Melanie and Ray met in Palmgrove. It was a chance encounter. They lived more than twenty kilometers apart and ordinarily would never have known of each other’s existence. He was coming back from Metro Cinema at Palmgrove one night when the unexpected happened. He heard a girl screamed. The time was midnight and he was alone. He ran down to the spot near Palmgrove bus stop, thinking some mischievous boys were trying to rob her of her money. When he got close, he saw two men dragging the girl from her Toyota Celica into the back seat of a metallic colored Volvo car.
“Hey men! What you’re doing belongs to the past century. If the girl doesn’t like your faces why not try someone else? There are a lot of them in
,” he shouted as he rushed toward
them. “Now try to be gentlemen, and
allow her go,” he said as he got to them. Melanie was speechless with gratitude
for his intervention. Lagos
“Shove of and mind your business,” the tall muscular one holding the girl told him. Ray heard the engine of the Volvo running. He knew he had to do something fast before they pushed her into the car.
“Not when you’re attempting to rape my girl friend,” he lied. He had never seen the girl before. He didn’t think there would be any fight. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
The tall, muscular man pushed the girl to the shorter, barrel-chested mate and moved over to Ray.
“You’ve to learn to mind your business. This is Lagos,” he told him as his right fist exploded into Ray’s middle. He gasped and doubled. He lifted his fist to give Ray a blow to the head, but he lowered his head in time. The blow whistled pass. Ray was a black belt karate expert so fighting didn’t scare him. As he was trying to stand erect, the man’s enormous fist crashed against the side of his head with a force that caused Ray to stagger backwards, lost balance and fell. The man laughed.
“Come Ironbar, let’s go. You’ve taught the bastard some lesson,” his barrel – chested, short friend called. But Ironbar ignored him and continued to kick Chucks on the ground. Ray was crying to get up when Ironbar threw himself on him. He rested on Ray like a mountain and could not be dislodged. Ironbar thought that Ray was weak and out, so he knelt down to deliver his last blow. That was a fatal mistake. Ray struck out his right leg and caught Ironbar in his testicles. He writhed from side to side, his hands between his thighs. He managed to stand erect, but Ray gave him a jab at the windpipe, giving karate guttural yells used for focus. Ironbar pitched to the ground. His Karate instructor had told Ray during training, “Never let up, never relax, attack, attack and when you do, do it hard and fast.”
Ironbar stood up and charged Ray with a knife in his hand. Ray moved in so swiftly from behind. The man turned to lash out at him with the gleaming knife, but Ray kicked the blade out of his hand, moved forward again, and grabbed hold of his arm. He twisted it into an unnatural position. The bone snapped, and that horrid sound was followed by a scream of pain. Ray was not finished with his victim, however. He tossed him headfirst into the concrete pavement along the roadside. He collapsed to the groud like a discarded apple core.
When his short colleagues saw what befell his friend, he released the girl and rushed at Ray like a charging bull. Ray was surprised. He thought that on seeing what he did to Ironbar, he would take-off with the driver. Because he wasn’t expecting him, the short, barrel-chested man was able to smash his right fist to the side of his face before he could block it. Ray swore beneath his breath. He was temporarily dazed. He shook his head to clear the effect of the blow. The man came closer trying to deliver another deadly blow. He underestimated Ray, so he lashed out with his left fist in a crunching upward smash. The man inhaled orally and winced in pain. His eyes showed surprise.
He received a broken noise as a souvenir of the encounter. He was bleeding profusely from the nose. Ray moved closer and punched him on his solar plexus, like the blow of a sledge hammer. He knew he was fighting a bigger and stronger person so what he needed to rely on was technique and not muscle. The man sagged and slumped to the ground. When the driver saw what befell his two heavily built colleagues, he drove off like a jet aiming for a take off. The sound of squealing tire filled the air and the stench of burning tire filled Ray’s nostrils. At the end of the street, he braked violently, swung the car quickly to the south and accelerated rapidly down the street, leaving his colleagues lying in the street.
The girl ran to Ray, flung up her arms, letting loose a hoarse shrill cry of joy. “Thanks for saving my life,” she said gasping for breath.
Ray was sweating heavily and he was bleeding from his left eyelid. His face was swollen with bruises.
“Please come let me take you to the nearest hospital,” she offered.
“It’s not necessary,” Ray replied. “I shall take care of it when I get home. Do you know them before?” he asked.
“I’ve never seen any of them before.”
“What is a young girl like you doing outside alone by this hour of the night in street alone?” he asked.
“I went to a party at Ikeja. I didn’t like the party so I decided to go home.”
“Where do you live?”
Ikoyi was one of the most upscale residential areas for people on the highest rung of the societal ladder in Lagos.
