15 May Thomas robs a bank in Lagos
On the night of the results of the elections, Thomas decided to enjoy the commentaries at a local bar.
“The gubernatorial contest between Aditti Lawrence and Tunji Taylor is still too close to call.”
All of the patrons in the local pub focused their attention on the television that was mounted on the wall over the bar as the newscaster read from his teleprompter. There were many also-rans in the elections, but the newscaster did not bother to give them much attention.
Thomas clutched his whisky glass and reflected on the many incidents that had heralded the elections. As Kenny later told him, the bus stop attack, for which he still wore a plaster on his forehead, was master-minded by Aditti’s camp. He wondered how a university professor could be so ruthless, but again, he remembered that politics was the name of the game.
The rape allegation against Tunji Taylor never made it to press, however, there was a buzz at the bar concerning the circumstances surrounding the death of the journalist from The Eye. Reports in the media regarding the neighbourhood fire said that the police had labelled the blaze as “suspicious”. Rumblings on the street and in the pubs were filled with conspiracy theories, most of them rooted in political motives, with no particular candidate receiving the majority of the blame.
“I’ll bet Aditti had that reporter wiped out,” Thomas heard a man say. “The Eye has been exposing him for exactly what he is — a rich man’s tool. I guess if you’re rich enough, or if you have enough rich friends, you can buy anyone’s death.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor was the culprit behind the fire,” another man said. “He always seemed a little shady to me. Sure, he talked a good game, but don’t they all? There’s something about that guy that I just don’t trust.”
“I don’t trust any of them,” a woman blurted. “They all just say what they think voters want to hear, and then once they get into office, they do whatever the hell they want.”
There were several occasions in the days leading up to the election when Thomas was tempted to jump into these kinds of debates and rally to Taylor’s defence, but in the end he knew that was a complete waste of his time and energy. People who were this steadfast in their beliefs were not about to be swayed by the mere words of a stranger in a pub.
Now, as the election returns trickled in, Thomas watched the numbers, wondering if those rumblings would have any effect at the ballot box.
Thomas remained at the pub, staring at the TV screen and waiting for the final result. He would not be able to sleep until he had the answer, whatever it was.
That answer finally arrived at 11 pm.
“We are now officially projecting Tunji Taylor as the winner of the gubernatorial election in Lagos,” came the announcement.
Thomas and the rest of the crowd still gathered at the pub at that hour burst into a loud, robust cheer. He reached over and high-fived a few of his drinking partners, thrilled to see them so excited by the results.
In celebration of the working man’s victory, the pub-owner gave the remaining patrons a free round of drinks. Thomas threw back his shot of whisky and pumped his fist in the air. Deep down, he wanted to shout at the top of his lungs that he had been the one who had written the words that made so many people fall madly in love with Tunji Taylor. He didn’t bother taking the credit, or at least attempting to. Most of the folks in the pub would not have believed him, and the ones who might have were too drunk to care. Instead, he gave himself a silent pat on the back and joined in triumphant celebration with the others.
á á á á á
The revelry had already started in the SPR by the time Thomas arrived for the meeting that morning. The men were yelling, singing, and dancing as they passed several flasks of alcohol around the room. The noise assaulted Thomas’s ears like a series of high-pitched ambulance sirens. The last time he had awoken with such an intense hangover was during his freshman year at the university.
At that moment, Thomas was reminded of all the painful reasons why he had pledged to never drink so much of that stuff again. His arms and legs felt as if they were made of concrete, and the vicious pain in his forehead made him wonder whether someone hadn’t jammed a dagger into his frontal lobe. He suddenly realised that his big mistake was going to bed at five o’clock that morning. He would’ve been better equipped to participate in the meeting at seven o’clock if he had just stayed awake.
Jimmy passed a flask to Thomas as he staggered down the stairs. Thomas was more than happy to take a drink, desperately hoping it would ease his pain.
“Good morning, team!” Kenny bellowed as he bounded into the basement.
Thomas winced in pain. He couldn’t tell if Kenny had shouted louder than usual or if his own hung-over state just made it seem that way.
