PORT HARCOURT, 2013.
The sixty year old sturdy man got up from the sofa and tossed the Sun newspaper he was reading on the footstool. Chukwuma Nnaji was a billionaire who lived a luxurious life and seemed to make more money as the days passed. His wife had died thirteen years ago and his only daughter, Ifeoma, was happily married and living with her husband in Rumuomasi.
Despite the distance, she still visited him once in a while. As for his money, he was either putting it into another business venture; or giving it out on loan to close associates; and most times he gave it out to those who really needed it: the sick, the orphans, NGOs and the low-charge hospital he had built in honour of his late wife who had died of lung cancer.
Despite the fact that he was alone, he was happy. One more place his money went to was his church; partly for show off and partly for the growth of the church or remission of whatever sin God had held him ransom to. As a businessman, he had always tried to be honest in his dealings but there were still a few loose ends but they never ended up in bloodshed –that was a good thing.
He put on his suit and walked to the front door when he remembered something –the main reason he was still at home –and brought out his phone. He switched it on and with its warning of low battery, he dialed the number.
“James, I don’t think you’ve heard of that short saying: time is money” he was trying his best to hold his anger. “Listen to me” he said before James could say anything. “I’m leaving now, on my way back, I’ll let you know so that you can send him over”.
“But sir, can’t your butler or any other help in the house recie-”
“I’ll give you a call when I get back” he said and hung up and his phone went off immediately.
He looked around for the umpteenth time and closed his eyes in disbelief. It had been lights out in his house since 3:00am and he had made all the calls he could but his lazy assistant, James had showed how incapable he was of doing anything good. Chukwuma scanned the room once more; his power bank was nowhere to be found. His helps had not shown up either. They were in so much trouble.
As he stepped out of the house, he stared angrily at other houses; what would they say about Chief Chukwuma Nnaji?
He also wondered why none of his helps had shown up. Joseph at least had served as a butler for more than 15 years and rarely asked for a sick leave. He was surprised and angry at the same time. The cook, cleaner, gardener and even the driver had all been employed after Joseph aged and his productivity reduced. He had prepared tea by himself and to him, Tonye, the chief cook, was fired.
As he opened the door of the car, he reminded himself to call Sola, his secretary, to get him a new cook before the end of the day.
As he started the car, he realized he had also not seen the gate man that morning. With a hiss, he alighted from the car and walked towards the gate.
“Yusuf” he called out but there was no reply. He banged on the door of his little house and turned the door knob but it was locked. The fool was not around…just like the others.
Angrily, he opened the gate as he swore beneath his breath. He was soon on his way to his new building under construction; an upcoming factory for the production of beverages and since his phone was switched off as a result of power outage, he had not received any call from the constructor or his secretary.
It was a 45-minute drive to the factory but about 20 miles from the building; he saw thick black smoke in the sky. He had seen the smoke from a farther distance but a few more metres and he knew it was close to his factory. He could hear wailings of sirens and fire trucks. There were no houses close to the factory, what on earth was on fire?
He did not need to ask much. As he approached the building, he gasped as he stared at it. The fire had been put out but the smoke was choking. He could not believe his eyes, that project had lasted for six months and had already cost him sixty million naira.
“Chief” he heard and turned to see the contractor standing by his car.
“W…what?” He managed to ask.
“Nobody knows sir. I personally saw it on the news at seven this morning and rushed here. Everyone tried calling you but…”
His voice trailed off as Chukwuma opened the door and alighted from the car. People were running in all directions but his eyes were fixed on the building.
His sixty million naira was staring him in the face and choking him like poison in his system.
Ifeoma Sarah Iloh nee Nnaji lived with her husband and four year old son in Rumuomasi in Rivers State. She had owned a large boutique until the day before when it was raided and the police had found all the goods: shoes, bags, belts, clothes, socks, lingerie and jewelries burned in a refuse dump along the street. She was still brooding when she saw the news earlier that morning that her father’s building had been engulfed in flames. She had tried to call him and was not too surprised that his phone was switched off. He probably did not want to speak to anyone. As she had watched the news, she wondered if the raiding of her world-class boutique and the destruction of her father’s building were connected. Was it possible that someone was after them? There was a possibility someone was after her father, but her? What would the person hope to gain?