“You mean you’re driving to Ikoyi this night?” Ray asked incredulously. Ikoyi was about twenty kilometers from where they stood.
“Yes. Where do you live?” she asked.
“Toyin Street, Ikeja.”
“Please come let me drop you. You are my saviour tonight.”
“Don’t bother. I shall find my way home. You have a long way to go.”
“I want to know where you live because I shall come back to show my gratitude.”
“It is not necessary.”
The girl bluntly refused to leave Ray at the Palmgrove bus stop bleeding.
After much persuasion, he agreed to go with her. Immediately they entered the car, she drove off, along Ikorodu road heading toward Maryland. He marveled at the ease and grace with which the girl drove. At this hour, the usual heavy traffic had thinned.
“I’m Bello. Melanie Bello. What is your name?”
Ray stared at her. “Are you Graham Bello’s daughter?”
“Yes. Do you know my dad?”
“Not exactly, I have been hearing of him. Anyone who hadn’t heard of Bello in Lagos must be deaf or a newcomer.”
Graham to Lagosians was one of Nigeria’s rich and philanthropic citizens. He owned the most fashionable, expensive and protifitable private hotel in Lagos. He also owned a big company, Bello Trading Company Ltd located in Victoria Island.
“What do you say is your name?” She asked again, as she turned into Airport Road, from where she linked Toyin Street from Ola Ayinde Street.
“Mordi. Ray Mordi.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“Nothing at present. I lost my job recently,” he lied.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were a boxer, because of the way you handled those guys.”
“This is where I live,” Ray pointed to a storey building of four flats. Melansie parked and they came done. Ray followed by Melanie climbed the stairs to one of the flats upstairs. He rang the door bell and waited. Adam came to open the door robbing his eyes. He had slept.
“I’ve always warned you about keeping late nights in Lagos, but you’ll never change. One day….” He stopped when he noticed a girl behind Ray. He looked Melanie up and down and then looked questioningly into Ray’s face.
“This is where I live,” Ray said again ignoring the look on Adam’s face. “This is my friend Adam.”
Ray was the only surviving child of a former Minister. He was restless, aggressive, and strong-willed. He’d been born to wealth. He’d grown up in a world of affluence where enough was always available.
After losing three children, they earlier had before Ray, his parents’ anxiety for a child manifested itself as weakness and indulgence when Ray was born. He quickly learnt to exploit this weakness. When he failed the third time in form four in one of the top private schools in Lagos, he gave up schooling out of disgust. Mr. Mordi like most enlightened Nigerians wanted wholeheartedly to send out into the complex Nigerian society an educationally well-equipped son. Ray was the only child to show they had ever existed. You could hardly blame them for having ambitions for him, wanting him to have the best, but their dreams were not realized. His father died two years later of cardic arrest. His entire attempt to send Ray back to school failed.
Ray had been a difficult child, given to taking dangerous risks; He indulged in anything with a high degree of risk. Ever since he was a baby, he’d a wild streak running through him. His parents kept telling themselves it was normal, teenage rebellion, he’d get over it, but it kept getting worse. No matter what the parents did, he was still heading down that unexpected road into unchartered territory. Keeping his hormone-charged passion for risk in check was like stopping the tide.
“I want a better life for you. I’ll help you as much as I can, but I cannot hand it to you on a platter of gold. To succeed in this country requires that first you get educated,” Mr. Mordi told him a few weeks to his death. “If you grow into a good citizen with a deep concern for other people, I would consider my life worthwhile.”
His father’s advice fell on deaf ears. Free from the demands of schooling, Ray dedicated his life to petty crimes. He stole money at home and other items from the neighborhood. His father used his influence and money to keep him out of jail. All efforts by his parents to straighten him failed.
A familiar but unsettling sense of indecision prickled over Ray like a skin rashes. There was something wrong with him. He was sure of it. Other kids had at least some idea of what they wanted to do in life. But when Ray considered the future, he saw no clear picture of any sort of career that made sense.
Behind all the whims and decisions of his formative years lay the over-powering desire to be rich. He had an obstinate nature that made him stick to his own decisions.
Due to this obstinacy, his playmates during his youthful days accepted him as a born leader, despite that he had a distinct nature of laziness. His physical powers helped to make him a feared and grudgingly respected figure among his mates.
Ray was adept at making friends quickly and easily, wherever he went. It wasn’t a gift; but a survival skill. Moving every couple of years with his civil servant father and housewife mother, he either learned to adapt and settle in fast or he’d die the slow, excruciating, life-scarring death of the social outcast.
The life of a son of a Federal Civil Servant was not for wimps. To this day, he still kept in touch with a handful of friends all over the globe, friends he’d met and brought close to his heart, shared a warm but temporary bond of friendship with before moving on. It was frustrating sometimes, because every once in a while, he really clicked with someone, only to have to leave just when it felt comfortable to share life with that person.
