Kpodo removed his cigar and ground it out in a crafted enamel bowl. He took a deep breath as the door to his inner bedroom opened and Roxanne came out, and behind her was a huge bearded agent. The bearded man nodded at Mike Kpodo and quickly left the office. He would go and wait for Chris Bawa at Little Rock, and submit a weekly report to Kpodo without fail. The agent also had orders to assassinate Bawa either by an expressed command by his boss, or undertaken on his own volition if he felt it was extremely necessary. He was an astute man, a right-thinking man with a shrewd mind, and Kpodo trusted him very much.
Roxanne, however, remained standing near the desk, watching her boss carefully. Kpodo sighed and got to his feet. He walked to the window that overlooked the yard of the building, and he saw Chris Bawa crossing the yard. A moment later Roxanne came and stood by his side. They watched Chris Bawa. His shoulders were up, and there was a furious thrust of his jaw. An attractive man. A hard man. A madly-furious man.
“That man is a dangerous man, Mike,” Roxanne said quietly as she reached up and massaged the back of his neck tenderly. “I hope you know what you’re doing. This can blow up rather badly, you know.” Mike Kpodo nodded, almost unperceptively, and sighed hugely.
“He is our only hope, Rox,” he said softly. “There was nothing else to do.” Even when Chris Bawa was long gone, Kpodo still remained at the window, lost in thoughts, and then he finally turned half-way toward the woman and took her in his arms. She moulded herself into him, closing her eyes as a soft sigh-moan flitted through her lips, and then they were kissing passionately.
Chris Bawa arrived in Temple Town on a warm evening by train. Little Rock was two days riding from Temple Town. The railways did not go through to Little Rock, and so Chris had to buy a horse or take a coach to Little Rock. He was dressed in faded jeans and a frayed cotton shirt. An old Calvary hat was pulled low on his forehead. His boots were inches too small, but the shoe seller at Cape Road had not stocked Chris’ boot size. All in all, he was a fine specimen of manhood.
He stood absolutely still on the sidewalk, his gaze lazily running the length of the street, taking stock of every lay of the town, his brain almost automatically separating the danger areas, the crevices that would make for a quick escape, the dead-ends that could become traps in a tight situation. There was a sizzling energy around him, a sort of coiled violence barely held in check, ready to explode at the least provocation. There was no expression on his face. His eyes were pale, and most of the time they held no emotion, just a coldness that seemed to burn deep into his very soul.
There were times when his gaze had been known to cause a rush of panic in those beholding it, and they had not dared to hold his gaze for long.
Finally, he turned and faced the hotel. It was a three-storied brick building painted deep peeling ash. It had huge glass doors, and above that was a flamboyantly painted and lighted awning that announced the hotel’s name: Hotel Paradise. There were well-dressed people on the porch, and all their eyes were fixed on the huge stranger. His presence always drew that attention, because his was not a face easily forgotten. He had the forceful charisma that set women’s heart fluttering with unbidden thoughts, and men’s lips setting with undisguised envy.
He moved with a lithe fluidity and lazy gait that nonetheless encompassed all, missing nothing. Almost lazily he climbed the wide steps to the glass doors and pushed them open, entering without so much as a glance at the little crowd peering so closely at him. The lobby was huge and high. The floor was of polished wood, some portions lined with expensive-looking strips of rug.
Panelled walls, elaborate paintings, a flower pot here and there, a couple of long beautiful sofas and some glassware gave the whole place a dreamy aura. Cleverly designed wall brackets housed some quaint kerosene lamps. A stairway curved upward to the rooms above. The front desk was a polished semi-circular construction, flanked by a few high stools. To one side of the desk was a huge glass door that led to a saloon or eatery. Soft guitar music floated from within. A few people were inside, having a meal and drinking.
Low conversation died as the man went up to the front desk. The man behind the front desk was fat, wearing a clean white shirt and a black bow-tie. His face was round and puffy, his lips unnaturally pink. He smiled thinly as his shifty eyes roved over the newcomer, taking in the ill-fitting attire and saddle-weary appearance of the stranger. Normally a disdainful look would have appeared on his face at this point, marked by a graphic upward curl of the right side of his lips, but this time a remote intuition robbed him of that most peculiar habitual trait, and his eyes were forced to express a cordiality he was far from feeling.
