By Eze Eke
Copyright 2016 @ Eze Eke
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any whatsoever without written permission from the publisher.
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EZE EKE [[email protected]]
This is strictly a work of fiction modeled on a few facts made public by the media. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to Nigeria, the land that has endured so much conflict and still stood supreme. To all its citizens who have died, suffered untold hardships and grieved as victims of these conflicts.
Second and no less important, this book is dedicated to the ‘gallant’ men and women of the Nigerian Army who have fought the rapidly spreading evil menace that is BOKO HARAM.to a standstill in this country while other countries around lay helpless to them. In their numbers did they die while the citizens stayed safe. A few rotten eggs do not make the entire nest bad. The Army of Nigeria is a thing of pride to the land.
Thirdly, to the millions of people, dead and alive, who have been victims of the BOKO HARAM terrorists and the war on the extreme Islamic sect in their different countries… Lastly, to the billions, dead and alive, who have been victims of different conflicts and terror groups in our world, both past and present.
We the people that live pray for the forgiveness in that we refused to take notice of or help you all until it was too late.
I dedicate this book to you all.
Before embarking on the creation of this novel, I did a lot of research on the religion it touches most of all… Islam. This I discovered….
Islam and Christianity are not that much different. In fact, they are very similar in too many ways. Firstly, their holy books, the Bible and the Quran, seems to have been coined from the Hebrew Torah, there are simply too many identical chapters, verses, characters and quotations in all three holy books to indicate differently. Their ideology and philosophy are basically the same, and interestingly all three holy books have five letter words as name! Finally, both Islam and Christianity seem to share the same fate in the hands of mankind, in that their teachings have been manipulated, twisted and translated in all kinds of ways over the centuries to give birth to all manner of religious movements and sects. This issue is particularly worse in the case of Islam due to the ‘Jihad’ factor.
Highly intelligent individuals twist the truth of the holy books into what they want it to be and feed that to the gullible and feeble of heart who desperately and earnestly seek some deeper meaning to the chaos that is life. Culture comes to bear and the result is a new ‘religious sect’.
Originally began as an Islamic fundamentalist group by a man of powerful personality, Mohamed Yusuf, who, until his death in the mid-2000s, lived in Maiduguri, Bornu state, north-eastern Nigeria, the BOKO HARAM sect has grown so quickly to become a very powerful and well-equipped militant group today, fighting a full-fledged war with the armies of the four different nations centered around the Lake Chad, battling them all at the same time even as it unlashes bloody terror on thousands of innocent people.
The BOKO HARAM terrorist doctrine which is similar to that of Al-Quoda and Islamic State, pushes Islam to the most ‘extreme levels’. Their laws and principles bring death and destruction to everyone in their path particularly the ‘infidels’ even as NORMAL ISLAM brings peace and enlightenment. Same Islam, same Quran, different doctrines.
Please, be you a Muslim or not bear all the above in mind as you read this book
The aim of this work is not to insult, degrade or abuse in any manner one of the greatest religions in our world today but it is to entertain even as it cunningly brings to the attention of the world, first, the difference between a true peace loving Muslim and an Islamic terrorist. Secondly, to bring to light, the plight of millions of innocent Muslims the world over who have been victimized because of the violent activates of these so called extremist Islamic sects [hardened criminals and terrorists who claim to be true Muslims].
More of this issue is addressed on my Facebook page click to see.
The village was located in one of the most remote areas of north-western Bornu state, the poverty stricken north-eastern most state of Nigeria which was being torn apart by the violence and bloodbath unlashed by the extremist Islamic sect, Boko Haram. The village was less than a mile from the Nigerian-Niger international border and its nearest neighbor was another remote village a clean eleven miles away on the other side of the border in the Niger republic.
The village had a history that dated as far back as the ancient and mighty Bornu empire that conquered and ruled over most of northern Nigeria and its West African neighbors for hundreds of years, forcing the Islamic religion on so many tribes until the Fulani warriors from the west overran it and then the more powerful British colonial government arrived with their superior ‘firearms’ in the early nineteenth century to put a halt to the rapid expansions of all the Muslim empires and kingdoms of the north, eventually destroying most of them.
Five hundred years ago, at the height of the mighty Bornu empire, the village, lying on one of the most convenient trans-Sahara trade routes as it was, had been a flourishing outpost for merchants laden with goods of slaves, natron, kola nut, cotton, ivory and ostrich feathers, heading into Chad and then Fezzan were a series of well spread out watering wells and oasis led deeper into the great Sahara Desert, connecting to North Africa, Tripoli in Libya, the cities of Egypt, and then the Mediterranean Sea itself, beyond which lay the great civilizations of Turkey and the Ottoman empire.
Fourteen times in five hundred years, the village had been sacked, burnt to the ground and completely destroyed by enemies of the Bornu empire, six times by the terrible Bulalas from the east, three times by the Hausas from the west, twice by raiding parties of Tuaregs, the blue man on swift white camels from the north, the Tubus then arrived and, lastly, the Fulani warriors from the west. Each time the village was left a desolate burnt-out ruin but each time it always found a way to spring back to life again like a new flower in the middle of the empty flat semi-arid plains.
As recently as a hundred years ago, the village had still been a flourishing outpost where traders and travelers stopped over to get supplies and water their horses and camels as they plied the ancient trade routes across the open borders between Nigeria and its land locked neighbors, the French speaking Niger republic to the north, the French speaking Chad republic to the north east and the French speaking Cameroons which was beyond the great Lake Chad and directly to the south-east. But things had become so much different now. With modernization had come cars and lorries which led to the creation of special roads and railways directly connecting the major border towns and cities in each of the four countries through legal border crossing where rude and corrupt immigrations and customs officials held away. And then there were the heavily armed military border patrols that halted all free trade and movements across the borders, calling them illegal; they had become increasingly vigilant and violent due to the new terrorist and economic problems besieging the region. No one used beasts of burdens in a major way anymore and so the old trade routes which, unlike the new roads and railway that went in a direct straight line to its intended destination, actually led from one watering spot to the next as it progressed through the draught ravaged region, had all but dried up. Although the natives could still trek freely across the open borders to visit their kinfolks in the other villages as they had been doing for hundreds of years before any borders came into existence, there was no business or trade, and with the absence of any roads or form of legal border crossings within fifty miles, the village had all but dried up now. It was just a cluster of a few old mud buildings and huts on the flat semi-arid landscape, very poor and backward, all alone and completely forgotten in its corner by the federal, state and even the local government. The village had no basic amenities whatever, no clear cut roads led to it, no electricity or pipe born water, there were no hospitals, clinics or even mobile communications service for miles around. The only health care the villagers had access to was provided by a group of Christian missionaries who came up in a bus three or four times a year from the south-west while the only source of water was a very deep well cut into the hard earth six hundred years ago to tap into a cool underground stream. The water hole only flowed during the rains that came briefly once a year.
The village had a population of over a hundred and fifty illiterate adult natives of mixed Kanuri, Shewa and Fulani extractions. The men were very few but the women were many, most of the men married several wives and the result were many children. The main religion was, of course, Islam but there were several Christians too, converts of the Christian missionaries that often visited the village. A big ancient tree, the only major tree for miles in every direction, was situated in the open square in the middle of the village where the water well, the old relic of a mosque and the new hall were. The vast shadow cast by the giant tree and the other lesser trees gave the area adequate protection from the terrible wrath of the sun which was a prolonged daily ordeal.
The villagers were mostly nomads by culture so quite a few domesticated livestock roamed about freely, fowls, rams, sheep and goats, these were the only real prized possessions most families could boast of. Those that could own cattle bred them carefully like it had been done for centuries and kept them together in small herds, looked after by groups of young men and naked boys who kept them away from the planted crop-fields where the village grew its food. The lean long horned beasts moved freely around the flat countryside as they gazed on the sparse growth of grass and bushes.
Just outside the village was the only modern structure in the entire area. It was the highly secure residence of Alhaji Aminu Usman. The unpainted, barbed wire topped, high fence and solid black gates gave no real hints of immense wealth but within was a big spacious compound with a fine stone tiled floor and there sat a large ultra-modern six-bedroom bungalow with an outbuilding to the rear for savants and employees. The interior of the bungalow was lavishly furnished and the servants quarter had more luxury than anything anyone could boast of in the village. There was, indeed, a very good reason why the poor villagers swore by the wealth of Alhaji Aminu Usman.
No one really knew what Alhaji Usman did for a living, it was a constant subject of speculation among the illiterate villagers but everyone agreed that he was incredibly rich now, definitely one of the richest men in the entire world. He was also incredibly generous too. He donated gifts and food stuffs freely to the village at every opportunity, religious festival periods, whether Christian or muslin, were ‘free for all’ feasts that lasted for days. Alhaji Usman had been responsible for the careful renovation of the old mosque but most importantly, he built the new hall and equipped it as a free cinema for all. Wires on long poles brought light to the village square from the huge generators in his compound which came on and stayed on anytime the Alhaji was in residence. The village square would be lit up by strategically placed bulbs and the large flat screen television in the hall would become the center of attraction for the entire population of the village, both old and young alike. This was the only form of electricity and modern entertainment they had ever known.
Alhaji Usman was a middle aged man of average build and sound health. He was not an indigene of the village but had lived there for nearly fifteen years. In the first year when he had come, he had given the villagers and their revered headman many gifts and then been allocated the large parcel of land just outside the village to settle upon as he wished. Alhaji Usman had quickly brought in building materials along with a large team of skilled workers, all the way from the city, to build his new house but used local laborers, even allowed women and children to work and every family in the village made good money.
Alhaji Usman had completed the building of his house within six months and the village wasted no time in relaxing their strict laws which kept strangers from marrying and taking away their women. Alhaji Usman had been ‘invited’ by the elders as custom required, to marry from among their women and he had promptly chosen two of the most beautiful. first a childless widow and then two years later, a young girl, marring both according to custom. The women had given him sons and daughters now and this made him completely accepted by the villagers as one of their own.
Alhaji Usman’s choice of the widow as a first wife had, of course, baffled everyone greatly at the time because the woman was rather old and ‘faulty’ and there had been so many willing, even more beautiful young girls available for the taking. The widow had been close to thirty years of age then and considered barren because aside from a stillborn child, birthed at the early stage of her previous marriage, she never conceived again for her husband in the eleven years that followed until his death the year before. A lot of people, overlooking the fact that the widow was a quiet hardworking woman of good nature, had put down Alhaji Usman’s interests in her as purely sexual because she possessed, in abundance the kind of spectacular rich figure that was so appealing to a man; she had the widest hips and buttocks of all the women in the village except her mother. But they had all soon discovered though, that Alhaji Usman was a very clever and remarkable man who never did anything without a very good reason. First, he had gotten the barren woman pregnant in seven months flat, and then the other reason he had chosen her first soon became all too clear…. he needed a matured woman to take care of his house.
As the years went by, it had quickly become very clear to everyone that the big house in the village wasn’t Alhaji Usman’s only residence on earth. He was hardly ever there. His two wives and their young children, the servants and two well-armed security men, they were the ones always there in the big house and from the very first year the first wife had started ruling over the entire household with the kind of wisdom and maturity that never would have been found in a young girl.
As had been the regular pattern for fifteen long years, every three months or so, Alhaji Usman would come driving up from the south in an expensive Jeep. For the last three years now it had been a big black Land Cruiser Jeep with black windows no one could ever see through, the whole jeep always covered with dust, his driver and heavily armed bodyguard always with him. He would stay in the big house for just a week or two then go driving off again, but this time, up north across the border into the Niger republic. He would be gone for up to a month, and then one evening the big Jeep would be seen coming over the distant hills that were the international borders. It would pick its way carefully over the rugged terrain as it covered the distance back to the village, all covered with more dust and splatters of mud, to vanish into the compound, never to reemerge until Alhaji Usman was headed back south again.
For three years now, that Jeep had been a thing of wonder to the villagers who hadn’t quiet seen anything like it in real life. This Jeep was bigger and better than the other ones Alhaji Usman had been using in past years. It was nothing at all like the battered old Honda Jeep that was the pride of the headman’s first son who lived in the city and often came home during special holidays, that one made a hideous noise that scared away even the cattle and it sometimes had to be pushed a long distance before it would start up. This big Jeep wasn’t like the merchant’s wagon either, the wagon which came twice a year when the merchant bought up all the extra grain the village grew. The big black Jeep was powerful and it was always looking so new despite all the dust and mud on it. It never spoilt, hardly made any noise at all and it could go anywhere, even right across the knee deep muddy stream that appeared in the dry river bed near the village each time the rains came. But the most fascinating part was that the big Jeep had an interior that was as chilly as a cold hammattan morning, and there was a television that showed American movies even as it moved on like a floating palace. The Imam who was the only one in the village to have ever taken a ride in the Jeep, testified endlessly to these things. He was the one who told everyone the name of the jeep and swore the Alhaji himself had told him about.
Usually, once back from the north, Alhaji Usman rarely stayed longer than two weeks before heading on back south again, but this time he stayed longer and it was bagasse of the fifteen-year-old Fulani beauty he had just taken as a third wife.
The girl was the daughter of the village weaver and getting her had barely cost anything at all. He had paid just ten thousand naira as bride price on her head, that was less than forty dollars, an incredible bargain indeed considering her beauty! The girl was built exactly like he liked his women, tall and light complexioned with a well-defined curvy figure that was quite matured for her young age and it would certainly fill out even more. Alhaji Usman had first seen her just a month ago soon after he arrived from the south. His hawk eyes had spotted her walking gracefully across the square with her mother while he was on one of his rare visits to the village mosque for evening prayers. Swift inquiries culminated in his taking her as a third wife a few days later after bribing his way through most of the time consuming marriage rites, he wasn’t a man to waste time at all. He, however, hadn’t had the time to enjoy her properly then because urgent business called and he went rushing up north across the border, leaving her in the protective custody of his watchful first wife. But he was back now, enjoying his property to the full on a regular basis and it was so sweet.
That hot afternoon, as the village lay deserted and quiet under the appalling heat of the terrible sun, the big generators at Alhaji Usman’s house could be heard grinding out power because he was in residence. His two older wives and their five children were relaxed in the cool comforts of the big air-conditioned living room, watching a satellite movie on the large wall-mounted 52-inch flat screen TV but the Alhaji himself was in his bedroom with the door and windows locked tight, the air-conditioning on high, keeping the air within almost cold. The fifty-three-year-old man had his fifteen-year-old new wife pinned down underneath him on the expensive king-sized bed and was making love to her with deep powerful thrusts that had the helpless girl crying quietly with pain.
This had been happening to her for only two weeks now but already she was planning to kill herself.
Due to the conveniently available electricity, all the villagers, old and young, men, women and children, were gathered in the open hall, enjoying a new movie on the large flat screen television and the big booming speakers filled the air with digital surround sounds. One of the headman’s sons played ‘DJ’ and he was as arrogant as they all came, behaving like the appliances belonged to their father instead of the village as a whole. The old headman himself and the imam too, were there in the front row of the gathering, seated in their usual places of honor with their wives and children around them. The few villagers that were not there were either sleeping the afternoon away in the shelter of their homes or attending to important chores.
No one was really watching for trouble from the outside world and no one expected such a thing. They hadn’t had any external troubles in the eighty years since some Salidva tribesmen from the north tried to settle on their lands and steal their women.
But, that afternoon, trouble came looking for them.
All of them.
The three vehicles came out of the east in a cloud of dust.
They came racing across the rough terrain at speed, keeping in a line, one vehicle behind the other. All three vehicles were powerful Pickup Jeep trucks and both their cabins and open backs were packed with armed men. Savage looking men in military camouflage uniforms and red or camouflage colored masks, all armed with AK-47 assault rifles, daggers and machetes. The lead vehicle was a powerful big Ford Pickup Jeep truck with a high caliber heavy machine gun mounted over the roof of its cabin. The second vehicle was an Isuzu Pickup Jeep truck also with a mounted machine gun over the roof of its cabin. Only the last vehicle was without a mounted machine gun and it was an ancient British Land Rover Pickup Jeep with a fabricated engine that was quite as good as its body was very strong. The Land Rover marched the speed of the other two vehicles without much fuss and it only carried a slightly lesser load of armed men.
A hundred and fifty yards out form the village, the three vehicles went through the dry river bed, and then the Ford swerved sharply to the right, its tires spinning up sand and dust as it changed direction swiftly and headed directly for Alhaji Usman’s house. The Isuzu and Land Rover increased speed, heading for the deserted village.
The headman’s sixth and youngest wife, Fatima, was a lovely slim girl of seventeen and like everyone else, she was right there in the hall with her children, watching the movie. She had been married to her sixty-four-year-old, gray haired husband for only four years but had already given him two sons. She had always been his favorite bed warmer of all his four surviving wives but due to her quarrelsome nature, she was constantly falling out of favor.
A week ago, she’d had it out with her superior, the headman’s third wife who was a clean thirty years older than she was, with two daughters also older than her. Fatima didn’t care. She had bathed one with boiling hot water and brandished her knife at the others before her husband came running to intervene and give her a good beating. The stupid woman and her good-for-nothing daughters had it coming to them for constantly looking down on her because she was so young. But she was in her husband’s house and she would show them she wasn’t to be messed with. She would show them all that she was a butcher’s daughter, born and raised!
Her husband had banished her from his sight and bed but it was only a matter of time before he desired her again and she would be back in her place. What was eating her up right now was that due to that banishment she couldn’t sit close to her husband as usual in the honorary position up front in the hall. Her enemy, the third wife, was the one sitting on the floor by their husband while she, Fatima, had to sit far out of his sight, at the very back of the hall with all the ordinary people! This hadn’t happened before, not for this long, it was four days now and the shame was killing her inside
Fatima had created some space for herself, away from others at the back of the hall and was sitting on the cement floor with one outstretched leg crossed over the other while her two sons played happily around her. Her younger son, a toddler, attempted to crawl quickly away and she turned to catch hold of him, that was when she saw the vehicles speed into the square. Her sharp eyes saw the military uniforms and the red masks the men wore, the guns and machetes they carried, and she instantly remembered all the horrible tales that had been filtering into the village about the terrible activities of Islamic fighters around the great Lake Chad to the east and also to the south of the state
“BOKO HARAM!” screamed Fatima at the top of her lungs, her sharp high pitched voice rising easily above the din of the movie pouring out from the loud speakers. “BOKO HAAARRAAM!!… BOKO HARAM!!!”
Everyone turned quickly to look at her and then they looked to where she was pointing.
The two Jeeps tore into the square at speed, diverging as they closed in swiftly on the hall. They came to a halt in a cloud of dust and the armed men were leaping down and moving forward even before the stunned villagers had time to react or fully understand was going on. There were about twenty of them, young terrible looking men, armed with rifles and machetes.
Shouting and cursing in Arabic, the armed terrorists spread out swiftly to contain the villagers as they tried to scamper away in fear. Several of the terrorists opened fire on a Christian looking man and two women trying to flee with three children, cutting them all down with bullets, even the baby on the back of one of the women weren’t spared.
The terrorists kept shouting angrily and the terrified villagers, men, women and children, bunched up tightly into groups in the hall, screaming and covering with fear. Some of the terrorist were already running around the village, checking the mud houses and huts. Everyone was rounded up and dragged out into the square.
Once they had all the villagers gathered up together in the open hall, the terrorist leader, a hard faced man of thirty with his red mask down around his neck like a scarf, barked out orders and his men leaped to obey.
All the men of the village, bath old and young, were dragged roughly out into the middle of the square at gun point and made to stand closely beside each other in a long line. They were thirty-four in number, some just terrified boys, they stood facing the terrorist leader who proceeded to give a short speech in Arabic about the evils of allowing the infidels called Christians, dwell amongst them and pollute the spirituality of their society. They were all now polluted themselves and thus would have to pay the ultimate price according to the holy laws… the penalty was death!
Finished with the speech, the terrorist leader proceeded to choose carefully from out of the men. He chose eleven healthy, able-bodied, young men whom he declared were going to be given the privilege of a second chance to serve Allah’s cause. The young men were then marched over to another side of the square where they were made to observe what was about to happen. The rest of the men, the Imam and the old headman first, were made to kneel down in the dust. Five of the terrorists unsheathed their razor sharp machetes as they moved in behind them and the executions began.
Each machete rose and fell skillfully in a vicious sweeping blow, five heads were hacked clean off the shoulders of five man and sent rolling into the dust. Five headless bodies topped into the dust, sprouting fountains of bright red blood from the open stubs of their headless necks into the sand. The high pitched screams of horror from the on-looking women and children gathered up in the hall filled the air and they all began to weep loudly and uncontrollably, some with infinite grief and others pleading desperately for the lives of their husbands, brothers and fathers.
Completely unperturbed, the executioners moved quickly on to stand behind the next five kneeling men. The machetes rose and fell again with skill and five more heads were dispatched into the dust to even louder screams of horror and pleas for mercy from the weeping women and children.
One of the kneeling men, a youth of just eighteen who hadn’t been picked because of his thin physic, was weeping profusely like several other kneeling men awaiting their turn to be beheaded. He had just seen his father beheaded ahead of him and suddenly couldn’t stand it anymore. He abruptly sprang to his feet and ran blindly towards one of the huts beside which was a path out into the plains beyond. He only made a few paces before automatic rifle fire from different directions cut him to pieces and his lifeless body dropped into the dist. One of the insurgents stepped up to the bullet riddled corpse on the ground, drew out his machete and hacked off the head with one blow.
There was no escape.
All twenty-five men were dispatched swiftly and soon the corpses lay twitching in the dust, sprouting up fountains of blood from the headless necks. Twenty-five heads lay all around in the dust like footballs.
Turning his attention now to the women and children gathered together in the hall at gun point, the terrorist leader carelessly kicked aside one of the heads in the dust with a booted foot as he went over to them. His men were already sorting them out into two groups. They were picking out all the ripe young girls and attractive women; tearing them forcibly away from their children and family and making them stand side in a separate group. Once they were done their leader studied the selected group carefully. There were ninety-eight women and girls aged ten to forty, all were to his satisfaction. He turned to look at the leftovers, old women, several unattractive matrons, five heavily pregnant women and little children…. many little children.
The terrorist leader nodded again with satisfaction. They were perfect for the plan.
He barked out orders and at once his men started herding the useless group out of the hall and over to the broad base of the ancient tree. One man hurried up with a video recording camera and started giving them proper directives on how to arrange the group. There must be as little a show as possible of their location in the background to avoid being tracked by the Nigerian Military Intelligence agencies, everyone knew their incredible abilities in these things.
The headman’s six daughters and two of his surviving four wife, the fifth and sixth wives, were among the chosen women held at gun point. With her heart beating in her throat, Fatima watched as her two infant sons, now looked after by her worst enemy, the dried-up witch of a second wife, were gathered up with all the rest of the people at the large base of the ancient tree like cattle. They were all weeping loudly and begging for mercy, even the old women and little once. At first the intent of the terrorists wasn’t very clear but then she saw one of them toss something into the middle of the bunch and dart back quickly, all the other terrorists darted back too.
There was a loud ear-piercing explosion, a blinding flash of bright light and the women and children were suddenly a mass of dismembered body parts, mutilated flesh and blood. Even before the full horrors of it set into Fatima’s dazed brain, the terrorist moved forward with their machetes. There were those that hadn’t died completely yet, and their high pitched screams of agony were terrible to hear. The machetes rose and fell with skill and the screams were cut off one by one.
Fatima saw her enemy still clutching her children in her arms even in death. Both her legs and part of her face had been blown off. And the children she still held…. half of her baby’s body had been blown off too but the other child, her first son, he was screaming because one of his small arms was now a bloody stub of bone and torn flesh!
A machete rose and fell and child’s head was hacked off his body.
The screams tore free from Fatima’s throat, mixing with that of the other helpless women around her as it rose to ear-piercing levels.
The terrorists moved in on the screaming women and girls with hard leather horse whips. It was time to teach them the lesson of total submission and begin their reformation.
Completely unbothered, the terrorist leader surveyed the bloody scene before him in the open square with satisfaction then motioned to another of his men who hurried forward with a photographic camera and began to take pictures while the man with the video recorder shifted his focus to the women and girls being brutalized.
The terrorist leader smiled to himself. By Allah, the tyrannical government and military of this wretched county would get copies of everything, he thought. They would know what it meant to oppose the movement and the will of Allah the Most High.
Over at Alhaji Usman’s house the situation was already very bad and getting worse fast.
The Ford truck had come to a halt directly in front of the gates that were never locked in daytime hours. The fourteen armed terrorist with the overall commander of the detachment had gained easy access to the compound and beheaded the sleepy security man seated by the gates before he even understood what was going on. The other security men, off duty, was fast asleep in his quarters to the rear of the house.
The Alhaji’s bodyguard, alerted to the unusual sounds of gunshots in the village, and then the strange noises coming from the gates, had come quickly around the house from the back to investigate when he saw the dreaded masked terrorists within the compound.
He opened fire on them at once with his AK-47 rife set to full automatic, instantly killing three of them bunched up together and wounding two others, then ducked hastily behind the house as the rest of the insurgents returned fire at him.
The Islamic State trained terrorists who had already dedicated their very lives to the cause, thereby forfeiting it in the same gesture, scattered and surged forward without fear. The next minute, when the bodyguard stepped out again to shoot, a volley of automatic rifle fire form multiple directions blew him away and his lifeless corpse hit the floor three feet away.
Summoned by the sounds of gunshots within his own compound and the terrified screams of his family, Alhaji Usman had climbed off his new wife fast, put on a house robe and hurried out of his bedroom. He was in the living room in seconds, hurried over to a window to peep out and a stray bullet hit him full in the face, taking away a portion of his head as it exited from behind. Alhaji Usman was dead right on his feet and his lifeless body topped backward like a cut tree as it fell, hitting the tiled floor with a heavy thud. His horrified family rushed over to him at once. The women and their children were kneeling over the corpse, screaming and weeping as the terrorists burst through the front door.
All the Alhaji’s attractive three wives and their seven children, the male servants and employees, they were all taken outside to one corner of the big compound and swiftly beheaded one after another. All the bodies, including the Alhaji’s own, were arranged together and photographed with a camera phone. The pictures were then emailed to a specific address as pre-arranged.
Only three female servants were spared and that was because they were very attractive and well-kept Shuwa Arab girls, two of them sisters of fifteen and sixteen years old respectively.
This was a contract killing and it was why they were there in the first place. The first part of their payments had already been made and these photos would trigger the second part. The final part, they would have to find for themselves and it right in the house.
As the terrorists ransacked the entire house, the Isuzu Pickup Jeep drove up from the village and parked by the Ford in front of the gates. The leader of the other band that had taken the village had come to report to the commander and he had only two men with him, the rest were securing the village.
Mohammed was stunned by all the riches and luxury he saw arrayed in the house. He found his superior officer sitting alone in a huge armchair in the Alhaji’s huge bedroom, toying with a beautiful jeweled dagger he had never before seen him with. Form the way the commander was sitting, so still and unmoving, staring fixedly ahead of him, it was clear his sharp mind was calculating something. The man merely glanced at him as he saluted and began to give his report of mission accomplished in fluent Arabic. When he finished the commander still sat perfectly still and unmoving as if he hadn’t heard a word but Mohammed knew different. His commander was a tall slender man of thirty-five who had been a peaceful trader around the Lake Chad before the rampaging Nigerian Army killed his brother and burnt down his home while his wife and two children hid inside. He was now a man on a personal revenge mission and his intelligent calculating mind, ruthless nature and powerful lean physic made him a highly dangerous man to go up against. One moment he would be so cool and the next a raging blood thirsty beast that could tear a man’s throat right out of his neck with his bare fingers. Mohammad would never forget the day he saw him do that to a captured Nigerian Army officer even as he looked the man calmly in the eyes!
Yes, there was a very good reason why this man was a close confidant and honored bodyguard of the supreme leader Abubakar shakeu. He was also one of the most feared man in the whole holy army.
