Five minutes after the meeting was adjourned, Jerome was seated behind Chrome’s desk and browsing through his email. He had found and opened the mail sent to him by the Inspector-in-charge of the Akwa-Ibom State police command – Inspector Nsikak was his name –, and his eyes skimmed over the digital print as he read.
‘To the C.S.I. Chief Inspector:
‘Please find attached to this mail the items you required concerning the motor accident involving the Essien family. I have attached the preliminary reports made by the officers at the scene and also the pictures of the crashed vehicle. I have also gone out of my way to secure what I believe to be the picture of the original reason the car crashed. Also you will find attached the DNA test results made on a hair sample found on the scene which did not belong to either of the two victims. I hope these will help you in your current investigations.’
Jerome finished reading through and proceeded to scroll to the bottom of his mailbox to retrieve the attachments, when he stumbled across an additional message which read:
‘P.S. please exercise caution in your investigation. I have come to the realization that someone above my pay grade has gone out of his/her way to see to it that the investigation into the crash was buried. Whoever it is must be brought to justice and I believe you will have the capability to see to this. Thank you.’
Jerome leaned back on his seat. That last part of the message was ominous. He decided to print the attachments so he could show them to Chrome when he returned.
Chrome pulled up the Toyota Corolla into the street where the Scotts resided. He expertly parked the car on the culvert in front of the gate guarding the Scott residence, effectively blocking the entrance to the premises. The officers where just stepping out of the car when the gates were suddenly flung open by the army personnel stationed there. Chrome led the way as the officers walked towards a parked jeep which seemed to be ready to leave the compound.
“This is private property,” one of the uniformed men said belligerently, his eyes snapping in Edeeth’s direction. He recognized her from the previous day, and from the scowl on his face, he wasn’t too happy to see her – and another partner – again today.
“I know, and I’m here on official police duty,” Chrome said coolly. His manner was unperturbed as he flicked out his badge for the men to see.
The army personnel wavered in their aggressive stance when they recognized the superior position clearly stamped on the identity card. Just then, one of the back doors of the jeep was flung open and Anthony lumbered out of the car. His brow had deepened in the beginnings of a glare. “Excuse me, officers, but what the hell do you both think you are doing here?”
Chrome waited until the man had come close to where they stood, his face planted on the commissioner with that glacial expression that Edeeth admired so much. Except when he focused the look on her – then she didn’t find it so admirable. “There’s no need to get hostile, sir –” he began.
“I’ll act in any manner I want, thank you very much,” Anthony spat. “Now, will you please state your business already? The sooner you do that, the sooner you can get off my property.” He divided his glare between the two officers.
Unruffled by the man’s antagonism, Chrome jerked his head at the car and said, almost conversationally, “I see you are all set to go out already.”
“Yes, we have a charity event to attend.”
“We? You and your daughter?”
“Yes,” Anthony bit out.
“I’m afraid Monica can’t go anywhere with you –”
“And why is that?” Anthony jutted his jaw at the other man.
“We are here to take her into custody.”
“What?!” the commissioner exclaimed. “On what grounds?!”
“We have overwhelming evidence which puts her at the scene of the crime making her a prime suspect.”
At that moment, the other back door opened and Monica got down from the car. She started walking over to the small gathering.
“Get back into the car, Monica!” her father barked, when he heard her approaching footsteps. He whirled about to face her.
Ignoring him, she walked forward still. Her brows were furrowed in incomprehension. “What’s going on, daddy?” She came to stand before them. Her question was directed at her father, but her eyes flickered between Chrome and Edeeth.
Chrome noted how huge and doe-dark and beautiful the eyes were. She really was a good-looking woman, a part of his mind registered belatedly.
Anthony immediately held her close to him in a side embrace and said, “Don’t worry, my dear.” He turned his scowl back to the officers and said, “I would like to have a look at this so-called evidence you have.”
“By all means, sir,” Chrome said.
Moments later, both cars moved out of the street and started for the station. As they drove down the road, Anthony glanced at Monica, who was visibly trembling, and said, “Don’t worry, honey. I won’t let them harm you.”
But the expression etched on his daughter’s face told him clearly how much she didn’t believe his words this time.
