Chrome roused himself from his thoughts, snapping out of his mental synthesis of the case. He had a faintly worried look on his face. The case was more complicated than he had thought it would be, but he had thought up three different worst case scenarios. Depending on what his subordinates would dig up, he wouldn’t jump into any conclusions yet.
First case scenario: Monica Scott did it. This would depend on the analysis he was carrying out right now and also on whatever Edeeth and Jerome would find out at the airport.
Second case scenario: Anthony Gyang did it. It would be harder to deduce now that the man was stretched out, an invalid, in the hospital.
Third case scenario: There was someone else they hadn’t considered, someone who had killed Jackson Essien and had masterfully covered his tracks. The last case scenario was what had him worried. What if they had been looking at everything from the wrong angle? What if the real killer was still out there walking freely?
He sighed. Right now, there was nothing he could do but wait until what they had was thoroughly examined. He looked at the clock. The time was 6:25pm. He had spent about thirty minutes brainstorming. Not long enough by his standards. He was fatigued. He needed to rest.
Just then, there was a knock on the laboratory door. At Chrome’s call, Stacey walked in. She wasn’t wearing her lab coat and looked very pleasing in a brown khaki blouse on blue denim. She came closer to where Chrome sat and greeted him.
“How are you, Stacey?”
“Fine, sir.” She looked around the lab and said, “You are all alone?”
“Indeed, I am.”
Stacey stood where she was, half fidgety. Her eyes slid to where he sat, but she couldn’t quite make contact with his. Realizing that she wanted to say something and in no mood to accommodate her sudden anxious reticence, he asked, “Is there something you want?”
“Oh no, sir,” she stuttered a little. “I was almost on my way out when I saw the lights in the lab were on. I just wanted to know if anyone was in here.”
“Ok, well I’m carrying out some analytical work that will run through the night,” Chrome said as he turned to look at the computer screen. Stacey looked at the work he was engrossed in and then at the watch strapped to her wrist. Taking a deep breath, she finally moved from the spot she was standing to the side of the stool Chrome sat on. He was so close to her that she felt besieged with the redolence of his musky body scent, which was a blend of the day he had had and his deodorant. She felt suddenly heady with the scent.
“Um…sir?” she said nervously.
“Yes?” Chrome answered without looking up at her. He was studying the program flitting through the screen intently.
“Do…do you need…um, any help?”
“Don’t worry. I have everything under control.” He still hadn’t looked at her, nor noticed that she was standing close to him.
Her face fell at the slight disappointment she felt. She ventured another question, “So, how are things with you and Ruth?”
At the mention of his girlfriend’s name, Chrome looked up, suddenly remembering what he had planned to do earlier. He glanced at Stacey, smiling, and answered, “We’re fine. I’m actually glad you mentioned her. I was supposed to call her but I completely forgot.” He put down the writing pad and pen, and dug inside his suit for his cell phone.
Stacey stood there for a moment. A slight feeling of jealousy, like bile, rose up her throat and she quickly swallowed. Shaking her head in self-deprecation at her emotions, she muttered ‘Good night’ and began to turn away.
She stopped. Chrome had felt the sudden and slight tenseness in the atmosphere. He didn’t know why it was present but he suddenly felt the need to say something, something nice, to the woman. “I appreciate all the efforts you’ve been putting in for the unit. You are doing a fine job. This analysis will run its course through the night and I wouldn’t want to subject you to such a stress. Go home and get some rest. I’ll need your assistance in the morning when the analysis is concluded.” He smiled at her when he was done talking and her face lit up as she walked away.
When she got to the door, she turned back to him and said, “Good night, sir. Be safe.”
“I will. You have a good evening.”
In the wake of her departure, Chrome dialed Ruth’s number. “Hello babe,” he said the moment she answered.
“Boo!” she said, half screaming through the receiver, which was characteristic of her.
This always made him laugh. “I’m sorry I haven’t called you all day, babe, but this case is much more tasking than I thought.”
“Oh boo, I’ve missed you,” she cooed.
“I’ve missed you too.”
