“Do I need to take control of this mission Dayo?” The executioner asked in a voice that could melt ice. His already intimidating voice sounded even more menacing when heard over the audio system that played captured sound from the interrogation zone, into the observation room where non-direct participants stood and watched.
How ironic. Mantis thought as she observed the interrogation. It was not long ago she was being interrogated by a pacing Dayo, while seated on that chair. Now he was the one sitting on the chair, eyes looking downwards, while being lectured about his incompetence. Mantis smiled at Dayo’s change in fortune as she continued to listen to the executioner berate him.
“You’ve had a couple of chances to kill or capture both Care Packet and Artemis and you have failed.”
“Sir we’ve only encountered them twice and on each occasion we learn more about the resourcefulness of our…”
“I did not hire you to learn about the resourcefulness of our enemy. How many more chances do you need? Ten?”
Dayo said nothing. He kept quiet and his gaze dropped to the ground again.
“Do you now have a confirmed identification of care packet?”
“Not confirmed sir. But we do have a confirmed identification of Artemis.”
“So the amateur remains more elusive than the professional? Dayo what have you been keeping from me?”
Dayo’s blood ran cold in an instant. His fingers tingled and his eyes stung all at the same time. His throat went very dry. Dayo subtly tried to draw in deep breaths and calm himself down. Was he this afraid of the executioner?
“I’ve told you everything I know sir. We will find out more. This is a man who has eluded us for four years. He is cornered, he is on the run. We are getting closer. He won’t last long.”
The executioner looked at Dayo, his ever piercing eyes studying his charge.
“You are right. He won’t. From now on you report to me daily on every development, every lead, every progress made on this case.”
“What was today’s goal.”
“We were targeting Artemis, sir. Taking her out would have made it much easier to capture Care Packet.”
“And she slipped by again didn’t she? The Red Eagle’s prodigy.”
“Unfortunately, she did sir.”
“You know what Dayo?”
“I think it’s time an old man goes back into the field. Maybe you do need a little inspiring.”
Dayo almost choked from holding his breath. This could not be happening. He was a dead man if he didn’t think fast.
“Sir maybe before you, I should go. I haven’t engaged her directly. I promise I will…”
“You’ve had your chances young man. Where are you covering in terms of surveillance?”
Dayo took in a deep breath. It couldn’t be helped. The Executioner would soon find out the truth.
“Levels 45 to 47 sir.”
The executioner turned around and looked at him.
“That high up the food chain?”
Dayo looked at the executioner. He was wearing a jacket from his days in the Nigerian army’s Special Forces. The name tag sewn unto his jacket read Shehu W. Dayo swallowed.
“Yes… sir. That high up the food chain.”
“Makes sense. When did you plan to go back out?”
Dayo closed his eyes. They still stung but it was not out of fear anymore. No. It was definitely not fear.
“In an hour sir.” He finally said.
“Then I will go suit up. Oh and one more thing Dayo. Please do try to get in touch with that foolish boy and tell him to stay clear of the three levels you just mentioned. Remember who you are when you call.”
Ibrahim came out of the changing room of Ah-Mazing Fashion. He wore a brown turtleneck long sleeved sweater with black slacks and brown shoes. A pair of transition lenses and a jet black watch completed the attire. He adjusted his lenses nervously as he waited for approval. Artemis looked him over a few times and nodded. Ibrahim had just finished the Isha’a prayers a few minutes earlier and she realized she needed to transform him. Transformation successful.
“This’ll do just fine.” She said as they walked to the counter to pay. Ibrahim brought out some cash she had given him earlier, and gave it to the lady at the counter.
“I’ll pay for what I’m wearing?” He said.
The lady flashed him a flirtatious smile and began calculating his change.
“It looks very good on you.” She said as she handed him his change.
“Thank you.” Ibrahim said returning her smile before glancing over at Artemis.
Artemis who was smacking on a chewing gum responded rather cheaply.
Ibrahim glanced at her for a split second and then walked out of the store. He was too embarrassed to look at the lady over the counter once more. When outside, he surveyed Artemis. She wore a black dress that stopped right below her hip line and exposed a well-defined set of legs that could melt any man into a puddle. She was very athletic but also very shapely. Her hip sway purposely accentuated on this occasion to achieve the desired effect. If she were really a hooker, Ibrahim guessed even N40, 000 naira would be too small an offer to gain her services.