“Welcome, mister,” he said in a carefully-modulated voice. “My name is Joel Rodd. How may I be of assistance to you?”
“A room for the night,” the stranger said. His voice was low, but it was a man’s voice, coming deep from the throat with a pleasant resonance, but at the same time holding a hinted rugged steel.
“Certainly,” the man behind the desk said as he pulled a long register toward him and reached for a pen. “We have singles, doubles and plush.”
“Single will be fine.”
“Certainly. Room seven upstairs will do you just fine, I’m sure. Now, if you would please sign here,” the attendant said and turned the register to face the man whilst simultaneously turning to pick a silver key from a rack behind him.
“We demand full payment for duration of stay, sir. As you can see, prices per night are indicated beside the room numbers. Other services can be arranged if you so wish.” The stranger signed the register unhurriedly, and then he reached into his top pocket, took out a roll of bills, and carefully laid two greenbacks on the desk. Furtively Rodd looked at the name the stranger had written: C. Bawa. Immediately the little man’s eyes flew to the ravaged face of the stranger whilst he drew an involuntary breath. It was quite obvious that he was more than a trifle agitated as he came from behind the long desk and led the way toward the stairway.
“If you would follow me, please,” he said, and his voice had lost some of its earlier finery, and trembled just a bit. There was the hint of sudden perspiration on his nose and upper lip as he walked briskly ahead. If the huge man noticed any of these things his demeanour gave nothing away as he followed.
They climbed up the stairs abreast. Sharp girlish laughter suddenly came from above them, and both of them looked up. A man was coming down the stairs with a lady on each arm. He was a huge man himself, but not quite as big as the stranger. He was wearing a well-tailored three-piece white suit. His face was ruggedly handsome, a face well-cared for. There was a permanent sneer on his lips, the effect of a pampered childhood, and his face was an epitome of supreme confidence.
His two companions were beautiful and overdressed, young rich women out for a thrill, and not caring where it came from as long as it was delivered hot and fast. They came down the stairs in a buoyant jostling manner, taking up all the space on the staircase.
Rodd and his companion flattened themselves as best as they could against the railing. The young man and one of his companions passed safely, but the lady closest to Chris bumped into him lightly and missed a step and her footing. With a little cry of horror, she tumbled down the stairs, and landed hard on the floor on her delicate backside, where she sat in an unladylike fashion, feet splayed and the wide hem of her skirt bunched around her creamy thighs.
“Oh, poor thing,” Rodd cried and descended the stairs quickly and went to her aid. The other girl also ran down the stairs to help. That left Chris Bawa and the big-headed giant on the staircase. The former took one look at the girl below the stairs and continued to climb up.
“You damn fool!” cried the big-headed man. His face was suffused with a terrible anger. He reached out and grabbed the right arm of Chris Bawa. “You did that on purpose, you clown! Now go down like a good boy and apologize to the lady!” His voice carried down, and suddenly all activity stopped. All eyes turned to the stairs. Chris Bawa looked down at the hand clutching his arm, and then his eyes came up slowly and he fixed the big man with a cold stare. The big-headed giant, ready to explode, took one look at the eyes regarding him, and suddenly he felt a sharp twist in his stomach. One moment Bawa’s eyes had been expressionless, almost dull, but now they were filled with sudden fury, a cold malevolent cauldron of fierce anger that threatened to explode.
“Take your paw off me,” he said in a soft voice that boiled with uncontrolled venom. The giant was suddenly aware of the arm he was holding. He was aware of the tightness of the flesh beneath, the unyielding muscles that resisted the clutch of his fingers. Chris Bawa gripped the man’s fingers and pried them loose. The giant was staring at Chris, and he could feel the sharp tingles on the back of his hand, still feel the strength of the fingers that had gripped him. His gaze went down, and he saw that the scarred brute was unarmed.
“That’s okay now, everything is fine now!” Rodd said breathlessly as he came up the stairs toward them. “The lady’s okay. Break this up now!” The giant looked at Rodd, and he saw the tangible fear on the man’s face, the desperate message he was sending.
