Episode 2: The Praying Mantis
Time: 8:30 PM
Nonso was having a good time. He’d lost track of how many girls he’d danced with or indeed how many numbers he’d been able to get. Some of the prospects looked very promising indeed. Who needed a girlfriend when you could have a life like this? Nonso had never been the relationship sort of guy. That ship had sailed long before he was old enough to be in one. His uncle had been in a relationship with aunt Adure. She had come across as a wonderful and good natured woman. He was only twelve at the time but he’d always been perceptive. Nonso stole away from the dance floor and ordered another Vodka and orange juice mix. The bartender set to it speedily. This would be his third draft. He liked the way this bartender mixed. The draft was in front of him and he quickly took his customary first sip as his thoughts went back to his uncle and aunt Adure.
However, it had all been a façade. He remembered coming back from school one day and walking into their last argument. She had been yelling.
“One more thing! Get a real job! Get a real life!”
She had stormed past him like a hurricane, almost knocking him over. When he turned to look at his uncle, he didn’t see him. In his place, was a broken man Nonso did not recognize. That broken man lingered on for weeks, before beginning to recede. The recession took just as long too. His uncle eventually recovered, moved on and did get a life… As one of the greatest movie directors the country had produced. Yet the images of that moment and the struggles thereafter had burned into his young mind. He had made up his mind there and then never to be a broken man. So far so good. His thoughts turned to Ibrahim. He couldn’t say the same for him. Ibrahim had loved and lost and loved all over again more times than he cared to remember. They had been friends since JSS1 and even then the highly expressive Ibrahim came across as a bit of a softy or a romantic. The kind of man most women feasted on for dinner. Nonso had done his best to toughen him up, with mixed results. He just hoped this one would not turn out the same way, even though it was more of wishful thinking. Simisola was a four year crush after all. Nonso took out his phone and began composing a text to his friend.
They were getting near the club’s exit. Ibrahim had tried his best to wriggle free as subtly as he could, but to no avail. Now he yanked his hand forcefully, but Simisola held on tight. Ibrahim tried again and she turned around facing him. Her face was only inches away from his.
“Right now I can feel your pulse from your wrist. I’d say your heart is pounding away at… hmmm… 97 beats per minute. Fear.” She smiled. “The things fear can do to the human body.”
Ibrahim felt the cold metal on his wrist and looked down to see the menacing blade resting long ways parallel to his arm. Simisola continued.
“If I slit your arteries open right now, that heart rate will spike up into the hundreds. How long do you think it will take you to bleed out then?”
Sweat oozed from Ibrahim’s forehead and trickled down his face. Simisola smiled at the horror she saw in his eyes. There would be little resistance from here on out.
“Good boy.” She said as she turned and pulled him through the bouncers and out of the club.
Good boy. It was a far cry from the big boy she had said earlier in the evening. Now he had been reduced from a man to a child. Ibrahim’s mind frantically raced through ideas on how to escape and save his life. It was clear this woman wanted to kill him, but she did not want to do it here for obvious reasons. Knowing who he was, there would be too many eyes and as such too many potential witnesses. Besides, there was the possibility she wanted to do it after prying into his mind. Chai! Ibrahim you don enter. He closed his eyes and opened them. Stay calm. Stay calm. They were waiting for someone. He had to make his move now.
“You must have been ordered to make this hit look like a crime… weren’t you?” He said, mustering up all the calm his very petrified self could.
She looked at him in mild surprise.
“Wow. Very discerning indeed for an ajebutter in your predicament. The answer is yes, but what does it matter to you. You are still going to die.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Ibrahim responded calmly. He knew the psychological game she was playing. Ajepackos as the hardened demographic of Nigeria were fondly called, loved to slip deeper into their rugged roots when they sense a bit of resistance from someone classified as an ‘ajebutter’. It was meant to pass across the message of futility in the effort. Often times in the past, it had worked. He would not let it work today. Today, his life was on the line.