Mohammed stood patiently, watching his commander and waiting.
After a few long moments the man spoke in that calm quiet voice of his.
“It seems to me that these new friends of Abdul’s really know what they’re about” began his commander in fluent Arabic. “Every piece of information they gave us about this place has checked out accurately. From the unusual wealth of this man to the complete isolation of this place, the good supply of livestock and fine women, they were perfectly correct about everything”
“Yes” agreed Mohammed in an awed voice. Like his father and his father’s father before him, Mohammed had been a poor fisherman who lived in a wooden shack on Lake Chad until he had the good sense to join the holy army. Modern luxury was like a whole new world to him and he was already looking forward to spending time in it, the commander was one of the very few top men in the holy army who tolerated modern technology and luxury to some extent but not western education, that one was purely against their doctrine. “This village will definitely make a perfect base for us. No one will ever come looking for us this far out and we can strike freely into the neighboring states”
“Yes” agreed his commander thoughtfully. “But a lot of things bother me in this matter. First of all, what is the origin of so much wealth out here in the middle of nowhere where only extreme poverty exists. Secondly, what does this man go across the border to do every three months to four months and why does it take him a whole month to do it? How does he communicate with the outside world from here? Why does he carry an impregnable steel briefcase around like they say he does and why do they want it? What could that briefcase possibly contain to make them offer a staggering one million dollars to get it? Why did they want this man and his entire family dead so badly?”
Mohammed shrugged. “Money and power of some kind, it’s the only thing I can think of?”
“Yes, it’s all I can think of as well” agreed his commander thoughtfully then shook his head regretfully. “So unfortunate the man is already dead and I can’t ask him any of these questions. Take charge here at once, I want that briefcase found as quickly as possible. If indeed we can’t even break it open like they claim then we will sell it to them and be done with it, the price they are offering is incredibly good anyway and I hate mysteries. I also want you people to search carefully for signs of a hidden safe, very rich people like this tend to have such secret places in their homes where they hide away huge sums of money and items of high value”
Mohammed nodded. “We will look for the safe very carefully, but the briefcase shouldn’t be hard to find”
“The men haven’t found it yet and they’ve searched almost everywhere in this place by now. Aside from that drawer full of worthless newspapers and a ridiculous one hundred thousand naira, there has been nothing so far” the commander gestured with the jeweled dagger across at a furniture chest of drawers. The drawers were all pulled open. “That briefcase is around here somewhere and possibly a lot of money as well. Our brave brothers are desperately in need of weapons, vehicles and food in their holy fight against the oppressors. We need the money”
Mohammed nodded once. “We will find it”
He saluted, turned on his heels and left.
The search took them many long hours that stretched into frustrating days.
Eventually, the three lovely Shuwa Arab girls, the surviving female servants of the house who had been reserved for the new beds of the two senior commanders, were tortured repeatedly for information. But they all kept saying the same thing.
The steel briefcase did indeed exist. The master had returned home with it as usual and had carried it himself, straight into his special room like he always did. No one ever went into that special room. It was forbidden to all except the first wife. She alone and not the servants were responsible for cleaning that room and she did that only when the master was around because the iron door was always kept locked and the master alone had the key.
The terrorists discovered quickly enough that the special room was actually a small fortress. They had to use explosives to blow open the iron door and found a good-sized windowless room that was furnished like a modern office, complete with telephones and a desktop computer, all of it hooked up to a mini communications satellite dish hidden on the roof of the house. They discovered too that the white painted walls of the room, the beautiful tiled floor and even the lovely ceiling were actually solid concrete with steel bars laid deep in them
They searched and searched but never found anything. There was no sign of a briefcase or any hidden safe anywhere.
TWO MONTHS LATER
THE CITY OF EXCELENCE, LAGOS, SOUTHERN NIGERIA.
It was just another Thursday evening.
Alex closed work for the day at exactly 5.30 pm, signed out and left the huge warehouse where he worked as a foreman. He walked up Innoson street where the warehouse was situated, turned onto the busy Johnson street and stopped to wait for a commercial bike to pass by.
This was Apapa, one of the largest and busiest business and warehousing districts of the sprawling, highly populated city of Lagos. Thousands of people and vehicles were always on the move on all the major roads her and during rush hour periods like this, thing got really crazy. It was a time when people who didn’t own cars of their own were really glad because they had the alternative of a commercial motorcycle ride which ensured they wouldn’t get caught up in the terrible traffic jams.
It took a several minutes but Alex finally got a commercial motorcyclist to take him home. He lived in Satellite Town or rather, the rapidly developing suburb behind Satellite Town, Ijegun.
It was a twenty-minute fast ride and as usual, he made the cyclist stop him at the G & N restaurant which was only two streets away from where he lived.
The G & N restaurant was a classy little place that served delicious local foods and cold drinks at a fair price. Alex was a bachelor who lived alone, without a woman in his life, and he didn’t like cooking at all so he took his meals at restaurants, but only quiet ones like the G & N restaurant which was never crowded, and its different sections granted he always got a private table where no one bothered him. Alex was a man who liked to keep completely to himself, this wasn’t so much a result of his somewhat quiet nature as it was a result of his special military trainings and the demons currently hunting him.
After a quiet meal, Alex left the restaurant and leisurely walked the short distance home. It was going to seven o’clock now and the atmosphere was cool. The sun had set completely and night was coming fast.
This was one of the nicer parts of Ijegun. There were decent apartment buildings and private bungalows lining the streets here and it wasn’t densely populated nor did the streets didn’t get flooded once it rained either. Alex had moved down to Lagos, to this area, only four months ago and so knew no one. He was always carful to keep his distance from people and so made no friends, not even with his neighbors.
As soon as Alex turned onto the quiet street where his apartment building was his trained eyes noticed the big Jeep at once. It was a glittering black Range Rover Jeep and in a middle-class neighborhood where most people drove mid-range cars or had none at all, the expensive Jeep looked very out of place.
The other reason why Alex noticed the Jeep so fast was that it was parked directly across the street from his apartment building.
There was still daylight enough but the Jeep had black windows that made it impossible to see through into its interior. As Alex drew closer, his sharp eyes picked out the two men in dark business suits sitting quietly in the front seats of the Jeep. He could barely make them out through the dim glass of the windshield but they were certainly watching him. Alex couldn’t see into the backseat of the jeep at all but any number of people could be there watching him too.
Alex hated being secretly watched and, due to his special training and very recent occupation, when such was being done form a parked vehicle, it made him very uneasy. Outwardly, he pretended to be calm and take no notice of the Jeep as he walked on but all his senses and every muscle in his body was already keyed and ready for trouble.
Alex walked right up to the gates of his apartment building and went in without anything happening. He tried to shrug off the deep sense of unease as he walked through the deserted compound to the stairs, after all this was a big neighborhood and the occupants of the Jeep could have come looking for any of the several people living in the other apartments and buildings.
But even that reasonable excuse didn’t sound too convincing for his instincts.
This apartment building Alex lived in was a decent one story affair containing eight separate two-bedroom apartments, four upstairs and four down. Alex’s apartment was upstairs and he took the stairs quickly, two at a time, up to his front door. He fished out the keys quickly from his pocket, got the metal Swiss door open and went in, locking it firmly again behind him. Only then did he begin to calm down.
After a quick shower, Alex changed into a pair of long shorts and T-shirt then settled down in his modest living room to watch a football match on the large wall-mounted 45-inch flat screen TV.
He hadn’t been there for up to five minute when the knock came at his front door.
Alex was instantly on his feet and at the wall. He took down the big wall clock fast and got out the pistol from its hollow interior through a wide hole in the back. He ran soundlessly across the room on the balls of his feet to the door, one look through the peephole and his fears were confirmed.
It was the occupants of the Range Rover Jeep at his door!
The knock came again.
There were two of them but only one was in a black business suit and he was the one knocking firmly on the door. There was no sign of a third party anywhere which meant that the driver of the Jeep was probably still sitting in behind the wheels of the vehicle out on the street. The man in the suit was of average build, definitely in his thirties and looked more like he belonged behind an office desk rather than behind a gun. He didn’t look dangerous at all, definitely not a bodyguard which was odd because the other man with him was a middle-aged man who clearly looked very wealthy and important, the kind that simply didn’t go anywhere in this country without at least two or more people to provide proper protection.
He must have been sitting in the back seat of the Range Rover where he hadn’t been able to see into, thought Alex. The man was a well-fed, thickset man of average height with a big pot-belly that couldn’t be hidden even by the voluminous white Agbada he wore. The rich white material of the Agbada, the matching decorative hat and shiny white shoes coupled with the man’s authoritative, even arrogant, bearing spoke clearly of someone well used to wealth and power, a lot of both. The man could have easily passed for a powerful politician form Abuja or a very wealthy northerner.
Yes, thought Alex as he eye-balled the man carefully, he was definitely one of either if not both.
Alex looked the two men over very carefully through the special lens of the peephole which captured all angles and detail well enough. He sensed no danger this time so he put the gun away in the small of his back and got the door open on the safety chain. He looked through the narrow opening at the two men
“May I help you?” he asked.
“Yes indeed, you may, sir” said the man in the suit in perfect British accented English, his manner very businesslike. “You are Mr. Alexander Chike Okoye, ex-Lieutenant of the Nigerian Army commandos, are you not?”
Alex instantly became apprehensive. Strangers appearing at his door with knowledge of his full name and military identity wasn’t a good at all. He eye-balled the men again, smelt the money and decided to play along.
“Yeah, what’s the problem?” he replied
Mr. Suit smiled politely. “There isn’t one, sir, at least not on your part. We are here because we have a certain problem of our own for which we would like to solicit your expert advice and assistance” the smile broadened and he gestured at the door. “If you would just let us in for a few minutes, we would explain things further. My name is Basil Audu and this…” he gestured respectfully at the fat man who stood slightly back, watching quietly. “…this is my boss, Alhaji Mustapha Usman, CEO, Goldfield Holding Nigeria limited”
The name of the men didn’t ring any bells in Alex’s brain but that of the company sounded distantly familiar. He quickly wondered where he had heard it before.
“I have abandoned important business in Abuja to come all the way here just to see you personally, Mr. Okoye, my circumstance is that desperate” the Alhaji adjusted the huge sleeves of his voluminous white Agbada as he spoke, lifted them onto his shoulders in a flamboyant manner. He too spoke very perfect English with a slight British accent. “I have a most unusual offer to make you and if you will just let us in for a few minutes so we can sit down and talk things over properly, you could find yourself making a lot of money in a matter of days”
Alex stared at him a moment then made up his mind. He got the door off the safety chain and opened it wide, stood back and waved them in.
“Come in” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Okoye” said the Alhaji and walked through followed by his assistant.
Alex pushed the door closed, locked it quickly by depressing the button on the knob before e following the men into the living-room. He waved them at the leather sofas.
“Please be seated”
“Thank you” said Mr. Suit politely and they both sat down. The fat Alhaji and his voluminous Agbada overflowed the big armchair he sat in while his assistant sat down on the sofa.
Alex picked up the remote control form the low coffee table in the middle of the room and turned off the television, then went over to sit in another armchair, facing the two men across the room
“Firstly” began Alex carefully. “I want to know how is it you people come to know of me and exactly where to find me?”
The fat man sat comfortably relaxed in the armchair with his arms on the broad armrest, his hands made a vague gesture. “I am a very wealthy and resourceful man with a lot of powerful connections in this country both political and military” he said simply, matter-of-factly. “There is hardly anything I want that I can’t get with a phone call or a personal visit. money always buys the rest. I approached two different parties at the highest levels in the Army to recommend probable solutions to my present predicament and your name came up on both occasions. I now possess a copy of your military file which contains every information about you from the day you joined the army to the day you left, and then provided a forwarding address which is here. I also possess the full records of the case and trial that led to your being booted out of the Army and in it you will find the identities, reports and testimonies of everyone involved, what was said and what was done in all the high level, closed door sessions and meetings you were not allowed to attend. If you accept my offer and accomplish the tasks required, all these documents will be yours as well as a great deal of money”
Alex stared at him and felt anger well up within him. He had never ever seen his personal file before, not while severing in the military or after being kicked out. No solider could ever accomplish such a thing as take a peek into his own personal file because such a file was classified well above him, accessible only to one’s commanding officer and above. It was where they entered the reports that made or unmade your career. For a civilian to be in possession of such a file at all, classified military property, was highly illegal and almost impossible, more so in his case as an officer who had worked for the Military Intelligence Agency. The civilian would need to have at least a one-star general kind of connection because not even paying someone high up in the Army personnel department a lot of money to steal it was an opinion, such a file simply did not exist.
Alex stared at Alhaji Mustapha Usman and his anger swiftly turned to respect. One thing was for sure, he would give his right eye to see those documents, every last one of them. He was already dying to know who and who stabbed him in the back and then there was the constant hint of a lot of money at a time he had big money problems. Alex relaxed in the armchair and kept his entire manner calm and controlled, his face completely expressionless. It was never a good thing to let anyone see your emotions.
“What is your offer and what is the task required?” asked Alex calmly.
The Alhaji sat forward at once.
“Four months ago, my brother, went missing while on a private business trip to the northern part of the country, Maiduguri to be exact. He seems to have just disappeared into thin air along with his Jeep, driver and bodyguard. I have had the help of both the police, the Army and even the civilian JTF in searching for them since but so far no traces of any of them have been found anywhere” the Alhaji took a deep breath and continued. “About a month ago, my niece, my brother’s only child, became dissatisfied with all the efforts being made to find her father and, against very advice, decided to take matters into her own hands. Without even informing me she hired four men to help her and flew in to Maiduguri three weeks ago to find her father. Four days later, the bodies of all the four men turned up dead in a canal on the outskirts of Maiduguri and my niece was nowhere to be found. Having been there yourself you know exactly how crazy and dangerous that city can be with the terrorist insurgency problems besieging it. Once I heard of the bullet ridded state of the corpse of those four men, I had very little hope of ever finding the girl they were supposed to be guarding again, certainly not alive and unharmed. At first I thought it was only a matter of time before the police or JTF found her corpse somewhere but that never happen in three days of intensive searching. I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding my niece again, and then a week ago, right out of nowhere, I got a phone call through her line but it wasn’t her, of course, I spoke to a man that claimed to be her abductor. Mr. Okoye, my niece is now being held for ransom by the terrorists, Boko Haram”
“Did you get proof of life and well-being?” asked Alex at once.
“Proof of life, yes, I was allowed to speak briefly with her, but what do you mean by proof of well-being?”
“Photos that prove she’s fine, tactical questions and answers that show she hasn’t been hurt in anyway. That is the universal basis for demanding and payment of ransom, the victim must not be hurt in any way”
“I’m not a professional at handling terrorists or critical negotiations of this nature like you are, Mr. Okoye, and I am certainly at a loss as to how to tackle kidnappers as such a thing has never occurred in my family before. I was only allowed to speak to my niece for about two to three seconds. She sounded terrified but very much alive”
“How much are they demanding?” asked Alex.
“One million dollars”
“And you are prepared to pay that kind of money to get your late brother’s daughter back?”
The Alhaji spread his hands. “Have I a choice? This girl is an only child and that complicated this issue a lot. The chibok girls were kidnapped only two months ago, three hundred of them and the entire military of this country and even the sophisticated US intelligence agencies watching from satellites in the sky above, haven’t a single clue as to where the terrorist took them to. No one can even do a thing about anything”
Alex didn’t have an answer for that one so he changed angle. “Even with all your connections and justifiable circumstance, neither the government nor the Army will permit you to hand over that kind of money to those terrorist, that would practically be arming them to wreck more havoc on this country. Once you get the authorities involved in any manner, which you must have to do anyway, this will become a strategic decision of sacrificing the life of a single citizen against that of so many others, you will definitely lose”
“I’m not stupid, Mr. Okoye. I realize only too well how delicate and sensitive a matter this is which is one reason I came all the way down here to meet privately with you myself. I’m not bringing the government or the military into this, just a few well-placed friends who will secretly lend me all the help I require to get this done, from a few loyal soldiers to all the necessary documents required to send them right through our lines into enemy territory to meet privately with the terrorists. The whole thing will be kept very secret from start to finish and everything is already set, but there are, however, two problems in the way and that is exactly where you come in. The first is that these soldiers assigned to me are relatively new to the north-eastern territories, and second, I need someone who can adequately fill up the position of a professional negotiator. My military contacts tell me you have fought in the north-eastern territories for over two years and I was led predominantly to understand that not only does your unique military trainings and war experiences make you ideal for this mission, you are the best man to lead it. But most importantly, you already have some kind of history with the leader of the Boko Haram faction holding my niece”
Alex wondered yet again where this man could be getting all this high wired information but he was also intrigued.
“A certain El Soldat”
“El Soldat?” Alex sat up at once. “That bastard is one of the smartest and most elusive war criminals there has ever been. I hunted him for four months and only caught up with him once. He got away by taking an entire village hostage, slaughtered an entire family just to make his point and I ended up bargaining my head off to save the lives of the rest. El Soldat is an Arab fighting with the insurgents but he operates on a slightly higher level which suggests he has some form of advanced military training. If your niece is with him then God help you, and her too because that man is proper bed news even on a good day and his second-in-command isn’t far behind, I know exactly what I’m talking about”
“Which is why you will be the one handling negotiations with them” said the Alhaji at once.
“I haven’t agreed to take the offer yet”
“The whole thing won’t take more than a few days of your time and I’m willing to pay you handsomely, ten million naira”
“No sir, so sorry” Alex shook his head firmly. He was a bit unsettled by the large amount, even tempted but he wasn’t stupid and he was thinking with every cell in his brain. “First of all, that entire state is now a full-fledged war zone. With El Soldat within fifty miles of any point, that area automatically become even more dangerous than the rest. That bastard is a mass murderer who, in typical Islamic State style, would blow up a crowded market place just to prove a point or get at one single person. Secondly, your niece is most likely held somewhere to the south of Bama, all that area is Boko Haram stronghold right now and that’s where the kingpins are to be found. Their headquarters, Sambisa forest, is right there, twenty-three miles to the south east of Bama” Alex moved his finger in an arc, drawing a wide circle. “Getting in and out of that area safely is as good as impossible not to talk of highly dangerous, they behead soldiers and Christians on sight down there and I fall into both categories. If they find out I’m in the vicinity, they’ll come after me like bats out hell and if I’m caught, I’m finished. Thirdly, hostage exchange situations are not as simple as they sound, particularly not with trigger happy terrorists. It’s always a tense affair that could turn into a full blown gunfight in a second, I’ve seen it happen too many times than I care to remember. Lastly, the operation is definitely not legal which means that if I get caught by the Army handing over hundreds of millions of naira in hard currency to terrorists, I’m finished. I’ll be thrown into jail without even the grace of a fake trial, that’s if I don’t get lynched first, there’s very little tolerance for terrorist sympathizers up there” Alex shook his head again. “I can’t accept your offer, sir. I still like breathing as it is and I’m beginning to enjoy civilian life”
“You and the other men will be issued special military documents that will get you pass all checkpoints without harassment and legalize your presence anywhere in the region” said the Alhaji.
Alex was amazed. “How are you going to pull off a thing like that?”
“That will be my problem, Mr. Okoye, and like I’ve already proven to you, I do have the necessary connections. As an ex-Military Intelligence operative you will, of course, be able to testify to the legitimacy of any military document you receive. I will pay you thirty million naira, half up front and the other half after the operation. If all goes well and according to my wishes, you will get a one hundred percent bonus, bringing your total take to sixty million cash. And, of course, your military files too”
Alex was stunned. His brain made the quick conversion. The money was like a quarter of a million dollars!
“You don’t have to give me an answer right now” said the Alhaji quickly, holding up his hands and getting to his feet. “Think about it and sleep on it, but you only have twenty-four hours to give the reply because the deadline I was given by the terrorists expires eight days from today. I will be flying back to Abuja first thing tomorrow morning to make some final arrangements. If I get a consenting phone call from you within the time frame, arrangements will be made at once for you to come to Abuja. If I don’t get the phone call, then I will assume your answer is still a ‘no’ and pick my second opinion to replace you”
The man in the suit had already gotten to his feet too. He dropped a white calling card on the low furniture table in the center of the room before them.
“You have a good night, lieutenant” said the Alhaji curtly and walked off for the door.
The man in the suit nodded once to Alex and followed his boss. He hurried ahead to get the door open for him.
Alex stayed put in his seat. The door would automatically come unlocked once the knob-like handle was turned from within
Mr. suit got the door open easily and held it open for his boss. Both men walked out and the door closed soundlessly after them.
Alex got up at once and went over to relock the door. He replaced the gun in the wall clock and hung it back up against the wall then went and sat down in the armchair again to think.
Alex had joined the army five years ago, right after completing his one-year National Youth Service Course which was mandatory for all university graduate in Nigeria. He had scaled through Army cadet school with flying colors, and then, right after that, been one of the few soldiers selected for advanced training to become part a new special commando unit being formed to counter the growing insurgency problems facing the county in the north-east. When the training was competed, he had been posted directly to Adamawa state, another north-eastern state being affected by serious insurgency problem. There in Adamawa state, he had formed part of an elite commando unit that did battle with the insurgents’ day and night for nearly a year until he was selected for even more special trainings which turned him into something else entirely…Special Forces. Once the new trainings were completed he had promptly been sent back to Adamawa state, but this time as part of an elite unit of Special Forces commandos that ran covert operations under Military Intelligence against the Boko Haram insurgents, and this went on for nearly six months until the ‘insurgency problem’ became a full blown war. Alex’s unit had been transferred swiftly to neighboring Bornu state, the forefront of the war, and there he had served his country with all his strength, his might and his blood. Even when the bloody politician wouldn’t provide adequate weapons for them to effectively counter the increasing firepower of the insurgents, he had still continued with the fight, went on for nearly two years until all the senseless killings and sufferings of thousands and thousands of helpless innocent souls finally got to him. The whole thing suddenly just became too much for him to bear. It started eating away at his mind and brain in a way he couldn’t quite understand or control. He had handled most of the physical kick-backs of the problem well enough, he had nerves of steel, but he was helpless against the nightmares, the headaches, the constant anger and shortness of temper. And it was the last two that led to the incident which ended his career completely.
Alex remembered it all like it was only yesterday but it all happened over six months ago.
Feeling the mixed emotions return, Alex inwardly cautioned himself yet again as he had done so many times since, that he had to let go of the past and move on with his life even as it was.
It had turned out that all he needed, after all, was just a prolonged period of rest and peace for both his mind and body to pull itself together again. Six months of no war had worked the miracle. His health was fine again and even the nightmares had gone away.
Yes, his health and his mind were completely restored to normal and that was the good twist to things but the bad part was that he was almost broke.
As an Army officer, he had spent most of his income in taking care of his poor family. His father had died less than two years ago after a prolonged illness that had eaten up money like dry ground soaked up water, nonetheless, his mother and two siblings still had to be taken care of too. His younger brother was now in the university with four more years to go while his younger sister had recently gotten married and it had fallen to him to set up her semi-educated husband as a taxi driver. They all lived happily in the nice house he had built back east in hometown of Imo state, and they still thought he was an Army officer, still believe the money was there. Alex wasn’t about to enlighten them out anytime soon, no, that bit of information alone would kill his ailing mother who had been so proud of him from the very first day he came home wearing a military uniform and people began to fear him. He still sent them money regularly now as best as he could but the burden was beginning to tell greatly, the income of an ordinary warehouse foreman was by no means the same as that of an officer in the military. He was, of course, planning to get another job but it was so hard in this terrible economy even with his university degree which was why he had accepted this job as foreman in the first place.
Alex though long and hard. At a point his eyes went to the wall clock and he saw that it was past eleven o’clock. He got to his feet, turned off all the lights and appliances to save some money on electricity bills, them went into his bedroom to sleep. Tomorrow would be a very busy day at the warehouse and he would need to get there early, he was already tired for today as it was.
The huge warehouse and its large compound were a hive of activities that Friday.
Twenty-four workers labored in the mid-afternoon heat, offloading goods from two giant shipping containers on trailers, parked within the compound. There were two, three men in each container, bringing the cartons of goods from deep inside to the open rear end where other men took them, two big cartons per person, carrying them on their hands and shoulders into the huge warehouse where other men worked hard, piling them up systematically to the high roof.
A separate team of workers also labored, carrying cartons of other goods from another section of the warehouse out into the compound where more men worked, piled the goods directly into big heavy duty trucks or arranging them in groups for the customers buying in minor wholesale quantities.
Alex was the Foreman in charge of the work teams, an enforcer, the guy who kicked ass to make sure a good work pace was maintained all around. He was also in charge of all shipments to the warehouse. Once a container arrived from the Apapa ports, the warehouse manager would sign off on it and it then became his responsibility to offload and transfer the contents of that container into the warehouse using his workforce. Containers of goods from Asia, the UK, Europe and the United States arrived at the warehouse at a rate of at least half a dozen each week and traders from all over the country, even from outside it, were always ready to buy up everything so there was always lots of work to be done and a work force to be kept sharp.
Five giant containers had arrived at the warehouse overnight and the offloading work had started at eight o’clock that morning. It was past one o’clock now, two of the containers were already done with and the trailers had departed again for the ports. The third and the fourth containers were being worked on now and the last container trailer was parked just out on the street, awaiting its turn to back into the compound and get offloaded.
Alex had lots of control but never did much yelling which was one reason he was okay with the job for the time being. He had two assistants that did the yelling and the work teams were all made up of professional laborers who knew the drill. They all knew too how tough and hard he was.
Sweeting and toiling in the heat, the men worked steadily for another two hours until the containers were empty then took the customary thirty-minute lunch break as the two empty container trailers started up and moved out of the compound, allowing the last container trailer back in to take their position so that the work was set to continue again.
Once the new container was in perfect place before giant doors of the warehouse, Alex took the lunch break like everyone else. He had some roasted sweet yams and vegetable sauce delivered to his office from the canteen across the street from the warehouse. His office was a modest sized one on the ground floor of the narrow one story block of offices built to one side of the compound. The manager and his assistant had their nice air-conditioned offices on the top floor but Alex’s office was a dump right next to that of security. It only had an old wooden table, an old swivel chair and a ceiling fan. The windows and doors of the office were always open so he always had a good view of the compound and any ongoing work.
Just when Alex was almost through with the food, his cell phone rang.
He picked it up from the table and check caller I.D.
It was his younger brother. The little guy wasn’t bothersome. If he was calling now, then there was sure to be a very good reason. Alex took the call.
“Hello” said Alex putting the phone to his ear.
“Good afternoon, big brother”
“Afternoon, man. What’s wrong?” Alex could already hear the worry in his brother’s voice.
“It’s my laptop, big bros. I think it’s gone”
Alex sighed. “That’s not possible, Kent. That laptop is new and you haven’t used it for up to a year”
“The laptop was good it was a power surge that caused the problem. Most of the components on the motherboard are burnt”
“Sounds like you plugged it in to one of these small chines generators”
“There’s never light in my hostel now, bros. I have to go out to a barbing saloon to charge my phone and the laptop. They use the small generator there”
“You should have used some sort of voltage protection, those Chinese generators are destroyers and that laptop was expensive”
“I used a voltage protection, bros, hut it was apparently fake too, China too”
Alex sighed again. “How much will it cost to fix the motherboard?”
“There are too many damaged components on it” said Kent quickly. “The engineer says it will be better and cheaper to buy a new one”
“Forty thousand naira. We’re ordering a new one form overseas and if we move now it will be here and all fixed up in time for my exams”
Alex knew that the price had been properly padded up and inflated like all yearly national budgets in the country but students did these things to solve other monetary problems. “Alright, I’ll send you the money along with your allowance for next month and some extra pocket money too. Make sure you buy a good voltage protector this time and it is nothing made anywhere near China”
“Ah, I will never make that mistake again, big bros, thank you. Thank you so much”
“How often do you go down to see mom now?” asked Alex.
