Veronica cranked up the music as she drove home, grinning. She was still basking in the euphoria from her victory in court earlier in the day. That adrenaline rush was a great part of why she had become a lawyer. She had gained a reputation as one of the country’s foremost female lawyers, and had yet to taint it, taking on the most notorious cases and never losing any. Quite an accomplishment for a single, career-driven thirty-five-year old attorney, and her star was still on the rise.
Singing along to the music, she maneuvered her way through the less chaotic, midnight traffic of Lagos. She had stayed out late, celebrating today’s victory in a posh night club with other members of her legal team, and the alcohol had put her in a mellow mood. Smiling, she relished the memory of her triumph afresh. Her client had been rejected by most right-thinking lawyers. A borderline-retarded, intensely shy suspect, he had no alibi for the three nights on which the three women he had allegedly murdered had been brutally bludgeoned to death with a hammer. A ward of the state, he had passed from home to home, and all three women had played the role of foster mothers at certain points in his life.
Veronica hadn’t really cared if he was guilty or not. She had taken the case for two reasons; the first being for the limelight. Her moral compass was totally skewed by her ambition, and she was only interested in the notoriety the case would bring. Even though the details of the killings chilled her, she was thrilled to discover the twenty-four-year old accused man had the mental acuity of a twelve-year-year old. She could not resist, and promptly took the case on, pro bono. It was a cake-walk. The state’s case against the young man was only based on his lack of alibis and the allegedly strained relationship he had with the three deceased women, their families claiming the victims had described the suspect as sneaky, wily and disturbed.
Veronica had hired professional psychologists and badgered his old social worker officers into admitting he had neither the mental capacity nor the innate resentment required to plan and carry out the three murders. She even went as far as implying that her client had suffered abuse in the hands of the victims, and pursued this line of reasoning so vehemently, and managed to cast enough doubt on the defense’s case, that she got a ‘not guilty’ verdict.
She had barely interacted with her client during the trial, mildly repulsed by his feeble mindedness and the way he stared at her, but during the press conference after the verdict, they had stood hand-in-hand, as she fielded questions, assuring reporters that justice had been served. She loved the cameras, and they loved her right back; it was a win-win situation.
Pulling into her driveway, she killed her headlights and paused for a few minutes in her cool car, reluctant to emerge into the hot night immediately. Her brow furrowed as she remembered her second reason for taking on the case. During her investigations, she had discovered the young man had been abandoned as a baby, and had barely survived been exposed to the elements till he was discovered, apparently resulting in his mental impairment.
She had a huge secret. In a different state, as a teen, nineteen years ago, she had gotten pregnant and succeeded in hiding this fact till she was full-term, mostly due to her slim physique. She had quietly and agonizingly birthed a boy in her bathroom, biting down on a rag; then none-too-gently swaddled the barely breathing infant in a blanket and had dumped him on the doorsteps of a nearby catholic church.
The parallels to her client’s history had vaguely shaken her, and she was only relieved by the fact that he was older than her child would have been.
This was her guilty secret. Only one person knew of it. Plagued by the conscience she still had then, she had wandered into the Catholic church some months after, and confessed to the parish priest. She had vehemently refused to initiate any search efforts and sworn him to secrecy, before she fled that town. It was an epoch in her life she never planned to revisit.
Sighing, she exited her car, and made her way into her dark house. Locking her front door behind her, she made her way into her living room, sliding one heeled shoe off her foot. She flicked on the light switch and froze, shoe in hand.
Her client was seated in her favourite chair. There was a hammer in his hand.
Veronica stood stock-still. There was a subtle difference in the way he was sitting, and his eyes shone with a hot intelligence. Then he began to speak, and she knew everyone had been fooled. This young man was far from retarded.
“Growing up was hard for me at first. Granted, I had a slow start. I wasn’t the brightest button in the basket. But I changed, you see. I realised I was really quite brilliant. I checked. My IQ is off the charts, literally. But it was easier to pretend I was still stupid. That way I could get away with doing all the stuff I liked to do. Stuff society would frown on.
“My foster mothers sensed my difference. Women really are intuitive, you know. Didn’t do them any good, I was too careful to give them any proof. And ultimately, they served their purpose. Their deaths caught your attention. I’ve searched for you all my life. I killed a priest. I moved to this town. I forged my age. I faked imbecility. Just to get to you. I dangled a triple-murder-carrot, and you bit into it. Have you figured out where this is going?”
Veronica backed away, limping in one heeled shoe. “You are…I’m your…”
He stood up and gestured encouragingly. “The word you’re looking for is…”
She threw the shoe in her hand at him, turned and ran screaming, up the stairs.
The young man grinned evilly and bounded up after her, hefting the hammer familiarly. “Mum’s the word…!”
Written by Emem Alexandra Akpan-Nya