Kenny dropped his satchel on the table. The small thud it made hit Thomas’s eardrums like a blast of thunder.
“As you clearly have heard,” he began, “our efforts to help put TNP candidate Tunji Taylor in the governor’s office were successful.”
The cheers from the men rattled Thomas’s tired brain.
“I was going to say that I think a little celebration may be in order,” Kenny went on, “but it seems you have already started without me.”
“Be that as it may,” Kenny rambled on, “I have brought something more to the party.” He opened up his satchel, pulled out a pile of plastic bags, and tossed them around the room. “Here, Thomas,” he said as he handed him a bag. “Have you ever gotten off on some nice primo hemp?”
Thomas studied the grass in the plastic bag. “Actually, no,” he replied. “It was probably the one thing I didn’t try at the university, but I saw my colleagues get high on it.”
It did not take long for the room to become clouded with thick smoke. Thomas took a deep drag from a joint and felt the herb travel through his body. A moment later, he had completely forgotten all about his hangover.
Some of the biggest and burliest men Thomas had ever seen quickly became so consumed with the hemp that they giggled like little schoolgirls. At first, Thomas could not understand what they thought was so damn funny, but a few drags later, he too was laughing uncontrollably, although he had no idea why.
He reached over and slapped Kenny on the back, something he never would have done had he been sober. “Hey, Boss!” he exclaimed through a cackle. “This is the best payoff you’ve given us yet!”
“Glad you’re enjoying it,” Kenny said as he took a drag for himself.
“You don’t have to worry about things like mobiles anymore,” Thomas babbled. “The next time I write a history-making speech, feel free to compensate me in hemp.”
Kenny draped his large arm around Thomas’s shoulder. To Thomas, it felt as if someone had flung a fire hose around his neck.
“We won’t need any of your fiery speeches for quite awhile,” the Boss told him, “at least not until the next election season rolls around. We’ll have to find a use for your talent for words in the new season’s line of work.”
Thomas took another drag off a joint and passed it on to whoever happened to stagger by. “What’s up for the new season?” he wondered.
Kenny let out a loud burst of laughter. “Robbery, Word Man!”
á á á á á
“C’mon, Thomas, he couldn’t have been serious.”
Nancy sat on her sofa and ran her hand through her long, flowing hair.
Thomas paced around her apartment, too nervous to sit still. “That’s what I thought at first,” he muttered. “I thought he was joking around, or maybe I was just too stoned to understand him correctly. That’s why I went back to talk to him this morning. I figured I was finally clear-headed enough to comprehend what he meant. And now I do and I wish I didn’t.” He stopped pacing just long enough to blow out a long, uneasy sigh. “Nancy, in the last few months, I have done things that I never pictured myself doing, but I never thought for one split second that I’d ever help rob. That’s insane! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
Nancy motioned for him to sit next to her on the sofa. “Can’t you just tell Kenny that you don’t want to be a part of this?”
Thomas shuffled over to the sofa and collapsed down next to Nancy. “It’s not that simple,” he groaned. “I live in Kenny’s flat and he doesn’t charge me rent. He pays my wages, which have been quite lucrative in recent weeks, and he’s basically taken me under his wing. If that isn’t enough, he literally saved my life. He deliberately disobeyed Chief Adekunle’s order to kill me after I left his estate just so he could give me a chance to survive in Lagos. I may not owe him everything, but I obviously owe him something.”
Nancy slipped around behind him on the sofa and began massaging his shoulders. “You don’t owe him your freedom, Thomas,” she maintained. “If you start robbing banks or other tightly guarded places, you’re liable to get thrown into prison for the rest of your life — that is, assuming you come away with your life. There is also a good chance that you’ll die in a hail of bullets.”
