27 Mar Thomas sinks deeper into Lagos Underworld
“Nice digs. I guess you don’t have any trouble paying the rent.”
Kenny laughed as Thomas’s eyes scanned the comfortably furnished flat. “I don’t pay rent,” he replied. “I collect it.”
Thomas turned around quickly in surprise. “For real?” he asked. “You’re a landlord?”
Kenny reached into his refrigerator and pulled out two bottles of beer. “I have four flats here in Apapa,” he told him, “this one, as well as three others that I rent out.” He handed Thomas a beer. “One flat has a long-term tenant, a sweet little old lady, who not only pays me on the first of the month without fail, but also invites me over for a home-cooked meal.”
Thomas took a swig of his beer, his first in many months. “I guess she wants to make sure she stays on your good side,” he said.
“A loaded bank account and a full belly make for a very happy landlord,” Kenny assured him.
“What about the other two flats?”
Kenny sucked in a mouthful of beer and let the cold brew slither down his throat. “Vagrants,” he answered. “Some stay a few days and others stay a few weeks.”
“It must be annoying to have to constantly seek new tenants,” Thomas said.
Kenny shrugged. “It’s actually not too bad here in Apapa,” he said. “I hang up a sign in the window saying that the place is available and they come to me. If that doesn’t fill it quickly enough, I get agents to spread the word around. People are always passing through and they usually have money to spend.”
“They’d better have money,” Thomas said. “I’d hate to have all seven feet of you chasing me down for rent payments.”
Kenny smiled. “I have people who take care of that for me,” he said flatly.
Thomas took another gulp of his beer. He had been joking, but clearly Kenny was not.
“I’ll have no difficulty filling my flats for quite a while,” Kenny explained. “We’re about to enter an extremely busy political season, and people from all over the country will be venturing to Lagos, either to take part in the victory or to rot in the carnage. There will be no innocent bystanders.”
Kenny motioned for Thomas to sit down, and Thomas made himself comfortable on the sofa.
“Are you directly involved in the fray?” Thomas wondered.
“Of course,” Kenny replied. “How could I possibly resist such a battle of wills?”
Thomas was intrigued. He had many questions, but he wasn’t so sure he actually wanted to know all of the answers. He had acquired absolutely no worthwhile political knowledge during his time working for the Adekunles, yet he did manage to learn that a little too much information can be a dangerous thing.
“The politicians will be campaigning throughout the city,” Kenny said. “They travel to the wealthy places to raise funds and then they trek to the poor places to pander for votes. Politics is a combat sport, Thomas. Did you know that?”
Thomas shrugged. “To be honest, I never really thought about it,” he responded. “I just knew it was a world that I had no desire to enter.”
Kenny snickered. “I guess you’re not one to live dangerously.”
“Are you?” Thomas asked.
“It has its addictive qualities.”
Thomas nodded. He understood how some people were maniacally drawn to the core of the fire. He suspected that the adrenaline rush was just as powerful as a high-potent narcotic, perhaps even more so. “How do you fit into all of this?”
Kenny threw back his last swallow of beer and set the empty bottle on the table. “Even the most honest politicians have enemies,” he began. “As such, they always have a need for bodyguards.”
Thomas chuckled. “Is there really such thing as an honest politician?” he asked.
Kenny shook his finger at him. “Don’t laugh,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many people enter the political arena with perfectly selfless and virtuous intentions. They want to feed the poor, house the homeless, and cure the sick. Some have worked in poverty-stricken communities with various humanitarian organisations. They think that they can change the world by having a voice in the government.”
“That sounds wonderfully altruistic.”
“Yes,” Kenny confirmed, “but it is also naïve, and in some cases, downright stupid. The system was never intended to serve anyone other than those who control it.”
Thomas sat back and pondered that statement. “I admit that I don’t completely trust politicians,” he said, “but I can’t bring myself to be that cynical. Are you saying that no one can succeed in Nigerian politics by putting the people’s needs before their own?”
“No,” Kenny said emphatically. “I’m saying that no one can succeed in politics in any country if they put the needs of the have-nots before the whims of the haves, or more accurately, the have-mores.” Kenny kicked his legs up onto the coffee table. “Listen, Thomas,” he continued, “I happen to love the altruistic political animals even more than the others. Not only do they have their fingers on the pulse of the people, they need me more than anyone else.”
