Gabrielle heard about Ike’s leave of absence from her new lawyer, Obiekwe. He had told her that Ike took a leave of absence because he didn’t want to work on the case anymore.
“Why?” she asked.
“I have no further information.” Obiekwe said.
“He’ll still be called to testify against me in court?”
“Most certainly. A leave of absence doesn’t absolve him from his subpoena obligation, so I don’t know what he thinks he’s accomplishing with this move. Honestly, it’s puzzling. Putting you away could be a career breaker for him.”
Gabrielle swallowed and looked away.
“Are you alright? You look… shaken.”
“I’m fine,” Gabrielle lied. “If that’s all, I would like to leave now.”
“Of course. You sure you’re alright?”
“Totally.” She said, then stood up and left.
She headed straight home. She felt a dull weight at the pit of her stomach but was too drained to cry.
She had never felt more alone.
As she got home, she immediately called her grandmother to ask for Ike’s cell phone number. She wrote it down on a pad as her grandmother called it out, and then hung up and immediately dialled his number.
The phone rang for a long time and Gabrielle expected it to ring out, but then the dial tone was cut short.
“Hello.” He said, nearly breathless.
“Basketball.” Ike said, recognizing the voice.
“I know I shouldn’t have called. I got your number from my grandmother.”
“Okay?” Ike asked, expecting more.
“I just want you to know that I understand your decision to take a leave of absence and get away from my mess.” She said quietly. “It’s obvious that you don’t want to be a part of my problems, and the best way to do it is to steer off my case.”
“Gabrielle that’s not why I did it….”
“Let me finish,” she cut in. “I will always be indebted to you for the help you gave me, and your open mind when everyone else had me convicted. I understand that you still have your doubts and that’s why –” She stopped and swallowed hard.
She closed her eyes and shook her head, unable to continue. She couldn’t hold back the tears anymore as they slipped her closed lids and ran down her cheeks.
Ike heard the slight sob on the oher end of the line. “Gabrielle, you have to calm down and listen to me. You’ve got it all wrong. I took a leave of absence not to distance myself from your case. I did it because I think you’re innocent. I want to help you prove that which would be a conflict of interest if I’m still with the police department.”
Gabrielle listened to him as if afraid to credit his little speech. “Are you telling me the truth?” she finally said slowly.
“Yes, I called your house as soon as I did it, and got Nelo, who said you’d be spending your day with your lawyer. I didn’t think I should leave a message on this subject; I wanted to talk to you directly. But before I could do that someone else had already gotten to you.”
“My lawyer told me.” She sank into her armchair, pushed her hair back, and gazed at herself in the dressing mirror. “You really want to help me?”
“Yes.” Ike said. “I know things look bad for you right now, but I want you to know that you’re not alone. I promise.”
“Thank you” she said, uncertain what else to say.
“You didn’t kill your husband, and that means somebody else did. We need to find possible people with motives. Does anybody hate you enough to frame you? We would find answers soon. You have to work with me on this. Can you do that?”
Gabrielle answered with a faint “Yes.”
Now, I need to go talk to your grandmother, and I would like to do that alone.”
“Alright.” Gabrielle said. “Come over when you can.”
“Why do you believe her? No one else seems to doubt that she shot George in cold blood.” Mrs Aku asked after Ike informed her of his leave of absence to help her grand daughter’s case.
“Because I think I have an idea of what it was really like with him.” Ike said, watching her slim figure, and the wrinkles on her arms.
“I would think that would convince you she killed him.”
Ike shook his head. “It’s apparent to me that she coped by adopting a stance of ignoring her husband’s transgressions and keeping her life separate from him as much as possible. I assume they were threats of losing the children if she attempted to divorce him, right?”
Mrs Aku nodded.
Ike pressed his lips together, “I’d also guess she had a plan of divorcing him once the children were older, when he had achieved his political goals and no longer needed the image of a smiling lady.”
“So why would she suddenly snap and kill him in a manner which would remove both parents from their lives at the same time?”
Mrs Aku looked back at him with gratitude in her eyes but said nothing.
“Mrs Aku,” Ike continued. “I am here to gather information from you. Now is the time to tell me anything you know that could help your granddaughter’s case. Anything at all.”
Mrs Aku sat forward in her seat and poured herself a cup of tea. “Every family has secrets. Wealthy families probably more.” She added milk to her tea and sat back in her chair. “I was determined to take this one to my grave. I had hoped I would see Gabrielle through this without breaking my silence. I want to trust you can utilise this information well enough to save my child. Her mother loved her more than anything else. From the moment she saw Gabrielle, she put her before everything and everyone. Her husband followed her lead, and Gabrielle was the most beloved little girl.”
Ike listened silently.
Her eyes were filling with tears. “I feel it is a betrayal to my late daughter to tell you this, because she never wanted anyone to know. But my daughter and her husband are dead, and I am the last person in this family who knows the truth.”
The silence in the room was deafening as the old lady drew a trembling breath and sipped her tea.
“Gabrielle is not my daughter’s child.” Mrs Aku said, biting her lip. “She is the child of her father, James Mgbako, and a girl who worked for the family thirty-five years ago. The girl was underage, and James would have been guilty for paedophilia for having relations with a child her age. James paid a fortune in blackmail for the rest of his life to conceal these facts, something I discovered after he died.”
“Blackmail to whom?” Ike asked sharply, his eyes on the woman’s face.
Mrs Aku shrugged. “The girl, I assume. Gabrielle’s birth mother, Chikwado Agu. I found papers after my Rosie and James died. Apparently after some years the girl’s own mother, who had arranged the deal, died, and Chikwado was alone. The original lump sum was not enough, and Chikwado came back for more. He did not want to go to jail, and he did not want Gabrielle to find out so he gave in. he paid the Agu girl and bought her silence.”
Ike noticed how she constantly referred to Gabrielle’s birth mother as ‘the girl.’
“Rosie and her husband bought the child with another woman because Rosie was infertile and could not produce one. At that time, there was nothing to be done. The Mgbako family pushed Rosie for a grandchild. Rosie drank, a lot, and their marriage suffered as a result. James began to seek comfort between the thighs of the young help. When she got pregnant, we did what we had to, without involving his parents. James didn’t want them to know.”
Ike nodded and looked away.
“Rich people are accustomed to buying whatever they want, and when they are confronted with a problem they can’t solve with money, they tend to lose control. Rosie’s failure to become pregnant was a blow to James. He didn’t know what to do but he didn’t want to divorce her. She drank and he sought a distraction. The girl was his distraction.”
“I can find this Chikwado lady.” Ike said, more like an assurance to her. “I have a name, and I will need those papers. I will find her.” Ike squeezed her hand.
She nodded dumbly.
“Rosie and Jamie went abroad for a year and came back with the child. Rosie said she had been pregnant when she was abroad. Nobody disputed, no one suspected a ruse. It worked out for everyone.
“Except for Chikwado, whose child was taken from her,” Ike said flatly.
“She gave up the child, she took the money,” Mrs Aku said. “Then and later.”
“What choice did she have? A teenage girl and her mother up against the Mgbako money?”
“I am just reporting what happened then, in the hope that it would help Gabrielle now.”
“I’m sorry. I understand that.” Ike said. “ I must leave now. I need to put a trail on this Agu lady.” Ike said, getting up to leave.
“They were two babies. Two girls.”