Thomas closed his eyes and leaned back into Nancy’s soothing hands. He recalled the single night he had spent in that jail cell on his first day in Lagos. It had been terrifying and humiliating, an experience he was not the least bit eager to revisit. He knew that if he were to find himself locked up one more time, he would never survive it. If he wasn’t beaten to death by the other inmates, he would probably get gunned down by the guards. If neither of those things happened, and he was forced to spend years, if not decades, behind bars, he would surely succumb to suicide.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to get out of this,” he said with a slight cry in his voice. “I thought maybe I would just take off, vanish into the woodwork, but Kenny has too many connections. I could travel to the other side of the planet and he would eventually catch up with me. Besides, I really do like the guy. He’s the only real dependable friend I’ve had in Lagos since Mani was murdered.”
Nancy gave him a playful shove from behind. “What about me?” she cried. “Am I just a nice piece of ass?”
Thomas laughed. “You are not just a nice piece of ass,” he teased.
She shoved him again. He reached back over his head and caught hold of her arms. He pulled them forward over his shoulders and she happily embraced him.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I find this city beguiling, I can feel its vibrancy coursing through my veins. I don’t know whether I could leave even if I had to.”
Nancy looked at him aghast. “Thomas, do I need to remind you of what has happened since you’ve arrived? You have been mugged, beaten, and thrown into prison. Your friend was murdered and I had to pick out shards of glass from your head after a mob fight in the street.”
“I know, I know,” he protested, involuntarily rubbing his head. “But it makes me feel alive, Nancy. It’s drawing me into its clutches. I once thought that Lagos was inhabited by the dead souls of spirits but it’s different now. It’s as if the souls of people inhabit the city before they have died. You can feel it in the air and the buzzing conversation as you walk through the streets. Don’t you feel it, Nancy?”
“All I can feel at the moment is your hand moving up my thigh,” she countered. “I know what you mean though, and let’s face it: if it wasn’t for the fact that we are both still here, we wouldn’t have met again. I suppose we at least have that to thank Lagos for.”
They both sat silent, momentarily lost in their own thoughts about how this living, breathing city could manipulate the lives of all those that it touched. After a short pause, Nancy brought them back to the quandary that now faced Thomas.
“Perhaps if you found a way to pay off your debt to Kenny, he would be perfectly willing to shake your hand and call the deal even,” she suggested.
“How can I repay him for not killing me?”
“Let’s not get that heavy just yet,” Nancy responded. “Start with the little things. First off, you should thank him for the use of the flat and immediately move out.”
Thomas winced. “Where am I supposed to live?” he asked.
Nancy let out an irritated sigh. “Isn’t my apartment good enough for you, Mr. Gubernatorial Candidate Speech Writer?”
“You’d let me move in with you?”
Nancy laughed. “Why are you so surprised? Besides, you’ve been here almost every night since we reconnected at the club. You practically live here anyway.”
Thomas leered playfully. “How much would you charge for rent?” he taunted.
She gave his shoulders a tight squeeze. “I work on the barter system,” she said. “You can live here rent free as long as you remain my friend.”
Thomas shrugged. “I guess I could do that,” he remarked. “Then again, as long as I’m here, I should be the one and only one, if you know what I mean.”
She kissed the top of his head. “I like the sound of that,” she agreed, “but I suggest you either convince Kenny not to send you on any illegal missions or you find yourself a law-abiding gig. Otherwise, we might go hungry.”
He turned around and kissed her sensuous lips. “I will never let that happen.”
á á á á á
“I think you worry too much, Word Man.” Kenny was busy studying blueprints for a building that housed a bank on the other side of town. He took an intermittent sip of coffee, but he never looked up as Thomas anxiously paced around the SPR.
“Don’t you remember how messed up I was the night we met in jail?” Thomas pressed. “You were the one who said my hands were too soft to belong to a criminal.”
Kenny pushed his chair back away from the table and stood up. “Chill out, will you, Thomas?” he griped. “Yes, we do have a bank job scheduled, and yes, it will involve some serious firepower, but there is no reason to lose your mind over it.”
Thomas threw his hands up in the air. “I can think of several reasons,” he exclaimed. “They include flying bullets and prison terms. I’m allergic to violence, Kenny. I come out in cuts and bruises.”
Kenny laughed. “How stoned were you at the last meeting?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“You seem to have missed some important details of the job.” Kenny blocked Thomas’s path as he tried to pace another lap around the table. “We don’t do this on our own, you know,” he explained. “That would be foolish. Do you think I’m a fool?”