“At least once in three wrecks”
“From now on make it every weekend and any other chance you get. I’m going on a short mission soon and until I get back, I will be counting on you to take good care of her”
“Hope this is nothing dangerous?” asked his younger brother at once in a worried voice.
“No, Kent, and don’t mention it to her. This is just some routine training stuff, a week or two and it’s over. I am depending on you to take very good care of our mother while I’m away, out sister too”
“No problem, big bros. I will take good care of both of them, but you’ll need to give me something extra to cover transport fares for regular visits home, it’s my only problem in that area”
“You’ll get it” said Alex and got off the phone, put it aside and turned back to his meal.
Once finished with the last of his food, Alex picked up his phone again and dialed the bank to check his account balance. He had just over two hundred thousand naira in his two accounts. He transferred all of it into the accounts of his brother and his mother then sat back in his chair to rest for the final few minutes of the break.
He did some thinking too.
By four o’clock the laborers were done and paid off, Alex inspected the pile up of goods in the warehouse with the managers and then they stopped for the day.
As usual, Alex took a commercial bike straight home but this time didn’t stop at the G & N resultant. Once in his apartment, he found the calling card still on the table where the Alhaji’s assistant had dropped it yesterday, he hadn’t touched it at all since then. He sat down in an armchair and dial the phone number printed boldly in gold on the card.
The call was answered right off.
“Hello, Mr. Okoye”
Alex recognized Mr. Basil Audu’s voice right off.
“How did you know it was me?” asked Alex.
“Your military file also contains your contact info. I have your number keyed into this phone, both numbers actually”
“Right, I want to talk to your boss”
“Okay, just a minute please”
The line went quiet for a moment, and then the Alhaji’s deep voice came over the line.
“I take it we have an agreement, Mr. Okoye?”
“I guarantee you will get your niece back or El Soldat’s head on a plate. Fifty million is my price, half upfront, the rest later along with the file. I also want the extra thirty million naira bonus as well”
“Agreed” said the Alhaji too quickly. “Text your bank details to this number right now and the money will be transferred into your account at once. You will get the confirming bank alert within minutes and once you are satisfied with the details call me back right away”
The line went dead.
Alex did as he was told and was surprised when, barely three minutes later, he got a bank alert for not twenty-five but thirty million naira. The money had been transferred into his account from an Abuja Zenith bank account that didn’t carried only a number. He called the Alhaji back and the line was answered right off.
“Are you satisfied now, Mr. Okoye?” asked the Alhaji.
“The money I got is in excess of twenty-five million”
“I know, Mr. Okoye and you will get the same amount when this operation is over, plus the bonus. Chalk it down to a generous gesture form a new employer who expects complete loyalty and dedication. Details and information for your flight to Abuja tomorrow morning will be forwarded to you by Basil within the hour”
The line went dead in Alex’s ear.
Later that night, for the first time in six months, Alex went for a long run on the dark streets of Ijegun.
The Dana airlines afternoon flight form Lagos touched down on schedule at the Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport, Abuja.
When Alex walked into the arrivals hall of the domestic wing, he spotted Mr. Basil Audu right off and with him was another man that could have easily passed for the driver of the Range Rover Jeep Alex had seen parked out on the street in front of his apartment building two days before. Both men were in smart dark business suits but the second man had on dark glasses to go. He looked like he belonged behind a gun rather than behind a desk like Mr. Audu did. He was just above average height and powerfully built with the kind of erect bearings and spread-legged stance that spoke clearly of military trainings.
“Welcome, Mr. Okoye” greeted Mr. Basil Audu enthusiastically as he came forward to meet Alex. “I hope you had a nice flight?”
“Yes, thank you” replied Alex and shook the proffered hand.
“Please, allow me?” said Mr. Audu, reaching for the mid-sized suitcase Alex carried in one hand. It was his only luggage.
“Thank you” said Alex.
The other man hadn’t moved, he kept staring fixed at Alex. He was very dark complexion, looked a lot like an Hausa man. There was a bad scar on the left side of his face and it made him look ugly and kind of mean. Alex couldn’t see the eyes behind the dark glasses to analyze him more but generally, the man looked to be in his early to mid-forties and he definitely had military training.
Alex’s trained eyes swiftly picked out all these detains and more as he released the suitcase to Mr. Audu who then handed it over to a uniformed attendant.
“Please come with me” said Mr. Audu waving a hand ahead in the direction of the doors. “We have a car waiting to take us directly to your hotel”.
Alex noted that Mr. Audu made no move to introduce the military-looking man and the silent man never took his eyes off him. He fell in behind them as they moved off for the exit, following the uniformed attendant who carried the suitcase.
As they exited the huge air-conditioned hall into the terrible midafternoon heat, a sleek black Mercedes Benz s-class car rolled up and its boot popped open. The uniformed attendant, following Mr. Audu’s directives, went over to put away the suitcase in the boot of the car and to Alex’s surprise, the military guy stepped up to rear door and got it open for him to get in. Alex thanked him as he got into the backseat and the man gave him a polite nod in response.
Mr. Audu went around the car and got in from the other side while the military man handed the uniformed attendant some naira bills then got into the front passenger seat beside the driver who also dressed in a smart dark business suit.
The big car drove off, heading into the city.
Alex was fairly familiar with the nation’s capital city. He had been a regular visitor to it for the two years he worked for Military Intelligence which, like all governmental institutions, had its headquarter right there in the capital city. Some of his sojourns in the city had lasted quite a while even as others had been very brief. Once, his entire special forces team had been drafted down to provide top security for a presidential function that pulled in several high-powered VIPs from other countries including heads of state, he had spent a week in the city then, and six days of it had been work.
Abuja was one of the most beautiful cities in the country and indeed Africa. It ranked among the top twenty most expensive cites to live in on earth, was the fourth in Africa and had the highest concentrations of expensive luxury hotels to prove it.
The drive took twenty minutes, and then they were pulling into one of the exclusive luxury hotels. It was The Nordic Palace, one of the more private two-star luxury hotels in the city. They had booked him a whole suite on one of the top floor and Alex was real pleased by the sight of it.
One of the senior hotel staff had personally followed them up and he now stood by the door with Mr. Audu, watching as Alex looked the place over. The military guy hadn’t come up with them, he had stayed put in the car with the driver. The uniformed velvet having put aside the suitcase he had brought up, went about the business of turning on the large flat screen television and the air conditioning system.
“It’s fine” said Alex easily like he was used to high luxury on a daily basis.
“Very good, Mr. Okoye” said Mr. Audu. “This suite is yours for as long as you require it and all your expenses will be taken care of by us. Ahmed here will always be available to provide whatever it is you may need”
Ahmed was a capable looking man of about thirty, dressed in a smart dark suit with the hotel name and logo printed on the lapel of the jacket. He gave Alex a polite smile and a slight bow.
“We are honored to have you as a guest, sir” he said in perfect English. “If there is ever anything you require, please ask and it shall be provided at once”
“Some fried rice and a cold bottle of excellent table wine for lunch will do for now” said Alex right off. “I’ll leave the choice of wine to you”
“Excellent, sir, your order will be right up shortly” said Ahmed at once. He bowed again and hurried off with the velvet, leaving Alex alone with Mr. Audu.
Alex glanced around again. He had never stayed in such a high luxury hotel before but he could really get used to it fast.
“I will leave you alone now to rest” said Mr. Audu. “Later this evening, by six o’clock, I will be back to take you to meet my boss”
“Alright, thank you” said Alex.
They shook hands again and Mr. Audu left, closing the door behind him.
Alex went over to sit down in one of the big armchair, took off his shoes and stretched out his aching body. He hadn’t slept much last night despite the rigorous exercise routines which drained him of much strength, he’d been too busy straightening out his affairs and doing lots of thinking which keyed him up in such a way that he had even forgotten completely about food. He hadn’t bothered with food since lunch at the office yesterday and that was a very good thing because it showed that his commando training which could push him for days without food was already beginning to kick in again at the thought of battle.
Alex was right in his prime, just a few months over twenty-eight years old, six feet one in height with a powerful broad shouldered athletic build that had been rippling with hard muscles six months ago when he was still in the Army and undergoing daily vigorous trainings which kept him very fit. But now, the easy living of civilian life had softened his body all up and his reflexes were no longer razor sharp. He hoped to God the hotel had a state-of-the-art gym where he could work on his body, conditioning it very quickly for action. He hoped also that he had the time, the difference between full fitness and unfitness could translate into life or death in the war business and he would most likely be going really deep into enemy territory this time, to the worst of the worst places.
Alex stared at the flat screen television with sightless eyes as his mind raced with thoughts. He soon came to a decision, picked up his cell phone from the side stool and dialed an unusual four-digit number from memory, an old number he hadn’t had to call since leaving the military and its location was right there in the city. The call went straight to voicemail and Alex proceeded to leave a short message.
Once done, he put the phone aside and sat back to wait for the food.
Soon enough a knock came at the door and it was room service. His lunch had arrived.
After washing down the wonderful meal with a bottle of wonderful table wine, Alex took off his T-shirt and, clad only in jeans trouser and white singlet, lay down on the huge cozy bed to take a quick nap.
Alex slept for two hours, and then his in-built alarm clock, another product of his trainings, brought him awake at about three o’clock. He got hold of Ahmed right away to show him to the gym where he spent two hours working out vigorously with the state-of-the-art exercise machines there. By five-fifteen, he was under a cold shower which refreshed his body completely and by six o’clock he was dressed in red shirtsleeves, black trousers and shoes, sitting in the hotel lounge, drinking expensive martini and reading a newspaper when Mr. Audu showed up to whisk him away for the meeting.
The military guy was absent this time but it was the same black Mercedes s-class and the driver in dark suit. They headed across the city and were soon in the extremely exclusive residential district of Jabi, where powerful politicians and sitting Federal senators lived. side by side with multi-millionaire and billionaire business tycoons. The large mansions sat on spacious grounds, screened off by well decorated ultra-secure, high fences and huge gates. The streets here were broad, well decorated and very well-maintained.
Night had fallen completely by the time the big Mercedes pulled up in front of a pair of huge black gates and sounded its horn once. The gates were thrown open swiftly by a smart looking, uniformed security guard and the Mercedes pulled smoothly into the spacious grounds of a large compound on which sat a sprawling white state-of-the-art mansion.
The big car came to a final halt directly in front of the house and two men in dark suits stepped up quickly to get the doors open.
Alex and Mr. Audu get out.
The whole compound was well-lit and Alex could see men in dark suits standing at strategic positions. All of them were well built men and they were very much on the alert. Three of them stood close enough for Alex’s trained eyes to pick out the slight bulges in their jacket, under their left arm, an indication that they were armed with shoulder holstered pistols. Alex took in the whole scene swiftly and realized that Alhaji Mustapha Usman was a billionaire of no ordinary caliber. One of the suited men stepped in before him, indicating he spread his arms for a body search and Alex obeyed without question. He knew the routine for getting past high level security, he had been drafted to such security detail too many while serving in the military not to, and he knew too that this particular billionaire had good reason to be very wary given the rate at which his family member vanishing into thin air.
The man patted him down quickly with expert hands and stepped away. Mr. Audu, standing and watching to one side, took over at once.
“Please come with me, my boss is already waiting” he said and led the way into the house.
Another armed bodyguard in dark suit standing at the large front door held it wide open and they walked through into a large, lavishly furnished, high ceilinged living room. The place was empty and Alex followed as Mr. Audu continued straight on across to a wide archway, up the two wide steps and into a second large living room that was no less lavishly furnished but also empty. Two hefty bodyguards in suits stood by a set of mirrored glass double doors and they eyed Alex as Mr. Audu led him over, pushed the doors easily open and they were through into a third living area. This one was large too and equally lavishly furnished but the large glass topped conference table there made it look more like a confrere room than anything else.
Three men sat talking at the table and Alex recognized the Alhaji right off. He was seated at the head of the table and the man seated in the chair to his right was the military-looking man form the airport, in the chair next to him was s third man Alex hadn’t seen before.
The three men had stopped talking as Alex and Mr. Audu entered. The Alhaji, dressed casually in trousers and polo shirt, sat completely relaxed in his chair, his expressionless face giving away nothing. The faces of the other men gave away nothing either.
“Welcome, Mr. Okoye” said the Alhaji as Alex walked up with Mr. Audu.
“Thank you, sir” said Alex.
“Please, be seated” the Alhaji waved at the vacant chairs to his left.
Mr. Audu took the chair closest to the Alhaji and gestured Alex at the other. They sat facing the two men across the big table.
“Gentlemen” began the Alhaji at once, sitting forward with a very serious expression on his face and glancing around at the four men seated at the table before him. “We are now complete so let us get down to the issue at hand right away, but first introductions” he gestured at the man seated directly to his right side. “Mr. Okoye, I believe you’ve already met my head of security, Rufai”
“Yes, sir, we’ve met” Alex nodded once at the hard faced Rufai who was dressed in a dark suit and blue shirtsleeves but without a tie this time.
Rufai returned the nod.
The man had probably been at the airport to size him up closely with trained eyes, thought Alex with an inward smile. All the bodyguards he had seen so far, including this chief of theirs, couldn’t stop him from getting in or out of this place if he wanted to, he could take all of them apart in style and within a very short time. This Rufai must have figured things out because Alex saw something skin to respect in his hard eyes.
“And this is Samuel” the Alhaji was saying, pointing at the other man sitting next to Rufai. “He’s an Army Lieutenant like yourself but still in the force. He and his team of two men will be providing support for you in this mission”
Alex looked at the man, sizing him up quickly. He was a good looking dark skinned man of about thirty with a powerful build. His wide shoulders, chest and biceps bulged with muscles that stretched out the white T-shirt he wore. The calm dark eyes that stared back at Alex had the arrogant look of a well-trained fighter with a lot of confidence in himself but you never really know what someone was capable of until you saw them in action.
The Alhaji was talking generally now, gesturing at Alex.
“This is Mr. Alexander Okoye, ex-lieutenant of the Army commandos. He was Special Forces too and he fought the insurgents in the north-eastern territories for over three years until he left the force six months ago. Because of his experience and knowledge of both the terrorists and territory, he will be the negotiator and tactical leader of this mission. Rufai will be going in with you people as a liaison from me, he will have administrative charge but will not interfere with Mr. Okoye’s decisions in any manner. As a former Army officer himself, he can take care of himself out there and the objectives of this mission, as I precisely wish it, are well known to him. Every equipment that may be required for this mission is already in place at a safe house in Maiduguri and in a minute my assistant will outline your travel arrangements directly from here to the safe house” he gestured at Mr. Audu. “Rufai will access a safe there at the safe house to obtain valid military documents to cover the mission. In the safe also is a briefcase containing the full amount of the ransom and this, Rufai will hand directly over to Mr. Okoye” the Alhaji looked directly at Alex. “The last four digits of your military identification number is the key to the combination lock on the briefcase and inside, along with the money, you will find an envelope with transcript records of all the conversations I have hitherto had with the terrorists along with a phone that has their contact number already imputed, several pictures of the girl are also present on the phone to get you personally familiar with your objective but Rufai knows her perfectly well, having watched her grow from childhood . You will take up communications with the terrorists from there on and the responsibility of arranging a secure meeting place will be yours entirely”
Alex nodded. “What sort of vehicles and weapons will we be getting?”
The Alhaji waved a hand at Rufai.
“There will be two powerful four-wheel drive vehicles of different calibers parked within the compound of the safe house, the decision of which one to be used will be yours since you are already familiar with terrain of the area we are headed into” said Rufus. “As for weapons, there are different kinds, automatic pistols, revolvers and Ak-47s rifles, lots of ammo, some grenades too and even radio coms. We are going in fully prepared for a fight if there is one”
“Are there adequate tactical maps of the area?” asked Samuel.
“Very adequate ones” said Rufai “Everything you may need form brand new Army camouflage uniforms and boots of your specific sizes to binoculars and digital watches. The only things that are not there are dark glasses for the sun, those you will have to bring if you need them”
“When did you people get the maps?” asked Alex.
“A week ago” replied Rufai. “We haven’t been able to get updated versions since but that shouldn’t matter too much”
Alex said nothing further.
“Basil?” prompted the Alhaji.
Mr. Audu spoke. “You have all been booked on the same morning flight to Keno airport tomorrow. A trusted employee of ours will be arranging separate pick ups for each of you at the airport and then convey you all onward across the state border to the secure house in Maiduguri”
“Why not fly us directly to Maiduguri airport and save the land journey?” asked Samuel.
“That airport has been shut down for over two years now due to the bombing activities of the insurgents” said Rufai.
“Where were you stationed, lieutenant?” asked Alex dryly.
“The 23rd based in Warri” replied Samuel. “My men and I have done several tours of duty in the worst parts of the Niger-delta”
“Rampaging cultists, pipeline vandals, illegal oil bunkers and trigger happy youths who enjoy blowing up things now and then” Alex smiled at him. “What you’ve got down there is basically part-time mayhem. Up there in the north-east where the sun often gets so hot it peels the skin off your face, you’ll meet a full-fledged war with a real warfront, only no one is really sure where that warfront is because the bloody insurgents always come pouring out of every direction, north, south, east and, unbelievably, the west as well. They are incredibly dedicated, well-armed, well-organized and fully mobilized at a time the Nigerian armed forces are struggling to reach a reasonable level of mobilization courtesy of the stupidity of politicians. The soldiers are outgunned and outnumbered on all fronts, they have to fall back constantly to avoid having their lines overrun and just when everyone begins to think the situation is under some control the terrorists come crawling out of the woodwork in cities and towns that are supposed to be secure and start blowing things up, only they’re not using conventional weapons this time, just harmless looking girls in voluminous hijabs that cover the bombs tapped to their bodies as they walk right up to their targets and blow themselves away along with every other person in the vicinity. Crowded markets, mosques and churches are usually their prime targets now but when it all began it was the motor-parks and the airport mainly. The government had to shut them all down very quickly to save a lot of lives and expensive infrastructure”
There was silence as the men all stared at Alex.
“You make things sound much worse than I’ve heard” said Samuel.
“It’s much worse” said Alex.
“It’s been nearly six months you left the Army and the north entirely” said Rufai. “Things can’t be the same till now. The newspapers say the military are beginning to make much progress up there”
Alex shook his head firmly. “The newspapers will say what politicians secretly pay them to say, presidential elections are just around the corner and the politician know they need to look good. With the number of fraudulent arms procumbent deals coming to light now, if anything has changed up there it’s for the worse. That war has gone off the scales and there is almost nothing the military can effectively do about it. You’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough, just be ready”
There was another long moment of silence as they all stared fixed at Alex.
Mr. Audu cleared his throat uneasily and glanced at his silent boss “Gentlemen, let’s keep in mind here that this is just a simple ransom exchange mission which will be all over quickly. I don’t think it’s a good idea to scare ourselves before going to work, eh?”
Samuel actually laughed and Alex found himself feeling more comfortable with him. When going into action it was good to know that the person trusted to protect your back could do the job very well.
“If those bastards come looking for trouble from me, by god, they will find it” said Samuel.
They were all quiet for another moment, and then Mr. Audu began to talk again, directing his words at Alex, Rufai and Samuel.
“Although you are all going on the same flight, each of you will be traveling separately to avoid any suspicion from security agents who are at hyper-alert levels up here in the north due to the terrorist problems. The cars that brought you here this evening will take you straight back to your hotels and the drivers will hand each of you a small suitcase in which you will find your airline tickets and some spare cash. Mr., Samuel, you men should be getting delivery of theirs right about now. The suitcase can only take two changes of clothes and a few other personal items, these should be enough for the estimated three-day duration of the mission. You will be traveling light and fast through security conscious territory, gentlemen, leave most of your things behind at your hotel and carry absolutely no weapons on you. The cars will be back precisely at eight o’clock tomorrow morning to take you to the airport to board your flight. Once you arrive at the Keno airport, you will be identified by the bags you carry and picked up separately by ordinary taxi drivers who will take you to a central location within the city to meet up with our man. It is he who will be responsible for transporting you all together to Maiduguri and the safe house. Whatever you need from there on, Rufai will provide as explained”
Mr. Audu glanced at the Alhaji as if to say he was done.
“Gentlemen” said the Alhaji, taking over again. He glanced at Alex and then Samuel. “I need not stress to you the importance of keeping all information about this mission completely secret from beginning to end. As far as anyone is concerned this meeting never took place and we never met. All contacts with me from here on will be restricted to my assistants, Basil and Rufai” he gestured at the two men. “I want that girl back at all costs and once you have her in your possession, Rufai will take over at once. He knows exactly what to do with her from that point and I expect you two to follow his instructions closely from there so as to accomplish the rest of the mission to my satisfaction and thereby earn yourself the bonuses I promised each of you. When all is done and you return back safely to your hotels here in Abuja, all payments will be made swiftly to your bank accounts within twenty-four hours” the Alhaji was looking from Alex to Samuel and back but more at Alex. “Do we have an understanding”
A deep set instinct for taking orders before a mission had Alex nodding his head and Samuel was doing the same too.
“Yes sir, we do” said Samuel.
“We have an understanding, sir” said Alex, and then glanced across the table at Rufai.
Alhaji Usman sat back in his chair “There are only five days left to the deadline given for the ransom payment. Before that time comes, I expect to have the good news from you people that my troubles are over. Good luck, gentlemen”
The Alhaji picked up the glass of water on the table before him and took a drink.
The meeting was clearly over.
Rufai and Basil stayed put with their boss while the bodyguards at the double doors escorted Alex and Samuel from the room and out to the front of the house where the Mercedes and a Lexus car waited to take them back to their separate hotels.
Both cars left the mansion together but split up on the highway as they headed in different directions.
After the two soldiers had gone, Rufai and Basil sat quietly watching and waiting for their boss to speak.
The Alhaji took his time with the drinking of his water and the thoughts his mind before he looked at his most trusted lieutenants.
“What do you think” he asked finally.
“I think we’re good” said Rufai. “These men definitely have what it takes to see this mission through. They all have the skill, experience and fearlessness to handle any trouble we encounter along the way. The Igbo guy, though, he’s exceptional. His physic, the way he moves, his level of alertness and still the calmness and complete control, he’s definitely very highly trained and extremely dangerous”
“Yes, it’s exactly like his file says” agreed Basil. “He’ll be a wonderful asset out there but I don’t trust him to deliver on the last part of the plan. He strikes me as a man with a conscience”
“Exactly what I’ve been thinking too” said Rufai and looked at his boss. “We may need to take him out at that point”
“His usefulness should be over by then” said the Alhaji. “If he tries to become a problem kill him, but do it very quickly and without mistakes otherwise he will kill all of you and he will do it without the problem of a conscience. He was, and technically still is, one of the very best fighting men the Army has to offer”
“Samuel and his men are exceptionally good too” said Rufai. “We will be four against only him when the time comes, he can’t beat us all”
“Don’t be too sure of that” the Alhaji shook his head, sitting forward. “I don’t even think you fully understand what you are dealing with here, Rufai. Listen, Samuel and his men may be well trained soldiers but Mr. Okoye is much better or rather much worse. He was a highly trained commando who was specially hand-picked, because of his unique talents, to undergo more special trainings to become Special Forces. Not the normal kind, mind you, he was one of the few trained fully by the Americans themselves, at high costs too, and he emerged as one of the very best in that class. I was told that was the real reason he never went to prison for the offence he committed, some very powerful people in the military see him as an invaluable asset that can be used again. Those blank pages you saw in his file are actually the reports of a classified mission that went so terribly wrong that all traces of it had to be completely suppressed but for a time it made him something of a celebrity in top political circles, that’s how I came to know of him in the first place. At the early stage of his career in the Special Forces, his unit was detailed to provide special protection for some VIPs quietly doing some on-the-spot assessments in that north-east region. Two senators were among those VIPs and that information somehow leaked out to the terrorists. Their convoy got ambushed by a large group of heavily armed Boko Haram militants who killed a lot of the escorting soldiers, captured one of the senators alive and retreated quickly across the international borders into the remote Cameroon mountains where they knew the Nigerian military would never follow. He went after them and he went alone. Multiple eyewitness report has it that he just took off running after the Pickup Jeeps the insurgent drove away in. He was gone for four days but when he finally came back out of these mountains, he was carrying the unconscious body of that senator over his shoulders and he had thirteen Boko Haram masks with him. Thirteen plus kills! And deep in unknown enemy territory! If not for the fact that he crossed the international borders the way he did, he would have gotten a big commendation”
“Incredible!” said Basil in awe.
“Yes” said the Alhaji with satisfaction. “His skill set and incredible level of commitment are what made me go all out to get him. With him fully on board now, I feel completely sure that I’m not wasting my time or money. If those bastards fail to produce that girl for any reason, he will not hesitate to pursue them into the pits of hell to bring her back”
Rufai was suddenly feeling sick. “I think I will have to warn Samuel specifically about him. We will have to be very careful to act all at once, shoot him without engaging him in anyway”
“Yes” agreed the Alhaji with some relief. “That would be best”
The three men sat in silence for several moments, and then the Alhaji got to his feet. “Good night”
“Good night, sir” said Basil getting to his feet.
“Good night, Alhaji” said Rufai getting to his feet too.
The two men stood respectfully as Alhaji Mustapha Usman walked out the room.
It was about nine-fifteen that evening when the Mercedes dropped Alex off at his hotel and drove off again. As he headed for the big front doors that led into the lobby, one the doormen stepped close to him and held out a small piece of blue paper.
“Someone dropped this off for you, sir” said the man in a quiet voice.
Alex stopped at once and accepted the paper curiously. It was folded in half. He unfolded it and saw at once that the written inscriptions on it was in code, a code created and used only by the Nigerian Military Intelligence.
Alex read the short message quickly then glanced around to make sure no one was watching as he changed direction and headed for the parking lot.
The hotel’s parking lot was a well-lit large area that occupied the entire right section of its spacious front grounds and a lot of expensive vehicles were parked there in well-organized rows. Aside from the few people driving in or out, the entire area was completely deserted as Alex walked briskly through, heading for the north-west section which was the furthest part of the parking lot. He kept a careful watch and even made a detour between the parked rows of cars just to make sure he wasn’t being followed.
Coming around the last car, Alex spotted the blue Peugeot 507 saloon car right off. It was parked slightly apart from other cars as the note said it would be. As he got closer, the front passenger side door jerked open and a well-built man in civilian clothes jumped out.
The man threw Alex a smart military salute then hurried around to the rear offside door and got it quickly open, holding it wide for Alex to get in.
As Alex walked up and get into the car without a question, the man stood stiffly to attention and gave him another smart military salute. The door was pushed firmly closed after Alex and in a second, the man was getting back into the front passenger seat and the car was pulling out of its slot.
As they drove off the man touched his hand to side of his head and spoke briefly into a mic connected to an earpiece then turned to address the other man sitting quietly across from Alex in the owner’s comer of the backseat.
“He wasn’t followed, sir”
Alex didn’t know either of the two men in the front seats but even in the darkness of the car’s interior, he recognized the man sitting quietly across from him.
Colonel. Ernest Iyang, Deputy Head of Operations, Military Intelligence, stared fixedly out the dark window on his side like he hadn’t heard or seen a thing. He too was in civilian clothes, white shirt sleeves and dark trousers.
The car was leaving the hotel now and heading into the city.
“Good evening, sir” said Alex respectfully.
The older man didn’t seem to hear for what seemed to be a long moment, but then he turned his head to stare at Alex.
It was six months since Alex last saw his old boss with whom he enjoyed a special relationship, nonetheless, he was a bit unsettled by the personal visit. When earlier that day, he had put in the phone call to the secure line of a friend at Military Intelligence headquarters and left the message on his voice mail, the last thing Alex had expected was a swift visit from the top brass who ran the entire department.
