The haulage truck missed Supo by a whisker as he huffed cycling uphill towards the council estate where he lived in west London. It was winter 1990 and Supo Cole with his family were just settling in as newly arrived immigrants in England. With his wife Dele and 3 year old son, Olu, the bitter cold was a new experience.
At 27, Supo already had a degree from Nigeria but that qualification had not stood him in any stead so he had enrolled in night classes studying law, whilst working at a major supermarket during the day. Dele had found employment in a care home but childminding fees meant they always had very little left over at the end of every month. However like many Nigerians, they were an ambitious couple with great ideas, many of which were not always above board. Both had met whilst in university in Nigeria and had a healthy, if often fractious marriage due to his non religious lifestyle.
Within three months of starting work as a till attendant at the supermarket, he came up with an idea. His wife attended a Cherubim Church, one of the numerous happy clappy ones in East Ham and she felt there would be takers of the new idea there. Britain was still in the grip of a recession and money scarce for many people. Many of their ‘customers’ would come into the supermarket when he was on duty and as soon as their trolleys were loaded with groceries, they would make head only for Supo’s till. He, in turn would only scan the low priced items, pretend to but not scan the high value ones and save each person over 80% of what their weekly or monthly shopping would be. Afterwards, the client would then pay Supo 30% of the money saved. Many of their ‘customers’ were from the church further fuelling Supo’s own withering assessment of church goers as crooks.
Life changed rapidly for the family as the rewards from this illicit sideline brought a car at first, then thanks to Thatcher’s Right To Buy scheme, the family bought their council house. Often, he made about 300 pounds a day from this scam.
Standing at less than five foot ten, slim with a non descript face, meant people could pass Supo on the streets, without him registering in their minds. That ability to blend in or indeed be invisible was a boon. Beneath the blandness was a very sharp mind which worked out business opportunities and a great situational awareness that meant wherever he was in, he soon figured out the key players. He was friendly with the security guards at work, many of whom were immigrants like him, whilst hardly nodding to his till and shelf stacking colleagues.
Fourteen months after the supermarket scam started, he arrived early for the AM shift. Parking his car, he made to exit it,when there was a tap on the passenger window. He whirled round to see Sam, one of the security staff, bent low out of sight.
‘Hey Sam, why are you hiding?’ Supo asked
‘Hey man, have you been doing anything funny at work?’ was the response
‘What do you mean funny? I’ve never been late or even called in sick since I’ve been here.’
‘I don’t know what it is but the supermarket installed hidden cameras above the tills last night when I came on duty. We’ve been asked not to tell anybody about it but since you’re a friend , decided to give you the heads up, man.’
‘Wow. I don’t think it’s me they are after anyway’
‘Maybe not but the technicians doing the installation were saying money has been short or sale receipts down whenever certain people are on the tills, even at busy times.’
‘Well, its not me’ Supo lied ‘but thanks for telling me and I promise not to tell anyone else’ as he got out of his car with his heart hammering. He stood next to his car smoking a cigarette, as he figured out what to do. This was before mobile phones were ubiquitous so leaving his car, headed for a phone booth just outside the car park. His shaking hands shoved coins into the phone as he called home praying his wife was still at home. She was.
‘Dele, Dele, listen to me. I think the supermarket is onto me. My security guard friend has just tipped me off that cameras have been installed above the tills, so wherever I am sat today will be filmed. Make sure you tell anyone who has booked not to come shopping today, that the deal is off. Please make sure you contact all of them before you leave for work. This is serious’
‘Ah…Oh My God’ his wife replied ‘I will also pray that nothing happens to you’
‘Cut out that crap and make sure you stop people coming in to my till’
‘God will be with you Supo’
‘Yeah right’ he replied sarcastically as he hung up. Many thoughts went through his head. Should he call in sick? Or just run? Surely that could be a pointer to guilt. Steeling himself and taking a deep breath, he headed to the front doors of the supermarket.
Most of his colleagues were in and he stared at many, wondering whether any knew about the surveillance cameras.
Getting onto his till counter, he waited for the doors to open at 8am. Forcing himself not to stare at the ceiling, he behaved as nonchalantly as he could. Over the next eight hours, he swiped,scanned, muttered hellos and have a good days, packed bags and eventually at three PM, ended his shift. He stretched, got his jacket and left wondering if any one or the police would tap him on the shoulder.
