“So how have you been?” William asked. He was an entirely different person now. He was clean shaven, manicured finger nails, stylish native outfit, Hublot watch, a powerful cologne and he certainly wasn’t looking hungry. We were now inside his palatial home in Lekki. I always considered my father a wealthy man and in his days, he was. He was a high ranking civil servant before his sudden demise. We lived in a big house; we had about three cars and he spared no cost to see that I and my siblings went to the best schools. He even bought me a car in my final year as an undergraduate; the car I call Samantha and still use today. Shortly after this, he passed on. He didn’t save too much because he never expected to die suddenly. Being in Williams house made me feel the urge to redefine my concept of wealth.
Williams palatial home could pass for Aso Rock any day, any time. The fleet of cars I saw made me think he was also into car sales as well till he told me they were his personal cars. I counted about seven cars…no…seven AUTOMOBILES. The cheapest car here would probably be in the range of five million naira. There was a massive swimming pool and a basketball court very close to where the cars were parked. My little Samantha looked so lost and out of place in this spatial compound.
On entering the living room, I thought I’d stepped into paradise. The walls were painted in a gold-like color that seemed to match everything else in the house. The chandelier was the finest I’d ever seen in real life. It was like a collection of real diamonds held by gold rims. The sofas were something else. Leather; real animal skin. The marble on the floor was so well polished that it could be mistook for mirrors. The TV was the biggest I’d ever seen; life size! It slid out from a spot in the wall. I just imagined watching Manchester United play on this TV. It would be so much better than being at Old Trafford! There seemed to be a remote control for everything. Even the curtains! This house fell right out of Ovation magazine or MTV cribs. I couldn’t believe that this was what William enjoyed everyday of his life.
He seemed amused at the way I strolled from place to place within the massive sitting room looking at his art collection. He sat down and called for drinks.
“A bottle of Champagne would be in order or would you rather have something else?” He asked, jolting me back to reality.
“Champagne is fine.” I said quickly. I sat down, albeit uncomfortably at being in the presence of such majestic opulence. My eyes continued to move about restlessly at the expensive art works that adorned the walls. It was quite a task trying to take in as much detail as it could.
“How have you been?” He asked again.
“Oh…so, so.” I said, shuffling my feet. “I thank God.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get your number that day. There’s been a lot of change since that time.”
“Its ok sir.” I said. The awe I felt right now made the disappointment of the day I went to his office a distant memory.
“And its high time you dropped the ‘sir’ and stuck with ‘William’, don’t you think?” He said, smiling. “You really don’t need to make me feel any older.”
I laughed nervously as the Champagne came. I’ve drank Champagne a couple of times in the past but I’ve never really gotten around to liking it. William handed me a glass of the sparkling white drink. He made a quick toast to the good life and we drank. I still didn’t like it. After a few minutes of awkward silence, he spoke.
“You must be wondering what happened, how I got to where I am now right?”
“I can’t wait to hear it.” I said, nearly unable to contain my excitement.
He took a moment to ponder before he began.
“I got back to Lagos under the cover of darkness as I had planned. I tried to reach Joe to let him know but I couldn’t reach him. So I called the Commissioner of Police who was a friend. We had met and sort of bonded when I had made a generous donation to the recovery of one of the force members who had a close shave with death in the line of duty. At first, he didn’t believe me when I called but he did eventually and invited me to his house where I spent the night. There was a lot I needed to be updated on.
I told him everything that happened, just like I told you. He was a pretty good listener and after I was done, he told me what they had gathered so far. The first shocker was that they had my kidnapper was in custody though his condition was critical. They actually caught Soft voice! He had been shot in the stomach. That explained why Scarface tried to kill me. My wife had provided them with the ransom money which they used as bait to capture him. Prior to that, Joe had been put under surveillance because the investigating officer who had questioned him suggested that Joe didn’t seem straight forward. At that moment, I was ready to defend Joe. He was my only true friend. The revelations that followed shocked the life out of me.
I made Joe my Vice Chairman after I convinced him to leave where he worked. I put him on a good salary and when he proved more than capable, I left most of the running of the company to him while I traveled around making deals. He sent his family abroad. I initially wondered about that but I didn’t want to pry but he later confided to me that his marriage was in trouble. He needed time to reassess things. I gave him my support as the money kept pouring in, I increased his financial allocation to keep him happy. I made sure he had an all expense paid trip on me to visit his family every holiday season. Thinking back now, I should have kept him on a tight leash. He began whoring around but I didn’t really mind knowing that he’d had always been that way. What I didn’t know was that he’d gone into drugs and gambling and had amassed a debt of massive proportions. Somehow, he was able to doctor my yearly financial statements and as long as I wasn’t losing money, I didn’t really care.
