“Will you be alright?” Edeeth said to Monica.
It had been twenty minutes since the policemen took Anthony Scott away. They were all in the conference room now and Monica had recomposed herself to a degree. Her face however still looked ravaged by her tears; the eyes were still red-rimmed and the features appeared gaunt. As Edeeth looked at her, she couldn’t help but wonder how much she had changed from the vibrant beauty she had seen yesterday morning at the gate of her house. So much had changed since then, Edeeth pondered further. A murderer had been apprehended. A truth had been uncovered. A victim had received justice.
The smile Monica gave was wan. “I’ll be fine,” she said with a nod. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around to see it was Walter’s. He was smiling and for a fleeting moment, she had a sense of déjà vu sweep through her. There was something about Walter’s unimposing good looks that reminded her of Jackson.
“You sure about that?” he was asking.
She nodded again. “Really, I’ll be alright.”
“When you are ready to leave, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
“Okay, I’ll be a few more minutes.” Then she walked off to meet Chrome. The heavily-built officer was seated at the head of the conference table.
“Hello, sir…” she began meekly.
“Ms. Scott,” Chrome replied with slow nod and a smile.
“I want to thank you again, for everything.”
“I’d like to say it’s my pleasure, but one doesn’t pray to have pleasure from this kind of affair.” He shrugged. “Then again, it’s my job.”
“I just want you to know that I have decided to remain here and finish my schooling and raise my child.”
“Good for you. I know you’ll be okay.”
Nodding in agreement with his words, Monica turned and left his presence.
“Are you ready to go?” Walter asked her when she approached him in the hallway.
“Just one second.” He walked away from her, and hurried down the hall to where Edeeth stood. She had just finished taking a phone call when he came to stand next to her. “Hey, beautiful,” he cooed.
Edeeth rolled her eyes exaggeratedly, but said with a smile, “What favor do you need, Wally?”
“Well, um…it’s not really a favor.”
“What is it then?”
“Well…you see…now that the case is over. Maybe…you know…we could get a drink or something tonight?”
“Walter Udeme! You never learn, do you?”
Walter shrugged and gave an abashed smile. “Learn what, pray tell?”
Edeeth shook her head. “Never mind. Thanks for the offer, but I can’t go. Sorry.”
His smile tightened, and he nodded mutely.
“Besides, I already have a date,” Edeeth added.
He lifted his brows in theatrical wonder. “You don’t say.”
Edeeth frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Edeeth Ajuala, the iron maiden, going on a date? You can’t even bring yourself to have lunch with a guy, or drinks with me. Yet, here you are, using the big D-word.”
She laughed lightly and said, “Of course, I go on dates if I like. I just don’t tell you every time I have to doll myself up.” She turned around and started sauntering away. Over her shoulder, she added, “And whoever told you it was with a guy?”
Walter’s jaw dropped.
Walter and Monica arrived at the Jos University Teaching hospital an hour later. The time was already well past the hour of 2:00pm. They had finished making enquiries at the reception and the nurse who Walter met in Anderson Gyang’s room the previous night – Nurse Yvonne, he remembered – led them to the recovery room where the elderly man was. He was more alert and looked stronger than he did the night before. Walter ushered Monica into the room and followed in behind her. Anderson smiled when he saw Walter and his eyes stared enquiringly at Monica.
Walter was the one who started. “Good afternoon, sir. You’re looking better than yesterday.”
Anderson readjusted himself on his bed and laughed lightly. “A lot of things turned me into the frail, sniveling old man you sat with yesternight. I’m a lot stronger than that.”
And he seemed to be getting some of that strength back, Walter noticed.
Anderson glanced at Monica again. “You are Ms. Scott, right?”
Walter went on to tell Anderson all that had happened and how they caught Jackson’s killers. As he talked, a smile, gentle and wispy, curved Anderson’s mouth and remained anchored there. By the time Walter finished his narrative, his eyes were eclipsed by a glassy sheen of tears held back.
“Thank you…thank you so much,” he rasped.
Walter then turned to Monica and said, “Monica, I brought you here so you can get to meet Sir Anderson Gyang. He is…Jackson’s father.”
Monica’s hand flew to her mouth as it dropped open and her surprised gaze flew to Anderson. There were questions in her eyes too. “How can – I don’t understand…”
“In due time, my dear,” Anderson replied.
“I’m not done yet,” Walter interjected. He was facing Anderson now. “Sir, Monica was not just Jackson’s fiancée. She is also the mother of his child.”
