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, so much so 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.