“What is an out of work, ex-Army officer doing in the luxury suite of one of the most expensive hotels in the country” asked the Colonel in his usual no-nonsense manner. “And what is he doing calling a secure military line he should have forgotten about six months ago?”
Alex took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s a long story, sir”
“I suppose it is” said the colonel completely unimpressed. “Mind enlightening me?”
“Yes sir. Two days ago, a man by the name of Alhaji Mustapha Usman came to see me at my place in Lagos. How he knew so much about me and where exactly to find me, I have no idea. He’s the CEO of Goldfield Holdings, ever heard of him before?”
“Yes, he’s a northern billionaire business mogul and the company has both solid and liquid mineral mining interests. He normally likes to keep a low key profile but he has lots of high powered connections both political and military. What did he want?”
Alex began to talk. He left nothing out, not even the contents and purpose of the small suitcase he carried. When he was done, the colonel was silent for a long minute.
“Have you mentioned this to anyone else at all, apart from me?” asked the colonel finally.
“No, sir. just you”
“Good, let’s keep it that way” said the colonel and turned to look out the window again.
“You mean you won’t do anything about this?”
“I didn’t say that” said the older man without looking at him.
“Then what are you saying, sir? We can’t just allow that kind of money fall into the hands of those terrorists, that would be practically sponsoring them. And then there’s El Soldat who Military Intelligence has been after him for so long”
The colonel sighed tiredly. “You’ve been away from the game for too long, lieutenant, and a lot has changed in that time but not for the better. Firstly, the Army is now battling a highly tactical and mobilized Boko Haram on every front and they have our backs to the wall. The kidnapping of those chibok girls was just the first to attract public attention on a massive scale and expose our helplessness, there have been so many incidents like it recently. Those militants have overrun almost every key city and town in the north-east, occupied the territory and mounted their wretched flags in plain sight. In Bornu in particular, we only hold the main city and a few key towns around along with their villages, but none of them are completely secure. Even as we speak now, the battle to keep those terrorists at a safe distance from Bama is being fought and the Army has been losing for a straight two days. Things are so bad that we’ve lost contact with the troops in certain areas, and then there’s this talk of a powerful new jamming equipment Boko Haram is now using to interfere with our communication signals. These are terrorists that are supposed to hate technology and they’ve got the best! Lastly, these terrorists have now gone into the kidnapping business full time. Families of the rich and powerful are their main targets and they now go out of their way to launch surprise attacks deep into secure territories to capture their victims. The average ransom demand per head ranges from half a million to one million US dollars and several top politicians have already been hit both here, in Niger republic and Cameroon, It’s not public knowledge yet but the deputy Prime Minister of Cameroon had his wife and children kidnapped from his hometown just last month and the place was nowhere near the troubled border regions. He had to pay three million US dollars to get them back. Even our own government has been secretly negotiating to buy peace and the release of the kidnapped chibok girls. The ransom demand for the girls, all two hundred and sixteen of them, was initially sixty million US dollars but with the help of the Chadian president, who is acting as the go between, the price has been reduced to forty million dollars. The money is set to be paid directly through the office of the National Security Adviser” the colonel paused a moment to let that one sink in before going on. “Your current employer is just one name on a long list of VIPs paying ransom to those terrorists and the list has grown very quickly to include both the governors of Bauchi and Kano states who pay them on a monthly basis to keep away from their territory. We are trying our very best night and day but there isn’t much the Army or any other arm of the military can do about anything right now. Everyone blames the military, but the sad truth which we cannot voice openly is that we are still waiting on the politicians to sort themselves out and provide us with the necessary weapons and equipment needed for us to switch tactics from defensive to offensive. And while we wait, Boko Haram grows from strength to strength and continue to commit abominable atrocities never heard of before, our soldiers and countless numbers of innocent citizens are being slaughtered on a daily. As long as Alhaji Mustapha Usman keeps the ransom negotiations and payments for the release of his niece very quiet, everyone here in Abuja will look the other way. Even if information of it somehow leaks out, he still won’t be touched. In fact, the contrary is the case, he will find a lot of sympathizers among his powerful friends who will only be too willing to provide him with all the necessary assistance he needs to bring that girl safely home and unharmed. I suspect that’s how he came into possession of classified military documents and the soldiers he’s using. I dare say I could point a few fingers but the targets are so high up above my pay grade that I’ll most likely get my fingers chopped off if not my career itself, top brass as I am”
Alex was quiet a minute as he digested all the shocking new information. Yes, indeed, he had been away from the game for too long.
The Colonel was silent too.
“What of El Soldat?” Alex asked quietly.
“You will to have to take him out”
“Me?” Alex asked in surprise.
The colonel looked directly at him. “Yes, you, lieutenant. Seeing as you’re already neck deep in this, is there a better person for the job?”
“I’m not even military anymore. I don’t count”
“Once a military man always a military man. You still and will always count because you were my best man, that’s until you had the stupidity of beating up your own commanding officer”
“And I paid the price in full” said Alex firmly. “I rotted in military prison for a month before they kicked me out of the Army. I don’t work for you or the Army anymore”
“But you are still a patriot and your county invested so much in you” countered the Colonel.
Alex sat back and said nothing.
“Lieutenant, do you really know why I came here personally tonight despite having my hands so full of work, I can hardly sleep?”
“I came here for several reasons but most important of all is that you were my best man and judging by any standard you still are. When my best man, right out of the blues, calls another good operative of mine to say he wants to meet urgently and over an important issue, that raises a red flag that catches my full attention at once. Captain Akeem had the good sense to answer all my questions when I interrogated him directly, and then instead of dispatching some agent to pick you up as I normally would have done, here I am. And I’m glad I came because you’ve just handed me a rare opportunity of catching up with the second most wanted terrorist in this country”
Alex was surprised. “I thought he was number seven?”
The colonel chuckled. “El Soldat has promoted himself to second place in just three months” said the colonel. “Aside from the fact that his private operations within these last few months have become too devastating not to talk of crippling, Military Intelligence has finally got confirmation that he and not Umar, is the liaison between Boko Haram and Islamic State in Libya with connections in Mali”
Alex suddenly understood a lot of things. “So he’s the one who’s been running the guns! No wonder they let him operate so freely”
“Yes, and you of all people should know exactly how hard it is to get on the man’s trail, so it’s now or never. El Soldat has to be taken out and under the circumstance you are the best man for the job”
“I don’t think so, sir. Like I said, I’m not military anymore so all of this is really none of my business. Considering how I was treated by you people, I can freely say that I don’t give a shit”
The colonel sighed. “Lieutenant, the doctor that gave evidence secretly at your court-martial, do you know who put him up to it?”
“He went forward himself, he was my doctor”
“You had General Suleman looking to bury you for putting his son, your direct commanding officer, in hospital with multiple fractures minus one eye. You really think anyone below full Colonel would have stuck his neck out for your sake? I had to send people to threaten that doctor in unique ways before he agreed to speak out”
Alex stared speechless.
The colonel smiled. “I didn’t abandon you even then like you thought I did. You were my best operative and so I took the needed time to study you carefully. Yes, I knew you a lot better than you thought I did. I knew that for you to go berserk the way you did, there had to be a damn good reason so I set out to find it and when I did, when I saw the true nature of it, I made the decision to see you free. That decision was also made, based on the fact that you were a man of honor and a true patriot who would always give his best for his country, whether in or out of the force. I felt you would be of great service someday and I wasn’t wrong” the Colonel stared at Alex. “Lieutenant, it is time to repay my belief in you. It is time to repay all the money, time and trust your country invested in you. Your country needs your help at this hour”
Alex sighed, the trap had already closed on him.
“You have other good operative, sir, why not send them? I’ve been out of training for six whole months. I’m grossly out of shape”
“You may have been out of training for six months, Lieutenant, but I’m willing to bet a year’s salary that with your new multimillion naira contract that is sending you into a war zone again, you’ve already gone into some form of intensive training and if Damion here were to take a go at you right now, he too will end up in a hospital with multiple fractures and he’s one of my best men even now” the colonel had jerked his head at the man in the front passenger seat before him.
Alex said nothing as the Colonel stared hard at him.
“Being out of shape is no excuse when your country needs you, Lieutenant. If you are not fully fit yet then one or two energy pills should be of some help, we still have those”
Alex searched frantically for a means of escape. “You could just send one or two of the 001 class operatives to take care of El Soldat”
“Most of them are dead. Zacki, Freshman, Amedu, Jericho, even you unkillable friend Christian, they are all dead. We lost them and thirteen good soldiers at a single ambush during the fall of Gwoza last three month. We sent them after Abubakar Shekau who was supposed to show up there but never did”
Alex stared in disbelief. “Where any of them captured?”
“No, they were all slaughtered like pigs. They were led right into the ambush by a double agent we thought we could trust and gunned down by heavy machine-gun fire. There is no one left with the adequate experience and skills to go after El Soldat alone, deep in enemy territory like he is. I have already lost four good men in the last two months just trying. If you do this, you would definitely be saving a lot lives”
Alex made up his mind at once. “What are your orders, sir?”
“You will continue working for Alhaji Mustapha Usman exactly as he hired you to do. Go right ahead with the ransom negations and payments, we will provide you with the necessary devices and explosives to turn the briefcase into a bomb that will explode after the exchange has been made, you know how it works. Hopefully, El Soldat will open the briefcase a second time when he back at his base with all his lieutenants within ten feet. The explosion will wipe them all out at a go and the world will become a bit safer us all. But if this fails and El Soldat somehow survives, you will have to go in alone and finish the job”
“How will you know if El Soldat is killed by the bomb or not?”
“We have an informant among his men. Once that bomb goes off, we’ll know it within the minute. If it gets him, we’ll know it too”
Alex was quiet for a minute as he thought things over quickly.
“I want total immunity and some form of official recognition” he said finally.
The colonel nodded. “I’ll fix things tonight so the papers work will all be straightened out by tomorrow morning”
“I also get to keep all payments and benefits from my present employer”
“Your money was never an issue”
Alex though quickly some more. “I’ll need a few items, a light bullet proof vests, up-to-date tactical maps of the entire region and an H-4 GPS tracker”
“A request for a high-tech tracker without a corresponding request for a monitoring device” the colonel stared at Alex. “You never turned in your GX-2, Lieutenant”
The GX-2s was an expensive high-tech device that passed for an android phone. Originally built by a Japanese firm to suit the requirements of a big American security outfit, the Nigerian Military Intelligence had somehow acquired a batch of half a dozen of the super phones, and then had its engineers first, modify them, and then replicate them. The modified GX-2s had been issued to the six topmost operatives of the agency, which included Alex of course, while the follow-up replicas, the GX-3 and GX-4, became the standard issue phones. Of course, the original Japanese built GX-2s were far more superior to the ‘merely adequate’ replicas, Alex knew a good thing when he saw it which was why he never turned in his own GX-2 for the standard issue as protocol required. He had simply reported it as ‘missing in action’ and that had been that. He had only used the GX-2 for four months before he got kicked out of the army and he kept it afterwards.
But he needed that high-tech tracker now and only the GX-2 could handle it smoothly as well as perform a lot more functions that could mean the difference between life and death where he was going, where they wanted him to go. There was no need to hide anymore.
“If I make it out alive and with the phone, you people can have it back” lied Alex effortlessly. Lying very well, even under extreme torture, was part of his tracings and he knew dammed well he could get away with it now even if caught “I’ll also need those energy pills as well”
“Done” said the colonel without hesitation. “One of our people will be on the plane to hand everything to you along with any other necessary information”
“How do I I.D the person?”
“Don’t worry yourself about that, you will be approached” said the colonel and turned back again to look out the window in a way that indicated the conversation was over.
Alex suddenly realized they were heading back to the hotel again. Soon they pulled in through the big gate, dropped him off in the parking lot and drove off.
Alex felt easier within himself as he walked back to the hotel and entered the lobby. He got his keys from the lovely receptionist at the front desk, dropped a meal order for room service and headed for the stairs, he hardly ever made use of elevators. The eleven story climb had his thighs and calves aching but the exercise was good.
Alex walked down the wide hallway to his door, checked and saw that the invincible bit of thin wire he had put in a crack of the door was still in place, no one had entered his room in his absence. He got the door unlocked and went in.
By the time Alex finished packing up the new suitcase and changing into a track suit, room service was at the door with his dinner, a big bowl of fresh salad, roast turkey and a bottle of wine, Alex put everything away in the fridge then got a towel and headed down to the gym.
Alex spent the two hours until midnight working out. He pushed himself well over his physical limits until every muscle in his body ached. Finally, tired and very weak, he still took the stairs up to his floor instead of the elevators. On very week legs, he staggered down the hallway to door of his suite and went in.
After a refreshing cold shower that brought back some of his strength, he ate up the cold food then went off to lie down in the massive king of kings-sized bed.
Sleep came swiftly.
The flight from Abuja took roughly an hour and so much delay but they were at the Kano International Airport by 10 a.m. that morning.
Getting through the unusually tight security at the airport had been easy enough for Alex. Hooking up with the taxi driver in the arrivals’ hall had been even easier but communicating with him, that was the hard part.
Alex tried a few times before he realized that the smiling, head bobbing, middle aged Fulani man who gave ‘yes’ as reply to every question, really didn’t understand a word of English. Alex’s Fulani wasn’t so good so he tried Arabic which didn’t work either because the man wasn’t a Muslim but one of the rare Fulani Christians. Using signs and Hausa language which he spoke fairly well because it was the second official language of the Army right after English, Alex finally managed to convey to the man that he wanted the windows rolled down completely to allow more of the fresh late morning air come into the hot interior of the car as he drove.
The taxi was an ancient car that looked a lot like a pre-1990 model Passat with mixed body parts. It was nicely painted on the outside but its interior was a write off held together by loose screws and glue. Nothing worked, the dashboard was obviously for fancy and the engine sounded like it hadn’t been serviced in twenty years. The driver had to pull over by the roadside where he spent nearly ten minutes using a spanner to fight down each windows before getting back in behind the wheels and re-starting the car with a vigorous pumping of the accelerator.
Alex was no stranger to rickety vehicles, they were all over the place up here in the northern part of the country. He forced himself to relax in the backseat and remain calm while the crazy driver took him to ‘heaven only knows where’. If turned out to be the wrong place, he would have to get himself out of there somehow and call Rufai or Basil fast.
The flight had been smooth and uneventful, that was what the rest of the passengers would call it but not Alex. He had seen Rufai and Samuel; they had all been in first class together, pretending not to know each other. Alex had tried hard but never spotted Samuel’s other two men. He would see them soon enough, he thought as he unhooked the dark sunglasses form the front of his shirt, put it on and stared curiously out of the window at the ancient city laid out under the late morning sun. He had never been to Keno before.
In a minute his mind went back to the plane and he idly wondered where in the city she could be now and with whom.
The Military Intelligence contact who had met him on the flight had also been in first class and her identity had been a big shocker. Alex had spotted her so easily because she was none other than Captain Sylvia Brown, one of the four ranking female staff officers at Defense headquarters, a woman with whom he’d had one hell of an affair not too long ago.
Sylvia Brown was a tall, light complexioned, elegant beauty who possessed a plumpish curvy body that was wonderful to look at even in an Air Force officer’s uniform. Alex first set eyes on her during one of his first visits to Defense headquarters two years ago and was hooked from that moment on. She had been a lieutenant like himself then but senior in service years and at thirty, was a clean three years older than he was. But, none of all that changed the fact that she was one of the most attractive woman he had ever seen in his life. When months later, Alex got stationed temporally in Abuja, he had ample opportunity to woo her which hadn’t been easy because of her superior status and the several senior male officers after her too. Alex could hardly believe his luck when he eventually became the ‘chosen one’ but the relationship that followed lasted only two months before the cracks began to show. Their sex life had been wonderful but the trouble was that Sylvia, like most female military officers used to issuing commands and being obeyed, was a possessive and controlling woman, and then there was the other troubling issue, she was too expensive a woman for him to maintain. In the third month of the relationship, Sylvia got the promotion to Captain and it came with a new office, new car, new accommodations and new responsibilities. She promptly dumped him without ceremony and took up with a rich Major from a wealthy northern family. Barely a week after the break up, Alex was ordered back to the warfront, far to the north-east, and that should have been the end of everything except that Sylvia Brown had somehow managed to get into his iron fortress of a heart so forgetting her hadn’t been easy at all until the fighting and bloodbath took his soul completely.
Alex hadn’t seen or heard from Sylvia since they parted ways a year ago, and then, suddenly, there she was on the plane, looking even more attractive in a fine yellow skirt suit with matching high heels… apparently his contact!
She had been among one of the last passengers to board the plane and she had definitely seen him clearly but never gave a single hint of recognition as she came walking right past his seat, heading towards the very rear of the first-class compartment where her own seat was. Not even a secret blink of the eye, that was how Alex knew for sure that she was there for him. He got a bit confused when, barely a few short minutes into the flight, a pretty airhostess arrived to serve him a drink and there on the tray she carried lay a small white card, carefully set so he easily saw and read the boldly written code words, his brain translating swiftly…’toilet, five minutes’.
Two minutes after the airhostess had walked away, looking into the round mirrored surface of his digital wristwatch, his customized rear review mirror, Alex saw Captain Sylvia Brown abruptly got up from her seat and head out towards the rear of the plane where the toilets were.
No one else in the compartment moved, no one noticed her go.
Alex waited the full five minutes before following. He found one of the toilet doors ajar, pulled it open and there she was, standing and waiting coolly in the confined space.
Alex went in, closing the door behind him and as he faced her, her lovely rosy perfume filled his nostrils and lungs, instantly awakening in him a deep sexual hunger, the old raging desire for her he hadn’t felt in a long time. It suddenly became a struggle to keep control of his senses and keep his hands from reaching out for her.
Standing barely three feet apart in the confined space, the old lovers stared at each other.
“Hello, Ninja” she said, smiling and looking so damned lovely.
‘Ninja’ was the pet name she often called him and it had a lot to do with his deadly fighting skills and abilities which she was well aware of.
“What are you doing here?” he asked coldly.
“It’s nice to see you again too”
“What the hell are you doing here, Sylvia?”
“Well, I think you already know the answer to that” she pointed a long red tipped finger at the hand wash crucible in which was a white package and a black file folder. “These are all the things you requested. The maps, the drugs, the tracker, the explosives and the detonator, all present and in the pocket lining on the light bulletproof vest. Just put the vest on under your shirt and you’re good to go, nothing will show. The folder contains special document for you to sign”
Alex glanced at the items. He hadn’t seen her with anything like the package at any point and she had certainly walked out of the first-class cabin empty handed which meant there must be another agent on the plane, a backup. Captain Sylvia Brown was a very smart woman, a very smooth talker too.
Alex shifted his back her. “Since when did you start delivering packages for Military Intelligence?”
“Since a particular civilian with deadly skills started making strange demands that require high level approval” she said coolly. “Technically, Military Intelligence cannot give you the immunity you want but Counter-Intelligence can. Colonel Iyang reached out to us last night and once I heard your name I decided to handle things myself” she picked up the black file folder, opened it and held it out to him. “Just sign these and you have your immunity as well as license to kill”
Alex dragged his eyes off her lovely face to the open folder. He reached out slowly to take it. There were two sheets of paper, important looking documents, and a pen stuck in it. He read the documents swiftly and saw that everything was in perfect order. He pulled out the pen and signed them then handed it all back to her.
“Thank you” she said politely then handed him a white envelope. “The code name of this operation, your code mane and that of your special contact at the regional command headquarters in Bornu state. Colonel Iyang himself will be coordinating things on this and your number one priority is El Soldat. Open the envelope, memorize all that is on the paper inside and destroy it, you know the routine. Things have already been fixed with security at Kano airport so you won’t be searched or bothered at any point” She placed the folder on the lid of the toilet seat. “Leave this and every other thing you don’t need behind when you leave. The airhostess that served you a drink earlier will be right in to take care of everything, she’s a Counter Intelligence agent”
Alex tossed the envelope on the package in the crucible and fixed her with his full attention. He was all too conscious of her powerful sexuality, the availability of her lush body in the confined space, less than an arm’s length away. He was suddenly aware of how long he had been without a woman. Too many months.
Sylvia met his eyes fully and the tip of her red tongue touched her luscious full lips, glossy red with lipstick.
Alex felt the last of his self -control begin to evaporate.
“Why are you really here, Sylvia?” he asked in a dangerous low voice.
She stepped very close to him then, put her hands on his chest and shoulders, running them slowly over the ridges of hard muscles.
“I want a reconnection” she said softly.
“Last I heard you were well connected to a Major with lots of money to splash on you”
She looked into his eyes. “That was over with months ago. I’m just alone by myself now and its rather depressing”
“There isn’t a shortage of high ranking officers with fat salaries, is there?”
A small smile touched her lips. “No, there definitely isn’t, but none seems to fit my standards of the perfect man like you so completely did. I was beginning to find life very discontenting and then you showed up again on the scene with a big salary of your own” She fixed him with her lovely big eye again and her arms slid around his neck. “Having me at your feet and having a meaningful relationship, isn’t that what you always wanted?”
Alex stared at her even as his arousal levels rocked upwards. “I’m not even in the military anymore”
She shook her head slowly. “I never really wanted a man in the military. I don’t even want to be in the military anymore. I want a home and children of my own, I want a family”
Alex didn’t know what to say. He searched desperately for words, and then she was kissing him. He stopped trying to think and pulled her tightly against his body as he kissed her back with all the hunger in his entire being.
The kiss was deep and long. When, finally, their lips parted, they stared deeply into each other’s eyes and she touched his face gently.
“When you return, we will start over again” she said softly. “Please, take care of yourself for me”
She pulled gently out of his arm as she moved towards the door, got it open and slipped out, closing it gently after her.
Bewildered, Alex took several deep breaths to lower his blood pressure a bit then picked up the envelope and tore it open. He got out the paper inside, unfolded and read it quickly. He read it again then a third time and the information was rewritten into his memory. He tore the paper to shreds and flushed it down the loo then turned his attention to the package. He tore open the tough nylon container and checked the vest carefully to make sure everything was in place. Satisfied, he took off his blue long sleeved shirt and put the vest on. He put his shirt back on over the vest then checked carefully to make sure that nothing showed. When finally, he opened the door and stepped out of the toilet, he found the airhostess waiting patiently close by.
He had nodded to her and headed back for his seat.
At the Kano airport, while many of the passengers were being checked by security, Alex had been one of the few to be waved through unbothered. In the arrivals’ hall this taxi driver had approached him boldly with the note on which the prearranged message had been scribbled and signed by the legitimate contact, Mr. Danjumma. Alex had then followed the taxi driver without question as the note implored.
Alex brought his mind back to the present and checked his watch. It was going on to twelve O’clock.
The old taxi wasn’t fast but within fifteen minutes they were in an area that looked like an industrial estate. They soon pulled up before a pair of large brown gates with the black and gold Goldfield company logo on them. An alert uniformed security man pushed the gates open quickly and the taxi drove through into the deserted compound of a huge warehouse, three large warehouse buildings linked together as one. The giant doors of one of the warehouses stood partly open and beside it was a man dressed in white shirtsleeve and black trousers. No other soul was in sight.
The taxi driver drove through the large compound and pulled up directly in front of the open warehouse doors. The man stepped up at once and got the rear door open for Alex.
“Welcome, sir” he greeted as Alex climbed out of the back seat.
The man was about thirty, clearly Hausa in origin and he spoke fine English.
“Thank you” said Alex and looked around. He carried his light bag easily in one hand.
“Just go on inside” said the man gesturing at the open doors of the warehouse. “My boss and your friends are waiting for you”
As Alex walked off, the man turned to the taxi driver and switched effortlessly to the Fulani language. He handed over a few naira note from a fat bundle in his pocket and the driver was all smiles. The taxi drove off, made an easy U-turn in the spacious compound and headed back towards the gates.
Alex took off his dark sunglasses as he walked cautiously through the open doors.
The interior of the large warehouse was gloomy but he could see it was parked high with large wooden crates and cartoons of goods, all the way deep in. There was more space closer to the open doors and to one side was parked a white Toyota Hilton bus while to the other were several plastic chairs arranged around two table. Rufai and Samuel sat there enjoy some refreshments and chatting with another man he had never seen before.
They saw Alex right away and the stranger got to his feet immediately, coming towards him.
“Ah, Mr. Okoye, good afternoon,” said the stranger in perfect English, smiling politely. “I’m Mr. Danjumma. I trust you had a nice flight?”
Mr. Danjumma was a respectable looking man in his late forties, clearly Hausa. He was dark skinned and of average height with a thick well-fed body that radiated the kind of good living that came from success and having money. He was dressed in the customary long robe and trousers style outfit that was the regular thing among the men up here in the north. The quality of the material used in tailoring the outfit spoke volumes of the financial and social statues of the man who wore them. The well to do men had theirs tailored with expensive materials while the flamboyant ones among them added the luxury of a hat and sometime, particularly in the case of the rich ones, the extra layer of a voluminous over-robe that transformed the entire outfit completely into something else, an Agada. Mr. Danjumma clothes were tailored from a clearly expensive red fabric, he had on matching decorative hat and expensive looking shoes. Alex put him down as a top employee of Goldfield holdings, probable the guy that ran this whole warehouse and whatever parent company attached to it.
Alex took the proffered hand in a firm handshake. “I had a nice flight, thank you”
“Oh, good, good” said Mr. Danjumma enthusiastically and began to lead Alex towards the other two men. “I was just outlining our traveling arrangements to Mr. Rufai and lieutenant Samuel while we waited for you and the other two to arrive. Come please, come and sit down and help yourself to some the refreshments, there’s enough for everyone. We consider ourselves very hospitable people here in the north”
Alex followed him over, shook hands with Rufai and Samuel and took a chair at the table, placing his bag on the floor next to it as he sat down.
There were several bottles of good wine on the table and a tray packed high with roast beef. Alex picked out a bottle wine and a glass, Mr. Danjumma placed an empty plate before him and gestured at the tray of beef.
“Please, help yourself” he said encouragingly.
“Thank you” said Alex and picked out a few large chucks of beef onto the plate.
“As soon as the Lieutenant Samuel’s men arrive, we’ll be heading out” said Rufai.
“In the Hilton?” asked Alex.
Rufai nodded. “Yes”
“We’ll be picking up a few travelers along the way to avoid any complications” said Mr. Danjumma now seated again in his chair. “There are too many military checkpoints along the roads now and only public transport vehicles stand a chance of getting through easily”
“Of course, Hassan, but no smelly market women” said Rufai with much familiarity.
“Of course not” replied Mr. Danjumma at once. “Just five or six travelers, that’s it”
Alex got the bottle of wine open and filled his glass then turned to the roast beef. Rufai and Samuel ate away at the beef and drank their own wine too while Mr. Danjumma just sat relaxed in the chair watching all of them.
“There has been some news” said Mr. Danjumma after a minute.
“What?” asked Rufai looking over at him, mouth full.
They were all looking at him.
“Boko Haram has now overrun all the small towns and villages south of the Yedzaeam river. Mastari is completely gone. They hit Bama itself last night”
“Christ!” exclaimed Samuel “Isn’t that supposed to be the second biggest city in Bornu state?”
“It’s the only other city in the entire state aside from the capital, Maiduguri” answered Rufai. “Technically speaking, it’s still a town, a very big one”
“How sure are you about this information?” asked Alex.
“One hundred percent sure, I have a well-placed friend in the Army’s regional headquarters in Maiduguri. He has been out of reach for the last four days so I wasn’t sure of anything until this morning. As of this morning, Boko Haram has occupied major areas in the southern part of the town but the Army is holding its grounds so far”
Alex shook his head sadly, there was suddenly a bitter taste in his mouth. “Not even up to a year and the entire state is already gone”
“And the terrorists are still advancing on all fronts” put in Mr. Danjumma. “The refugees have been pouring into Maiduguri in their thousands for weeks now. The new camps the government set up there just last week are already overflowing, even here in Kano it’s the same thing, too many refugees all at once, you’ll notice the influx once we get to the inter-state roads”
Rufai looked at Alex. “How does this affect our mission?”
