For a short, tense moment, the phalanx of men standing with their guns drawn and pointed in Julia’s direction seemed reluctant to obey the order.
“I said, Stand down! And let her through!” the voice commanded again, as though the speaker could see that he’d not been obeyed.
The hands were reluctantly brought down, and some of the agents holstered their guns.
“You’ve got what you want,” Julia’s captive seethed. “Now, release me.”
She chuckled sardonically. “You really think I’m foolish enough to trust you people? Nah. I’ll just take you along for the elevator ride. Come on!”
Making sure to keep the agent between her and the malevolent presence of the other agents in the hall, she walked backwards until she got to one of the elevators. She stretched her gun-hand quickly backward and jabbed at the button. When the doors slid open, she stepped in with her captive, and waited until the doors were gliding shut before shoving the man back out.
“You bitch!” he snarled as he whirled around to glare at her smirking face moments before it disappeared behind the steel doors of the elevator.
She tucked his gun away behind her jacket as she was whisked up to the fourth floor of the building. It was seconds before the door opened and she walked out into the administrative floor of the NIA. It was a large, bright office pool partitioned into work stations. There was the whirr of printers, the clacking of fingers against the computer keyboards, the squeak of swivel chairs, and the steady hum of voices as this work force of the NIA communicated with each other.
These were the people who made up the heart and nerve center of the spy agency, Julia thought as she began to make her way through the maze. People often thought the strength of the agency lay only in those faceless, soulless people sent out under the cover of darkness to do the dirty work. But the truth was that, the field agents acted based on the Intel these formerly-dressed, harried-looking desk men and women fought hard to gather. When there was a national threat, they were the ones who ferreted out the necessary information concerning it and needed to circumvent the threat. When the country or individual Nigerians were involved in murky business on the international playing field, they supplied the dossiers that the field agents pored through to guide their actions. These people thrived in this world of computers and papers, safe and removed from the rigours and dangers of the field.
Julia was aware of the curious stares she was getting as she made her way to the door situated in a vantage point of the vast office space. With each step that brought her close to the door, she felt her body tense up.
“You killed him, you bastard . . .! How could you do this to me . . .!”
“I didn’t, Jules. Stop talking like this. You need to rest –”
“Don’t! Don’t you dare talk to me like you care, you lying, murderous sonofabitch!”
“I want out! You hear me? I’m done!”
That was two years ago. In this same place. She’d been hysterical with her grief. And she truly believed she was done.
Obviously she’d been wrong.
She ignored the glacial stare of the secretary seated by the door, turned the handle and let herself into an office furnished with understated elegance. There was a deep, comfortable leather sofa and armchairs to match, a desk, and against one wall, there stood a large Chippendale bookcase with dozens of beautifully-bound books behind the glass. The office made no statement of the dangerous business its owner was involved in.
“Julia,” a deep voice thrummed upon her entrance.
She looked ahead at the face of the man she’d considered a father to her, until he ordered the hit on her husband.
Director John Kanemi was a sprightly-built man, in his mid-fifties, with strong, irregular features, hair that had prematurely turned steel-gray, lending a certain rectitude to his appearance, and eyes that were startlingly alert and bright for a man his age.
He was actually the Deputy Director of the NIA, whose personal fiefdom was the Lagos branch. The director of the agency, Director Boma Ayika, oversaw the agency’s operations from the headquarters in Abuja. Kanemi had personally recruited Julia eleven years ago when she was an angry, volatile young woman in her early twenties, who was mad at the world for the day her parents walked into a mall in Jos and became victims of a bomb attack that Boko Haram had claimed responsibility for. The death of her parents brought her ordered life to a stop, and in the aftermath, she tried to numb the pain by living as fast and as loose as she could. She became reckless. She joined a cult in school. She slept around. She partied hard. She did drugs. She saw herself heading down a deep end, and couldn’t – or didn’t want to – do anything to stop the momentum.
All that changed when Kanemi located her. He talked to her. She resisted. He talked some more. He showed her things. He gave her some understanding. He gave her a purpose. And for the next nine years, she held on to that purpose and saw no other way to live.
Until she met Akeem Onyango. And fell in love with him. And married him. And lost him.
“You do make quite an entrance,” Kanemi said with an indulgent chuckle from behind his desk, where he sat. his eyes swept searchingly over her, missing nothing. “And you look well. That makes me happy how well you look –”
“Cut the bullshit, John,” she snapped. His face tightened at her rude interruption. She continued as she came closer to the desk. “I’m not here for a chitchat, a little reunion between two old friends, no.”
“Still carrying your bitterness around with you, I see,” he said in a voice that didn’t betray any annoyance.
“Oh, I’m no longer bitter, John. As a matter of fact, I was doing fine without all that darkness until two nights ago when you decided it was time to expire me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Really? You’re still going to keep playing the ignorance card?” she said in a jeering tone.
“You’re either going to have to tell me what you’re talking about,” he said woodenly. “Or you can get right out of my office.”
His dismissiveness ignited her temper, and her next words came out in a shout: “I’m talking about the men you sent to kill me two nights ago, you sonofabitch!”