“Not hearing from you all day got me worried, you know?”
“I know…worried enough to make prank calls, right?” He laughed as he said that.
“Oh come on, babe, I know it was you who called me twice with a private number.”
“Me?” The confusion in her voice sounded very genuine. “I haven’t called you today. I was at work all day and when you called earlier, I was driving, so I couldn’t pick it up.” She paused, and then continued, “I’m sorry I didn’t call back after I got home, I was really exhausted and took a dip in the bathtub…I completely forgot, sorry.”
Chrome was torn between figuring out who made the prank calls and imagining his girlfriend in the bathtub. God! What he wouldn’t give to be there right now. However, he found himself muttering, “If you weren’t the one who called me, then who did?”
The question was rhetorical, but Ruth answered nonetheless, “I don’t know.” They both fell silent for a moment until she intoned, “So, how’s the case coming?”
“It’s picking up pace. Not much to say about it now, but it’s just been a day. I believe by morning, we should have something solid to go on with.”
“I trust you, my superman,” she teased.
Chrome laughed and said, “Well then, Miss Lane, permit me to make a request.”
“Go ahead, man of steel.”
“How would you like to fly out with me to the hills of Kuru?”
“When?!” There was excitement in her voice.
“As soon as I wrap up this case… The weekend after.”
“That would be wonderful. I’ve always wanted to visit the hills.”
“I know, I just want you to have a fantastic time.”
“Oh, boo! I love you!”
“I love you too, babe.”
“Alright, now shoo with you!”
“What?” Chrome was mildly taken aback.
“Back to work, lover boy! The sooner you catch the bad guy, the sooner I get to see the hills,” she said with evident glee.
Chrome laughed. He loved her humor. “Ok babe, you take good care of yourself.”
“I will, and you do the same for me too. Have a good night.”
The call was disconnected, and he replaced the phone on the table. He felt a mixture of intense pleasure from speaking to her and a niggling worry over the conundrum of who had been calling him. A yawn fought its way through his mouth, bringing to his mind his most pressing problem. He was exhausted. He promptly dismissed the thought of the prank calls. Right now, he needed rest. He stretched and picked up the alarm clock on the table, which was used in timing experiments inside the lab. No use trying to think on a tired brain. He set the alarm clock to beep in six hours time. That should be enough time for him to grab some shuteye. He replaced the clock on the table and stood up from the stool, lumbered to the door and locked it. He took off his lab coat and then his suite. He went back to the table and tried to sit as comfortable as possible. Before long, with his head down, he was asleep.
The car park at the Jos airport had been renovated after a fire outbreak a few years back. Many believed it was a terrorist attack orchestrated by the militant group that plagued the Northern region of the country at the time. The fire had gutted a vast area around the car park, destroying several vehicles, before it was put out by the fire service. It was rumored that it was started by a bomb explosion, but the authorities rebuffed the claims with a press release stating that it was caused by a leaking fuel tank on one of the cars parked there. To be on a safer side, the government added some safety features to the park during renovation. The entrance had cameras embedded in the ground which scanned the underpart of any vehicle that stopped to collect a parking toll. So many other security features were added and these included bomb calorimeters and other devices that could pick up the slightest amount of explosive and flammable gases in the air.
At the entrance, Jerome showed his ID card to the security operatives and was let in. He found a good spot to park and killed the car engine. He and Edeeth got out simultaneously and in a matter of minutes, were on the walkway which led to the departure wing of the airport.
It didn’t take long before they found the Trans-Delta Airline booth at the terminal, but the walk from the entrance was quite a tedious journey. There was a horde of people lining up and walking about inside the terminal. It was just over a week to the nation’s Independence Day celebration and a lot of people were trying to get to different areas within the country to celebrate it. The officers had to shove their way through the crowd of travelers to get to where they were going. At the booth, Jerome leaned forward and asked the lady sitting behind the desk – who he identified as Danielle from her name-tag – for the whereabouts of Chude Miguel.
