It had been over an hour and she still hadn’t been able to get through to her parents, she had used both Lawrence and her phone and still was not able to connect and she was getting frustrated. Each time it would seem like it was about to connect and then the line went dead, she thought it was her phone but when Lawrence’s did the same thing she just about gave up.
She tried texting and it kept failing to deliver, even the bloody wifi in the hotel would not connect, she had called the reception and they said there was no problem with the wifi, so it must be her damned phone. She pushed it aside, eager to push away every thought of her inability to connect with her loved ones; it was so frustrating.
The phone Isaac had gotten her was twice as expensive and twice as stupid as the one she had before, she had wanted to refuse it; because she hated to be indebted to anyone especially Isaac but he had insisted she accept it as a gift and penance, she gave in when Lawrence coaxed her into accepting it, now as she looked at the fancy gadget perched at the corner of the dresser, she wished she had resisted and accepted a simpler phone.
“Becca your parents are fine, stop being such a mommy’s pet and come over to the bed, it’s getting late and you know tomorrow is packed full of activities.”
“I have half a mind to call a cab right and head on home; I would feel so much at ease if I can only hear Isabella’s voice, just to know if she is alright. Right now, my heart feels like I lost someone.”
Lawrence heaved a sigh. Women, he thought, always worrying about the littlest things, he got out of bed and went to sit with her at the dresser. He put a hand across her shoulder and she leaned in.
“They are all alright and you are worrying your forehead into a knot because that is what you do. I promise you, tomorrow, we will find a means to get across to your folks, even if it means knocking down all the doors in Cross River to get a damned phone that works. It is the network; you know how it gets during this time of the year?”
She felt a little bit better, but deep down she still felt something was wrong and knew only the voice of her parents or either of her siblings would set that feeling, still she followed her boyfriend when he pulled her towards the bed, tucked her in and turned off the light and somehow her worries seemed to go to sleep too. There would be ample time to worry tomorrow, she thought as the dark hands of sleep embraced her.
Thick smoke bellowed from his pursed lips and dissipated into thin air as it made its ascent towards the POP ceiling, the air conditioned room was at least eighteen degrees, yet he sat naked from the waist up, his mind occupied with thoughts that far outweighed the cold.
Isaac had known for a long time that he was not destined to make it in life the right way, he was not the clichéd good boy turned bad or poor boy hustling any which way to make ends meet, in fact he came from a very wealthy family, so wealthy even that his father had disowned him because his wayward ways were threatening to tarnish the pristine image, he had spent years and fortune creating. His father was good with numbers, his older brother was good with people, their only sister was a medical doctor, his younger brother was on his way to becoming a practicing lawyer, yet Isaac had been stuck seven years in the university reading a four year course. Education was not his calling, he had told his father that much but the old man would not listen; he was not going to have a half baked literate in his home, he had told Isaac several times.
Isaac had his father’s penchant for numbers and his brother; Albert’s finesse with people and had wanted a little money to travel abroad and get into the import and export business but his father had insisted that he must first finish school before he started to nurse any such thought.
His first dance with crime was in his first year in the university, he had walked into his father’s room on an errand and happened upon his cheque book, he tore out three slips, from in between the sleeves, so that only a keen eye would notice the discrepancies with the serial numbers. Forging his father’s signature had been easy; needless to say his first year was glorious, since the guys and girls flocked around the one with the biggest wad in his pocket.
Since he could not depend on the chance that his father would leave his cheque book unguarded again, he sorts other means to fuel his lavish lifestyle. It was during this period that he had been introduced to the Supreme Vikings Confraternity, where he met a lot of people of like mind and drive; rules were wasted on them and they were all on a fast lane to life. At this point his education began to suffer, while others were in school, he and his friends would be at the bar drinking beer and making trouble, even when he did go to school, he always ended up at the back which was always reserved for the NAS (Non Academic Students); students who weren’t actually considered students by their peers, because they only appeared during tests and exams.
For a while he got by on his pocket money and what he “obtained” from other students but when the schools anti-cult began to clamp down on cult activities within the campus and its environs, “obtaining” became difficult and after four years, money stopped coming from home as his folks believed he had graduated, even though they did not see any evidence to that effect, still his father had cut him off.
Internet scam became hi.s most viable source of income, it was rife amongst students at the time, the universities were filled with students with questionable source of income, who drove flashy cars and lived luxurious lives. At first it had only being targeting vulnerable older women while posing as foreigners working overseas, the profiles they created to gain access to these women; were usually invented and beautifully crafted or stolen from other social media sites, and were so water tight, that even if a skeptic were to dig, they would not find much, unless they were the FBI or Interpol. They would first begin with small talk and getting to know each other and what they did for a living, where they resided and the likes, then they would arrange a date for when he “got back in four months from his post as an engineer in Africa” helping to build one of the continent’s longest bridge to make up for keeping her waiting, a “small gift” usually jewelry bought with stolen credit cards and the location of the goods bought were rerouted electronically, so many times that authorities lost track of them.
