Mike Kpodo nodded at Roxanne, and she politely excused herself. “You’ll be provided with a warm room, Miss Yeboah,” the judge continued. “Perhaps a warm shower and a plate of hot soup will serve you well as you wait for Mr. Kpodo.” Roxanne smiled with genuine expectation, already relishing the notion of a hot bath.
“I’ll be very grateful for that, yes, sir.” They waited until the door closed behind her, and then the men around the table turned their eyes on Mike Kpodo.
“Mr. Kpodo,” the politician said as he took up a slip of paper from the file in front of him.
“Your telegram said you might have a solution for this rather unpleasant situation in Little Rock. We’ve heard that on Monday night the railway depot was attacked again.” The judge nodded and sat forward, lacing his hands together.
“Yes, and the costs of things destroyed in the attack is quite heavy, I’ve been told.”
“The cowards always attack on the blind side,” the presidential staffer continued.”That simple act of cowardice has set us back many weeks, perhaps months. And no arrests so far. I can tell you the President is not pleased, and calls for drastic measures.”
“That railway has been stuck outside Little Rock for far too long,” the Major chipped in. “We need to do something about these terrible attacks. The cowards must be stopped!”
“And of course failing to complete that railway is holding up developments because we need to bridge the states,” said the politician.
“So you can understand our rather eager expectations when you said you might have a solution that could put an end to this unhealthy situation once and for all.” Mike Kpodo stifled a yawn and sat up straighter, his face suddenly hard.
“Well, I didn’t mean to convey the impression that what I have in mind would be a final solution, Mr. Badu,” he stated carefully. “I wanted to stress the point that it could be a major breakthrough in a rather one-sided fight against these barbaric acts of cowardice.” He paused to let his words sink in, and then he continued slowly and carefully. “For more than two years now we have failed to pass the railways through Little Rock because of these attacks. Several of the men working on the rail lines simply vanished into thin air. There have also been instances of people, mostly able-bodied men, vanishing from the town of Little Rock. The local folks think there is some sort of curse on the town. But I don’t buy it. Five secret agents I sent to Little Rock all vanished into thin air, until two days ago when one of them showed up in town.” The other men suddenly buzzed with interest. They looked at Kpodo with bright, inquisitive eyes.
“Yes, he came back, but he was dead before his feet touched the ground,” Mike Kpodo said angrily. “He was emaciated. He was famished, weak and acutely dehydrated! There were marks on his body, mainly across his back and shoulders, showing he had been whipped several times. His nails were grubby and broken, as if he had been used for some hard labor of sorts.”
“Good gracious!” Sowah breathed out feelingly.
“That’s terrible, simply terrible!” Badu said. It was only the judge who appeared thoughtful and unmoved, but Mike knew that the sensitive man was really troubled too.
“I was really appalled, and my heart is beating with wrath at the beasts who could do that to a fellow man,” Kpodo continued. “The assumption is that somewhere in that town, or beyond its borders, somebody is keeping all those missing persons.”
“The list of disappearances in and around Little Rock keeps growing,” the judge said quietly. “Drifters, strangers, visitors and even known people have mysteriously disappeared around the vicinity of Little Rock. It is becoming too terrible.”
“Yes, sir,” Mike Kpodo continued. “My agent’s appearance leads me to conclude that those missing people are being kept prisoners somewhere, and are being forced to provide labour for some horrendous vocation! Maybe that explains why the perpetrators are hell-bent on keeping the railways out of the town.”
“It is preposterous,” Mr. Badu said heatedly. “The most incredible aspect of this whole horror is that Little Rock is a model town. Violence is minimal, so I hear.”
“It is true, sir,” Mike Kpodo said. “The citizens are hardworking and honest, a flourishing town with proper law and order, nothing out of place! A seasoned sheriff and his two deputies keep even the hardened of criminals out of the town. But to have these disappearances and acts of lawlessness therefore is absolutely frustrating!” Austin Badu held up a small slip of paper.
