“So, Tricia’s aunt has been murdered to hide something” Olu said, rubbing his chin.
“Yes, and from what we have gathered, she began talking with Bruno’s wife recently, and Bruno’s wife happens to have begun to talking with an AIG Saranja at about the same time, and AIG Saranja began talking with you at about the same time.”
A flicker of something Maro couldn’t place his finger on passed across Olu’s face. “You’ve been snooping around my call records!” he said with emphasis on the snooping.
Taju retorted “we didn’t snoop around your records actually. We followed a trail that leads from the person most likely to gain anything from Bruno’s death and it led right up to you. To put it in perspective, she stands to gain four million pounds in life insurance payments, and coupled with his infidelities, she had good reason to want him dead. I would have expected you to at least know this, rather than remain obsessed with getting Tricia a conviction.”
Olu shot out of his sit and said angrily “are you suggesting that I do not know how to do my job? Or that I stand to gain anything from Tricia’s conviction beyond enforcing the law?”
Maro stood up and waved his hands “calm down gentlemen. No one is suggesting anything at all Mr. Williams. What Taju means is that since the trail of conversations led here, we thought we should ask you. If we thought you killed Bruno or Ivie or was knowingly covering up for someone, we wouldn’t come to you. We would simply have gathered the evidence and demolished you in court with it. So you see, this is an olive branch.”
Spoken like the son of a politician that he was, Taju thought. He saw Olu visibly relax as he sat back in his seat, and he wasn’t convinced Olu wasn’t hiding something. But he would humor him and play along, just to get what he needed. He hadn’t forgotten that this Olu destroyed evidence shown him by Kofo earlier in this case. And he had done it knowingly.
“I have had my doubts about this case from the onset. Hold on a second,” he said as he stepped out of his office.
When they were alone, Maro said “he’s hiding something, yes. But we need him on our side, if we will save Tricia. So let’s keep him happy, okay?”
Taju nodded, and they waited for Olu for about five more minutes in silence. He returned with a small safe box, the type that requires a combination of three numbers to open. They wondered what this was as he set it on the table and went around to the other side where his chair was. He took his time to seat down and then methodically arranged the numbers. The safe opened with a loud pop sound.
Driving like I’m being chased by a speed demon now seems to be the norm, Kofo thought to herself and she weaved through the side streets in Surulere to avoid the traffic on Western Avenue. She knew the hotel Teju had mentioned very well, it was off Adeniran Ogunsanya and it was an area she knew well. He stayed that close to hers. She got there twenty minutes after she left Olu’s office and walked up to the uniformed receptionist. “I’m here to see Mr. Teju Bello. Would you notify him that Kofo is here for him?
The guy looked up at Kofo and then lazily punched the keys on his keyboard. He seemed to have found Teju’s name in their records because he straightened up a little and asked “is Mr. Bello expecting you?”
“Yes, he should be,” she replied.
He picked up the extension phone beside him and dialed what she guessed was the extension in Teju’s room. There was no answer and he dialed again. Still, there was no answer. He replaced the receiver and looked up at Kofo. “It seems Mr. Bello is not in his room, please allow me confirm if he dropped his keys with us.
Kofo knew that in most hotels, customers were expected to drop their keys when going out of the premises to enable the cleaning team access to the rooms. The receptionist went into the back of his counter area and rummaged through things, until he came back with a bunch of keys. Room 219.
“Sorry madam, but it seems Mr. Bello hasn’t returned since he went out this morning. The register says he returned his key at about seven in the morning and it’s still here with us.”
Kofo smiled quickly to hide the worry she that raged within her. Teju was not here, and she thought of a thousand and one things that must have happened to him. “Thank you,” she said, as she turned towards the door. “I’ll just call his mobile to find out where he is.”
She left her car in the hotel car park and hopped on an Okada at the gate. It was late already but it would be easier to move around on bikes within Surulere. In ten minutes, she was at the café and she quickly paid the okada man without waiting for change. All she found out from the café staff was that the gentleman she had been with earlier in the day had left by himself and didn’t appear to have been in any form of trouble. They had seen him walk off on his own. She seemed to have hit a dead end.
A lot of times, the thing that brings illumination is usually unplanned and unexpected. As Kofo sat at the café, thinking of what to do, short of confronting AIG Saranja who was many times her superior, her blackberry got a new message. She wanted to ignore it, but as usual, the blinking red light indicator won the battle and she picked up the phone to see what the message was. She opened it and saw the text color – purple; a broadcast. She was about to close the message and delete it when something caught her eye. The last story “Popular member of defunct music group rounded off by police indiscriminately in Surulere – Ynaija.”