Each time he moved away, the goodbyes were filled with heartfelt promises. “I’ll come back to visit each year.”
Even though delivered with absolute sincerity, the pledges were never fulfilled. Not even once. Ray figured that was life, and its unending strain of farewells and false promises.
After his father’s death, he found himself in big money at the tender age of twenty. He inherited all his father had being the only surviving child, according to the Ibo culture. He took to spending money like duck to water. He drank heavily and gambled. He continued to loss and he kept fooling himself into believing he would win back enough to cover his losses but he never did. He regularly attended theatres and musical shows with his chains of expensive, sophisticated girl friends. He was a smashing success with the ladies.
Soon he squandered his paternal inheritance in youthful dissipation. He’d inherited a little over three million naira. Frugality he did not know. Stinginess or even caution, he was unable to comprehend. He was quite content to enjoy the fruits of his father’s labour without contributing anything himself. When the money got exhausted within three years he saw his folly. Riches were not much if not applied to gainful purposes. Money squandered was gone forever, he realized.
For the first time in his life, Ray knew true hunger, true need. Those things brought pain, he discovered. He felt that nothing could be more deplorable than going from riches to rags. Feeling the truth of this reflection, he resolved to find something to do to earn money. Not just money but big money so as to be able to sustain his life-style. He had no qualification to earn such money. Nor did he learn any craft, he could exploit.
Ray was jobless yet he spent every minute creating intricate, almost hyperrealistic drawings of some fantasy world. But sometimes, the compromises between fantasy and reality frustrated him.
His mother died a year after his father, of hypertension. The way her only child was living broke her heart. After his brokage, most of his friends especially the girls deserted him. He became lonely and dejected. He sold almost all he had and moved from the bungalow he occupied in Victoria Island, a wealthy Lagos district to live with his friend in his flat in Toyin Street, Ikeja.
Adam Bamgbose was his closest friend in the secondary school. They were inseparable. Adam was brilliant. After his secondary school education, he went to Huston University, Texas, where he graduated in Mass Communication. He worked as a journalist in Daily News, the oldest and most widely circulated newspaper in the country. He did have a way with words.
Ray learnt one thing. When you laugh, the world laugh with you, but when you suffer, you suffer alone.
Adam mumbled a welcome. Melanie shot out her hand and they shook. They moved into the living room. Adam examined Ray’s face. One eye was badly puffed, the under lip was cracked open and there was a patch of skin missing from his cheek. A lump decorated his forehead and through his torn shirt, there were bruises on his chest.
“Who have you been fighting with?” Adam asked.
“I have just saved this girl from three hoodlums who wanted to rape her.”
“You supposed to have gone to the hospital. You look like a victim of a hit and run driver.”
“I shall be fine. Give me your iodine and some cotton wool.”
Melanie cleaned Ray’s wounds as best as she could and Adam applied the iodine to them. Ray screamed. It was painful.
Under the living-room light, Ray was able to have a good look at Melanie. She wasn’t conventionally beautiful, but she’d a bright vitality that was evident in every body movement and facial expression. Melanie even though wasn’t very beautiful, followed the dictates of current fashion. She was light skinned. Her permed hair fell to her shoulders. She had a proud look of a daughter of a multi-millionaire. She was tall and slender to the point of fragility. Her breasts were surprisingly heavy for a girl so thin. She was 25 years old.
“Ok. Thanks again. I shall be going now. I shall come back later today. The time is already two o’clock in the morning.”
“Look Melanie, it’ll not be safe for only you to drive to Ikoyi at this hour of the day. You can sleep here and go home when it is dawn.”
Melanie agreed. She was grateful because after her experience at Palmgrove bus stop, she was scared about going back alone, but she was ashamed to ask Ray to provide her a place to sleep. Now hat he had offered her a place to sleep, it would be stupid to expose herself to the risk of another rape attempt or robbery attack, she felt. Adam wished them goodnight and returned to his bedroom. Ray stood up and showed Melanie the guest room. After he made sure that she was comfortable he left for his bedroom.
He was unable to sleep. Every muscle in his body felt the effects of the pounding he had received from the two thugs. He stood from his bed walking with difficulty to the bathroom. He splashed some water on his face, ran his hand over his face and flinched with pain, not wanting to look in the mirror. He decided he had to. It took courage for him to look at himself in the bathroom mirror. His first glance caused him to recoil in horror. Surely that battered face regarding him through puffed and purple slits of eyes could not be his own. His face, such as he could see of it in the mirror, was covered with bruises. He was disheartened. He touched his face but the pain was too great. He stumbled back to his bed.
