The station wagon stopped about a hundred metres from the darkened uncompleted two storey building. The building was surrounded by bushes and short trees. The gang leader opened his door and the chirps of insects flooded into the car. He turned to Dozie who was sandwiched between him and another thug.
‘You are sure she is in there?’
‘She is on the second floor,’ Dozie replied.
‘Good. Joe, climb up there and bring the bitch down here. I want to shoot her before her man.’
Joe was seated in the other side of Dozie. He got down the car and began to hurry towards the building. The moon was half awake, but bright enough for all to see Joe as he walked to the building. When he got to the building he brought out his finger torch to light his way up the dark stairs.
Two minutes passed.
‘What is keeping Joe?’ the gang leader demanded.
‘Perhaps he is having a good time with the girl. I heard she is pretty,’ said the driver.
‘I will kill him if he wastes my time,’ roared the leader.
They waited. An owl hooted in a nearby tree; a snake hissed. Dozie joined his sweating hands together and prayed silently for Sade.
They heard a commotion in the building, someone shouted and fell from a window in the second floor.
‘It must be Joe,’ replied the thug seated with the driver. ‘The girl pushed him!’
‘Impossible. How could that happen! Akin, go check who fell.’
The driver came off the car and hurried to the building. He soon came back, his breathing heavy. ‘It’s Joe,’ he announced. ‘He broke his neck.’
Dozie stole a sigh of relief.
‘You mean the girl pushed him?’ the boss asked, stupid. Then he brought out his gun and knock Dozie on the head. ‘Didn’t you tell us the girl was unconscious?’
Dozie said something inaudible; the other hit him again on the head.
‘Now, the two of you should go get that bitch. If she proves stubborn, shoot her!’
Akin and the other thug left for Sade, like two lambs with guns, going into the den of a lioness.
The gang leader was thinking. Who was this Sade that had now killed four men? A woman, a mere woman! Agreed, she was in the Secret Service, but no government agent here could evade the hands of so many in such little time. He brought out a cigarette and lighted it, his hand shook a little.
Time crawled. The boss was waiting to hear gunshots. He wanted to shoot Sade himself but he wouldn’t want to lose another man getting the Chinese their target; if they shot her up there, the better.
A thud sounded in front of the building, startling the boss. Had the girl dropped another of his men? Was that the fall of Sade’s number five?
Another thud sounded.
‘Jesus Christ.’ The cigarette fell from the boss’ mouth. He lifted his gun, pushed the door open and began to run towards the building, in grave rage. He stopped, remembering Dozie. He rushed back to the car, but didn’t see Dozie. He heard Dozie’s footsteps running on dry grass. He wanted to give a chase; he wanted to check on his men. He was in a lost. He fired a wild goose bullet at Dozie. He hissed and ran to the building. It was his men all right, thrown down by the bitch! He brought out his phone and called the man guarding Dozie’s sister.
‘Kill the bitch.’
‘Sir, do you mean—?‘
‘I said kill the bitch you are guarding, you fool!’ He put the phone in his pocket, thrust his pistol forward and began to enter the dark building.
# # # #
Dorcas sat on the floor of Dozie’s bedroom, sniffing at her shaking hands. The gunman stood at the door, starring at the wall above her head. She knew she would soon die but she was somewhat grateful to the gunman for having not raped her. Rape. That was the first thought that came into her mind when the other thugs left with Dozie. She braved herself to losing her twenty-four year old virginity to this one-eyed fellow. But he didn’t touch her.
But she would still die! It was all Dozie’s fault! How did he get mixed up with a dangerous fugitive like Sade? At thirty-four, Dozie was long due for marriage. He didn’t like women so much, at least not as much as his job. But choosing a criminal of all the ladies in Lagos was sheer bad luck, a curse even.
Now her family lineage would end. Her father was the only child of an only child. Her mother had lost three babies after the birth of Dozie. When Dorcas was born and lived, the doctors had advised the mother not to put to bed again. She didn’t listen; she took in and died in the labour room, with the child. Plane crash had claimed their father five years back. Dozie now became her father and she his mother. No, just the symbol of his mother actually, because he never listened to her.
‘Who is the woman?’ she had asked Dozie yesterday.
‘An old friend.’
‘She is in trouble, send her away!’
‘I am a lawyer,’ was all Dozie said.
When the police took Sade away Dorcas pleaded with Dozie not to follow them. ‘You don’t even know the crime she had committed.’
‘I am a lawyer,’ Dozie repeated.
Now all of them would be wiped away for ‘an old friend’s’ sake. His lawyer’s wig wouldn’t save their lives!
Osaro, the gunman was hard but the boss had warned him, ‘Leave the girl alone.’ No one ever misunderstood the boss. So he tried not to look at Dorcas’ round pretty face oozing with innocence. It taunted him; and her breasts, those half-cut pineapples tormented him greatly. He fixed his eyes (or eye, for one was bad) on the wall.
The boss and the others were gone for three hours when his phone rang. It was a relief for his boredom and suppressed desires were too much for him.
‘Yes boss,’ he answered.
‘Kill the bitch,’ he was ordered.
