It was one of those windy harmattan Wednesdays in Enugu, a steady swoosh of dust and wind on the untarred streets of Independence layout, that made Noel Ubaka long for a summer holiday abroad. He covered his face to protect himself as he walked up the street. He had gone for a quick jog – at least, that was what he told anyone who cared to listen. The envelope in his sweatshirt tugged at his skin. An envelope he hoped never to receive again.
His wife was at one of the numerous charity balls she attended, so the house was empty except for the help who spent her day snoozing in her bedroom. He took his time walking up the street to his house, fighting the dust, and cursing the content of the envelope which grew heavier with each passing minute.
No signs of the help as he walked through the front door. He went upstairs to his bedroom and locked the door. There was a revolver under the mattress. He removed his sweatshirt, threw it roughly on the floor, sat on the edge of his bed and examined the envelope. Same brown paper, same handwriting, same everything. He ripped it open and removed a single leaf. Unfolded it and read,
I am really sorry you had to get another mail from me. I really am. But I have to thank you for your generosity. It is people like you that make me feel like there is reward after all in my hard work.
I understand you must despise me now, and it honestly breaks my heart to do this, but another 1.5 million naira would completely get me off your back.
Same rules as the last time; same wiring instructions. Also remember that if you don’t do as I say, your secret wouldn’t be mine alone to bear.
Do it now, Noel, and I swear this would be my last letter.
He went into his bathroom, ran the tap on the sink and splashed some water on his face. He looked up at the drug cabinet and pulled it open, staring at the pill bottles lined neatly like little executioners ready to take away his misery. He found his wife’s Prozac and took the entire bottle with him. It was either a drug overdose or his brain matters splattered all over the walls. He needed to lie down, and he needed to feel numb, but then again, he needed his sanity.
Business had begun to go bad in the past few years. There wasn’t much to will anyways. He was an important man about town, an Ubaka, a member of the People’s Club of Nigeria. He had a surname. But little did anyone know the amount of debt he was fast accumulating. He was nearly going broke, and he would rather end his life now and leave the rest of his properties to his children than stay alive to have whoever this person was snatch the rest of the little he still had to will.
He had made a mistake. Okay, maybe a couple. But who hasn’t? Who doesn’t have a skeleton hanging deep in his closet? Who doesn’t have a secret he would rather die than expose? But somehow his own skeleton had been yanked out of the closet by whoever ‘You-know-who’ was, and was now being used to blackmail him.
Three million naira wasn’t exactly lying around when he got the first blackmail letter, but he’d begged and scrapped and even lied a little to gather the money that he sent to him. There was no way he could squeeze out another one point five million to send to this person. He couldn’t bring himself to rub his kids off whatever inheritance was left to them anymore.
And even if he managed to raise the money somehow, there was no guarantee that whoever this person was wouldn’t come back for more. He or she would simply thank him again, and then demand more.
He read the letter again, threw it on the floor dejectedly, stood up and began to pace around his bed. He paused at the window and looked out at his massive compound. Mortgaged property, he thought. He watched the orange sun at its decent. God how he hated Enugu. He wished he had led a happier life. Perhaps even one more true.
But it was all coming to an end. He needn’t worry about coulda-woulda-shouldas.
Time for the pills. Time for the gun. Maybe both.
He liked having an option. It made him feel like there was a part of him that was still his. The first letter had stolen away that part. It had snatched whatever poise was left of him. He had wanted to call it bluff but he knew that this person, whoever he or she was, could ruin his life. He had serious knowledge of a lot of things. And worst of all, he seemed to have proof.
Noel had thought to hire an investigator, and maybe a new lawyer, and hope they would protect him. But he knew too much than to let more people in on his darkest secrets.
He poured himself a glass of scotch and swallowed it all down in one gulp, refilled the glass and went to sit on the floor beside the bed. He pulled the gun out from its carriage and admired the little object that had the powers to tear through his brains. Ideas were slow in coming, hampered by his concede to defeat.
He could hide the letters, then kill himself and hope his secrets never came out. He thought about a suicide note to his wife and kids, and decided against it as quickly as it came to mind. He was going to miss them all, but the prospect of death wasn’t exactly an unpleasant one. No more fears, no more lies, no more secrets, no more deaths.
But what if whoever this person was didn’t find out about his suicide, and sent another letter and they found it, and somehow Noel got his secrets outed anyway, long after his funeral?
Noel Ubaka was a very reputable man, and he knew it. His death wasn’t just going to be in the media, it was going to own it. And a case of suicide was going to make it a lot more widespread. Besides, he didn’t think his blackmailer was far-off from him. Of course he would know of his death sooner rather than later.
The next thought scared him. What if he was being watched closely? What if there knew exactly what he was going to do? He looked around for a tiny camera or some sort of hidden mike, knowing he wouldn’t find any. He set the gun down and made to say a little prayer. He mumbled a few uncertain words, and then made the sign of the cross. He was ready to meet his maker.
Noel popped open the drug bottle, threw as many as he could into his mouth and washed it down with the scotch. It was time. Once he begins to feel the effect of the drugs, he would blow his brains out. Blow his brains out. It seemed to him like something from a B-rated movie. He consoled himself with the thought of peace, quietness, maybe even another life after death. A fresh start.
The drugs rolled in like a pleasant fog, and he embraced it expectantly. His vision had begun to blur and he had a throbbing pound in his head. He picked up the gun, unlatched it, and then pointed it horizontally to his head. He was doing this for his family, he consoled himself.
The door behind him creaked open slowly, and Noel heard footsteps behind him. He turned hazily to see a lean figure standing behind him, gun in hand. Recognition settled in, blurred by fogginess and disbelief.
“Why?” he asked just before the bullet pierced through his forehead, capturing still the look of astonishment in his eyes. His last thought drifted to the letter lying still on the floor, the secrets it entailed, and the power that those secrets could yield. He completely had forgotten to shred it.
The shooter fled hastily leaving behind the corpse and whatever else was at the murder scene. There weren’t included in the mission. To kill was the mission. Mission completed. The Vice President’s order.