Over time he would buy clothes, shoes and anything else that would tickle the fancy of the mark, all these was done to gain her confidence. Then on the day he would have had to arrive, he would call his mark that he had been robbed by the taxi he had taken to the airport and was now stranded and needed just a few dollars for his flight, hotel and a new phone with a promise of payment on arrival, since he has spent over a thousand dollars on her, his mark would have no qualms sending him two thousand dollars which amounted to about four hundred Nigerian naira; usually a Yahoo boy had more than one mark, some worked out, others didn’t but if three out of five paid that was about one point two million, a lot of money for a student.
Once payment was made, the point man was scrubbed out of existence and a fresh one created. But even “magas”; a term they used for their marks, would not be magas forever and soon the internet love scam began to wane in popularity and they delved into hacking and ATM card splicing which was even more popular and lucrative, even though it required more work.
Isaac found himself thinking of the first time he had conceived this kidnap plan, it had come to him by accident; a joke Lawrence had told his girlfriend. They had been watching an episode of the popular US series CSI, about a girl who had planned her own kidnapping with her boyfriend to get her father’s attention, only for her to accidentally end up dead. He remembered vividly what Lawrence had said that day, “I will just lock you up in my room for one week and demand ransom for you and you and your dad will be non-the-wiser.” They had all laughed at the ridiculousness of it all but somehow the thought kept nagging at him, what if it could be done? Can it be called kidnapping if there was no actual kidnapping? Of course it could be done, all he had to do was create an illusion, keep his audience focused on the big picture while the real magic happened in the background.
Now the plan was hatched, there was no going back. He eased out of the bed, the girl in the bed beside him stirred, he paused, anxious for her not to wake up. He went into the bathroom with the voice muffler to make a call, he made sure the door was secure before perching on the corner of the bathtub.
The phone rang three times and on the fourth time, someone at the other end picked up and as expected it was not the Engineer. For what seemed like an eternity all he could hear was the breath of the person at the other end, calm and steady, waiting for him to speak. He waited a while, knowing every second wasted was one he could never recover.
“Nothing has changed; we are still a go for tomorrow.”
“But the money is not ready, as we speak Engineer Ifeanyi is bedridden, please give us more time.”
“I could give you forever but each second I give you is a second that Rebecca does not have. Noon tomorrow, better have my money or it is bye-bye.”
“But….” The phone went dead before he could finish.
Isaac sneaked back to bed and slid under the covers, his mind already fine tuning every detail for the drop off tomorrow. He knew the cops would be everywhere, he counted on that and had already made contingency plans for that, by the time he was done with his plans the Eze’s would not know what hit them. He was too excited to sleep, so he preoccupied his thoughts with what he would do with the money, obviously he would have to share it with his accomplices but once that was done, he was going to take his share of the money and flee the country; he had not made mention of his intention to anybody, just so if ever they were found out, no one would know where to start looking. He was going to spend the first few years hiding in different African countries before he made the giant stride to Europe. He could not wait.
As the phone went dead, Emeka looked at his subordinates for confirmation and as expected they were able to pinpoint it to somewhere in Abia state, Ebonyi or Cross River, there was no need to chase the trail, it would be another ghost hunt. His distraught sister-in-law had already made available the ransom, she looked like she had lost a ton in the last hour and looked a shell of her bubbly self. He would have to take charge of the situation and try not to burden the poor woman with the detail, all she needed was husband and daughter home and hearty.
“Obidi get your men ready to move on my order tomorrow. They should be waiting and ready, these miscreants must not slip through our fingers.” He said tersely.
“Yesah.” The subordinate officer said walking brusquely out of the room.
Emeka’s men had been combing all known kidnapper’s hideout in and around the state, he had been half tempted to put up a missing person’s advertisement on the social media and television but feared the repercussion of his action, the kidnappers had already been ticked off that the police were already involved, doing that might push them off the edge.
Then it struck Emeka, how is it that the kidnappers seemed to be well informed about everything going on? The last caller did not seem surprised that it was he instead of his cousin; Ifeanyi, who had picked the call. Did that mean they had an inside person, who could it be?
As was the protocol, everybody close to the family had earlier being questioned and struck off the list of suspects, as it remained, the only people he had doubts about was the gate man, who did not seem to have an alibi for the day Rebecca went missing and then there was her boyfriend, what was his name again? Lawrence. Officers had been sent to his known addresses and had discovered that like the Eze’s, his family too were also being held at a ransom but unlike the Eze’s, they did not have the monetary capacity to meet the kidnapper’s demand or the connections to follow it through but somehow they had been able to scrape together one hundred and fifty thousand of the two hundred thousand merger ransom money.
He had offered them the remaining fifty, which they generously accepted. What broke his heart was the news that the boy’s mom was bed ridden by cancer; treatment of which had left the family on the brink of abject poverty. Maybe the boy would not have been kidnapped if he was not with the daughter of a wealthy man. Maybe. After this was over, he promised himself, that he would go visit the family and pay his respect, for now he had to concentrate on securing the release of both kids, supposing it was possible.
