‘Hello, are you there? Hello?’ Inspector Bala Yusuf spoke earnestly into the mouthpiece of the phone. No response. ‘Shit.’ He cursed as he scrolled through the dialled numbers on the phone and picked the next contact on the phone. He mulled over calling this person. The first person had either fainted, or was a very good actor and had evaded answering questions. He didn’t think it would be wise to chase off the second contact on the dialled list. He checked the call history and saw that there were loads of calls between the owner of the phone and the two contacts compared with others. He was still thinking of how to proceed when a subordinate approached him.
‘Sir! We have combed the entire area with no sign of human life. Whoever owns that phone is long gone.’ He saluted smartly.
Inspector Bala weighted the phone in his hand. ‘That’s all right, tell the boys to pack it in. And get me Uche of the forensics unit. He rides with me.’
‘Sir!’ The subordinate saluted again and left.
Inspector Bala continued weighting the the phone in his hand. The turn of events on the beach that night was both intriguing and mysterious. First some clowns had impersonated police officers blaring their sirens on the beach with powerful searchlights. The real police had been called to restore peace to the beach when they found the dead man on the sea bank. That had caused them to commence a search of the area that led to the discovery of the phone. Inspector Bala didn’t know how the corpse and the phone were connected, but he was prepared to find out. He started walking away slowly, wondering how to solve the riddle he had been presented.
Ugochi roused. Her body shuddered as she searched for her phone. The police had caught up with Justin that fast? She wondered. For all their ineptitude, the Nigerian Police Force had been on point for once, only their timing couldn’t be any more awful than it usually was. Why clamp down on someone who had been implicated in a fraud, and not the actual fraudsters. The tears slowly filled her eyes then rained down her cheeks.
Ugochi bit her lips as she tried to stifle the tears, end the pain that racked through her body. How could life be so unfair? Just when she was beginning to laugh, had let go of her shell and was already seeing the future that lay ahead. Now this, some god(s) must have it in for her. She remembered her last relationship before Justin. Ebele had broken it off with her three weeks before their NYSC call-up letters arrived. He didn’t have any reason, he just didn’t want to be saddled with the possibility that she would start hounding him for marriage.
She had begged, cursed, threatened, and then begged some more. Nothing happened. As unyielding as a rock, Ebele maintained his stance. The last time she saw him was when they queued up to collect their letters. He had smiled briefly at her, gotten into his friend’s car and left with her heart. She cried for days, even in the orientation camp. Then slowly but surely, she had fallen for Justin, and when life was looking bright again, this speed bump. She sighed.
Ugochi hated the feeling of uselessness that was slowly creeping over her, she had to do something, had to make meaning of the whole drama. So, she called the third musketeer in order to rally him and see what could be done to get Justin out of incarceration.
Segun answered his phone on the second ring. ‘Hey Ugochi, sup? Have you heard from Justin?’
Ugochi paused to collect herself, then she answered Segun. ‘No o. I’ve not heard from Justin. However, a policeman man called…’
‘Inspector Yusuf Bala? I just got off the phone with him now. He called me with Justin’s line, said he needed to speak with me urgently. I told him I’ll see him in the morning. What’s this about?’ Segun interrupted Ugochi detailing the preceding minutes to her call.
‘I think the police have Justin.’ She said gravely.
‘Babes, calm down. They do not. The inspector was being discreet and all, but I gleaned that they’re searching desperately for Justin. Your guess is as good as mine for the why? But, let’s agree that they are not searching for him because of the fraud at the firm. I think it’s for something more grave.’
Ugochi mulled the information over. ‘That your friend Jide is to blame for this. If anything happens to Justin, I’ll kill him!’ She exploded.
‘Whoa, whoa, calm down na. Justin’s fine. We’ll hear from him soon. Just be upbeat ehn.’
‘I’ve said my piece, you know I didn’t agree with the divide and conquer tactic that fool employed. For his sake, I hope Justin is alive and well. For his sake. Good night Segun.’ Ugochi terminated the call before Segun could protest. She flung her phone on the bed in anger and began to stretch. Since she was worked up, she knew the rush of adrenaline she felt would not allow for sleep.
Ugochi got off her bed and started pacing the room. Where the hell was Justin? That was the question that chewed her brain, driving her insane with paranoid thoughts. She paced her room for a full thirty minutes before her frayed nerves started calming. She sat down, wondering what she would do with herself when her phone started ringing again. She rolled her eyes as she picked it up knowing it wasn’t Justin.
‘Yes?’ Her voice was hostile.
‘Madam, I really need to see you, need to talk with you, it’s very important. There’s being new developments since we last spoke and I just need to ask you a few questions…’
‘Inspector Bala, is it? Look, unless you have the owner of that phone standing next to you, the chances of us ever meeting is zero. We will not meet, you will not interrogate me. That’s all I have to say. Good night.’ Ugochi terminated the call.
