This thing called LOVE – 19

This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO

EPISODE NINETEEN

As they moved through the corridors of the last floor of the gigantic Kogi State Teaching Service Commission building, Detective Samson was careful not to say anything. The drive from the office of the state’s police commissioner down here had been quiet. They had less than three days, if at all Caleb mustn’t be given an unjust sentence. How they’d go about this investigation successfully was one headache they both pondered upon. At the door to the exact office they were headed, they stopped abruptly, at the same time as though planned. It appeared they both said a word of prayer in their hearts for two minutes because after that, they tapped on the door.

“How close were you both, sir?” Detective Samson got straight to business, immediately after introducing himself and Susan. There was no time to waste by the way.

“Well, I’ve known Angela for a while now. In fact, her late father and I were quite close until death snatched him away.” The man, with his glasses placed on the bridge of his nose, said this gently. He looked like someone in his mid-sixties if Detective Samson’s guess was anything to go by.

“Sir, please, do you by any means know if there’s any rift or clash she had with anyone in this establishment prior to her murder?”

“No…” He was quick to respond initially but on a second thought continued. “You see, gentlemen, Angela’s kind of person is bound to have rift.” He hesitated. “She’s the youngest among the board members of this commission yet she’s become the most unruly. Probably, because the governor had taken her for a favourite and given her underserving rights, I don’t just know!” He drew a long disgusted hiss at the end of his statement and that unsettled Susan in a way.

She was staring deeply into the man’s eyeball, searching for motives, far beyond the words. The sort of feelings only the eyeballs could bear.

“So you think the late director must have accumulated for herself a handful of enemies as well as people who may even go as far as stabbing her to death?”

The man gave Detective Samson a glare. “I didn’t say that. Or have I said anything like that?” He sought for confirmation from Susan who quickly nodded her head even though she hadn’t heard the last part of their conversation as her mind had swayed off in thoughts. “When a young girl, so young because a lot of us on the board watched her grow, becomes too ambitious than we that literally brought her up, you’d expect the irons to clash. It’s normal, right?”

The detectives shrugged and he continued.

“She has this annoying attitude. This over inflated esteem of herself. No one was worthy of her person but whenever you show any form of love or appreciation to her, she sticks to you like glue. That was her case with the governor. I regret to say this, but at some points, the rest of us realised she was manipulating the governor alongside all her staff.”

Susan took in a deep breath. “Please how do you mean by that, sir?”

The older man cleared his throat a little. “Give you one example.” He searched for a piece of paper and dragged it out. “The state’s ministry of education wanted to undergo a rehabilitation project for some schools within the state. It was arranged in a way that we chose one school per project…” He glanced at them to be sure he had their attention. “We went round on a tour from one government school to another with the governor and various considerations were made.”

“OK?” Detective Samson urged him on.

“Would you believe that the little girl somehow, in ways I don’t know, got the governor to approve a particular school the board didn’t even consider? As if that was not enough, the governor approved that all projects, meant to be shared among at least five different secondary schools, be done in just that school alone? Courtesy of yours truly, Angela Okpe.”

“Wow!” The detectives exclaimed together in utmost surprise.

“How did she get to pull such a massive stunt.” Susan asked.

The man tapped his table lightly. “That’s what I’m saying. Angela is very manipulative. Getting everyone to do just her bidding and you become her rival if you ever object to what she thinks is best to do.”

Detective Samson swallowed and tried to speak up but the man continued before he could form his words properly.

“I, for one, became her rival at a point. Her arch rival for that matter. We all can’t be here counting grey hairs while some little girl boss us around.”

The detectives blinked their eyes.

“I mean, I am her rival in that I object strongly to her unruly character and not that I murdered her. Excuse me? I have a daughter her age and I can’t imagine someone killing my own daughter. Nothing she’d done; none of her rudeness and arrogance would make me think of it.” He returned the paper into a file and returned his full attention to them.

“Gentlemen, I don’t disagree with the fact that the late Angela may have gathered a handful of enemies for herself but again, I can’t say if she could have anyone ready to take her life.” He paused to steady himself properly. “I only know that I have no hand in the death of Ms Angela Okpe or anyone else for that matter.” He said with a dismissive tone.

