The ETV (Emergency Transport Vehicle) of the Jos University Teaching Hospital arrived at the residence of Sir Anderson Gyang in less than 10 minutes, thanks to the light traffic and flashing sirens. The paramedics on hand wheeled the stretcher on which Anderson lay as Edeeth and Walter watched from the sidelines. Walter paid the taxi driver, and Anderson’s luggage was retrieved and taken back into the ailing man’s apartment. The officers got into their vehicle and drove behind the ambulance as it pulled out of the compound and into the freeway. Walter sat on the passenger’s side; his countenance revealed his soberness.
While she drove, Edeeth kept shooting him concerned looks. She knew he blamed himself for what happened. Well, why shouldn’t he? she thought ungraciously. After all, it really was his fault. It was easy to put the blame on him, but a part of her admitted that it wasn’t entirely his fault. They were all under a tremendous amount of stress. They hadn’t caught a break since their previous assignment, and it wasn’t unlikely for even the best of them to snap under such pressure. She looked at Walter once more and asked, “Are you alright?”
He didn’t reply.
She didn’t say anything else, and the silence stretched as she weaved through the highway traffic. She maintained her pace behind the ambulance as its siren blared and cleared a path for them on the road.
In his corner, Walter sat still. The only thought that lay heavy on his mind was a prayer. God, let him be alive.
The ambulance arrived at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (J.U.T.H.) approximately ten minutes later. The elderly man was immediately wheeled on a stretcher into the emergency room. The two officers waited in the reception for feedback from the doctors. Edeeth sat in one of the chairs in the lounge while Walter paced back and forth, stopping from time to time to see if any doctor was coming out of the ER.
After what seemed to be an eternity to the officers, a man clad in the white coat of a physician stepped out of the room and headed their way. Both Walter and Edeeth walked up to him before he got to the lounge and the look on Walter’s face was enough to tell the doctor what they wanted to know.
“Don’t worry, officers,” he began, “he’s going to be fine, though he’s still unconscious.”
Walter let out a sigh of relief and Edeeth lifted a hand to rub his shoulder.
The doctor continued, “He was very lucky. If you hadn’t performed CPR before bringing him here, it would have been another story.”
It was Walter’s turn to pat Edeeth on the back. She was the one who maintained a level head when the emergency had occurred. She had performed the CPR. If it weren’t for her, a manslaughter charge might have been hanging over his head at the moment. The officers told the doctor what happened and how the patient was vital to their investigation. The doctor explained to them what sort of ailment his patient was suffering. He further informed them that Anderson would need to rest, firmly adding that he shouldn’t be subjected to any further interrogation, or else the strain of answering the questions could trigger another episode.
“I have to leave you now,” the doctor said. “I have another patient to check on.”
“Ok, doctor,” Edeeth replied.
“Doctor…” Walter hesitated for a moment, but he went on to ask, “May we go in to see him?”
“I don’t see why not. Just as long as you don’t disturb him.”
“We won’t.” Walter started off in the direction of the ER, with Edeeth coming up behind him.
Inside the ward, Anderson lay on one of the beds. His eyes were shut. He had a tube connected to his nose and another was wired into his arm. His heart was being monitored by an EKG machine, and he looked really frail, unlike the robust man they met earlier in the day.
Had it really been just this morning that they had questioned him, Walter wondered as his eyes swept over the invalid. It felt now as though an eternity had passed. He rubbed a hand over his face, emitting a small sigh of exhaustion.
Edeeth tapped him gently on the back. “Hey Walt –”
“You don’t have to say anything, Edeeth,” he cut in before she could go any further. “I know it’s my fault. I got carried away by emotions. I should have listened to you.” His tone was marinated with regret.
Edeeth was about to say something when she was interrupted again. This time it was her phone. She brought it out of her pocket and saw from the display that it was Chrome calling. “Walt, it is Chrome.” She waited for him to respond, but he kept looking through the ER window. She sighed and walked off towards the lounge to answer the call.
