It was 5 am when Inspector kome tapped on the door. Veronica answered and unlocked door when she was sure he was the one. He was smartly dressed in his uniform as if he was awake all night. She had managed to brush her teeth and comb her hair.
“Good morning, doc. I hope you slept well?” he asked.
“Good morning sir. Thank you for all you did for me,” she replied.
“I only did my duty.”
“Thanks anyway. Should I head to the counter?”
“Yes, this way.”
He preceeded her to the counter where she greeted the other 2 officers who were on duty. She was given a seat and left on her own while the officers turned to talk with a man who had come in to make some sort of report. All of a sudden, there was commotion. No one could tell exactly how but an inmate of one of the holding cells must have overpowered an officer and unlocked his cell. He dashed out, a young man of about 21, angry-looking, scarred in several places, wearing only his under shorts. Veronica was trapped behind him as one policeman cocked his gun and pointed it at him to prevent his escape.
“Hold it! Where are you going?”the officer yelled.
The civilians in the room dived for cover on the floor, the officers took out their weapons. Other inmates who had not made their escape were shouting encouragement to him from their cells.
“Collect the gun!”
“Run! Run! No gree!*”
Veronica was hiding behind a chair, hoping the man would not think of taking her hostage.
“Guy, wetin be dis?” Insp Kome suddenly asked.
He lowered the gun he had been holding and approached the man who was standing before the officers like a deer caught in headlights, frozen in his place.
“You don chop at all since them hold you?” he asked the man.
The detainee looked surprised at the question then he frowned, seemed to think for a minute, before shaking his head.
“Officers, at ease! The guy is unarmed,” Kome called.
His colleagues eyed him warily, refusing to lower their guns.
“Let him go back to that cell and lock himself in, the same way he got out,” an officer said.
Kome stepped up to the detainee confidently and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s go inside. I will send for food for you. Do you like beans?”
The man nodded, his body went from being tense like a wild cat about to pounce on prey, to relaxed in few seconds. He allowed Kome to begin to lead him back to the cell. Veronica slid to the far right, to prevent any contact with him. She suspected he was mentally unstable.
“Corporal!” Kome called. “Go and buy bread and ewa agoyin for this guy. He is starving.”
He passed money to the corporal behind him as he took the man back to his cell. The sargent he had overpowered was sitting on the floor, rubbing his forehead. He glared at the detainee but Kome gave him a warning glance that shut him up. He guessed that the man had given him a strong headbutt while holding on to his trousers to be able to collect the key through the bars. Gently, he led him into his cell and locked him in. The man meekly headed for the back of the cell and sat on the floor, head in hand. His 3 other cell mates made mocking noises but did not say anything. Kome walked back towards Veronica.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
By this time, everyone had relaxed. The officers were trading banters like nothing happened. The corporal had left to purchase the food. The complainant carried on writing his statement. It was as if nothing had happened. Probably out of respect for Kome, no one went to exact vengeance on the man as Veronica expected.
“How did you know what to do?” she asked.
“I believe you are a christian? Have you heard of the 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit? ”
“Yes, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Those gifts are not reserved for pastors, we are to use them daily to take territory for our God. I simply asked God to help me discern what spirit was controlling him and then give me a word of knowledge. ”
“Really? That is how you knew he was hungry?” Veronica had her chin in her hand, nodding slowly. “I have never heard such a thing.”
“Paul said we should desire earnestly, the more helpful gifts. As a doctor, you should desire the gift of healing and even of miracles.”
“Father, if that is why you allowed me to be locked up here, I thank you. May I not even be released again,” Veronica prayed.
Kome laughed quietly.
“I didn’t know we have policemen who are born again.”
“O, there are. In our squad, we have a fellowship that meets fortnightly. Sup. Isaac is our co-ordinator. There are many life-threatening situations we have escaped using the gifts of the holy spirit. I should have been dead, I tell you.”
Veronica was holding back tears. She resolved to devote time daily praying for the honest men in the force who were laying down their lives for others to be safe.
“Are you married sir?” she asked.
He nodded. “Ten years now. We have 4 children. My wife is a fashion designer, should you ever desire to make new clothes.”
“I will certainly be patronising her from today.”
“Then you have to cancel that prayer that you prayed before. We don’t make jail clothes,” he laughed.
“I cancel it in Jesus name! Today is the day of my liberty!” Veronica declared.
Sup. Jang, Sargent Victor and Inspector Omotunde were meeting in the D.P.O’s house that morning. He had turned off his phone so that no one would call him to plead on Veronica’s behalf. One of his men at the station was keeping tabs on her and reporting back to him. They were in his living room, sharing a bottle of gin.