By the time Walter got to the airport terminal, Chude was waiting at the designated spot that they were meant to meet. He waved a hand at the official car which he recognized as Walter, not identifying him, almost drove past him. Walter slowed down and parked on the curb and Chude jogged up to meet with him. Walter wound the passenger glass down and Chude stuck his head in and greeted him.
“You must be Chude.”
“Indeed I am.”
“How sure are you I’m the one you are waiting for?” Walter asked with a cocked brow.
“Don’t worry, Officer Walter,” Chude said, stressing the name. “Officer Jerome gave me a good description of what you would be driving, what you would be wearing and how you looked. And I never forget the details that matter.” He was smiling at the end of his comment.
Why don’t you hand me your resume while you’re at it, Walter thought with wry amusement. After what Edeeth had said about the airport worker, he had a better appreciation of the man’s exuberance. “Alright then, hop in,” he said to Chude, who was already lifting the door handle. As he sat down, Walter asked, “Ok, what did you find out?”
“I was able meet with the owner of the Executive car rental service, and he confirmed renting out a Jeep to a man bearing the name Mr. Ememesi Scott.”
“Is that all?” When he nodded, Walter said, “I thought you said you had something to show us, hence our presence required at the airport.”
An abashed look suffused the other man’s face and weighted down his voice as he said, “My apologies, sir. I knew your team would want to question the man yourselves, and I wanted to be part of the team as that happened.”
Walter shook his head at the man’s cunning, and chuckled. “My, Chrome should hire you. Lord knows we need someone with your tendency for underhanded tactics.” The good-natured tone of his voice made Chude beam. He continued, “Anyway, don’t you have work to do today?”
“My shift doesn’t start until much later.”
“Ok then, let’s go over there to the car-rental place,” Walter said as he started the ignition. “Where is the place?”
“It’s down the road, make a left before the intersection that leads to the car park,” Chude replied and Walter shifted the gear. In a few minutes they were entering the parking-lot of the Executive Car-Rentals Services. Walter killed the engine when he found a good spot to park and they both alighted from the vehicle. The building housing the office of the business was a bungalow with only three rooms – the reception, which was quite large, and two adjacent rooms, one of which was the office of the owner of the business. Chude made enquiries from the receptionist and a moment later the owner of the rental service came out to meet them. Introductions were made – the owner’s name was Kelechi Ajoku – and the men got right down to business.
“Thank you for helping us, Mr. Ajoku –” Walter began.
“Please, call me Kelechi,” the man, wispy in stature with gold-rimmed glasses settled over his beady eyes, said. “And it will be my pleasure to be of help to the Federal Police. So, from what my friend here” – he nodded at Chude – “tells me, you are looking for a man who rented one of my cars two nights ago.”
“We are not sure it’s the man we are looking for,” Walter interjected, “but it would go a long way in helping our investigation if he happens to be the one.”
Kelechi smiled and pointed to the ceiling just above the desk of the receptionist. “You see that?” Walter and Chude looked up in the direction he pointed as he continued, “That there is a CCTV camera. Customers don’t notice it and I use it to make sure I get the identities of people who rent my vehicles.”
Walter nodded and said, “That is very insightful of you. May I see the security footage from the night in question?”
As if waiting for the question to be asked, Kelechi motioned his guests towards the second door beside the door to his office and said, “Right this way please.” And they promptly disappeared behind the door, leaving only the receptionist to continue flicking through the pages of the magazine she was reading.
The room Kelechi showed Walter and Chude into wasn’t large but it was spacious. There were two monitors on a large desk which served as the viewing screens for the CCTV cameras situated in the reception hall and just outside near the parking-lot. There was a third monitor which was connected to the only computer in the room and only one member of his staff was given the task of monitoring the events that the screens displayed. Kelechi explained that he needed the cameras to keep track of customers as they entered the building and as they left with a rented car. There had been cases in which customers didn’t return the cars and denied ever having any involvements with the rental service. The security footages came in handy to counter their claims. Kelechi gestured to the other man present in the room and the man excused his boss and his guests.
