It was a cold evening. The weather seemed angry, scowling with a shroud of misty hatred that swirled around faces. It caused people to walk hunched over, drawing whatever clothing they were wearing tighter, tucking chins into the neck and exposing as little of the face as possible. The two-horse carriage drew up in front of a huge building in Temple Town and the driver got down quickly, rubbing his gloved hands together in a futile effort to restore warmth.
The door opened and two figures stepped out, moving quickly toward the sheltering warmth of the front door. One of the figures was bulky with more than a bit of belly, draped in a great coat. The other was slight of build, curvaceous in an obviously feminine way. The front door flew open and the two figures passed into the comparatively warm interior. Shaded lamps and lanterns had been lit, throwing the interior into a welcoming haven.
They spoke briefly to the man at the door, and soon the two figures climbed a short flight of steps to an upstairs landing, walked along a narrow corridor, and then the big man rapped sharply on the door. A voice bid them to enter, and the man opened the door and entered, followed by his companion. There was great table in the room beyond, covered with a white spread of cotton. There were shaded lamps here too, in four corners.
A lantern was standing in the middle of the table, showing three gaunt faces around the table. The man at the head of the table was old, with a shock of steel-grey hair carefully combed back from a sharp forehead. His eyes were bright beacons that drilled into those around him, missing nothing. A pair of steel-rimmed glasses were perched precariously on his long nose. There was a file in front of him, and he was holding a sheet of paper turned toward the lantern as he read carefully. The man on the left was a giant of a man with a considerable girth and a florid face. His lips were full, and he licked them constantly, a habit he had not been able to stop since childhood. His lower lip was, as a result, puckered and red. A tumbler was clutched in his pudgy hand, half-filled with wine as he also perused the contents of the file in front of him.
The man on the right was younger, dapper and shrewd-looking. He was immaculately-dressed in a black suit and white frilly shirt, his hair carefully groomed. He was handsome in a disturbing kind of way, and he was carefully jotting down notes in a little note book as he held his file in his left hand and perused it.
The two people who had just entered hesitated for a moment, the female noticeably more unsure of herself. The man deftly removed his overcoat, hanged it on a hanger on the wall, and advanced rather purposefully forward. The men around the table were now looking at the newcomers with varying degrees of expectations.
The one at the head of the table leaned back wearily, stifled a yawn, and raised a hand in greeting to the newcomer.
“Mike, welcome,” he said in a deep bass, his voice firm and sure. “Been waiting for you for a while.” The man who had been addressed as Mike smiled wanly and pulled out a chair. He turned to his female companion and beckoned her forward.
“Come, Roxanne, take a seat.” Roxanne Yeboah moved forward slowly, almost hesitantly, obviously cowed a little bit by the presence of the powerful men in the room. She had expected to meet only Judge Richard Ababio. The judge was one of the most influential men in the country. He was a wealthy businessman and astute politician. The house belonged to him. She had however not expected to see Major Benjamin Sowah of the fearful Red Strike Battalion, a regiment of brave soldiers whose acts of bravery and conquests read more like fiction than fact. Neither had she expected to see Austin Badu, Special Adviser to the Vice President, and one of the most powerful men in the country.
Mike Kpodo was the Director of the new Federal Security Corps. His outfit was responsible for harnessing local law personnel and appointing agents to protect the New States. His power extended to oversee jurisdiction over many courts, and that made him also a powerful citizen.
“Drink, Mike?” Ababio queried.
“Scotch, please,” Mike said and glanced at Roxanne. “Rox?” She smiled and shook her head once.
“I’m fine, Mr. Kpodo.” A servant who had entered dutifully poured Mike a drink from a small bar. He brought it to Mike, bowed, and then left again, closing the door behind him. Mike took a sip and allowed it to seep through him. He took another, longer this time, and then gently set the quaint glass down. He looked up then, and his eyes met those of the judge.