“Thanks for the audience, sir. Just in case you have anything for us, here’s my card…” Detective Samson put his card on the table.

“That won’t be necessary, gentlemen.” He tried to protest, but seeing that the detective wasn’t letting go, he sluggishly picked the card. There was no harm after all.

They thanked him and left hurriedly.

 

*****

 

Victor sat on the water closet with the book firmly held in his hands. He’d devised the technique of sitting in his restroom to read it instead of his usual position on the bed just because of his mother. One, he couldn’t lock himself up in the room because that would be raising unnecessary alarm in the woman’s head and at the same time, he didn’t want her to catch him reading from that book again. She’s caught him enough times already. All those considered, his restroom was the safest place to be.

As he read through the pages of the book, fear grabbed him. All the revelations and discoveries were so much for him to bear and he was afraid he might lose his mind sooner than later. But he was determined. He’d go through the several pages of the book and by the end, just the end, he might get something worthwhile… however little.

 

******

 

Susan closed the car door hard as she collapsed into her seat. Their work was not getting any easier. The man in there, the head of the TSC board, had talked about his personal issues with Angela and her conduct. Whether they’d been any hot argument or threat between Angela and anyone else, he couldn’t… wouldn’t say. He only gave them a long rope. A rope with open ends and no part of his statement could indict him in any way. Susan had this funny thing run through her head when the man talked about how manipulative Angela was, even to the governor.

Could the governor have learnt about her manipulative and clingy attitude and wanted to eliminate her somehow from his way?

No way!

He was the one that invited Angela down to Nigeria and made her a director as a way to honour Angela’s father who was his bosom friend. There was no way he would want to harm her no matter how troublesome she turned.

“No way!” She voiced her thoughts out before she could stop herself.

“What?” Detective Samson who’d been concentrating on the road the whole time demanded.

“Nothing, Samson. Just some random thoughts.” She tried to dismiss him but she knew better.

“C’mon Susan. Right now, there’s no thought that’s random. In fact, I appreciate that you can still think because for me, it’s as though my brains had gone on holidays with the complications of this case.”

Susan smiled at the helpless way her partner sounded.

“Your brain is always on holidays, Samson. Ever since that Calabar girl came into your life.” Susan giggled excitedly. There could use some humour after all.

Samson gave her a stolid look. “You are crazy, Susan. Very very crazy. Oh, so it’s my Calabar girl now that’s your problem? Better say the random thoughts in your head, let’s hear them before I change my mind!”

Susan smiled briefly before wearing back her default serious face and tone to tell her thoughts. She briefed him about the possibility of having the governor’s hand involved in the young lady’s death and considering the urgent way they want the case to be treated and closed, it made more sense to suspect the number one person in the state. However, they know the greatest hindrance. Even if they had strong enough points to indict the governor, who’d bell the cat?

“You see?” Detective Samson said in resignation on realising that they had little or no access to the governor. He put an eye on the road and rolled the other one to stare at Susan. “Is your husband around?”

Susan felt taken aback by the question. It didn’t add up.

“Yes. Why?”

Detective Samson smiled. “Tell him in advance to start babysitting your daughter as you’d be far away from him for a while.”

Susan’s face stood between smiling and frowning. It was a job she’d chosen and regardless of all the comfort she would be losing, it was a lot of fun for her. She looked up to notice Samson had turned off the expressway originally leading back to the police station.

“Where are you heading to?” She questioned eagerly.

“A site we need to observe!” He dropped the statement like it burnt his mouth before zooming off.

 

*****

 

Eneojo held his MacBook tightly in the armpit of his right hand while the other hand held onto his phone as he descended the stairs towards the dining hall. His mother, alongside two maids were getting table set for dinner. He was barely midway when their eyes met and held.

“You are bringing your MacBook to eat as well? My doctor!”

Eneojo shook his head. His mother was the most predictable fellow he’d come to know in his entire life. Like he was so certain the woman would comment something about the device and she didn’t disappoint him at all.

“So you could be with Une in the hospital and be making dinner here at the same time? Super mum!” He jested, his American accent very obvious.