“Those people are not serious. I expected them to be begging by now, offering to pay any amount to get her out,” Victor commented.
“Don’t mind that Igbo lawyer! Greedy fellow! Igbo people love money too much,” Omotunde snarled.
“His client will remain in the station while he speaks big grammar,” Jang intoned.
He was holding the remote control, trying to change the channel of the TV. Victor dropped his glass on the table before him and slid over to his boss.
“Let me help you. These new TVs are difficult to operate.” He stretched out a hand.
“What do you mean? Will you get lost!” Jang shouted, deflecting the outstretched arm.
“Sorry for yourself! Is it because I invited you to my house? You are here dreaming of the millions you will make off the death of a child you rejected when he was born! Did you ever send N1 for his upkeep? Rubbish.”
“Sorry sir!” he said again, going on his knees to plead with hands stretched out before him. “Inspector help me beg him now.”
Omotunde ignored him.
“Go and tell my driver to ready. We leave in 10 minutes. I have a radio show to take part in,” Jang commanded.
Victor sprang up like a cat and left. Omotunde watched him go, shaking his head behind his back. He knew the fate of such men. Their boss would tolerate him only as long as he was needed. As soon as any compensation was paid, he would be given a meagre share and forced to sign some sort of contract not to share the details. It was bloody money but he had sold his conscience long ago. The mounting bills and pressures of life had immunized him from feeling even a twinge.
The crack team Isaac had set up consisted of two inspectors, a sargent and a female deputy superintendent. DSP Amina Iredia was a rotund, motherly lady whose charm bellied a sharp mind and enviable detective ability. She was his special weapon as she had a way of making people let down their guard around her. They forgot she was an officer and opened up to her such that she always got information that they didn’t really plan to betray.
For hours, they grilled the hospital staff, trying to get a grip of the events of the night Edet was killed. Each staff member had a valid alibi for the time of death and no one had seen anyone enter the boy’s room. The team finally thanked them for their assistance and gathered around the patrol van they had come in. It was 2am at the time. Isaac sat in the driver’s seat with the door open while they clustered around him.
“What do you think?” He began.
“We still have to talk to 2 nurses, Kasarachi and the matron, and one doctor Korede. From what I gathered, they have all been here long before Dr. Veronica took over. There seems to have been some resistance to her,” Inspector Garba said.
“I observed that as well,” another team member said.
“Who do we think are the key suspects right now?” Isaac went on.
“Nurse Kasarachi. She had motive and opportunity. I heard Dr. Veronica once gave her a query,” one replied.
“The cousin of the director, that Abel, the one who was admitted just beside the deceased; he is my suspect,” said another.
“How about his parents? Could there be a remote suspect, a family member, an enemy of the father? Remember his father is an officer? Perhaps he stepped on the wrong toes,” DSP Amina said pensively.
“That is an angle but this boy was rejected by his father and has lived with his mother all his life. His father has other children from his wife. If I wanted to get at him, I would not go for this boy. Again, why kill him in a hospital where anyone could walk in on you?” Isaac queried.
“How about his mother? Does she have a scorned lover? Is it possible someone killed the boy so she would not have any impediment in carrying on a relationship with him or her?” Garba asked.
“Him or her?”
“Yes, sir. These days, sexuality is whatever people make of it.”
“We are really in the last days.”
“I suggest we regroup in the morning. After interrogating the staff who are on the morning shift, we should head to the house of his mother and get more information.”
“Good idea. 9am sharp, let us all be gathered here. Is that clear?” Isaac ordered.
“Yes, sir!” they chorused.
Each of them saluted smartly as they got into the car. The Sargent drove while the rest began to compile their findings on their mobile devices. Isaac always insisted on paperwork so they had learned to type on their phones and then print them out when they found an opportunity. He saved all evidence and reports of their investigations both on paper and electronically. That way, they always had their bases covered.
Jeff and Bobby arrived the station at 6.30 am. Over the phone, Veronica had narrated the events of that morning to them. They were most anxious to obtain her release but she was calm, unperturbed. Jeff actually wondered if she was beginning to see it all as some sort of adventure. He was not amused. All he could think about was walking her out of that station and into his car. If God had any more lessons to teach her, he could as well teach her while she was safe in her own house. He had had enough. Bobby was on the phone with his parents. They had been unable to reach Veronica at night but he reasssured them that all was well as an officer in their corner was assigned to watch over her.
At the station, they alighted with the breakfast they had bought; enough to feed as many as 20 people. Veronica had also suggested that they buy toiletries, provisions and other essentials for the detainees and even the officers on duty. She felt so much compassion for them, despite their brash exteriors and just wanted them to experience the love of Christ. The officers, once they observed the package of goodies the 2 men were hauling inside, raised a hearty cheer.
