19 Dec Abel in shock as Alice Murders Her Father
Abel drove his car at breakneck speed to Apapa. His thoughts raced back to the last encounter with Winston Udor, and Alice’s shock and anger at discovering she had a half-sister. He remembered the hard look in her eyes. It must have been at that moment that Alice decided to kill the man.
Arriving at the police station, he almost hit a police vehicle as he cranked the steering wheel toward the parking lot. He jumped out of the car so quickly that he only shut the driver’s side door halfway before he charged for the front door of the building.
“I’m Peter Abel”, he said through his panting to the officer at the front desk. “I need to see Alice Udor.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Sir”, the officer said.
“I’m from The Zodiac”, Abel said, not willing go give up. “It is very important that I see her immediately.”
“Miss Udor is currently being questioned”, the officer said.
“Does she have legal counsel present?” Abel said. “She’s only fifteen, sixteen.”
The officer held up his hand in gesture that told Abel to back off. “Yes, Sir, legal counsel is present”, he said. “As a matter of fact, the attorney was sent by The Zodiac.”
Abel stood back, completely amazed. The publisher hadn’t wasted any time. He was relieved. The newspaper’s legal team was one of the best in Nigeria. They would ensure that Alice’s rights would not be violated.
Even so, Abel wanted to hear the story directly from the girl.
He called his friend Fakorede, but it was of no use. Abel cut him off apologetically when he launched into a boastful reverie of arrests of people he had made over Tunde’s murder.
Winston Udor’s funeral took place at the Yaba cemetery, along the University of Lagos road. Abel decided to attend the service, not as a mourner, but as a researcher. He wondered what he could learn from those who came to see this man’s body forever given to the earth.
A minister stood next to the casket and read from the Scripture to the very small collection of mourners gathered around. Emily was present, a veil covering her face, and her head bowed slightly. Abel felt badly for the widow’s pain and relieved for her at the same time. The naïve young woman who would never know the life she and her child had just escaped. She didn’t realise how lucky she was to have a beautiful baby to rear in a healthy, happy and safe environment.
They acknowledged one another with curt nods. Her cool attitude toward Abel suggested Winston had made up lies about Abel’s motives, and no doubt coloured him as a ruthless, heartless reporter out to sensationalise stories without regard for the damage he did to innocent people.
The only thing Abel accomplished by attending Udor’s funeral was a certain morbid satisfaction in the man’s demise. He was seen out of this world by a very small collection of people, none of whom, except for Emily, appeared to be moved by his passing. In fact, Abel wondered if some of them had come just to make sure the villain was actually dead.
Abel hoped that when his time came, whoever attended his funeral would be more attentive than this group of people, who were clearly bored by the minister’s words. Perhaps it was because they so ill-fitted the occasion.
As he was driving back to his office, Abel’s cell phone rang. He looked down at the display and saw it was his boss. Abel put on his headset and answered the phone.
“Hi, Peter. How was the funeral service?”
“Quiet”, Abel said. “Small.”
“Maybe his friends and family couldn’t get the day off work”, the boss said.
“Good riddance”, Abel said. “So, what’s going on?”
“I’ve got some good news. Our legal department got you cleared to meet with Alice.”
Abel’s spirits immediately soared. “I’m going straight there”, he said.
“Good. Because I don’t know how long this sudden display of good will toward us will last. Legal had to arm-wrestle pretty hard.”
“I thought you and the Commissioner were such good buddies”, Abel said, teasing him.
“Just get over there, boy”, Benson said and hung up. Abel smiled at the exchange, then made a sharp turn toward the prison.
A uniformed officer escorted Abel to a dimly lit room at the end of a long, grey hallway. He took a seat at a table across from Alice, her chin up and her head held high. Her face showed no signs of shame or fear. Rather, she radiated a sense of defiance and confidence. As he sat there, Abel couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.
“You must remain on this side of the table”, the officer said. “No touching, and no note passing. You have a right to know that your conversation is being monitored, and we have a right to terminate your visit at our discretion.”
Abel nodded, and the officer stepped outside.
“Why did you do this, Alice?” Abel said sternly.
Alice’s face twisted into an expression of surprise. “You’re asking why?” she said. “You saw that innocent child! You know what he’d have done to her.”
Abel held out his hands, instructing her to lower her tone. “Of course. That’s not what I meant. But you could have saved that child without killing the man.”
“I could have worked to take your father down, get him put in jail to get him reformed, or something.”
Alice shook her head. “I didn’t want to wait.”
“So, this was revenge?”
Abel sighed. “I can understand why you would want vengeance on your father, but you’ve sacrificed your own future to do it. Alice, your father had stolen your childhood. Now he’s going to steal the rest of your life as well.”
Alice was unmoved. “He can no longer steal anything from me”, she said. “And now, he will not be able to harm my sister. When I looked at that child, I saw not only a baby, I saw my own flesh and blood.”
Abel was nervously conscious of the investigators who were watching them from the other side of the glass. They had heard every word Alice had just said, and they were certain to use those words against her.
“But what about you, Alice?” he wondered. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
She smiled broadly at him. “I won’t spend my life in prison”, she said as a matter of fact. “The truth is on my side.”
“Alice”, Abel said, “the truth is that you committed murder.”
“I will be vindicated”, she said confidently. “When your series appears in The Zodiac, the world will know what a brutal man my father was. They will learn he had another daughter who would suffer the same fate I did, and they will agree that I was justified in shooting him with his own gun.”