“I am hopeful that you have a little bit more information about what happened at the Fort James Prison, Mike. It is of the utmost import to the President, I can assure you.” Mike did not smile. If anything his face took on a glummer appearance as he sat up and nodded. He reached into his top right pocket, fidgeted, and then he reached for his top left pocket, eventually bringing out a piece of folded paper which he proceeded to unfold carefully on the table. He absentmindedly leaned forward and squinted at the sheet.
“So far, a total of forty-one deaths confirmed, sir,” he stated in a tight voice that hinted at the anger he was trying hard to keep bottled-up. “That number is made up of twelve prison guards, including the commandant, Roger Ayeh, thirteen prisoners, and sixteen civilians.” The men around the table bolted forward almost with one accord, their faces expressing their shock.
“Goodness me, Mike!” Ababio thundered. “That’s an outrageous number of civilians! Surely there must be a mistake somewhere!”
“I surely think so too, Mr. Kpodo,” the Major stated in a nicely-modulated voice.
“Seeing it happened on a Monday night, according to your earlier report of which we are all privy, there shouldn’t be any civilian at the Fort James Prison at that time.” Mike Kpodo looked up slowly and gave an imperceptible of nod of his head, signifying his own sadness.
“The civilians were present under very shocking circumstances, Gentlemen. We managed to pick up a lot of the prisoners and officers, mostly dehydrated and near-death, littered on the desert. We interviewed prison officers and the prisoners extensively, separately and some in bulk, and the story we have been able to piece together is rather unpalatable, to say the least.” He paused and took another sip of his drink.
“Go on, Mike,” Ababio coaxed softly. “You have our attention.”
“Miss Roxanne Yeboah was in charge of the investigations,” Mike stated tiredly. “I’ll let her give you her report. Go on, Rox. In a summary.” The eyes of the men swiveled round to rest on Roxanne. She smiled tightly and nodded in the direction of the judge.
“We’ve secretly been investigating the strange happenings at the Fort James Prison for some time now,” Roxanne said, her voice firm and clear. “About five years ago we noticed that the death rate at the prison was reaching alarming levels. True, it had some of the nastiest criminals, but the death logs were simply alarming.” She paused briefly and scratched an itch on her right cheek. She continued. “Over the years we sent investigators in there, but nothing was unearthed, and the explanations they gave sounded plausible on paper. We sent secret agents to the Fort James Prison, posing as prisoners. We lost two, knifed in their sleep before they could get any information out.”
“Goodness me!” Ababio whispered with horror.
“So, following the burning down of the prison and the casualties sustained, especially the civilian factor, we came down hard on the surviving officers. Knowing that their Commander, Roger Ayeh, perished in the fatal activities that night, they readily filled in the blanks for us. Apparently, Commander Roger Ayeh was running a fighting racket in the prison, and huge sums of money were involved.”
“That is outrageous!” Major Sowah thundered angrily. Roxanne ignored him and resumed speaking fast.
“The Commander was running a gambling racket. Criminals that were sent to the prison were forced to become fighters in this deadly venture where they fought each other, mostly to the death. Commander Ayeh had a selected group of wealthy, bored people out to seek fun, and make money on betting. On fight nights, some of the rich civilians brought their monies to bet on the fighting prisoners. Fighting modes were either be with bare hands, or with weapons. The favourite of many were the sword and the gun fights, where the quickest on the draw survived. There were no rules. Most times the fights were to the death.”
“My goodness!” Judge Ababio breathed with horror. “Such barbarism went on in our prison, under our won noses?”
“Unfortunately, yes, sir,” Kpodo said calmly. “Commander Ayeh had our respect, and our trust, but apparently he abused his powers, and subjected many inmates to this sadistic prize-fighting competitions. And many of them died.”
“That is rather unfortunate,” Badu said softly. “Quite unfortunate.”
“Go on, go on, Miss Roxanne,” the judge urged.