“What do you mean?” Simisola asked. It was Ibrahim’s turn to smile. His bluff was having the desired effect.
“Do you think my father lets me go so far without protection? They should be on your trail now.”
Simisola laughed and pretentiously laid her head on his shoulder. He had to give it to her. She was a great actress. Despite the tension of the moment she had managed to make them appear as though a loving couple or two mutually attracted adults slipping away to explore those attractions further.
“If you mean your friend, then tell your father he might has well have sent dumber to protect dumb.”
A cab slowed to a stop in front of them. Ibrahim’s eyes widened in horror. It was the same cab driver that had picked him and Nonso up earlier.
“Took you long enough.” Simisola said as she opened the back door.
“I’ve been circling the area all night Mantis. You are ten minutes behind schedule.” The coarse uneducated sounding voice was gone. The diction had improved remarkably in three hours. This was a set up all along!
“What can I say, I found an exciting mate.” She tried to push Ibrahim into the back seat but he pushed back and tried to break away once more. Instead he found himself falling to his knees involuntarily. His entire right side had suddenly gone numb from his shoulder downwards.
“Wh…what did you do to me?” He threw up on the asphalt.
“Aje. It’s just a depressed nerve.” She yanked him up, recklessly shoved him into the car and got in behind him. A clattering noise could be heard behind her. Simisola turned to see that it was Ibrahim’s phone, which had landed right in the middle of his puke.
“Gross”. She said as she closed the door behind them. The taxi cab sped off.
Nonso had lost count of how many times he’d tried Ibrahim’s number. It rung out on each try. A part of him concluded his friend must be having the time of his life, but every time he tried to let it go, something tugged at him to keep trying. The phone rang out once more. Nonso hissed and sucked his teeth. Ibrahim if I find out I’m getting worried for nothing… in fact… when we see…
The sound of coughing behind him, startled him into whirling around. He almost began coughing himself. His eyes beheld a lady who could easily pass for a demi-goddess. If he had been stunned by Simisola’s looks, this girl had just sniped him from a distance. Her dark chocolate skin could melt any man down to a puddle.
What is it about these ground level chics? I can’t live here. I would die from complete cardiac failure.
“Get the woman some water!” Nonso yelled at the bartender as he rushed to her side and placed his hand behind her back in a show of concern. His other hand inched closer to her chest in what was planned to be an accidental bump. Suddenly she caught hold of wrist.
“I thingk… I’ve had… a lil too much to drink” She slurred. She locked eyes with Nonso’s and forcibly drove the breath out of his lungs.
“… walk me outside? I need to um…” She simulated a puking motion.
“B..but of course. Um…” Nonso couldn’t think straight and it annoyed him. It was one thing to be stunned but it was quite another to lose his composure in front of a girl. He led her out of the club towards the rear exit. Here, the music took on a muffled, distorted and thumping sound. Nonso led her away from the exit towards an empty and poorly lit side street.
“You can do it here.” He said as he made to step back. Once again, her hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. Nonso was getting uncomfortable.
“Look you probably…”
“I need you to call your friend once more.” She yanked him and started walking towards the street.
“What? Woman! Leave me! Are you a robber?” Nonso was beginning to panic.
“Worse.” She responded tersely.
“Call your friend if you don’t want him to die.” She said cutting him off again.
“You know something? You are very rude.” Nonso chided as he frantically began dialing Ibrahim’s number. He placed the phone on speaker so she could hear it too. It rang out.
“What’s happening to Ibrahim? Why do you think he is going to die?” Nonso placed his phone back in his pocket.
“Give me your phone.” She commanded, ignoring his questions.
Nonso angrily yanked his hand out of her grip.
“Do you think I’m a fool? So this is the new style of catching JJC’s unawares right? Well I’m not an idiot.”
“Thanks for the phone.” The girl said as she walked off.