She really wanted to see her father but she needed to let David know even though she knew it was not a good day to do that. David had become so engrossed in his work that he barely spoke to her. More than half the time he was at home was spent in the study and he came out only for breakfast, lunch, dinner and finally to retire for the night (but that rarely happened). She was three weeks pregnant but he was not aware since he was always either busy or moody. She had decided to give him the time and space he needed. Due to his recent workaholic nature, she also knew he would not be able to pick Chidi from school. He never liked the idea of a school bus so it was her duty to pick him up from school.
It was Friday and Chidi’s school would dismiss in an hour’s time. She thought of taking him from school and going with him to see his grandfather. With that thought, she got up from her bed and walked towards the study to tell her husband when she heard a creak from the front door and then remembered David had gone out earlier that morning and she had forgotten to lock the door.
With the recent happenings, she knew she had to be extra careful. She walked to the front door which was half closed and closed it shut. She was about to turn the key in its hole when she felt a sharp pain at the back of her head, then blackout.
Chukwuma stopped at the door and tried to pull himself together. It was not the end of the world –yet. The police had promised to do their best and he knew he would need to pressure them to remind them of what needed to be done to the monsters that destroyed his building. For all he knew, the devious and ambitious Adebayo Olanre was behind it but it was not yet time to start pointing fingers.
As he parked his car, he noticed Ifeoma’s car and he tried to smile but failed terribly. She had her spare key and he knew she was already inside. He had completely forgotten about James and the power outage issue until he opened the front door. It was just 12:50pm. There was still time.
“Ifeoma” he called dryly as he locked the door behind him. She had not even opened the windows to let in air and he was sure she would be shocked at the power outage.
“Ifeoma” he called again and pulled open a curtain behind one of the sofas in the living room. The moment he put his hand on the window, something hard hit his head and he fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
Her eyelids fluttered but she instantly closed them shut. She could not move. Her hands were tied behind the chair she was sitting on and legs tied to the two fore legs of the chair. She knew her father was a rich business mogul with many enemies and competitors but she had never been kidnapped before and dread was all that filled her. Her father had just lost so much in the fire and he was equally going to pay for all the injuries and casualties sustained and also the damage done to hired equipments. She really wondered how her freedom would be negotiated.
She finally opened her eyes and looked around. She was seated at a round table and there was someone else at her opposite equally bound to a chair but the head was bowed with a cloth over his face. She wondered if he was dead.
The thought sent shivers down her spine. Maybe they had not paid the ransom money and the kidnapper had killed whoever it was and then came after her as a secondary source. What if her father could not meet up with his demands? What would become of her, her son and her husband whom she loved dearly? She could not begin to imagine how life would be for them without her.
She turned her head to the left and then to the right. There was only one bulb at the centre of the room and she felt it was already nightfall because the place was so quiet. Maybe she was in the woods where nobody would ever find her or even think to look for her.
She soon heard footsteps behind her and closed her eyes shut immediately. The steps went past her and the next disturbing sound was a painful gasp and for the first time she felt relieved that the person at her opposite was not dead.
She then felt a strong hand take hold of her face but she managed to keep her eyes tightly shut.
“Open your eyes” the deep voice said to her and she opened them immediately.
The surprise that filled her eyes was unmistakable. A gasp would have escaped her but for the tape over her mouth; she was staring at her father who equally stared weakly at her.
“Ify?” he called quite unsure of who he was staring at.
Ifeoma was confused; if he had kidnapped her father also, what else did he want? Her husband was an honest police officer who had a lot of principles and one was not accepting bribes. She wondered how the kidnapper planned to get a good amount from him.