“You can stop staring at me now.” Artemis said in between the occasional chewing gum smack.
“Did you really have to get into character at the shop?”
“It was rewarding.” Artemis grinned mischievously. “Savior girl was wondering to herself why a handsome self-respecting guy like yourself would end up with a tramp like me and decided to show you the better side.”
Ibrahim noticed the sarcastic emphasis on better.
“So you think I’m handsome?”
“I was speaking from the girl’s perspective.”
“So how do you know what her perspective is?”
“It was obvious. Focus, we are almost there.”
They walked to the base of a very tall high rise and took the side gate which led towards the back of the building. They entered a huge laundry room where people moved around in a buzz of activity. There were dirty clothes being moved from one part of the room to the other in a messy heap. There were clean clothes being taken to the service elevators, pressed and folded nicely. Towels, shirts, blouses, skirts and the like hung from ropes around the room, constructed for air drying, while others still were tossed into massive industrial dryers that churned and turned with so much noise it made Ibrahim wince every once in a while. They made their way from the laundry room to the kitchen. There, they were met by a big burly light skinned man. His skin complexion and dark hair belied his eastern European roots.
“What are you doing here eh?
“Nikolai relax.” Ibrahim said in a smooth reassuring voice, just as he slipped five N1000 notes into Nikolai’s right hand. He looked at Nikolai and nodded his head knowingly to which the eastern European smiled.
“I always knew you had a side to you. Proves my theory. No one can be a straight arrow forever.” He waved his head to the door at the back of the kitchen and stepped aside for them to pass. As Ibrahim and Artemis walked past, Nikolai tapped Ibrahim on the shoulder, leaned in and whispered.
“Great catch my friend.”
Ibrahim flashed a smile as fake as the façade he and Artemis were putting on. He nodded knowingly once more and then walked off. The exit door led to a hallway with a row of rooms on either side. Each room door had a sliding tag much like that seen in an airplane’s lavatory. Most of the tags read OCCUPIED in bold white text, splashed in front of a red background. Not that one needed the tags to know. The moaning behind each door, the occasional banging of the headboard against a wall and the ever prevalent fake yelps and screams of the girls being punished by their clients, was enough to tell them which rooms were already taken. Finally, they got to a room with the tag marked VACANT. They quickly got inside and shut the door locked behind them. Locking the door triggered the sliding tag which moved from right to left and a latching sound could be heard. OCCUPIED. Artemis walked over to the right side of the bed where a metallic door was. It was sealed on their side with bolts.
“Are you just going to stand there?” She turned to glance at Ibrahim who had been staring at her again.
“Oh oh. I got that.” Ibrahim raced past her and began unlatching the bolts. As he did she quickly pulled out some black khaki pants and a black tank top from her bag. She slipped out of her skimpy dress and pulled up the black pants in a hurry. The tank top came on next. Next, she pulled out a jacket that had been folded into a sausage roll just like the rest of the clothes, and slipped that on. Her gun – in the dormant metallic bar shape – was safely tucked away in a belt harness. The boots she had on with the dress stayed and she tucked in her khaki pants into the boots. Ibrahim pried open the last bolt and rapped on the door.
“I’ve opened the bolts.” He said.
“Okay.” The voice said coming from the other side of the door.
They heard a clicking sound on the other side and the door was yanked open, revealing a wide eyed Nonso. He quickly beckoned them over to his side and shut the door as soon as they were through.
“My good friend.” Ibrahim said meaning every word as he and Nonso embraced briefly.
“I’ve got your back bro. You know this.”
“Okay guys. Lots of time for bromance later.” Artemis said. “Nonso. What have you observed so far?”
“Nothing out of sorts. I come here to see Ibrahim a lot and the floors and hallways look the same. No cameras like you described. I’ve observed the floor warden on Ibrahim’s floor walk by a couple of times delivering room orders and laundry or taking them away. No strange faces… no new faces.”
“Do you know the floor warden?”
“Yes. And he knows us. We’ve known him for many years.”
“I see…” Artemis said while deep in thought.
“There’s only one way to find out.” She finally said smiling as she walked towards the elevators.
“And that is?” Ibrahim asked perplexed.
“Walk through the front door. You two take the stairs.”
