At the station, Veronica was offered a seat on a bench in front of the counter and given her a sheet to write her statement. She did not bother protesting that she had written one before. She just accepted the sheet and put it on the bench beside her.Jeff stood by her side as she crossed her legs, watching the unfolding drama.
Isaac immediately engaged the officers in a light hearted banter. They were waiting for Sup. Jang who had told Isaac over the phone that he was on his way. Jeff had already called his office to take the rest of the day off. Barr. Obi arrived soon after with 2 other lawyers. Veronica smiled in relief as she rose to greet him. They huddled together to one side of the room to discuss.
“My doc, how are you? I hope you have been treated well?” he asked.
“I have. Thanks for coming so quickly,” she replied and introduced him to Jeff and Isaac.
“Good day gentlemen. Thanks for staying with her,” he said. “What of the DPO?”
“He said he is on his way,” Isaac replied.
“Veronica, I think the gloves have to come off. We were so worried about keeping this out of the press. I think we should now use the press to our advantage. Let us take this matter to the court of public opinion. I don’t trust these guys,” Barr.Obi began.
“There is the matter of my reputation. Do you think the hospital will ever recover from such a scandal? I don’t want to be tagged ‘Doctor Death’,” she objected.
“We have to take a chance. These people are greedy. Even if we borrowed the 10 million to pay them, they will soon come for more. You will never be safe from them.”
“Is there no way to pay them and get them to sign a gag order,” Jeff asked.
“I could raise some money.”
“You can make them sign but they can come back for more, threatening to leak the information. We all know how long it takes to get justice in the courts. The case my associates just went to court for has lingered for 8 years.”
“I don’t think the IPO has done any investigation. Has he ever come to interrogate your staff?” Isaac asked Veronica.
“He has never. I begged him to try to solve the murder and not just pin it on me but he said I cannot teach him his job.”
“There lies the problem. Policemen trained to fight crime by investigating and arresting suspects, too busy chasing shadows. We have a capable force: The issue is motivation,” Isaac stated sadly.
“What do you suggest? “Jeff asked.
“We stall them while I set up a crack unit to find the actual culprit. When he is brought to book, the case will die a natural death.”
“That’s just it!”Veronica exclaimed.
“Sir, I applaud you. I forgot we still have men who know their onions,” Barr. Obi said, nodding.
“Thank you, brother.” Jeff clasped his hand, voice thick with unspoken emotion.
His brother looked him in the eye and nodded. Just then, both Inspector Omotunde and Sup. Jang entered. The policemen saluted the DPO smartly while the civilians greeted him. He headed over to them, a false smile stretched over his thick lips.
“I hope you didn’t wait too long? I had to attend an important meeting,” he said.
Isaac stepped forward and introduced Jeff and himself. They exchanged pleasantries after which Barr. Obi shook hands with him as well. The group of men went into his office while Veronica remained outside. She resigned herself to waiting patiently. Thankfully, she had prepared for the worst. While praying the day before, she had asked for a permanent resolution to the matter. If this was it, then so be it.
In Jang’s office, Barr. Obi and Isaac took the 2 seats available while the rest stood.
“How may I help you, gentleman?” he asked pleasantly.
Jeff wanted to say “You can start my releasing my wife-to-be” but he wisely held his tongue.
“I want my client released and all charges against her dropped,”Barr. Obi replied.
“Why would I do that? The family of the deceased insist on justice and I am an officer of the law. That they are poor does not mean that someone should just take away that which is precious to them.”
“My client did not take anything from them. She is a good Samaritan who is being punished for her kindness.”
“That boy was the only child of his mother.”
“And his mother has refused to drive this case! Have your men even investigated the crime? Is there any evidence that implicates my client?”
“When we get to court, you will see all the evidence.”
“Of course you have no evidence! She was not in the hospital at the time of the boy’s death.”
“How did you know his time of death? You admit you connived with the state examiner to withold the autopsy result, do you?”
“I will admit no such thing!”