The silence that came after her outburst was complete and charged with some tension. For a moment, Kanemi eyed her blandly, showing no reaction to her claim, then he leaned forward on his seat and steepled his fingers before saying, “I have no idea about any design to kill you, Julia. I have no desire to eliminate you.”
She watched him carefully, but she couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. Except in very rare instances, you can never tell if a person is lying simply by watching their eyes or body language or any of that stuff. In her years as an agent, she’d found out that nervous, fidgety people told the truth too, and a good liar could look as sincere or as collected as a Catholic in the confessional.
And this man had lived a major part of his life honing the skill of not giving out what he didn’t want anyone to know. It was his job to be unforthcoming.
“I don’t believe you,” she hissed.
“Why will I want to kill you?”
“I don’t know, why did you want to kill Akeem?”
“We have been through this already,” Kanemi said with a touch of asperity and exasperation. “I did not have Akeem killed.”
“And I’ve reserved the right to not take you for your word. You had everything to gain by having him taken out. No fear of me compromising the agency. Our secrets and national security would remain unthreatened. And you would have me back as the soulless agent dedicated to nothing but you and the agency and the country.”
“Those are very good ideals to have.”
“You didn’t have to kill him to attain them.”
“You’re right. And I didn’t. When I found out about you and Akeem, I was going to call you and talk to you. Caution you. And if you refused to see things my way, I planned on retiring you.”
“No one else had the motive for killing him but you.”
“No one? Really?” He arched a brow and gave a short, humourless laugh. “He was a spy, Julia. That was all he needed to be to acquire lots of enemies. Anyone could have wanted him dead. Heck, even his own people could have decided they didn’t have any more use for him.”
For a long moment, Julia stared coldly at the man she’d once respected and liked. Her chest heaved with the force of the turbulence of her emotions. “I suppose that’s what you’re going to tell me now,” she spat. “That as a former spy, one of the enemies I don’t know I’ve made has come back from the past to take me out. Is that it?”
“Anything is possible,” he said with his characteristic imperviousness.
She stepped slowly up to the desk, put her hands on it and leaned toward her former boss. She was well within his discomfort zone, invading the man’s space. He didn’t move back or show any irritation at her closeness.
She began icily, “Well, let me just say this for the benefit of these enemies. Two years ago, when my husband died, I was ready to pack it all in, to respect what we wanted for each other and quit. Live the quiet life. But they won’t let me be. Two years I’ve spent carrying on with an existence that threatened no one, and then two nights ago happened. They came at me with the kind of tactic that was familiar. They were professionals, just like I was. They were not on a revenge mission. They were a cleanup crew. Two years into retirement, and someone still considered me a risk.”
She leaned forward a few more inches, and her gaze turned flinty. “That makes me curious. Very, very curious. So curious in fact, that I have decided to come out of retirement and find out what’s going on. And guess what, I’ll start from Akeem’s death. He may have wanted us to be civilians, but I doubt he’d have wanted me to go on living, not knowing why he was taken from me.
“I will dig, John” – she tapped a finger on his desk – “I will dig and dig until I get to the bottom of all this. If you had nothing to do with this, like you said, fine. Simply stay out of my way. If you did, I will come back for you, and my visit won’t involve a dialogue.”
“Don’t threaten me, Julia,” he returned coldly.
“I wasn’t threatening you, John.”
“I made you who you are.”
“Then it would be one of life’s ironies if your creation turned around to be the reason for your downfall, wouldn’t it?” The smile she punctuated her statement with was no smile at all.
Then she turned and started for the door. Her hand was on the handle when he rasped, “Julia, don’t do this.” She stopped. There was something weary in his voice, something almost pleading. She refused to turn around to face him. “Don’t go poking for answers that could get you killed. What is happening – what has happened might be bigger than you.”
At his words, a quiet subconscious ping echoed in Julia’s mind as if her mental radar had bounced back off something she had been looking for. It was gone before she could process it.
“Don’t worry about me, John. And as long as you have no hand in my tragedies, you should be fine too.” And she was gone.
John Kanemi remained seated several seconds after Julia left. He was thinking. And his thoughts had his muscles tightened, chilled as if he had stepped into a deep freeze. An unpleasant buzzing filled his head, then receded, leaving a clear intent, an objective to pursue.
He leaned forward and depressed the intercom button. The crisp voice of his secretary answered, “Yes, sir?”
“Locate Agent Bruno for me. Tell him he won’t be going to Port Harcourt any more. He had a new assignment, and he’s to meet me here in my office ASAP to get briefed on what it is.”
“I’ll get on it, sir.”
“And Director Ayika, he’s still at the Oriental Hotel?”
“As always, whenever he visits Lagos, sir.”
“Call his assistant and set up a meet for me with him. Convey to him that it’s absolutely imperative that I speak with him today. And then cancel all my engagements for the rest of the day.”
Before he clicked off, John could hear all the unspoken questions the woman on the other end had but knew better than to ask. What is going on? Why is Julia Onyema back? What has she said or done to set all these rearrangements in motion?
If anyone had the audacity to ask him these, the spy master didn’t think he could answer them. There was just too much suddenly going on to proffer an appropriate resolution. But he would sort out the mess. Indeed he would.
Julia had her mission. And he had his.
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