Alex shook his head. “I don’t know for sure but it doesn’t sound good at all. Bama is just twenty miles north-east of Sambisa forest which is their stronghold. All their big shots are based either in Sambisa forest itself or within the vicinity and they never venture too far away, El Soldat is amongst them. With Bama in military hands we would have had a safe zone just behind our backs as we went in to meet with them but now…?” Alex shook his head again. “El Soldat will still want to meet at a secure location that’s not too far from Sambisa forest and that’s still to the south of captured Bama, there’s no way he’s coming into the town or over the Yedzaeam river. We may find ourselves be going very deep into what is now becoming enemy held territory to meet him”
“We’ll know for sure soon enough” said Samuel unworriedly and turned to his glass of wine.
A few minutes of silence followed as they all turned to the food and drink and then the sounds of vehicles pulling up outside reached them.
“They are here” said Mr. Danjumma but made no move to get up.
A minute later two men, both in jeans and T-shirts, came swaggering in through the entrance. They were both big men, about to six feet tall, powerfully built and full of arrogance. The same kind of arrogance one saw in young men with a lot of confidence in their own strength and power. Alex noticed how lightly they moved on their feet and knew at once that they were definitely well-trained and combat fit soldiers like Samuel.
“About time” said Samuel as the men came up.
The two men threw him a relaxed salute which told Alex that Samuel had a good relationship going with his men.
“What kept you bastards so long?” asked Samuel.
“Those security goons at the airport searched us like criminals, sir” said one.
“Bloody morons, all of them” grumbled the other one.
Samuel glanced at Rufai. “We weren’t searched. Alex were you searched?”
Alex shook his head even as he realized exactly what Military Intelligence had done or rather what Captain Sylvia Brown had done. Yes, she was very smart, that was one of the reasons he like her so much aside from her wonderful rich body and beauty. Letting most of the first class passenger go had given him good cover.
Samuel looked at his men and raised his eyebrows.
“Well, sir, we flew business class while you people flew first class. The rich always have it all handed to them on a plate”
Samuel made a sarcastic noise in his throat and looked at Alex and Rufai again. “Please meet my men, Sergeants Garko and Efosa. Guys these are Captain Rufai and Lieutenant Okoye”
The two Sergeants instantly let their bags fall to the floor as they snapped stiffly to attention.
“Good afternoon, sirs!” they barked out in unison.
“They are no longer in the force” added Samuel already busy with some beef.
Efosa rolled his eyes heavenward and glanced at his partner. They both relaxed.
“Good afternoon, sirs” greeted Sargent Garko generally.
“Afternoon, Sirs” repeated Efosa.
Efosa was the one making all the cheerful remarks and Alex found himself liking him which was something that didn’t come easily at all. The sergeants were roughly the same size and height but Garko had slightly bigger chest and shoulders, and he was downright mean looking whereas Efosa was easy going and good looking.
“Afternoon” said Alex and Mr. Danjumma almost at the same time. Mr. Danjumma still sat relaxed in his chair.
“Afternoon, Sergeants” said Rufai, he jerked a thumb at the other table which had a large covered bowl, bottled water and three bottles of wine. “Sit down and help yourself to something, we have another long journey ahead of us”
“Thank you, sir” said the sergeants and took seats at the table.
The men ate in silence for a few minutes and then the man from outside walked into the warehouse and headed over to the white Toyota Hilton bus to the other side of the warehouse.
Mr. Danjumma glanced at his watch then at Rufai. “We move out in twenty minutes if that’s okay with you”
“No problems, Hassan” nodded Rufai.
Mr. Danjumma got up and walked over to the bus. His man was already getting the doors open.
They were on the move in twenty minutes.
Mr. Danjumma sat in front with his driver while the rest of them sat in the back. Samuel and Rufai sat together in the seat directly behind the front seats, the sergeants sat together to the back of the bus and Alex was by himself in a row of seats midway.
After picking up five passengers at a motor park, four ladies and one elderly looking man, they hit the inter-state road and went racing east for Bornu state. The Toyota Hilton bus was air-conditioned and fast but they wasted so much time on the road due to traffic gridlocks. The confusion of traffic along the single lane inter-state road was monumental and the numerous military checkpoints only worsened the situation.
The flood of refugees out of war-torn Bornu state were endless. So many fleeing and almost no one going back in. Too many vehicles, cars, buses and even open trailers and lorries, all loaded down with people and their property, were hurrying all at once towards the city of Kano, blocking the path of the vehicles headed in the opposite direction, and this was the cause of the terrible traffic confusion all along the road.
The refugees trekking on foot were the worse off. They were in their thousands, covering every inch of space along the roadside and countryside, hungry looking men, women and children with all the property they could carry. Some of the families had quit the migration towards the government operated camps in the cities and settled for the countryside instead. They had pitched open camps and kitchens in clearings out in the countryside and gone into full time begging right along the road. Every tree in the vicinity had been cut down for firewood and the beautiful vegetation of the earth was being destroyed at an alarming rate as the incredible number of refuges foraged for food.
It was like the exudes of the children of Israel from Egypt all over again, only worse because there was no organization to anything and no food was dropping down from heaven, though Alex grimly as he stared out the window at a woman in tattered clothes just sitting by the roadside with a dead look in her eyes and four starving children around her, the youngest of whom was a crying toddler tugging weakly at her clothes.
So many refugees but no food or shelter. So many on the move but nowhere to go. It hadn’t been this bad when he was up here but then no major city or town had fallen to the terrorists then.
The journey lasted nearly four hours and no one did any real talking.
Once in Maiduguri, they dropped off the passengers and headed for the safe house.
Looking out the window at the city, Alex saw that apart from the increased military presence, nothing had changed in the six months since he was last there. The people were going about their business normally, shops and offices were open, motor parks and public vehicles were in business, crowds of people were even in the market places and along the roads, this was how it was here.
Once or twice, every now and then, there would be open gun battles on the streets or bomb explosions would rock a part of the city and litter the area with dismembered body parts and horribly mutilated dead bodies, everyone would go running for cover but the very next minute, once things quietened again, they would be out again and back in business like nothing happened. The fact that the city endured very long periods of blackout because it had been cut off from the national power grid long ago didn’t affect business too much, even the university stayed open no matter what.
The Army, the police and the civilian JTF, armed male and female vigilantes, sweated blood day and night to keep the city safe, Alex knew this from firsthand experience, but the devilish tactics employed by the terrorists of using women and children as bombs was simply too mind bending and impossible to tackle, and this the residents seemed to understand pretty well.
They finally got to the safe-house at about three o’clock. It was in one of the better parts of the city, a nice bungalow surrounded by a high barbed wire topped fence and gates which Mr. Danjumma got down to unlock for the Hilton to drive through into the spacious compound.
The house looked like it had been hired specifically for their temporary stay, there were enough rooms to go around but only the most basic furnishing. A simple plastic chair and a thin new mattress on the tiled floor were present in three of the four room which had already been designated for Alex, Samuel and Rufai, in the wardrobes were their Army officers’ camouflage uniforms. The two sergeants were to share the fourth room that had two mattresses on the floor. In the kitchen was a big fridge, stuffed with frozen ready-to-eat meal packs and a microwave oven to heat them up. In the big living room was a round dining table for four but it looked more like a conference table because of the large tactical maps of the state on the wall close by. A simple furniture cupboard with glass panels was against one wall to another side of the living room and visible through the glass were bottles of wine and glasses in one section, first aid equipment in the other.
Mr. Danjumma unlocked the door to a dark room he called the ‘storeroom’ and there were all the equipment they would use, weapons, ammunition, all neatly arranged in rows atop cheap wooden tables. A solid looking metal safe, about the size of a small fridge, was there in one corner.
Mr. Danjumma wasted no time hanging around. Once he showed them all around the house and turned on the big generator that supplied electricity, he handed over the keys to Rufai and took off with his driver in the Hilton for his own lodgings at a hotel.
Samuel had his men secure the compound and check out the two vehicles parked there while he joined Alex and Rufai in the storeroom.
With the bright white lights now on, the three men could see well enough to examine all the weapons and equipment in the storeroom and they were completely to their satisfaction. Rufai hid his moves very well as he dialed the combination lock on the safe to get it open but once he took out their military documents they all checked it out together. Everything was in perfect order and very genuine. Samuel whistled softly when he saw the high-powered stamps and accompanying signature on them then whistled again when he saw the neat piles of dollar bills in the black briefcase Rufai handed over to Alex. The envelope containing the message transcripts was there in the briefcase and so also was a nice new android phone with a big screen. The money was complete and everything was as the Alhaji said it would be, twenty wads of fifty dollar bills, fifty thousand dollars each, one million dollars in all.
Completely satisfied with everything, they put it all back in the safe again, leaving Alex only with the transcripts, the phone and its charger. Rufai relocked the safe and they moved out into the living room to plan.
After studying the wall maps together for some time, Alex left Samuel and Rufai to update it with the new information provided by Mr. Danjumma’s Army contact and went to sit at the dining table to check out the message transcripts and the phone.
The message transcripts weren’t much, just three computer printed pages, less than two thousand words. Alex read through it fast, and then he knew exactly where to pick things up with the terrorists. Having already switched on the phone, he picked it up and checked it. There was just one number in the phone’s directory but nine pictures in the gallery. The pictures were all of the same person. A young woman.
A young Arab woman.
“Rufai, there’s some sort of mistake here. The pictures on this phone are that of an Arab woman” Alex held up the phone for him to see.
Rufai glanced at the phone. “Yes, that’s her. Her mother is pure breed Shuwa Arab while her father is Hausa. She looks a lot like her mother”
Samuel stepped closer to take a better look then whistled softly. He flipped through the pictures a bit.
“Wow!” he said softly in awe. “She’s stunning! And she’s loaded!”
‘Stunning’ and ‘loaded’ cut it just right, thought Alex.
The girl was a lush bodied beauty in her mid to early-twenties. Most of her features were Arab but there was much African in the mold of her body. Her flawless beautiful skin was a wonderful golden high yellow in complexion, very smooth and silky looking. Her long straight black hair reached down almost to her waist, lovely liquid black eyes radiated intelligence and an inner fire, luscious lips very full and inviting. Every feature of her lovely face was clearly Arab except for her small mouth, the red lips was too full. Those lips and her rich curvy body, that was where the African in her blood showed all too clearly. Arab women had thinner lips and they simply didn’t have well-defined, rich curvy figures like these, only black African women did, and that was the ‘loaded’.
The girl was tall and big in build with a well-endowed curvy body that was nothing short of sheer perfection and magnificence rolled into one.; she had big breasts, flat stomach and very narrow waist but big widespread hips, wide sizable backside and thick shapely thighs.
Rufai didn’t seem at all interested in the pictures or the girl. He put the last positional markings on the map with the thin marker and moved to take a chair at the table.
“It’s time contact the terrorist” he said as he sat down facing Alex.
Samuel took a chair too and they were all seated at the dining table together. Alex put the call through to the terrorist and as the line began to ring, he put the phone on speaker and placed it on the table before him so they could all listen in.
The call was soon answered.
“Ello” came a hard, heavily accented voice.
“Allah’s peace be with thee” said Alex in English.
“Who iz zis?” asked the voice.
“I’m the promised negotiator for the girl”
There was a long moment of silence and then another person came on.
“You have the money?” asked the new voice in clear English.
“One million US dollars, yes, I do. But I need to know that the girl is still alive and unharmed”
“Do you want me to cut off some of her fingers so you can hear her scream?”
“No, no, that certainly won’t be necessary” said Alex quickly. “Just send me some pictures and a short video of her or even better let me hear her talk”
There was a pause and then a sharp command in Arabic.
“I’m fine, uncle” came a woman’s frightened voice.
Alex’s trained ears and brain didn’t pick out any critical pitches to the feminine voice which could suggest its owner was in pain. He glanced quickly at Rufai seated directly across the table form him and lifted an eyebrow.
Rufai nodded. It was the girl.
“You heard her?” asked the voice.
“Yes, I did, thank you. When and where do I bring you your money and take her?”
“Tomorrow morning, ten o’clock. You come to the NNPC filling station in Bama”
“That could be a problem” said Alex at once. “Due to the fighting in Bama the Army has practically sealed off the bridge over the Yedzaeam river. You people already own everything south of the river and I’m in Maiduguri right now, why don’t we meet somewhere along the river and do business? Crossing over at any point shouldn’t be a problem for you”
The voice snorted. “You are supposed to be military, infidel, find a way to get yourself and the money past all the problems and obstacles in your way and down to Bama tomorrow morning. That is the only way you can get the girl. Come in only one vehicle and approaching our lines at any point make sure you have a large piece of white cloth tied to your windshield wipers so it is clearly visible and keep every single one off your lights on, the interior lights, the headlamps, the tail lights and the transfigures, all of them. That is how you will be recognized as negotiators and given safe passage through our lines and through our territory to meet with me. How you come or from which direction, that’s your problem, just be on time, I’m not a man that likes to be kept waiting”
“I need some solid guarantees of safety” said Alex. “One million dollars is a lot of money to carry around in a war zone where everyone is armed and crazy”
“Worry about your safety while you are on your side not on ours, we are not thieves here. As I said before, once your vehicle approaches our front lines at any point with the visible white cloth and the flashing lights, you will be recognized as negotiators at once and let through unharmed and unbothered. Mentioning the name of El Soldat is your guarantee of safety anywhere in our territory. An escort will follow you from whichever point you cross over down to our meeting place, and then back out again. Bring the money to me tomorrow morning and you will have your girl”
The line went dead.
Samuel had gotten to his feet and gone over to look at the map again. There was a worried expression on his face as he turned to the other two seated men, pointing at the map.
“The only NNPC station in the region is right on the Maiduguri-Bama road to the southern part of the city” he said. “They’re pulling us deep into their territory”
Alex sat back in his chair. “That was what I was talking about at the warehouse. You didn’t really think El Soldat would come waltzing up here to make the exchange with heavily armed soldiers crawling all over the place, did you? We are damned lucky he didn’t invite us to Sambisa forest to spend time with General Shekau for a day or two”
“This could be a trap” insisted Samuel, coming back to sit down at the table.
“Or a legitimate exchange” said Rufai calmly. “Alex has a point. They are all criminals that are high up on the military’s wanted list and as such they will never come anywhere near government held territory in a hundred years. We must go to them”
Alex spoke. “Just before we left Abuja, I made some very discreet enquiries from a few old friends of mine over at Military Intelligence and found out that Boko Haram are now leaning fully into the kidnapping business. Their prime targets are families of the rich and powerful who they secretly kidnap in far lying cites and cart away to their strongholds. Faced with the weakness of the military, their victims are only too willing to meet their ransom demands and so far, Boko Haram have proven to be very discreet and straightforward in all negotiations for the release of the hostages, which is why the general public hasn’t heard a thing about it. Usually military negotiators quietly go into Boko Haram territory to meet with their top men, once an agreement is reached and the ransom is paid, the hostages are released unharmed and everyone goes home safely. There hasn’t been a single hint of foul play in these transactions till date and their customary requirement for direct contact is that the incoming negotiators announce their presence in their territory by displaying the traditional sign of a truce, the white cloth or flag on their vehicle and also keeping all the lights on at all times”
“So they’ve been doing this for some time?” asked Samuel in surprise. “It’s all normal business routine to them?”
“Yes” said Alex. “And I think Rufai here and the big boss back in Abuja already know that, which is why they were so willing to embark on this mission in the first place”
Samuel turned to look at Rufai but the older man wasn’t bothered in the least. He looked thoughtful.
“That second voice that spoke clear English, that was very odd” said Rufai, frowning. “Those animals are supposed to be complete illiterates and haters of western ways” he looked at Alex. “Was that El Soldat?”
“Yeah, that was him. He’s ex-Algerian Special Forces so he’s about the only one that speaks good English among them”
Rufai looked shocked. “He was Algerian Special Forces?”
Alex smiled and made a mental note that Alhaji Usman’s connections didn’t extend deeply into the intelligence community. “I see your lofty military contacts didn’t know that one at all, eh? Well, that information is kind of classified. Only a handful of top guns in the intelligence community know of it”
The two men stared at Alex.
“I assume you already have a plan” said Samuel.
“I always have a plan” said Alex simply.
“What is the plan?” asked Rufai.
“The plan is to act without trust for any terrorist under any circumstance, and do what they least expect. We go in but at our own time and definitely not through their front door where they will be looking” Alex picked out a marker from the cupful on the desk as he stood up and went over to the wall map. He began to point out positions and travel routes. “We go down the Maiduguri-Bama road and once over the Yedzaeam river, we’re in the outskirts of Bama. We bypass this road, there’s a bank just here, we’ll take this road next to it” Alex put red dots on the map. “We’ll make our way through this maze of back roads and exit the town at this point” Alex put another dot on the map and placed a fingertip by it. “It’s not a well-known road or exit point so we shouldn’t encounter much trouble there if any. The road will take us directly due east and once we get well clear of the town we’ll cut across the open countryside, heading south until we get to this point” Alex put an ‘X’ on the map with the marker. “It’s not visible on the map but there should be a small Fulani herdsmen settlement right there, it’s more like a camp than a village. Heading two miles directly west of there will have us intercept this road coming right out of Bama and heading south, the zangare-kure boundary road, and we are directly south of Bama. The NNPC station is just a few minutes’ drive up from there”
“Seems like you know this entire state very well” remarked Samuel.
“He should” said Rufai. “He spent over two years up here and in Adamawa state”
Alex continued. “Since the fighting is centered mainly in the town itself, we shouldn’t encounter too much hostility to the east and south of it, probably none at all because we’ll be keeping well away from all the roads, villages and settlement as we move on. The layout of the entire countryside to the east of the town is flat open grassland so we will see any trouble coming at us from miles away and have ample time to decide whether to evade or engage. We will be prepared for anything”
Samuel was nodding his head in agreement, he looked at Rufai. “Sounds perfect to me”
“Yes” agreed Rufai thoughtfully.
The front door opened and Sergeant Efosa entered. He saluted and began his report.
“The two vehicles are very good, sirs” he said. “The highlander Jeep is fine but the Mitsubishi bus is also very good”
“The Jeep is ideal for off-road travel which we will be doing most of the way” said Rufai. “Since it has three rows of seats and air-conditioning, it will be more comfortable for all five of us. We are better off with it”
“Not exactly, sir” said Efosa. The Mitsubishi bus is the original Jeep-build model and its clearance from the ground is even higher than that of the highlander. It has a very powerful special kind of engine and power steering too, which makes it a sweet piece of cake to on super bad roads. It’s really very strong and dependable, much better for rugged terrain. The seats are executive and extremely comfortably, a few touches and the air-conditioning will be perfect too. It a sweet ride, the only issue is that it wacks more fuel than the Jeep but there are several extra gallons of fuel at hand”
“What he’s saying in so many upside-down words is that the older model bus is slightly less fuel efficient but generally stronger and more dependable than the Jeep on rugged off-road road terrains. It also has a modified engine and a few of other important technical factors that makes it even faster and easier to handle than the jeep can be on any terrain” explained Samuel. “Personally, I think the bus is best for us since it is more spacious but less flamboyant looking. We are not looking to attract too much attention in a poverty ravaged region, are we?”
“No, we aren’t” agreed Alex and looked at the sergeant. “Does the bus look well used, Sergeant?”
“Yes, sir” said Efosa. “The Jeep is too neat and too recent in model but the bus is clearly well used but still in very good shape, and it even has a few dents and scratches too”
“We’ll take the bus then” said Alex with finality.
“When do we move?” asked the Sergeant.
“We’ve not fixed a specific timeline yet but it will definitely be before dawn tomorrow” replied Alex.
“Take the bus for a little spin and listen to the engine” said Samuel. “I don’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere with armed terrorists taking shots at me because some stupid mechanic overlooked something”
“Yes, sir” Efosa saluted again, turned on his heels and left.
Rufai looked at Alex. “What time exactly have you in mind as departure time for tomorrow morning?”
“0400 hours” said Alex. “Up here day breaks pretty quick and the drive down south will take us about two hours. Darkness will provide us with more cover as we travel though enemy territory and we need to be within the vicinity of that station by sunrise in order to check out the layout of the area. We need all the strategic advantage we can get since we are going so deep into enemy territory”
“He’s completely correct” agreed Samuel.
“Right” said Rufai, nodding. “Alarms all set for 0300 hours. We must be suited up and seated here to breakfast by 0310 hours tomorrow morning. We gear up together at 0330 hours and be on the move before 0400 hours. Nice work so far, gentlemen. I think I’ll get some much needed rest now, I’m very tired”
“Yes, go ahead” said Samuel. “We’ll be turning in soon ourselves”
Rufai was already on his feet. “Have a good night, gentlemen”
“Good night” said Samuel.
“Night” said Alex, thinking idly of what it would be like to work directly for Rufai. The guy was obviously a control freak.
Rufai walked over to the other door, got it open and went out, closing it again behind him.
Samuel and Alex sat quietly for a minute and then Samuel abruptly stood up.
“Care for a drink?” he asked Alex, gesturing at the cupboard.
Alex nodded. “A little whiskey will do, thank you”
Samuel went over to the furniture cupboard against the wall, opened the glass panel and examined the half a dozen bottles there. He selected one bottle, got two glasses and came back to the table.
“Premium whiskey” he said and shook his head as he placed the bottle and glasses on the table. “It’s really good to be rich”
Alex smiled but said nothing.
Samuel worked the new bottle carefully open and poured out the drinks. He pushed one glass towards Alex.
“Thank you” said Alex, accepting the glass.
“You are welcome” said Samuel with a nod and a friendly smile. He put the bottle aside and sat down with his own drink in the chair directly across the table from Alex, the chair which Rufai had just vacated.
The two men relaxed and drank in silence for a minutes as they watched each other.
“So you were really one of the elusive black beret Special Forces” said Samuel quietly.
Alex looked across at him, liking him. “Yeah, I was”
“Your accent, the way you talk. You were one of the few trained by the Americans, right? The originals?”
Alex took a drink. “Yeah”
“I heard the training program in general is pure hell”
“You heard right” said Alex simply.
“I bet you did incredibly good in yours”
“I passed like everyone else”
Samuel smiled. “A modest man, eh?”
Alex drank his whiskey and said nothing.
“When did you get booted out of the Army?” asked Samuel abruptly.
Alex glanced at him again. “Six, seven months ago”
Alex sighed. “It’s a long story… a complicated one”
Samuel waited but it didn’t look like Alex was going to tell the long story.
“Mind sharing?” he asked finally.
Alex took a deep breath and let it out then stared into his glass for a moment.
“The killing” Alex made a vague gesture and looked directly at Samuel. “All the senseless killing of innocent people over here particularly helpless women and children, the horrible way they’re killed, it kind of gets to you no matter how highly trained or how prepared you think you are for it. I fought the mental kickbacks for a year but then one day, at the sight of an entire village massacred by terrorists because of the stupidity of just one man who gave the wrong order at the wrong time, I just snapped. I beat that man to a pulp that day but unfortunately, not only was he my direct commanding officer, he was also the son of a retired Major-General”
“Yeah, it was that but it could have been much worse. I spent nearly a month in jail before anyone remembered I had a right to a trial, and then it was a closed door affair that even I wasn’t allowed to attend sometimes. More charges I didn’t even understand were piled on and just when I was beginning to think I would never see daylight again, a doctor I had been seeing for treatments stepped forward and gave evidence. I have no idea what he said till today but it was enough to turn things around. Some powerful top brass interceded and the heat began to cool on me. An example still had to be made, nonetheless, and there was a Major-General to be appeased so I got kicked out”
“You black beret Special Forces types either work directly for Defense or some top secret Intelligence department. Everything about you guys are always classified, apparently your court martials are classified too” Samuel shook his head. “It must have been very hard for you”
“It was terrible” agreed Alex. “But it turned out that all I really need to get back to top form was a long, long rest away from the war. I hadn’t had any such thing in two full years. I was fine within three months but, of course, it was already too late to do anything” he shrugged. “I just got a civilian job and moved on with life until this job popped up”
The two men fell silent for a few moments.
“Do you have a family, Alex?” said Samuel after a minute.
“Just my mother, a sister and younger brother, I’m not yet married”
“I have those too and more, but I also have a sweet little daughter by my fiancée who I plan to marry this year. I took this job because I needed the money to build a home for my new family” Samuel stared Alex in the eyes. “I want to walk out of this hell hole alive, Alex, and I think so do you too. We will need to trust each other well enough to work together as a team in order to achieve that, you and me. Agreed?”
Alex nodded. “Agreed”
Samuel held out his hand across the table and Alex leaned forward to take it in a firm handshake. The two men sat back again and drank quietly for a while until the sound of a vehicle entering the compound reached them.
“Your man, Efosa, he seems very good with vehicles and engines” noted Alex.
“He’s an engineer, he’s very good with everything mechanical except women. Set a trap with anything in a skirt and it will catch him, arms, legs and body”
Alex laughed and Samuel joined in.
The Sergeants soon came in to give their report.
“It’s all very good, sir” said Garko.
“Better than good” put in Efosa with the easy tone of an expert who knew exactly what he was talking about. “The more I listen to the engine, the more I like it. The engine was recently serviced and the vehicle is definitely in superb condition. I’ll need to touch up the air conditioning a bit to make it cooler, and then everything will be perfect”
“Well, do it now or forget about it completely” said Samuel. “We move out at 0400 hours tomorrow morning, wake-up time, 0300 hours and you two got the kitchen duty”
“We’ll fix it right away then” said Efosa.
As the two men went out again Alex glanced at his watch, five minutes past six. He drained his glass and put it aside, getting to his feet and picking up the phone from the table.
“I need to get some rest” he said.
“No problems” said Samuel. “As soon as the men secure the compound and come in I’ll get some rest myself, have a good nigh”
“You too, man”
Alex went off to the kitchen first and checked the fridge. He chooses a pack of ice-cold rice and chicken, warmed it up quickly in the microwave and settled down to eat with a cold bottle of orange juice. When he finished eating the food, he dropped the leftovers in the waste bin in the corner, got a bottle of water and a glass cup from the fridge and went off to his room.
Once inside the room with the door securely locked, Alex put the water and glass aside, took off his shirt, and then the vest. He fished out a nylon-like casing from a pocket of the vest, got out the folded thin paper maps inside, unfolded and spread them out on the floor. The maps weren’t large and there were only four of them, each a perfect square of ten by ten inches. Alex studied each one of them carefully before putting them away again in the nylon casing which went back into the pocket slot on the vest. Next, Alex went for his suitcase in the wardrobe and took the GX-2 phone out from it. The phone was in a compact casing along with its charger. Alex got them out and hooked up to a power socket in the wall, it had been nearly three months since he last used or charged the phone so the battery was down. He had a different phone for personal use and it was back in his hotel suite in Abuja where he’d left it, he never went into combat with personal items like a phone which could lead malicious enemies straight to one’s family and home if they got their hands on it.
Alex spent several long minutes with the other phone just staring at the pictures of the girl he was going to rescue one after the other. He stared at her lovely face then at her body and back to her face again. Her liquid dark eyes held him captive for several long minutes… the quiet fire in them, it suggested a woman of inner strength and spirit. He felt the powerful desire to possess her grow rapidly within him but stronger even was the desire to protect her. The thought of her, all alone in some cold dark hut, tied up and frightened by the terrible armed men around, it upset him strangely. He hoped to God they hadn’t hurt or broken her in any way, heads would literally roll if they had, but still it would be most unfortunate.
Alex stared fixedly at one of the pictures that showed the full length of the girl’s fabulous curvy body. It was a lovely photo of her dressed in a blue and white blouse top, smooth fitting blue jeans trousers and calf high black boots, standing by a red Porsche sports car parked in an open square that was obviously in an advanced foreign country which looked very much like the United States. Her long black hair blew freely in the wind and the lovely smile on her gorgeous face was both wonderful and infectious.