It surprised him how easily one’s life could change in a blink of an eye, one moment life was rosy and full of sunshine, the next minute it was cloudy and raining on your parade. He fiddled with the frail looking hand in his hand, his mind absently studying the small container that was feeding oxygen to the transparent tube attached to the mask that sat snuggly over the face of his wife. Her body felt smooth to the touch, the doctor said it was a result of the aggressive chemotherapy, he felt his heart constrict in sorrow as he watched his wife’s chest rise in tune with her ragged breath, her now tiny frame clothed in an over sized dress, her once beautiful hair had receded a great deal, her skin stretched taut over her bones, he could see she was in great pain, she complained as such every time she woke up from her sleep; which is what she did often these days. He felt hot liquid slither down his face and disappear into the bush that caressed his upper lip, for a whole year she had fought this disease and it did not look like it was getting any better.
He remembered the first time she had been diagnosed, she had gone to the hospital for a routine check up after complaining of extreme weakness, the doctor had informed her that she had cancer, it had rocked all of them as a family but they were determined to fight through it, it was a disease, not a death sentence. It did not take long for the strain to start to bear on the family, chemotherapy was tough on her and left her sick most of the time, leading her to leave her job indefinitely; hence cutting off that source of income. That had been hard on the family too, as she needed constant care and the kids were away in school and the responsibility fell on him. He was a business man and his business began to suffer both from his absence and the money it was costing to treat his wife. His mother-in-law soon came to relieve him of the burden but by then the treatment had eaten deep into their finances and they were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, he had had to sell the few landed properties he had but yet it did not measure up to the cost of keeping his wife alive.
As if life was not done dealing him low blows, now his stupid son had gone and had himself kidnapped. Kids never listened and that piqued him more than anything, he had never warmed up to the Eze girl, something about the family spelt trouble, he had tried to explain that to Lawrence but the pigheaded, bumbling idiot wouldn’t listen and as usual his words went in one ear and went out the other. At least the Eze’s were taking responsibility for their actions, that fifty thousand and the hundred and fifty he got selling his old Honda was about enough to cover the ransom money but that also had eaten a chunk into the money he had saved for his wife’s treatment.
He let out a heavy sigh, conscious of the other patients in the room, this was not a time to worry, he had to be strong for himself and his family, just then his wife’s hand moved, jerking him back to reality. He looked up to find that she had eased off the mask and was looking at him through a forest of eyelids.
“What are you thinking about oga?” She asked, her voice barely a whisper. She lost her voice after she started chemo and radiotherapy, at first, they had had to strain to hear her speak but over time it had become easier to understand what she was saying.
“Nothing my love, I was just meditating.” He had to lie, she was already burdened enough as it was. Her pale cracked lips broke into a faint smile, “Lair.”
He looked away as his eyes began to moisten, what type of temptation is this? He thought silently to himself. How can all these be happening to one family at once? Was there really a God and if there was, why would he let his faithful suffer this much?
“I will be alright, I know it. Don’t worry, I feel better already. Soon I will be home and all these will become stories we will tell our grand-kids and in-laws.”
“I know, I know.” He murmured, eager to believe, eager to sound as positive as she did.
It had been three days since she had been sent to stay at a family friend’s home; she had not being allowed to contact her parents and her sister’s number was still unavailable, she might still technically be a kid but Isabella knew something was not right.
The other day, Mrs. Dike had come home looking distraught and when she had asked what was wrong, the woman said it was nothing, several times she had walked in on Mr. and Mrs. Dike talking in low tones and as soon as she came in they stopped talking.
Then one evening, Chi-Chi; the second of the three kids, who was also her classmate, walked up to her after dinner in a conspirators manner, her eyes beaming with excitement.
“I overheard mom and dad saying that your dad had a heart attack and that your sister Rebecca has been kidnapped, which explains why you have been unable to reach her.”
Isabella did not want to believe that and immediately went downstairs to confront the Dikes. They did not answer her, neither did they deny it, all they wanted to know was who gave her the information and when she named Chi-Chi, Mrs. Dike disappeared upstairs and a couple of seconds later, she could hear the sound of cane connecting with flesh and the guttural screams it elicited. She was ushered off to the room she shared with Chi-Chi moments later, her question unanswered.
Chi-Chi was still heaving in a heap on the bed when she got in, she climbed into the bed beside her, facing the wall. Then as if on queue, a torrent of tears started its descent down her face, soaking the pillow, she felt so alone and rejected, she was not a child anymore and deserved to be treated like an adult.
She crept out of bed, having decided to go back home, she would call an Uber and minutes she would be home, she had some money on her and it ought to be enough. She stuffed some cloths into her backpack, checked to see that Chi-Chi was fast asleep and walked almost soundlessly to the door. Just as she was about to open the door, it pushed open.