Chrome sat on the lab stool as the monitor in front of him kept on flashing numbers and alphabets. The program still had a few hours to run before the second stage would be done. This was the perfect time for him to think. He had to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He had faith in the abilities of his subordinates but he knew at the end of the day, they would still look up to him to fill in the blank spaces. He sat quietly. His mind was a beehive of activity; it computed pieces of information pulled from his memory, tied the pieces together, and strived to make sense of it. This was his specialty. He wasn’t a pushover when it came to physical exertion. In fact, he could easily hold his own against any and all contenders when it came to a brawl; after all, every member of the team underwent rigorous trainings abroad. The incumbent government spared no expense. It was determined to fight crime and corruption which had plagued the country for years. Gone were the days when criminals walked free even after the evidence fingered them out as the perpetrators of the crime. The entire police force had been revamped. Corrupt officers were dismissed, and some others arrested. The reformation took the nation by storm. But even with the changes, some individuals operated under the notion that they could outsmart the police force.
That was where the CSI team came into play. And that was the reason why Chrome was the leader of the team. His greatest prowess was his intellect. The same intellect he was about to utilize on the case at hand when the ringing of his phone intruded. He instinctively looked around the lab table for the device; then he remembered it was in the inner breast pocket of the suit he was wearing. He dug out the phone and checked the caller ID. It registered Private number. Ruth again with the pranks, he thought as he answered the call.
“Hello.” He waited a while for an answer but there was none. He let out a chuckle and said. “Ok babe, I think you can drop the act now.”
Still there was no answer.
He disconnected from the call, dialed his girlfriend’s number and waited for her to pick up. It rang. No response. He was beginning to get irritated by the prank, but he could never get mad at Ruth. He may be tough when it came to the cases he worked on, but he was still a softy when it came to her. He quickly killed the thought of texting his disapproval of the prank to her and decided to call someone from his team. He was a little worried about Walter. He had seemed a bit unstable when he left the conference room earlier. Chrome looked at the time; it was 5:35pm. They should be back by now, if all went well. He hoped that Walter hadn’t done anything stupid. He shook his head. There was no way that would happen. After all, that was why he had partnered Edeeth with him. The woman was as level-headed as Walter was quick-tempered. He called her cell phone. It took a while before she eventually picked the call.
“What’s your progress?” he asked without any preliminaries.
“Well, uh…sir, we are currently at the Teaching Hospital.”
“WHAT!?” Chrome’s voice climbed an octave or two. “What are you both doing there?!”
“Anderson Gyang, our suspect – he had a heart attack.”
“Oh Jeez! How did that happen?” He paused infinitesimally before adding, “Was it Walter’s doing?”
Edeeth answered carefully, “It wasn’t entirely his fault…you know we have all been under a lot of stress.”
“Edeeth! That was exactly the reason I sent you with him. I know how irascible he can be when he starts to get stressed. You were supposed to restrain him.”
“I’m sorry I failed you, sir.”
“Tell me what happened.” After her narration of the events that led to Anderson’s incapacitation, he asked, “So, how is he?”
“He’s recovering, sir.”
“Still a bit shaken, but he’ll be himself soon. I’m guessing he’s going to stay until the old man wakes up.”
“Ok, let him do that. I understand how he feels.” He paused then continued, “I need you to meet up with Jerome at the airport and assist him. He’s unto something. You can both call it a day from there. I’ll see you all here by 10am. Inform Walter as well. That will be all.” And he ended the call. He shook his head, briefly thinking about the various turns this case was taking. “All in one day,” he said aloud to himself.
He looked at the computer screen. The program was still running. The estimated time for the second stage to run its full course was nine hours. It was the longest of the three stages. He had about seven hours left to go. He decided to get back to his brainstorming. He would do that for a while and then grab some shuteye. He would have to spend the night in the lab. Even though that wouldn’t be a first for him, he still didn’t like the idea. He tried his best to relax on the lab stool he sat on and began to think.
Edeeth put her phone back into her pocket. The day sure isn’t going as I had hoped, she thought to herself. With the wrapping up of the initial murder case that had brought the team to Jos, she had been looking forward to flying back to the relative comfort of Abuja, to the clean orderliness of her apartment. By sunset, she had planned to be soaking inside a bubble bath, a glass of Sherry in one hand, her CD remote control in the other as she coordinated the volume of bluesy music to soothe away the stress of yet another case properly solved.
Instead, it was almost sunset, and here she was – no bubble bath, no glass of Sherry and no music – still stuck in this discomfiting environment of Plateau State.