While he did this, Edeeth busied herself by looking around the airport terminal. Ever since she became a member of the C.S.I team, she had never passed through the same way everyone else went while travelling. The team always used the wing reserved for Federal V.I.Ps, and this was at the far end of the airport. She was amazed how things had changed inside the Jos terminal. A few years back, it was one of the worst Nigerian airports by standard, something most of the airports in the northern region of the country shared. The equipments were outdated and things generally didn’t work around there. Again, thanks to the new administration, all the nation’s airports had seen a turnaround in terms of infrastructure. A few of them had even been upgraded to international standards. Edeeth’s wandering mind was brought back to the present by Jerome’s voice. He was saying something about the workers for the airline having weird names.
“Can you believe them?” he said.
“What?” Edeeth asked, blinking her eyes and her mind back to the conversation he obviously had started without her knowledge.
“Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
“I was just thinking about the names on the tags of the people I’ve seen working here,” he said, looking from one side to the other. “They all have fancy foreign names like it’s a fad. That makes me laugh, you know?”
“Well, you’re one to talk – Jerome!” She added a heavy stress on his name.
She smiled as she asked him “So, where is your source?”
“The lady at the counter said he’ll soon be with us, so I guess in a few more minutes he’ll be here.”
“Well, he better be. The sooner we get the info, the sooner we are out of here. I’m running low on gas for the day. Have you even had anything to eat?”
Jerome’s eyes widened when he realized what his answer was going to be. “Not since breakfast, before we were notified of Jackson Essien’s dead body. My goodness, has it been that long?”
“You bet.” Edeeth fought a yawn that suddenly worked its way to her mouth. “By now, I should be used to the grueling pace of our work, but sometimes – Urgh!” She made a face with the exclamation.
Jerome chuckled and was about to say something when a deep voice cut in, “Officer Jerome?” The two of them turned to see a man clad in the Trans-Delta Airline staff uniform of white shirt tucked into black trousers, the shoulders of the white bearing the airline’s logo. “You’re Officer Jerome?” he asked again. He was a chunky, dark-skinned man with alert eyes and a brisk manner. When Jerome nodded, he stretched out his hand. “I’m Chude Miguel.”
Jerome took the hand in a handshake. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Miguel.”
“Please call me Chude.”
“Very well. This here is my partner, Officer Edeeth.”
Edeeth shook hands with him, and said without any preamble, “Chude, I believe you have some information for us.”
“Wow, straight to the point I see. I heard you CSIs don’t joke around, I guess that info was right,” the man said with a smile.
“Well, we’re kind of under some pressure,” Jerome explained. “And Nene Ezike told us you could help.”
“Yeah, Nene told me, and I do have what you need.” He motioned to them. “If you’ll follow me this way, I’ll give it to you.” He turned to the lady behind the counter and said, “Danny, I’ll be gone for a few minutes; cover for me.”
She nodded. He walked away, followed by the officers as they moved towards the Trans-Delta Airline office within the airport terminal. When they got there, Chude asked the officers to wait outside. It was illegal for him to share any kind of confidential information with anyone who was not a member of staff. Even though they were police officers – especially because they were police officers –, they were supposed to have a warrant in order to have access to whatever the airline staff had for them. But there had been no time. Warrants went through many protocols before they could be issued and time was something the officers didn’t have. They patiently waited for their informant to return; moments later, he reappeared holding some sheets of paper. He handed them over to Jerome.
“Here you go, just as you asked.”
Jerome rifled through the papers, handing Edeeth some sheets to go through as well.
“Those are the manifests from all the flights from Uyo to Jos yesterday evening and night. I had to pull a lot of strings to get copies from other airlines,” Chude added, as though angling for a reward for his work.
Edeeth asked, “I thought your airline was the only one to fly last night.”
“Well, ours was the last plane to arrive the airport, but we certainly weren’t the only one who flew in last night.” He sounded a little defensive, and he divided a cross but expectant look between the two officers.
Understanding the other man’s need to be appreciated, Jerome said, stretching his hand, “Thanks for this. We really do appreciate your assistance.”
Chude shook his proffered hand, his face beaming. “Glad I could help.”