“Like I said, this had been going on for years. The prisoners that were used as fighters had a few comforts thrown their way, like pittance of the prize monies, and the occasional whore, excuse my language, gentlemen. Our investigations scared Commander Ayeh, somewhat, and so these last couple of years the fights were restricted mostly to fists. It seemed, however, that there was one prisoner, a Mr. Chris Bawa, who is extremely well-versed in mortal combat, and an incredible draw on the gun. The commander had been using him mostly for the death duels. Mr. Bawa had no option than to kill, apparently, as refusing to kill meant getting killed himself. Although Mr. Bawa’s expertise in these deadly duels had yielded so much money for the commander, he was treated very poorly in the prison.”
“This Chris Bawa…did he die too?” Badu asked.
“He didn’t, sir,” Roxanne said. “Heard of him,” Badu continued, nodding.
“Quite a nasty character some years back. An outlaw, isn’t he? A series of bank heists, and attacking rich folks, he and his gang. Quite notorious and fearful a decade ago. Almost killed a little girl. Same feller, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is.”
“And how long is his sentence?”
“He’s served ten years. Left with five more,” Kpodo said this time.
“I recall him now,” Judge Ababio put in as he glanced at the file in front of him. “From Little Rock. Ted Bawa’s youngest son, right?”
“Yes, sir,” Roxanne replied. “Apparently he had it very rough in the prison. Commander Ayeh kept him in a special dungeon, poorly ventilated and a real hellhole. A couple of years ago Chris Bawa refused to draw his gun on a very young man in a death match. Commander Ayeh took a knife and sliced Mr. Bawa’s right cheek open almost to the bone.” There was a collective groan of disgust from the men. Roxanne saw their hard expressions, and then she took a breath and continued. “A similar sort of incident happened last Monday when Mr. Bawa beat a young man in a death duel with his fists, but refused to kill him even when Commander Ayeh gave him the signal to do so. This infuriated the Commander so much that he drew his gun and shot the young man dead.”
“That is sickening!” the Presidential Staffer said with horror. “Do you have evidence for all that?”
“We do, sir,” Roxanne said evenly. “Some of the prisoners had also been planning a breakout, and it was around that time, during the fighting tourney, that they broke out, overpowering the few guards around. Most of the guards had been watching the fighting. Commander Ayeh and his civilian guests were trapped in the savage breakout.”
“And the incensed prisoners pounced on them, no doubt,” the Major said tersely.
“Quite right, sir,” Roxanne nodded. “The prisoners attacked the civilians according to the witnesses. During the confusion, Mr. Bawa chased Commander Ayeh down to his office, and killed him with a blow to his trachea.”
“And there was a girl, wasn’t there?” the Judge asked, peering at the paper in front of him. “Says here there was a teenager in the mix somewhere.”
“There was a young girl aged thirteen, yes sir,” Roxanne said, and there was a hint of anger in her voice. “The daughter of one of the kitchen staff. She testified of how Commander Ayeh used to tie her up and raped her repeatedly. She claimed Mr. Chris Bawa was protecting her and the Commander died. We’ll have further details by the end of our extensive interrogations, gentlemen.” The political staffer leaned forward and peered at Roxanne.
“This Bawa… did he escape then?” Again, Kpodo was the one who answered him.
“He didn’t, sir. Apparently he left the burning prison with a tarp and camped outside the prison wall with the girl he saved. It was a sensible thing to do because there was a sandstorm shortly after the fires that night, and most of the prisoners who tried to escape were caught up in the desert, and lost their lives. We sent in the Calvary, and Chris Bawa surrendered to them. He refused to speak to our interrogators, though, and presently he’s in our cells.”
“Well, many thanks for the update, Miss Yeboah,” the judge spoke with a wide smile at Roxanne, conveying a warmth he was far from feeling. “Now, if you’ll excuse us for a moment, we have a matter of utmost urgency to discuss with Mr. Kpodo, unless of course you have something more to add, or Mr. Kpodo wants you to be present.”