She sighed and walked back to the ER. She got there just in time to see a nurse wheeling Anderson’s bed out of the room. Walter was still standing where he was. She walked up to him and asked what was going on.
“They are taking him to a private recovery room,” he answered. “I’ll be staying with him until he wakes up.”
“I guessed as much,” Edeeth said, almost laughing.
“Excuse me?” Walter wondered what was amusing to her.
“Oh nothing, the ‘Chief’ wanted us to go meet Jerome at the airport and help him out with his leads, but I told him you would want to stay here with Anderson until he wakes up.”
“Oh, so you do know me that well,” Walter said, giving a small rueful smile.
“Ah-ah! I saw that smile.” She pointed comically at his face.
The mirth in her gesture was infectious and Walter found his smile widening. “Go joor.”
She said, “I’m glad you’re back to yourself now. I’ll have to call Jerome to come pick me up.”
“Come pick you – why?”
“Well, Sir Lancelot, how would you leave here if I take the car with me?”
“Oh.” He paused and then added, “Ok, thanks, E – for everything…”
“You’re welcome, man,” she said, punching him lightly on the arm. “That’s what partners are for.”
And thereafter, they parted ways, with Walter following after the nurse who had wheeled Anderson down the hospital corridor, and Edeeth moving back to the lounge, phone pressed against her ear as she waited for her connection to Jerome’s number to be made.
Jerome drove the Toyota Corolla down the freeway towards the airport. He remembered the last time he visited Jos a few years ago. The road that led from the airport to the city had been a very lonely one. Now there were lots of buildings dotting the terrain, most of them expansive hotels and the smaller, unobtrusive motels. The rate of development around the nation was alarming. But he wasn’t complaining. The shift from Oil and Gas to Agriculture and Renewable Energy as the nation’s sources of external revenue and energy was a welcome development. It had brought about a large amount of employment opportunities and a reduction in CO2 emission that resulted from gas flaring. The Federal Government even went a step further by building two state-of-the-art refineries in the South-West and South-East regions of the country. Things sure had changed over the years, Jerome thought to himself as he drove. He was wearing a Bluetooth earpiece on his left ear. He usually wasn’t comfortable about making phone calls while driving, but in this case he made an exception. He put in a call to Nene and it didn’t take long before she answered.
“Hello Nene,” he spoke into the headset.
“Hey, Jay, been expecting your call.”
“We had a meeting earlier on.”
“Ok, so I was able to do some digging around and it turns out there was a flight from Uyo to Jos last night by an airline called Trans-Delta Air. It’s a new airline and not very popular. They operate only domestic flights and one of theirs happens to be the only flight from Uyo to Jos last night.”
“Trans-Delta Air? Yeah, I’ve heard of them.”
“Well, I made contact with one of the ground staff of the airline and he promised to get you a copy of the manifesto.”
“That’s great, Nene,” Jerome said excitedly.
“Yeah, so all you have to do is go the departure wing of the airport, at the Trans-Delta Air stand, and ask for Chude Miguel,” Nene said.
“What sort of name is that? What is he – Latino-African?” Jerome’s tone was marinated with light derision.
Nene laughed. “Keep that opinion to yourself. The guy is quite the hothead.”
“Okie-dokie then. Chude Miguel. Got it.”
“I hope that helps. If you need anything else, you can ask him and he’ll help out. He’s a good guy. You take care now and call me soon, ok?”
“I will, Nene, thanks again.” He disconnected. He reclined on the driver seat of the car and he checked the time on the dashboard. It was 5:36pm. He was about negotiate a turn from the freeway to the main road that led to the airport when his phone rang. He tried his best to concentrate on the drive whilst looking at the display. It was Edeeth. He dropped the phone and pressed a button on the side of the Bluetooth earpiece to answer the call. “Hey Edeeth, fancy you calling me for a change,” he joked.
“No time for jokes, Jay,” she said crisply through the receiver, obviously in no mood for play.
“Oh, sorry about that. What can I do for you?” Jerome asked, masterfully hiding his hurt at her brusqueness. In all the years they’d been working together, he had come to realize that Edeeth had a better rapport with Walter than with him. Those two had a chemistry that they weren’t even aware of. He supposed it came from the fact that they’d been on the CSI team longer than him; he was the last addition to the investigative team.