Slowly the truth dawned on the giant; Rodd was afraid, but he was not afraid for Chris! Indeed, the man was desperately telling the giant to back off! His gaze went back to Chris Bawa, and noticed the sheen of perspiration on the other’s face, the brace of his legs, the fingers slightly clawed…but most of all, he saw the fury still blazing in Chris’ eyes, a black wrath that was waiting to explode, that needed only the tiniest goading to be unleashed.
The big-headed giant had never been a coward, and he had had his fair share of fights, most of them wins, but he knew deep down that he was not facing anything human now. The coiled muscle in front of him could not be held back, and suddenly he knew it would be disastrous to engage Chris in a fight. To save his pride he looked down at the people gathered below the stairs.
“You okay, Helen?” he asked, still pretending to be angry. The ashen-faced girl nodded numbly. The giant turned and faced Chris again. “Next time watch how you walk on the damn stairs!” he said.
“You talk a lot,” Chris said; only Rodd and the giant heard him, but it had the effect of a whiplash on them. Rodd gasped audibly, his guts going stone cold, whilst the other man retreated a step, shock the paramount expression on his face. My Lord, giant thought with sudden dazed comprehension, he wants to go at me…he wants to fight me! This man wants to fight me!
“No!” Rodd said with fear, and swiftly stepped between the two men. With his back to the redhead he spoke urgently. “Everything’s settled, mister. Come, please, let me show you to your room!” The big-headed giant turned and headed down the stairs. He could feel his heart beating with sudden apprehension because he expected Chris to rush down the stairs and force the fight on him. He turned only when he reached the little group of people at the base of the stairs, and he saw that there was no sight of the stranger on the stairs. Silently the giant let out his breath.
“This is your room,” Rodd said. It was a pleasant room, as expected. The bed was huge and the sheets smelled clean. One of the quaint kerosene lamps burned, casting a warm glow on the objects in the room. There was a wardrobe, and the floor was covered with a worn but good rug which could be deep tan or maroon, judging from its dark hue. Sleek tall windows opened unto a little balcony from which guests could see the night activities below.
“The bathroom’s in there,” Rodd said, pointing to a partially-closed door. “There’s a tub and cold water. If you want, we can arrange for some hot water for you.”
“Cold water is fine,” Chris said. Rodd paused for a moment, and it was evident that there was a question bubbling on his lips, his curiosity eating ruthlessly into him, but for some reason he could not speak, and then he let himself out quietly. He noticed that his hands were not quite steady as he closed the door. They were trembling so badly because he was terrified. Christ, is that man Chris Bawa? Dear Sweet Lord, if it is then it means hell! His steps quickened as he went down the stairs. He had to get a message to Little Rock as soon as possible! They had to know! Chris Bawa was out of prison, and he was headed for Little Rock!
“My God!” Rodd whispered with horror as he went down the stairs hurriedly. “Mr. Ted has to know immediately! Dear Lord, the devil is back!”
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Chris Bawa undressed carefully. He hanged his clothes in the wardrobe, and then he padded naked into the bathroom. He drew water from a short barrel and filled the wooden tub. The water was cold enough to freeze many a man, but he was used to it. He had been bathing in ice-cold water for ten years…in prison.
He spent a long time in the bath. His fury was like a living thing, thudding violently away in his guts, so loudly that he could hear it in his brain. His hands gripped the edge of the tub tightly; he fought it, trying to tame it. After a long time, the fiery fire in his brain fizzled out and became coals. He got out of the tub, and he did not dry himself, but walked into the room dripping water.
He was ravenously hungry, but he knew he had to let the hunger eat at him, gnaw at his intestines with vengeance. In prison he had adapted to going without food and water for days, forced on him by the ruthless nemesis, that insane Commander. His hunger would purge him of the poison that had arisen in his heart, venom that had almost forced him to attack and possibly maim that harmless womanizer on the stairs. The hunger would let him think clearly, and bring into focus the direction his life was going to take.
Still naked, he went to the balcony. He stood there for a long time, letting the cold air dry the water on his body. It was so cold that goose bumps rose on his hard body, but he did not seem to mind. He breathed the dry air and observed the night life restlessly.