Melanie returned later that day with a lot of gifts for Ray. She stayed with him for about three hours before she left. After two weeks, his bruised body healed. The swelling of his face had gone down. However after the pains he suffered, he had solemnly vowed that next time he saw anybody being attacked by a gang of thugs, he would politely pass by the other side. He’d two things to show for the day. Two misfortunes. A battered face and a slim, ugly girl.
Adam was only a year older than Ray. Unknown to the school authority, marijuana was procured and used by many of the students. Before long, most of them found it pleasurable and became addicted. Hassan was another of their friend that got very addicted to marijuana.
Adam and Hassan were late-comers to cannabis, and tried the ‘stuff’ as the students called it, only after being harassed by their peers. Adam tried it once, and then asked innumerable questions – where the substance came from, what it was, and its lasting effect. The answers convinced him cannabis was not for him, and he never used it again.
Ray though, continued using it occasionally, and Hassan more intensively, having convinced himself it was not harmful.
Adam at first was inclined to question Hassan’s growing habit, then let it go, believing his friend was indulging in a fad that would shortly disappear. It was a lapse in judgment that Adam would regret for the rest of his life.
However, the total amount consumed by the students, by now, consistly increased, prompting greater trafficking and competition.
Even in those times, drug gangs were beginning to proliferate, and initially one such gang ‘The Skulls’ based in Mushin supplied the school students, but ‘The Bad Boys’ looked covetously at the territory. One day they decided to take it over.
It was the same afternoon; Ray and Hassan left school and headed to the abandoned house The Skulls used as their distribution center. At the doorway of the house, a burly male with a shaven head confronted them.
“What do you want, kids?”
“Marijuana,” Hassan replied.
Hassan produced fifty naira, which the other snatched, adding it to a bulging roll pulled briefly from his pocket. From behind, another clear shaven headed man handed over a rap, which Hassan stuffed into his pocket.
At that precise moment a car pulled up outside and three members of The Bad Boys emerged, their guns drawn. The Skulls saw them coming and dived for their guns too. Moments later, as Ray and Hassan headed for the street to get away, bullets were flying.
Both ran hard until Ray realized that Hassan was no longer at his side. He looked back. Hassan was lying on the ground. By then the wild shooting had stopped, and the members of both gangs were vanishing.
There used to be a time in Mushin, when you could walk out of your house and feel safe, but not any more. Everyone heard shots from time to time. After the first few occasions they had become curiously indifferent to it. Whoever was speaking would pause, and then continue when the shooting stopped, just as he might in other part of the city when a jet aircraft passed overhead.
By chance Ray’s father was driving nearby and he stopped on seeing him. He took him aside speaking sternly to him. “Tell me what you are doing here fast. And I mean everything, exactly as it happened.”
Ray still in shock and in tears complied, adding at the end, “Hassan is having marijuana in his pocket. If his mother finds out he was smoking marijuana, it’ll kill her.”
His father snapped, “Where exactly.”
“His shirt’s pocket,” Ray said agitatedly.
His father went to where Hassan was lying and removed the marijuana with Ray watching.
“Listen carefully. This is your story. The two of you were walking when you heard the shooting and ran to get away. But nothing more. Stick with that and do not vary it.”
Ray nodded his agreement.
“You and I will have a serious talk when you get home, which you’re not going to enjoy.”
Soon after police were called, Hassan was rushed to the hospital but was declared dead. Ray followed his father’s instructions, with the result that subsequent police and press reports described Hassan as an innocent victim caught in the crossfire of drug gangs’ war.
Several months after Hassan’s death, the bullet that killed him was matched with a gun owned by The Bad Boys gang member, Scorpion. But by that time, Scorpion was already dead, having been killed in another shootout, this time with the police.
Not surprising, Ray stopped smoking marijuana.
A week later, Melanie took Ray to introduce him to her father, Graham. The house was built on a hill. The height meant that no one could approach the house unobserved. The house had a single road up to a single gate. It’d a helipad for a fast evacuation. The wall around was made of stone that would stop any bullet. His security systems were the state of the art. He was protected as tightly as the Head of State.
When they got to the big compound she slowed down at the huge gate, and sounded her horn. A security man in blue uniform opened the gate. The gate was controlled by people who knew who could pass and who could not. As she drove pass, he touched his cap respectfully. She stopped the car in front of an imposing, fantastically beautiful building. The address was one of the most elegant in already elegant Ikoyi. Ray marveled at the architectural elegance of the house. The driveway that led to the mansion was planted with ornamental palm trees equidistantly. He had not anticipated such magnificence. There was no doubt that this was a billionaire’s mansion. The compound was like a fortress. Inside were precious people and undoubtedly precious possessions.
A fountain splashed into a pool in front of the doorway. Graham lived in the baronial surrounding befitting Lagos nobility. He had everything that could be found in the compound of a rich Nigerian – Tennis court, Olympic – size swimming pool, fleet of cars etc. A crew of gardeners daily manicured the lavishly planted grounds and a staff of servants provided for his every need.