“I need you to come pick me up at J.U.T.H.”
“J.U.T.H. – what are you doing there?”
“No time to explain. Chrome wants me to accompany you to the airport, to partner with you on your lead over there.”
“Why don’t you and Walter drive down and meet me at the airport, then he can leave,” Jerome said sourly. He didn’t appreciate Edeeth’s crispness over the phone. Talk about being a bitch, he thought. Besides, he was almost at his destination, and he didn’t appreciate this detour. He worked better alone anyways; why would Chrome saddle him with Edeeth. She obviously didn’t sound too pleased by the assignment.
“Just come and get me, will you?” Edeeth said, almost commandingly.
Jerome navigated the car to the side of the road and slowed down. He worked a quick mental calculation on the distance between where he was and either destination. If he continued down the road, he would make it to the airport in roughly ten minutes; but if he turned around to go pick up Edeeth, he would spend fifteen minutes just to get to the hospital. He sighed heavily and said, “Ok, I’m on my way.” He pushed the button on the earpiece again to end the call as he maneuvered the car in a semi-circle. Before long, he was back on the freeway headed in the direction of the J.U.T.H.
Edeeth held her phone in her fist for a while. She had just realized that she’d sounded very abrupt with Jerome. She didn’t understand what triggered such coldness towards him. She shook her head as she replaced the phone back in her pocket, trying to block out the thoughts that came racing in. At that moment, she realized that she had absentmindedly taken a medical journal from the table in the lounge and had been holding it throughout the time she was talking to Jerome on the phone. Talk about spacing out, she thought. She was a strong willed woman who never allowed emotions to come in the way of her work.
What exactly are you getting emotional about? she thought.
She shook her head again as she walked back towards the private recovery room where Anderson was taken to. By the time she got to the door, she had put the thoughts out of her mind. Peering through the window on the side of the room, Edeeth could see Walter sitting on a chair about a foot away from where the elderly man lay. They had taken off the nose tube; only the drip was still attached to his right hand. The old man was breathing steadily, as evidenced in the gentle rise-and-fall movement of his frail chest beneath the hospital garb he was wearing. Edeeth caught a glimpse of Walter’s face. The worry that was etched on his features on the drive to the hospital and in the lounge earlier had faded. Though he wasn’t smiling, he looked more alive. Suddenly, for some reason she couldn’t fathom, she found she couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from the sprinkling of dark hair on the arms he had folded before his chest, nor the tapering fingers that curled over his upper arm. Her mind was suddenly afire with thoughts of those strong, warm hands sliding about her body, her body which would be trembling against his, before he would twine the fingers through her hair, pulling her head forward toward his, bending his face to give her a mind-blowing, intense, passionate –
Whoa! What is this? She shook herself free from her heated reverie and backed away from the window. This is no time for such nonsense, she thought. Get a grip on yourself, girl. She looked at her watch. Jerome would be around any minute to pick her up. She sighed, took another inhalation, and walked into the recovery room.
Walter didn’t notice Edeeth come into the room, but she got his attention when she placed a hand on his left shoulder. The touch felt warm. She had a way of making him feel at peace. He smiled at her and she handed him the medical journal in return. He realized that there was something guarded about her expression.
“What’s this for?” he asked.
“I – er, got it for you,” she said, stuttering a bit, “since you’re going to be here a while, you might as well read something to get your mind off what happened.”
“You want me to read?” Walter asked, eyeing the material in her hand as though it was something he needed to stay far away from.
“Why not? You have to do something to while away the time. We don’t know for how much longer he would be unconscious.”
Walter shrugged, and took the journal from her. He looked at the cover and raised an eyebrow. “A medical journal?” When Edeeth nodded in affirmation, he looked at her with a slightly incredulous expression. “You want me to read a medical Journal – in a hospital – around all these sick people?”
Edeeth chuckled and smacked him lightly on the back of his head. “Silly you. You’re not going to catch anything just by reading the journal. Besides, we are C.S.Is” – she made the last comment with a slight air of pride – “A little added knowledge wouldn’t hurt you now, can it? No,” she concluded firmly.
Walter smiled ruefully. “Yeah…you’re right.” He looked at the clock on the wall opposite where he sat and asked, “When are you supposed to be leaving for the office?”
