Emeka is confessing, Judd is recording while Joshua is plotting the downfall of the Devil's pawn. Meanwhile, Simon is on a journey to set himself free of Cynthia's stranglehold. He will find out that it is easier said than done as they will all clash once again. Find out what happens next! (Devil's Pawn' is a novel by Kukogho Iruesiri Samson.)
Joshua got up from his easy chair excitedly. As he stood up, his leg hit the stool and upset the glass on it. He tried to catch it. Instead, his hands struck the bottle. The bottle tottered and crashed to the ground with the half-full glass. He wrung his hands and sighed, knowing what would come next.
His wife shouted at him from inside. Her tone was harsh. She was angry, and Joshua knew she would be angrier in the morning when she realized what he had actually broken. The glass he had just broken was the last of her grandfather’s set of wine glasses she had inherited.
He had had to endure a long narrative of her family of aristocrats in the eighteen hundreds, the time he had broken the first one. When the second one had crashed down from his hands during the Champion’s League final between Arsenal and Barcelona in 2006, she had kept a sullen look on her face for two days, and his offer to buy her a new set had provoked her more.
He quickly swept the floor and packed the shards of glass into a paper bag. He did not drop the bag into the bin. In the morning Ruth, his wife, would definitely look in there to find out which glass was broken. The naggings that would ensue was not something he felt like dealing with at the moment. She could nag for hours on end.
Joshua took the pack to the edge of the compound and flung it as far as he could over the fence. He rubbed his palms together; it was cold.
He read the message again as he walked back to the house. He opened the front door. His jacket hung on a nail beside the door. He picked it and put it on. The time was one twenty-five.
The message that had gotten him excited was from his assistant. Someone had been seen near the footpath leading to the dam. People seldom took that path. And no normal person would go near there in the dead of the night. The descriptions fitted that of the ghost man.
Tonight, I will catch you.
“Hey, Ruth,” he called out to his wife. “I’ve got to reach the office. I just got a call about something important I have to attend to.”
She did not reply.
She is still angry. This woman sef!
There was a grating sound coming from their bedroom. He listened carefully. She was snoring. It would not be fair to wake her just to tell her he would be going out, so he picked a piece of paper and scribbled a quick note for her. He placed the note on the centre table.
It was not the first time he would drop a note for her. He had done it many times.
I hope it’s that ghost man. If I lay my hands on him…
Simon started digging with the shovel he had picked on his way. The one he had brought with him was not useable. The broken handle made it cumbersome to use.
He shovelled the earth out of the hole fast. It had rained the night after the rape, and the soil was still soft. As he dug, the shovel struck something hard. He poked around with the shovel and found it.
It was a knife. He recognized it.
More memories of the night came to him.
He stabbed at Kunle’s bent back, sinking the knife deep in. Kunle turned and grabbed at his chest, pulling him down with him. They landed on the heap of clothes with Kunle under.
Kunle’s large hands grabbed at his neck, twisting his Adam’s apple, even as Simon’s knife went into his body again and again. They were both covered with blood, but Kunle still held on, refusing to be pushed off.
He felt movement behind him and allowed himself to fall to his side as Oche struck at his head with a shovel. Only the sideward movement saved him from a bashed skull. However, the tip of the shovel nicked his forehead, drawing blood.
Pain shot through his skull like a rocket, but he did not dwell on it. He got up and lunged at Oche who had raised the shovel to strike again. His head hit Oche in the middle, and they tumbled to the ground together.
Simon dropped the knife and continued digging.
A few shovelfuls of sand later, he struck something soft and solid.
That must be her.
He dropped the shovel.
It wouldn’t do to stab her with the shovel.
Carefully, he teased the sand away from her body. He scooped out the earth with his hands and the stench of her rotten flesh hit his face, even though he could not yet see the body. The odour only slowed him down for a minute. Then he held his breath and continued scooping the earth out. He paused at intervals to bend sideways and take a deep breath.
It was the face that first came into view. He saw a big worm crawl out of the hole in her head as he scraped the sand off. He felt sick. The banana and groundnut he ate on during the journey came up with a rush.
Before he could turn his face away, he had vomited the slimy stuff on her face. A sour taste remained on his tongue.
Memories flooded in again.
He stood up. Oche’s body hit the ground with an audible cracking sound. Oche dropped the shovel and remained still after the fall.
He was dead.