For the next few weeks, he could not relax either at work or home. He lost weight, his wife fasted whilst praying and both were suspicious of cars parked outside their house or anyone they were not familiar with. He never figured whether he had been a suspect, as he heard nothing more, though he made sure not to ask Sam, the guard about it. Supo ceased the till scamming deal. They were buying properties all over London, mostly ex council small flats which they fixed up and rented out. After four years, he completed his law degree and started his articles. Once that was done, finally, he gave up his job at the supermarket.
The years passed by and the couple amassed over 26 properties in the greater London area but their twenty year old marriage was taking a battering. Their religious differences had widened. Dele attended church up to three times weekly, from the usual 6 hour Sunday ones to 2 hour weekday prayer worship sessions. Supo steadfastly refused to attend church as he believed he was not Christian in his behaviour due to his sometimes criminal activities. Moreover, he knew the backgrounds of many Nigerians in church couldn’t stand up to scrutiny either. Dele was still working within the care industry but claiming benefits illegally but her mindset did not allow her to see how wrong that was. It’s a mark of how some people have divorced themselves from decency and honesty whilst denouncing the sins of others. She also had her eyes now on their joint property portfolio.
He became the principal in a small legal firm with two other solicitors specialising in divorces and marital matters. His laid back and low profile lifestyle did not sit well with his more socially outward minded wife who wanted them to flaunt their wealth. Unlike many solicitors, he was not on an ego trip where arrogance often substituted for ego. However, he had one of the sharpest minds ever buried under that mild manner.
His property sideline included buying repossessed houses and failed businesses. His first stab at the latter was a bankrupt restaurant in Ilford. The Jamaica House catered mainly to the Caribbean community with its menu and had a large function room hired out for events. It thrived well but was badly run, falling behind on bills and its mortgage. Eventually bailiffs had to shut its doors after three years of operations. Supo saw his chance and bought it at auction. It was acquired complete with commercial catering equipment, cutleries and furniture. After very little work, it was renamed Boom Boom Afrique. His weekends were spent at the restaurant with it’s vibrant African atmosphere of loud music, backyard barbeques, flamboyant attires and even louder voices. Crucially for him, it was making money. He preferred being there rather than home where his wife often subjected him to verbal and indeed on occasion, physical abuse. Also she would occasionally threaten him by saying she would tell the police of his past illegal behaviours, which would also implicate her but he did not rise to her bait, opting to keep his own counsel. He now kept his property dealings away from her which alienated her even more. This lack of reaction from him made her angrier and she grew closer to her church friends.
Five years ago, an opportunity came both their ways. For Dele, it was Cecilia, a lawyer who joined her church and began advising women there about what they could claim from their husbands in divorces. She further stated that by claiming domestic violence, their cases could be strengthened, thereby, the husband would be left with nothing. The division of the marital spoils would never happen in Nigeria, so the women should go for it here in Britain. Dele decided her husband would have to go, so she could get all 26 properties and more to herself. Supo still refused to attend church and Dele often got at him about this.
Supo, now a dedicated Tottenham Hotspurs supporter, always valued his Sunday afternoons when he settled down to watch live football on tv. Dele however, chose this time to harangue him after she came back from church when he watched football. As Gareth Bale would be about to score, she would distract him by sitting next to him and saying ‘Supo, we have to talk about this marriage’. By the time he refocussed on the telly, he would have missed the great goal.
Meanwhile, Supo got a call from an insolvency colleague about a business being offered as a going concern. He looked into it but wasn’t sure what he could make from it as it was outside his knowledge base. The shop was a surveillance equipment retailer, named Eye For An Eye. He smiled as he remembered his close shave from hidden cameras in his supermarket days and decided to make an offer on it. Two months later, with the deal done, he unlocked and entered his newly acquired shop followed by Bill, who had worked for the previous owner.
It was packed wall to wall with high tech stuff and included Air Freshener cameras, Interceptor Keys, car tracking GPS devices, social web trackers to help parents keep an eye on their kids, voice recording pens, landline and mobile recorders. This many items set off Supo’s commercial side. He could sell this stuff to Nigerians, already a paranoid bunch anyway. He could, with his new staff, run training classes for police and security agencies all over Africa. His mind brimming with ideas, he picked up an item and asked Bill what it was.
‘It’s a telephone recording machine. You can put this on any landline or mobile and can record and monitor both sides of the conversation. You could be sat anywhere in the world and listen in as long as’ he paused ‘there are no breaches of privacy’.
For a while now, he felt his wife Dele was involved in some clandestine activity. He didn’t know what it was and even though he was not a natural snoop, felt it might be in his best interests to find out. This little gizmo might help him find out. Bill showed him how the machine worked and how to install it.