“I told you, Jerome is meant to come pick me up.”
“Yes, Jerome,” Edeeth said, sounding a bit exasperated. “I told you he’s on an assignment at the airport, and Chrome wants me to partner with him.”
“Oh, sorry – I guess I wasn’t listening then.”
“It’s alright. I understand.” She paused a while and then said, “You’re going to be fine…right?”
She smiled and said, “Good. I have to go now. Jerome should be here any minute. Call me if and when anything happens, ok?”
He nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. You get going.” He turned a page on the journal as she left the room.
When she got to the lounge, and then out into the warm evening, there was no sign of Jerome. It was almost six o’clock. She wondered how far off he was. She hated being made to wait. It irked her, especially if it was a man who was the cause of the delay. She was about to head back into the hospital when a black Toyota Corolla pulled up into the car park by the side of the building. She recognized the car as one of theirs.
As he swung into a parking space, Jerome recognized Edeeth’s form in front of the hospital ahead of him. He set the automatic gear on Park and turned off the ignition. As he stepped out of the car, Edeeth was already halfway across the distance from him. She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t frowning either. That made Jerome a little bit uncomfortable. He dealt better with people when he could read their body language and facial expressions. That was one of his talents. By reading an individual’s expression, he could decipher the underlying emotion. But Edeeth was one of those rare people, he had come to know, who had a masterful control over their expressions, only giving away what they wanted you to know. Her gait was the usual sure and purposeful, slightly hip-swaying stride, and her face maintained the deadpan look until she got to him.
“Sorry, I’m late,” he said, apologizing for something he knew he didn’t do. Experience had taught him the best way to lighten a situation with the opposite sex was to be on the receiving end. The more he gave out the upper hand, the quicker the tension was defused. It was a strategy that seemed to work for him most of the time with women he’d dated in the past, and he could see it had worked this time too.
Edeeth’s mouth curved into a small smile. “Who gave you that idea that I was upset?”
Before long, they were driving out of the premises of the hospital and navigating their way back to the highway. When they had merged with the traffic headed toward the airport, Edeeth looked over at Jerome and said, “I’m sorry I made you come all the way here to pick me up.”
If Jerome was surprised by her apology, he did his best to hide it. He simply smiled and said, “It’s no biggie. The chief’s directive, right?”
“So what was it you were going to tell me concerning you ‘hunch’?”
“My hunch?” Jerome said, feigning forgetfulness. Edeeth shot him a pointed look, and he chuckled. “Oh! My hunch.” He tooted his horn and he overtook a lorry who was belching thick, dark smoke from its rusty exhaust pipes. “Well, just like I told Chrome, I just had this gut feeling that there was more to the accident of Jackson Essien’s parents than meets the eye. I know it’s a long shot, but what if I’m right and somehow their death is connected to Jackson’s?”
Edeeth arched her head. Jerome’s reasoning was actually impressive. If there was anything she’d learned working on this elite team and from years of a career in investigating crime, it was that the littlest clues could rise from issues that were seemingly unrelated to the case at hand. “That sounds plausible. But let’s just take it one lead at a time, OK?”
“Yea, sure. It’s just that – I really want to get out of this town already.”
“Tell me about it,” Edeeth commiserated. “I’m having a nice long bath scheduled once we get back to Abuja for the express purpose of washing off all the dust I’ve accumulated here.” She shuddered delicately.
Jerome laughed. “It’s not so bad here. At least, this place is worlds away from Bayelsa, the time we went after that arsonist who was murdering smalltime politicians in their homes, and setting their houses on fire after his work is done.”
“Oh yes, I remember that one.” The man they’d been after had a ritual of killing these politicians, setting down their bodies in a circle drawn by their blood, and thereafter setting their houses on fire. He had started the murderous conflagration in Cross River, working his way through the South and down to the East. And they finally caught up with him in Bayelsa. The hunt had taken them into the swampy terrains of the Niger Delta, an experience Edeeth had not been able to completely scrub off her skin for days during her bath after it all. And now, she shuddered again at the recollection. “Oh boy, that is one place I never want to go back to. Remind me to resign if the police force there ever calls on our assistance again.”
Jerome laughed again as they drove on toward the airport.