Yes, he thought. He would definitely find her and bring her home safely even if it was the last thing he did in this world, even if he had to pursue El Soldat right into Sambisa forest or hell itself. He would make her safe, he promised himself again as he stared at the beautiful angelic face smiling wonderfully at him in the digital photo, stared into those lovely dark eyes for a long time.
With a heavy sigh, Alex finally switched off the phone and hooked it up to charge as well then put all the rest of his things away in the wardrobe, the suitcase and the vest, his discarded clothes went on hangers. Dressed only in boxers’ shorts, Alex went through some special exercise routines before heading into the bathroom to take a cold shower.
His body felt much lighter and fitter now but Alex know he was still far below the one hundred percent that was full combat fitness level. The energy pills would certainly help for sure.
Out of the bathroom, all fresh and toweled dry, Alex checked the time on his watch. It was ten minutes to eight. He took one of the energy pills from a thin sachet in another pocket of the vest, gulped it down with some water and lay down on the thin mattress to sleep.
In a minute the drug knocked him out and he went into deep sleep.
Alex slept like a dead man for six hours, and then, like an inbuilt alarm clock, the drug kick started his brain, bringing him instantly and fully awake at two-fifteen a.m. in the early hours of the morning.
Feeling completely fit and full of energy, his mind very clear, Alex got out of the bed at once and went over to the wardrobe. He got his trousers and put it back on then got the bulletproof vest next. He took out the necessary items from secure pockets of the vest, a miniature roll-up universal tool kit, a small tube of glue, a pencil flashlight, the tiny tracker, the miniature detonator and the two small blocks of C-4 plastic explosives. He put them all in the pockets of the trousers then got the glass cup he’d brought in from the kitchen last night and half-filled it with water from the plastic bottle.
Barefoot and shirtless, glass of water in one hand, Alex stepped out of his room into the brightly lit hallway, closed the door quietly behind him and stood listening.
The sound of the big generator chiming out the electricity to the back of the house reached his ears but there was no sign of anyone about.
Quickly and noiselessly, Alex went down the hallway to the storeroom door. It wasn’t locked. He opened it and went in quickly, closing it again behind him.
The lights were off and the room was in complete darkness.
Alex got out the thin torch and flashed its powerful white beam of white light around to make sure no one was there as he crossed quickly over to the safe. He knelt down by the safe and carefully placed the glass of water on a particular spot atop it. Alex waited patiently for the water to settle down completely in the glass cup before trying the knob of the safe which had a numerically calibrated rim. He watched the water level in the glass very carefully as he turned the knob very slowly around several time. Each time the water moved in the glass, ever so slightly, he memorized the corresponding number on the knob facing the small red arrow target mark.
Alex had the numbers in less than ten minutes, dialed them in sequence and the safe popped open at once. He got out the briefcase quickly, unlocked it easily and emptied the wads of dollar bills out onto the floor to one side then studied the design of the briefcase carefully, inside and out. Once sure of what was to be done, he took out the items from his pocket, laid them out on the floor and went to work swiftly.
The interior of the briefcase was black so Alex left on the black casings on the two small blocks of plastic explosives. They fit in perfectly at the bottom corners of the briefcase and he glued them firmly into place at opposite angles. He set the detonator in place, wired everything up with thin black wires and glued them all firmly down. Lastly, he inserted the tracker into a tiny slot, glued the slot closed and he was done.
Alex surveyed his handwork carefully to make sure nothing was out of place then repacked all the money again, arranging the wads of dollar bills well. The money completely coved every trace of the explosive devices at the bottom of the briefcase.
Completely satisfied with everything, Alex relocked the briefcase and put it back in the safe then relocked the safe securely again. Quickly, he gathered up all the items he had worked with from the floor and put them in his pocket. Flashing the torch around to make sure he hadn’t overlooked anything, Alex stood up and picked up the glass of water from atop the safe. He moved quickly back to the door and stood there for several moments, listening for sounds of movement out beyond in the hallway but heard nothing.
Alex opened the door abruptly and walked casually out into the hallway, taking a drink from the glass of water like he had been up to the most normal thing in the world.
The hallway was empty.
Alex walked quickly back to the door of his room and went in. He put the glass of water away fast and went for the phones. They were both fully charged now, he disconnected them, put the other phone aside and turned on GX-2 as he went over to sit down on the white plastic chair that was the only furniture in the bare room.
The ultra slim GX-2 could have passed for an expensive android phone with a large screen but its heavier weight gave it away as something more. The things the phone could do were better imagined than explained and one of those was that, even without sims, it could fully utilize the signals of any of the six major commercial telecommunications networks in the country. It could also loop into any signal that was well outside normal phone range, secure Wi-Fi networks were a piece of cake, military networks were a given. As a civilian without the necessary military access codes, Alex hadn’t been able to access the device’s deeper features which was one of the reasons he packed it up soon after leaving the military service. The other two reasons were the phone’s weight and the danger of being caught carrying around a high-tech device that could intercept encrypted military communications.
The phone took less than a minute to powered up and decrypt but it took Alex much longer to send the series of codes and text messages that looped it into the servers at Military Intelligence headquarters, Abuja.
As he waited for the response, a knock came at his door.
“Are you awake yet, sir” came Garko’s voice from outside.
“Yeah” answered Alex.
“Gear up in thirty minutes, meals on the table for officers in ten”
“Got that, Sergeant”
Alex checked the time on the phone again as he heard Garko walk away from the door. It was nearly three o’clock now. The damned response was taking too long, he thought impatiently, checked the network settings and realized his mistake immediately.
The GX-2 had the ability to automatically scan the signals in any area and lock onto the strongest, and that was where the trouble lay for a civilian using it. If the phone got within one thousand yards of any security sensitive military facility, it would immediately try to loop into their signals and without the proper access codes, trigger all kinds of intruder alarms leading to the user’s arrest. To solve the problem as a civilian, Alex had the phone locked on a particular commercial network and all had been fine until he eventually packed the phone up.
The phone was still locked on that particular network now and the signal strength of the network up here was not quite right. Alex restored the phone’s network setting to the automatic mode, permitted it to boost and it instantly locked onto a strong military grade signal, suppling his access codes automatically to stall any alarms. Within seconds the response from the Military Intelligence servers came and then the tracker’s signal was live, right on top of his which was actually the phone’s own GPS signal. Alex checked the GPS coordinates and a few other important things then switched off the phone and tossed it down on the bed.
He hurried for the bathroom.
Several minutes later, all dressed up in the familiar Army camouflage uniform and shiny new black boots, complete with his old Special Forces issue black hand gloves, Alex headed for the living room. He found Rufai and Samuel already there when he walked in. Both men, in full military combat uniform, sat at the table eating their breakfast and there was an extra plate of food for Alex.
“Morning” greeted Alex as he went over to take his seat.
“Morning” answered both men.
The food was rice, noodles and fired meats with a carton of fruit juice. Alex dug in enthusiastically.
The three men ate quickly and once done, stood up together and headed for the storeroom. The Sergeants joined them in the hallway from the kitchen and they all moved into the storeroom together to gear up for action.
There were four tables and one had six pistols on it, five new Glock semi-automatics and two big revolvers. The Glock pistols had high accuracy and fired 9mm ammo so there were thirteen rounds per magazine. Alex chose a Glock, checked it well and put it away in his waist hostler. He picked up five extra magazines for the gun from an open box on the table, put them in his ammo pouch and moved on to the next table. He noticed that Rufai, who was next up to the pistol table. choose one of the big revolvers without hesitation.
The new table had the banana shaped magazines for Ak-47s rifles spread out on it and the five new rifles were on a rack close by, one rifle for each man. Alex took a rifle and got five extra chips for it, some loose bullets too, he put everything in his ammo pouch along with two grenades from the small pile in a box on another table. He got a wonderful commando knife with an extra saw edge, got a digital wrist-watch, pocketed a ski mask and a new hand towel, got one of the new radio communication devices, a very light ear-piece with an extended microphone to the mouth, and he was ready.
Rufai handed Alex a pair of binoculars along with the briefcase and they were all set.
In the military documents and by the insignia on their uniforms, the Sergeants and Samuel retained their ranks, Alex was a lieutenant again and Rufai a captain.
“Alright people, listen up” began Alex in an authoritative voice, looking around at the four hard men standing with him in the room, all armed and eager to move. “We’ve got a big date with some very bad guys we can’t afford to keep waiting. The express purpose of this mission is to pay them their ransom demand and get our girl back safe and unharmed” Alex held up the phone with the girl’s photo for all to see particularly the Sergeants who hadn’t seen it before. “These guys are very bad but we are worse. We are not going there to start any trouble, we are not here to join the bloody war but if they bring the trouble then we have no choice than to feed it back to them and get the girl back the hard way. Whichever way this goes our priority still remains the same, the girl” Alex paused significantly, holding the phone up again for them to see. He glanced around at the men again then abruptly looked at his watch., “0400 hours it is, people, let’s move it”
“On the way!” yelled Garko and Efosa in unison and headed purposefully for the door.
Having locked the house securely and turned off the generators, the men piled into the bus. Sargent Efosa got in behind the wheels while Alex took the front passenger seat next to him. Rufai and Samuel got in the back, taking the first row of back seats directly behind the front seats. Sergeant Garko got the gates open and the bus drove out of the compound then stooped on the dark street outside to wait as he relocked the gates, ran up and jumped in.
Efosa eased the accelerator down and the powerful engine made a deep purring sound in the dead quiet of the night as the bus moved off down the empty road.
The new curfew hours within the metropolis of Maiduguri covered the entire period of darkness. It stretched from 7-30 p.m. in the evenings to 6 a.m. in the mornings.
The total blackout lay like a heavy blanket over entire city which was dead quiet and completely deserted at four o’clock that early morning as the Mitsubishi bus made its way through the dark side streets towards the major roads which would in turn lead to the main highway that ran through the city, heading directly due south, the single lane Maiduguri-Bama road.
There were too many checkpoints mounted on the major roads. The Army, the police, even military police and the civilian joint task forces, they all had separate roadblocks set up. Some of the roadblocks were less than a hundred yards apart but all operated independent of each other, and then there were the mobile military patrols to contend with.
The Mitsubishi bus was flagged down thirteen time within the city limits alone. With the JTF and the police, the genuine Army uniforms of its occupants of the bus and their ranks were enough to let the bus pass through their checkpoints with little challenge but with the military units at the major checkpoints, the case was different. There were usually officers with the military units who equaled Rufai’s rank of Captain so they had to go through due process; they had to show their papers and submit to some degree of questioning.
At the last major checkpoint on the outskirts of the city the bus was flagged down yet again and, this time, detained for nearly ten minutes by mean looking military policemen while their commanding officer went into his command post, a large metal structure by the roadside that looked like a 20-foot shipping container with windows and doors cut in, and placed a call to his superior officer who then placed a call to his own superiors. Somewhere along the chain of command, hell broke loose and someone called the post directly to yell into the Captain’s ear that a newly promoted Captain had no business sticking his smelly nose into a ‘classified mission’ with the signature of a top General unless he wanted the smelly nose cut off for him. The Captain returned from his command post sour faced and gave the order to let the bus through the checkpoint.
Outside the city, the checkpoints became more spaced out and it was one or two every few miles. The bus put out effortless speed along the empty Maiduguri-Bama road as its occupants tried to make up for lost time. The single lane highway was good and the halogen headlamps threw out powerful beams of light that reached far out into the darkness of night ahead like two stabbing fingers as the bus ate up the mileage greedily. Efosa had things pretty easy behind the wheels and hardly let the speedometer needle fall below the one hundred kilometers per hour mark.
Stretching out on either side of the road and reaching right to the horizon was the endless flat grasslands of the Sahel Savannah bathed in the Silverlight of a dying moon. The entire countryside was a very beautiful and peaceful sight to behold except for the clusters of refugees here and there. Most of the small towns and villages that could be seen well enough along the road and out in the countryside had been overrun by the refugees in their countless numbers. Some of those refugees were already getting on the march even that early in the morning, all were headed in the same direction, northward, away from Bama and the advancing Boko Haram militants, fleeing towards the safety of the state capital were the promise of food, security and medical care awaited them in IDP camps, the government operated camps for the internally displaced people.
The road distance from Maiduguri to Bama was exactly forty-two miles and it took the speeding bus under an hour to cover it despite the brief delays at checkpoints. Five o’clock saw the bus crossing the heavily guarded bridge over the Yedzaeam river which was swollen by the early July rains, and then it was in the outskirts of Bama.
The military presence in the entire area was very heavy and it all seemed to be in a state of chaos. Military vehicles and personnel were crawling all over the place and themselves. A lot of military vehicles were coming out of the town and several others were headed in, vehicles parked wrongly all along the side of the road obstructed the free flow of traffic and ambulances and trucks loaded with wounded soldiers from the town had their sirens and horns screaming bloody murder even that early in the morning. It looked like the Army had taken a heavy beating in the town overnight and was now systemically pulling out. The sounds of heavy gunfire and shelling could still be heard in the far distance and clearly visible in the dark sky above the sprawling town was a red fiery glow the suggested the battle was raging deep within the town.
The bus was soon forced to pull over to the side of the road to make way for a light battle tank and a lorry full of soldiers in a hurry to go into the town but two approaching ambulance vehicles backed up by another truck stayed put on the road and refused to bulge. A heated argument between all parties followed at once but some military policemen soon showed up quickly to straighten things out.
“Low morals” said Rufai disdainfully from the rear seat.
Alex glanced back at him with dislike but said nothing. He could barely make Rufai’s face in the darkness of the interior of the bus. There were two rows of executive seats in the back of bus, three seats a row. Rufai sat comfortably next to Samuel in the first row directly behind the front seats while Sergeant Garko had the last row all to himself.
“The Army doesn’t look like it’s going to stay in Bama much longer” observed Samuel worriedly as he looked around. “We need to get off this road quickly and be on our way so we can make it back in time to get across the bridge before the terrorist lay claim to it”
“The turn off is just up ahead” said Alex.
The wounded were given priority as the holdup got sorted out and they were on the move again. Alex gave Efosa directions and they made a left turn off the single lane highway onto a more peaceful side road. Two more turns and it was dead quiet and darkness again. They stopped briefly to allow Alex tie up a white cloth to the windshield wiper and then continued on their way.
The sprawling town of Bama could have passed for a city if it had been slightly more developed, it certainly had the land size and population…or rather it had the population. Bama used to have a population of over a quarter of a million peaceful people but now it was like a ghost town, completely desolate, dark and dead quiet as a graveyard. All the houses were in darkness and there wasn’t a light or a civilian soul to be seen anywhere as the bus sped through the back streets on the northern part of the town.
The bus soon encountered the roadblocks of the last elements of the Nigerian Army’s flank guard on the outskirts of the town and had to stop yet again.
There were barriers blocking the road and twenty yards beyond that were two vehicles, a big Pickup Jeep truck with a mounted machine-gun and a large 8-wheel armored vehicle, parked right across the road, blockading it. The armored vehicle hit the bus with a powerful bean of light as it approached fast down the road and four heavily armed soldiers in full battle-gear stepped forward out of the shadows to meet it.
As the bus came to a halt before the barricades, a Sergeant-Major wearing a steel helmet over a mean looking face stepped up to the driver’s window and beamed a bright flashlight directly into Sergeant Efosa’s face while the other soldiers moved around the bus, looking it and every one over. Only one other soldier besides the Sergeant-Major had a torchlight and he seemed more interested in the booth of the bus.
“Where you dey carry Danfo fly go this kind early morning?” asked the Sergeant-Major in the local pidgin English that did nothing to undermine the hardness of his voice. His bloodshot eyes clearly indicated he was critically short of several days’ worth of sleep.
“He is going exactly where I want him to go, Sergeant-Major” said Rufai taking charge at once.
The Sergeant-Major jerked his torchlight into the back seat at once and Samuel turned on the overhead lights in the bus for him to see well. The beam of light from the armored vehicle didn’t quite get into the interior of the bus.
The Sergeant-Major snapped sharply to attention and saluted as he saw the ranks of the two officers seated there in the back seat.
On the other side of the bus, the corporal standing off from the front passenger door with his rifle at the ready, saw the sudden way his Sergeant-Major snapped smartly to attention and curiosity stepped closer to take another look at the occupants of the bus. He looked again at the soldier sitting in the front passenger seat, saw that it was a lieutenant and snapped sharply to attention too. He saluted smartly.
Alex nodded casually in return and the corporal relaxed, lowering his gun.
The other armed soldiers circling the bus stood down at once too. They didn’t need to be signaled after seeing their top kick jump to attention the way he did.
“Good morning, sir” greeted the Sergeant-Major and inwardly cursed his luck at meeting a bloody Captain to spoil the already sour morning for him.
“Morning” said Rufai easily. “I need to get through your roadblock at once”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you must have to show me your papers before I can allow you through” replied the Sergeant-Major apologetically but firmly.
“I’m on a classified mission, Sergeant-Major. One that is well above your level and I’m already running behind schedule as it is. I suggest you move you people and vehicles aside immediately and let me be on my way”
“So sorry, sir, I can’t do that” said the Sergeant-Major firmly. “We have very clear orders and it comes directly from Division headquarters. No military personnel may get through this roadblock without the necessary papers. If you do not have any papers from Division headquarters, we will have to detain you”
“They’re trying to check the activities of spies and deserters” said Alex. “We’ll have to talk directly to his commanding officer, he should be a lieutenant”
“Get your ranking officer here at once” said Rufai.
“Yes, sir” the Sergeant-Major stepped back with a quick salute and yelled towards the armored vehicle. “Bazar! On the double, get the lieutenant here quick. There’s a Captain fixing to see him”
In a minute another soldier emerged from the shadows and stepped into the beam of light from the armored vehicle as he approached the bus.
“Officers, sir, they don’t have papers” said the Sergeant-Major as he moved aside and gestured his superior at the window of the bus.
The lieutenant came up and took a look at the occupants of the bus, checked out their faces carefully, uniforms and ranks. He was a junior lieutenant of about thirty and he too looked worn like he hadn’t gotten any sleep in the last few days, hadn’t even shaved in days. He saluted Rufai.
“Morning, lieutenant. I need to get through your roadblock at once”
“I’m afraid that will not be possible without the right papers form Division or Battalion headquarters. Our standing orders are to arrest and detain anyone attempting to get through us without adequate documentation”
“My orders supersede any orders you may have received and I outrank you” Rufai got out the papers from the pockets of his camouflage uniform, unfolded and held them out.
The lieutenant accepted the papers and the Sergeant-Major supplied him the light at once. He read through the papers quickly, once and then again as if he was finding what he was seeing a bit hard to believe.
“You may make the necessary phone calls to your superiors if you please” said Rufai.
“I don’t think that would be necessary, sir” replied the lieutenant and handed back the papers. He nodded at the Sergeant-Major “Clear the road”
The Sergeant-Major moved off at once to obey and the lieutenant turned back to the Captain. “My sincere apologies for the delay, sir. You are free to go”
The Sergeant-Major was backing out orders and curses at his men in rapid fire successions as he kept waving the beam of his torch vigorously at the blockading vehicles twenty yards ahead. The powerful beam of light from the armored vehicle dimed as its powerful engines started up. It backed slowly out of the road as did the big Pickup Jeep. An opening wide enough for the bus to pass was made.
The lieutenant pointed ahead. “Beyond is hostile territory. We have no units out that way so you people will be completely on your own”
“I know that, lieutenant” said Rufai. “Thank you”
“Is there anything you can tell us about the enemy strength and positions out there?” asked Samuel quickly.
“Not much, I’m afraid” the lieutenant shook his head. “We have had just two major confrontations in as many weeks so it’s relatively quiet out here on this front. A large group of them are dug-in just two hundred yards beyond the roadblock but so far, they seem to prefer watching and waiting. They move around in small packs and take shots at us now and then, that’s about it. Turn off all your light as you go past the roadblock so none of them keeping watch will be able to see you clearly or pin point you position well enough to take clean shots at you. The road from here is not too good but keep to the left side, and even driving at speed, you will fine. Try to stay completely dark until you get well clear of the town limits and far out into the open countryside, you’ll be safer that way. The main thrust of their attack is coming from the south and south-west areas, out here to the east it is relatively quiet so you shouldn’t encounter much trouble wherever it is you are headed. Most of the people living in the region have fled but quite a number of them, mostly Muslims, still remain in the villages so you will never really be able to tell a new Boko Haram recruit from an ordinary villager until it’s too late. The Boko Haram Army is growing too fast and they don’t seem to have enough uniforms for everyone so most of the new recruits are dressed like ordinary villager which gives them the advantage of hiding in plain sight. It is best you steer completely clear of all major roads and settlements on your way” the lieutenant shrugged. “That about all I can tell you. You’ll see things for yourself as you go on”
“Thank you” said Samuel. “You’ve been most helpful”
The lieutenant nodded, stepped back from the bus and saluted.
Rufai and Samuel both returned the salute, Efosa gunned the engine and drove forward.
As the bus neared the roadblock, it turned off all its lights and increased speed rapidly. In a second it vanished completely into the darkness beyond.
The lieutenant stood there in the middle of the road, watching until all traces of the bus vanished into the night and the blockading vehicles moved back into position on the road. He listened carefully for several minutes but not a single shot was fired by the hostiles.
The Sergeant-Major stepped up to his side. “Unbelievable, not a single shot fired at them! Those bloody terrorists must be sleeping late into the morning”
“Or in a special prayer session” said the Lieutenant. “Those bastards never sleep”
“Shouldn’t we have called it in first before letting them pass?”
“No” the lieutenant shook his head firmly. He was a sharp fellow who knew how things worked. “Those documents were from Defense headquarters and the signature on them was two star. The orders superseded ours by a full mile and they were very clear. We could have gotten into trouble just by delaying them long enough to make phone calls to confirm anything”
The Sergeant-Major’s eyebrows shot right up into his helmet and he whistled softly. “And now they are going into enemy territory. What do you think they are even going to do out there?”
The lieutenant shrugged. “I don’t know but it can’t be far from the obvious. Did you notice the white cloth on their wiper? That wasn’t there by mistake, they are negotiators going in to meet with Boko Haram’s top commanders. Someone or some people very important to a big shot must have been kidnapped by the terrorists”
“Kai!” the Sergeant-Major looked shocked. “Have you heard or seen such before, because I haven’t. We are not supposed to be negotiating with terrorists, particularly not with these criminals”
“I’ve heard and seen it before in Gwoza” said the lieutenant calmly. “A team of three soldiers in a Helix just came up through our front lines and went right through theirs without a single shot being fired at them. They had the white cloth tied up and all their light were flashing like crazy, the terrorists actually cleared a way for them to get through. Two hours later, the Helix come right back across the lines with a woman and two children. I didn’t know who they were but from the amount of security involved and the respectful way they were being treated, it was easy to figure out that they were the family of a big shot”
The forty-nine-year-old Sergeant-Major suddenly looked angry. “If it was my own family that was trapped in enemy territory right now, they wouldn’t even give me a day’s leave to go and give them transport money to take the next available bus out, talk less of launching a special rescue mission!”
“With your harem of wives and over population of children, I’m sure you wouldn’t notice the loss of a few” The young lieutenant eyed the older man unimpressed. “Get the morning patrol on the move and stop dreaming. There is no leave for anyone of us until this bloody war is over”
The lieutenant turned on his heels and walked off towards his post without a backward glance.
The road was very bad. In places it was none existent, just a muddy stretch. Efosa drove carefully, picking the way in the darkness ahead and keeping up a good speed.
It was almost five thirty now and the sky was already lighting up on the eastern horizon.
About two miles from the town, the powerful headlamps of the bus picked out a wide cattle trail cutting across the road as it headed directly south across the open flat grassland.
Efosa slowed the bus down to a crawl as they approached, and then stooped. Alex checked out the trail quickly with his sharp eyes then looked in the direction it went.
“This should be fine” said Alex with a nod. “Take it”
Efosa swung the wheels at once and the bus made the swift right turn off the road onto the trail.
The going instantly became terrible as the rains had turned the trail into a muddy wallow with large bodies of water in places. The bus soon got bogged down in a large pond-like area and refused to budge. Efosa shifted down a gear and engaged the four-wheel drive, the sound of the powerful engine deepened to a low growl and, tires spinning, the bus clawed its way out.
They drove on for a long while, a lone vehicle ploughing its way slowly but steadily through a muddy trail in the vast savannah. The sky became lighter, the golden rays of the sun torched the eastern horizon with the promise a sunny day and the bus no longer needed its headlamps. The grass plains were heavily water-logged and Alex knew the likely dangers of trying to drive across them in that condition so they stayed on the already trodden trail, it was the best opinion.
Twisting and turning, the trail took them well clear of the few villages and minor settlements dotting the countryside as it kept heading directly southward. After they had been going for about thirty minutes, Alex got out the maps provided by Mr. Danjumma and started checking it, cross-referencing with the compass on his watch as he scanned the countryside with the binoculars.
“The going is slow but we should be clear to the south of Bama in a few minutes” he finally declared.
“What about the Fulani settlement you talked about?” asked Samuel from the back seat.
“We should come across it soon” replied Alex.
“Will it be along this trail?” asked Samuel.
“No, we’re a bit off course” replied Alex. “It will be somewhere further to the east”
The bus kept moving on and five minutes later, scanning the countryside through the binoculars, Alex picked out the Fulani herdsmen’s camp far in the distance to their left.
He passed the binoculars over to Samuel and pointed. “The settlement is over that way in the distance, check it out. It’s been burnt down to the ground and the smoke still rising from it indicates it was done not too long ago”
Samuel put the binocular to his eyes, focused and took a good look.
The Fulani settlement which used to be a cluster of a handful of mud huts and tents was now a blackened ruin from which smoke was rising. The place was completely desolate. There wasn’t a soul in sight either there or anywhere else in the vicinity. They hadn’t seen either man or beast since leaving Bama.
“Yes, it can’t have been done more than a day or two ago” agreed Samuel. He moved the binoculars around and adjusted its vision to take a closer look at the immediate area of the settlement. “Both man, beast and fowl have fled the area”
“Yeah” agreed Alex. “All this entire area you see used to be full of gazing animals that roam to and fro, between here, Bauchi and Adamawa states. The herdsmen had comps all around that village and complete freedom of the area. Those terrorists are definitely in firm control of this area and we should be coming across them soon. Everyone needs to keep a sharp lookout from here on” Alex turned to Efosa. “Sergeant, just after that anthill up ahead, make a turn and head directly west. The land is higher and drier from there on”
“Isn’t it yet time to turn on all the lights?” asked Rufai a bit uneasily.
“Not just yet” said Alex, not missing the hint of fear in the man’s voice. “This deep into their territory, and at a distance, the bus can easily pass as one of their own. We are safe for now”
Samuel passed the binoculars over to Rufai to take a look too.
About five hundred yards up ahead was a large red anthill, the height of a man. When the bus got to that point, Efosa made the turn off the trail and headed west over rolling grassland.
They soon intercepted the zangare-kure boundary road which led south out of Bama, crossed it and continued on west over flat grassland.
Alex pointed to some building in the distance far to their right. “That’s Bama, we are directly to the south of it now. This area is actually north Masteri, a different local government area entirely”
“There’s still no one in sight” said Samuel looking at a cluster of deserted low buildings about two hundred yards away to their left. “No sign of the terrorists anywhere either”
“The people have obviously all fled but the terrorists are just busy elsewhere for now” said Alex and gestured out the window at the tormented town in the distance. “They are obviously throwing all what they’ve got at the Army in a bid to capture the town, but don’t worry, once they figure out we’re down here with a million dollars, they’ll come crawling out from every corner and every hole in their numbers”
“Shit” cursed Samuel.