Melanie pressed the summons button for the lift. They rode up to the fifth floor in the automatic elevator. The interior brass of the elevator gleamed and its machinery hummed smoothly. On the fifth floor, she pressed another button and a glass door slid open, revealing a lavishly furnished living room. She noticed Ray’s surprise.
“The house is computerized. Most things work by pressing of buttons. By the time someone is ten metres away from the fenced compound, the TV scanners are already on him. It is the duty of some security men to watch the scanners and make sure that no unwanted visitor entered the compound. The security men carried colt .38 revolvers with which to persuade any heady person,” Melanie explained.
Graham was sitting on one of the heavy damask upholstered chairs in the living room. She went to her father and offered her cheek to him, for a kiss. He kissed the proffered cheek. He studied Ray with curiously bright questioning eyes. Meanwhile, Ray took an appreciative look around the living room and decided that a billionaire would feel comfortable in the house. The mansion might not be the biblical paradise but it was a great advertisement for it. The enormous living room was an explosion of unbelievable Splendor. Everything was a treasure.
Paintings of renowned Nigerian and international artists hung on the walls. Works of Eweonwu, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh and Prendergast were all present. A big piano stood at the far end of the living room. There were flowers growing in flowerpots at all the corners of the room. A giant aquarium with variety of fish, prominent was gold fish, occupied one side of the wall. Three gold chandeliers hung from the decorated ceiling of the room. The furniture in the place was worth a couple of millions. The big windows and doors were covered by yellow brocaded draperies. He was dazzled by the opulence of his surrounding. This was a far cry from Graham’s childhood home at Malu Road in Ajagunle.
“Who is this young man?” he asked Melanie.
“Dad, he is Mordi. Ray Mordi.”
“What is he to you?” he asked as he picked a cigar in an ash tray. The twelve carat diamond ring on his left index finger flashed as it caught light.
“He was the person who saved me from those hoodlums that night I was returning from party at Ikeja.”
“Young man, I am grateful for what you did. I love my daughter so much. I think those bastards know it. Please sit down and say what you’ll like to drink.”
“Any brand of beer will be all right, sir.”
“How about whisky, brandy or wine? I stock the best in the world.”
“I’ll like to have whisky, sir.”
He pressed a button and a bell rang somewhere inside the house. A steward appeared resplendent in a uniform of immaculate white with many rows of bright brass buttons.
Ray stared at the splendid uniform.
“Get a bottle of one of my special whisky and a glass for this young man,” he ordered.
The steward went to a well-stocked bar in the room and selected a bottle of whisky. He placed it and a glass on a trolley. He pressed a button and the trolley rolled to where Ray sat and stopped. He looked at the bottle. He had never seen that type of drink before. The steward came and deftly opened the bottle. Before he left, Melanie told him to bring her a glass.
“Let’s drink to my happy survival,” she told Ray.
Ray took a swig, rolled the liquor round his mouth before swallowing it. The scorching heat burnt to his stomach. The heat soon oozed out. It was a long time since he had taken whisky. He drained his glass and poured more.
“Young man, what is that your name again?” He didn’t join them in the drinking.
“Mordi.” Ray Mordi,” he replied, savoring his drink.
“All right, Ray what do you do for a living?”
“I’m unemployed. I used to work in a construction company but I was retrenched last month,” he lied.
“Do you want a job?”
He missed a heart beat. He was surprised at the suddenness of the question as if Graham read his mind. He didn’t waste time in replying in the affirmative.
Then I’ll give you a job if you’re diligent and honest,” he said in his deep, aristocratic voice that was very used to authority. Graham had a knack of hiring drug couriers or mules.
Ray could sniff power and affluence around him. He knew he wasn’t kidding.
“I’m honest and hardworking, sir.”
“Fine. See me in the office by 9.00am next week Monday. I don’t entertain lateness, so make sure you keep to time. I shall be at the airport by 12.00noon. I’ll be traveling to Colombia for a business.”
“All right sir.” Desperation shifted to hope.
Most Nigerians were always at least thirty minutes late, most of the time later for an appointment. This habit was generally known as ‘African time’.
“I have business to attend to, see you on Monday.” That day was Thursday.
Graham stopped at the door, plunged his hand into the pocket of his well embroidered babariga and brought out bundles of money. ‘Take and buy yourself some nice clothes and shoes.”
“Thank you sir,” Ray said realizing that he didn’t approve of his look.
Graham Bello was about 50 years old. He was short, dark-complexioned and fat with pendulous cheeks. He had a humble beginning. He was the chieftain of Nigerian cartel. Most times he was addressed as Al Capone. He was a hard-nosed, steel-hearted businessman. Many of his peers would acknowledge that his was a voice to which all listened. They might not agree, not all bend to his will, but his ideas were always given attention they deserved because they’d proven to be effective ones.