A light bulb flashed in her mind but she couldn’t place a hand on it. She decided to find out more about that story and promptly went to the Ynaija site to read the full story. She was halfway through the story when it struck her. The location the police had taken them was just a few minutes away. She jumped up and raced to the door before realizing she had left her bag on the table. She dashed back to get it and hurried towards the junction mentioned in the website. She scanned the area and saw a vulcanizer by the roadside. She was certain he would have been there all day.
“Oga, good evening o,” she said casually.
The man looked up from the tools he was arranging and did a quick scan. He was disappointed, since she hadn’t parked a car and was not likely to be a potential customer.
“Good evening madam,” he said briskly and returned to arranging his tools. Kofo contemplated showing that she was police to get cooperation but concluded it would be counterproductive. She decided on a more subtle approach.
“Oga, abeg no vex, I wan ask you something ni,” she began. The man looked up and raised an eyebrow. The illumination from his single bulb did not hide his calloused hands. “My brother from London come this side for afternoon, and he no sabi Lagos well. We dey find am.” She brought out her phone and showed him a picture she had gotten from Teju’s facebook. The man’s face became softer as he saw the picture.
“I remember the oga,” he said and Kofo’s heart leapt up in hope. “I hear him oyinbo English as he dey call taxi for my front here,” he pointed to a spot less than two meters away.
“You hear where him tell the taxi driver say him dey go?” Kofo asked.
“Haa, madam, e no matter where he been wan go o,” the replied with a wave of his powerful hands.
“How?” Kofo asked, perplexed.
“Those foolish police boys wey dey raid with danfo come pack people. Them pack am join, carry am go for their danfo.”
“Shit!” Kofo said. He could be in any of the many stations in Surulere and environs. The man was still talking but she was already moving away. She checked the time. It was past eight already. Shifts were changed at nine. She needed to find out which station Teju had been taken and fast.
It became obvious to Teju immediately that the whole police abduction saga had been carefully staged to provide a smokescreen for his own abduction. By the time they led him out of the police station into a waiting black pickup truck, it was already very dark. He couldn’t see much, and even if he had been able to, he wouldn’t know where they were. He strained to read any of the addresses on the shop signages before he entered the truck but it was simply too dark. And once inside the back of the pickup and its door firmly locked, he could see nothing but thick darkness.
They drove for what he estimated could not have been more than fifteen minutes and then he heard the creaking of a gate and then the crunching of tires on gravel and guessed they had reached their destination. Moments later, the door opened and strong floodlights assaulted his darkness acclimatized eyes. He was dragged roughly out of the vehicle and towards a small bungalow. Obviously, this was not somewhere that was occupied too regularly, because there was overgrown bushes all over where a lawn should have been. Teju silently prayed that this would not go awry.
When then got in, Saranja was seated already and Teju was shoved into a straight backed seat, the type normally used for dinning tables, opposite him.
“Mr. Bello,” Saranja growled, “I am told you wanted to meet me. Otherwise, I cannot understand why you have been making enquiries into my call records. So, how may I help you?”
“You could start by telling how much of the settlement money you have been promised by Mrs Ujah,” Teju said with a sarcastic smile. A resounding slap from one of Saranja’s goons wiped the smile clean of his face and sent him reeling. They helped him sit upright again and Saranja said coolly
“You seem to have the situation mixed up. I am asking the questions here and you are going to give the answers. Now, you can either make this a short night, or a very very long one.”
Kofo began to work contacts that had been built over fifteen years of police work. What she needed to find out was which of the police stations had that area of Surulere as their turf. Even amongst the police, for such raids and illegalities, they had a system of sharing territories amongst each other. She quickly found out, as she had guessed that the territory belonged to the Bode Thomas police station. Fortunately, the DPO of the station was a friend of hers. She would go and see him in person, since it was a bike-able distance. She got there ten minutes later and went straight to his office.
He was a short, squat man with a disappearing neck and beaded eyes. The most pronounced feature on his face were thick lips that seemed to collide awkwardly when he spoke. It added a slight pop to his words when he spoke
“Madam Kofo, to what do I owe this honor o. Since the light fom the first lady has shines on you, we no see your brake lights.”
Kofo smiled pleasantly and exchanged some force banter with him for some seconds. But she wasn’t here for pleasantries and so she quickly moved the conversation to what she was there for.
“Charles, there was a raid today, you know the normal bus raids, and it happened in your territory here on Adeniran. There’s someone that was picked in that raid that is my person. When I found out he was with you, I was happy, as you are also my personal person”
DPO Charles was surprised. “Kofo, I can authoritatively tell you that there was no raid here, except these boys have been running things behind my back. But they won’t try themselves like that.”
He called some of his men in and when they had all lined up against the wall like criminals set up for firing squad, he got up and walked menacingly towards them
“Which of you bagas went out to raid in Adeniran Ogunsanya today? Because there was a raid and I didn’t authorize it. So it’s either one of you or one of you. Start talking!”
