It was all about to start, this was what the past six months had been about. It had taken several hours and millions of naira but finally WAAP would start on its biggest project ever. Mark had been the middle of it all and it had been a whole lot of work, work he was grateful for now. Jumai was on the team with him but he had not seen much of her, thanks to all the work he had to do. He did a lot of the assigning of middle to low level roles and he always made sure Jumai was not anywhere near him. He wanted to forget her. He knew he was being dramatic but he was just trying to be safe.
Mark moved through the temporary offices in Damaturu, everything was almost set. His boss and the UNICEF team would arrive the next day, he could not afford any lapses.
He entered his own office and nodded in satisfaction, he was good to go.
There was a knock on his door and a man – one of the volunteers already on ground entered.
“Some of the trucks with the supplies just arrived sir.” Sule said.
“What?” The supplies were not supposed to arrive until the next day. “How many?”
He was not ready to receive four trucks, not yet. He followed Sule out to where the trucks were waiting. The trucks arriving early was not good but it took nothing away from how important the trucks were. Inside the truck were supplies; food, clothing, toiletries and drugs that would help people regain their lives. War was terrible, what followed it could be worse. It wasn’t going to be for the people of Yobe because of Doctor Aderoju and his efforts. His boss could be a lot of work sometimes but he was doing something great.
“It’s a lot to take in huh?”
Mark turned around and saw Jumai. She still looked stunning. She wore a pair of blue jeans, a black knee-length gown and her customary head tie. She stood there, hands in her pocket looking at him with her charming smile. It was completely hopeless trying to block her from his mind, it was already too late.
“Have you been avoiding me?”
“Not really.” Mark said.
“Something happened that day on our way back from the airport, right?”
Mark shifted his gaze back to the trucks. “Nothing happened.”
“Okay.” She said and moved to his side. “What are those?”
“Some supplies that arrived early. I need to check them out, take stock of everything that is on board.”
“Seems like a lot of work.”
“Tell me about it.” Mark started to walk away. “See you around?”
“Hey,” Jumai called out to him. “Can I come?”
Mark sighed. “Sure.”
Baban signed the form and handed it to the man smiling in front of him.
“Thank you Professor, you are a blessing to our generation.” The man said.
Baban smiled and shook the man’s hand. “I am just trying my best.”
He followed the man to the door and closed it behind him. Whew! He was getting tired of having to play the great benevolent man, he had more important things to do. His project was about to go into full operation. In fact, it had already. He had delivered the kulunix ahead of the arrival of the UNICEF team, that would set things up very well.
“Are you ready to go sir?”
Baban looked at Dongo sitting in a corner and he smiled. Dongo in a suit; it was one of the most interesting sights he had ever seen.
“Yes.” Baban said.
They walked out of the office. Baban kept his smile all through the walk to the car. People respected him and he enjoyed the attention. One day they would come to know who he really was but by then it would all be too late. He loved their respect but he loved his money more.
They entered the car and drove out of the office compound.
“We sent the trucks today sir.” Dongo said.
“So what now?”
“Our trucks arrived early, so they will be part of the first supplies to be distributed. That way we get a head start on our project.”
“Okay sir.” Dongo said. “Now that we have the kulunix, what happens to Doctor Coker?”
“You know what.”
Baban looked out of the window of the car. Was he heartless? That was what his wife said when she left him. She took his children and moved to the United Kingdom. He had mourned her loss for a while but soon he came to his senses. She could afford to move to and live in the UK because of the money he made. He had been poor once and no one loved or respected him then. Not even his wife. He remembered that so well, he was never going back to that life.
The car stopped in front of a black gate. Dongo hooted and the gate opened. The car parked and Baban stepped out.
“I’ll be in the car sir.” Dongo said.
Baban nodded; even Dongo couldn’t attend this meeting. This was where it all got good or went down the drain. If things didn’t go well here, the kulunix and all the stress he had been through for months would be a waste.
He entered the house, went up a staircase and stopped at the now so familiar door. He took a deep breath and knocked. He waited for a few seconds and didn’t get an answer, he didn’t expect one. He turned the door knob and pushed the door open.
Inside the room, three men waited for him.
General Bashiru Babatunde, dressed in an Arsenal football club jersey, glass of scotch in hand sat in an armchair. He did not look up when Baban entered. He was a war hero, supposedly. He was an unsung hero though; he never received recognition for anything he did but he did make a lot of money. He learnt the methods of making money from war during the civil war and he was not ready to learn other ways. That one way was good enough.