“So, let’s get down to it, shall we?” Kelechi said after his lengthy explanation and bent over the keyboard of the computer and punched in some keys. The image on the CCTV screen flickered and changed from its display of the reception at the moment to the reception in another time. Two nights ago. As the footage played, Walter watched a man clad in a jacket and face-cap walk up to the receptionist and make some enquires. The images weren’t colored and had no sound. It was like watching a Charlie Chaplin movie, but with better resolution.
“Yes, that’s the man we saw,” Chude interjected, his words directed at Walter. “Your colleagues identified him as a person of interest to your case.”
“Is that so?” Walter said and looked closely at the image on the screen. “Hmm, it really is him.”
The image of Anthony Scott gestured to the receptionist and the latter typed something on the computer in front of her. She then moved out of view from the camera and later returned with a key which she handed to the man waiting. Walter looked a question at Kelechi and the man promptly answered, “He rented a Jeep and paid in full. The car is right outside. It was returned to us by some man yesterday afternoon…not the same person on the screen.”
Walter asked, “Can you show me who returned it?”
“The man never came inside. He just drove the car into the parking lot and dropped the keys on the hood. My security staff didn’t even notice when the man left, but our cameras located outside did get an image of him as he walked away from the parking lot.” Kelechi tapped some keys again on the keyboard and this time the second monitor changed the image displayed. He froze it as it got to the part he had been talking about.
Walter leaned forward to get a better look and then, without warning, he burst out into laughter. The other men were evidently startled by his mirth. Noticing that, he said, “I’m sorry about that.”
“Do you know him?” Chude asked.
“You could say that.” Walter looked at the screen again and smiled. The frozen image of the man who had dropped off the car Chief Scott rented was the same trigger-happy soldier whose acquaintance Walter had made the day before at the Scott’s residence. He was remembering their brief altercation yesterday and the thought had brought about his unexpected amusement. He turned away from the screen. It was clear to him that the man in question was truly the commissioner. Now all he needed to do was find out where he went after renting the car. “Kelechi, how do you get to find cars that clients refuse to return?” he asked.
“All our vehicles are fitted with GPS tracking systems.”
“GPS? That’s great!”
Kelechi opened a folder on the computer screen and selected a particular file. He clicked on it and it opened up on the screen to reveal a log for all the cars rented, by whom they were rented and what time the vehicle was given out. He pulled the record for the name ‘Ememesi Scott’ and got the tracking code for the vehicle. He closed the log window and opened that of the GPS tracking program on the computer. By entering the tracking code, the screen turned up the satellite display of all the places the vehicle went to from the moment it was rented till it was returned. Walter brought out a small note pad from his back pocket and picked a pen from the table. He traced the first three places the car went to and wrote down the names of the places.
“Interesting,” he muttered as he looked at the screen again. He – and every member of the C.S.I team – was versed in the art of map-reading, and he could easily make a mental 3D image of the topography. He took some more notes and then straightened up. He looked at Kelechi as he said, “Thanks for this info, but I’ll need one more favor.”
“Whatever you need.”
“I need to take a picture of the tires of the jeep.”
“That won’t be a problem. If you’ll just follow me outside…” And moments later, all three men were on their way to the parking lot.
The sound of her phone ringing reached Stacey’s ears from inside her bag. She looked up from the computer screen and leaned across the table for the bag. When she picked out her phone and saw that it was Manny calling, she swore under her breath. She suddenly realized that she hadn’t shown up at the autopsy lab all morning to punch in. Taking a deep breath, as though fortifying herself for whatever berating she was going to get from her boss, she picked the call.
“Stacey!” Manny’s voice wasn’t harsh, but the tone was cold.
“Yes, sir?” she answered tentatively.
“It’s nearly 7. 30 and you still haven’t shown up today. Is there any problem?” Mild concern coloured the sternness of his voice.
“I’m fine, sir. I’m already in the building. But I’ve been in the forensics lab.”
“Forensics? Doing what there?”
“I’m helping out…er…Chief Chrome to do some research on a potential suspect.” She stuttered through her reply, feeling flushed with contrition, as though she had been nabbed doing something wrong.
“Oh – Chrome.” Manny’s tone was different now. Stacey could have sworn she heard him laugh. He continued, “Ok then, be sure to report back here as soon as you are done. We also have our own jobs to do, you know.”