Thomas was afraid to respond to that question. He was too consumed with the bank robbing part of the story to make sense out of anything else Kenny was saying.
“I told you, we work for the people who pay us,” the Boss pressed onward. “For this job, some rich dudes have commissioned us to knock over a bank. They are facilitating this one.”
“Which people?” Thomas asked
“You don’t need to know,” Kenny replied. “Trust me on this, Thomas. The less you know about these things, the safer it is for you if something goes wrong.”
Thomas felt his stomach tighten.
“But nothing will go wrong,” Kenny insisted, “because it can’t. Even if we were to get caught, the charges are guaranteed to be dismissed.”
“How do you know?”
“Because powerful people will arrange it.”
“What if the prosecutor doesn’t go for that?”
“Prosecutors belong to the group! It’s like a cult.”
Thomas was at a complete loss for words. Kenny reached over and clapped his large hand on Thomas’s shoulder.
“You really need to step back and let me handle this, Thomas,” he said quietly. “I understand why you’re nervous, but you don’t understand the extent of my connections. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, have I?”
Thomas drew in a deep breath, exhaled, and shook his head.
“Just do what you’re told,” Kenny maintained. “You’ll be surprised how easy it is.”
Thomas tried to hide his real feelings as he left, but the Boss noticed he was not happy. He called Thomas back. “Word Man, you know you can’t kid me,” he told him plainly.
“Why do you say that, Boss?” Thomas asked and sat down to ensure he understood his dangerous boss, who had once spared his life.
“You are not a happy man,” Kenny stood up. “Get a cup from the shelf over there and take some coffee with me, while I explain something to you.”
Relieved Thomas served himself the black stuff and tuned in his ears.
“You see Teacher, when people make a song and dance over an increase in the crime rate immediately after major elections, they make me mad,” Kenny said, his eyes still on the paper he was studying. “You have your coffee now?”
Kenny raised his head up and shot his red eyes at Thomas. “You university people are the analysts.” He paused to sip at his coffee. “There is a strong correlation between crime during elections and immediate post-election crime.”
“Why is that?”
“I thought you were the analyst. I will not try to be one, but I would like you to say I am correct or not when I make a point. I’m going to make many of them.”
Kenny sprang to his feet and paced the room.
“Word Man, you are from a poor background.”
“You have been used by politicians,” he counted on his fingers. “You caused public disorder, you have killed…”
“Incorrect, Boss,” Thomas protested, shaking his head.
“You belong to a team that has killed and fought for politicians.”
“You risked your life in all these.”
“The kids or relations of the politicians and rich men did not participate in all this.”
“They love you so much they will take care of you after the elections.”
“Why?” Kenny sat down and poured himself coffee. “All or most of their kids are safe overseas. Nobody who loves you would use you as a thug. They use you for their political ambition, and once the elections are over, they don’t care a hoot about you.”
Thomas nodded pensively.
“You are dirty, a criminal, so they don’t want you to smear them. You may call it a use-and-dump exercise, but don’t forget they paid you to kill.”
“Oh no!” Thomas said impulsively, his face drawn. “But they said TT is a humble politician?”
“I don’t know too much about that. I don’t trust any people any more, and don’t forget that he may not have known all the dirty things your friend Chief Adekunle did for the party.”
“Your speech?” Kenny grinned. “Only an intelligent and experienced politician like Adekunle could have written that speech and he will take the praise when asked who was responsible for its creation.”
“Use-and-dump,” Thomas felt a rush of heat to his face.
“What they forget is that although they cut the means of livelihood of their musclemen and killers, we keep the guns they bought for us. So we use them to get what we want.” He clamped his eyes shut. “So why would some dumb policeman complain about an increase in crime after the election? It is that simple, Word Man; isn’t it?”
“Boss, life is not fair!” Thomas said and swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Only that in this case, you were paid for your services,” Kenny said flatly and stood up.
á á á á á
A gun blast in the crowded bank caused every single person in the building to jump out of his or her skin.
