07 Dec Peter Abel saves Commissioner from assassination
Peter Abel sat in Chief Benson’s office the next morning and finished recounting his misadventure the night before. Benson slid the results of the preliminary police report across his desk. Abel opened it and read quickly. The police found meagre evidence: some tracks from a very common brand of tyre and some footprints. Abel flipped through the photographs. There was nothing remarkable about anything, though one of the people who left a footprint was wearing a boot with a jagged crack through the heel. Abel wondered how it happened, but found he didn’t care. There wasn’t a lead in the folder anywhere.
“These people are pros, chief. I figured the police wouldn’t find any evidence.”
Benson nodded, concern written on his face. He got up and paced the room, a sure sign he was worried. “Listen, Peter, I’m assigning you a bodyguard.”
Abel glanced at him, incredulous. “I can’t work like that. You know me. I need room to move.”
Benson turned to his ace reporter. “This isn’t a conversation, Peter. It’s done. I’d arranged it, anyway, and now I know I was right.” With that, Benson pushed a buzzer on his desk and his secretary’s voice came over the intercom.
“We’re ready for Mr. Nigara.”
Abel stood up, furious. “I’m not walking around with some goon, chief. No way. You think I can get anything done parading a muscle head behind me? You might as well chain me to the desk and have me write obits. I could write my own. ‘Peter Abel’s career died today.’”
Benson laughed and slapped Abel on the back. “Calm down, my boy. Wait till you meet your new best friend.”
At that moment, the door opened and Billings Nigara entered. Abel gaped at the man, who couldn’t have been more than five-feet-two. He was skinny as a rail and young, very young. Maybe twenty-one. Maybe younger.
“Peter Abel. Billings Nigara. He comes highly recommended.”
“By who? His secondary school teacher? Can you even vote?” Abel asked.
Billings looked at Abel, eyes wide a grin on his face. “I could vote as of last year, boss. You gonna like me.”
Abel looked at Benson. “You can’t be serious.”
“Hey boss, I gonna protect you. No worries. None. You a big-time reporter, right? I read your stuff. Good shit.”
Abel shook his head. “Well, at least you have good taste. And I guess you won’t stand out. As a bodyguard, anyway.”
“I’m your new partner. Help you get the bad guys.”
“And if there’s trouble? I mean, what can you do?”
Billings opened his jacket, revealing a lethal looking baton hanging from a thin leather shoulder holster. He whipped out the baton, which was metal, then pushed some button on its side. The baton suddenly telescoped to twice the length. He manoeuvred it like a Samurai and smiled at Abel. “Let anyone try anything.”
Benson put a hand on the diminutive man’s shoulder. “He has worked in many sensitive places, Peter. Fought in the Liberia and Sierra Leone. He was on his way to the Ivory Coast, when my agent got him for me. Good thing is that he only fights for justice.”
“This man? Doing what?”
“You bet, boss.”
Abel stared at his new shadow. “You know, I think I believe you.”
Billings laughed, an innocent delighted laugh, which belied the truly lethal person he was. Abel began to relax. Somehow, he felt safer already.
“Okay, Peter. What’s the next step in this investigation?”
“I’m waiting for word on my London intelligence. Should be coming soon. In the meantime, I might take a trip back up to Limi. There’ve been demonstrations up there, student-led.”
“In that case, I’m doubly glad you have Billings.”
Billings smiled broadly at Abel, the little man apparently pleased he could be of service.
á á á á á
Issa sat glumly in his office watching Rika move into the ALA offices. He hated the woman whom he felt was making his boss unhappy. The ALA staff were unhappy and were often grumbling; but when the signpost “Office of the First Lady,” was erected that morning, Issa was convinced she had had her way.
á á á á á
Huud walked out of his office to find Rika approaching. “Is everything all right? You have what you need?”
“Once your staff gets my title right, things will be better.”
Just then, Huud’s intercom buzzed and Issa’s voice announced that Chairman Tiko was on the line. Huud turned and closed the door. Rika frowned, left out of this loop. She went to a vent on the wall adjoining Issa’s office to Huud’s. She put an ear to it, and listened.