He had hit his head on a gnarled tree stump and a pool of blood quickly gathered round the head.
He was still looking at Oche’s still body when the first bullet hit him from behind. It came out neatly from his chest. Three others hit him. He did not fall, but each bullet shook him. He turned to see the gun drop from Kunle’s hand.
The rest of the night was hazy, but he partly remembered getting up a few minutes later. The rest of the night was hazy but he partly remembered getting up a few minutes later.
Simon resumed digging.
The body was free of dirt now. Her body was just the way it had been after the rape. He was shocked to see that the skin was intact as when she had just been placed in the grave. It seemed as if decay had not yet set in. The face that was rotten a while ago had suddenly become normal. He wondered at that and the odour that was no more.
“I have a gift for you. You have to accept it because I cannot do what you want. I have tried, and now it’s beyond me,” he spoke quickly.
Simon knelt near the head. There was something about her eyes. She seemed to have turned them. Just a while ago, he had noticed that her eyes were looking straight at him. Now, in a different position, they were still trained on him.
You can do whatever you like with your eyes. I’ll still give you your gift and get away from you.
Some wild animal howled in the distance. The wind rustled the grass, and the trees around swayed slightly. The tree closest to him had two trunks resting on each other. As the wind moved them, they rubbed together and produced a scary sound, like the sound an injured skunk would make. He shivered.
A sudden sense of urgency came upon him.
“I think you still haven’t gotten an idea of the kind of shit you have gotten yourself into,” Judd started. “Nobody will promise you anything without first seeing what you got to offer.”
“What are you saying?”
“If you reveal the identity of the person that contracted you to do the job, you are only doing yourself a favour. We already have a solid case against you. For me it’s a win-win situation. You talk, I catch the big fish. You don’t talk, I still got you. The fact is you are a fish big enough to satisfy a lot of bellies. You wouldn’t last a day in court. I can guarantee you a minimum of life, that’s if you are lucky. If the jury hears about your other campus escapades and your axe, you will most definitely get the death sentence.”
Emeka’s had his cuffed hands over his face. He wiped his face with his right hand and bit his thumb. Skull’s eyes stared at him from one of the pictures. He shivered and dropped his head between his knees. When he lifted his head again, his eyes glistened with tears. He tried hard to stop them, but two big drops fell on the pile of pictures.
“If you cooperate, I can broker you a deal that will see you out in five years or less with good behaviour. I have a bigger fish to fry.” Judd picked the diary. He waved it before Emeka’s face. “I want him. It’s up to you.”
“All I have is your word? You know I could die for this!” The tears were gone now, but his voice quavered. He sniffed and wiped his face with the back of his hands.
“My word is as good as gold if you deliver.”
“Okay. Ask your question.”
“Who gave you the Morgan job? Tell me all about it.”
“You know already that I am the leader of the cult. Last year, I was called to a circuit conclave of past top leaders of the Black Cats. All the old guns were there. He was there too.”
“Yes ‘he’, Governor Sylvan. He was the leader of the Black Cats during his days at Ben Emoha University. We talked about some things. After the meeting, he called me aside and asked me to help him. He told me it was between the two of us alone. The conclave would not agree to a high profile murder for his selfish ambitions, he said. He promised me ten million naira. I was broke at the time, but I was scared. When I refused, he threatened to eliminate me. I came back to him, and he doubled the bounty. That’s how I got the job. I executed the job without telling a soul, and he kept his promise.”
“So you are saying categorically that Governor Sylvan asked you to kill Dr. Jo Morgan?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And he paid you ten million naira in two instalments as payment for this job.”
“Just for the records, the phrase ‘governor’s job’ in your dairy refers to the killing of Dr. Jo Morgan which you were contracted to do by Governor Sylvan.”
“Yes,” he barked.
“Good. Has he given you any other job?”
Emeka looked at Judd with stern eyes. He lunged at Judd across the table and grabbed at his collar. “You know what? Fuck you! I just tied a noose for myself, and yet you ask me another stupid question. I gave you what you want. It’s your turn to give me mine.”
“Easy now,” Judd said gently. His hand rested near the grip of the semi-automatic pistol in his leg holster. “You’ve done greatly. Don’t throw it all away now.”
Emeka let go of the shirt. Judd got up and walked up to the camera. He removed the tape and dropped it into his pocket. Emeka was back in his seat, shoulders drooping and head bowed.