Osaro didn’t understand. ‘Sir, do you mean…?’ But the boss shouted him down and repeated the order, you fool. He looked at Dorcas’ pale face, baked with tears. He felt pity for her, but his orders were clear.
‘Your brother don fuck up,’ he announced. ‘They say make I kill you.’
Dorcas shut her eyes. ‘Father,’ she prayed in her heart, ‘accept my soul.’
Osaro placed the barrel of the gun on her forehead. A waste of a beautiful body, he thought.
Crack! A gunshot exploded.
Dorcas didn’t feel any pain. So the bullet was painless? she thought; now, why were people so afraid of been shot? She waited for death to come.
Someone released a short painful gasp and fell on the floor.
Dorcas opened her eyes and saw Osaro lying on her feet, his back gushing with blood. She looked up and saw a clean shaven fellow, his gun by the side, standing near the door.
‘I hope I didn’t come late.’ He winked.
‘Who are you?’ Dorcas stammered.
‘Does it matter?’
‘Who sent you?’
# # # #
The gang leader reached the floor of the second floor without incidence. He had been a hit boss for six years now. He had not been to the field in these six years. All he did was bark orders at his men, smoke his cigarettes and wait for the feedback. Now, all his men dead, he was in the field, in this wild lonely field.
The stairs ended in the middle of a long passage. Still using his lighted wrist watch to see in the dark, he turned left. He hated the dark with savage passion. Even at love-making he always insisted, much to the chagrin of his girlfriends that light remained on. As a boy, his mother had told him that demons lived in the dark. He had grown up with that. Sade lived in this dark.
Sade! She had slipped through the hands of six men! He would be her nemesis or her seventh victim. The former was obvious but the latter bugged his mind relentlessly. Dying in the hands of a target was shameful; dying in the hands of a woman was a disgrace. He wouldn’t let that happen.
He reached the first door—or opening as no door had been fixed—and peeped in. pitch darkness, no sign of life. He reached the second door, the third, and then he saw a shade of light exposed in the last door. He burst in and pointed his gun at two hairy men sitting on a bed in the candle-lit room, sniffing at some white substance in their palms.
‘Hold it!’ the boss’ finger was on the trigger.
‘Who you be?’ asked one of the men in an undisciplined voice. No fear.
‘I have the gun so I ask the questions,’ the intruder snarled. ‘Where is she?’
The men burst out laughing in a loud, uncontrolled manner. The gunman became mad. No one messed with him; he would shoot one of them to show them he meant business. As he made to press the trigger a sharp object pierced through the back of his head. His legs sagged and his gun dropped from his hand. He fell on the men’s feet like a bundle of rags.
‘Throw him too out of the window,’ one of the men told the new-comer.
# # # #
A fat, low-heighted man entered the room where Sade lay on an old mattress on a spring bed. The room had a poorly fixed wooden door and the opening that was the window was draped with an old cloth. The room was lit with a kerosene lamp.
‘You had four visitors,’ the man told her as he increased the brightness of the lamp.
Sade sighed. ‘Did you catch any of them?’
‘We threw all of them out of the window.’
Sade was expressionless. ‘How did they find out about me?’
‘Dozie brought them. They threatened to kill his sister.’
So the girl was his sister? Sade nearly smiled. ‘How is she?’
‘Mark is bringing her here; he rescued her just when she was to be shot. You saved her life.’
Sade shut her eyes and slowly drifted into a grumpy sleep. She dreamt she was been chased by a billion Chinese people who all brandished machetes, bows and arrows, spears, clubs and every other weapon besides firearms. The Chinese man she had shot yesterday was in the lead of her pursuers. Sade ran with the speed of a world record-breaking sprinter but she never gained on her pursuers. She reached a cliff that overlooked a river and stopped. Dozie was standing at the cliff fishing with a line and hook. Sade looked down on the water and saw a couple of crocodiles.
‘You can jump across the water,’ Dozie urged her.
‘It is impossible, I will jump in.’
‘Into the crocodiles’ mouths?’
‘Better crocodiles than a billion Chinese.’ A Chinese hand grabbed her wrist. Sade jumped and woke up.
Dozie and Dorcas were standing by her bed. Sade’s pillow was wet with her sweat.
‘She was having a nightmare I think,’ Dorcas said.
‘Even in her dreams, the Chinese pursue her.’ Dozie laughed.
# # # #
The intelligence officer of the Chinese consulate, Mr Xing sat rigid in the conference office of the consulate. He was fifty but looked forty. The head of security, Mr Luo, was walking restlessly before the younger officer. He was sixty and looked seventy. Each wore dark suit, both wore grave faces.
‘It is incredible. Eight men against one woman and she conquers them all?’ the head of security was awed.
‘No one knows how she does it, but luck is certainly by her side,’ Mr Xing responded.
Mr Luo turned to face the other, his face red. ‘Did you say luck?’ he laughed evilly. ‘Don’t kid me! The girl, just one girl cannot have so much luck!’
‘Perhaps she has help.’
Mr Luo was sceptical. ‘From who? The last time we lost her it was the police who brought her out. So who helps her?’