Thomas blinked and shook his head. “I don’t follow.”
Kenny folded his arms across his chest. “Think about it, Thomas,” he said. “What do Anwar Sadat, Bishop Romero, Stephen Biko, Martin Luther King, Junior, and Jesus Christ all have in common?”
Thomas thought hard. “I guess they were all altruistic,” he answered.
“They all strived for equality and peace.”
Thomas wracked his brain.
“I’ll give you a hint,” Kenny said. “How many of them lived to meet their grandchildren?”
Thomas sank back into the sofa. “They all died young,” he muttered.
“Died?” Kenny pressed further.
Thomas let out a tired sigh. “They were all murdered.”
Kenny gave Thomas a salute. “People who take up the cause of the poor and defenceless must face off directly against the rich and powerful,” he declared. “As a result, they tend not to live for very long.”
Thomas nodded. “Duly noted,” he agreed. “But what does that have to do with you?”
Kenny smirked. “These people need bodyguards more than the rest of the bunch,” he replied. “I protect them — for a fee, of course — until I cannot protect them any longer. And the fee is large because I hold their lives in my palm.” He clenched his fist.
Thomas winced. “That sounds ominous,” he said. “What exactly do you mean, or shouldn’t I ask?”
Kenny stood up, stretched his long arms over his head, and paced across the room. This very action reminded Thomas how huge and menacing the Boss was. “There are many men just like me making a living off the dangerous side of Nigerian politics, Thomas. We are not just paid to protect. We are also paid to alter perceptions and, when necessary, to alter outcomes.”
“We can draw crowds that can make a candidate seem more powerful and influential than he actually is,” he clarified. “We pay people to show up, cheer, and applaud, even if they don’t understand a single word the candidate is saying. We take photographs from the most advantageous angles and provide them to the media. We give journalists really good reasons to give the candidate positive media coverage.”
“You mean bribes,” Thomas suggested.
“Sometimes,” Kenny confirmed. “Then again, threats are less expensive and equally effective.”
Thomas furrowed his brow. “Is this the way you alter outcomes?” he asked.
Kenny nodded as he paced. “That’s one way,” he stated, “but in some cases, the only way to keep an opponent from beating your candidate is to make sure that he does not live to see Election Day.”
Thomas swallowed hard. He had no idea what he should say, so he chose to say nothing at all.
“Competition in the Nigerian political arena is quite fierce, good Teacher,” Kenny went on. “There are forty-two recognised political parties, all of them vying for power.”
“Forty-two?” Thomas gasped. “I can only name four or five.”
Kenny parked his large body on the sofa’s armrest. “Only five parties are considered serious contenders,” he explained. “They’re the ones with the funding and the resources to keep their heads perched up above the others. Which is why their candidates hold so many local, state, and federal offices, you know, chairmen, councillors, legislators. The more local offices a party can conquer, the better chance it has of reeling in the big fish — the governorships and the presidency.” Kenny flashed a big smile. “As I told you, there is a great deal of money to be made if you know where to look.”
Thomas let out an uncomfortable laugh. “To be honest, Kenny,” he said, “I’m not sure I really want to look in any of these places. I’m a mild-mannered teacher, remember?”
Kenny laughed. “Believe it or not, there is a place for someone like you in the midst of all this madness. There are jobs for the brains as well as jobs for the muscles. I think I’m a pretty smart guy, but I know that’s not why people hire me. I’m big. Everyone wants the big guy on their side of the playing field. It’s been that way for me ever since grammar school. I was always the biggest kid in the class, and when it came time to choose sides for football or rugby, everybody wanted me on their team. Nobody wanted to face off against me.”
“Even in those days?”
“There were times when I got tired of it, when I wanted to be seen as something more than a giant mass of human flesh. But then I reached a point where I used it to my advantage. I got a job in a gym and I started working out. I toned up my muscles and I started running to work up my endurance. Big guys get tired fast, you know. I met people at the gym who had experience working as personal security agents and guards. Some of these guys had travelled all over the world and collected many different skills. I badgered them until they taught me everything they knew, like Korean Hapkido takedown techniques, Japanese Shotokan Karate kicks and punches, Israeli Krav Maga military combat, Philipino Escrima stick fighting, and even Brazilian Jujitsu.”