The woman gave him a smirk and he laughed louder.

“Next time, you don’t make jest of the youngest Ph.D holder in the lineage of this family!”

Ajifa hissed now. “You are not the youngest, Eneojo. Wake up!”

He drew out a chair and sat down. A maid came to put a plate and cutleries in front of him. “Oh! I am not? Dad said I was. Well, of course, you are literally calling your husband a liar!” He winked.

Ajifa’s hand landed hard on his back. “Shut up!” Her eyes were playful while saying the words. She pulled out her chair too and sat. “Talking about your dad, why isn’t he down yet?”

Eneojo shrugged, stretching himself forward so he could reach the bowl of food.

Ajifa motioned one of the maids to call the housekeeper.

The housekeeper arrived in a flash.

“Where is daddy?” Ajifa queried.

The housekeeper was the most reliable person to ask about the whereabouts of her husband at a time like this – that’s because the clergy man must have called the housekeeper to bring one or two things for him. She was sure he wasn’t in their bedroom. That means he could be in his own bedroom? Yeah, pastor Festus has another separate room from their bedroom. He could be in the study; he could be in the prayer room, which was at the peak of the house; he could be in the garden or beside the pool. His phone would definitely be switched off. Summary was that, the mansion was too wide, giving an uncountable number of places he could be for her to consider stressing her life out this evening. She’s had a tiring day helping with Unekwu’s improving walking steps all day at the hospital. She couldn’t do any hide and seek game here anymore.

“In the flower garden, ma’am!”

You see? There’s a flower garden and another Vegetable garden located at varying poles in the Ikani mansion. Thankfully, the housekeeper was specific. Ajifa dismissed him and glanced at her son. He was scrolling something on his MacBook.

“I hope you have come here to eat?”

Eneojo quickly removed the Bluetooth device off his ears and set aside the device with eyes looking like a child caught taking meat from the pot of soup. “I thought we were waiting for dad?”

Ajifa swallowed. “Just go ahead. I’ll go talk to your dad!”

Eneojo watched her leave through the front door. He shrugged, serving himself some food. His coming back to Nigeria had been rollercoaster from one issue to another, he wasn’t going to starve himself again this evening.

 

****

 

Ajifa approached the flower garden slowly, careful not to cause any distraction or make a single noise. The flowers were bright, colourful and beautiful. An indication that the thousands of naira spent monthly paying the horticulturist wasn’t in vain. She remembered the garden being Unekwu’s best spot while growing up. Her daughter had this thing for artworks and paintings and even though she wasn’t blessed in that area, or better still, she didn’t give herself any training in that area, she’d still get artworks and camera photos of flowers, and come into the garden. Holding it out, she’d do something that resembles comparing the branches and leaves of the flowers in real life to the ones in the photos. She enjoyed doing that a lot of times she’s not with her friends Vera and Victor.

A lot of things had changed for Unekwu and of course, the whole family since Caleb got in her life and even much more so now. If her husband was bitter and angry, it’s understandable. It shouldn’t be heard of that a young man, young enough to be his own son, played on his psyche. Pastor Festus hated lies and deceit much more than anything else in the world.

Ajifa reached where he sat. Thankfully, he was backing her and hadn’t even noticed her presence in the first place. She spread out her hands out over his shoulders and instead of jerking back in fear or surprise, he gently turned his face till his eyeballs rested on her. It was as though he expected this moment.

“Dinner is getting cold, Sunshine!” Ajifa said, using her most feminine tone yet.

Pastor Festus nodded in the affirmative and returned his gaze to the space in front of him. The cloud above where he sat was gathering. It made the sky colourful in shades of dark blue and patches of gold. The gentle breeze made the little leaves on the flowers dance in an adorable manner. Nature was indeed beautiful. Well, only to those who can see it. As far as Ajifa was concerned, her husband may be sited here but his mind had travelled as far as Atlántico.

“The boy deceived us all, Ajifa.” Deep pain coursed down his throat. “Look at my only daughter. A manager of the biggest bank in this state has been relegated to a state of a mere shadow, Ajifa. Unekwu is now a shadow of herself.”