Graham prided himself on being invited to important social, political, and cultural events in the country. He contributed heavily to Shola Williams’ unsuccessful bid for a seat in the House of Representatives; John Chiedu’s successful bid for a seat in the Senate, and was known to be a supporter of gubernatorial candidature of Bola Phillips. He had many enemies and had met only a few of those that worked for him.
In 1984, he was worth ten billion naira, owned three lavish homes, a fleet of expensive cars and a five-star hotel. Apart from his mansion in Ikoyi, he owned a vacation get-away at Sango Ota where he could be ‘sealed in’ away from the distraction of Lagos. He also owned a twenty-million naira mansion in his village. A lifetime in dubious and dangerous businesses had brought him untold riches. He had traveled round the globe.
He’d never used the product which he provided for others. Every luxury that money could purchase, he had. He was supposed to be satisfied. But he was not.
He was born by a nightwatchman popularly known as ‘Meggadi’ in Lagos. His father came to Lagos from one of the small villages in one of the northern states. When he completed his secondary school education, compliment of the free education that existed in the West, he was awarded a Federal Government Scholarship to study Business Administration in an American university. He was from one of those states classified as educationally backward. When he completed his education, he worked for five years in the United States and accumulated some money. When he returned to Nigeria, he established Bello Trading Company Limited. He exported Nigerian artworks. The business wasn’t that lucrative. He just managed to keep his head above water. Things turned rosy when he went into drug trafficking – hiding hard drugs in the artworks he exported. All of a sudden, he started to lead a flamboyant lifestyle and spent money so freckly that he seemed to have access to inexhaustible treasury. He became a big name in the banks.
Ray drained his glass and stood up to go. Melanie glanced at her jeweled watch on its chain of gold. The time was one-thirty in the afternoon.
“Please let’s have lunch together before you go,” Melanie said, gazing at him conquettishly.
They took the elevator down. Melanie called a driver. “Come and take us to Splendor hotel.”
The driver bowing held the rear door of the car open for them. When they got there, Ray looked at the hotel and exclaimed, “Some place!”
“My father owns this,” she explained.
“Really? What a gorgeous building,” he said sincerely impressed.
Immediately they entered the restaurant, the headwaiter came sliding over to Melanie giving her a smile waiters reserve only their prestigious guests. “Your usual table?”
“Yes,” Melanie replied.
He conducted them to a table at the far end of the restaurant with lush seats for two. He drew out her chair for her. She sat down and rewarded him with a smile. The waiter fell over himself to please.
“What will you like to eat please?”
She turned to Ray. “What will you like to eat?”
“Fried rice and roasted chicken.”
“The same for me,” Melanie said.
The waiter’s eyes moved over Ray slightly worn clothes. The expression on his face told. Ray, as nothing else could that his appearance didn’t impress him. The food soon arrived.
“What do you do? Are you a student or a worker?” Ray asked as they ate.
“I’m in-charge of the management of this hotel.” The note of pride in Melanie’s voice betrayed the fact that she was immensely pleased with herself.
“Really? You read catering in school?” he asked, as he lifted a fork load of rice to his mouth. The whisky had sharpened his appetite.
“I have Masters in Business Administration from Havard University and a diploma in Hotel Management from London.
“That is great,” he said as he lifted a leg of chicken to his mouth.
After the meal, they washed it down with some glasses of French wine.
“Thanks for the meal. It is great,” Ray said. It was the best meal Ray had taken in years.
She waved until the car carrying him home went out of sight. In the car, he counted the money Graham gave him. It was five thousand naira. He leaned back against the upholstery and wondered why some people and excess money while others had none. Adam was surprised to see Ray come down from a Concord Mercedes. He waved to the driver as he revised to go back to the hotel.
“Who is that?” Adam asked.
“One of Graham’s drivers.”
“Look stay away from Graham Bello and his daughter.”
“He has got a bad reputation. As a journalist, I know certain things that are not common knowledge.”
He was not aware that Melanie had been coming to the flat after the first night.
“Look Adam, I am going to be close to Graham and Melanie. I have a feeling right in my bones that if I go close enough to them, some of their money will stick to me. Don’t think I am ungrateful for not taking your advice but I can’t. I need money. Not just small money. Big stuff.” He showed Adam the money Graham gave him.
“He gave you all that money for giving his daughter a place to sleep?”
“No. For saving her, from the hoodlums who wanted to rape her. Go and get dressed let’s do some shopping.”
“You better economise the money. Such money doesn’t come everyday.”
“Don’t worry, he has promised to employ me. I am going to see him in his office on Monday by nine o’clock in the morning.”