“Ok, sir.” When the call was disconnected, she dropped her phone on the table, not knowing whether to be amused or upset at whatever Manny had just insinuated with his sudden change in attitude on the phone. Did he think she was having an affair with the Chief Inspector? If so, why would he even think that? Chrome had a girlfriend for heavenssakes! And she was definitely not interested in him, a man who was already taken, she told herself firmly. Most definitely not. She was lost in thought until the buzz from the computer screen in front of her brought her back to reality. She checked and saw that the search she was running had made a hit. She pushed a key and the documents began printing.
Jerome had finished printing the pictures and other documents from the email and was waiting for Chrome to return so he could present them to him. He suddenly felt a growl in his stomach.
“Oh boy, not now,” he said to himself. He had forgotten about his hunger pangs of last night after he had his much needed rest. “I might as well satisfy you too.”
He dropped the documents on Chrome’s desk, grabbed his jacket from the back of his seat and shrugged into it. He looked at the time. It was 7:30am. I wonder if any fast-food joint would be open at this time, he wondered as he made his way towards the exit. He needed to eat, and he needed to do it fast.
Walter had dropped off Chude at the airport terminal before recomposing himself on his next course of action. He took a quick look at his writing pad and said softly the name of the place he wanted to go to next, “Hillside Hotel.”
Soon, he was out of the airport premises and speeding down the highway. The hotel was situated along the stretch of road which led from the airport towards the town. There were so many hotels located in this region, their business targeted at attracting the patronage of travelers coming from the airport. It didn’t take long before Walter found the one he was looking for. After parking his car outside the gate of the hotel and shouldering his knapsack inside which was his digital camera, he walked in and went straight to the reception. The hotel wasn’t grand. In Walter’s opinion, it ranked more as a motel. He showed the receptionist his badge and asked for the manager who promptly came to attend to the officer after his attention was called upon.
“Officer, you are welcome to the Hillside Hotels,” he said grandly to Walter, as though he was welcoming the officer to the Sheraton. “How may I be of service?”
“Sir, I’m conducting an investigation and would like you full cooperation.” Walter added some steel to his voice, just in case the manager was thinking otherwise.
“No problem, officer,” the manager said, his voice losing some of its flourish. “Whatever assistance you need, I’ll be happy to help.”
“You had a guest who came in here in a Pajero jeep two nights ago,” Walter said, his gaze shifting from the manager to the receptionist and back to the manager. “I want to see the room he was in.”
“Em…sir…we get a lot of guests here at the Hillside Hotel,” the manager began.
I’m sure you do, Walter thought snidely.
“And on this particular night, you would have to be more specific for us to know who you’re talking about,” the manager finished a tad patronizingly.
The tone of his voice galled Walter. “Listen,” he snapped, “I noticed there are other hotels around, finer hotels than this dump, many of which have a few cars parked within their premises. And I’m willing to bet, they have a lot more patrons than you have. It’s most likely that you haven’t had any more than eight or nine people patronize you in the past two days. The man I seek most likely didn’t register with his real name so I’m just going to ask you to do the mathematics yourselves.”
Properly cowed by the officer’s sudden antagonism, the manager hurried over to the lobby desk, slightly pushing the receptionist aside in his haste to retrieve the register. He flicked the tattered thick-covered notebook. “Yes officer – er – you said two nights ago?”
Walter nodded in affirmation.
The man flipped through the register and came to rest at a certain page. “Yes, this is the last person to check in.” He pointed at a name on the page. Walter leaned forward and looked at it. It read ‘John Doe’. Walter choked on the laugher that suddenly worked its way up his throat.
When he was sure he could talk, he said, “Someone registered with the name ‘John Doe’ and you didn’t think it was a false name?”
The manager, obviously embarrassed by the realization, looked accusingly at the receptionist.
“Em…” the receptionist started, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. “He was an elderly man. He said he was from Liberia.”
Walter worked hard at straightening his features against the assault of his amusement. He looked at the manager and said, “Please take me to the room he occupied.”
The manager grabbed a key which was marked ‘15’ from inside a shelf behind the receptionist and walked up a flight of stairs ahead of the officer. Once at the door, he opened it and said, “I doubt you’ll find anything. The cleaning lady has already been here today.”