“Chairman! Na you we know! Correct man!*”
Veronica rose as she saw Jeff and her brother. Kome stepped up to them to shake hands with them.
“You guys really went shopping, ” he marvelled.
“We had to wake up the manager of the hotel to give us access to their shop as it was so early, ” Bobby replied. “Good morning sir.”
“Good morning, Booby. ”
Jeff had handed the bag over to the most senior officer and after greeting Kome, walked over to Veronica, who greeted him with a warm hug. She had been allowed to leave the back of the counter to talk with her visitors. Besides, the gifts he brought had already conferred a special status on her. They would very likely turn a blind eye to anything except if she attempted to leave. Already, they had huddled around the bag, arguing loudly about who got what.
“How are you? You sound so strong? ” he asked Veronica.
“Last night, I feared you would cry till your blood pressure shot up.”
“Well, I have no intention of crying any more. This matter must end today. If it means going on national TV or on the blogs or crying out to the governor, I will be released today.”
“That’s the spirit. I have told God to assign us angelic help. We will soon see his hand.” Bobby approached.
“Ada, ke kwanu? (How are you?) ” he asked, hugging her solemnly. He was still wearing the clothes of the day before, as was Jeff.
“I am okay. It is well. I hope you slept well?” she asked, holding onto his hand.
“Forget that one. Bro. George said he called someone in the governor’s office who is trying to pull strings to get you released. I doubt mom and dad got any sleep. Let me call them so they can speak to you.”
He brought out his phone and dialled their number. While waiting for an answer he asked her, “What of the DPO?”
“Hello, dad, speak to Ada,” he said as he heard his dad say hello.
Veronica accepted the phone he had passed to her and held it to her ear.
“Daddy, good morning, ” she said.
“Ada di mma!” he hailed her. “Doc mu! How are you?”
“Fine, dad.” She smiled.
“Don’t worry about a thing. It is the fruit-laden tree that people throw sticks and stones at. I want you to be calm, okay? You will not go to jail for a crime you did not commit”
“Have you eaten?”
“I will soon eat. Bobby brought food for me.”
“That is good. He should tell his boss he will not come to work today, after all, they are not paying him. He needs to be close so he can help
“Be kind to those officers, okay? Don’t argue with them or exchange words. Treat them like we treated that our former landlord who used to ask you kids to fetch water for his wife.”
“Dede Nwamkpi? I remember! O dad, you are so funny!” she tried to stifle a laugh.
Dede Nwamkpi had been their landlord when they were children. He demanded that they fetch water every morning for his wife who had a small restaurant in front of their house. They lived in the only other two-bedroom and palour apartment besides his, of six one-bedroom and palour apartments. His second wife was heavily pregnant with her first child after losing so many. The children refused at first to fetch the water but their dad made them fetch it without grumbling for 1 week.
One day, he took a bottle of gin to the landlord’s house and after they had shared a drink, he proceeded to tell him his mission.
“Dede, I came to thank you for making my stay here such a pleasure for three years. You know my rent is due in four months. Now that my children are working for your wife, I want us to discuss terms. I realise you intend to subract the cost of their labour from my rent and I came to thank you for such a thoughtful idea. God bless you,” he said solemnly, bowing slightly.
Dede Nwamkpi was furious. “When did I say such a thing? “
“You didn’t need to say it. I already know what a kind man you are. That can be the only reason you denied those boys who fetch water for a living the opportunity, only to employ my children who are in school. God will reward you for me,” he said with a straight face.
“Mr. Metu, is that why you brought this gin? Please take it before you subtract the cost from your rent. Let your children not fetch water for me anymore. It is okay,” the man barked, rising to cork the bottle angrily.
“You can keep the drink,” Mr. Metu stretched out a hand to stop him. “Since you insist, I will tell them to stop running errands for you. Ka chi fo ( goodnight).”
“Ka chi fo,” the man spat. He had already headed to the door, so he held it open, motioning for Mr. Metu to leave.
“I hope we are not quarrelling? You know I am your best tenant. I have never owed you a dime and I keep the compond clean.”
“We are not quarrelling. Just go. I want to sleep,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
Mr. Metu adjusted his trousers and left.When he got home, he informed his family what he had done. They were elated, especially his wife who it pained the most to see her children slugging buckets of water to fill another woman’s drum. She had nagged and nagged for him to intervene but he bid his time. Veronica never forgot that story and the lessons he taught them from it. You do not confront a more powerful opponent on his own terms.
After reminiscing, she asked of her mom. He told her she had left at 5am ffor the prayer mountain. She planned to spend the day there.