There was a terse silence for some minutes. “Supo, may I come in here. I want to request that your men conduct an investigation to bring the culprits to book. Should it be found that she is guilty, we will all be convinced. Let us remember she is innocent till she is proven guilty,”Isaac pleaded.
“My men will do that. In the time being, she will remain in our custody. As you know, murder is not a bailable offence,”Jang pronounced coldly.
“What did you say?” Jeff asked.
“She will remain…”
“That one cannot happen!” Jeff folded his hands across his chest defiantly.
“I am only following procedure, ” he maintained.
“Brother did you hear him,” Jeff asked Isaac.
Isaac grunted and cleared his throat. “I am sure we can work something out. She said you already have her documents so she is certainly not a flight risk. Besides, she is the C.E.O of a hospital in this town, employing a number of people. Do we really gain anything from locking her up?” he asked.
“Supo, you know I am only following procedure. These same people will come and accuse me of circumventing the law I am paid to uphold,” he insisted.
“Sir, the law is made for the lawless not a gentle lady doctor who you know has never hurt anybody! That law was made to keep violent criminals off our streets,” Barr. Obi said.
“My hands are tied.” Jang shook his head.
“What’s the meaning of that?” Jeff asked.
“It means that she stays in detention while we carry out our investigation. We hope to charge her to court shortly.”
“Chineke mei!”Jeff exclaimed.
“How long exactly do you intend to keep her?” Barr. Obi asked.
“Omotunde, how much time do you need to wrap up your investigation?” Jang asked.
“I believe 2 weeks should be enough,” he replied with a smirk.
“I can’t accept that. Not only is she innocent, she is responsible for many lives; her patients and dependants,” Barr. Obi protested.
“That’s the best I can do.” Jang leaned back and folded his hands across his chest dismissively.
“Why is Barr. Kola not here? He and I were in negotiations before now.”
“That is your private business. I am doing my duty as an officer of the law.”
Jeff glared at the man, clenching his teeth to prevent himself from saying something he would come to regret. He hoped his brother had a plan because he was not going to watch Veronica get incarcerated. It was unthinkable. Isaac cleared his throat.
“I thank you warmly for your time and for your courtesy. Officers like you are a pride to the force, sir. May I speak with you privately?” he said to Jang.
Barr. Obi glanced at him and saw that he was in a better position to make the man see reason. He rose and signalled his associates. Jeff left with them. Inspector Omotunde and Isaac remained.
Dr. Korede was at the hospital pharmacy arguing with the nurse on duty.
“I want all the drugs on that list, now! ” he shouted.
“Doc, I asked what you need them for because Dr. Veronica instructed that all prescriptions for staff should be authorised by her. I know you are not collecting it for patients because that is not your duty. Please don’t put my job at risk,” the nurse protested.
“Where did you see Veronica? She is languishing in jail. Let me tell you, I will soon be appointed as M.D and you will be out of work.”
“Doc, these drugs are too many. The cost price is N 41, 000. Think of the profit on it that we will lose. I beg you to wait till the next shift to collect the drugs.”
“Look at you! That is why you are not married. You have no manners, no class, no swagger. I pity the man who will marry you,” he snarled.
“Thank you sir.” She curtsied. “Is there any other thing I can do for you?”
“Get lost!” he spat as he swung on his heel.
The nurse shook her head at his retreating back.
“Thief!” she muttered under her breath. Surreptitiously, she folded the paper where he had written the list and put it in her purse. It was signed. She believed that Veronica would be cleared of all charges. Then she would present hard evidence that would get him dismissed. She couldn’t wait to be rid of he and his acidic tongue.
Barr. Obi was in the lobby of the station waiting for Isaac when his phone rang. It was Perez.
“Hello, P-boy. Can we talk later? It’s not a very good time to talk,” he said.
“I know it’s a bad time, what with your protégée being in jail. We are filing an injunction for our father’s will to be reversed. Now that she has proven to be incapable, we expect to be awarded the hospital and other benefits. We will also be seeking damages for all the trauma she has put us through,” Perez intoned.