Ajifa swallowed and squeezed his shoulders lightly. The problem with men and people that don’t readily show emotions would be when the locked in feelings reach beyond limits. The outburst, as in this case, is usually an eruption.

“Sunshine, Caleb must have cost our family so much pain, but we can’t let the devil capitalise on that to take away the glory and brightness the Lord’s face has caused to shine upon our family and ministry, Sunshine. We can’t.”

“And then was this girl that was gradually coming to know the Lord…” he continued like he didn’t hear his wife’s last statement. “She loved being around me; was beginning to get active in church. Only for that agent of the devil to take her life untimely, in a grievous manner.” He swallowed against a big lump on his throat. “What has my family ever done to deserve someone with so much destructive powers as Caleb. What did we do wrong to deserve a Caleb in our lives?”

Ajifa walked to take her seat on the handle of the chair her husband sat on. She held up his right hand and tried to hold his gaze as well.

“Remember, Sunshine, that in all these, we are more than conquerors.”

Pastor Festus blinked his eyes. He was at his lowest. The very lowest. Yesterday was midweek service at church. He couldn’t even bring himself to preach with the depressive state he was. Pastor Fred Williams who’d have naturally stood in for him was also not available. Elder Achem, though was informed late, had to take the message.

“Can you see that it’s not now Caleb that’s haunting us but our hearts?” Pastor Festus gave his wife the ‘what are you talking about look’. She pointed out the event of yesterday’s church service; talking about how Pastor had withdrawn from virtually everything. He didn’t go to the office, didn’t preach, didn’t study, didn’t pray and much more so, wasn’t eating.

“You taught me, Sunshine…” She sought his face. “You taught me that holding someone in one’s heart is like picking a hot coal from a fire with a bare hand to throw at someone else.” She paused and continued immediately. “Your exact words were that, bitterness first kills the person in whom it’s found a habitation.”

Pastor Festus took in a deep breath. His heart was too bitter, too sad and too broken over Caleb. Anytime he remembers the threats and how he was sincerely ready to swear on his life that Caleb didn’t kill that girl. All he had said, until… until Aunty Flora came with her revelation – the truth.

“If we don’t forgive men their trespasses, how can our heavenly father forgive us our own trespasses?” Ajifa said softly. The words drove straight through the skin and sinews of Pastor’s heart. “Relieve yourself from this torture, Sunshine. Please.” She went on her knees, making sure her knees touched the grass carpeted floor before saying the most unbelievable thing yet in the sight of pastor Festus.

“Please, forgive Caleb! He may not deserve it but he needs it.”

Pastor Festus felt stunned to his bones and didn’t hide the shock in his eyeballs as he stared back at his wife. Unbelievable!

 

*****

The gate opened just on a little push from detective Samson. That marvelled Susan, because the gate really looked heavy. While they drove nearer this place, Samson had told her to cock her gun and hide it somewhere to the side pockets of her jacket, just in case. She didn’t know the reason for that order though but had to do exactly what he’d said. There was no time for questions anyway.

They walked in majestically, looking like two normal persons only that they both wore black everything; black jeans and jacket with gloves. Detective  Samson led the way into the security house adjoining the gate, where a gateman should stay. He met the door ajar. The police had been in this house some hours after the corpse was moved away. They’d searched all the nooks and cranny for something… anything that would point as a clue. The security unit of the police force guarding this estate were unable to provide any valuable information on intrusion or assault of any form.

The inside of the security house looked pretty simple. A bed with rumpled and dirty sheet. A table and a chair stood somewhere to the window opening towards the gate and that was it. The room looked relatively uncared for; like the occupant wasn’t a tidy person or something like that. Susan took the other corner of the room from where Samson searched and for close to fifteen minutes, they lifted one item to another, hoping to see something. Anything.

“I don’t think there’s anything here, Sam!” Susan’s breathe was exasperated and she tried to catch it.

Detective Samson nodded his head in agreement. “I think you are right.”

He made for the door and Susan followed after him. Her eyes still darted from one part of the room to the other. Then, just few inches to the door, she glanced up and there was it.

“See?” she dragged Detective Samson’s attention to the part of the ceiling that looked disjointed.