‘That we cannot ascertain but—‘
‘And she has now killed a Chinese man! How could that have happened?’
‘She killed seven natives,’ Mr Xing pointed out.
It was as though Mr Xing had slapped by the other man, for his eyes narrowed in hate and his lips became as sharp as a pencil. ‘Two hundred African men cannot equate one drop of Chinese blood!’
Mr Xing bowed his head.
‘You said you know where she is?’ the security chief asked.
‘Yes, she is in an abandoned double storey building run by drug lords.’
‘Prepare an assault team.’
‘That will lead to loss of Chinese lives. The drug men are sharp with the gun and we can no longer trust the hired natives; they are so unreliable!’
The superior officer stood, turning the whole situation in his mind. He spoke out his conclusion, ‘We shall use airstrike!’
‘We can’t do that sir,’ cried the younger diplomat. ‘That would constitute foreign aggression, an act of war!’
‘No one is talking about foreign aggression here.’ Smiled the other. ‘We will ask the Nigerian government to do it themselves!’
‘That is taking their free hand on the agent too far.’
‘If I cajole the chief of air staff, it can be done.’
Xing sighed. ‘Even if that is given, how do we gain access to the bodies to ascertain her dead?’
‘We will check her DNA by cajoling the authorities some more. Nigerians are blacks, remember, and in black countries no one is beyond bribery. Get me the chief of air staff on phone.’
# # # #
Sade was the first to hear the drone of the approaching plane. She stood up and walked to the window. Dozie joined her on the window. The aircraft was over a thousand metres away, speeding towards them.
‘What is that?’
‘That is a bomber jet. They are about to bomb us.’
At the mention of ‘bomb us’ Dorcas shot to her feet. ‘Jesus, are we going to die?’
‘We have to run,’ Dozie suggested.
Sade shook her head. ‘It is too late; the bomb will hit us before we get down.’
The plane had now slid into position to release fire. Dorcas collapsed into a faint. Dozie didn’t know whether to make for his sister or have a final word with Sade. He just stood, rooted on the floor.
‘I am sorry for bringing you such bad luck.’ It was the greatest understatement of her life. Sade got hold of his hand.
‘Just say you love me,’ Dozie urged.
‘I wish I would get another lifetime dedicated for just you.’
‘We could marry in heaven.’
Sade wasn’t sure she would make heaven. When they began to kiss, she felt the tears on his cheeks. She expected the building to explode at this moment.
# # # #
Captain Ben Awuche was having a great time in the cockpit of the bomber jet. He looked at his watch. Twenty seconds to bomb the building. He didn’t know why the uncompleted building was to be bombed but he was glad to have been chosen. Oh, how he would boast to his friends about this! He was a war hero, about to blow up enemy target.
‘Target on site,’ he radioed to his authority.
‘Clear to engage,’ came the reply.
He sighed, and then made a sign of the cross. As he made to press the fire button, he heard ‘Halt!’
He was sure he didn’t hear well. ‘I am in position to hit target.’ He couldn’t conceal the desperation in his voice as he spoke into the radio.
The radio reply said, ‘Captain Awuche, stand down! I repeat, stand down! Return to base immediately. Do you copy?’
The disappointment ate deep into him like an ambitious virus. He nodded.
‘Captain, copy that?’
‘Copied,’ he said. It was his fault; he shouldn’t have done the sign of the cross! He should have just pressed the damned button! Now, his biggest moment had turned to the most painful regret of his life.
# # # #
The intelligence officer entered the office of his superior, the security chief.
‘What is the matter, Xing? Have they bombed the building?’
The other shook his head. ‘The airstrike has been aborted.’
‘What! By who?’
‘The vice president.’
Mr Luo rose to his feet, red. ‘Didn’t the president give us access to the agent?’
The other nodded.
‘Then why abort the strike?’
Xing had no answer for this. ‘What do we do now?’
‘Get me the vice president on phone.’
‘Sir, the vice president is a stubborn fellow—’
‘But he is still a black man.’ Smiled the elderly diplomat waspishly. ‘Call his office.’
A call was made to the vice president’s office.
# # # #
When Dorcas opened her eyes, she was shocked to see Sade in Dozie’s arms. Where was she? Heaven? No, Sade wouldn’t make heaven. Hell? No, Dorcas wouldn’t be in hell, and Dozie, for consorting with Sade should be in purgatory not hell; and if this was hell the devil wouldn’t allow Romeo and Juliet come together! ‘What about the bomber plane?’ she asked.
Dozie turned to her. ‘They came for us with bombs, we stood our ground with love and we conquered!’
# # # #
Mr Luo sat well into the night waiting for the reply from the office of the vice president. Just before mid-night, the call came in. ‘I am sorry, Mr Luo,’ came a soft woman’s voice, ‘the vice president is very busy. You could get in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.’ It was a lie; the vice president had asked her to tell the Chinese to go to hell.
Mr Luo dropped the receiver and swore softly. ‘If it is the last thing I achieve in Africa, by God I must kill that girl!’ The minute hand of the clock joined the hour hand at twelve. End of Day Three.