Rufai sat quietly and said nothing. His heart was beating rapidly now and he there was cold sweat in his armpits. The tension was beginning to build rapidly within him and he hated to think of it as fear.
They drove on in silence for several minutes, the bus picking its way over flat open grassland. They soon cut across the last road running south out of Bama and in a minute had the parallel Maiduguri-Bama road in sight again.
Efosa slowed the bus almost to a crawl as they approached the road and Alex, siting up in the front seat next to him, scanned the entire vicinity rapidly through the binoculars. They were all keeping a sharp lookout now.
“Turn on the lights and hit the road” ordered Alex.
All lights blazing, the bus shot forward, covering the last fifty yards to the Maiduguri-Bama road swiftly, made the right turn onto it and drove northwards, back towards Bama.
“Slow down” ordered Alex without taking the binoculars from his eyes.
The bus slowed almost to a crawl.
It was just past six o’clock now and completely daylight. The flat open countryside laid out all around was devoid of life and the closest structures was a burnt out kiosk a hundred yards up ahead by the roadside. Far up in the distance, about a mile and a half up the road was the beginning of the southern outskirts of Bama. There were several buildings along both sides of the road up there and one of them was a big NNPC filling station comprising of a large low building with about a dozen pump terminals spread out front under a large red and yellow high metal roof. Most of the other buildings had been destroyed by the terrorists to some extent, some had been razed to the ground, but the filling station still looked firm and fine.
Alex adjusted the settings of the binoculars and the station jumped closer into view. He saw at once that all the show glass windows and the doors of the low building had been vandalized and the place had been looted but the structure itself, the filling station as a whole, still looked in good condition.
“That’s the NNPC station up there, isn’t it?” asked Rufai.
Both he and Samuel were leaning forward in their seats to stare out ahead through the windshield. Both men had excellent sharp eyes which was a standard requirement for all Nigerian Army recruits.
“Yes, that’s it” said Alex without lowering the binoculars. He kept scanning the filling station and its immediate surrounding through the powerful lens for several minute but saw no sign of movement.
“Stop right here, Sergeant”
About a mile from the outskirts of the town, Efosa brought the bus to a halt in the middle of the empty road.
“Sound the horn shortly three times” ordered Alex.
“Christ Jesus!” exclaimed Samuel nervously. “We’re sitting docks in the middle of a fucking dead flat land. We will be heard and seen for miles around”
“Yes, we are far too exposed here” agreed Rufai quickly.
“That’s the idea” said Alex unworriedly, keeping his eyes fixed on the filling station through the binoculars. “It’s time to show ourselves plainly and see who’s home. We’re well out of weapons range so we’re safe”
In the dead silence prevailing over the entire area, the loud horn of the bus was like the sound of a huge trumpet, reaching far and out all around, three short blasts of it.
Several silent minute followed and they all kept close watch on the filling station and its immediate vicinity far up ahead in the distance.
Nothing moved anywhere.
“I don’t think anyone is in that filling station or anywhere around here” said Efosa, staring fixed ahead at the object in question.
“I don’t think so either” said Samuel glancing all around the area, and then behind at Garko seated in the back and keeping a sharp look out to their rear.
“There isn’t” said Alex simply. He already had the binoculars focused on another building beyond the filling station.
“Well, you had it all planned out” said Samuel with grudging respect and glanced at his digital wrist-watch. “The place is clearly just a meeting point and we are a clean three and half hours ahead of schedule. I doubt El Soldat has even taken his morning bath yet much less started thinking of coming down here”
“Yes, about El Soldat” said Rufai. “Isn’t it time to call him yet?”
“In a minute” said Alex wishing they would shut up and let his mind work. He kept looking through the binoculars at the buildings up ahead, working things out fast in his mind.
There was silence in the bus for a few minutes and they all kept watch.
“I don’t like the look of that filling station” said Samuel finally, uneasily. “It’s too open, not much by way of solid cover anywhere. If any shooting starts, we are cooked goose”
“I don’t like it either” said Alex and passed him the binoculars. “Check out the large burnt-out building about five hundred yards further up and across the road from the station”
Samuel put the binoculars to his eyes and checked the building out.
“It’s a cathedral” he said.
“Yeah” agreed Alex. “It’s a catholic church actually, lots of cover and an alternative exit route out back into the street behind. That’s where we’ll meet them”
“El Soldat specifically choose the filling station” said Rufai at once. “Such an audacious change of venue will likely anger him”
“Perhaps, but not that much, not with one million dollars waiting for him to pick up. In a way our early arrival is also to our advantage in that area” Alex got out the phone. “Time to tell them we’re here”
Alex speed dialed and put the phone to his ear.
The call was answered almost at once.
“Who iz zis?” came the heavily accented male Fulani voice.
“It’s me again for the girl” replied Alex. “I want to talk to El Soldat”
There was a moment’s silence, and then El Soldat came on.
“What’s the problem?” asked El Soldat gruffly.
“Absolutely none” said Alex. “I just called to tell you that I’m already at the NNPC filling station and there’s no sign of you or anyone anywhere”
El Soldat uttered a foul curse in a foreign language Alex didn’t understand.
“I said ten o’clock and I made myself very clear!” he said angrily. “Are you deaf or what?”
“You have something of important value to me so naturally I came as quickly as I could to collect it” Alex kept his voice down and calm. “I have your one million dollars right here with me and I will wait patiently until you get here with the girl to collet it”
“Twenty minutes” came the curt reply.
The line went dead.
Alex lowed the phone from his ear and half-glanced back at the other two men. “That was El Soldat again. He wasn’t even aware of our presence here in their territory and he’s not in the vicinity either but he says he will be here in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes is exactly the kind of time will take a fast car to get from Sambisa forest to this place”
“You were right after all” said Samuel with respect. “This is his neighborhood”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t bring all his tenants and neighbors when he comes calling” said Alex. He snapped his fingers at Efosa and pointed ahead. “Move it, Sergeant. Get us in that cathedral”
Efosa shifted gears swiftly and drove forward purposefully
The burnt out ruin of the big cathedral sat like a large empty shell on eight plots of land fenced around by solid walls with two separate gateways. The main gateway was a pair of big brown double gates opening out unto the Maiduguri-Bama road while the second opened out unto a wide street in the residential neighborhood behind the church…all the residents had, of course, fled the neighborhood and the entire place was devoid of life.
Only days ago the cathedral had been a thing of beauty and pride to so many indigenous Catholics but now it was a brunt out ruin. It had been the very first thing the Boko Haram terrorists who hated Christians and all western ways, had swooped on when they captured that part of the town.
The old priest and two nuns who refused to flee like all the rest of the people in the area did as the insurgents advanced, had been beheaded right there in the church.
The rotting corpse of the old priest and its severed grey-haired head were being feasted upon by scavengers right there in the open courtyard while the bodies of the nuns were in a prayer chambers of the personage, a one story building directly to the rear of the cathedral building. The awful smell of their rotting flesh attracted Alex straight to the large room and he found their beheaded corpses lying in dark pools of caked blood on the tiled floor, the two severed heads in different corners. Flies in their thousands were buzzing all over the rotting corpse while other vermin, including rats now too fat and sluggish to run off at human approach, had their share. The torn robes on the two women strongly suggested that they had been raped, probably severally, before being gruesomely murdered. One of the heads was still fairly intact and Alex felt a terrible bitterness in his heart when saw how young and innocent the face was. The other detached head had a face that had been partly eaten up by the vermin but the hair was very visible and it was graying at the edges.
The other men couldn’t stand the horrible sight or smell in the prayer room and so kept their distance but Alex had seen so many of such before to allow it bother him too much. He promised himself he would give them some form of a burial if he got even half a chance, then went off to check the rest of the rooms in the personage.
The bus was parked securely out of sight in the large space between the rear of the cathedral and the front of the one story personage where it couldn’t be seen from either of the two gates. The high fence enclosing the large compound guaranteed security if not more cover and the locked gates to the rear of the compound was the alternative escape route. Out front the big double gates stood wide open like it had been when they arrived.
Coordinating their operation over the radios coms, the experienced soldiers did a clean security sweep of the entire compound.
The entire church had been completely destroyed and the magnitude of the havoc wrecked was mind bending.
The large cathedral itself was a total write off. Its roof was gone, completely consumed by the fire, but the blackened solid walls still stood intact. All the large glass windows had been vandalized, even the metal doors had been deliberately damaged to some extent or burnt to a black color. The entire interior of the cathedral was completely bare now and on the blacked tiled floors were huge piles of cold ash and large stubs of charred polished wood, the remains of all the furniture and dedicated items which had adorned the church. Everything, the large holy alter, all the tables, all the big throne-like chairs, all the dedicated furniture and instruments, the long heavy hardwood benches for the congregation, they had all been piled up together in places and set ablaze right there in the cathedral. The terrible inferno from all the burning piles of hardwood had risen high to consume the roof and, subsequently, the whole cathedral itself. The few areas of the building left untouched by the fire showed clearly that the church had been a freshly painted brown and yellow structure before the insurgents struck.
Only the two heavy iron offering boxes seemed intact in the whole place but their locks had been broken open and the contents looted.
The personage had been set ablaze too but most parts of it had somehow survived to show that it had been looted first. All the nice furniture and home appliances, even the beds and the rugs on the floor where gone and the place was bare. The other detached building, a low building of several rooms, had been razed to the ground completely.
The security sweep was complete in a few short minutes and the men took up positions in the cathedral to wait. Rufai and Samuel somehow managed to salvage some things that passed for chairs and set them up in one of the clear areas, using one of the empty iron offering boxes as table. Alex joined them after he detailed the Sergeants to lookout duty and they all sat quietly, waiting.
The steel briefcase was right there on the offering box before them and also there was the expensive black leather document folder which Rufai had been carrying since they left the safe house. Alex had asked him about it once and the reply had been that it was very important documents requiring the girl’s urgent attention so he never bothered about it again.
“Christ! What a horrible crime in the name of religion!” exclaimed Samuel suddenly, shaking his head and looking around again. He was deeply shaken by all what he had seen. “If I get my hands on any of these bloody Boko Haram Muslim bastards and the imam teaching them these things before I leave this godforsaken state, I will so torture them”
Rufai bristled at once. “I take great offence to that remark, lieutenants. I’m Muslim and I certainly don’t live my life like this at all. I live and work peacefully with Christians and the world in general, many millions of other true Muslims will tell you the same thing too. These Boko Haram animals are just criminals and ignorant souls being led astray by crazy zealots who wrap and present their lies and evils in the cloak of Islam” Rufai angrily waved a hand around. “The motherless bastards who did all these things have no idea what real imams or true Islam is, what they know is a piece of igneous rock in Sambisa forest that gives them holy power and knowledge and a crazy leader that tells them what to do which includes killing thousands of good Muslims as well as innocent women and children too or haven’t your noticed?”
Samuel kept his big mouth shut.
Alex stared at him. “It’s a good thing you didn’t make such talk with lots of other Muslims around, try not to do such again while you are up here in the north because it’s a very sensitive issue that will get even ordinary market women very angry and very quickly. These terrorists are nothing but criminals’ period. Their attacks are not limited to Christians alone but reach out to everyone, great and small. What you are seeing here is nothing compared to what I saw at a big mosque in Maiduguri two years ago. They bombed the place while it was in full prayer session and the fires that originated form there destroyed half the houses on the street. Over fifty people died that day with countless others injured, some permanently disfigured, and not one of them was a Christian”. Alex glanced at his watch then back at Samuel “You may just get your wish to lay hands on some of them, they should be showing up any minute from now”
“You really think they will come in numbers?” asked Rufai.
“They will definitely come in numbers” replied Alex, stressing the word. “Most likely upward of a dozen men for show of strength. When they get here none of you mustn’t show any sign of weakness, all our lives may depend on it. Be very watchful and alert, be like you are ready to swing into action in a second but still very calm and controlled. Keep your eyes fixed on them at all time, guns at the ready but pointed at the floor. Be silent and let me do the talking, follow all my leads and we’ll be fine”
“What if we are not fine?” asked Samuel. “What if the bastards start trouble or try to double cross us? That seems to be what they are really good at”
“Hopefully, they won’t do either of the two but if they did, then we are in big trouble because we’ll be outnumbered five to one at first, and then more of them will quickly come rushing in to make it ten to one. The odds will just keep growing on us from there and even so, we’ll still have to get the girl back and fight our way out of here somehow. It’s in our best interest that this transaction gets successfully conclude the first time because there won’t be a second chance” Alex stared at the two men. “There can be no mistakes on our part”
In the silence that followed the ear piece in Alex’s ear came to life.
“We’ve got serious company on the way, sirs, two vehicles” came Garko’s voice urgently and they all heard him, their ear piece coms were on the same channel.
Alex was already on his feet, running for the stairs
The two Sergeants, armed with the binoculars, were on lookout duty up in the church’s two story high tower. The structure was part of the cathedral itself and it commanded a good view of the entire vicinity including the immediate area around the church, both gateways and the street behind. The tower was one of the reasons Alex had chosen the church, it also offered an advantageous firing position if there was a gun fight.
Very alert and watchful, the Sergeants had been at their post for less than fifteen minutes when Garko’s hawk eyes picked the movement in far distance to the south of the Maiduguri-Bama road
“Hey, Joe” Garko waved frantically. “Come take a look”
Across at another wide widow in the small tower room, Efosa had the binoculars glued to eyes, looking in the opposite direction towards Bama. He lowered the binoculars at once and hurried over to take a look.
Garko pointed and Efosa focused the binoculars, took a good look.
“Two Jeeps, both coming up very fast” said Efosa. “It’s them, call it in quick”
Garko already had his hand to his ear piece. He called it in fast.
Alex ran up the stairs two at a time and in seconds was in the tower room.
“What kind of vehicles are they?” he demanded at once, hurrying over to join the two men at the window.
“Jeeps” said Efosa stepping away and handing Alex the binoculars.
Alex put the binoculars to his eyes and took a good look at approaching Jeeps. The lead Jeep was a brown Cherokee and behind it came a black Toyota Helix Pickup Jeep packed with armed men in military camouflage uniforms and masks. Alex focused the binoculars on the Cherokee and adjusted the magnification settings of the lens as he tried to see through the dark windows which were all rolled up. He tried hard but couldn’t see a thing, nonetheless, he was sure that El Soldat and the girl were in that Cherokee. He moved the binoculars back to the Helix again, its cabin was packed with men like its open back. All the men wore masks, some red and others army camouflage in color.
All battle tested men, thought Alex grimly and jerked his head quickly at the Sergeants. “Check the street out back and the road out of town”
The Sergeants hurried to the other windows and Alex continued his watch on the rapidly approaching vehicles.
“Clear” called Garko, looking up the empty road towards Bama.
Efosa took a minute longer as his sharp eyes scanned the houses along the street to the back of the church. He thought he saw some movement somewhere far up the street but then it was gone and didn’t occur again.
“Clear over here too” he called finally.
The Sergeants moved back to join Alex.
“It’s them, isn’t it?” asked Efosa.
“Don’t know for sure but it will be very clear soon enough” said Alex watching the vehicles approach.
The two Jeeps came racing up the road at top speed, swung into the filling station and came to a halt a short distance in front the low building.
“It’s definitely them” said Garko.
“Yes” said Efosa.
Alex said noting as he kept watching the vehicles in the distant filling station through the powerful lens of binoculars.
The armed men leaped down from the Helix Pickup Jeep and spread out around the Cherokee in good military formation, fourteen of them. A powerfully built big man who had leaped out of the front passenger seat of the Helix seemed to be in charge, shouting out orders left and right. Two armed men hurried for the low building and as they disappeared inside, the rear right-side passenger door of the Cherokee opened and an impressive figure climbed easily out.
This man was tall and well built, almost the same size as the big man. He wore a neat military camouflage uniform and shiny black boots but no mask, the red cloth that was the mask was tied loosely around his neck, and his only armament was a pistol in a side hostler. He had on dark sunglasses and his features, his curly hair and the high yellow color of his skin, gave him away as an Arab.
Holding the binoculars to his eyes and watching closely, Alex smiled a hard smile.
“And there you are finally, my elusive friend” he said softly under his breath.
The two men reemerged from the low building and the one of them shouted something and made a vigorous ‘no’ gesture with his arm towards the big man now standing with the Arab by the Cherokee.
The Arab’s hand dived into his pocket, got out a phone and began to dial.
In a second the phone in Alex’s pocket rang.
Holding the binoculars to his eyes with one hand, Alex got out the phone with the other hand and put it to his ear.
“Yeah?” he answered calmly, watching El Soldat carefully through the binoculars. It was a very rare sight which he found very pleasing indeed.
“Is this some kind of a bad joke?” yelled El Soldat angrily, waving his arm around. “You are not at the filling station”
“No, I’m not. I chose a more secure location to do the waiting so as to avoid meeting anyone else but you. We are in the burnt out cathedral a few hundred yards up the road, the white cloth we came in with will be waved in a window of the tower now. Please do come and take your money off my hands, we’ve been protecting it long enough”
Alex saw El Soldat jerk around and look in their direction. He nodded at Garko who held the white cloth at the ready as pre-planned. Garko thrust his arm out and waved the cloth vigorously.
The line went dead at once as El Soldat cut the call and got back into the Cherokee. His armed personal bodyguard who had gotten out of the front passenger seat of the Cherokee got quickly back in too and the big man hurried for the Helix even as he shouted commands around.
His men were already running for the Pickup Jeep.
Alex threw the binoculars over to Garko who caught it perfectly.
“Keep watch, particularly up the road towards the town but stay out of sight at all times” he said and gestured to Efosa as he hurried for the stairs. “Come with me”
The two Jeeps pulled quickly out of the filling station and came racing up the road to the desolate church. They swung in through the wide open gates, drove right up to the burnt out cathedral and came to a halt in a small cloud of dust.
The big metal double doors of the cathedral were intact and they stood wide open like the main gates. The entire compound was dead quiet, no one was in sight and nothing moved anywhere except for the handful of vultures that had been lazily feeding on the decaying corpse of slain priest to one side of the compound. Frightened by the abrupt arrival of the two jeeps, the ugly birds had taken swiftly to the air, rising high into the sky and away.
The armed men leaped out of the Helix Pickup Jeep with their Ak-47 rifles at the ready and spread out protectively around the Cherokee Jeep. Two men hurried for the cathedral, ran up the sweeping stairs and went through the open double doors. They took one look at the four armed men inside and hurried back out to report.
“They are here. Four of them in plain sight but there could be more” reported one of the men in fluent Arabic to their commander.
The commander was the big man and his name was Tariq, aka the Executioner. He was El Soldat’s right-hand man and second-in-command. A big powerfully built man in his thirties who enjoyed a good beheading anytime, Tariq could hack off two heads swiftly with just one blow of his big machete and never missed an opportunity to show off these skills, he did it at least once a week.
Tariq steeped over to the rear door of the Cherokee and got it open. El Soldat climbed out into the early morning sun and adjusted his neat uniform as he looked around.
“There are four of them in plain sight inside the church but there could be more” reported Tariq.
El Soldat grunted as his anger increased. He glanced over at his bodyguard standing on the other side of the jeep, having got out of the front passenger seat again.
“Bring the girl” he snapped at the man and strode off for the open doors of the church.
The armed men surrounded him protectively at once, following.
The bodyguard slung his rifle over his shoulder as he stepped over to the rear door of the Jeep on his side and jerked it open. He reached in and dragged out a hooded figure in a long green robe.
The figure was clearly a woman and her hands were bound together in front of her.
The well-built bodyguard, dragging her roughly by arm, went after El Soldat. More armed men surround them protectively.
The long golden fingers of early morning sunlight were filtering into the cathedral through the broken windows and open roof but the atmosphere within the big church was still cool.
Surrounded closely by his men, El Soldat walked slowly in through the big double doors into the cathedral. He stopped a short distance from the doors and took off his dark glasses, folding and putting them away in a breast pocket as he looked around the place carefully. His men formed themselves up even more protectively around him, all of them well armed and watchful, AK-47 rifles at the ready.
Unarmed, except for the pistol in a side hostler at his belt, and completely unbothered, El Soldat took his time looking the whole place over and the destruction pleased him greatly. His eyes soon fell on the four armed men standing across on the opposite side the big hall and the pleasure evaporated.
One was right in the alter area, one each by the side doors close to the alter area and the fourth man who carried the briefcase that surely had his money, stood in the middle area before the alter itself. El Soldat took notice of the way he stood, the way they all stood, their military stance and well placed positions. They didn’t look afraid at all and they were not packed up together like fools instead they were spread well out so that it was impossible to kill all at once with a single burst of gunfire. They looked sharp and ready for action in a way that screamed ‘serious military training’ particularly this one with the briefcase. The arrogance in his face, yes, he was definitely the leader.
It all added up, thought El Soldat bitterly as he stared hard at the man with the briefcase. Whoever heard of negotiators coming hours ahead of schedule, then picking a different meeting place and asking the hostage takers to follow! The audacity of it! One way or another, by Allah’s help, he would surely redeem his reputation this very day before the sun was high in the sky else he would be the laughing stock of the whole Islamic army long before nightfall. How in heaven’s name had they even gotten this far south without being spotted? He would surely find out and then some stupid heads would fall off their shoulders.
El Soldat looked around the upper levels of the big cathedral but saw no one yet he was very sure that these four men putting themselves on display so fearlessly in plain sight were not the only ones here. The communications devices he was seeing attached to their ears were surely proof of that. He cursed bitterly in his mind, wishing he knew how many they really were, how many more were up there.
Only if he knew, he would take them right here and now. He’d had enough of this nonsense.
The man with the briefcase suddenly moved and El Soldat’s eyes jerked back to him at once. He saw the man throw his rifle carelessly aside on the floor and start walking forward unarmed.
Alex stopped in the middle of the church and placed the briefcase flat on the iron offering box he had set up there only minutes ago then stood and waited quietly for El Soldat to make his move.
El Soldat held up a hand for his men to stay put then walked forward to meet the man. He stopped ten feet away from him and the two men stared at each other for a long minute.
No one in the cathedral spoke or moved but the tension was intense.
El Soldat gestured at the briefcase and spoke calmly. “I take it that’s my money”
“Not until I have the girl in my possession” replied Alex equally.
El Soldat made a mocking sound in his throat. “Is it complete?”
“One million dollars. Not a cent less”
El Soldat jerked his head. “Open it”
Alex shook his head firmly. “You need to have the girl with you and she has to be completely unharmed before we can proceed any further, that’s the deal”
El Soldat stared hard at him and Alex held his eyes.
After what seemed like an eternity, El Soldat dropped his gaze to the briefcase on the box between them then he turned and waved a hand towards his men.
“Bring her here” he barked out.
At once, one of the terrorist emerged from behind the group at the door, dragging a hooded figure roughly along by the arm as he came forward. Alex saw at once that the figure was clearly a woman and her hands were bound together in front of her.
El Soldat received the prisoner from the man and turned back to face Alex. The man moved back to the group.
“Here is your girl, safe and unharmed, you may ask her yourself” said El Soldat mockingly and tore the black hood off the head. “She was improperly dressed when we got her so I had our women cloth her up rightly and they looked after her properly too”
Alex stared hard at the woman. It was her alright. She was even more lovely than in her picture despite being without any makeup. She was as tall as her captor which was close to six feet in height and the shapeless floor-length robe she wore, despite being so loose, couldn’t quite hide the impressive curves and endowments of her body. Both the robe and hajib were of a nice green material and they covered up all her body except her face and hands. It was exactly the way Muslim women dressed in this region… but something was not right.
The girl looked terrified and a bit tired but the light in her eyes was still there. They hadn’t harmed or broken her in any way and she looked completely fine… too fine. The alarms in Alex brain were suddenly ringing. He noted the way El Soldat had his arm around the girl’s waist, and then he knew.
“Open the briefcase” said El Soldat.
Alex tore his eyes off the girl and looked at El Soldat then turned to the briefcase and keyed up the number lock. The briefcase snapped open and he turned it around to face El Soldat.
“The number key is 555”
El Soldat stared at the piles of hard currency in the open briefcase. They were neat but clearly used dollar bills like he had instructed. He pushed the girl roughly towards Alex as he moved forward to take the briefcase.
Alex caught the girl and pulled her several steps backwards with him, pushed her protectively in behind him and stood his grounds facing El Soldat. He didn’t take his eyes off him.
El Soldat closed the briefcase and smiled twistedly at Alex as he picked it to leave.
“Enjoy thy life while it still lasts, infidel” said El Soldat in Arabic then turned on his heels and walked away, heading back towards his men.
Alex stood perfectly still and watched him go but all the alarm bells in his brain were now ringing even louder.
The armed men opened up for El Soldat to get through, closed around him again and followed as he went back out through the big doors.
The five soldiers kept careful watch from their various positions in cathedral as the terrorists went out to their vehicles and began to get quickly in. The two jeeps started up, made swiftly U-turns and sped off back towards the gates.
Only then did Alex move.
He turned quickly to the girl standing behind him.
“Did they harm you in any way?” he asked at once.
Her lovely dark eyes stared at him and she shook her head.
Alex already had his commando knife out in his hand. He took her hands and carefully cut the nylon ropes binding them tightly together. She winced as her hands came free, and then started rubbing the wrists gingerly like she was in some pain. The ropes had bruised her delicate skin but it didn’t look too bad.
Alex put away the knife quickly and took her hands. He examined them carefully then reached up to lift her head by the chin with his fingers.
“Look at me” he said quickly but gently.
The girl looked at him, her lovely dark eyes stared into his.
“Are you really alright?” he asked in a very serious voice.
Her full red lips moved slightly as she spoke in the most beautiful soft voice Alex had ever heard. “Yes, I’m fine”
Alex saw Samuel bring up a chair, and then Rufai was suddenly there by the girl, the folder he had been carrying around with him in one hand.
“I’ll take it from here, Mr. Okoye” said Rufai coldly as he caught hold of the girl’s arm and dragged her roughly off towards the offering box where Samuel had now set up the chair.
The girl winced in pain at the powerful grip on her arm.
“What’s going on?” demanded Alex then saw the girl’s pain. “Take it easy you are hurting her”
Rufai glanced at him. “You stay out of this, Mr. Okoye. Your full payment and the nice bonus is already guaranteed. Come and sit down here, Aisha. For the first time in your life you are going to do exactly as someone tells you”
Rufai dragged the girl to the chair and shoved roughly down into it. He got the folder open and placed it on the box before her.
“Now this is a simple document and all I want you to do is sign it” said Rufai forcefully and placed a pen on the paper.
The girl stared up at him. “You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me if my father was here”
“You father can’t be here or anywhere else right now because he is very dead. Get that into your stupid head” growled Rufai harshly and tapped his head emphatically. “Your uncle who cared enough to pay the heavy ransom for your freedom, despite the fact that you got into this mess by disobeying him, is now the head of your family and you will show him due respect from now on by doing exactly as he wishes” Rufai pointed at the document. “Sign that paper and the next one under it, do it now!”
The girl glanced at the document a moment then spat disdainfully on the floor. “You can take your documents and run right back to your master. I will never sign anything”
In a flash, Rufai slapped her hard across the face. It was more a heavy blow that knocked her right out of the chair to send her sprawling on the floor.
Alex started to move forward but Samuel stepped in his way with a raised hand.
“Cool it, Alex. It’s his call, we were told”
Alex forced himself to stay under control. “We don’t have time for this, Rufai. We need to get out of here right now” he said urgently.
Rufai didn’t seem to hear. He was like a man possessed as he dragged the girl roughly back into the chair, pulled her head cruelly back by the hair and hajib and leaned down until his face was right in her upturned face.
“The time when you talk to me anyhow and get away with it is now over, you spoilt bitch” he snarled with pure hatred. “I can kill you here right now and nothing will happen”
The girl spat right into face.