It was Anderson’s turn to look surprised. His surprise however quickly made way for a wide, pleasant grin that split his face. “There was a time in the not-so distant past, when I thought the fates were mocking me by taking away my son from me. But with this” – he lifted his eyes heavenward – “thank you, God.”
Walter pulled up a chair close to the bed for Monica to sit on and said, “I believe the both of you have a lot of catching up and explaining to do.” He gestured to Monica to sit and he continued, “Take as much time as you want, I’ll be at the reception if you need me.” With that he walked out of the room. Just before he shut the door, he peered into the room, watching as Monica sat, as Anderson took her hand tenderly in his, as they both began to talk at once before bursting out into laughter. He watched the new family that had been created. It made him smile before he wandered off towards the reception.
Later in the evening, Edeeth’s car pulled up in front of a duplex in a suburban area of Jos metropolis called Barkinladi. She rang the door bell and was let in by a maid. She sat on one of the plush leather couches in the sitting room and waited for her host. In a few minutes, a good-looking woman of roughly the same age as Edeeth came in and both ladies hugged each other affectionately.
“Oh my good Lord!” the woman exclaimed, her lips peeled back to reveal her gap-toothed smile. “Edeeth – so nice of you to drop by!”
“You know I’m never too busy for my only sister,” Edeeth replied with a wink.
The woman chuckled. Eketi was her name, and she was Edeeth’s stepsister, about the only member of Edeeth’s family who she still maintained close contact with, mainly because they’d grown up very close to each other. Eketi lived in Jos and Edeeth’s visit would be the second time they were seeing each other since she flew into Jos with the CSI team for the investigation that had brought them here.
“So, Eky, how’s the family?”
“Fine, my dear. The kids are already in bed. Onuoha should be back from work any moment from now.” She paused and then said, “I’m glad you dropped by. After the last time you came, I feared you would not be able to come again, seeing as you’re so busy fighting crime.” She softened the sting in her remark with a smile.
“To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have made it here. We had wrapped up the case that brought us here and would have already flown back to Abuja, if not for a second murder case that literally dropped on us yesterday.”
“Well, if it weren’t in such poor taste, I’d have said a big thanks to the murder for happening and hence bringing you here.”
They shared a laugh.
“So how goes it?” Eketi asked.
“It’s over now. I’m not sure about our itinerary but I had to see you quick before our departure, whenever it will be.”
“Well, then,” Eketi said, adjusting her bulk on the couch beside her sister, “let us make the most of the time we have together then.”
And for several moments, they chatted and giggled and bounced from topic to topic, painting the picture of two teenagers playing catch-up.
“So, Edie, any special guy in your life now,” Eketi suddenly asked at some point in their conversation, “or do you still believe all men are God’s mistake to this world?”
Edeeth laughed uproariously at her sister’s words. When she sobered, she thought for a moment and then said, “Well, I still fly air-Edeeth solo.”
Eketi looked searchingly at her and said, “But there is someone, right?”
“That just leaves the minutest probability that there’s someone.”
“Well, that probability will remain unexplored, you this woman. Ah-ah, leave me alone oh.” They both laughed again before segueing into other items of gossip.
Chrome looked at his watch. The time was 8:15pm. He was seated in a restaurant situated at the heart of Jos metropolis, sharing a light dinner with Manny, Jerome and Stacey. They were cracking jokes and recanting the high points of the case they had just closed. Chrome’s mind drifted for a moment and it took him a while to realize that Manny had directed a comment at him.
“I’m sorry?” he suddenly said as he refocused on their conversation.
“I said, I heard you actually rephrased a popular children’s nursery rhyme,” Manny repeated.
“Oh that? Well…yes, I guess I did.”
“Wow,” Stacey said in admiration while Jerome, as usual, stifled a laugh.
The table fell silent for a moment and then Manny said, “Man, you know that’s gay!”
There was an outburst of laughter; Chrome himself was caught up with his mirth. The merriment continued for about an hour before they all decided to call it a night. Outside the restaurant, Chrome walked Manny and Stacey over to the car they came in, while Jerome walked off to where he had parked the car he and Chrome had ridden. Chrome watched as Manny’s car pulled out from where it was parked and he waved at them as they drove off into the main road. For a moment he felt silly for doing that because they were all headed for the same hotel. Jerome pulled up the car very close to where he was standing. He was opening the passenger door to get in when his phone rang. He brought it out of his suit pocket and, without a glance at the caller ID, he answered.
There was silence for a few seconds and then the all-too familiar synthesized voice came through the speaker, “Good evening, Officer Chrome.”