Artemis pushed the elevator call button and it soon opened up. She walked inside and pressed the number for Ibrahim’s floor. The elevator doors closed and a mechanic going up was heard as the elevator began its climb. Artemis looked at the floor display on the metal pane above her. 10 11 12. There was a pinging sound as the elevator doors opened up. Artemis walked out and surveyed the hallway as she did. The hallway intersected with another one to form a T- junction at its end. Right at the T was room 412, Ibrahim’s apartment. It would be another two minutes before Ibrahim and Nonso made it up to the twelfth floor. Artemis headed slowly towards room 412. Her gaze shifted from left to right. There was no one else on the hallway. As Nonso had said, she did not see any cameras, concealed or in plain view. She got to the T-junction where another hallway met with the one she was on. A man pushed a long table on wheels, which had a set of empty plates on it. He wore a red sleeveless jacket with a white button up shirt underneath, tucked into a pair of black pants. He wore polished black shoes as well. His dark skin seemed to convey a brutish strength and hairy hands shut out from the sleeves of the long sleeved white shirt. Artemis observed him for a while. There was something off about him. She could not place it. She observed his sleeves well held together by onyx black cufflinks and a silver wristwatch on his left arm completed his rather sophisticated attire. The man had a clean haircut. His sideburns lined around his slightly wide cheek line and connected with his beard which enveloped his lips and jawline. He smiled charmingly at her as he approached.
“Is there something I can help you with?” He asked as he finally reached her, still pushing the wheeled table. The table had a piece of cloth covering it and the cloth fell to the sides all around, covering the wheels slightly. Artemis looked down and slowly took in a deep breath before expelling. Her muscles relaxed.
“Oh nothing sir. I’m waiting for Ibrahim.”
“Oh is he in? I have not seen him for a few days. Have you knocked?”
“No. I know he is not in. He’s been away for a while.” She flashed an innocent and embarrassed smile. “I got him upset a few days ago and he’s been ignoring me. I think he might be back today so I just thought to let myself in and surprise him.”
“Oh you must be his girlfriend.”
Artemis smiled again and faked a blush.
“And you are?” She asked as she brought out a key to open Ibrahim’s door.
“The floor warden. You know Ibrahim is like a little brother to me. So I gots to check on him from time to time.” He said, using a slang most Nigerian men used in a futile attempt to talk cool. The floor warden. They both had slyly avoided revealing their names. Artemis smiled at the warden again.
“I’ll be sure to let him know he left you worried.” She placed the L shaped chip that was Ibrahim’s key into the slot of the same shape on the door. A light on the chip came on and changed from red to blue. Once it was blue, the door unlatched. Artemis opened the door and took a step in. That’s when she heard it. It was the faint sound of a metallic bar transforming into a lethal firing arm. Artemis bent forward just in time as two high caliber explosive bullets made their way to the far wall of Ibrahim’s room, where they embedded themselves. The bullets exploded, creating a gaping hole in the wall, while shattering the sleek shaped car-like transition glass windows. A gust of wind blew into the room. Artemis whirled around and expertly crisscrossed her hands around the warden’s firing arm, redirecting his next shot away from her head and towards the opposite wall once more. As the bullet exploded, Artemis pulled his hand forward and slammed it down on her raised knee, elbow first. She could hear the snap of his elbow as he yelled in pain. Two more men rolled out of the table cloth covering and opened fire on Artemis. She yanked the gun out of the warden’s hand and kicked him back into the open hallway. A few bullets hit the warden in the chest. He fell forward yelling.
“Not me you idiots. Shoot her!!”
He was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Artemis rolled after the warden, emerging into the hallway and quickly got back into a crouching position. She opened fire on the first man, hitting her mark on his left chest area. The man buckled under the force of impact and stared at her. Soon after, the explosion came, killing him instantly.
So much for bulletproof vests.