It was too narrow for any adult, no matter how slim to pass through, sure, but then, it was wide enough for something to be slid through. Something, anything, whatever and however, it was their job to find out. The bulbs in the room shone brightly against Detective Samson’s face as he tried to look closer at that spot on the ceiling. Susan had horror written all over her eyes.

“Put off the light!”

“What? Are you out of your mind?” Susan couldn’t believe the order Samson had just given.

Detective Samson turned towards her, sweat dripping down his face. “Two reasons. I am not familiar with the electricity connections in this house. Leaving the light on may be dangerous while I try to slid my head through to see what’s there. Secondly, if at all anyone is watching us, which I hope there’s none, keeping the light on would put us both in danger. Well, guess with our profession we are already in danger, so I should say, it’ll put us both in more danger.”

Susan swallowed. He knew she needed these excuses. At least, that way she would be rest assured that the man wasn’t having any weird motive.

Detective Samson brought out his android phone and put on its light. He dragged the only chair in the room closer and climbed onto it while Susan tried to hold it down.

“Careful, please!” She cautioned whenever an attempt was made to get closer to the ceiling.

Detective Samson was tall, so it wasn’t hard to reach for and shift the partially adjoined ceiling from its position. Gently and slowly, he first tried to view whatever might be in that grossly dark place filled with cobwebs by flashing his light around. That was followed by his outstretched hand, as he attempted to feel as far down as he could reach for anything there. Few minutes and it became obvious his head needed to go in. He needed to view it better.

Motioning Susan to hold down the chair firmer, he leaped and his head was way into the ceiling. With the bright light from his phone, he flashed all corners slowly, trying to detect any strange looking ‘anything’. Few minutes and his hand and legs hurt from uncomfortably holding onto a source of light and standing on his toes respectively. He tried to bring down his leg. The air in there wasn’t saturated with oxygen at all and he felt suffocated somehow. Perhaps he should breath fresh air for some minutes before returning his head into the ceiling.

Would that even be necessary?

Maybe, maybe not.

This was a security man’s post for crying out loud. He must have carved a niche for himself to hide, just in case. Detective Samson suddenly wanted to buy that idea, but it appeared costly. The ceiling was hung in a way that looked like whoever had access to it last, did it in so much hurry that he or she couldn’t even patiently adjust it to fit perfectly as it ought to.

As Detective Samson dragged his head slowly down the square, he thought his eyes met something. The unexpected jerk almost made him drop down from the rickety chair, many thanks to Susan’s absentmindedness. He returned his attention there, flashing the light as though he could turn the whole dark place into broad daylight. Soon enough, his light fell on something. It’s an item. It was yellow and the reflection from it hit his eyes, almost blinding him at first.

Was it really yellow?

Guys are known to be colour blind.

Well, it could be gold. OK. It’s gold. Yeah. Only gold can reflect so brightly.

“Susan…” He shouted. “Please give me a stick. A long stick. Anything I can use.”

“Stick?” Susan didn’t stand to ask. She kept echoing ‘stick’ while perambulating around the room looking for a stick to no avail. She found the door to the bathroom and opened it. The smell from that place could knock someone down. She wondered what sort of gateman the late Miss kept to be this dirty. She found what she was looking for – a mopping stick. With her leg on the head, she removed the stick from it and hurried over to where Detective Samson stood, with head still stuck into the ceiling.

“Here!”

Detective Samson took the stick and manipulated it till it completely got into the ceiling and he needed to move the item down. Slowly and steadily, removing his face and holding his breath so that dust wouldn’t choke him. The sound of the item on the tiled floor sounded like nothing he’d expected. It came as a click. The kind of sound when two sharp objects hit one another.

Susan jerked back in fear.

Many thanks for gloves. Detective Samson wanted to hiss on realising that the item was something wrapped in a nylon bag. It wouldn’t help much, he was sure of that. His only issue would be why the stuff made him waste his time and heightened his expectations.

“Can you imagine?” He voiced his frustration as he ripped the nylon off to enable him see whatever was inside. Susan put the light back on and their both eyes popped open seeing the wrapped object.