“I will advise you not to go,” Adam said.”
“What is wrong with you, Adam, you don’t want me to get a job?”
Adam wanted to say something, but there was a tough, knowing arrogance in Ray’s eyes that dissuaded him. Ray went alone for his shopping. Adam refused to go.
On Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. When Ray opened it, there stood a uniformed driver. Adam had gone to the office. The driver handed him a sealed envelope. He opened it and read the note.
Hello Ray, Good day! Please follow the bearer of this note. He has been instructed what to do.
He felt the note must have been sent by Melanie. He could not think of any other person who could send him such a note. “Who sent you,” Ray asked the driver.
“Who is your boss?”
“Mr. Tony Okonkwo.”
“I don’t know him.”
“He owns a car hire company. I am one of his drivers.”
“He gave you this letter?”
“Yes, and others to be delivered at the appropriate time.”
“Who wrote them?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is he in the office now?”
“No. He has left for the airport. He is traveling to London. His flight is for ten o’clock.”
Ray checked his watch; the time was five past ten o’clock. He invited the driver in. He’d decided to find out who his admirer was. Dressed in his newly bought white linen suit, he followed the driver. Inside the 500SEL Mercedes car, the driver handed him another envelope. He opened it and read the note.
Please go to Exclusive Supermarket and asked for the manager.
“Take me to Exclusive Supermarket,” he told the driver. Exclusive Supermarket was the most expensive in Lagos. The driver drove to the supermarket.
There the manager handed him a packet. He thanked him and they shook hands. He went back to the car. Inside, he opened it. It contained a diamond studded wrist watch on a solid fourteen carat gold band. When he was through admiring his gift, the driver gave him another envelope. The note read:
I know you should be hungry now please go to Ikoyi hotel for your lunch. Bill already settled.
He had his lunch at Ikoyi hotel. Back to the car the driver handed him the last envelope.
Want to know who I am? Come to Eko Hotel.
Ray directed the driver to take him quickly to Eko hotel. There he found that a suite had been reserved in his name. Ray was thrilled about this exciting adventure because he liked the hedonistic way of life and had a wild yearning for the exotic. When he entered the suite, his face was alight with the expression of a man who had just entered heaven. As he was admiring the salubrious milieu, he didn’t notice when his admirer sneaked in from the door he had forgotten to close. Suddenly he looked behind and saw Melanie smiling. The negligee she wore was transparent, she looked more desirable naked in it than without it.
“This is for saving me from those hoodlums.”
There was that thing in her eyes that all women got when they wanted a man. Ray had known a lot of women in his life and that look was unmistakable. He’d learned that turning down an offer of sexual favors was not a good way to maintain a good relationship with a female.
“Please let’s sit down. What type of drink would you want? Whisky, champagne, or brandy?”
“Why do you have to use car hire when your father has fleet of cars? And you have a personal car?”
“I didn’t want you to quickly understand I was the admirer.”
“Champagne will be fine,” Ray replied, his eyes wandering to Melanie’s enormous and well-formed breasts that showed under the negligee. The sight of the breasts aroused him.
Melanie lifted the phone and called the bar to send up a bottle of vintage Champagne. His eyes met hers. For a minute he thought he saw admiration, and then he decided he was wrong. Ice bucket in which nestled a bottle of champagne soon arrived with two exotic looking glasses. The waiter deftly opened the bottle and poured the bubbling liquid into the two glasses before he took his exit. Melanie finished her drink in a gulp and poured another liberal quantity into her glass. Her mood was bubbling like the sparkling wine. Ray smiled his thanks at her and picked up his drink and took a good swallow. He didn’t drain his champagne as eagerly as Melanie did. By the time, he had finished his third glass, he felt incredibly lightheaded.
“Melanie, I must tell you that I am very grateful for all you’ve done for me. Thanks.”
“It’s nothing. For saving me from those hoodlums, I’m ready to do anything for you. You are handsome, Ray. I’ll seduce you. I want some affection,” she confessed in sleepy affection.
She put her glass on the table and walked toward him and stopped, and looked into his eyes.
“Come on, Ray,” she said. “Loosen up.”
“What else do you want me to do for you?”
“This,” she said as she unbuttoned her negligee, and then shrugged out of it. She raised her eyes to his. “What do I have to do?” she asked Ray very softly. “Throw you down on the couch and rip your clothes off,” she said as Ray failed to response.
It was a slow, lingering invitation. He felt his nerves on fire and his blood boiled through his veins like liquid fire. Her closeness was electrifying. Sweet smell of her exotic perfume engulfed him. She stroked and caressed him. She kissed him from hair to his ears, cheeks and neck. Ray sat perplexed.