On the other side of the wall, Huud sat at his desk, hearing disturbing news. “What do you mean Camp knows about the money? How could he? I mean, he might suspect, but there’s no evidence.”
Huud listened as Tiko spoke, tense. “I am telling you, he met with the reporter, Peter Abel. And my people inside his ministry tell me he’s asked for access to personnel files.”
“He wasn’t specific, but I can guess.”
“The names on the London leases?”
“We have to stall him, get around this. If he starts uncovering things …”
“We were very careful. The point is … his little act at the conference was exactly what I said. An act. Don’t be fooled, governor. This man is our enemy. We need to discuss a replacement.”
This shocked Huud. How were they going to get rid of Camp? “I don’t see how we can replace him without raising questions. It’ s better to keep him close so we can control him.”
“Let me take care of how we get him out of office. You be thinking about someone to bring in. Someone less idealistic. This choice was a disaster.”
“Camp was the best man for the job,” Huud said defensively.
“Apparently not.” Tiko hung up.
á á á á á
Outside Huud’s office, Rika stepped away from the vent. She had heard only her husband’s side of the conversation. But it was enough. She knew now that Tiko and Huud and maybe others had stolen money and were scrambling to cover the crime. She knocked on Huud’s door, then opened it and entered.
Huud looked up, obviously preoccupied. Rika locked the door and turned to him. “You look upset, Gorem. Anything wrong?”
“Just the usual politics.”
Rika walked toward him and began to disrobe. “I have just the thing to relieve tension.”
Huud smiled at his wife, but it was about as genuine as Issa’s smile had been. One of the worst things about having her in an office next to his was the duties he would have to perform at her whim.
As she pulled him toward the couch, Huud wondered if there might not be some goodwill trip he could send her on – say for the rest of his term in office.
á á á á á
Somewhere on the outskirts of Bammakk City, in a rundown quarter of one of the poorest districts, Tiko made his way through a back alley. He had arranged to meet the killer here to avoid any connection with him now that they were going forward with the plan to eliminate Camp. He didn’t want Jonas seen in his office or near his home right. It might raise questions.
Tiko came to a run-down beer bar, the walls painted a sickly green, a few rickety chairs in evidence placed around two old tables with oil chequered table clothes. A young girl of about eleven stood behind the bar. On shelves nearby were the meagre offerings of local white gin, bottled beer, orange soda, Coke, and a few old candy bars.
The girl cut a sausage into pieces and placed the pieces on a day-old roll. She topped the reddish-coloured meat with a very hot pepper. Jonas sat at a table, a beer in front of him. He watched the girl make her sandwich and asked for one. But she shook her head. “We don’t sell no sausage here. Just drinks and candy.”
“You’d do better if you sold food. I’ll buy that sandwich from you.”
The girl shook her head. “My lunch.” She bit into the sandwich and smiled at him. Jonas gave her a malevolent stare, and if Tiko hadn’t entered at that moment, Jonas might well have gone over and taken the sausage by force. He hated kids, anyway, smart-alecky and stupid and selfish. This girl needed a lesson. Jonas wondered if she was a virgin. He knew she was running the shop alone, and if he got her in the back, there was no stopping him. He began to grow aroused. But then Tiko was standing a few feet away. The girl had no idea how lucky she had been. There still might be time for her later.
Tiko smiled at the girl. “A beer, my daughter.”
The girl put down her sandwich, sullenly opened a bottle and put it on the counter. One of the many things you didn’t get here was good service, which Jonas took note of – another reason to teach her a lesson.
Tiko brought the bottle to the table and sat down. He slid an envelope stuffed with money across to Jonas who picked it up without comment.
“When and where?” Jonas asked.
“Tonight. He will be driving home from a late meeting at the Ministry of Finance. I have requested his presence and seen to it he presents his material last. That will keep him there until close to midnight. These meetings are interminable.”
“Same as you were going to do with the reporter. But we have gotten you a pick-up truck. Engine number filed off. Untraceable. He drives a small sedan. A Volkswagen. If you ram the driver’s side, it should do the job. Prints on the vehicle will point to a convicted felon as the driver. He will have fled the scene. And will be found in a few days drowned.”
“A completely accidental death.”
“That’s the idea.”