Artemis dived away from the T-intersection into the hallway leading to the elevator, as another fusillade of bullets was sent her way by the third man. She pivoted in midair, landing on her back as she opened fire unto the space she anticipated the man to be, should he come after her. He had anticipated and pinned himself near the corner wall. She on the other hand, had no cover. Trying to make it back to the elevator was out of the question. Artemis had to think fast. The warden’s gun was the only one seemingly loaded with explosive bullets. She took aim and fired at the adjacent wall beside the one the third man took cover behind. The bullet dug through and then exploded, sending the man careening across the floor of the hallway. Artemis broke into a run towards the intersection and opened fire on the man. Two bullets hit him in the chest area and exploded soon afterwards. The warden lashed out at Artemis, his leg knocking his gun out of her hand. He sprang to his feet, his imposing figure towering over her like a Minotaur. The warden assumed a boxing stance and danced from side to side keeping his eyes on Artemis who observed his every movement. His muscles could be observed through the fabric of his shirt sleeves. They had gone through years of repeated training, transformed into efficient motors that drove the weapons formerly called his fists. The warden threw a punch at Artemis who evaded. He threw a second jab and Artemis immediately caught his arm. She made to twist it counterclockwise but his other arm came in from below catching her square in the mid-section. Artemis hunched over. Her stomach felt like it had been flattened with an anvil. She had the presence of mind to fall flat on the ground, considerably lessening the impact of a double-fisted slam on her back. Artemis pushed off the ground as one would when executing a push-up and leveraged her better honed agility, slamming the heel of her boot into the warden’s chest. The huge man staggered backwards. Artemis was already on her feet. She walked towards the warden who attempted to throw a punch. She blocked and slammed her fist into his already dislocated elbow joint. He screamed in pain and Artemis moved inwards planting a precise shot to his larynx. He coughed and held his throat. Artemis walked on as the warden continued to stagger back. He let out a muffled yell and charged towards her. Artemis sidestepped his wild charge, tripping him and simultaneously catching his left arm in a vice like grip as they both went down to the ground. Still holding his arm, she rolled over his back to his right and heard the popping sound. The man let out a loud yell. His left ball and socket joint had been dislocated. Both arms were now effectively useless. The man lay chest down on the floor, his head tilted to the left, and his eyes glancing back at Artemis as he breathed in deeply.
“Oh my God what happened here?” Nonso exclaimed as he walked through the door, followed by Ibrahim.
“Get all you need Care Packet. We don’t have time to waste here. You have three minutes.”
Ibrahim and Nonso quickly got to work grabbing anything of worth they could find. They grabbed Ibrahim’s laptop, power cords, plugin drives, a camera, bags and some clothes and stuffed it into a huge box he had pulled out from under his bed. Artemis had picked up a small earpiece latched on the left ear of the floor warden. She put it on and listened to the chatter.
“Guys, we need to move now. There’s a second team on the way up here.”
“Almost done.” Ibrahim said as he zipped up the box and pulled it long ways rolling it on the wheels.
“Good.” Artemis said. “Let’s go. We’ll be taking the stairways.”
She turned and began making her way to the stairways. Nonso followed suit, and Ibrahim was not far behind.
“What do we do with the warden?” Ibrahim asked. He looked at the warden, a bit of guilt welling up within him. The guilt soon gave way to anger as Ibrahim contemplated the betrayal.
“Nothing.” Artemis said. “Lock him inside.”
Ibrahim closed the door and inserted his lock chip in the key reader. The door latch closed and the blue light changed back to red. Ibrahim made to retrieve the key. The elevator pinged behind Ibrahim as he did, and he instinctively turned around to see who it was. A tall figure stepped out of the elevator. He was wearing a predominantly black gear with a black winter cap on. His eyes surveyed the carnage in front of him, and he instinctively pulled out his sidearm. All the while, Ibrahim stood motionless and in shock at the man he was looking at. The tall figure looked up and stared at Ibrahim. The silence was such that one could hear a pin drop. The tall man spoke up first.
“What on earth are you doing here Ibrahim?”
Ibrahim could not move. His body was frozen stiff. His breathing had become labored. Sweat oozed from every gland in his forehead.
Ibrahim felt her hand tug and pull him back into action. He felt himself yanked forward as he instinctively held on to his box. He felt her shove him with all her might towards the flight of stairs.
“Run Care Packet!! Run!!!”
Artemis opened fire on the figure who promptly barged into one of the closed doors. She took off after Ibrahim and Nonso.
“What happened there?!” Nonso asked concerned. “Ibrahim!!!”
“I just saw him walk through the elevator Nonso. I don’t know but we need to get out of here.”
There was a look of horror in Ibrahim’s eyes.
“Who did you see? What the hell is going on Ibrahim?”
“Nonso a man walked through the elevator and pulled out a gun. He was the backup the NIA sent.”
“Okay so who is he Ibrahim? Do you know him?”
“Of course I do. I’ve known him since I could know anything. It was my father Nonso.”
Ibrahim could scarcely believe the words he had just said himself.