Monica threw up some more into the toilet bowl. She half-sat hunched over the bowl, the retching motions of her body gradually receding. Her face was still wet from the tears she’d been shedding, and her mind was suffused with the persistent images of Jackson’s dead body in the photo she’d looked at earlier in the interrogation room. She hit the flush button on the W.C and stood up. All the while, Edeeth stood just outside the toilet stall. She watched as Monica came out and washed her face on the wash-bowl at one end of the room. Edeeth walked over to where Monica was and handed her a handkerchief. Monica hesitated, then feeling warmed by the smile on Edeeth’s face, she collected the piece of cloth and wiped her face with it.
“I’m sorry for being so hard on you back there,” Edeeth said.
Monica stood straight and looked at the officer. She took a deep breath before answering, “It’s alright, officer. I can understand why you did that. With all the evidence pointing towards me, who wouldn’t think I did it?” She took a step back from the wash bowl, before continuing, “I didn’t kill Jackson.” Her eyes were fixed resolutely on Edeeth. “I couldn’t have…I would never hurt…the father of my unborn.” She placed a hand on her middle as she said this.
Edeeth arched a brow. The news didn’t come as a total surprise to her. While she watched Monica throw up into the toilet, the thought had crossed her mind that the woman was going through morning sickness. “You’re pregnant.”
It wasn’t a question, but Monica answered nonetheless, looking down at her flat stomach, “Yes. Yes, I am. I’m pregnant with Jackson’s child.” The tears that had stopped momentarily saw their opportunity to recommence flowing down her cheeks.
Edeeth remained silent. She sensed the woman needed to say some things, empty herself of some issues.
Monica sniffed as she tried to regain her composure. She sighed and said, “I was at the hill top last night with Jackson. You see, we always went there for romantic walks and sometimes we’d just sit there and share a few drinks. He was a wonderful man, so loving and caring. I loved him – and still love him – deeply.”
“Tell me what happened last night,” Edeeth probed.
“Last night, he called me over and said we were going to the hills for a stroll and a few drinks – our usual.”
“What kind of drinks?”
“Lager. But we never drink more than we can handle. Just a bottle or two. Last night, the stroll was beautiful as usual. We were alone and felt like we owned the world from up there. The sky was clear and the stars shone brightly.” She swallowed hard. “After our first drink, we held each other and danced to music only the both of us could hear. It was so romantic.” She wrapped her arms around her body in recollection. “We kissed, and then he got on his knees” – a nostalgic smile fleeted over her lips at this juncture – “I was so surprised. I never expected what he was about to do. He brought out a little box from his pocket and asked me to marry him…I said yes.” Her eyes welled up again, but the tears remained suspended, turning her eyes into glassy orbs. “We hugged and kissed again, and I was about to tell him about my pregnancy when out of nowhere…” She stopped.
Edeeth stiffened, knowing she had reached the part of the story she was interested in. She moved toward Monica and said in a softly-urging voice, “What happened out of nowhere, Monica?”
The other woman remained silent. Fear was naked on her face.
“Talk to me, Monica. Have no fear. Talk to me, and I can guarantee you’ll be safe from whatever you’re afraid of.” She tried to catch Monica’s gaze, to assure her with a calming look.
But Monica would not meet her eyes. She looked away, her lower lip trembling.
“What happened out of nowhere, Monica?”
She inhaled deeply, lowered her head and said, “Out of nowhere…a masked man came and punched Jackson on the face very hard.” She winced as if it she’d just been punched at that moment. “They began to struggle and I screamed for help. There was no one else in sight and before I knew what was going on, the masked man had subdued Jackson. I was so scared – so scared…and I was angry too. I was just” – her brow contracted and her lips tightened – “angry. I pounced on the man and scratched and kicked at him. But he was huge and knocked me away very easily.” Monica wrapped her arms tighter around herself. “He…he was trying to strangle Jackson. I went back to fight him off again – this time I scratched at his face. I must have hurt him because he cursed angrily as I pulled on his mask. That was when my nail broke. The man got off Jackson and faced me. There was something sinisterly familiar with his eyes but I was too scared to think about it. Jackson told me to run…” Her voice broke. “And I did.” She put her head down and began to sob softly again. “My man told me run and I abandoned him. I ran all the way back to my car and drove home. I called my dad when I got home and told him all that happened.”