Abel felt a shock run through him. Was it possible Alice was using him? Using his paper to get off without serving any jail time?
“Alice, nobody sympathises with you more than I do, or wants to help you as much. But I don’t want to feel as if you’re using me. My job is to report and to enlighten.”
“No, Mr. Abel. When you came after me, your job became something else. It was to save me. And that is what you will do. I have every faith in you. And I think if you write the story honestly you will, indeed, save me. I am not asking for anything. Just tell my story. It is, after all, what you do.”
Abel understood the power of the press better than anyone, but he was not completely convinced that his words could save Alice from a prison sentence. Nor was he comfortable with the notion that maybe they could. The paper was not meant to replace a court of law.
Despite these misgivings, Alice was right. His job was to tell her story. If in doing so he saved her, so be it.
Before he could ask anything else, the uniformed officer stepped back into the room. “I’m sorry, Mr. Abel”, he said, “but I have been told your time is up.”
Abel nodded and rose from his chair, then turned toward Alice. “I will do everything I can”, he told her.
Alice looked back at him wearing a confident smile. “I am at peace with what I did, Mr. Abel. I know you will not fail me. You never have.”
Back at the office, Abel worked feverishly to compose an addendum to his series. He incorporated the story of Alice murdering her father, being at peace with herself, saving her new sister from a terrible fate. He described the horror and humiliation Alice had suffered at her father’s hands.
The more he worked at the series, the stronger he came to feel that Alice was right. She did what needed to be done. What she had to do.
Finally, as he saved his work to a computer disk, Abel said a silent prayer. “Dear God”, he thought, “do not let me fail Alice now.”
The boss read his pages as Abel paced the office, his nerves completely on edge. “I know it’s unusual, this crusading point of view. But I believe in her, Chief. Sending her to jail won’t help anyone, and it will deprive the world of a productive citizen. A nurse no less.”
Now that the piece was in Benson’s hands, Abel couldn’t help but feel defensive. It was one thing to write it, vent on the page; it was quite another to show it to the world. And as usual, once another set of eyes was gazing on his work, Abel became much less certain of its timeless brilliance.
Benson smiled at him. “Don’t worry, Peter. You’ve got The Zodiac behind you. We support what you’re doing. Our legal team is defending her, after all. We will press this issue until Alice is free.”
Abel nodded. “The truth is, the police are probably just as pleased Winston Udor is dead as Alice is.”
Benson nodded. “Of course they have to maintain a certain air of decorum. They don’t want people to think that women won’t be prosecuted if they shoot their fathers or husbands.”
Benson laid the pages down. “In the end, our legal people will have to make a case for her. Extreme emotional distress. Self-defence. But I think it’s a strong case. And with our series, public opinion will be in her favour. Of course everything is politics. No judge is going to preside over the persecution of a martyr. Nobody wants to play the role of Herod.”
“I hope you’re right, Boss”, Abel said. “I really hope you’re right.”
With the publication of Peter Abel’s series, Alice Udor instantly became one of the most famous women in Nigeria. Her story was picked up by other news media, and the police were overwhelmed with requests for interviews with Alice, as well as with the policemen who had arrested her and the counsel that would be prosecuting her. CNN reported the story on its Inside Africa programme. And thanks to the online edition of The Zodiac, Alice’s story travelled all over the world, and soon human rights organizations, international political figures and concerned world citizens publicly demanded that Alice Udor be exonerated. She was seen not as a killer but as a saviour and avenging angel.
The trial was short and conducted in a pro forma way. Alice was acquitted. The Zodiac photographers were there to capture the moment when she walked out of the courtroom, a free woman.
“I only have one thing to say”, Alice said to a large cluster of media microphones and tape recorders held in front of her face outside of the courtroom. “I wish to express my gratitude to the court that acquitted me and to the people all over the world who supported me. It is humbling to think so many cared so deeply.”
Alice paused, emotional and tearing up. “And I wish to extend my deepest thanks to Peter Abel and The Zodiac for making sure the world heard my story.”
Alice began to walk away when someone shouted “What will you do now, Ms. Udor?”
Alice turned and smiled, suddenly looking as young as her 16 years again.
“I’m going to spend time with my mother, then return to Canada to complete my nursing studies.”
“Will you ever come back to Nigeria?”
“Yes”, said, simply. “This is my home. I will be back to set up a branch of the Youth Justice International.”
With that, she stepped away from the microphones and walked to Peter Abel, who waited for her his car engine already running. As she got in the car, Abel drew her attention to an official of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, who was addressing journalists.
“…We have been following this case and we have decided to talk to Ms. Udor over a number of things later today”, he adjusted his tie. “In fact, we are going to offer her scholarship for the rest of her education in Canada and also rehabilitate her mother.”
At that, Abel turned to Alice with a broad smile. “I am happy for you, Alice”,
“It’s all to your credit, Mr. Abel” she said, and shut the door.
Abel drove her directly to the hospital.
When they entered, Mary Udor sat up in bed. Her face beamed when Alice entered the room.
“Oh, my beautiful daughter”, she said. “I knew you would be all right. Something told me that you would find the strength to pull through.”
Alice leaned over and gave her mother a warm embrace. She then glanced up at Abel, who remained in the doorway.
“Thank you, Mr. Abel”, she said. “The Zodiac driver will take me to your office later. Right now, I want to be alone with my mum.”
Abel nodded, and quietly walked down the hall.