Walter stepped in with one thought in mind. “Let’s just hope she’s not efficient.” He scanned the room slowly from left to right, trying his best not to miss a thing. After a few moments of poking around with nothing but the heavy breathing of the manager breaking the silence, he was about to give up on discovering anything. Then, his gaze fell on the wall behind the door. “Bingo!” he said out loud, startling the manager. “Seems the cleaning lady wasn’t so thorough after all,” he crowed at the other man as he put down his knapsack and got to work on what he saw.
Edeeth led the father and daughter duo to the interrogation room. The drive back to the station had been uneventful and quiet. The Scotts had followed the officers in their own car and at that moment, their driver was making his way to where he would park the car. Chrome watched as the jeep drove down towards the car park and had turned to enter inside the building when his phone rang. He checked the caller ID. It was the mystery caller again. He decided to ignore it this time. He had other more important things to take care of at the moment. He could feel it in his guts. They were on the verge of cracking this case. He confirmed from the station receptionist that Walter hadn’t returned from his assignment yet. He moved on, his mind filled with the hope that Stacey and Jerome would have something good for him.
When Edeeth opened the door to the interrogation room they had occupied yesterday, making way for the Scotts to pass into it, she noted the look of displeasure that was on Monica’s face. She must not be thrilled to be back here, Edeeth thought as she followed them to the seats surrounding the table. The three of them sat as Chrome entered the room. He leaned by the wall, tacitly giving Edeeth the floor. She didn’t waste time.
“We have DNA evidence which puts you” – she pointed at Monica – “at the crime scene last night.” She paused to take out the documents from inside the file that was on the table and placed them in front of Monica. “Look at these.”
The papers were printed pictures of Jackson’s body at the crime scene and on the autopsy table. The moment Monica saw and recognized the photo on top, she gasped and shrank back into her seat.
“How dare you show her these?!” Anthony snarled, his voice marinated with outrage. He rose huffily from his seat as Monica looked away from the photos.
Ignoring the man, Edeeth snapped in a louder voice, “Look at them! You claim you loved him, yet you turn away now.”
Anthony turned his fulminating look on Chrome and seethed, “What is the meaning of this – this rubbish tactic of psychologically harassing my daughter!?” When Chrome said nothing in response, the commissioner continued, “If you don’t put a stop to this nonsense at once, I will do everything in my power to make this department pay for this harassment!”
Chrome still appeared unmoved. Monica had started sobbing quietly. There was a few tense seconds of awkwardness, broken when Edeeth finally stood and walked over to Monica’s side. She took the woman’s hand and looked at her face, all the while aware of her father’s anger-stiffened presence close by. “Please, Monica,” she said almost imploringly, “please, come clean. Did you kill Jackson?”
“This is preposterous!” fumed Anthony. “I think we need a lawyer now.”
“Chief Scott –” Chrome began.
“Don’t you dare call my name, officer –”
“Did you kill him?” Edeeth was still focused on the woman before him.
“Do not answer that question, sweetheart!” Anthony roared.
Monica kept on crying.
“Did you!” Edeeth said, tugging at her hand lightly.
“Let go of my daughter this instant!” Anthony said as he took Monica’s other hand and pulled, as though to get her up the chair.
“Dad, wait…” Monica’s broken voice seemed to freeze the tenseness crescendoing in the room. She turned to Edeeth, blinked her eyes over the tears that were still trickling down and began forming an articulate answer. Suddenly, her face twitched, her throat worked and she clapped a hand over her mouth. “Where’s the bathroom please…” she mumbled behind her hand.
“I’ll take you there,” the other woman replied and stood from her seat, hurrying out of the interrogation room beside Monica who seemed very frantic in her mission to get to the bathroom. In their haste, the two women almost bumped into Stacey, who was coming down the hallway to meet Chrome.