“Quite rightly so, Mr. Kpodo, but your telegram, as my friend pointed out, and this other document you sent, clearly show that you think there might be a way for a breakthrough in this mystery. We’re interested in that. So, if you’ll be kind enough to elucidate us?” Mike Kpodo passed a hand across his face and then emptied his glass, savouring the heat of the drink and harnessing his thoughts. He knew this was the crux of his presentation, and he needed to make the perfect pitch otherwise his proposition would fall flat on its face. He knew his suggestion would not be met with glee, but he hoped the gravity of the situation would hold sway, and bring with it a modicum of understanding and a chance to find a point to make the Devil’s choice.
“Gentlemen, I have a simple plan, really,” he said clearly, but without rush. “The man Chris Bawa. He hails from Little Rock. I propose we release him.” There was a stunned silence in the room. Badu and Sowah looked at Kpodo as if he had lost his senses. However, Judge Richard Ababio’s eyes narrowed, and his eyebrows perked up perceptively. It suddenly occurred to Kpodo that the man’s shrewd mind was working in tandem with his, seeing what he had seen and, perhaps, finding a positive ground in the whole murky situation.
“Chris Bawa? The murderer?” Sowah spoke with a deep frown.
“Surely, Mr. Kpodo, you are not proposing that we set a hardened criminal like Chris Bawa free, are you? With five years still remaining on his original sentence?” Mike Kpodo said nothing, and the Major threw up his hands with frustration.
“Good heavens, Mr. Kpodo!” he continued. “You just informed us that the man murdered Commander Ayeh! An unsavoury man Roger Ayeh turned out to be, but he was still an officer of the law! Bawa is a killer. We need to have more years slapped on him! And you’re saying we should give him freedom?”
“Not to mention the fact that he was a damn thief who terrorized many of our honest institutions,” Badu added.
“Surely you’re not, by any stretch of the imagination, contemplating setting Chris Bawa free as the requirement of this…this grand plan of yours, are you, Mr. Kpodo?”
“Perhaps,” the judge said calmly. “We should listen to Mr. Kpodo’s proposition first, gentlemen. Could you be kind enough to continue, Mike, please?” The two men looked at him, and then at Kpodo with some faint lines of unease on their faces.
“Well, I followed Chris Bawa’s case from the onset,” Kpodo continued carefully. “There is a chain of heists Bawa led. He was, and still is, I suppose, a hot-headed lad. Let’s not lose focus of one thing, though, gentlemen; Bawa’s gang never killed a single soul!”
“And that exonerates him of crime, Mr. Kpodo?” Badu said, getting angry.
“Come on, please!”
“I understand your position, sir,” Mike Kpodo went on calmly. “Just allow me to finish. Chris Bawa and his gang robbed banks and distributed monies to the poor and needy. The individuals he and his gang robbed were perceived to be people involved in one kind of evil or two in the society. Mind you, I’m not condoning his actions in the least.”
“Well, that’s a relief to hear because you sounded like a fan of his just now,” Badu said angrily.
“Well, sir, I still say with satisfaction that he got what he deserved, and he still deserves to serve the remainder of his prison sentence,” Mike said, striving to remain calm. “The point I’m driving at is that some perceived him as a hero. His gang was seen as a righteous hand, correcting crimes the law could not reach, true or perceived.”
“Goodness me, Mr. Kpodo!” the Major shouted. “I believe you’re now driving me mad! Stop glorifying the bastard!”
“Sorry, sir,” Kpodo said calmly. “I’m just trying to present a true picture, and that is how I read it. The only dark spot in his reign of terror was the last raid they were engaged in, and a little girl was shot. The bullet lodged in her spine, crippling her for life.”
“Well I’m glad you remember that, at least!” the Major thundered with an angry face.
“It came out during the trial that he never allowed his gang members to carry bullets on a raid, gentlemen,” Mike continued as if he had not heard the man speaking. “Only Bawa’s guns had bullets. In prison, when Commander Ayeh started his nefarious death fights, on two occasions, at least by the records we have, Chris Bawa refused to kill young lads, and this made Ayeh take a knife to his cheek and lay it open on one such occasion.”
