The door to the private visiting room opened, and the woman strode through it sluggishly, stopping short at the table where the lady sat head down.
“What are you doing here?” A surprised Regina queried as she looked up and saw the woman staring down at her. Rage swirled through her at the sight of the elegant form towering above her.
The woman nodded to the police officer standing at the rear end of the room, and he nodded back and left silently. The room, widely scanty but for the thin metal table between two metal seats was densely warm. She lowered gently to the vacant seat opposite Regina and then placed her handbag on the concrete floor that clamped the metals firmly.
“What the hell are you doing here?” She repeated, springing to her feet.
Besides the aflame in her eyes, Regina seemed sullen, almost depressed. Her sassy and energetic appearance had deteriorated into a frail and fatigued mess. Her eyes were dead and hollow like crates on the moon.
The woman sat and crossed her legs quietly.
“Sit.” She ordered calmly, barely looking up at the lady.
Regina folder cuffed hands below her breasts and threw her a dirty look.
“Sit.” The woman commanded again with a dire look on her face.
Regina hissed and sat down with a thump.
“What can I do for you, woman?” Regina demanded, dropping her hands on the table.
The woman smiled thinly. The wrinkles on her forehead kissed as she allowed the lady a raised eyebrow, and then a squint.
“I was told Gabrielle was here to see me, what can I do for you, Mrs. Aku?” Regina asked raising her voice.
The woman weighed Regina derisively. “It has come to my notice that you have been in contact with some lawyer.” Her words were curt and direct.
Regina blinked back terror. She hadn’t expected the woman to find out about it so soon, but she tried not to look so horrified. “Yes, I have.”
“Have you now?” the woman said sardonically. She uncrossed her legs and leaned in slightly towards the table, her hands to her knees. “Listen, little girl – and I’m going to call you little girl because I don’t care about your first name – I don’t think I need to explain to you why you cannot say a word of this to anyone. I would like to believe you’re smart enough to know what I can do to you if you push me.”
“I won’t spend the rest of my life here. We had a deal. I haven’t seen or heard from you since my arrest. What did you expect me to do? You haven’t told me anything. You haven’t answered any of my questions. You haven’t levelled with me for six weeks; six weeks, Mrs. Aku. How do you think that makes me feel?” Regina fired back, the veins bulging on her neck. Her skin lost it’s paleness, eyes burning with tears.
The unbothered woman scoffed. “I am neither concerned about your feelings nor your understanding of the situation, little girl. My concern is that you speak no word of this to anybody; not as much as a whisper to your cellmate, a friendly guard or your low-cost lawyer. If I breathe a word of this from anybody…” she threw her a grim look and then smiled coyly.
The already frustrated Regina brokedown and resolved to a plea. “Please, Mrs. Aku, give me something, anything at all. At least tell me that my son is fine.”
The woman hesitated for a while. “Your son is fine. Your mother has him.”
Regina exhaled heavily and let the tears fall from her eyes.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
Mrs. Aku watched the lady intently, eyes boring deep into her. “I don’t feel the need to explain anything to you.
“Mrs. Aku, I didn’t kill George Rosenfeld, and you know this. Just tell me why you are framing me for his murder.”
The woman said nothing.
“I was home with my son the night George was murdered. I remember because George had called me that morning, and he didn’t sound very good. I wanted to be with him. But then again, I always wanted to be with him.” She paused and wiped the tears streaming down her face. “We were in love, Mrs. Aku. At least, he was the love of my life.”
“It breaks my heart how badly you want to believe that.”
“I feel in love with my sister’s husband, that was my only crime, and I had a child for him so that we could become a family, because I loved him so dearly. And when he called that morning to say he was going to tell his wife that he was leaving her, I loved him even more. He promised to call me that night after his presentation. But that call never came.”
Regina shut her eyes to hold back the tears. When she looked back at the woman, her eyes bore profound graveness. “I believe Gabrielle killed George, and you helped her frame me for it.”
No reaction came from the woman; no frown, no surprise, no cutting of the eyes, nothing.
“What the circumstances are, I would never know.” Regina continued. “But I know what I did. I know the mistakes I have made, but killing George wasn’t one of them.”
Mrs. Aku caught the rehearsed storytelling tone of her voice and smiled knowingly. She was determined to give the girl what she wanted, besides what could she stand to lose.
