunji had announced his trip to go rest and see the Grand Prix, Zaneta had told Zach who then pre-empted their connection and had travelled a day before him. The rest had been easy.
He’d checked into the same hotel as Tunji, bugged his room then gotten the video to his phone from which he had cast his phone’s screen to the smart TV’s on which he had shown Tunji his “insurance”. Already Zaneta had a copy of the video but she was not to act like she knew what went down.
There was no way one man could win against the COS. He needed something and Zaneta had given it to him.
“Dad, I’m not asking Presidential pardon! Everything that happened is still sealed. None of us in this room has talked about it” Zaneta said.
She sat before her Dad in his office across the hall from the President’s who was away on a 6 Nation African Tour, beside her stood Tunji.
“What about the press? You know more than I do how many conspiracy theories are out there about your disappearance and return. Some have alluded to it being staged! I don’t want to taint this administration’s image. The work to be done is hard enough as it is”
“This is an opportunity to put all that to rest, Dad. I beg you” Zaneta said, coming around and getting on her knees.
“Oge….” The Vice President sighed. He looked up at Tunji for help.
“She does have a good point, Sir” Tunji said after clearing his throat.
“Really?” Dr. Moloku was lost.
“Here’s what I think. If he gets to tell his story, the way we want it, we get the press to not only drop the theories, but give us extra points for handling it well. In addition, he is quite resourceful, from what Zaneta told us, he was instrumental in keeping her alive before and during the shoot-out. He at least, deserves a chance”
“A chance?” The Vice President asked
“Yes, he wants to work for you, Dad” Zaneta said, still on her knees.
“I see you both have discussed this. What are the legal implications?” he asked, looking again at Tunji.
“We could get him a reduced sentence of sorts. A fine, some community service for his valiant efforts”
“He took a bullet for me, Dad!” Zaneta cried.
“Get up, my love” Dr. Moloku said to her, then to Tunji, “Take care of this. If it will put our work here in jeopardy, I’ll rather he stays away. The past 6 months have been rocky in here but we are beginning to make progress, I don’t want us to lose that momentum. Very crucial”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll arrange it right away”
“If he comes back, this office will not intervene. He will be charged to court and will be at the mercy of the judge. It’s up to him” the VP said with finality.
“There’s no way you won’t do jail time” Zaneta said.
She was in bed, on the phone with Zach like she had done every night since the elections.
“If it means I will be with you after, I’ll take the deal” he said.
“I’ll be fine. When is it happening?”
“Uncle Tunji will call you in the morning”
“Ok. Can’t wait to see you, Z”
“You know you could just stay there and marry a Swede, raise a nice family and live happily ever after. You really don’t have to come back here and go through all that”
“Yu know you can be an annoying fish when you want to be?” he replied making her laugh.
“How you can joke through this, I will never understand”
Zaneta had never seen him look so dashing.
“Hello, Zach. Sweden does suit you finely” she said as they shook hands and sat down
“Thank you” he replied.
They sat across from each other over cups of coffee while the jet was being refuelled. Around them were government security personnel, discrete with their presence and attention, but Zach could tell.
“Do you feel like walking away right now? ‘cos I do” Zaneta said.
“Yeah, I could, but I won’t” he replied with a smile.
She looked at the scars on his face, scars that were not there before that night from hell. She wanted to touch them but restrained herself.
“No assurances from pops, yeah?”
“None” she replied, “I have a plan, though. Let’s discuss that on the flight back”
They sat quietly, each pondering on the best way to approach the future that awaited them back in Nigeria.
In another half hour, they were called upon to board the jet for the flight back home.
“I believe this is yours” Zach said, handing Zaneta her ATM card with a smile.
“Thank you” she said, taking it and slipping it into her purse. The red one he’d gotten her.
“Any luggage, Sir?” the officials asked Zach.
“No” he said, attracting curious looks.
“Anything to declare?”
“No” he said again and was cleared through.
They settled down next to each other on opposite sides of the isle.
As the bird leapt into the air, Zaneta reached out and held Zach’s hand. He looked at her, “It’s our word against theirs. Let’s work on our story”
“I love you, Zaneta” he replied.
“It is time” Zach said rising to his feet, from the edge of the bed on which he and Zaneta had more or less spent the last 3 days. It was another serviced apartment in the heart of the FCT.
“Barrister Ronel will meet you there, we got this” Zaneta said sitting up.
Zach had just gotten a call from reception that some men from the FCID were here to see him. They had expected this for over 24 hours now. Someone had anonymously tipped off the police that Zach was in Abuja. Being the last person who Zaneta was seen with before her disappearance, naturally, he was suspect number 1.
“I have you, I have all I ever wanted” he said as he walked out of the bedroom and shut the door.
Zaneta wept silently into her pillow, “Lord, please, let nothing go wrong” she prayed.