“Everybody on the ground!”
The sound of Sadoki’s harsh voice ringing through the air sent a chill down Thomas’s spine. He had been standing at a side-counter pretending to fill out a deposit slip. He was decked out in an expensive-looking, tailored three-piece suit, similar to the ones worn by the movers and shakers in upscale parts of Lagos. He had walked into the bank in Agege a few minutes prior to Sadoki’s planned arrival. The only attention he had received was from an attractive young woman who looked him up and down before batting her eyelashes to let him know that she liked what she saw. Thomas could not help but notice the woman flirting with him, but he was too nervous about the prospect of the upcoming events to care.
Sadoki stood in the centre of the bank in a hood. His steely eyes stared forward and his jaw was held tight as he pointed his automatic weapon up toward the ceiling. All of the bank customers immediately dropped down to the floor. A small child screamed, and her mother quickly clamped her hand over her mouth. The front door burst open and Kenny came storming in followed by three other strongmen, all in hoods. Jimmy, who was also dressed in sharp businessman’s threads, turned away from the counter on the other side of the room and pulled a pistol from his belt.
Thomas put on his hood quickly, reached down and clutched the weapon that Kenny had given him earlier that morning. He was reticent about brandishing a handgun. He had never even held one before, let alone discharged it. Yet, in the heat of the moment, Thomas had not forgotten his marching orders. He managed to keep his hand from shaking long enough to pull the gun from his waistband and wave it in the air, being careful not to point it directly at any of the innocent people who were ready to beg for their lives.
Kenny had also pulled out his gun, and while Sadoki made sure that the customers remained lying on the floor, he approached the counter and flung a large canvas bag at the two tellers. “You know what we want and you know what to do,” he stated firmly.
The women behind the counter nodded fearfully, and began stuffing the open bag with cash.
A middle-aged man wearing a business suit with a bank manager’s identification badge on his lapel held his hands up in the air. “You best get out of here immediately,” he said. “We’ve already triggered the alarm system and the police are on their way.”
Thomas saw Sadoki turn his nose up. He also saw Jimmy sniff haughtily. Jimmy had already disabled the alarm system when he snuck into the bank disguised as a maintenance man the previous afternoon. Everyone knew the manager was bluffing.
“Save your story for someone who cares,” Kenny shouted.
“I’m serious!” the manager yelled. “All of the roads will be blocked in every direction in a matter of minutes. Just leave now and we’ll forget what you look like.”
Sadoki let out a loud laugh, something Thomas didn’t even think he was capable of doing. Kenny flipped the manager an obscene gesture and turned back to the tellers.
“Hurry up with that, will you?” he ordered.
The women stuffed a final stack of bills into the bag and one of them shoved it back across the counter toward Kenny.
“We log the numbers on those bills!” the manager shouted. “If you try to spend them anywhere, you’ll be caught for sure.”
Kenny suddenly spun toward the man, his large arm levelled. “Now move to the strong room,” he shouted and handed the heavy bag of money to one of the muscle men.
“And what are you girls looking at?” Thomas yelled at the tellers. “Get out of there and lie face down!” He was surprised by the venom that he put into the instruction. He tried to reassure himself that it was because he wanted to ensure their safety and not because he was getting off on this.
Whatever the motive was, the two tellers obeyed him immediately.
Some three minutes later, Kenny and two of the team members carrying heavy bags led the manager out. The manager’s eyes had taken on a haunted look, but he was still talking. Still insisting that they wouldn’t get away with it.
“I told…,” he tried to say, but before he could add another word, a flash of light flew out of the barrel of Kenny’s gun. Thomas wanted to scream, but no sound came out of his mouth. He just stood frozen as the bank manager’s lifeless body dropped to the floor, a neat hole in the front of his head with the back of his skull shattered from where the bullet had exited.
Kenny inspected his weapon and sneered. “That’s what happens when you talk too much.”
As he was pulled away by Jimmy towards the front doors, Thomas noticed the policemen on guard had been shot dead, and the street in front of the bank was deserted.