Rufai drew back sharply in shock and wiped a hand across his face. Alex heard him let out a deep bellow of rage and in a flash, he slapped the girl hard yet again, with all the power in his arm this time. The powerful blow knocked both the girl and the chair backward to the floor.
Rufai kicked the girl viciously with his booted foot.
“Stop it!” shouted Alex angrily and started forward again.
Samuel made the mistake of stepping into his way again in a bid to stop him and in one swift movement, Alex knocked aside his outstretched arm with one hand and hit him in the throat with the curved open palm of the other hand.
Samuel staggered backward as white stars exploded in his brain and before his eyes. He clutched desperately at his throat as breathing became difficult and went down on his knees.
Rufai saw Alex coming and clawed for the big revolver in his side hostler but froze as he saw that Alex already had his own gun out and pointed directly at him. He lifted his arms out to his side and up.
Alex jerked the gun. “Move away from her”
Rufai smiled a thin smile. “What if I don’t? Are you going to shoot me?”
“No, but I will physically restrain you”
“Perhaps you had better think carefully now before you actually do something that will rob you of forty million naira”
“Having you assault and brutalize a defenseless woman was not part of the agreement”
“The agreement was very clear” said Rufai in open anger. “I take charge from here and do with the girl as I please”
“We will have to revisit that agreement again but at a safer location” said Alex firmly. “We need to get out of here right now before those terrorist return in numbers”
“Those terrorists have taken their money and gone, they are not coming back. And we are not going anywhere until I say otherwise and that’s when this bitch signs these papers or dies here”
“That girl is now under my protection” said Alex in a hard voice. “If you touch her again I will hurt you badly”
Rufai smiled an ugly smile. “Really? Perhaps you should look behind you first?”
“Put the gun down” came Efosa’s voice from behind him.
Alex didn’t move. He kept his gun pointed at Rufai as his brain swiftly tried to calculate Efosa’s position behind him, but then he noticed a movement upstairs and saw Garko too with his rifle aimed at him.
“I know you are capable of crazy things but the man behind you is a sharp shot and he’s got a rapid fire assault rifle pointed right at you” Rufai smiled and jerked his head upstairs. “So has the one above. They won’t miss. Put down your gun”
Alex abruptly lowered his pistol and put it back in his hostler. “Seriously speaking, Rufai, we need to get out of here right now. El Soldat will be back for this girl, look at the nice way she’s dressed! He plans to keep her!”
Rufai jerked out the big revolver from his hostler and pointed it at Alex. “You are a pompous Igbo fool who doesn’t know how to shut up and mind his own business even when he’s paid handsomely to do just that. You never should have crossed me”
Rufai fired three times.
The first bullet took Alex full in the chest and the force of it knocked him backward several steps. The second bullet took him in the stomach and the third following swiftly into his chest again, knocked him off balance and off his feet. His body hit the floor with a heavy thud and lay still.
The girl’s high pitched screams slit the air, and then was cut off as Rufai kicked viciously at her again with his booted foot.
Samuel struggled to his feet, breathing heavily and still with a hand to his throat. He had only been incapacitated briefly not permanently hurt. Breathing was becoming easier now. He stepped over and stared at Alex lifeless corpse on the floor.
“You shouldn’t have done this, for Christ sake” said Samuel angrily. “He was no real threat to any of us”
“He was in my way and that’s what happens to people who get in my way” snapped Rufai harshly.
Samuel stared at him then turned away with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Get done with your business quickly and let’s get out of here”
“We have some new visitors, sir” called Garko urgently from upstairs. “Two Pickups full of armed men are approaching fast from the town. The Cherokee and Helix are now coming back up the road too”
“Shit!” cursed Samuel and glanced down at Alex’s corpse again. “He was right after all. He was always right and you killed him for it. Back to the bus!”
Samuel and Efosa started to move quickly away.
“Help me with the girl” yelled Rufai urgently as he gathered up the folder.
“Help yourself, you stupid fool!” shouted Samuel angrily as he picked up his rifle from the floor and stated to run. “I wasn’t paid enough to come here and get my head chopped off by religious zealots”
Garko having rushed down the stairs from the top floor, leaped clean down from the balcony of the second floor and landed perfectly on the ground floor. He rushed over and dragged the girl up from the floor.
“Come on, run for your life” he told her urgently.
They all ran for the side door by the alter area which was the closest route to the bus parked out back behind the cathedral. Efosa took point, he was the first man out into the courtyard and he was expecting trouble from the front gates not from the rear so he wasn’t looking that way.
The mounted heavy machine of the Toyota Helix Pickup Jeep now parked outside the back gates opened up at once and its big high powered bullets cut Efosa in half, scattering the bloody pieces of the corpse in different directions. Samuel skidded to a halt just in time and scrambled back into the church as high-powered bullets sprayed the doorway, tearing chunks of concrete off the walls. There was a terrible crashing sound as the powerful Pickup Jeep smashed into locked gates with its solid steel crash bars like a battering ram but the gates held fast.
“God!” breathed Samuel as his brain fought desperately to find a solution.
The four other Jeeps were suddenly speeding in through the front gates. Armed men were leaping off them and firing spontaneously at the cathedral.
“Take cover! Take cover!” yelled Samuel and dived for a pillar.
Rufai did the same and Garko dragged the frightened girl down protectively against a wall.
The terrible crashing sound came again. accompanied by the loud roar of a powerful engine and the rear gates exploded open with another terrible crash. The dusty Pickup Jeep tore into the compound and came to a halt close to the church. More armed men poured out of it and spread out fast.
Heavy gunfire started coming from every direction, keeping Samuel helplessly pinned to the pillar. Rufai too and Garko with the girl were no better off. Rufai looked openly tariffed and Samuel hated him for it. He was the cause of the whole fuck up, the fool!
The first of the insurgent started coming into the cathedral through the big double doors to the front and Samuel seeing he was completely exposed moved out to engage them. Firing his rifle at full automatic, he killed only two before his body was riddled with bullets from different directions. He tumbled to the floor and lay still in death.
Garko instantly went berserk at the sight of his commander’s dead body. He tore loose two grenades, tossed one through the near window at the exposed shooters out in the compound and hurled the other at the advancing terrorists at the big double doors across the cathedral. The insurgents saw the bombs come and scattered for cover but the grenades exploded too quickly and killed a few of them. Garko was instantly on his feet, screaming like a mad man and firing his rifle spontaneously at everything that moved.
“Come and get it, you bastards!” he screamed as he gunned down two men trying to get in through the doors.
A volley of automatic rifle fire from the widows and the door behind him blew Garko half way across the cathedral. His bullet mutilated corpse hit the floor and began to bleed pools of blood.
Rufai lifted his arms high in the air as the terrorist surged through the door and overwhelmed him. He never fired a shot and his big revolver never came out of its hostler, he didn’t have his rifle with him.
Tariq offered a final prayer to Allah as he mounted the sweeping steps to the big double doors of the church. This ‘simple’ operation had cost him eight good men but that wasn’t what he was worried about, the men could always be replaced, there were so many willing recruits now. What worried him was the girl. El Soldat had made it perfectly clear that he wanted that girl back alive and unhurt. Tariq had given the corresponding order to the men to be careful not to shoot her but somehow the trigger happy illiterate fools had gotten carried away, particularly that motherless imbecile Ibrahimo who had been made unit commander by mistake. The fool had brought his unit in through the back gates as ordered, and then opened fire on the church with the truck’s mounted heavy machine-gun!
Tariq felt the coldness of forbidding in his heart. He knew that if anything happened to this girl he would be lucky to keep his head on his shoulders. He had never seen El Soldat so worked up about any woman before but then, when one considered the incredible beauty and rich freshness of this particular woman, it was very understandable. And she was Arab like him too, wasn’t she?
As soon as Tariq reached the big double doors, he saw two of his men hurrying forward with the girl and he sighed with relief. At least she wasn’t dead.
“Is she hurt” he asked as soon as they came up.
“No, she’s fine” replied one of the men.
“Good, take her to El Soldat at once” commanded Tariq.
The two men hurried out the doors with the girl and down the stairs. Tariq watch them hurry across the compound to the Cherokee Jeep, El Soldat himself got out to meet them and looked the girl over carefully. He seemed satisfied, made the girl get into the Jeep ahead of him, and then got in himself. The Jeep started up and drove off followed by one of the Pickups full of men for escort.
Tariq sighed again with relief.
“We captured one of them alive” said his Lieutenant close by his side. “A Captain”
Tariq began to smile. “Send the other commanders and their men back to the town, I will deal with that fool, Ibrahimo, later. Let’s see what information we can get out of this Captain and perhaps, find out how loud Captains can scream
Alex drifted out of unconsciousness slowly.
He became aware of the screams even before he reached full consciousness. They seemed to be reaching his ears from very far off. Alex dragged himself to the surface of full consciousness, and then the screams became deafening. Even before he opened his eyes he knew it was the screams were that of a man being badly tortured.
The pains in his chest and stomach were terrible but the one in his head felt a bit worse. He was unhurt, the big .45 slugs from the revolver had kicked the hell out of him but they hadn’t gotten through the bulletproof vest he wore. Falling clean backward off his feet, he had hit the back of his head on something hard and that was what added up to knock him out cold for so long.
Alex took just a few seconds to gather his wits fully together and condition mind to ignore the pains in his body then he opened his eyes and looked around.
The cathedral was empty except for a group of seven armed insurgents standing around a pillar off to one side, close to the alter. They had Rufai tied up against the pillar in a standing position and one of them was busy torturing him with a knife while he screamed in agony. All the insurgents were armed but not all had on their masks now. Alex recognized the big man he had seen earlier at the filling station through the binoculars and then again with El Soldat when the terrorists first came into the cathedral, he was the one doing the torturing and he wore no mask now, the red cloth the was the mask was tied loosely around his neck.
The girl was nowhere in sight.
Moving his right arm carefully and slowly, Alex reached for the pistol in his side holster but it wasn’t there. He suddenly realized that all his weapons and personal effects had been taken away, even his boots had been taken too. They had assumed he was dead and stripped his corpse of all valuables.
Alex started struggling weakly to get to his feet and the insurgents saw him at once.
“By Allah, look at that corpse rise from the dead!” said one of the insurgents, speaking in Arabic.
“I thought you people said he was dead” said the big man angrily in the same language. He was also the only one that wasn’t carrying an AK-47 rifle but he had a big new revolver stuck in his belt, Rufai’s revolver.
“He has big bullet holes in his chest and stomach, Tariq, look” said another one, pointing.
“And yet he is still trying to stand up on his feet right now” said another starting to move towards Alex.
“This infidel must have more than two lives” said another adjusting the sling of his Ak-47 rifle on his shoulder as he followed the other over to Alex.
“Bring him over here” ordered the big man.
They all spoke in Arabic and Alex heard them. Now on his hands and knees, looking weak and badly hurt, he watched the two men come.
The two insurgents walked confidently over to the injured man and caught hold of him. As they dragged him roughly to his feet, the man suddenly came fully alive with incredible speed and agility that took them all completely by surprise, catching them off guard.
Alex hit one of the men with an iron fist to the throat, smashing his Adam’s apple and killing him instantly on his feet. In the same fluid motion, Alex lifted a leg and stamped down hard on the other man’s knee from an odd angle. The man screamed with pain as the leg broke. Alex caught him by the arm, jerked him forward and around as he moved in swiftly behind him, wrapping a powerful arm around his neck and pulling backwards to keep him upright as he used him as a shield to face the other five insurgents across the cathedral. The man clawed desperately at the arm around his throat as breathing became difficult and the rife hanging from his shoulder dangled free at his side.
In a split second Alex had good hold of the rifle with his free hand, lifting and point it across at the five men. He fired a short burst and instantly killed two of them standing to one side of the pillar before any of them had time to fully react.
“Shoot him!” screamed the big man, waving the bloody knife franticly at the other two men who had their rifles at the ready but hesitated to fire back for fear of killing their important comrade being used as a shield, he was Tariq’s lieutenant.
At Tariq’s screamed commands, they started firing rapidly, riddling their comrade’s body with bullets but never got a clear shot at the Alex.
Alex fired another bursts and killed them both. As he pushed the dead body away from him, the big man suddenly hurled the bloody knife with incredible accuracy despite the distance. Alex leaned quickly and easily to one side to avoid the flying knife then brought up the rifle fast and fired a warning burst into the floor at the man’s feet as he reached quickly for the pistol stuck in his belt.
The big man leaped backward quickly and held up his arms at once in surrender.
Keeping the rifle pointed at the man, Alex walked quickly forward towards him, darting quick glances around to make sure there were no more terrorists left lurking anywhere.
“You are Tariq, the executioner, are you not?” asked Alex in fluent Arabic as he came up to the big man. “Killer and rapper of women and children, second-in-command to El Soldat himself”
“Yes, I am” replied the man with a sneer. “I kill and destroy everything that walks or talks contrary to Allah’s will. Are you going to kill me in cold blood? You will only be making me a martyr and so my place in paradise will be assured”
“I’m going to give you a private firing squad and the only place that will take you is right into the depths of hell where you and your kind belong”
Alex lifted the rifle swiftly to his shoulder and opened fire, emptying the last of the magazine at Tariq. The bullets tore into the big man’s chest and abdomen like crazy, the sheer force of it all throwing him violently backwards and off his feet. The big body landed on the floor with a heavy thud and lay still as the blood began to ooze freely form it.
Alex tossed the empty rifle aside as he stepped quickly over to the bleeding corpse and tore out the pistol in the belt. He took a quick look around and took note of the bodies. He saw Samuel’s body and then Garko’s across the cathedral. He couldn’t find Efosa at first but then looked out through one of the large widows and saw his body out in the courtyard or what was left of it at least. He still could find the girl anywhere.
What a big mess and all because of one fool, thought Alex as he turned to fool. He moved over and examined Rufai.
They had stripped Rufai completely of his military uniform and he was now a mass of blood and mutilated flesh in blue colored boxers’ shorts, tied systematically to the pillar with thin wire ropes. He was still alive but in very bad shape. They had cut open his belly so his intestine half spilled out, sliced off part of his nose, his ears too and even one breast. There were deep cuts and wounds all over Rufai’s body but none of them could explain the large amount of blood pouring out of his shorts. Alex guessed his manhood had already been cut off, he glanced around and saw the swollen piece of black flesh on the floor close by.
Rufai lifted his head slowly and stared at Alex with the glassed eyes of a man in mind bending pain, one who had been in it long enough for it to affect his sanity. He looked very weak, too weak. It was more the ropes that kept him in the erect position against the pillar than his legs.
“Please… help me” rasped Rufai in a barely audible voice. His mouth was bloody and his breathing was labored.
Alex shook his head. “There’s no more help for you in this world, these ropes are what is keeping you alive. Once I cut them away, you will bleed out very quickly and die”
“Then cut them and let me die… please… kill me”
Alex shook his head again. “Not until I get some straight answers out of you. El Soldat came back personally for the girl, didn’t he?”
Rufai nodded weakly, a slight move of his head.
“What were the documents you wanted her to sign?”
Rufai lowered his head and didn’t answer. Alex glanced around, saw the black leather on the floor off to one side and went quickly over to pick it up. He opened the it and read swiftly. He went through the first document, the second, and then he knew.
The knowledge brought him swift anger and he walked furiously back to Rufai.
“You bastards lied to me from the very beginning” yelled Alex angrily, waving the folder in Rufai’s bloody face. “This was not a legitimate rescue mission. It was a mission of murder! That girl’s father is the real owner of the entire Goldfield holdings and with him dead she inherits it all. Your boss is just an exalted caretaker and he hired me to get the girl back so he could force her to sign over her inheritance to him. It wouldn’t surprise me if you and your boss had a hand in tipping the terrorists off to kidnap her in the first place, what better way to get rid of a billionaire heiress without raising a single eyebrow than to get a bunch of no good terrorist to do the dirty work for you then publicly pretend to play the hero that goes to the rescue. What you really came along to do was to force the girl to sign these documents, and once she did you were going to kill her right here. It was the ideal plan, the ideal place to get away with murder because no law exists. We all become well paid accessories to the murder and no witnesses will ever come forward. No wonder you people were coughing out so much money left and right, the profit margin was in the billions of dollars and you couldn’t afford any mistakes. The official story you people put out would’ve been that the terrorists killed her despite the ransom demand being paid in full. Wasn’t that the plan? Answer me, god damn it!”
“Yes…yes” breathed Rufai weakly. “Please, just… just kill me and get this over with”
Alex stared at him angrily for a moment then shook his head and stepped away. “No, I won’t give you an easy escape, you sadistic bastard. You will live and breathe until you die, and that should take a good amount of time”
“No, no, please… have mercy” Rufai gasped pleadingly.
“If that innocent girl had cried ‘please’ a thousand times would you have spared her life?” Alex inclined his head and started to back away. “Of course you wouldn’t”
“Please, for god’s sake, have mercy!” rasped Rufai desperately.
“You killed me remember? Dead men are incapable of showing emotions such as mercy particularly not towards their killers. You need to save your strength and try to make yourself very comfortable. These bastards are really good at what they do, you’re going to stay alive for at least three hours”
“No, no… please… Pleeeaassee”
Alex turned his back on Rufai for good and went over to where the terrorist had gathered up all the weapons and loot from the ‘dead Nigerian soldiers’. Their boots, their new rifles and pistols, ammo, grenades, commando knives, watches, radio coms and even the phones, the two phones that had been in his pocket, everything was neatly laid out on the floor by a pillar and the terrorists would have split it amongst themselves once they got through with Rufai, it was the way things worked in this war. Stealing and stripping dead bodies was standard procedure for the insurgents, it was how they got most of their stuff.
Alex picked up the GX-2 phone at once and checked to make sure it was fine then put it back in his pocket along with the other phone he used to reach El Soldat. He put his boots back on then started re-arming himself quickly for war. He tossed aside the revolver and picked up one of the better Gloak pistols, checked to make sure it was fine and fully loaded before putting it in his holster. He picked up one of the new AK-47rifles and checked it too, got the commando knife in its leather sheathe and strapped it back in place on his belt.
One of the dead insurgents had a good sized Army backpack with him. Alex got the bag quickly, emptying out the worthless contents onto the floor. then repacked it with lots of extra ammo and grenades but left the radios and the other things behind.
Fully ready, Alex ran over to a window and leaped easily through it, landing lightly on his feet in the open compound. He stood perfectly still for a full minute, surveying the area for signs of anyone. The whole place was dead quiet and there was definitely no one around. The dark Pickup Jeep the terrorists had come in was parked a short distance away but the Mitsubishi bus was gone.
Alex crossed the compound quickly to the Pickup Jeep, thrust his rife and the bag in through the open window and dropped them on the front passenger seat. He went to check the open back of the truck and found two full ten liter gallons of fuel there. Alex got one of the gallons and carried it towards the personage, picking up a big granite stone along the way. He went straight to the prayer room and proceeded to drench the bodies and cut off heads of the two nuns with fuel. He used up nearly three quarters of the gallon’s contents and once done, recorked the gallon, placed the stone on one of the bodies and retreated to the door.
Alex stopped just outside the doorway and got out his pistol, took aim at stone and fired a single shot.
The metal bullet smashed into the solid granite stone with a tiny spark that instant blossomed into blue flames. The fire instantly spread to consume the two bodies and the entire room itself.
Alex pulled the metal door half closed to give the inferno maximum effect then headed back out into the compound.
Alex went straight over to the rotting corpse of the priest, emptied the last of the fuel over it and tossed the gallon aside. In a minute, he had the decaying corpse burning furiously too. Standing back, he made the sign of the cross over himself before turning away. He had fulfilled his promise and done the best he could. He had given them what was considered a king’s burial in many European lands only he’d done it with fuel instead of well-arranged firewood.
Crossing the compound quickly back to the Pickup Jeep, he got the GX-2 phone out of his pocket and switched it on.
The black Toyota Helix Pickup Jeep was fairly new and its windows were black, impossible to see through. From the partly erased marking on its body, it had obviously been stolen from a police station down in Adamawa state. Alex got in behind the wheels and keyed up the GX-2 quickly. There was boosted network service but he couldn’t find any traces of the tracker.
He placed a call in to tactical center at Military Intelligence Headquarters, gave his operational code to the agent who answered and in a second Colonel Iyang came on line.
“We’ve been trying to reach you for the past ten minutes, lieutenant” said the Colonel immediately. “What the hell is going on down there?”
“The exchange was a set up. We got ambushed and all the people with me were killed. The terrorists now have both the money and the girl”
“What shape are you in?” asked the colonel at once.
“I’m one hundred percent and good to go, El Soldat is not getting away with this one. Requesting tracker coordinates, I don’t seem to be getting any signals from it directly”
“The signal of that tracker separated from yours precisely twenty-eight minutes ago. It headed due south and east most of that time but went dark seven minutes ago. We got confirmation from our inside men that the briefcase blew up right at the same time the tracer’s signal went dark”
Alex sat bolt upright. “El Soldat and the girl were in the same vehicle with the briefcase. Are they dead?”
“Negative. Neither of them were anywhere nearby when the explosion occurred. You will have to go in and get him”
“Give me the last known co-ordinates for the tracker”
“It should be up on your screen by now, same as the contact mobile number of our inside man. His code name is ‘Charlie-boy’ but he is too low in the chain of command to render any sort of major assistance. I’m afraid you are completely on your own, lieutenant, and for all it’s worth, good luck,”
“Thank you, sir”
The line went dead.
Alex checked the phone and saw all the information at once. He keyed the coordinates into the phone’s GPS and punched in a few more commands. The GPS instantly indicated a position south east of his and laid out the route the tracker had followed there. As he expected, the settlement or whatever it was right in Sambisa forest, the whole Boko Haram terrorist army in West Africa.
Alex checked the time on the phone, cross-referenced it with that of his digital wristwatch and saw that they were a match. It was just 8.15 a.m. He put the phone back in his pocket and stated up the Helix Pickup Jeep, the keys were already in the ignition. He turned on the air conditioning, saw that it worked fairly well and activated all the dark windows to roll up closed.
Alex checked the fuel gauge and saw it was over half full. He gunned the powerful engine and it let out a deep roar as the big Pickup Jeep shot forward like an angry bull, tires spinning up dust and sand like crazy as it made a tight U-turn and charged for the gates at speed.
The big Pickup Jeep tore through the open gates and swung sharply left as it hit the flat terrain of the Maiduguri-Bama road. It accelerated rapidly to top speed as it went racing south on the road like a bat out hell on important business.
Very important business.
Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review on my book thread at your favorite retailer?
Eze Eke [AUTOUR]
Ruthless Betrayals is the thrilling story of a self-made millionaire, risen from grass to grace and living a life of debauchery in the flamboyant upper-class society of Lagos, Nigeria. There are lots of friends and an endless supply of willing women but only two stand out from them all. Two extraordinary beautiful women with incredible supernatural powers who come into his life and reshape it completely.
The first woman, Estella, with her heartless nature and witchcraft, bewitches him and drains his wealth, then poisons him and runs off with another man to the United States of America while he fights for life on a hospital bed. The second woman, Lillian, then comes into his ruined life and with pure womanly love and sheer supernatural power, heals and straightens him out again. She builds him back up to even greater heights of wealth and happiness, and then feeling he could never do without her again, he marries her for keeps.
Their joy together is short lived. It is soon shattered when Estella returns to reclaim him and both woman become locked in an uncanny battle to the death. His life becomes the battle ground and the supernatural powers involved are way beyond him.
Even as the death and destruction pile up all around him, the entire situation takes a bizarre twist with the kidnapping of his wife at a time she was grieving and her powers were at a low.
In desperation, the now billionaire Larry Nzeribe, brings in his old mobster friend as he fights to save the life of the one woman he has ever loved. The very woman he raped and hurt so terrible in the very beginning…. Lillian.
The work is packed full of portrayals of every aspect of human nature and existence… romance and passion, love, lust and unbridled desires, sex and rape, greed and generosity, deceit, hatred and wickedness, violence and blackmail, heatless betrayals and terrible vengeance, poverty and wealth, humor and laughter, religion, occultism, witchcraft and the supernatural. Unbelievable as it sounds, these and much more are present in this story.
Ruthless Betrayals has been an instant hit in many circles. Described as a ‘wow’ by a bestselling South African author among many, there is a wonderful mix of everything which makes this story very enjoyable and educative to everyone.
Spanning across humanity and paranormal activities in the world, the activities of a man who witnessed the pattern of life. Caught between the web of love, betrayal, heartbreak, debt, supernatural activities and finding the right partner in life’s journey.
I must say that without tasting a soup, you can never know its taste, such is this book. It contains deep meanings to life’s activities. YOU CAN NEVER REGRET BUYING IT.
- Eric Petters]
About the author
Eze King Eke was born on October 21, 1979 in a remote town in Imo state, a poor region in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, West Africa. He grew up in Lagos where he attended the prestigious Nigerian Navy schools and then completed his secondary education the Lagos State Government College, Ojo, Lagos in the early 1990 while doing part-time studies at the Lagos State University. A sinister supernatural incident almost destroyed his life in May, 1996 but certainly cut short his proposed trip to the United States for advanced studies the following year.
Eze King Eke is self-educated to lofty levels in several academic fields and possesses a vast wealth of intellectual knowledge from which draws to accomplish his works. He is a gifted author, a freelance writer, blogger and a non-profit Gospel worker. He is currently unmarried and lives in the city of Lagos. His hobbies are writing, reading, cycling, helping the poor and needy
His ultimate goal and ambition is to preach the Gospel with realism unto all nations and beyond all borders, to bring about impossible miracles in society and the individual lives of people. He possesses the required intelligence, zeal and divine gifts to accomplish this but his time is yet to come.
Connect with me on tweeter @kingeze2000
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In 2015 the extremist Islamic sect BOKO HARAM was declared the #1 terrorists in the world, rising above Islamic state, Islamic state, ISIS, and Al-Quoda. But fighting a full-fledged war with the military forces of the four African countries around the Lake Chad region, leaving thousands of innocent people dead or homeless, BOKO HARAM had occupied that position long before then… Against all advice, a beautiful young lady travels to Maiduguri, a chaotic city in the BOKO HARAM ravaged north-eastern Nigeria, in search of her missing businessman father. She soon disappears, the four corpses of her bodyguards turn up in a canal and a mega ransom demand is sent to her billionaire uncle by a faction of the BOKO HARAM terrorist group. Since neither the Nigerian Army nor the other elements of the JTF had been any help in the search his missing elder brother, the girl’s billionaire uncle quietly puts together a team of mercenary soldiers led by an ex-special forces lieutenant to negotiate with the terrorists and rescue the girl. Everything goes wrong from the beginning because everyone had a hidden agenda. The terrorists looking to keep the ransom and the girl as wife for their commander, laid a deadly ambush for the mercenaries. Three influential billionaires, led by the girl’s treacherous uncles, want her dead in order to get at her father’s vast business empire and fortunes to which she is sole heir. None of them counted on the massive obstacle a single man could pose against their formidable resources. The ex-special forces lieutenant became a one-man army as he fights night and day to keep the beautiful heiress safe from her enemies. She soon learns to cling to him for protection, and then also for love. She is smart, determined to find out what happened to her father and to rule his business empire in his absence…... Reaching from the highly populated urban city of Lagos in oil rich southern Nigeria, to the high luxury capital city of Abuja where billionaire business moguls rub shoulders with powerful politicians, top military generals and bureaucrats, some good, some bad, most corrupt, they plot the future of a great nation over a few drinks even as they kill time with high priced prostitutes in overpriced hotel suites and huge luxury mansions. And then on to the war thorn cites and remote countryside of the north-eastern lands where the Islamic terrorist group, BOKO HARAM hold away, wetting the soil daily with the innocent blood of thousands of helpless they kill and many more thousands they render homeless and they battle the combined military forces of four countries. This story unfolds with an explosiveness never seen before. It is the first novel ever written about the activities of the terrorist ravaging the Sahel Savannah region around the famous lake Chad and yet it is much, much more.