“Thanks for what?” Nonso checked his pocket. His phone was gone. He turned around to see her walking quickly through the crowd of people gathered outside.
“Hey! Ole! Thief!” Nonso ran after her. She walked quickly, almost effortlessly. Even though he was running, he found her quick turns and sudden changes of pace jarring. By the time he caught up to her he was breathless.
“M… my phone.” He noticed she was dialing Ibrahim’s number.
“Shhhhh. Do you hear that?”
It was then he heard it, the all too familiar ringtone of Ibrahim’s phone. Nonso heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, he could find Ibrahim and get rid of this crazy lady. He walked in the direction of the ring tone he had heard. It was getting louder with each step. Nonso was already preparing his diatribe for Ibrahim in his head. However, when he arrived at the location of the ringtone, Ibrahim was nowhere to be found. Instead, his phone lay precariously on top of what appeared to be puke. Nonso stared at the phone disbelievingly. The lady had arrived there shortly after him. They both exchanged glances at each other.
“I’m not picking it up.” Nonso said, folding his hands and backing away. His face wore an expression of disgust. The lady shook ahead and took out a pair of gloves from her hand bag. She stooped down, picked up Ibrahim’s phone and examined it.
“Gas fumes. They have not been gone long.” She finally said. The lady turned to face Nonso.
“Still think I’m a thief?” She asked sarcastically.
Nonso shook his head as he looked at her, wide eyed.
“No… something worse.”
Her lips curled up ever so slightly but then the smile was gone just as soon as it came.
“Can you access his phone?” She said as she began walking along the sidewalk.
“No.” Nonso lied.
“Right now this is my only key to finding your friend before he is killed.”
“But how? I still don’t even know what the hell happened?! You’re not telling me anything!”
“Keep your voice down idiot.” The lady snapped.
Nonso kept quiet. He was quickly learning that this was a woman who got what she wanted, when she wanted it. She was not one to take no for an answer. She suddenly turned towards Nonso and wrapped her arms around his neck in a sensuous embrace. She inched her faced closer to his and then whispered in his ear.
“Listen, I will tell you everything you need to know, in time. Right now your friend is in grave danger. If you don’t help me find him, they will kill him.”
“Who is ‘they’? Simisola?”
“Is that what she calls herself?”
“What she calls herself? Is that not her name?”
The lady released Nonso from the embrace, turned and began walking again. He followed her closely behind.
“If that’s not her name? Then what is?”
“The praying mantis has no name.”
“The what?” Nonso was beyond exasperated. Every passing moment he spent with this mysterious lady got him even more confused.
“The praying mantis, Simisola, or the hundreds of other names she adopts, is an elite government assassin notorious for seducing her targets and sometimes even sleeping with them, only to kill them.”
“Oh my God.”
“Unlock the phone.”
Nonso, hands shaking, quickly entered Ibrahim’s unlock code and handed it over to the dark chocolate skinned lady. She quickly navigated through its interface and a few seconds later she let out a wry smile.
Very impressive, Care Packet.
“Find anything?” Nonso asked.
The lady turned around and showed him a blinking red dot on Ibrahim’s phone. It resided in what seemed to be a holographic 3-dimensional map of an area in ground level. The dot moved and stopped, occasionally.
“Yes it is. Your friend’s reputation as a genius precedes him, but I am quite surprised at his resourcefulness.” The lady put the phone back inside her hand bag.
“Now what? We need to hurry!” Nonso had been fighting to keep his composure since he’d learned of Ibrahim’s predicament from this woman. He’d had to try even harder since he confirmed it by finding the phone laying on the street. Seeing the blinking red dot – seeing Ibrahim as a blinking red dot – gave him a strong sense of dread.
“Yes… we must move quickly but I need you to leave no room for panic. If you panic, you could cost us all our lives.”
Nonso looked at her and took a deep breath.
“What would you have me do?” He asked.