“Is that so?”
“You bet. My lawyer has already dropped a letter at your office. I just called you because of our long-standing relationship. Cheers.”
He ended the call unceremoniously. Barr. Obi stared at his phone, wondering how the information leaked so quickly. He clenched his teeth in fury. This case was spinning out of control, very fast. Already, the medical examiner had called him to tell him that he had released the result of the autopsy when the men the DPO sent threatened to arrest him. Barr. Obi had known it was a ruse that could only buy them a little time. Unfortunately, they were not able to reach an agreement with Sgt. Victor and his lawyer before it all blew up in their faces.
Jeff was relaying the discussion they had had in the DPO’s office to Veronica when they spied Isaac coming out. He walked towards them, face grim.
“Brother, how far?” Jeff asked.
Isaac cleared his throat. “I tried to convince him to release her into my custody. He refused. The best I could do was to get him to allow her to sleep in his office.”
“Sleep where?” Veronica shrieked.
“You can’t be serious!” Barr. Obi exclaimed.
“Calm down everyone,” Isaac raised his voice. When they had calmed, he motioned for them to gather around him and continued. “In war, you sometimes surrender in order to regroup. Had I known of this before now, it would not have gotten to this. Murder is not bailable and we all know what he wants. He wants us to feel desperate so that he can ask for the highest possible sum of money.”
“How much is the money, let me pay it!” Jeff cried.
Isaac glanced at him but did not reply him. “I know that this is the last outcome you envisaged, Veronica,” he addressed her directly. “He has permitted me to send one of my men to spend the night in the station. It will be his duty to make sure you come to no harm. Let me assure you I will personally handle this investigation from now. Give me 3 days and I will fish out the real murderer or murderers of that boy.”
Veronica’s knees crumbled but Jeff caught her before she could fall to the ground. He put an arm around her to steady her.
“In that case, they have to arrest me also. How can she stay in detention? She is not a criminal,” Jeff said.
“Let me go and talk to him, ” Barr. Obi offered.
“I think that is a bad idea. He may renege on this agreement. What I advise is that you begin to work your contacts so someone higher up can order her release. Strong-arming him will not work. Do you know I called some top guys in the force and they said he has offered some of our bosses a cut of whatever compensation you eventually pay? Many of them have switched off their phones, after promising me they would help,” Isaac stated.
“I don’t deserve this. What did I do wrong?” Veronica moaned.
Isaac put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry. I will do my best to get you out soon.”
Barr. Obi had stood there in deep thought for some time. He turned to one of his associates and asked “Who remembers the number of that Senator we represented 2 years ago, Senator Mokidi?”
“He is out of the country presently. I tried to call him before coming here,” one of them replied.
“Let’s go to the car and brainstorm. We must find someone who can get her out today,” he ordered.
“Doc, be strong, okay? We are here for you.”
She nodded, trying to hold back tears. Isaac was busy putting through a call to his man, Inspector Kome. He ordered him to meet him at that station after explaining to him what he wanted him to do. Kome had the loyalty, integrity and street-smartness required for the job. He would blend in with the other officers, yet remain alert to guard Veronica.
Isaac had taken a look around the DPO’s office. It was small but neat. There was only one way in and it had an enclosed toilet. The facilities were not 5 star but it was far better that her being locked up with criminals. He shuddered to consider her fate in their hands. While Jeff tried to reassure Veronica, he began to compile a list of trustworthy men he could use. They would interrogate everyone who was at the hospital that night and then interview the boy’s parents. No stone would remain unturned in this investigation. Whatever it took, he had to solve the case.
Jeff had moved Veronica to a seat. He held her hands while they prayed together for a miracle. Neither of them wanted to accept that she would spend the night in jail. Her heart was beating so fast that she wondered if others couldn’t hear it. Isaac had also secured permission for her to keep her phone by her so Jeff called her hospital receptionist to find her phone and bring it to the station immediately. They did not mind that some of the policemen were eyeing them as they prayed. It was a desperate situation.