Feeling a slight unease, Chrome removed the phone from his ear and peered at the screen. The ID was unknown. It was the prankster again. He placed the phone back against his ear and said in a stern voice, “Who are you?”
“All will be revealed in due time,” said the synthesized voice. “I enjoyed our time spent together.”
“Our time spent together? Who is this and what are you talking about?” Chrome snapped.
The voice laughed through the phone speaker, the kind of laugh whose balefulness seemed to be enhanced by the mechanical camouflage its owner was speaking through, and then said, “Like I said, all in due time. By the way, I like the shirt you’re wearing today. Blue really suits you. It’s also my favorite color.”
And the line went dead.
Chrome’s eyes widened; he was wearing a blue shirt underneath the black suit he had on. He instantly gave an involuntary startled look around the well-lit car park of the restaurant. For some reason, he’d had an instinctual feeling that his caller was lurking around close by. He saw no one or nothing that didn’t seem to fit in with the environment. A few cars were pulling into parking spots, and a couple more were driving away. Couples were traversing the car park to and from the restaurant. Then again, it was nighttime and the darkness could cloak whoever or whatever wasn’t supposed to be here.
Giving up his visual search, he got into the car beside Jerome.
“Is everything alright?” Jerome asked as he ignited the car.
For a moment, Chrome didn’t say anything. He seemed lost in his thoughts.
“Sir?” Jerome ventured again.
He drew in a rousing inhalation and said, “Oh, it’s nothing serious. Let’s be on our way.”
Seconds later, they were out of the car park and onto the main road which led back to their hotel.
The next morning saw much activity in the CSI conference room as the team cleared out their desks and put away all necessary documents into the appropriate files. There was a faint stir in the atmosphere, a restrained impatience as they silently anticipated their departure from Jos.
Edeeth had just zipped up her laptop bag when Walter called out to her: “Hey E!” She smiled at him as he came closer. “Hey you, done with your end of the packing?”
“Yes, indeedio,” Walter replied in a cheery tone.
“My, someone seems to have woken up on the right side of the bed today.” With her eyes narrowing in mock-suspicion, she added, “Did we really drop Monica off at the hospital like we promised?”
Walter laughed out loud at her insinuation and was about to reply when his phone rang. He held up a finger at Edeeth and answered the call.
In another corner of the room, Chrome had just ended a call he had put through to Ruth. He gave her the good news about the case being wrapped up and how they were going to have a fantastic time at the Kuru Hills. A trip to the hills was a vacation time he was planning to embark on with his girlfriend after returning to Abuja.
“Hey Chief,” Walter called out to him. He had his phone in his hand. “I just got a call from Inspector Adepoju.” Tony Adepoju was the Police Inspector in Charge of the Lagos State police command and a very close friend of Chrome’s.
“Hey – what did Adepoxy want…and why didn’t he call my line?”
“He said he had tried, but your line was busy,” Walter replied, and added, “He said the Lagos State governor requests our assistance in a new case over in Lagos. Something to do with the bar beach.”
Edeeth and Jerome groaned loudly at this, and Chrome sighed in reluctance. So much for the break they’d all been looking forward to. Chrome knew that Adepoju was more than capable of dealing with normal cases, but since they were being called upon, it meant the case was a little different from ‘normal’. Besides, there was no way they could turn down a request made by a governor. Chrome sighed again and then turned to Jerome. “Jay, how’s the bird?” He was referring to the private jet that they made use of in their travels from city to city.
“The bird’s ready to fly, sir. Air crew is awaiting our arrival,” Jerome responded.
Chrome nodded and said in a voice that included the others, “We have to report to base first and hand in our report for the last two cases closed. We will take a few hours to rest and then make our way to Lagos.” He looked at his watch. The time was 8:30am. He turned to Walter and said, “Wally, call Adepoxy and tell him we’ll be there by 5pm.”
“Yes, sir,” Walter replied and proceeded to make the call.
5pm? Oh well, I suppose I can squeeze in a quick bubble bath before then, Edeeth thought. She looked up when Chrome asked her about Manny and Stacey. “They are already at the reception waiting for us,” she replied.
“Okay.” Chrome took a deep breath and said, “Alright, people, you’ve all done a good job here. It’s time to say goodbye to Jos.”
They filed out of the conference room until Chrome was left standing alone. He looked through the window and saw the Kuru Hills in the horizon, a grayish solid mass which stood immersed in cloudy mists that seemed to add to its mystery and menace. “I guess it’s until next time then,” he said in a low tone, and walked out of the room after his colleagues.