Eventually he felt the familiar heat of fury mounting up around his neck, and the sweat forming on his face. He realized his hands ached, and looked down at them, and then became aware that he had gripped the banisters so hard that his knuckles showed almost white. He shook his head numbly and went into the room and carefully stretched out on the bed. It was too soft…too comfortable! He hated it. He tossed and turned. Chris wanted to get off the bed and lie on the bare floor. That was what was familiar. That was what was comfortable.
“No!” he hissed in the darkness. “No more sleeping on the floor! This is what humans do! They sleep on beds, so learn how to sleep on a damn bed!” He could not induce sleep. Not ever again. His temples began to ache, and he giggled harshly to himself in the darkness. He knew the signs! Oh, just how well he knew the signs! It was the good old pain, that unbearable hammering in his skull…it happened whenever he was in unfamiliar situations, when he was more than a little bit stressed out by the memories, memories, memories…of a time past!
“No!” he groaned harshly to himself. “I don’t want to remember! Go away!” And then there was a tap on the door. Chris Bawa froze. The tap came again, and then the door handle turned. It suddenly dawned on Chris that he had not locked the door! He moved with the gracefulness of a lithe cat, bounding off the bed with one fluid movement and landing on the floor, rolling once, and then a spring brought him to the opening door. An arm appeared, and Chris grabbed it and spun the intruder into the room, locking the arm down and up, forcing the figure to give a muted scream. It was a woman! Chris spun away from her and released her!
“Sorry,” he said simply. The girl was young and extremely beautiful. She was massaging her shoulder with a grimace of pain on her face, breathing hard.
“You beast!” she hissed, her face flushed with anger, and then she relaxed. The dress she was wearing was red, made of very light material, filmy and swirling around her legs sensuously. “Mr. Rodd sent me,” she whispered after a while, smiling at him seductively now. “He said you might want my company. Don’t worry about payment. It is on the house.” Suddenly she spread her arms up and outward, and the material fell off her shoulders. She was naked underneath, and she was a beauty.
Her curves were moulded with love. She had incredible breasts, so proud and pointed, her nipples taut and roseate, with tiny bumps around them either from the cold or from arousal. Her stomach was flat and taut, her hips gentle yet deep. Her legs were long and lovely, the juncture of her thighs graced by light hair. She looked down his naked torso, coming to rest on his core.
It had been ten years of hard labour, of fighting to survive, of killing to survive, and he had not known a woman! This was a sight so strong, so tight that he could not resist it when she moved against him and her hand reached down and found him. He groaned as her lips sought his, and she moulded herself into his arms. She caressed him, but he was already hard and furious! His hands grabbed her waist as his lips mauled hers. She groaned, pressing harder against him, expertly working her loins against him, wetting the tip of his shaft with her inner juices.
Chris kissed her neck, and his lips found her right nipple. She moaned now, her finger digging across his shoulders.
“Take me now, please!” she whispered against his ears, and Chris froze immediately. Those words! Someone had murmured them to him, the very first time they made love! Take me, Chris-Love, please, now… More than a decade ago, a sweet woman, a lovely woman, a woman he craved…and she had whispered those same words to him! The only woman he had ever cared about! Elaine! His Elaine! The woman he had left in Little Rock and spent a decade from! She was in Little Rock, waiting for him. Only her should have him! Only her should slake his thirst, because he loved her, and she loved him! He had to wait for Elaine. His love…his only love! The girl in his arms was trying to impale herself on his erection, but he moved back from her, his face pained, and shook his head at her. She stood panting, naked and filled with desire.
“What?” she whispered tremulously.
“Out,” Chris whispered, and her face was pinched with pain immediately.
“You want me!” she whispered fiercely, pointing at his still hard member. “You bastard! You want me!”
“Out…please,” Chris whispered again.
“Bastard!” she whispered fiercely. “We’ll meet again, mister! Adios! And I wish your damn balls fall off!” She sizzled with fury at him, her fists tight with wrath, and then she reached down, grabbed her gown, and stormed out of the door.
Chris pushed it shut and locked it, and then he sat slowly on the floor with his head back. This time he could not stop his memories. Memories of them, of Little Rock, of Elaine…his Elaine! Painful memories! This was it. This time he did not fight it. He allowed the memories to take shape, to crystallize, to hurt. As always it began with the sound of a gun!