Julia retrieved her weapons from the guard at the lobby under the watchful gaze of the agents in the hall. She’d already spotted the man she’d help captive and she returned his glare with a self-satisfied smirk as she handed him his gun back.
The humour she felt, however, evaporated when she stepped out into the morning. A quick glance at her watch revealed that it was 10 o’clock. The slanting sunlight, warm and moist on her skin, presaged a hot, cloudless day, with none of the dryness of the December harmattan. The arid climate had been broken by the heat, as it often was, but it would be back. Julia wished it would. She wished for the rains even more. All this heat was just not good for her.
Her mind left the issue of her discomfort and swung onto other things as she stared for the parking lot. She was a little disappointed at the outcome of her meeting with Kanemi. She’d harboured some hope that her presence and aggressive attitude would rattle the man into revealing something. Anything that would guide her investigation of what was going on. But she hadn’t reckoned with the man’s character. Kanemi’s imperturbability was legendary. He may or may not have ordered the hit on her, but nothing short of excruciating torture would get the truth out of him.
No matter, Julia thought. Something would shake out. Something told her that the fact that she was alive and obviously spitting mad would inflict some panic on the people that were after her. They would wonder about her awareness of whatever they thought se knew and were dead-set on eliminating her to protect. Their confusion would lead to hasty actions. Perhaps another attempt on her life. She would be waiting. For now, she simply needed to watch John Kanemi, and acquaint herself with his consequent actions. She had made her move. It was time to know when he’d make his.
Once inside the cool seclusion of the parking lot, she picked out a receiver set from inside her jacket, plugged the ear piece inside her ear and began to turn the dial on the equipment. There was some static, before she lanced across someone speaking.
“. . . Port Harcourt any more. He has a new assignment. . .”
Some static cut off the rest of the words. She hurriedly and carefully turned back the dial until she caught the person speaking again.
“. . . 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.”
Julia permitted herself a small smile when she realized the conversation between her former boss and his secretary had ended.
So, a meeting with the Director of the NIA . . . and a new assignment for someone. . .
Things were already shaking up, it seemed. Information she wouldn’t have known about had she not had the presence of mind to stick a bug against the underside of the edge of Kanemi’s desk. It had been a fortuitous maneuver, using her indignation and threatening words to keep the man’s attention on her face, and away from the hand that was fixing the bug into position. The device, however, wouldn’t survive more than a week in the room. She knew Kanemi’s office was swept regularly for snooping devices. But at least, she had something to go on. Director Ayika was in Lagos, and he knew something.
She was settling on her next line of action when she got to her car. She dug out her keys from her pocket and opened the lock with the remote. At the instant she was about to open the driver’s side door, she became aware of movement behind her. She started to swing her body out of the way of whatever attack was coming, but the person behind her was faster. A plastic bag was pulled over her head and a drawstring at its mouth was tightened around her neck. At the same time, she was slammed against the car, and a man’s full weight pressed against her from behind.
Driven by a rush of adrenaline, she clawed at the bag and at her attacker, but she had no leverage. Then she realized, as she struggled, that her attacker wasn’t tightening the cord securing the heavy plastic. He wasn’t strangling her, even though there was little space in the bag – no more than a couple of minutes’ worth of air, she guessed. The choking sensation and the smothering plastic were terrifying.
Julia forced herself not to panic, and to analyze her situation. In that moment, she was totally helpless, pressed against her car, her hands tightly held at her sides, the hardness of the man’s groin jammed into the arch of her buttocks. If he was going to rape her, he certainly didn’t seem in a hurry to get on with it. If he was intent on killing her, her larynx would have already been crushed, or her neck snapped. If he wanted her to slowly asphyxiate to death, he was well on his way to succeeding.
Her mind screamed a curse at her earlier preoccupation with the conversation she’d been eavesdropping. If she hadn’t been so focused on it, she would have detected her assailant’s presence sooner.
She kicked backward, but her leg connected feebly with his shin. He shoved her body against her back, and his expanding erection dug into her behind.
If only she could get some aim at his groin – the sonofabitch! The air was beginning to feel heavy. She had to slow down. Breathe slower. Think.
“What do you want?” she gasped against the bag, feeling the plastic slap up her nostrils and mouth.
Not letting up the pressure holding her body against the car, the man leaned close to her ear and spoke, his voice a menacing, harsh whisper, “Okay. Listen and listen good. I could kill you right here and right now. I can kill you anytime I want to. You seem intent on starting to meddle in things you shouldn’t have any interest in. Continue to do it, and you’re dead. Is that clear?”
For a moment, Julia didn’t respond. There was something familiar about the man’s voice. The tone was too low for her to place it. And his weight pressing down on her – that felt familiar too.
“Who are you?” she said slowly.
“Shut up!” The response came in a snarling whisper, as though the man was deliberately trying to keep his voice below a recognizable level. “This is not a dialogue. It’s a warning –”
“Jerry, is that you?” Jerome Adewuyi was the last partner she’d had before she teamed up with Akeem. They’d gone on several assignments together in the two years they’d been partners.
“I said shut up!” The man tightened the drawstring against her neck a notch, and Julia felt the oxygen level in the bag reduce drastically. She fought down the panic that started to well up inside her. “Listen and be wise. Back off and go back to your quiet life, or I’ll come for you again and kill you. And while you’re dying, you’ll wish I had used this bag. I promise you that. Do you understand? Nod if you do.”
“Good. Now, I’ll back away from you. But I have a gun trained on you. If you so much as twitch as I move away, it’ll be the last thing you’ll do. Is that clear?”
She nodded again.
Then she felt his pressure on her body let up, then vanish. Soft footfalls moved swiftly away, and then there was silence. She reached up to her neck, loosened the drawstring and pulled the bag off her head. Coughing and gasping, she took in deep lungful of air, before looking around. Expectedly, there was no sight of her attacker. She sniffed at the air around her, at her body. The man’s voice had been familiar; perhaps his smell would trigger her recognition of him.
She didn’t detect any familiar scent. Not even the fragrant smell of perfume or deodorant. His skin hadn’t touched her body – he’d been gloved – so she didn’t have his body smells on her.
She cussed silently again. At her ineptitude. And at her failure to recognize the man, because she was certain she’d known him before. She was also certain about one other thing – he was a professional, and one who didn’t work with the people who had tried to kill her two nights ago.
Go back to your quiet life, he’d said. He obviously didn’t know she didn’t have an option of a quiet life any longer.
She looked around again, and then at her car. Several thoughts suddenly swamped through her mind, making her momentarily dizzy with the force of their intrusion. The first was an image – Akeem getting into his car, turning on the ignition, and the explosion that followed.
Then the words: Julia, don’t do this. Don’t go poking for answers that could get you killed.
You seem intent on starting to meddle in things you shouldn’t have any interest in. Continue to do it, and you’re dead.
A flicker of indecision began to fan against her insides. She squashed it before it could bloom into fear. She would not be intimidated or threatened. She didn’t have that choice.
She backed away from the car, and started back out of the parking lot. She would have to charter a taxi for what she had to do next. The morning sun hit her at the same time that her cell phone began to vibrate inside her pocket. She picked it out and glanced at the screen. ‘Unknown Number’ was written there.
She answered the call. “Hello?”
“Julia? Is that Julia Onyema?” The voice was male and crisp.
“So I am speaking to Julia Onyema then, right?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “And who are you?”
The man on the other end appeared to exhale. “Oh good. So then, you’re alive. Thank God. I thought they’d have gotten to you.”
“They who? Who are you, mister?”
The man waited a beat before answering, “I’m the reason you are now on the hit list of someone very powerful.”
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