Gbori peeped through the key-hole of the kitchen door. ‘She is not inside,’ he reported to his colleague, Tigerman who hissed impatiently, pushed him and his AK47 away and reduced his tall bulk to the key-hole. He saw the small refrigerator, the massive cupboard, the cookers, and the sink with unwashed dishes. Where could the whore be? He thought to himself. He stepped aside. ‘Blast the door open.’
‘Are you deaf? I said, blast the door open. If she had locked it from inside, then she must be inside! Haven’t we checked other rooms? Why leave the kitchen unchecked?’ his voice was loud, indisciplined and full of phlegm.
Gbori had learnt not to argue with his ill-fated fellow; he shouldn’t have called him to help, but he knew how efficient Tigerman was. He tore open a grenade and dropped it on the door from a safe distance. The door was shattered, with broken woods shooting about dangerously. Trigger-conscious, they stormed the kitchen. There was no sight of Sade.
‘Where is the whore?’ Tigerman began shaking with murderous impatience, then they saw it. The ceiling had a fresh hole, sizeable enough to allow an adult in, at a squeeze.
‘She is in hiding up there.’
‘Keep your voice low,’ Tigerman interrupted savagely. ‘You stay here,’ he whispered, ‘and fire occasionally at the ceiling to distract her attention while I make a hole at the sitting room ceiling.’
The other nodded.
‘Let me have the knife.’
A big folding knife was handed over from the shabby jacket of Gbori. The other left the kitchen.
Gbori felt a surge of excitement hit his neck. It had been long since he killed anybody, and the prospect of killing a highly experienced Secret Service agent who had held him captive gave him sinister happy pangs. They said Sade was dangerous but between himself and Tigerman, no one man on earth stood a reasonable chance and Sade was just a woman and the Chinese had paid him enough to kill a hundred Sades.
He would begin shooting in sixty seconds. He looked at his watch: tick, tick, tick, he watched the seconds-hand in his wrist do its endless journey.
# # # #
Sade had inherited her cupboard from the last occupier of this apartment. The cupboard had two compartments shelved horizontally. The upper compartment was small, made for plates, cups and very small pots. The lower compartment was big enough to contain the biggest cooking pot in Nigeria. It contained Sade.
Fortunately, the cupboard door had a gap big enough for a big man’s thumb to pass through. It was from here that Sade got her air, although it didn’t stop her from sweating. This didn’t bother her; she was worried that she couldn’t see the man in the kitchen; she could only guess where he was standing from their dialogue, and that was tricky. The cupboard was near the door so if he stood just below the ceiling hole, he would be backing her. Her calculations were right for as she emerged noiselessly from the cupboard, she faced his broad back.
Sade hated attacking people from behind their back. It was cold-blooded but she convinced herself that this was different. They had bombed her doors and had devised plans to trap her. No, she was not been cold-blooded.
Gbori, warned by instincts, turned sharply and faced the approaching Sade. When he saw her, his teeth bared in a snarl and he began positioning his gun but Sade’s perilous knife got to his neck first. The gun dropped from his hand as he grabbed her wrist, his eyes popping; for a second, it looked like he was going to wrestle her but his grip weakened and his pupils rolled away. He fell on his knees, then on Sade’s feet.
‘Sorry, bro,’ she said, ‘but I warned you.’
# # # #
From where he stood on the top of Sade’s dining table, cutting into the ceiling, shifting his face hence the particles enter his eyes, Tigerman became angry with his partner. He had told Gbori to shoot into the roof in the kitchen at intervals to distract the girl; now, after three minutes, the fellow hadn’t fired a single shot. His knife was making increasing noise as he cut and Sade could have heard it. Why wouldn’t that stupid fellow obey orders for once?
Furiously, Tigerman jumped from the table. He would teach Gbori to obey orders. His gun was on the sofa. For a second he made to carry it but decided against it; if he took his gun along with the anger cutting at his heart like a sharp knife on beef, he could shoot his partner. So he left for the kitchen leaving even his knife behind.