Thomas’s eyes popped open. “Brazilian Jujitsu?” he gasped. “Doesn’t that involve rolling around on the ground and wrapping your legs around someone until you squeeze the life out of them?”
Kenny nodded. “That’s part of it,” he said. “Would you like a demonstration?”
“No!” Thomas answered quickly. “I don’t like the idea of a guy your size choking me like a python.”
Kenny reached over and swatted him on the arm. “Neither does anyone else,” he confirmed, “and that’s why my services are so much in demand. All of the political parties know about me and the team of bodyguards that I’ve trained. They all say the same thing: they want me on their side, and not their opponent’s.”
“I assume that’s what allows you to name your own price.”
“It’s even better than that,” Kenny corrected. “It allows me to auction my services off to the highest bidder. Thus, once I set my going rate, which gets higher each year, I sit back and wait for the better offers to come in.”
“And that’s why you can afford to buy four premier flats in Apapa,” Thomas surmised.
“As well as three very choice cars,” Kenny added.
Thomas looked around at the tastefully furnished apartment. “Nice work if you can get it,” he said.
Kenny stood up, stretched, and then dropped his large frame into an overstuffed chair. “It also has its downsides,” he groaned.
Thomas smirked. “I would imagine that whenever you tangle with the rich and powerful, there are plenty of downsides,” he said. “If there are forty-two parties out there vying for power, and you auction off your services to only one, you’ve just made forty-one powerful enemies.”
Kenny nodded emphatically. “That’s forty-one entities,” he clarified, “each one including hundreds of people.” He drew in a deep breath and blew it out in a loud huff. “Do you know why I spent that night in jail with you, Teacher?”
Thomas thought for a moment. “If I remember correctly, you said it had something to do with your father’s new wife, something about her wanting you out of the way.”
Kenny cocked his head to the side. “Sort of,” he said. “You know how crazy some women get about property. My father loved me because of my connections. I guess he got careless talking too much. She wanted me put out of business. ”
“Because of his inheritance?” Thomas offered.
“You’re catching on, Teacher.”
“So how did your father’s wife arrange for you to be arrested?”
Kenny grunted. “I made the mistake of telling my father that I was interested in buying a new car,” he began. “His wife overheard me. She apparently made a few phone calls. I was approached by a man who had a nice car for sale at a reasonable price. I bought it from him. I only drove it about four miles when I was pulled over by the police who said that the car had been reported stolen.”
“Was the car actually stolen?” Thomas wondered.
Kenny shrugged. “Who knows?” he answered. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I spent some lousy nights in the cell, but again my political associates got me out.”
Thomas laughed, although he didn’t know why. There was something bizarre and ridiculous about the whole situation.
“As I said, Thomas,” Kenny went on, “there is room for brains to go along with the brawn. You may be a little naïve, but otherwise, you’re a pretty sharp cat. Would you like to join my team?”
Just then a young lady walked in to serve dinner. Tall, curvy and wasp-waisted like Nancy, Thomas could not help but steal looks at her.
“Thomas, this is my babe, Veronica.” Kenny said, as if to ward his friend off. “Vero, Thomas is joining us.”
“Her beauty adds to my idea of your status in society.”
“Thank you,” Vero giggled.
“Let’s move over to the dining table. We can continue our discussion after food.”
á á á á á
“So tell me, would you like to join my team?”
Thomas was still unnerved by the offer. “This wouldn’t entail my having to perform Krav Maga or Jujitsu, would it?”
Kenny looked at him blankly. He did not want to dignify the silly question with a serious response.
“Well,” Thomas said cautiously, “what would I have to do?”
“Research,” Kenny stated. “You would collect information regarding our opponents, especially anything that could be used to completely derail their campaigns. You would track their movements around town and make note of their strategies.”
Thomas bit his lip, clearly intrigued. “How would I gain access to such information?”
Kenny smiled. “That’s the easy part,” he said. “We’ll provide you with as many press credentials as you need. All you have to do is put on a nice suit and ask intelligent questions. With this disguise, no one will think twice about you jotting down notes, sending e-mails, or taking photographs.”