“My God, Mr. Kpodo!” Benjamin Sowah said indignantly. “You’re glamourizing the bastard! He is nothing but a criminal! A damn criminal!”
“I agree!” Badu chipped in with a scandalized look. “Chris Bawa and his gang robbed banks and individuals! He destroyed a young girl’s life! He’s never respected the law. He’s uncouth, and from the life you’ve just described to us about how his prison term has been so far, I daresay he’s become a more lethal criminal who doesn’t belong to societal life!”
“Well, gentlemen, I do agree with you,” Kpodo stated, still calmly. “Chris Bawa is hard, and he is a criminal. He needs to pay for his crimes. What I’m saying is that we can use him. He displayed pure fury during his trial, and kept saying it was a frame-up, that he didn’t fire the lethal bullet that paralyzed the girl that night.”
“And who did?” Major Sowah asked furiously. “Didn’t you just tell us that he was the only one who had a loaded gun?”
“I’m just stating the fact as it is, Major,” Mike Kpodo said. “Now, one fact stood out after the violence at Fort James. Bawa is a very resourceful man, gentlemen, and if he had wanted to escape prison, he would have, and we would’ve had a tough time tracking him down. But after Commander Ayeh died, he stayed behind. He didn’t flee.” He paused and allowed his words to sink in, and then he leaned forward and spoke earnestly. “I spoke to him, gentlemen. I asked him why he didn’t try to escape. He told me he has five more years to go, and that he will see it through. I pointed out the fact that he murdered Commander Ayeh, and he could end up spending a lifetime in prison. He told me to prove it. Quite rationally, it would be hell of a job proving him guilty of the Commander’s death, and he knew it. Prisoners and officers are all terrified to testify against him. And do you know why? None of them wanted to be in Bawa’s bad books. He simply told me he would do his remaining time, and then go back to Little Rock to get the people that framed him.”
The judge was nodding his head with tiny movements of his neck, his eyes opened now and brighter in the light.
“Send a criminal to catch a criminal,” Judge Ababio said softly. “Bawa wants to go back to Little Rock and ruffle up a few feathers.” Mike Kpodo nodded.
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“He knows the terrain, sir. His fiancee is now married to one of his brothers. He was trained as a fighter at quite an early age, by no one else than the late Uncle Chad, the legendary lawman,” Mike continued. “Chris Bawa claimed that he was set up, that one or more of his four friends collaborated with the law to set him up the night he was captured.”
“Are his four friends still in Little Rock?” Judge Ababio asked.
“Three of his friends are living respectable lives in Little Rock now. Commander Ayeh communicated to us about five years ago that Chris Bawa died simply because he wanted to use Chris in his gambling racket,” Mike said. “Most people in Little Rock believe Chris Bawa is dead. Imagine what will happen if he shows up. In his bid to clear his name, he will open up a few cans, and point us in the right direction to unmask these faceless cowards who are attacking us. Gentlemen, I’m saying we should send Chris Bawa back to Little Rock and work closely behind him, in the shadows!”
“That’s preposterous!” Sowah exploded. “Send him back as what? Are you now going to enter into deals with damn criminals?”
“No, sir, no deals,” Kpodo answered.
“We just tell him he’s free to go after we find a credible and believable story to tell him. We’ll show him some legal documents. We can tell him we’ve received testimonies of how badly he was treated in prison.” “Something believable, something official,” the Judge said thoughtfully.
“Exactly, sir. Commander Ayeh told us the feller was dead, so even after fifteen years he would’ve kept Bawa at Fort James, permanently. So let’s find something credible to tell him and let him return to Little Rock and lift a few rocks high enough for us to look into their crevices. We have wasted two years on the Little Rock issue so far. I’m positive Chris Bawa, unknowingly, will expose the faces behind the attacks in Little Rock.”