To enter the kitchen he had to go through the bedroom. Tigerman was halfway between the dinning and the bedroom, when he saw Sade standing at the bedroom door, the knife by her side dripping blood like a finger dipped in red oil. Tigerman cursed himself for leaving his gun behind. If he turned for his gun Sade would nail him before he got to it. And he mustn’t run from a woman. He was a tiger and with bare hands he would fight Sade and the knife. He rushed at her.
Sade had been reluctant over using the same knife that had killed the short fellow on this one. She wouldn’t touch a gun where there was a better alternative like this. Now, seeing the man, unharmed and the arrogant courage with which he rushed at her, she decided to teach him respect. She let the knife drop from her hand. Let us fight hand to hand, mister.
When Sade dropped the knife, Tigerman felt insulted. Armed, she stood little chance against him. How dare she come bare-handed! She would pay for this insult. He increased his speed but Sade stood unruffled. When he was a few inches away, she bent expertly and rammed her head into his lower abdomen. He was dashed, before he could recover, Sade’s elbow crashed into his nose; beads of blood flew from his nostrils. Rage took control of him. He made for her neck, oh, how he so wanted to grab and break her neck! But Sade was as quick as a flash of lightening. She ducked past his arm and another elbow landed on his ear. He fell on his belly.
The girl he had underrated was actually a master of the game. A fight he had measured at 90:10 had rudely turned against him; he would be overly optimistic to claim 30% now.
On his belly, he felt Sade’s ankle between his legs, quickly he tightened his legs and heaved them up; Sade was thrown forward and she crashed on her breasts. It was 50:50, he thought. Then he saw the knife Sade had dropped. He dived for it; now, the battle was 95:5 for him. He knew his ego was against taking the knife but he couldn’t be blamed; the girl trained every day and he was out of touch. She had roughened him enough.
‘Let go of the knife and let us fight naturally,’ Sade’s voice cut through his triumph.
His hand closed on the handle of the knife. ‘All is fair in war and love,’ he quoted confidently.
‘You are a man.’
‘I am a realist.’ He staggered to his feet and turned towards Sade but stopped short. She was pointing his gun at him. His lips dropped.
‘What are you going to do to me?’ he crackled
Sade shrugged. ‘I will have to reunite you with you short partner.’
‘That is fair enough.’ He shut his eyes.
# # # #
Dozie opened the door and stepped aside for Sade to enter. The time was quarter past three am and his face showed his displeasure to have been rang awake on phone to welcome a lady he hadn’t seen nor spoken to in two months.
Sade walked into the spacious sitting room with weak treads. She was sorry to have bothered him but she could think of no one she could trust in the whole of Lagos. All her life had been lived for the Secret Service, now that they had turned their back against her, she had few friends to fall back to. Sorry Dozie, you are my only friend, she said with the expression on her face.
She had met him a year ago on the plane to Port Harcourt for an assignment. He had sat beside her. She enjoyed his company. He was soft spoken, funny and his face beamed with genuine handsomeness whenever he smiled which was always. When they landed on the airport, he asked for her number; she said no. He said goodbye.
After two days in Port Harcourt, her assignment finished, she was in the airport to return to Lagos. When she sat on her seat, she saw Dozie on her side. He too was done with his business and was returning to Lagos.
‘The gods planned this.’ He winked.
‘You devil!’ Sade laughed.
‘The gods are to blame,’ he sang.
At the airport in Lagos, Sade gave him her number. They became friends. He called her nearly daily and pestered her for a dinner date. She accepted after a month and a fortnightly ritual began. He was pushing for an intimacy she wasn’t ready for. She discouraged him hard enough to still retain his friendship. He visited her a few times and she returned the visit at fewer occasions.
Two months back, he tried to kiss her. She pushed him away, walked to the door and opened it.
He sighed, shrugged and gently walked out of her life.
Today, Sade it was who was walking hand-in-hand with danger back into Dozie’s quite lawyer’s life.
‘Where is your guest room,’ Sade was diverting attention from the questions on his face. ‘I need sleep urgently,’ she added when she saw his lips forming the question.