Chief Biru Sawyer like the General was wealthy and well respected. He was a business man who had a lot of say in politics. He had seen it all, according to him. He was sound asleep on a sofa when Baban entered. He didn’t sound or look like the sharpest mind in the room the first time Baban met him but he had become one of the most devious minds Baban had ever encountered.
And then there was Bello B. Bello. No title, not prefix, just Bello B. Bello. He stood up to acknowledge Baban’s presence. He was nouveau riche and was always eager to hide the fact. He was young and knew a lot more about technology and how to make money with it than his old-timer partners. Baban did not like him much but Chief Sawyer and General Babatunde seemed to value him so he tolerated him.
“Welcome Prof.” Bello said.
“What took you so long?” General Babatunde said, his eyes on his now empty cup.
“You know some of us are not retired yet, we still have offices to report to.” Baban said.
“You think I am retired? What would I be doing here if I was retired?”
“Well, I am here now.” Baban said.
He walked over to the minibar in the room and poured himself a cup of scotch. He was not much of a drinker but the General never wanted to drink alone during their meetings. He was usually the person who had to. The Chief couldn’t – medical reasons. Bello couldn’t – religious reasons.
“Wake up the old fart, let’s get this started.” General Babatunde said.
“Old fart huh? That’s a new one.” Chief Sawyer responded swinging his feet off the sofa. “What is new, Professor?”
“Nothing much sir.”
Chief Sawyer looked up with surprise. “Nothing much? Are you…?”
“Wait, are you asking about our project?” Baban asked. “Sorry, I thought you were just asking about me generally.”
“Why would I do that?” Chief Sawyer looked genuinely surprised Baban had made that mistake.
“Everything is good on my end.” Baban said. “The question, how is it on your ends?”
“You know we always deliver Baban.” Bello said.
“Baban?” General Babatunde looked at Bello. “Who the hell is Baban?”
“That’s what they call him.” Bello replied, nodding at Baban.
The general shook his head.
“When does the kulunix become active? We paid a lot of money for that thing, we need to see it work.” Chief Sawyer said.
“We have delivered four trucks to the group working on the project with the government. Of course we sent clothes and other drugs that are not kulunix so as not to draw any attention to the…”
“We are not dumb Professor.” General Babatunde said. “We know why you did that. The question is when does it all begin to work? When do we have our first soldiers?”
Baban pulled a chair and sat. “General, I already said we would patience for this to work.”
General Babatunde laughed. “Patience huh? I though you hated the word.”
“Look Baban or whatever you call yourself,” Chief Sawyer started. “We have a lot of money riding on this, you realize why we are anxious.”
“You don’t want me getting anxious Professor.” General Babatunde said.
Baban nodded. He was going to ignore the not too veiled threat. General Babatunde did not trust him much and he was not shy to show it. He understood their anxiety but he was not going to be pushed into a promise. One thing these men hated more than waiting was failure.
“Are you going to give us a date?” Bello asked.
“No, I won’t. But I know you won’t have to wait for long.”
“So we are supposed to sit on our rich, retired asses and wait?” Bello asked.
“No, you can’t sit.” Baban said. “Look you have been asking questions all day, I have some of my own.”
“You want more money, you sick bastard?” Chief Sawyer shot an angry look at him.
“Yes, I need more money but that’s not what I’m planning to ask.” Baban said. “We need weapons, lots of them. We are going to be supplying two armies very soon, we can run short and the Mexicans will find a way of doing business here behind our back.”
“Look son, I have been selling weapons in this country for decades. Don’t you think I know how many weapons the army needs?”
“Alright General, just checking. I need the first shipment to hit Yobe in three days. Once they take the kulunix they will be needing us and we will be needing the guns.”
“All these sounds very exciting, maybe even unbelievable.” General Babatunde said.
“Seeing is believing General. Do you watch the news?” Baban asked.
“No, I don’t watch that crap.”
“Well General, it’s time for some crap. In a few days that crap will be talking about what you and your great friends here made happen.” Baban said with a huge smile.
Bello smiled and said. “I have to tell you Baban, make this work and we will own every damn crap station in this country.”
“Yes sir, I can smell it already. No pun intended.”
“Okay Baban, you will have your guns in three days.” General Babatunde said. “Go make us proud.”