“What was that about?” she said as she walked up to Chrome, who was standing in the doorway of the interrogation room. She spotted and recognized the figure of Anthony Scott pacing agitatedly about behind Chrome, in the room. She had some papers in her hand which she handed to him and said, “Here’s the info you wanted on the owner of the other DNA you found at the scene.” She had a glint in her eye as she spoke. Chrome looked down at the papers. Stacey continued talking as he read through it. “It turns out that the man called Dapo Ajayi used to be in the military. He was an army major who retired of his own volition about six years ago to work as a private security operative for some topnotch politician in Rivers State. He didn’t last long in the job and was arrested for molesting the politician’s daughter and sentenced to ten years in prison, but was mysteriously let out two years into his sentence.” She paused here because she saw that Chrome had gotten to the important part. She saw the man’s eyes widen, and she said a tad theatrically, “He now works for none other than the man fretting behind you – Chief Anthony Ememesi Scott.”
Chrome’s brows furrowed as he hissed, “He is the commissioner’s driver.” He looked up as if remembering something vital. “Of course – the scar on his face. I knew there was something about it that made my senses tingle.” He turned his head a bit around to glance at the commissioner. Anthony had stopped pacing and was now sitting on the chair he’d stood from earlier. As Chrome watched him, he wondered if he knew what his driver was capable of. To really know what was going on, he had to bring the driver in. But he knew the man was not going to come in so easily. Chrome needed muscle to handle this. The man was ex-military for Pete’s sake. He brought out his cell phone and dialed Walter’s number.
Walter was in a very good mood as he headed back to the station. His most recent discovery was undoubtedly going to help a lot in turning this case around. He was just driving in through the gates of the police premises when his phone rang. He saw it was Chrome calling and he immediately answered the call. “Hello, chief,” he said cheerfully.
“Hello, Wally, where are you?”
“Elvis has just entered the building, sir. You won’t believe what I’ve got for you.”
“That can wait,” Chrome interjected. “I need you to do something now.”
Walter was immediately alert to the tenseness in his superior’s voice. “What, sir?”
“Get some uniforms and apprehend the commissioner, Anthony Scott’s driver. Hi name is Dapo Ajayi, and the other DNA at the scene of the crime belongs to him.”
“He was there?”
“Yes. You need to arrest him and bring him in now. But you must be careful, he is a former army major and he would be a very dangerous man to deal with.”
“Where’s he now?”
“He drove the Scotts to the station. So he should be in the car park. You remember the vehicle he brought the commissioner to the station with yesterday, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. Don’t worry, sir, I’ll get him.” Walter clicked off and drove towards the car park, slowing down when he got to where the Jeep belonging to the Scotts was parked. He passed the car and parked two parking rows behind. He then brought out his phone and called Sgt. Lanre.
“Hey Walter, do you miss me already?” The man’s tone was jeering.
“Guy, relax,” Walter intoned. “I need your help. It’s about to go down.”
“Where and when?” Lanre was instantly in professional mode.
“Car park, now. Black Benz jeep. Bring two of yours. Perp is considered dangerous.”
“Ok, on the way.”
Walter sat back in the car and watched the driver as he leaned casually back on the driver seat of the jeep, his door thrown open. He had taken note of the man’s hulking appearance the previous day, when he brought Anthony Scott to the station, and now, his eyes flickered over the man, realizing how disadvantaged he would be if he tried to take on the man by himself. Walter also noticed the faint outline of the scar that ran down one side of his face, highlighted by the morning sun.
Then he turned his face towards the entrance of the building. Lanre had just walked out, his stride firm and purposeful, flanked by two uniforms. He was waving his hand in a gesture that Walter understood to mean the plan was to circle the car park, the immediate area around where the jeep was parked. Walter got out of the car and proceeded towards the jeep. Dapo didn’t notice Walter coming, but it was obvious he had spotted Lanre, because as the sergeant got closer to the vehicle, the driver slowly leaned towards the glove compartment and opened it. Walter suddenly felt a stirring of unease as he watched the man’s unhurried movements. He spotted the black object that Dapo brought out of the glove compartment. He began to fumble with his holster as he turned and sped towards Lanre. Through the side of his eye, he saw the driver straighten and begin to lift his hand.
“Get down!” Walter yelled. “He’s got a gun!”
Dapo was briefly startled by the shout – he spared a few moments to notice Walter running towards his target – then he drew up the gun out and took aim. Walter lunged himself at Lanre at the same time Dapo fired.