“Gabrielle knew about your relationship with George for a very long time.” Mrs. Aku began. “I remember clearly the day she found out about you, the day the private investigator she had on George showed her pictures of you and George in bed. She was filled with outrage and utter confusion. It was when I told her everything about you that the plot against you began. She hated you so much that mere thoughts of you made her shivered with disdain.”
Regina looked around with a nervous swallow. She wished someone else was present to hear the words coming out of the woman’s mouth.
“My granddaughter invested fifteen years of her life on that man to watch it all go down the drain because of some fling. She gave up her bright dreams for a man that never deserved her. My grandchild made George the man he was till his death.” She paused to push back the hair on her face. “George Rosenfeld stole everything from my grandchild.”
“The morning George told her he was leaving her, she was furious. She knew he was leaving her for you but decided not to confront him with the truth. The ingrate was leaving his wife of fifteen years for an identical twin.” She paused and shook her head.
Regina was too wound up to interrupt her. She needed to capture everything the woman was saying. Mrs. Aku was saying the words she needed her to say. Her brown eyes burned with intensity.
“I made Gabrielle kill George that night at his presentation.” Mrs. Aku continued. “I had to make certain that if she couldn’t have him, neither would you. So I came up with a plan. A plan that could both eliminate George and sieve you out in the open. Gabrielle preferred a slow and painful death. You know, she wanted the pleasure of watching him beg for his life like the sissy he was.” Her eyes narrowed. “But that wasn’t going to make you pay. That wasn’t going to take back the years you stole from her. It wasn’t going to make you suffer.” Her voice maintained a rhythmic tempo; not too high, not too low.
Mrs. Aku had never liked George Rosenfeld, an absolute dislike that grew stronger by the years, and that contributed to her plot to have him killed. His death didn’t particularly bother her, though she knew it would have some effects on her grandchild. It would also pave the way for Gabrielle to pursue her own dreams of becoming a societal person of worth.
“Gabrielle enjoyed the thrill that came with shooting the sonofabitch. She had suppressed her hatred for him for so long, that killing him felt like her only chance at reprisal. So she took it, and let you take the fall for it. She would have given out your identity earlier, but when she met the nice and handsome looking detective, she decided to play along as the suspect for as long as she could keep him around.”
With that said Mrs. Aku leaned back on the metal chair and crossed her legs. “I think that’s more than you need to know.”
Regina shook her head in disgust. She imagined Mrs. Aku sitting cross-legged in her million-naira mansion, sipping from a cup of tea, face squinting from scheme, pulling strings only she could pull, with Gabrielle by her side listening intently and taking orders. Regina would never understand the likes of Mrs. Aku, nor did she ever want to.
“We had it all planned out, and Gabrielle couldn’t be more grateful to you. You are the reason all of these happened. So you do deserve some credit for that.” The woman concluded with a sarcastic smile splashed across her face.
Uncertain what to say, Regina rubbed her hands together. Her eyes lay on the woman seated across the table from her. She couldn’t help but wonder who did a number on her. She tried to mask the immersed relief welling up in her belly. She had finally gotten the woman’s confession on tape. There was a slim chance at happiness again with her son, and Regina could almost taste it. A hot breeze swooshed past her nape making the hairs stand with anticipation. But she remained cool.
Something crept back into her life, something that she felt had long been lost, something she never thought she could embrace again. Hope.
“I believe our little conversation has come to an end,” The woman retrieved her bag and stood briskly, a demeaning look on her face. “I think it is time to bid each other farewell, forever.” Mrs. Aku smiled – the same gracious, confident and condescending glint – as if she was receiving her in her home.
She walked towards the door in a glacial pace and left in her wake the whiff of luxury and class.
Regina smiled inside, and felt her heart beat rapidly with great keenness. She watched the woman till she came to a halt at the door. Her elegant form paused and turned smoothly, a knowing smile across her face as she traced her way back to Regina.
She leaned into the breast pocket of Regina’s garb and pulled out the tiny recorder. She beamed gently into Regina’s face and said, “If you ever try to cross me again, and I mean if you ever try, I will blow you away. I am an excellent shot; you of all people should know that.”
She turned towards the door and sauntered away gainfully.
Immobilized by shock and astonishment, Regina sat motionless as her only chance at freedom sashayed away.
And just as quickly as it settled in, the hope of ever getting out of the hellhole Regina found herself simmered away with the breeze of flamboyance and class.