It had been a hectic afternoon, gathering the twenty million had been harder than expected even though the money was readily available; the curb on daily withdrawal from the banks had made it almost impossible to remove large sums at a time from the bank either from the ATM or over the counter, so they had had to use several accounts and different people, the trick was trying to keep a low profile and not to raise suspicion, which was going fine until they had gone to make the last withdrawal; which involved him going with his sister-in-law to the bank; this was a joint account her husband and her had shared for more than two decades and had used to save for the kids and a rainy day; it could not get any rainier than today.
“…I am sorry ma, but due to the CBN directive, we cannot allow you make such withdrawal and I will have to notify management, who in turn are duty bound to report to the police.” The clean shaven man behind the marble counter stated diligent and unsmiling.
Mrs. Eze wanted to scream, but her brother-in-law’s arm on her shoulder acted as a pacifier of sort, so she breathed in and said calmly,
“I have done business with this bank for more than a decade, I have known all Branch Managers and every cashier by name and for Christ’s sake, it is my money and I can withdraw however much I want!” She could not help the last part.
Calmly the bespectacled Cashier said; “It might be your money, but I am not allowed to give it to you; that is the law.”
What happened next caught the people in the large ventilated space off-guard, first Catherine Eze had gone mortally silent and Emeka had braced himself for a tirade of words but instead her face crumbled and she started to cry, to the dismay of the Cashier, who looked completely uncomfortable about the whole situation, searching left and right for a colleague to come help him out but no one came, they all seemed as perplexed as he was. All transaction stopped as he and Catherine became the center of attraction; the various eyeballs felt like a million darts and made him feel uneasy.
“Catherine you have to get yourself together, we do not need to attract the wrong kind of attention.” He spoke calmly into her ear.
“What is left for me, eh Emeka? My husband is lying in the hospital and my daughter is God knows where and these people do not want to give me my own money! Which kind of country do we live in, where no one has no control of their own lives?”
“Play it cool please, people are watching!”
“Let them watch!! Ah, ah, what is it; this is just too much for me! Let them watch Emeka. Ike agwu gom! (I am tired)”
“What might be the problem?” A man garbed in a well-tailored suit asked, entering the booth of the Cashier attending to them. “My name is Agaba Dura, I am the BM here, and how may we help you?” He sounded genuinely eager to help them but Emeka knew he was trying to avoid a PR disaster; this was just damage control.
“Can we speak somewhere private?” Emeka asked softly.
“Of course, let’s go to my office.” He said with a smile, before leaving the booth. “Carry on.” He said to the Cashier, flashing a smile to the other customers.
He led the way upstairs to a glass partitioned cozy office, not to too small but functional, a huge photocopier sat on a small stool behind his swivel chair, a small printer; a file holder and an open laptop were the only occupants of his big table.
He waited till Mrs. Eze regained her composure and was settled in, before asking; “How may I help you?”
To avoid another round of water works, Emeka cut in. “We would like to make a withdrawal of 10,000 dollars from a joint account owned by my sister-in-law and her husband; my cousin. It is an emergency and we would need it for immediate medical purposes abroad.”
“I understand your plight but due to the CBN….”
“I am Chief Inspector Emeka Udoh; the head of SARS in Awka etiti, here is my identification.” He said flashing his card; I would not be doing this if it was not a matter of life and death. So please help us and I promise to come back here myself and explain everything.”
Thirty minutes later they were seated at home waiting for the phone to ring, Emeka could not wait to get on with the day, since Ifeanyi had called him about the kidnapping, all he had dreamt of was nabbing the kidnappers, so he could add them to his list of achievements since he was made the head of the special division on security by the state Governor. Plans were already in motion to get them behind bars, he fingered the school bag; marveling at the fact that this small back contained TWENTY MILLION! Where did these guys get the nerve to ask for these exorbitant sums, what right did they have to reap where they did not sow?