“More importantly,” Chief Sawyer said. “Go make us money.”
Baban nodded, drank up the scotch and headed for the door. He had work to do.
“That is a lot of supply.” Jumai said, kicking up some dust with her heels.
“Well, Professor Tanko is a rich man, very connected too.” Mark said. “Your dad is not doing anything less.”
“Considering how much my dad is contributing, don’t you think you should treat me nicer?”
Mark stopped walking and turned around to face Jumai.
“I am sorry Jumai, alright? I’m not trying to be mean and it’s not because your father is a huge donor.”
“He is a donor alright, but my father is not huge actually, just a middle sized man.” Jumai said and smiled.
“What? I was saying…oh.” Mark smiled, she was joking. Was he taking this more serious than it deserved?
“So what is the problem Mark? Something happen?”
“What I’m about to tell you is true, embarrassing, a little sad actually.”
“Now, I’m even more eager to hear it.”
“Okay here goes. I’m the type of guy who doesn’t…” A crash sound from the distance stopped him.
“What was that?” Jumai asked.
Mark turned toward the direction of the sound and started to run. It sounded like it came from one of the trucks. He could not afford any trouble with the trucks or the content, his boss would kill him. He checked each truck as he ran past them till he got to the fourth. He stopped and opened his mouth. The back door was open, the chain that was supposed to hold the door together was loose. He had the keys with him. Had he left it unlocked? He was not sure.
“What’s the problem?” She saw the open door. “Was anything taken?”
He had not thought about that. He looked in the back of the truck, it was dark, there was no way to be very sure everything was intact.
“What’s that?” Jumai asked, pointing.
Mark followed her pointing finger and saw a nylon wrapper behind the door. He picked it and looked inside. It was pack of toiletries; toothpaste and brush, tissue, a bar of soap. He was not sure what was originally in the pack so he could not tell if anything was missing. Why would anyone break into any of the trucks?
“Was anything taken?” Jumai asked again.
“I have no idea.” Mark said and looked around. “Something is wrong here.”
He looked around the truck, there were several footprints around. That was understandable. There was a footstep that looked a little deeper than the others. He moved away from the truck and looked for other footprints that had that much depth. He found one, then another and another, each moving away from the truck. The footsteps led away from where they stood, he had to follow it. He walked away from the truck following the footprints. The prints got deeper the farther he went, whoever it was had stomped harder as they moved along.
He heard a loud scream and stopped. It came from not too far away from him, behind one of the storage buildings.
“What was that?”
Mark turned around, Jumai was behind him. “I think you should wait here.”
“No way, something dangerous could be out there.” She said.
“That’s why you should stay.”
“No, what if the person is hurt or needs help.”
“Then I’ll call…” He looked at her and knew there was no point arguing. “Okay then.”
They moved slowly towards the storage building. Whoever had screamed was now quiet but was still out there, he could hear him or her moving around. They got around the building and for a few seconds he saw no one.
“Look.” Jumai said, pointing.
Mark looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a figure on the floor. He looked closer, it was man. A naked man. He lay with his face to the floor. His legs were thrashing weakly.
“I think he’s hurt.” Jumai said rushing towards the man.
“Wait.” Mark shouted.
She did not answer and was already kneeing beside the man. Mark walked over to them and helped turn the man face up. He gasped and took a step back. The man’s face was horrible, squeezed, as if it was pulled together.
“What is wrong with him?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know.” Jumai said. “I have never seen something like this before.”
The man looked very skinny, dirty, he was not likely to be one of the volunteers. Even if he was, he couldn’t have recognized him because of how distorted the man’s face was.
“Look at his hands.” Jumai said.
Mark looked, they were bruised. Had he been in a fight? With who? Where did he come from? Jumai brought out her phone.
“What are you doing?” Mark asked.
“We need to call an ambulance. And I need to talk to a senior colleague, I have no idea what to do right now.”
Mark nodded. He looked around the surroundings, how did this man get into the compound? He looked at the storage building beside them and stopped. Some parts of the wall of the building had been knocked down. He stood and walked to the walls. He looked at the walls and the holes scattered across it. He looked at the man on the floor and back at the wall, did he do this? With his bare hands? Was that even possible?
“Mark?” Jumai called to him.
“He is dead.”
Who was this man? What had just happened? Mark knew he needed answers to those questions and fast. He had a horrible feeling this was not random, it was the beginning of something.
He prayed he was wrong.