‘You should ask for the bathroom,’ he pointed at her blood-stained hand.
Sade blew air on her blouse. ‘I will explain in the morning proper.’ She couldn’t meet his eyes. ‘Please show me your guest room.’
He pointed to a door.
‘But that is your bedroom!’
He nodded. ‘Someone has my guest room. You take my bedroom. I will sleep on the sofa here,’ he added when he saw the protest in her eyes.
‘Someone? A girl you mean?’ Sade asked then regretted it instantly. She shouldn’t ask; it wasn’t her business.
‘Yeah, a girl,’ Dozie confirmed. He didn’t even hesitate! Sade felt a small pang of anger but she dismissed it with a higher anger. She was in danger and shouldn’t nurse a school-girl jealousy, she reminded herself. Oh, how she missed her mirror!
Inside the bedroom which was smaller than hers, Sade quickly stripped and walked into the bathroom. As the cold water hit her flesh, she threw her mind to the events of the past hours. Twenty-four hours ago, she was sleeping innocently on her bed. Now, two attempts on her life, two men dead and the Chinese were gravely desperate for her life; Sade knew the battle had just begun. She had had two encounters with the Chinese before and didn’t know the one she was been pursued for.
The first one had happened in 2004; she was in China to master Mandarin after a course on Chinese language, barely two weeks old there, when she got a call from Abuja. A Nigerian minister’s son was involved in drugs and the Chinese were on him. Sade was ordered to help him escape as it would be a major embarrassment for a minister’s son to be hanged in china for drugs. Sade left for Beijing were the minister’s son was. She found him but was surprised by the Chinese police. A shoot-out ensured. The minister’s son was killed along with a Chinese passer-by who was hit on the head by sprayed bullet. Sade was shot in the hand but managed to escape with her life. Abuja was happy. The minister’s son was better dead than live to drag his country’s name in the mud.
The second encounter with the Chinese also involved a Chinese life. Although she was not to blame for it, she knew the Chinese held her accountable.
She would stay here for, at most, two days before she perfect her plans for Cote D’Ivoire. No one would look for her there. A little assured, Sade resumed washing herself.
# # # #
Sade opened her eyes. It was 11.06am. She had been asleep for nine hours! She felt so fresh, like a newly laid egg. Dozie was watching her from the door. His smile pierced through his embarrassment. ‘Good morning, sleepy head.’
‘I am hungry,’ Sade said.
‘Come over to the dining, dear.’
Poor man, Sade thought, I don’t deserve his kindness.
At the dinning, Dozie was urging Sade to take another bite when two policemen arrived. Dozie’s ‘guest’ opened the door for them.
They made straight to the dining. ‘You are under arrest for murder,’ one of them told Sade. The other brought out hand-cuffs.
Sade was shocked. How did they trace her to this place?
‘You can’t hand-cuff her,’ Dozie protested.
‘Stay out of this,’ the policeman with the hand-cuffs warned brutally.
‘I insist you don’t hand-cuff her.’
‘And who are you?’ the other policeman shot at him.
‘I am a lawyer.’
‘Then sue!’ They clipped the cuffs around Sade’s wrists and began to lead her to their rickety Peugeot. Dozie was on the heels protesting, ‘This is totally unacceptable. It is unlawful and defiling!…’
‘It’s okay,’ Sade managed.
‘It’s not, I am coming with you.’
Dozie had ran back into the house to get his car-key.
# # # #
The car stopped at a lonely dusty road sandwiched by ambitious bushes. ‘Come down,’ the policeman seated with her in the back ordered Sade.
She didn’t understand. ‘I beg your pardon?’
The man unlocked the hand-cuffs. ‘You are free to go, we just discovered our error. You are innocent.’
‘But this is a jungle!’ Sade protested. ‘I can’t trek back.’
‘Call your lawyer boyfriend.’
Sade decided to teach them a lesson.
‘Don’t try anything silly, girl,’ the policeman was pointing his gun at her side. Sade shrugged and left the car. She was totally beaten. The car sped away in a cloud of dust.