“And afterwards, Mike?” the Judge asked carefully. “I understand your surmise, and I even have a modicum of respect for your cold plot. But what happens afterwards? What if Bawa doesn’t go to Little Rock but decides to go somewhere else?”
“Sir, Bawa’s brother has married the only woman Chris ever loved. Secondly, Chris claims he was betrayed,” Mike Kpodo asked softly. “He will go to Little Rock, sir. If he doesn’t we’ll arrest him and send him back to jail, maybe even slap the Ayeh murder on him. But I’m certain he will go to Little Rock. When he unearths the masks behind the attacks, and we get the people behind the attacks on the railway, he will cease to be important to us. When that happens, my secret agents on the ground will kill Bawa.”
“Kill Bawa?” the politician asked.
“Yes, sir,” Kpodo stated, his face deadpan and his tone serious. “Bawa wouldn’t know he is working for us, and when the job is done, he would be shot to death. Gentlemen, Chris Bawa, no matter what happens, will not come out of this alive.”
“Are you speaking murder now, Mike?” the judge asked softly. Mike Kpodo met his eyes without blinking.
“No, sir,” he said quietly. “We’re all watching. Maybe, if indeed he’s able to prove to us that a miscarriage of justice in his case occurred ten years ago, he will live. Otherwise, if he’s able to do what I think he can do, we’ll take him out afterwards because, quite frankly, he doesn’t deserve to live. So we use him to work for us, and when we have no further use for him, he will be eliminated.” The three men looked at each other for a long time. Finally, Badu leaned back and looked at Mike with grudging respect in his eyes.
“Tell us more, Mr. Kpodo. What do you expect to happen? Tell us what we stand to gain by letting Chris Bawa go back to Little Rock.”
“Yes, explain further,” Sowah said, still looking unconvinced.
“This whole thing can blow right in our faces, you know. If he has become even more vicious than we all remember him, this can turn into the most terrible decision ever made by men considered to be wise. You have to think about that too.”
The judge cleared his throat, and pushed a batch of papers to the left as he put his elbows on the table and laced his fingertips. His eyes were unreadable as he looked directly at Mike Kpodo.
“Let me also add a little note of dissent, Mike. Whatever plan you want to hatch hinges on two broad assumptions. One, we assume that Chris Bawa will return to Little Rock. Two, we assume that he will stay and do a little digging that will benefit us in this great battle against unseen criminals. Am I right so far?”
“Yes, sir, that’s a fair enough surmise.”
“Good. Now, has it occurred to you yet that a man as rotten as Bawa will just go over there and simply shoot up four men he perceived had betrayed him? Bawa might not really be after true justice, but the justice he thinks he deserves. So he would just waltz in there and kill the four men, his former friends, and to him that would be justice. If that happens, then this grandiose plan of yours peters into nothing, Mike.” Kpodo licked his lips. He was aware that the judge, his only ally so far, had now shifted himself to a safer ground. Although he believed in the plan Mike was espousing, he wanted to be on the dry land in case the waves became nasty. Kpodo nodded once and then he took out a sheet of paper from his bag and spread it on the table. He got to his feet and began to speak, pointing to his sheet once in a while as he outlined his plans.
“That has occurred to me, Mr. Ababio,” Kpodo stated calmly, his face taking on a hardness of its own, brandishing that particular set of steely approach that had served him well in his stellar leadership roles. “That can happen, though I doubt it. I will therefore take action, if given approval here, to ensure that Bawa is monitored closely. Yes, Chris Bawa can kill the four men he thinks betrayed him, but it is a risk we need to take if we stand any chance of getting the terrorists in Little Rock!”
“So we release Chris Bawa, the killer,” Mr. Badu said.
“And we use him as a pawn,” Major Sowah said thoughtfully. “But we kill him when we have no further use for him.”
“Exactly,” Mike Kpodo said, aware that he had won.
“We release Bawa. He works unknowingly to help us find the killers. And then we kill him.”