Barr. Obi had managed to get through to the aide of Senator Mokidi. Unfortunately, the Senator was in a country where it was too late for him to receive calls though it was just 6pm Nigerian time. Obi gnashed his teeth as he realised that Isaac was right. No one was coming to their rescue that night. They would have to tactically withdraw and regroup. Too many people had sold their consciences in the quest for wealth.
Rather than appeal to a non-existent conscience, he was going to have to do something he had hoped he would never stoop to. As it happened, he had a joker he had held close to his chest for years. This was the time to show his hand. It was 8pm before Kome showed up. Isaac introduced him to Veronica. Barr. Obi had left with his associates. Jeff had collected her phone and power pack from the receptionist who delivered it. She collected Kome’s number so she could dial it at anytime of the night if she needed anything. Her hands were shaking so badly that she nearly dropped her phone but Jeff picked it. He handed it to her, holding her gaze.
“We are pressed on every side, yet we do not despair,” he quoted.
“Persecuted, not abandoned, ” she said.
“Crushed but not destroyed,” he added.
“What can separate me from the love of God? Nay, in all these things I am more than a conqueror! ” she declared, emboldened.
He clasped her hand as she leaned on him for strength. Already, he had made an online reservation at the hotel closest to the station. Since he was not allowed to spend the night at the station, he would stay as close as possible. He would call her at intervals throughout the night. If anything sounded fishy, he would storm the place, come what may.
Kome quickly introduced himself to his colleagues and made friends with them. He was a jovial and likeable fellow. They were soon in stiches from his jokes, forgetting that he was a stranger. Isaac had ordered the 4 men on his crack team to meet him at St. Lucas hospital that night. He wanted to get a list of those who had stepped foot on those grounds on the night Edet died and begin interrogating as many of them as were on duty. The rest would either be picked up from their homes or questioned when they came to work in the morning. He gave Kome final instructions before leaving with one of his men who had come to pick him. The DPO had left much earlier.
Bobby, Veronica’s brother arrived shortly after. He had been in traffic for hours. Veronica clung to him, barely holding back her tears.
“Ada, what are they saying? ” he asked.
He was a tall, strapping young man, good looking, with a full grown afro. While job-hunting, he was volunteering for a Human rights aid group. They were part of a global group that put pressure on governments in various countries to enforce justice and democracy. Also, they provided free legal aid to those unlawfully incarcerated.
“Bobby, your sister has become a prisoner O! I am going to spend the night here,” she stated trying to keep her voice from trembling.
“I si gini? (What did you say?)” he bellowed.
“Calm down,” Jeff said.
He put a hand on his arm to prevent him from flaring up.
“This is injustice! I hate injustice!” he raved.
“No noise there! This is a police station, ” one of the officers warned.
“We’re sorry,” Jeff apologised.
Bobby glared at the men but kept his thoughts to himself. He held his head in his hands.
“What do I tell Mom?” he asked.
“She has been calling me all day.”
“I have spoken to Dad and he said I should be calm, that everything will work out in the end,” Veronica said.
“What of Mom?”
“She kept crying on the phone; I had to end the call. I couldn’t hear her. She was saying something about a prophet.”
“Dad said she and Nwaka have declared 3 days dry fasting till you are released.”
“Poor Nwaka! How will he survive for 3 days without food? I don’t think he can make it for 6 hours.”
“He is a smart boy. Right now, he has probably hidden away all sorts of food under his bed that will enable him survive even longer than that. I know what he can do.” Bobby smiled.
Jeff and Veronica laughed quietly, so as not to attract attention. It was almost 10pm and Jeff and Bobby would have to leave. They had asked Bobby to buy a blanket and toiletries for her. He handed them over solemnly. The officers had indicated that their time was up. She rose and hugged them good bye. Bobby and Jeff were to share his hotel room. As they left, she felt her stomach knot with dread. Her head felt light, as if she would faint. Walking woodenly behind the officer who was leading her to her ‘cell’, she fought the panic.
TO BE CONTINUED. CHEERS,