Inspector Bala stared at the phoned wondering what rude girl the boy that owned the phone was carrying on with. She had balls, he gave her that. But, she was also extremely annoying, and he didn’t find that at all amusing. The cherry was that she had said to him he would never see her, challenging him to a quest he didn’t think he would have to embark on. Small girl, he thought, you just annoyed the wrongest person.
Ugochi hissed after terminating the call. She was about switching off her phone when she remembered the policeman had contacted Segun. She exhaled deeply as she dialled Segun’s number the second time that night.
‘Any news?’ Segun was anxious. He seemed to have forgotten the threat she had issued earlier.
‘No, none. I just have a favour to ask of you.’
‘Whatever you need Ugochi, I’m here for you.’ Segun assured.
‘Good. That your meeting with the Inspector tomorrow, I don’t want you to show up for it. Stand him up.’
‘I would like to question why, but I know your answer won’t satisfy me. So, okay, I’ll blow him off. I just hope that this is the right way to proceed. You know he may be helpful in helping us find Justin.’ Segun reasoned.
‘Justin’s not lost. Your friend sent him on a wild goose chase. We’ll hear from him soonest.’ Ugochi prayed her words were true.
‘Like I said earlier, let’s just remain hopeful, okay? Call me as soon as you have news okay? Good night Ugochi.’ Segun terminated the call.
Ugochi felt alone as the realisation that she may just have irked a police officer quietly crept up on her. She contemplated calling Justin’s phone and apologising, but that would only make her look weak, and weakness, was not a luxury she could afford. She had to be perceived as strong, in charge. She knew, perception is everything.
Time crawled by slowly, she sat still in her room in total darkness as sleep deserted her. Her mind was a chaos as manic thoughts flooded her brain. Gradually, sleep started catching up with her as she caught herself dozing. There was no one to vent her frustration on, so she sat still, grumbling under her breath. That was when her phone rang.
She checked the caller ID but couldn’t place the strange number. She felt like terminating the call knowing it might be the irritating inspector again. She answered her phone not wanting to give in to him, capitulate in the mind game that was sure to ensue. ‘What!’ She glared.
‘Expecting someone else?’ The voice on the phone quipped.
‘Justin!’ Ugochi felt warmth course through her. ‘Where the hell have you been?’
‘Erm, surviving assassination attempts, nothing major.’
‘What?! What happened?’ Ugochi demanded.
Justin recounted the night’s event to her in detail. Then he added, ‘I can’t find my phone, it must have dropped in the water or something. I’ll get another one when this is all over, now, I don’t have that luxury.’
‘You did not lose your phone in the water.’ Ugochi informed him. ‘It must have fallen off when you were entangled with the Akeem guy. A police inspector by the name Bala has it. They found it on the beach I think. Where are you now? You need to come here so I can hold you, I told you, we can’t trust no one but ourselves.’
‘We can trust Jide too. At least, I still believe so.’
‘Huh? How did you come to that amazing conclusion?’
‘Simple. He has a feudal thinghy with Akeem, they’re in an eternal battle for supremacy although it’s glaring Akeem is better. This situation though is a little bigger than their petty turf battle. That’s how I know. Jide might hate the other hack, but he’s not looking to off Akeem. Don’t worry, we’re working on settling their feud in order to identify the real culprits.’
‘Hmmm,’ Ugochi was silent for a few seconds. ‘So, when do I get to see you?’
‘As soon as possible,’ Justin assured, then he added. ‘Sleep easy, I love you.’
‘I love you too.’ Ugochi terminated the call and exhaled. Finally, she had gotten closure on the night’s event. She arranged her pillow well, it was suddenly time to sleep.
‘Erm, did I hear you correctly, or was I just hallucinating?’ Akeem turned to Justin.
‘Dude, you know there’s no way I’m telling my girlfriend that the guy we trusted sent me out to be killed. That’s why I had to spin that. Now that I think of it, I don’t think it was a good idea telling her about the assassination attempt on us.’ Justin rubbed his chin.
‘What I said, that you said was a bad idea initially remember? Now, we need to put this behind us and forge ahead. You ready?’ Akeem asked. They had been on land for close to forty minutes resting, now, Akeem was getting antsy that they were wasting precious time. ‘We need to go.’
‘And where are we going now? In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in some powerful peoples cross hairs. Better to lay low and allow the wave pass, then we can plan our revenge.’
‘You may be jelly livered, but I’m not. I’m going to make Jide pay, and not only in cash.’ Akeem’s simmering anger surfaced briefly. ‘So, are you coming or not?’
A devilish grin broke on Justin face. ‘Why didn’t you say so earlier? I don’t care if I go to jail, I’m in a killing mood.’
‘Good. Now, let’s go.’ Akeem ordered as he started for a car that was parked by the deserted roadside.
© Derin Gbadebo 2013