The man behind the mask made them sit beside each other and he then sat at their opposite where he would be able to take in whatever expression they would have in the course of their interaction. Father and daughter could only stare at the cold eyes that penetrated the cloth mask as he reached out and forcefully removed the tape from Ify’s mouth.
Ify winced in pain and almost tried to scream but the moment her eyes caught sight of the gun he placed on the table, she thought better of it. With the cold look in his eyes, she was certain he would not hesitate to shoot either of them.
“What do you want?” Chukwuma finally asked as the masked man managed a chuckle.
“Nothing from you, bloody old bastard” he replied with so much malice that Ifeoma cringed. He turned to her and said slowly, “I know you two must be wondering where you are” he paused. “Enugu State…I know it’s quite a distance from home but –”
“Why are we here?” Ify cut in completely forgetting who was in charge.
He shot a cold yet surprised look at her and took out two pieces of dirty old materials that made Ifeoma feel nauseated immediately. “I wouldn’t like any more interruptions during this out little session” he explained in his usual unfriendly tone as he folded the rags and put in their mouths and finally put a duct tape over their mouths.
He smiled at their disgusted expression. “Now” he continued. “This isn’t supposed to take long, so let’s get this over with” he began.
“Do you remember Onyinyechi Nwodo ?” he asked as Ify stared at him. “I asked you a question” the masked man said angrily and held up the gun and she nodded immediately and the masked man took out the piece of cloth from her mouth.
“Who was she?”
“She was a girl I met in Enugu-” she answered wondering what the connection was.
“Where is she?” he asked as she looked down and remembered what had happened.
“She’s dead…a fire accident” she replied as the masked man glared at her making her wonder if she had said something wrong. “Could you please go to the main reason why we’re here?” she asked politely as the masked man nodded slowly.
“I just wanted to make sure you at least know why you’re going to die” he said and took in their confused and surprised expression.
“What? Why?” Ify asked in a shaky voice as he ignored her and took out the piece of cloth from Chukwuma’s mouth.
“Do you know Chidimma Okeke?” he asked as Chukwuma tried to remember and then nodded. “Where is she?”
“I think in a mental asylum…or probably dead” he said casually.
“I’m glad you two know everything. Karma is wonderful, isn’t it? You two are going to have to pay for what you did ten years ago” he said as they both stared at him confused.
“Look…young…man, I think you have got this all wrong. These ladies you mentioned were not even so close to my daughter and I” he explained. “Just do your research and -”
He was cut short by the masked man hitting him with the gun and putting the piece of cloth back in his mouth. He then put a piece of cloth over his head and turned to Ify whose eyes were pleading.
She could not leave her husband and her little Chidi. Why would this man want to kill her?
“Please” she begged as he put a similar cloth bag over her face. “We didn’t do anything…who are you?” she asked as he put the cloth in her mouth and leaned close to her ear.
“Your death warrant” he replied and pulled the trigger.
His head throbbed with pain. He managed to open his eyes and saw two figures standing above him; one in a police uniform and another in a corporate suit.
“Don’t move” he heard as he tried to get up so he remained lying on the floor. “Drop the gun slowly” they ordered with their guns pointed at him as he looked puzzled.
What gun? What were they talking about? Why were they pointing their guns at him? What did they take him for? He had been kidnapped…
He turned and actually saw that he was holding a gun. Impulsively, he flung it and turned to them in utter confusion.
What was going on?
The officer walked to him and pulled him up while the one in a suit still had the gun pointed at Chukwuma.
“You are under arrest for the murder of Mrs. Ifeoma Iloh…” his voice trailed as he turned to look around and noticed a lifeless body facing the wall lying in a pool of her own blood.
“Oh my God” he gasped and put his hand over his mouth. “I didn’t. That man killed my daughter” there were tears in his voice now. He had been framed.
“Anything you say or do will be used against you in the court of law” the officer said.
“No, officer. You have to listen to me. There was a -”
“Take him out” the man with the gun ordered.
“Officer” he protested as he was pulled away.
“This is a set-up”
Watch Out for Chapter 2…