“A knife?” Susan screamed, but Detective Samson quickly grabbed her mouth.

There was blood stain on the knife, though old and dry, anyone can still relate that the knife was used on a living being.

Yes. Now it was adding up. Angela was found in a pool of blood in front of her building and the coroner had said she was stabbed to death. Seeing a blood stained knife carefully wrapped in her gateman’s ceiling could mean exactly what you are also thinking.

There, they both realised that the security man had disappeared from the building even before the police came to discover Angela’s body. And up till now, he was nowhere to be found.

“Do we have any information on her security man?”

Susan shook her head. “The police in the area submitted some piece of info to the station. Angela had a house help but the latter stopped coming for a while now.  Some report confirmed that Angela barely stayed at home during her last few days. Either at the pastor’s office, her office, or the arts Centre with Victor. That so much sound like what Miss Kate, her GM told us too.”

Detective Samson nodded in the affirmative. “Yeah, definitely.” He returned the knife into the nylon bag and held it up. “Let’s get all the info we need about her security man and where he’s probably escaped to. We have no time on our hands, Susan!”

He pushed the door knob down but got interrupted by the ringing on his phone. Handing the nylon over to Susan, he reached for the phone. The number was strange and he put it on speaker.

“I have some valuable information for you and it’s related to the murder of Miss Angela Okpe. Come to the address I’ll text to you as soon as I drop this call. Come within the next hour and if you miss it, then you have missed out. Be warned. Come alone. I repeat, come alone.”

“But…” He was about to say when the line dropped.

He casted his gaze at Susan and the latter had gross disapproval in her eyes.

“Who is the person? And what gives him the guts to order a senior detective around?” Susan queried. “If you seek my opinion Sam, you shouldn’t go. Don’t. This is…” She drew out her wristwatch. “8:34pm Sam. It’s not safe.” She bit her lips. “The idiot is even forewarning you to come alone. If you must go, then I’ll go with you.”

“No!” Detective Samson cut in, his voice high up. He took in a deep breath and lowered his voice. “You can’t follow me, Susan. You heard his directives.”

“Then you are not going, Sam. No!” She put herself in front of him as though she’d be able to stop him if he attempted to move past her. “You are not going anywhere. We have a case of  murder by, who knows, a very dangerous killer here, Sam. How are we sure this person that called isn’t the gateman we are trying to investigate? How are you sure he’s not the killer himself? This is not worth it, Samson!”

Detective Samson swallowed deeply. He’d never seen this soft and weak part of Susan since working with her over the years. Her points were valid and legit but then, as his standpoint has always been, it was better to die in the war front than to be a coward wrapped under a duvet at home.

“What would you rather? Susan. No tell me. You and I can attest that there’s a higher hand involved in this death and that’s why they are trying to close this case off as soon as possible. But then, the life and family of the poor man we’re holding onto is at stake. We can’t let him drown because of these selfish politicians, Susan. We can’t.”

Detective Samson’s phone beeped. It was the text the fellow said he’d send. Susan drew her face nearer to read the text too and didn’t know when a tear dropped down her face. Her body was shivering and visible to the blind that sore fear had gripped her. “Samson!”

“Let’s do this, Susan. Please! Take the knife to the police station and keep it safe with you while you look up further information about this missing security man. I’d join you as soon as I leave this person… whoever he is.”

He handed over the key to his car, held her hand in a reassuring manner and she clung onto him. After five minutes, Samson tried to pull off his hand from her grip but Susan wasn’t letting go. He felt his heart break and soften. Maybe the whole risk wasn’t worth it after all. Considering the time and place the man said to meet. What if it’s truly a trap?

He shook his head rigorously, shaking the last thoughts away before forcefully removing his hand from Susan’s grip. Turning, and into the cold night he walked away, leaving Susan motionless and at loss for words in front of the compound.

If you are going to try, go all the way!

 

To be continued.

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About Grace Ochigbo

Grace Ochigbo
Grace Ochigbo is a Christian, storyteller, inspirational speaker and the Founder of Gemstone Sickle Cell Aid Team, a non-profit organizations working to end Sickle Cell Disease. email; ochigbogracious0@gmail.com

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