Sade stood angry, hungry, tired, thirsty, hateful and sorry for herself. She had no money, no phone. The only means to town was by foot, trekking under the merciless sun. The sun was shining with the anger of a furnace. Sade began to walk into the bush in search of shed; she needed rest, for a while.
Inside the bush was a big clearance the size of a tennis court. A sport car was parked and leaning in front of the car was a Chinese man, caressing a special police pistol.
Sade stopped dead, so this was their plan, to drop her in the mouth of a Chinese lion. Why are the authorities this insensitive? She thought with great annoyance. Why should they conspire with foreigners to harm her for doing what they had commissioned her to do? Even if the Chinese need me dead must the police get involved?
‘They didn’t tell me you are such a beautiful chick,’ the Chinese man laughed a toothless laughter that frightened the birds in a nearby tree. ‘I wonder why those blackies couldn’t handle this small job.’ He was pointing the gun at Sade’s forehead. She was in a bitter rage, she couldn’t even blink.
The sound of a vehicle was heard on the dusty road. The Chinese man diverted his eyes, for a second. Sade stooped, a bullet shot above her. She grabbed his gun wrist and crashed into him; the two fell on the ground. Sade forced his wrist away and a bullet tore into the ground. They struggled over the gun. The man let go of the gun and hit a strong fist into her lungs. Sade choked for breathe. He grabbed her on the neck and pinned her to the ground. She kicked, heaved, wrestled but he was far stronger; he was strangling her.
Dozie entered the bush, saw the Chinese man pinning Sade down and rushed towards them. He grabbed the man by his shoulders and began to drag him up. The man’s elbow caught Dozie on his side, sending Dozie falling back. Another blow landed on Dozie’s jaw and he fell on his buttocks. Then the Chinese turned to face Sade. He saw her crawling to his gun. He jumped onto her but she was a shade faster. The bullet pierced into his neck.
‘Don’t you guys ever respect a foreigner?’ he said as he fell to his death.
‘So the films about the Chinese are true.’ Dozie tried to smile.
‘I told you not to come.’ Sade fell on her back, exhausted.
# # # #
It was nearly mid-night when Dozie drove through the gate of the estate. The gate was never locked, much to Dozie’s disapproval. But tonight, he was happy to come in unquestioned. He had just left Sade’s hide-out. It was hard for him to leave her, but he had to come back for his sister who should be dead worried by now.
Dozie swung the car to a stop before his apartment and killed the engine. He descended from the car, leaving the Chinese man’s gun on the glove compartment. He wouldn’t need it again. His front door was surprisingly unjammed. How could his sister leave it unlocked, he was angry. He pushed the door open and quickly caught his breathe. Seated in his sitting room were five men, as comfortably as though they were in a beer parlour, with their pistols drawn and smoking cigarettes. Bundled in a corner like a drenched hen was his tearful sister, Dorcas. The room was thick with smoke and danger.
Dozie’s temper rose to boiling point, overcoming his danger.
‘Who are you?’
‘Where is Sade?’ the gang leader demanded.
‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’
The gang leader stood up, walked to where Dorcas was squatted and placed the barrel of his pistol on her head. ‘Where is Sade? Or do I shot your sister?’
Dozie’s face broke into a pitiable mask. ‘Leave my sister out of this!’
‘Then take us to where Sade is!’
Dozie’s late father had urged him to take care of his sister. He sighed. ‘Let her go; I will take you to Sade.’ His voice was husky.
The gang leader regarded Dozie with hateful eyes. He walked to Dozie and rammed his fist into Dozie’s belly. Dozie fell on his knees in pain. A rough hand grabbed at his collar and jerked him up. ‘You don’t dictate for us.’ The man’s breath reeked of rotten tobacco. ‘One of my men will stay here while you take us to where you hid your girl. If you try any trick, your sister dies!’ And he kicked Dozie towards the door.
The minute hand of the clock joined the hour hand at twelve. The end of day two.