Ibrahim’s head dropped and rolled in no discerning pattern. Occasionally, he went into an involuntary spasm before settling down into place. He had no idea of what he had been saying for the past forty-five minutes. The truth was, he didn’t want to know what he might have said. But he did know questions had been asked, and he had found himself answering… almost against his will. There was a splinter of his mind that screamed out to him, urging him to lie, but he could not comply. Ibrahim squinted his eyes. His vision was fuzzy. However, he could make out a bit of his environment. He had been blindfolded in the cab and as such had no way of telling exactly where they were. Not that he could have anyway. He had very little knowledge about ground level’s geography. What was clear to him was that they were in some sort of hotel or rather a motel. It was a small dingy room. The walls were painted white and there was a single light bulb dangling loosely at the end of the wire from the ceiling. To his right was a small bed that looked like it would cave under the weight of anyone who dared lay down on it. He could also feel the occasional gust of air from a fan that slowly swung behind him. It was the only refreshing feeling in the room. Ibrahim squinted his eyes once more.
“Relax.” Came the voice of Simisola. It was almost an echo.
“The barbiturate should wear off shortly.” She continued.
“W… what have… I… done?” Ibrahim asked, barely able to speak.
“The first and last good thing you could possibly do for your country. You have given us a way to end this war, once and for all.”
“You just want to… you… you just want to…”
“You’re pathetic. Shut up.” She raced her hand across his face. The slap yanked his head violently to one side. It did not deter him.
“Subjugation… of… the people. It’s all… they want. You… you’re a slave… a tool.” Ibrahim slowly lifted up his head and glared at her.
“Are you going to kill me now?” He asked coldly.
She smiled at him.
“I’m actually deciding whether or not to sleep with you before I do. Your defiance is a turn on.”
Simisola opened her box of syringes and pulled out another, which she quickly unwrapped. She stabbed the needle into a bottle and withdrew a bit of the liquid inside. Next, she meticulously checked the measurements and flicked the syringe with her finger, much like a nurse.
“But alas you are the infamous Care Packet.” She continued. “And while you have disappointed, I am not sure what you are capable of when faced with your mortality. Sorry dear, I cannot send you off with a bang.” She chuckled.
Ibrahim could not help but flash a wry defiant smile. She sure had a way with words. However, the smile disappeared and his eyes widened in horror as she stepped towards him with the syringe. She softened the skin around his neck with some wet cotton wool.
“This will be very quick I promise. Though it won’t be painless but your agony will be over in about five minutes.” Ibrahim held his breath and closed his eyes.
The ringtone startled both of them. It was coming from the door leading into the motel room. Simisola placed the syringe down on the desk beside them and picked up a walkie talkie she had occasionally used.
“Agent one please confirm status.” There was no response. Only static.
“Agent one please confirm status.” The result was the same.
Simisola placed the walkie talkie back on the table. The ringtone had started again. She reached into her bag and pulled out a metallic bar. She pressed a button on the side and the bar quickly deployed other attached pieces that quickly settled into place in her hand. It was a gun. Simisola moved towards the door with quick and silent footsteps. She held the gun with both hands, nuzzle pointed downwards. Her back was inches away from the wall, but never scraping against it.
All the while, Ibrahim observed her. His mind was getting clearer as the barbiturate continued to wear off. He would recognize his own ringtone anywhere. He wondered if his plan had worked. Ibrahim stole a glance at his pocket. He was very lucky neither her nor ‘agent one’ had noticed the transmitter in his pocket. They hadn’t bothered to check either. It was his dumb luck that they had severely underestimated him.
Simisola had checked the viewing hole of the door and apparently seen no one. However, the ringtone was still playing. She slowly opened the door and looked down at the device laying on the floor, right in front of her. It was a small black orb shaped contraption. There were five red lights encircling it. Suddenly there were four, then three, then two.
“Shit!” Simisola screamed as she dived back into the room. There were no more lights on the orb. It detonated.