Edeeth was still going through the manifests while the two men courted, and her eyes caught on a detail. A name on the manifest. Ememesi Scott. It had appeared in the economy class list. She tapped Jerome on the shoulder, splayed the paper before his face and pointed a finger at the name.
“Ememesi Scott?” Jerome muttered. “I don’t think I’ve heard the name before.”
“Maybe a relative of the Scotts?” Edeeth said, half asking.
“Did you find something useful?” Chude asked, his excitement at such a prospect evident in his voice.
It took a while for the officers to realize that he was still standing there. It was as if the discovery of the name had thrown them into another world. Jerome turned around to face him and said, “Yes we did, thank you.” He hoped the second ‘Thank you’ would be hint enough for the man.
But Chude didn’t budge. The excitement of being part of a police investigation appeared to be too much of a gravitational force that held him rooted to the spot.
It irked Jerome, and he had just opened his mouth to word his displeasure when Edeeth, suddenly having an idea, asked, “Excuse me, Chude, do the arrivals lounge have security cameras?”
“Off course, they do, ma’am.” He sounded a little affronted by the question.
Edeeth laughed when she realized what she had asked. “Sorry, what I was trying to say was, is there any way you could help us gain access to where they monitor the cameras?”
“Ok…that would be the main security room, on the top floor of the terminal.” Chude stopped as if to ponder for a moment, and then continued, “Of course, it won’t be easy to gain entrance, but I think I can talk to some people.” There was a self-satisfied smile on his face.
Feeling like part of the team, are we? Edeeth thought with a wry smile. She exchanged a look with Jerome, and they silently realized that they were stuck with Chude Miguel for awhile longer.
“Ok, Chude, lead the way,” Jerome said
They followed their guide towards the stairway that would take them to the top floor of the terminal. As they walked on, Edeeth looked at her wrist watch. The time was 6:35pm. She caught herself wondering how Walter was doing and immediately scolded herself. What the hell is wrong with you? He’s not a child. He can take care of himself. She let out a sharp breath and followed the men who walked ahead of her up the stairway.
Walter had gone through half of the journal when a nurse came into the room to check on the patient. She was a young lady, seemingly in her mid-twenties, Walter observed, and from the way she handled the equipments, she had a flair for her job. Her white linen blouse, which she wore over white trousers of the same fabric – which, in his opinion, gave her the look of an apprentice in a 60s Hollywood horror flick – had a name tag right above her breast pocket. Over the years, the uniforms for nurses had undergone drastic changes, especially in Federal Medical Centers. This change was put into effect by the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (N.A.N.N.M.) which had received complaints by quite a number of nurses of sexual harassment. The new uniforms didn’t really make much difference in that aspect, but it did give the nurses a new sense of pride in their work. Walter watched the petite woman go about her duties until she turned around to see him staring.
“Is there a problem sir?” she asked, her features betraying a faint unease with his scrutiny.
“Oh, excuse me, Miss” – he looked at the name tag – “Yvonne. I didn’t mean to stare.” He smiled reassuringly at her. “I was only admiring your efficiency. You seem to be very good at what you do.”
The nurse smiled back at him. If she was light-skinned, her face would have turned a hint of red, so evident was her pleasure and embarrassment at his words. “Thank you, sir,” she muttered, and continued with what she’d been doing. Moments later, she was wheeling out the cart she came in with. She got to the door, hesitated and turned around. “Would you be needing anything, sir?” she asked almost shyly.
“Um…nothing for now, thank you. But if I do need anything, I won’t hesitate to call on you.” He punctuated his words with another smile.
The nurse’s eyes skittered away from his face with abashment and she turned and left. Walter went back to flipping the pages of his journal. A small smile hovered on his mouth as he relived what had just transpired. Seems I’ve still got it, he thought to himself. In that moment his mind wandered to where Edeeth might be, what she might be doing, how the investigation was going on her end. He missed having her here with him, ribbing him with her wisecracks one second and acting all maternal toward him the next.
The thoughts of her had started to warm his insides when a slight cough cut into his reverie. He looked up in the direction of the sound. It was Anderson Gyang. The man was awake.