I stared at the number given at the end of the report. The kind of number I was used to seeing. My mind was reeling from all that it had taken in, and the possibilities that arose. I closed my eyes and went through the whole thing again, from top to bottom.
Over the past year, Delson Pharma had reported four ‘accidental deaths’. Not a large number for an organization of its size, but then again this was coming from an organization with zero accidents prior to the first death. These four deaths were not all within the same facility though; one in India, one in Brazil and two in the U.S. On their own, these deaths appeared to be nothing but accidents. But then three researchers had been killed as well; Dr Jean-Francois Gignac died when his car’s brakes failed and he careened into the Seine, Dr Jane Callahan died in Chicago, Illinois when faulty wiring caused a fire outbreak in her lab with her still inside, and Dr Obinna Amadi who’d been killed in an Armed Robbery attempt at his home in Lagos. He’d come back home from the U.S. on vacation, and barely a week into his stay, he’d been gunned down. At first glance, these researchers had nothing in common apart from academics. However, they had all been independently working on some form of DNA and blood research. Further investigation by the C.I.A. revealed some correspondence among them, but nothing to show they had been working together. Just routine academic-speak about the things they were working on, problems they were having, and ways to solve them, just as they had mailed countless other researchers in their field. It seemed these three though had made some form of progress on a protein in the human DNA that had some sort of slowing, or halting effect on ageing. After their deaths, all their research had vanished, including backups. Almost immediately, a few researchers had joined the staff of Delson Pharma, under the radar. Two Japanese researchers; Drs Hidetomi Tanaka and Omura Shimizu, and Dr Pradeep Kumar from India. These three also worked in the same field as the three dead researchers. A few months ago, they were all transferred to the Port Harcourt facility.
A video which had been taken just before the researchers had been transferred showed something that made me uncomfortable. It showed a man attacking a soldier, tearing at his BDU-Battle Dress Uniform-despite threats to back off or risk being shot. He’d been like a rabid dog, and then the man with the camera had gone closer; it seemed to be a helmet camera. The camera had captured the man’s face. When I saw his eyes, I’d stopped the video, rewound, played it again, and stopped it when the eyes came on-screen. His eyes…I could still see them now with my eyes closed. They had been devoid of any emotion but rage…and I think I detected a tinge of red in the corneas, and a darker red for the pupils. It could’ve been a trick of the sun, but still…
Shortly after that, two men had been killed. A soldier in his home in Utah, on his way out of a grocery store, and another man who later turned out to be his handler, in his office in Washington. The soldier had been the one who’d taken the footage, and he’d been assigned to Delson Pharma as part of the Security Detail.
Lots of bodies.
And now, reports of missing people in the village close to the Port Harcourt facility. A few kids and adults. These were routinely chucked up to runaways, but given the fact that the same had happened in a small town close to one of the American facilities in Utah as well, this felt like a possible problem.
Things like this are always like an iceberg; so much hidden beneath the surface. I opened my eyes and stared at the number once again. I had never really taken up any mission without Uche’s knowledge. But this…this was something else entirely. And it was compelling too. However, some things felt iffy to me, and I was not comfortable with that feeling. Some clarification was needed. Big fish, big river. My responsibility to my country as well.
I picked up my phone and dialled the number.
I heard the familiar sounds of a call being re-routed through secure channels and I waited, counting off the seconds as the signal bounced of satellites. Then I heard a male voice say, “Hello Colonel Ikechukwu.” Bland voice, standard issue American accent, crisp and used to giving orders. Desk jockey. Washington.
“Who is this?” I asked, staring at my computer screen but not seeing the words of the document open before me.
“I am James Mulligan, and I am with the CIA.”
I nodded. “Before you go any further, does my country know what’s going on?” I knew he wasn’t in Nigeria; that’s not the way the Company works.
A slight pause, then “Yes and no.”
“I take it that you have gone through the files I sent you.”
Not a question. “Obviously.”
“So you know the reason for the secrecy. You know that once something this sensitive gets out, all hell will be let loose, and your countrymen are not exactly reliable.”