One of the men said in a shaky voice “it was not our men sir. We heard it too after it happened.”
“So,” Charles paused and waved a finger at the man, “if it wasn’t you, who would encroach on our area like that? you better have names or you will be sorry.”
“They were from Panti sir,” the officer responded.
“And why am I just hearing this now? So you just allow people come to your area and do as they like? Get out! I will deal with you people later.”
The shuffled out quickly, almost stumbling on one another. Charles had returned to his seat. “Kofo, I’m sorry I cannot help you, your man isn’t here.”
“Who is DPO at Panti?” she asked.
“Unfortunately, its that foolish goat Tanko,” he responded
“Oh shit! That’s almost a no no,” Kofo exclaimed.
Tanko was anti two things – female police officers and people who were not from the north like him. “I can’t just walk into Tanko’s and bring someone out,” Charles mumbled.
“The man is probably no longer in Tanko’s custody,” Kofo said evenly.
“Oh, he has been released? So what is all this fuss about then?” he asked with a confused look on his face.
“I am going to trust you Charles, because we go way back,” Kofo said.
Charles sat up and Kofo briefed him on Teju helping her with a case she thought Saranja had interest in and how Saranja’s men had followed him just before the bus raid.
“It definitely smirks of a smokescreen to capture your man. I have a boy in Panti we can call for information,” Charles said after she concluded her story.
He dialed the number and put it on speaker. A thickly accented Igbo voice answered after two rings
“Oga good evening o. Your boy is loyal.”
“Pattison, how are you? I need to find something out quickly,” he interjected “the raid your people did today, have they released the people they brought in?”
“Haaa, oga, you have heard sharp sharp. Yes, they’ve released the ones with ID cards, but the ones without will be here till tomorrow morning,” Pattison replied.
“Was there any guy, mid-thirties, with Oyinbo accent amongst them?” Charles asked, and in the brief moment it took Pattison to respond, you could see the tension mixed with hope on Kofo’s face.
“Yes oga, I remember that he said something that annoyed the constable that was checking them and they screened him last.”
Kofo heaved a sigh of relief.
“So,” Charles probed “did he have an ID card?”
“Yes sir,” Pattison responded
“Ha, so he must have been released along with the others,” Charles asked, smiling a relieved smile at Kofo.
“Ha, oga, no o. they didn’t release him,” Pattison responded.
Kofo nearly blanked out, but managed to steady herself to listen.
“Why in the bloody hell didn’t they?” Charles shouted
“One big oga enter with him boys and they took him away. From the man uniform, he is an AIG, serious big oga. The thing looks like a planned thing between Tanko and the Oga. But I just noted it and assumed that maybe the guy is an international criminal or something”
“Okay Pattison, I will call you if I need anything else,” Charles said and ended the call.
“Incredulous!” Charles said, to no one in particular.
Kofo had the confirmation she required. She stood up and thanked Charles and turned to go. He stopped her at the door, the worry lines tracing the chubby parts of his face
“This is an AIG we are talking about Kofo, and he came down to personally handle this himself. What are you going to do?
Kofo looked at him with brown eyes that held a quiet steel “Finish him.” And then she left.
Olu opened the box and emptied its contents on the table.
“He held up a piece of silk nightwear. “This is what Tricia was wearing that night,” he said. Maro recognized it instantly. He had bought her that nightgown.
Olu continued “If she had killed Bruno in the manner he died, surely there must have been some blood splattered on the nightie.” He spread it carefully on the table. “Not a drop, not a drop at all,” Taju mumbled.
“Yes, and I observed the wall myself. There were blood splatters there, so the clothing is inconsistent with the pattern. She either changed what she was wearing before the made the call, or she didn’t kill him” Olu said.
“She also claimed to have been in shock after the trauma of the rape, which we all know happened,” he continued. “She claims it was her mother’s call to her that jolted her out of the shock and that she called the police right after that. I checked the records and the sequence of the calls jived. The probability that the rest of her story is true is therefore high.”
The two other men nodded their heads in agreement. Taju realized he hadn’t done a good job defending Tricia. He hadn’t even thought along these lines. It was as if he could hear the whirring of Olu’s mind as they went through the points. He was sure of one thing though. It was going to be a long night.
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria started his day early. He valued those first waking hours, when he was truly alone and the vast retinue of aides, power grabbers, stakeholders, chieftains and all other types of creatures that holding political office brewed were not around. So when his personal mobile phone rang within that solitude, he knew two things immediately. One, that it was someone he could not ignore. The fact that the person had this number sealed that. second, that it was urgent and important and so he might have to break out of his blissful solitude and attend to it. Sometimes he wondered whether being president really made him powerful or that was just an illusion and he was merely serving these powerful forces.