“Remember that you have a family. If you leave me hanging, I have friends who owe me. You know what I mean. Now can I get something to eat, or you have plans to starve me?”
Simon removed his necklace. It was the gift he wanted to offer her. He held her hand. Her fist was clenched, and he struggled to unclench it. Uncle Kameni’s had said he should put the gift in her hand and close the palm over it.
He struggled with the hands. Then she spoke:
What gift do you think you can offer me to replace what I lost?
He dropped the hand like a hot coal and dropped to his haunches.
“Dammit! Not you again.” Simon screamed out loud.
You think I let you come all this way just for nothing. You know nothing. I wanted you to come here. That’s why you got this far. I brought you here, so that my body could get discovered.
“Why can’t you just fucking let me be?”
So you thought you could bribe me? We had an agreement, remember. I have to be buried properly.
You deceived me.
He had wanted to run away, but something would not allow him. He couldn’t feel his legs, air had suddenly replaced them.
Your task here is complete. They are here.
The men walked on,, careful not to make any sound. Both of them were dressed alike: black pants and T-shirts over which they had the black, armless jackets worn by Buscan University security officers. The one in front had a sporting rifle in his hands, and his finger caressed the trigger guard as he walked.
The other man followed with a pump action. He was barely five feet tall, but his shoulders were broader than any of his colleagues. They called him Stump. The story behind the name was as funny as the name. Joshua had called him a brainless stump in anger after an operation had failed because of him.
Some days later someone called him stump, and the others picked up the name. Thanks to Joshua’s warped sense of humour, the name stuck like magnet to metal. At first, Stump had resented the name and resisted it. He even once gave someone a bloody nose for it. Later he realized that the men only ended up more encouraged by his resistance, and he let it be.
Back at the car, Joshua had given them the go ahead to shoot at sight. The CSO himself had taken another route west of the university dam. The fifth member of the team had gone eastwards to come round from the dam side. The truck they came in was parked about a mile back.
The men got to the diversion. Stump was in front now. He stooped to touch the grass. There was no dew on the blades. He walked a few steps, touching the grass. No dew still.
“Hey, Bulus, he went this way,” he whispered to his partner.
Far away from them, on the other side, Joshua was crouched beside the trunk of a large pine tree. He had a plan. The plan was for him to get close enough to get a shot into the ghost man. The rest of them would encircle him. One of his men was a perfect shot.
Within him, he wished that it wouldn’t come to shooting. It would not be enough just to stop the ghost man. Joshua wanted to catch him alive and find out how he did the X-zone thing.
So many bullets, yet he was able to get away. Today, I will catch him.
He saw a tiny flame go up and die in the distance. Three times, that was the sign they had agreed on. He looked to his left, the flames came up.
Good. They are all in position.
He took out a matchbox, opened it and struck a match. The flame came up. He let it burn for a second, then killed it with a wet finger. He repeated it twice.
They watched Joshua’s third flame go up and die. Bulus lifted the rifle and looked into the scope. He saw Simon kneeling beside a pile of earth. “I can see him from here. You get closer. When you’re close enough, give me the cuckoo call.”
“No problem.” Stump answered before trotting away.
Stump ran like a girl catwalking. The short legs crossed each other in front. Bulus followed him a short distance. Then he stopped. He looked into his scope and aimed at his partner’s head as he jogged. He mimicked pulling at an imaginary trigger near the trigger guard.
“Pow,” he mouthed. “I got you, pal.”
Anyone watching both of them would have thought Bulus had shot his partner as Stump hit the ground and crawled into the pine trees. Pine needles pierced the skin of his forearms as he crawled. He could see Simon now. He cupped his hands over his mouth and hooted. In the quiet night, the sound came out clearly like the call of the cuckoo bird. He called a out a couple of times, then he continued his crawl.
Bulus heard the call and set his sight on the target. It was cold, and his hands were almost frozen stiff. He leant the rifle against his right leg. He clasped his hands and rubbed them together a couple of times. Then he picked up the rifle and set his sights on the target, aiming for the right shoulder.
Joshua had said to decapitate the target before anything else. The CSO wanted the ghost man alive, no fatal shots unless necessary, he had said.
He squeezed his face in concentration and pulled the trigger, twice. He saw the target fall to the ground.
“I got you!”
CONTINUES NEXT THURSDAY. Click here to read all 'Devil's' Pawn EPISODES.