“You called your dad,” Edeeth echoed, “who lives hundreds of miles away?”
“Yes, I called him. I didn’t know what else to do.” Monica lifted her tear-soaked face to Edeeth.
“You could have called the police.”
“I don’t know – I was scared…” She looked helplessly lost as she tearfully protested, but Edeeth couldn’t help the cool detachment she felt.
She asked, “So what did your father say when you called him?”
“He didn’t answer when I called. But he called me back some minutes later.”
“How many minutes later would you say?”
“I don’t know – about ten?”
“A full ten minutes after he missed your call that late in the night?”
“Yes. It may even be longer…I can’t really remember. What does it matter?”
Edeeth shrugged. “Go on, what then happened?”
“When daddy called me back, he sounded worried and asked me if I had called the police and I told him no. He then instructed me not to do anything, that he was going to be in the state by morning.”
“Morning.” Edeeth arched a brow. “Not the same night?”
“No,” Monica replied, perplexed by the officer’s questioning. “He told me he would be coming in the morning after, that he had a prior engagement – the charity golf game.”
“You mean you are not aware of your father’s entrance into the state two nights ago?”
“Two nights ago?”
“Yes, the same night Jackson was killed.”
“No….no, I’m not aware of it. He told me he was in Uyo.”
“I see. Well, thank you for telling me this, Monica. You have really helped in this case, more than you know.”
The other woman tried to smile, but the smile refused to remain anchored on her face. “You have to find who killed Jackson. You have to…”
Edeeth was about to say something reassuring when the gunshot shattered the quietude in the restroom.
The bullet grazed Walter’s right arm as he skillfully rolled with its trajectory and fell to the ground, taking Lanre with him. Dapo followed their fall with his hand and took aim again. Before he fired, the glass on the window beside him suddenly shattered into pieces. He whirled about in time to catch sight of the other uniformed policeman firing at him. He slammed the door shut and ignited the car with a loud vroom. The two police officers who had fallen before him were now getting up. He swerved towards them in a bid to crush them under the tires of the car. They jumped out of the way as the car screeched towards them, and Lanre expertly drew out his sidearm and opened fire on the tires of the jeep. Sparks flew, but the car did not stop.
“What the hell?” Walter looked at Lanre as they stood. “Good aim,” he said mockingly.
Lanre replied, “I wasn’t aiming at the rubber.”
They watched for a moment as the Jeep zoomed erratically towards the gates. Dapo kept on shooting wildly at policemen who tried to get in his way.
“Come on,” Lanre said to Walter suddenly. “We can still catch him!”
They both ran to Walter’s car and got in. Walter turned on the ignition and immediately put his entire weight on the accelerator as soon as he put the auto-gear on drive. Pulling out of the parking lot, the officers saw that the jeep had made it past the gates, even under heavy gunfire – thanks to the bullet-proof shielding on the car – and just before the security manning the gates could engage the spike traps. Walter swore under his breath as he stepped on the pedal. He looked at his arm for a second. The bullet had just grazed it, and the injury didn’t need any immediate medical attention.
“Thanks for saving my life back there,” Lanre suddenly broke the silence.
Walter looked at him briefly and then turned back at the road. “You owe me one.”
They went through the gates and got onto the freeway, just in time to see the jeep suddenly skid off the road just a few meters ahead of them. It came to a halt just outside an uncompleted building and its occupant jumped out and made for the building.
“What the hell just happened?” Walter asked.