Tiko gave him the key to the truck and told him where to pick it up and what time. As far as Tiko was concerned this would be Camp’s last day on earth. He got up and left the bar.
Jonas looked over at the girl, now alone with him in the shop. He got up and approached the counter. She looked up at him and a concerned look came over her face. That was good. It aroused him again.
“Sorry about your eye, mister,” she said with such genuine empathy that Jonas was taken aback, and he felt her words drain his erection. She wasn’t afraid of him. She felt sorry for him. He liked his victims cowering in fear. He easily could have raped her when he thought she was a lazy brat, deserving of such treatment. But now that he’d seen another side to her, he didn’t want to see her hurt.
“You be careful, young lady,” he said, thinking how close she had come to brutality.
Then he turned and left the shop.
á á á á á
Idi Camp spent several hours that afternoon hunting through the personnel database of the Ministry of Agriculture. He found sketchy files on five of the seven men on Abel’s list. They worked in places far from Bammak City. They would be hard to interview, but Camp saw no reason Abel couldn’t track them down once he got him their particulars. Camp didn’t risk printing anything out. Instead, he carefully transcribed in code the job descriptions and locations of each man.
As Camp did this work, he noted that none of the men was remarkable in the least. They had all been with the ministry for several years, never gotten a promotion or a raise. He found this peculiar, but he reasoned that if they were being compensated for fronting the purchase of London mansions, then perhaps they didn’t need the normal pay raises.
Camp glanced at the clock and hurried. Tiko had requested he make a summary presentation at the Ministry of Finance that night. It was an annoyance and completely unnecessary, but then most of what Tiko asked for was. The man was a political animal and had his own agenda, which remained a mystery to Camp.
á á á á á
Late that night, Idi Camp, exhausted from the seemingly endless budget meeting, left the Ministry of Finance and climbed into his old Volkswagen. It was a long drive home and he couldn’t wait to feel the comfort of his own bed. It was Wednesday, and for some reason Theodora had the sheets changed midweek. They would be crisp and smell of flowers from the detergent Theodora insisted their housekeeper use.
As he was about to leave the parking lot, he was cut off by a car he didn’t recognize. It was a green Land Rover. At first he was frightened, but then he saw the driver emerge. It was Peter Abel. He approached Camp’s car.
“Abel, what the devil are you doing all the way from Lagos? People might see us.”
“From what I’ve heard they already know we’re talking. Did you hear about my little misadventure some nights ago?” Camp nodded. Indeed, he had.
“I meant to call and find out how you’re feeling.”
“I’m feeling fine.” As Abel responded, Billings approached, the inevitable smile on his face. Camp stared at him. “Who’s this?”
“Billings. He’s going to drive your car. I’m taking you home.”
“You sure I’m not safer by myself?”
Abel shook his head and laughed. “I know what you mean, sir. But after that attack, they won’t be coming again so soon. Since they know about us, you might be a target.”
Camp, too weary to argue, climbed into Abel’s car and they drove off. Billings got behind the wheel of Camp’s Volkswagen and headed the opposite direction.
A few kilometres later, he stopped at a traffic light, his face clearly exposed. A car pulled up beside him and a man looked over. He registered surprise, but turned away before Billings noticed. Billings drove on. The car pulled into traffic behind him. The man in the tailing car was already on his cell phone.
“It’s not Camp. Someone else is driving the target’s car.”
Jonas, sitting up the road a few kilometres in a dark coloured pick-up, cursed. “Maybe Camp’s in the back.”
“No. The man’s alone. What should I do?”
Jonas thought a second. Killing someone else in Camp’s car was no good. “Abort.”
á á á á á
Idi Camp crawled into bed next to his sleeping wife. Outside, Billings parked the Volkswagen and joined Abel in his car. He smiled at the reporter.
“You do good stories. I always read you, boss.”
“Maybe I give all this up and become a reporter, too. The pen mightier than the sword. Right?”
“That’s what they say.”
As they drove off, Billings removed his baton and slapped it into the palm of his hand. “Yeah, maybe I do that. Kill with the pen. But I tell you, boss, sometimes, it’s nice to have a sword.”
And after his experience that night, Abel knew exactly what the young man meant.