As underhanded as the entire setup was, Thomas was surprised that it was the first job offer he had received since he’d been in Lagos that was actually based on his intellect. That in itself made it a temptation he found very difficult to resist. The possibility of earning a significant amount of cash made the deal even more enticing. Thomas did not picture himself sustaining a false identity or working in the political underbelly for a very long time, but perhaps he would not need to do so. By the time election season was over, he thought, he would have made enough money to travel to another part of the world. He could then try to find a job in Europe or even in Canada or the United States. The flipside was that the work was also dangerous and greatly unethical. Thomas was not sure he was ready to sacrifice his soul for the sake of making some quick cash.
The two men sat quietly for a moment. Thomas nervously bit his lip. Kenny tossed his head back and looked up at the ceiling.
“There’s one other thing I’m dying to know,” the Boss finally said through a sneer. “Did you or didn’t you?”
Thomas looked confused. “Did I or didn’t I… what?”
Kenny looked over at him and flashed a wry smile. “Did you or didn’t you bang Moji Adekunle?”
Thomas was completely startled by the question. “Are you crazy?”
Kenny smiled and locked his eyes on Thomas’s. “You didn’t answer the question.”
Thomas sat forward. “No, Kenny,” he stated sternly, “I did not bed Chief Adekunle’s wife.”
“Why not?” Kenny asked matter-of-factly. “She likes intelligent, but humble men.”
Thomas gulped. He struggled to find something to say, but nothing came out of his mouth.
“Why are you so surprised?” Kenny asked through a laugh. “The woman has needs, you know. Besides, she’s one of the most gorgeous women on the planet.”
“With one of the most powerful men in Nigeria as her husband,” Thomas pointed out.
“Like he cares,” Kenny scoffed. “The Adekunles have an unwritten professional arrangement. Surely she mentioned this to you.”
Thomas shrugged in an attempt to ward off the question.
“Of course she did, Thomas,” Kenny maintained. “That’s the important information with which you escaped the family compound.”
Thomas slumped back on the sofa. “I don’t understand.”
Kenny rolled his eyes. “Chief Adekunle knows that his wife put the moves on you,” he stated.
Thomas bit his lip and gulped.
“Do you know how he knows this?” Kenny pressed.
Thomas shook his head.
“Because she puts the moves on people like you who are handsome and are not likely to kiss and tell,” Kenny replied. “Chief Adekunle doesn’t care about that. He’s getting his groove on in Abuja. Politics is all about perception. It’s the art of selling people a product they will like. We sit here and laugh about all politicians being dishonest, as if it is something everyone already knows, yet when you ask people why they plan to vote for a certain candidate, they’ll tell you that they believe so-and-so is a man of integrity. The Adekunles’ marriage arrangement works for them personally, but it doesn’t work for them politically. For him to succeed in the political arena, they still have to sell themselves as this picture-perfect couple who are devoted to each other and to their children.”
Thomas remembered something and nodded his head. “She said that life is unfair.”
“You taught her that?” Kenny roared with laughter. “Seriously, the man she should have married would be handsome, humble and intelligent like you. But when the politician moved in with all his money and power, she was derailed. Today she regrets the choice because, as her friends told me, she has never had an orgasm with the Chief. The mere sight of you must have aroused her.
“If you had actually slept with Moji, you probably could have continued to work for the Adekunles with no problems, and even get rich,” Kenny continued. “But you left the house with the knowledge that the Adekunles are not the couple they make themselves out to be. You became a threat to Chief Adekunle’s political career — and violating that career is a much bigger crime than violating his wife. He was afraid you might sell your story to a newspaper or provide ammo to an opponent. That’s why he wanted me to take you out.”
Thomas dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t believe this,” he muttered. “Are you saying that I could’ve had an erotic night with that gorgeous woman without losing my job or my bunk in the servants’ quarters and find myself in a better situation than I’m in right now?”
“Probably, if you had been discreet.”
Thomas felt his heart sink. “Lagos!” he snapped.
Kenny waved him away. “You’re just new to the playing field.”
Thomas closed his eyes and winced.
“So?” Kenny asked.
“So what?” Thomas asked back.
“Will you join my team?”
Thomas blew out a long sigh. As much as he appreciated Kenny’s offer, this entire environment went against every aspect of his personal code of ethics. He shook his head in disgust. He then looked back up at Kenny. “Sure. Why not?”
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