It was the British High Commissioner. He was tempted to ignore the call, these bloody Brits sometimes acted as if they had forgotten that they were no longer running their former colony. But common sense prevailed and he picked the call and said in his most pleasant voice “Hello Sir Walter. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
His face went from forced pleasantness to irritation as he listened to the reply.
He responded “Sir Walter, we cannot override the rule of law. I understand he is a British Citizen, but if he has broken any laws, he will be tried appropriately.”
The Brit pointed out to him that the man was picked as if at random by the police, but their findings showed that he was not in the custody of any police station. They had been reliably informed that an AIG Saranja was holding their citizen privately.
He hated when these arrogant people were right, but in this case they were. He would have that Saranja’s skin when this was over. “Sir Walter,” he responded “be assured that no harm will come to a British citizen in Nigeria. I will personally direct that this be investigated and we will get to the bottom of this. We will leave no stone unturned.”
Sir Walter reiterated the fact that the only acceptable outcome to the matter was to either release their citizen or publicly charge him with whatever crime he had been arrested for. Then the Brit politely thanked him for his time and hung up. Politely arrogant Brits. He would see to this later, it wasn’t urgent in his books. No foreigner would force him into breaking the time he enjoyed the most.
He was settling back into the quiet relaxed state when the loud knocking of the door shattered the peace and quiet. Whoever it was had just lost their jobs. He was still getting up when the door swung open and in walked the only person he could not sack – his wife. And from the look of things, she hadn’t come in to lovingly awaken him.
“All these your overzealous and greedy boys, you will not check them!” she started, her voice loud enough to carry to their domestic aides outside in the hallway. With her, they didn’t even need to eavesdrop.
“What is the problem again that I cannot have peace and quiet en?” he asked, more to himself than her.
“One of my good daughters called me that your police people are detaining her fiancé without charge. What makes it worse is that she is one of those we have been praying for husband for, she is not a small girl again. This man who is not Nigerian came to Nigeria to marry her, and now your police people have spoilt everything!”
He held his hands in his heads. What was wrong with these policemen! If the British High Commissioner couldn’t get him to act immediately, his wife definitely could. She was spoiling for a serious fight, and the gossip mill in the villa fed on these fights. He wasn’t about to give them cannon fodder now. “Do you know the boy’s name and where he is being held?”
“The boy’s name is Teju Bello and this my daughter is Kofo, you remember that good girl that is helping with my anti rape pet project. She is 36 and now this Teju boy wants to marry her. She said he’s British though his parents are Nigerian. See answered prayers that these people want to pour sand inside o.”
“Who is holding him?” he asked, a quiet anger welling up inside him.
“One AIG Saranja,” she responded.
“The man is a goner!” he said with such force that his wife was impressed. She knew nothing about the earlier call from the British High Commissioner or that this Saranja’s name had shattered his peace twice this morning.
“That’s my husband, I knew you will handle it,” she said, smiling broadly as she embraced him and left.
The president got dressed and called the Minister of Police Affairs and the Chairman of the Police Service Commission to meet him within thirty minutes in his chambers.
Teju had endured one of the worst nights of his life. They had kept him awake, seating upright in the very uncomfortable chair. He had been slapped, punched, shoved and kicked all night in between rigorous questioning. He hadn’t said anything yet, but he was nearing breaking point. Saranja had stayed awake too, and he could see that the man was tired too now. What would happen if it was decided that he had no value to them? He shuddered at the thought.
He had heard birds singing outside for a while which mean it was daybreak. His interrogators were on a food break when Saranja’s phone rang. He saw the man pick the phone and check the caller ID and then stiffened as if unconsciously. It was a shiny black one he saw all the other men carry and he assumed it was a standard issue of some sorts. Saranja stepped out to take the call.
Saranja hadn’t been expecting any calls from the Inspector General of Police. He hardly got any calls from his direct superior, and hardly did at seven in the morning.
“Hello sir,” he swallowed bile as he said the sir.
“You are on speaker and I have the Minister and the Chairman of the commission here.”
Saranja wheezed. What was going on?
The minister spoke “Saranja, you are holding a young man that has caused us plenty trouble this morning. Teju Bello is his name and he is a British citizen. First, you will let him go, and then you will immediately proceed to Abuja to explain why you have embarrassed the presidency like this. Bring the young man to the phone, we need to confirm to the president that he is alive and well.”
Saranja was dumbfounded. Straight from the presidency? The minister? IG? What in the world did this guy do? One thing was certain and he knew it. His police career was over.
He took the phone inside and handed it over to Teju. He just heard Teju say a series of Yeses and then he rounded the call off.
He signaled two of his men “clean him up and take him to his hotel.”
And then he left for Abuja. More than ever before, he thought on the way to the airport, they needed to win this case.