Lanre smiled and said, “I told you I wasn’t aiming for the rubber.” His aim had been to damage the car with the three shots he’d fired. Two bullets bust up the brake pads and the third damaged the rear axle.
The officers parked just a foot away from the jeep. They got out, guns drawn, and walked slowly towards the building. Walter looked back at the station. Backup would arrive in a matter of minutes, but this perp was no ordinary bad guy. From the way he drew out his gun earlier, Walter knew he was well trained and very dangerous. He signaled to Lanre, and the latter circled to the other side of the building. They were going to try to flush him out from both sides. The building was meant to be a four storey shopping complex, which meant that there were plenty of places for him to hide. Walter climbed up the first storey as quietly as he could. Lanre had disappeared behind the building some seconds ago, so Walter knew he had to be careful since it could be Lanre behind any wall. He looked around the first floor and found nothing. He made his way through one of the uncompleted stairways, up to the second floor. He looked at the ground and saw footprints. The only problem was, he didn’t know who it belonged to and where they led to. He followed them, cautiously. At that moment, he wondered where the backup was and, for a split second, he felt his focus on his search slip with the distracting thought.
In that instant, Dapo sprung to action out of nowhere. He lunged at Walter with a plank he had picked up from a pile in one of the rooms he’d been hiding in and knocked the officer’s gun out of his hand. Walter’s hand stung from the strike and he jumped back. He wondered for a fleeting second where Dapo’s gun was, but the man didn’t give him time to dwell on the thought much as he lashed out at him again with the plank. Walter weaved and skillfully stepped into Dapo’s circle of defense, his elbow lashing out at the big man’s jaw. This disorientated Dapo for a second and Walter capitalized on this by throwing a combination of jabs into Dapo’s face and sides. But Dapo was thickset and quickly regained himself; he caught one of Walter’s punches as it flew towards his face, drawing the police officer towards him and ending Walter’s forward movement with an elbow to the side of his head. Pain exploded inside Walter’s head and he fell to the ground. Both men were getting weakened by their little skirmish, their chests heaving with the strength of their respiration.
Dapo spied Walter’s gun at a corner where it had fallen to and staggered towards it. Walter saw what he was up to and tried to get up quickly to stop him, but he was late. Dapo got the gun first, snatched it up and swung his arm around to point the barrel at the police officer. He was about to say something smart before pulling the trigger, but never got the chance to say it. In that moment, Lanre lunged at him from a blind spot, tackling him and ramming him into a nearby wall. Dapo’s head cracked against the wall, and he lost consciousness at once, sliding to the floor in a heap, Lanre on top of him. Lanre got to his feet and promptly cuffed the unconscious criminal. He walked over to where Walter was. He sat on the floor and had his back to a wall, his breathing heavy.
Lanre stretched out a hand to Walter and said, “Now we’re even.”
Walter smiled and shook his head. He took Lanre’s outstretched hand and the man swung him to his feet. He glanced at the supine Dapo and said, “He sure was tough.”
Lanre nodded as he bent down and picked up Walter’s gun. He wondered idly why it hadn’t gone off when he tackled Dapo; after all, the man had been about to pull the trigger. “Holy cow!” he exclaimed in surprise. “You still had the safety on?” With the safety on, it wouldn’t have mattered if Dapo squeezed the trigger. The gun would never have fired. That would have given Walter enough time to either counterattack or get out of Dapo’s firing trajectory. Lanre realized this as he handed Walter his gun. “Man, whatever would make you leave the safety on?”
Walter replaced the gun inside the holster on his hip. He looked Lanre with a sardonic smile on his face. “I didn’t want to shoot you mistakenly.”
Lanre laughed and both men began dragging Dapo to his feet. Just then, a few uniformed police officers rushed into the run and pointed their weapons at the men.
Now they arrive, Walter thought to himself.
The junior officers, realizing their irrelevance, promptly put down their weapons and took custody of Dapo. He was led to a waiting squad car, while Walter and Lanre entered Walter’s car and they took the very short drive back to the Station house.