After some impressive investigation by the police, it was found that William was owing some notorious figures in the underworld a humongous sum. That was all the motive they needed to haul him in as a suspect. That was when he disappeared. When I finally hired a firm to audit my accounts, I was shocked to find that Joe had systematically schemed over four million from the company account. And why not? I put him in charge. I began to see why he refused to hire an accountant when I told him to and become more involved dealing with my business associates and clients and leave the accounting to a more qualified professional. The worst of it all was that Joe, my friend, my best friend and confidant knew about my wife’s infidelity…”
“Infidelity?!” I blurted out, confused, interrupting for the first time. “I thought…” I let the sentence hang.
William leaned back against the plush sofa and sighed softly, a great look of sadness crossing his face. He looked resplendent in his white caftan and white slippers. My mind kept flashing back to that unkempt man I met over a year ago.
“Yes. Its true. She had an affair during one of my long travels. I can’t understand why. Maybe she probably felt the need to be adventurous or rebellious…I dunno really.” He remained quiet for a time, staring at me and gauging my reaction.
I was sucked in again. My mind had gone into a frenzy with a flurry of disorganized questions. I kept my face bland when I became aware of a smile across his face.
“I suspect there’s a question you need to ask…”
“Is the child yours?” I blurted out, barely allowing him complete his statement.
“Yes.” He said, without hesitation. “I did a dna test.”
I was silent for a while, still trying to comprehend his actions but gave up when my mind failed to throw up any cogent explanation. I thought about the pretty woman called Veronica. She was a goddess among other women; about that there was no doubt. I drove at William’s instruction behind the Sequoia to a house in Surulere where she alighted with the cute baby before we came to his Lekki mansion. It was a sunday and there was no traffic. Some sort of house party with lots of kids was going in the massive compound off Ogunlana Drive. I was once again struck by her radiant beauty. She seemed so happy and content.
“I had to weigh the pros and the cons.” Williams continued. “She had planned to break the news to me that night I received the file from Tomlin that she was pregnant. It was the first thing she told me when I went home. You can imagine how I felt. I had just escaped from the jaws of death, only to be greeted with news of life. I forgave her instantly for everything”. He paused. “Do you think me weak?” He asked.
“I think you’ve got the strongest heart ever. Jesus would be proud of you!” I said with conviction.
He laughed but it was an empty laugh. He continued, with an expression of anger in his dark eyes. “Joe blackmailed her with his knowledge of her affair and on one occasion, attempted to rape her.”
I was shocked. I didn’t know when my hands flew to my mouth.
“Be wary of your friends; they know you better and can destroy you with ease.” He said, admonishing me. There was silence as I allowed what I’d learned sink in.
“Where’s Joe now?” I asked feeling anger build up in me.
“No one has seen him. Not even his wife or kids. Its better that way though. I’ve put a bounty on his head for anyone who can bring him to me alive.” His eyes flashed with near psychotic rage as his tone became icy. “When I find him, he’ll wish he never knew me!”
He refilled his glass of Champagne and sipped. As if on cue, I drank up my nearly untouched glass and he passed the half full bottle to me. I looked at the writing on the bottle. Andre…I was beginning to like it. I poured out some more into my glass and we drank in silence for what seemed like eternity before he spoke again.
“I have proposition for you. You don’t have to give me an answer today. Just take your time with it.” He called for Edet, the young man who served the drinks and whispered in his ear. Edet nodded and went inside again.
“I need a new partner. Someone I can trust. I would be greatly honoured if you would join me.”
I felt I didn’t hear quite correctly. I had to drop the glass of fine wine on the stool next to me as my hands trembled greatly. I opened my mouth to speak but the words wouldn’t come out so I just sat there, numb and dumb.
Edet came in with a black duffel bag which he placed beside me and walked away without a world. I looked at William quizzically. He nodded to me before he said; “That’s the ransom my wife wanted to pay out to my kidnappers. It belongs to you now. Think of it as something to facilitate your thoughts on my proposal.”
I stared at the bag suspiciously, not believing what was happening right now. Fear gripped me when a thought flashed through my head that this could be a dream. I grabbed the bag suddenly, quickly, not caring about anything again. In my impatience to discover the contents of the bag, I ruined the zip and had quite a struggle to get it open.
I’ve never seen so much money in one place, at the same time all my life. Inside the bag were several neatly arranged bundles of one thousand naira notes!
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