“Look who’s talking,” I replied, smiling. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“Mr Delson is well-connected within your country,” James said. “Now, I bet you do not know the main reason he built a facility in your country.”
“You tell me.”
“You saw the footage?”
“We think Mr Delson is developing something dangerous. We tried to get close but every time we did, there was always an…accident. But from what little info we have we believe Mr Delson has been developing a rare type of blood strain code-named DJINN. It slows ageing, but it has a bloody side-effect. Literally. Initial tests showed an inhuman hunger for blood in test subjects, at least according to reports. Sincerely, we do not know much, but we know that they are experimenting on people. Why do you think they are in Nigeria? We can’t get eyes on them there, that’s why. We need somebody on the inside. We need you to be our eyes in there, and then if need be, we need you to act.”
I kept quiet. James was right; Politicians are not exactly trustworthy. Always looking to get paid. I exhaled. Still…
“When I asked if my country knew what you were doing, you said yes and no,” I said. “Explain.”
“There are a few people who are in support of what we are doing. But they are not in a position to make the decisions we need made. Major General Seun Oladapo for one is in support of this mission. He and a couple others like him have been on our side on this. Now we have you. And don’t forget your responsibility to the U.S. Government.”
“Don’t play that card with me James,” I said.
He ignored me. “This is very important Colonel Ikechukwu. We need your help.”
I stood up and walked to the window of my apartment. I looked out over the city; the same old sight every evening. Traffic jam. People slowly inching their way home. Blaring horns, snarling faces, swaying hands, jerky movements. Thank God for the sound-proof glass. “As long as I have complete support and control on this one.”
“I’m serious. I do not want to have to cut through some red tape on this one. You know the way I work. And Uche remains my contact. I trust only her. Whatever I need should be sent through her.”
“Listen here Colonel-“
“No YOU listen James. You either play ball or you take this assignment to someone else.”
“But you are the best option we have.”
“Exactly.” I had to play hardball with him, let him know that he couldn’t run me. I am no fan of the boys and girls from the Company; they love being in charge. Which is why I hate working for them.
After a while, James exhaled and said, “Okay. You win. We will brief Uche, but ONLY what we feel she needs to know. And she will be your contact.”
“Fair enough.” I turned and went back to my seat. “I assume you will come down here to Nigeria,” I said, firing up my Government Database Search Engine and typing his name.
A chuckle on the other end, and then “Are you trying to find out who I am?”
“I have to. The seal of the U.S. and Nigerian Governments alone won’t do.”
James Mulligan was an African-American, so he wouldn’t have any problem blending in…as long as he didn’t speak anyway. In Nigeria, apart from being foreign, nothing makes a person stand out like a foreign accent. He could speak 5 languages fluently, but none of those languages apart from English was going to help him here; Ikwerre was not part of his repertoire, neither were Yoruba, Hausa or Pidgin. He was going to have to hide behind a curtain.
“Okay,” I said. “When will you be in the country?”
“As soon as I can. For now, I want you to start work as usual, but you have to be careful while doing your job; these people have shown that they have no qualms about killing.”
I chuckled. “Good luck to them then. How do I contact you if it is urgent?”
“I thought you preferred Uche?” A smirk.
“Don’t play coy with me James.”
“Use this number.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you when I need to.”
“Okay. Good luck Soldier.”
“Thanks.” I cut the call and sat back. I thought for a minute, and then stood up and went to my wardrobe. I pushed a small panel set flush into the back of the wardrobe and slid it back to reveal a safe that was almost as high as the wardrobe. I took out my weapons; a Heckler & Koch HK416 and my favourite marksman rifle, the Heckler & Koch HK417. I also took out my pistols; two SIG Sauer P226s and a Beretta 90two. What can I say? I love my weapons. I left the knives and other weapons I had, took out my cleaning instruments, stripped all weapons and started to clean them. This usually calmed me down, but on this occasion, it didn’t help. Because all I kept seeing were those eyes.
Red, red eyes.