His finger ran over the tiny ridge where they had buried a tracker, he allowed himself a small smile of victory, he had them cornered.
The phone rang at exactly 1:30 and without hesitation Emeka picked the phone.
“Go to Eke Awka, when you get there walk down Abuja line, someone will meet you there. Remember, no police should be in sight. The girl will be released when we have the money.”
Eke Awka was the biggest and most popular market in the state capital of Anambra; Awka. At a time it had over a hundred thousand people in it; including customers, shop owners, delivery people and freighters. Because of its size, the market was divided into aisles, which over time had become known as “lines” and each line catered to different class of customer. Abuja line specialized in the sale of men clothing and was one of the busiest parts of the market but it was nothing compared to the produce market. Emeka wondered why they had not picked the produce line, where they had a better chance of getting lost in the crowd.
“What guarantee do we have that you will let her go?” He asked nonchalantly.
The voice snickered and answered, “I told you, you have to trust me. You have my word; Rebecca will be with you by the end of the day.”
“But…” The phone went dead before he could finish. Without wasting time, “Obidi you still have your men on standby?” He asked the burly man who was standing in the corner waiting for instructions.
“Yes sir, they are ready and waiting.”
“Okay and Joseph put a call to the DPO at B division; tell him to dispatch mufti men to secure all entrance leading in and out of Eke Awka and all roads to and fro also.”
“Right away sir.” He said disappearing through the front door of the mansion.
“The rest of you will come with me, make sure to keep out of sight and at a very safe distant, I do not want to spook them. Grab the money, is the tracker working?”
“Yes it is sir.” The technician a pimply faced man, who looked 20 but was actually 28, answered. He followed the others out of the house, his laptop hugged close to his chest, a headset hanging from his neck.
“Catherine, I promise you I will do everything in my power to get your kid home.” Emeka said reassuringly at the door.
“I do not care about the money, just get my daughter home.” Emeka could see the tiredness in her eyes and felt sorry for her. He hugged her and disappeared behind the huge French door.
Catherine knew all she could do now was hope and pray and so she reached for her bible and did what she knew best.
When the door opened the night before, Mrs. Dike had been astounded to find her packed and ready to flee the nest but instead of scolding her, she had led her into the kitchen for a one on one talk. She had gone on to tell her how her sister Rebecca had been kidnapped; which explained why her calls were not connecting, their father had also suffered a minor cardiac arrest as a result of the stress of it all and was currently at the hospital. They did not tell her because they did not want her to worry but that was an oversight on their part and she apologized and promised to be forthcoming henceforth.
When Isabella had enquired as to when she could go back home, Mrs. Dike had said she could only go home when her sister was safely home and all the chaos there had subsided, their mother did not want her around the police or near enough to hear any news untoward. She was safer away from the house.
After their talk, Mrs. Dike had made her chocolate drink and then walked her to bed.
When she woke up, Chi-Chi’s bed was empty but she had failed to wake her, as she had done since they had been sharing a room, after doing her morning chores, she went to the living room to join her friend but Chi-Chi left the instant she came in.
“Chi-Chi, I am sorry.” She cooed.
Chi-Chi just hissed and headed upstairs to the room they shared together, torn between following on her heels or giving her some space, Isabella picked the latter, her friend just needed time to cool off, she was still angry at her for getting her whooped the night before. So she settled into a chair and picked up the TV remote, the Dikes had probably left for their places of business, leaving her and Chi-Chi in the care of the Help and her older siblings.
She flipped through several channels and finally settled on one, where they were having some sort of fair, there was a lot of dancing and Isabella was a sucker for dancing, so she put the remote down and watched, she was totally engrossed in the activities on the satellite TV when she noticed it, it caught her off-guard, so she did not take note of it immediately. She waited patiently for the camera to pan that way again, when it didn’t, she rewound it and paused just when it came to view, true to her imagination, she was correct. She let out an ear shattering scream.