Home Blog The Devil To Pay by Johnson Onyedikachi.

The Devil To Pay by Johnson Onyedikachi.

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I

August 13, 3AM.

Uwem pried her eyes open. The continuous blare of a horn grated on what was left of her nerves, and with an effort of will, she pulled herself off the steering wheel, the honking cutting off abruptly, and leaned against the headrest. Without care, she tried to sit up, but a stabbing pain shot through her left arm. The blood had sopped her sleeves and she wondered just how much she had lost, but even more than her bleeding arm, she had a stiff migraine and felt she was on the brink of retching her insides out.

More cautious now, she reached for a switch by the door, flicking it and the dome lights came on. She lifted her right arm, glanced at her watch, and found the time was 03.00hrs on the dot. In that moment, she felt coldly alone, her memory blank. She couldn’t make out where she was or what had happened to her, so she sat still for a while and it felt comfortable doing so in the brand new Ford Mustang Shelby. Her sensibilities were not far gone from her as they came home, limply at first and then, at quite a pace, in a matter of moments.

It was her Mustang after all, a gift she got herself earlier that day to celebrate her fortieth birthday which had been a week ago. She had felt she most certainly earned it, so taking that whooping sum from her savings for the sports car wasn’t such a waste of effort. The Mustang was another addition to her collection of SUV’s. She could remember vividly how bloggers had gone on and on about the car, shooting their mouths off on all sorts of means by which an investigative journalist could keep up with such expenses and when they were out of options, they resorted to crude pettiness — rumors about affairs with statesmen, musicians, or the like — but Uwem wasn’t in the least bothered. In fact, she enjoyed being the center of attraction.

She thought that was quite the society she lived in. Men worked so hard that they made something out of themselves and the women bunch too. Getting way up there in such a society, you were either a man pretending to be a woman, or you had a coat rack and hat stand that would be handy for your guests, the favors of whom you were made of. Uwem thought that being a woman here was a lot like hurdle race, and everyone watched keenly, expecting you to trip on your shoelaces. She surmised that when they watched her step out of her house in the morning, going about her trade, they had their minds busy with schemes to get close enough to know if she truly stank of aftershave. Such, she had long come to a conclusion, was the life you led if you were a woman, successful, and with a claim that you were single.

Uwem shifted a bit on the cushion. Her left arm had grown stiff, but the pain seemed to fade as she got her mind occupied. She thought she would have had a break by being just a woman and successful. Perhaps, she wouldn’t have had all this nosiness around her had she had a man, she thought. It peeved a good lot to hear about how single she was, but what was she to do if there hadn’t been a man willing enough to stay?

When she had turned thirty-eight, she was almost certain that she was going to get married, but some dreams remained dreams. And for the past two years she had been sort of single. There was Joe, of course. He was twelve years younger than she was, preferred nighttime to day, not just because he had eyes full of dreams, but because he got into the beds of wealthy, older women whose husbands had kicked the bucket or weren’t just sufficient enough, and woke to a morning that promised fuller pockets.

Uwem had met Joe two years ago through a girlfriend of hers who was married to a man she claimed could give her the world but nothing in bed. Joe made the right bed partner, but Uwem wondered just how long this would go on, and she had mistaken him to be one that wanted to be kept. She had asked him once, after a romp that was more intense than they had ever had, to get married to her.

“This is just business for me. Don’t get it twisted,” he had said. When it got light, he took his money and left without the decency of leaving her a goodbye, and that was enough telling that he wasn’t ever coming back, so she didn’t bother calling him.

Albeit, with a man or none, Uwem’s job was most important to her, and she wouldn’t trade that for anything. She went about it with an aggressive persuasion that made up for the masculine presence she was short of. And this job of hers, she thought, was going to be the end of her someday. Here, in her big-ticket Mustang, she sat, nursing a slug in her arm. Staring at the bullet wound, she guessed the only thing that would save the bastard that did this from having the devil to pay was if she died tonight.

II

July 16, 9.45AM.

Uwem found parking and pulled up. She slid out of the Dodge Challenger with a smile so wide that you could see it on her face from a mile away. She stood for a moment to dote on the four-wheeled beast, and thought cream white was the perfect choice. It had been a year since she shelled out twenty million for this, but it still seemed new to her. She thought her next buy would be a Mustang. She ran her hand over the chassis, eyes closed, whispering prayers for its safety.

Afterwards, she turned and began her mechanical walk to her firm, clutching her handbag. Apart from the Dodge, she thought another one of her best decisions these past thirty-six months had been turning down that Daily View job. She would have been trapped once again in someone else’s space, giving off so much just to have the yield of it all taken away. As a crime reporter and investigative journalist, she had had enough years working off her behind for others to know that going solo was just the way to make it in this trade. She knew she had so much brilliance in her that just couldn’t be contained for a monthly packet. It had been rough going three years on her own, but she broke through just when it was perfect.

Just one good impression on a contact and she was made. Now, she was for hire for the highest bidder, the brunt of her work being just to turn over can of worms with her thorough investigation. When she wasn’t doing it for an employer, she went hard looking for something to pin on one of the big shots of Abuja City, and most times, she would come off with something front-page worthy, and the loser at the end of her hook would have to pay huge to lay her off. Such was the racket Uwem pulled.

She walked into her outer office, and behind the desk sat her secretary, Bisi, holding the receiver to her ear. When Bisi took notice of her, she extended the receiver and said, “Good morning, ma. Mr. Cole for you. He insists.”

Uwem took the receiver and held it to her ear and said, “Hello, Uwem Nosike here.”

What came over the other end almost took her breath away. It was the loveliest baritone she had ever heard, one that was sure and yet carried enough tenderness in it.