If a man wanted a girl in Nigeria, he went for her. But if a girl wanted a man, she had to pretend she didn’t want him except the man luckily made the first move. This time, Melanie had taken the initiative. She had struck out for female emancipation. She had broken one of the ironclad rules. After this she broke a lot of rules.
“You smell wonderful,” he managed to say. Just for something to say.
She pressed her lips on his. He responded in spite of himself. Her lips were warm and skilful. He enveloped her within his hands downwards to her soft buttocks. She moved closer to him. When they broke apart, she was gasping for breath. He had stimulated her to unbelievable heights of want.
“I’ve never been kissed like this all my life,” she whispered into his ear. There was a stiff bulge under his trousers.
“Ray do you love me?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. Who wouldn’t love a girl whose father stinks with money, he thought.
Melanie phoned the bar and ordered for the second bottle for champagne to be brought to Ray’s suite. After the waiter left, Ray carried her across the room into the bedroom. He laid her gently on the well-made bed. Her face was animated with pure joy. Slowly, tantalizingly he moved his hand over her body barely touching the flesh of her thighs. She willingly parted her legs for him. His finger played at her until, she writhed with pleasure. As they undressed, he looked at the plump melons, which over-flowed her corsets. Nature had been far too generous. On the bed, he stoked the throbbing column of their opulence, relinghuishing them, his hand wondered again over the glove of her belly and then seek the dark sanctuary between her legs.
She rested her back against the head-board, met Ray eyes, and deliberately tilted her champagne glass and spilled some champagne down her breasts, and mentioned for Ray to lick it up.
When he lifted his mouth from the breast, he pulled a pillow from the head of the bed and placed it under her buttocks. Parting her wide, he mounted her. Her eyes closed. She felt her body responding to the mounting heat. She moved hungrily, rhythmically under him, her finger dug into the flesh of his back. Her passion increased until, she thought she was going crazy. From her throat came a sound, soft at first, then increasing until in an explosion, she screamed his name over and over. They lay silent, contended and entwined. There was no urgent need for rekindling dead fires. Ray was reputedly a heavy scorer in the womanizing department and excellent in sexual wizardry but Melanie was not an amateur.
From the way, Melanie felt about Ray, she would have given him the key to the Central Bank if he wanted it, just to make sure he sticked with her.
Graham's life had fallen into an orderly pattern. He rose by six thirty in the morning. He ate breakfast by seven thirty. His black chaffeur driven 500 SEL Mercedes always drew to a stop in front of his office by eight o’clock. He sat in his car until his bodyguards in the car in front of his, got out, and did a quick check of the area. He liked to be early so that he could be able to go through his correspondence, which was always voluminous before his business associates started to troop in as from nine o’clock.
His couriers arrived and departed regularly; many of them came and went in anonymity. They would wait in the outer office until summoned inside for a brief talk with the boss. Some were those who had just returned from an overseas trip bringing money. Some had just returned from the drug producing countries in the Far East popularly known as the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent, bringing drugs to be exported to U.S. and Europe. Every courier that came to see Graham always gave a precise report because his time was precious. He also discussed with the couriers the problems they experienced on their trips and offered advices.
On Friday when he came to the office he had buzzed for Grace. “Tell Biodun to come in,” he told her.
He gestured Biodun to one of the chair in front of his big desk. Biodun still wondering what Graham called him for took the indicated chair.
“I’ve a young man called Ray Mordi coming to see me on Monday morning, before then run a background check on him. Anything you can find about him, I will want to know. What his earlier life has been like. I want to know if he has any pressing need for money.”
Biodun took the instructions, his face remaining expressionless. He was used to this type of situation. Graham often needed this type of information because he never employed a drug courier without a personal run-down on the man including his private life. Biodun nodded and left.
Biodun was heavily built like a heavyweight wrestling champion. He is about six feet tall. His father was a barman in Westend Motel, Lagos most notorious brothel. His mother was a prostitute, drug addict, and an alcoholic. They met in the brothel, but never married.
Biodun had accumulated a criminal record for murder, assault, armed robbery, and had served two terms in prison. He was a drug addict and totally fearless. He had a scar of a knife cut on his left cheek that ran down to the corner of his mouth, giving him a permanently aggressive expression. He’d a big head, bulging eyes, a strong jaw and powerful hands. He looked as if he’d been carved from a block of granite. Beneath the tough exterior there was equally a tough interior.
He lived in the slum of Mushin. Mushin was a place of mainly underprivileged Nigerians and had a grim record of high police brutality. In Mushin, when police appeared everyone scrambled in different directions. The area was full of ramshackle buildings, dirty streets, and ill-clad citizens. Mushin was a weird and frightening place.
When Graham’s drug business was booming, he employed Biodun as his bodyguard. He paid Biodun a very handsome salary to keep him alive. He always carried a gun under his jacket.