“Adesina Cole, but Ade to you. I want to book an appointment,” the man on the other end said.

Shutting her eyes and imagining what it would be like to have such a man in bed with her, whispering lovely things into her ear, Uwem made an effort to hold the receiver in place.

“Hello, are you still there?” Mr. Cole called, jolting her out of her daydream.

“That’s my secretary’s work,” Uwem said, flatly.

“Well, I have no business with secretaries. When should I meet you?”

Uwem knew at that moment that she was attracted to this stranger.

“I will have my secretary — ”

“Save me that, please,” Mr. Cole cut her off. “11AM, what do you say about that?”

“I will have to check my diary and be certain I have no other appointments,” Uwem said, the calm of her voice betraying her interest.

“Eleven hundred it is then,” Mr. Cole said, and hung up. Uwem stood for a moment or so, with the receiver at her ear, trying to make out what Mr. Cole would look like. If he was anything like his voice, that would be it. She replaced the receiver, asked Bisi to call off her appointment with Chief Donatus for 11:00hrs, and strode into her office.

The meeting with Mr. Cole was not much what she had anticipated. He was Uwem’s sort of man, somewhat around five-feet-ten, broad and stocky, a crookedly handsome face with a full beard framing it, glittering black eyes, set full lips, and powerful cheekbones, but he didn’t care to lock eyes with her. He fixed his gaze on every other thing in the office, giving the details of the job he had for her.

She was to investigate Alhaji Ja’afaru Matawalle, and the pay was good: eight hundred thousand naira down and another when she would come up with a stinker to take the businessman down. And once Mr. Cole was done explaining what his organization expected from her, she consoled herself as he walked out of the office, leaving his call card on her desk, and without a hint that she made an impression on him.

III

August 13, 2:10PM

Alhaji Ja’afaru Matawalle was as ambitious as he was ruthless. He had only one care in life: how to make more money, and he seldom knew how not to. He was the chairman of Hulkco, a beverage-making establishment that had also begun to brew wine in recent years. He was also, secretly, the owner of the Casino Majestic in the capital city, Abuja. He owned the Full Crown Suites in Lagos and several fashion houses across the country. He also had an eye for the House of Assembly, and was putting his stakes up in the forthcoming elections.

However, he had several links to unscrupulous dealings including trafficking of young girls who would eventually become sex slaves and ownership of several private cannabis farms. Born in a Langtang slum, Matawalle had grown into a man by leading a hard life and most of what he was up against was whatever would take him back to being a nobody. And that was why he had given the order to have the crime reporter, Uwem Nosike, killed for investigating him. She had gone as far as publishing a story about the disappearance of young girls in Abuja and connecting the Casino Majestic to it, and that was something the businessman, who didn’t want the tinniest spoil to his reputation, would never forgive.

Uwem had been on Matawalle’s tail for four weeks now, the longest she had gone without cracking a case. Everything about him seemed cryptic. People eagerly protected his person at the mention of his name, and it irked Uwem as much as it did her employers who felt she hadn’t come up with enough despite several blog posts she had made about a syndicate that could be run by the billionaire businessman. Her employers wanted solid proof that would fix Matawalle for good and not mere intimations that couldn’t even bruise the skin.

She had received an exclusive information that some girls were being held at the premises of the Casino Majestic against their will and the informant had made a plea against involving the police as that would only make matters worse since Matawalle had the law under his payroll. Trusting that she could break her way into the casino and find those girls, and possibly get the testimony of one of them, she decided to give it a try. Her Ford Mustang had just been delivered to her doorstep in every shade of new, and she was eager to get under its wheel.

Unknown to her, the informant had acted upon Matawalle’s orders to get her in position for a swift, silent knockoff. She met with the informant at a café which was a stone-throw from the casino. He was a small, swarthy man, with a face that had several scarifications that ran from either side of his mouth across his cheeks. When he sat across from Uwem and explained how she would make her break into the casino and get past the trapdoor to the captured girls, she began to feel there was something unpleasant about this man, and thought she shouldn’t have come alone for this.

At the slightest hint of hesitation, the informant whom Uwem now knew as Musa became insistent on coming with him through the backdoor to the casino. She said she didn’t think it was entirely safe, but he argued that he worked there and knew just what was safe and what wasn’t. She grabbed her purse, and made to her feet, and that was when he pulled the Glock pistol so quickly that she had almost not seen him do it, and he pulled the trigger at once and only with a quick dash did she get her face away from the barrel, the bullet getting her in her left arm instead. Yelps of panic rose from every corner of the café as customers began to drop to the floor on their faces. In the commotion, Musa made for the door and disappeared.

The pain began searing through Uwem as she made to her feet and hobbled out of the café to her parked Mustang. She fumbled a while with the ignition before getting the key in and turning it, her hands shaking. The engine got started and she squeezed the gas pedal with every trembling effort she could muster, gripping the wheel with hands that felt a lot like two match sticks. She kept staring up at her rearview mirror to be certain she wasn’t being tailed as she made her way to the outskirts of Maitama and towards the Mpape hills.

Despite being certain she wasn’t being followed, she still kept her foot pressed hard on the throttle, turning the wheel this way and that, the speedometer needle indicating 80 kilometers per hour. She was half aware of the heaviness of her eyes until the gross blackness breezed in, slowly and steadily. And then, oblivion, sweet oblivion!

 

Johnson Onyedikachi is a teenage Nigerian creative writer who has unpublished manuscripts of poetry and plays. He recently picked interest in crime fiction and in August 2019, enrolled in an online course where he gained proficiency in article/journal writing including the use of referencing formats (MLA and APA style). He wrote in via johnsonshaqs@gmail.com