This one’s long. But I reckon I owe you… Meanwhile, please subscribe via email to all my posts from here on up. Tagging isn’t easy… The link to do so should be somewhere at the bottom. Thanks.
“Enter with your change o! I don warn una. I no get time for story. Enter with your change! I don talk am now. Five hundred, two hundred, one thousand: mi ni change. Wole pelu fifty naira yin,” John barked. He really was not in the mood to go hustling for change this hot afternoon. Also, most of his fellow conductors were rarely ever forthcoming when approached for assistance. He cajoled and courted passengers till the bus was full. Well, almost full. He made sure he reserved a seat for himself at the end of the middle row. The last seat on said row was a pull-out seat that was simply attached to the rest of the row by two strips of metal. Also, unlike the others, it lacked a backrest.
“Oya pilot! Jade be! Go on soun!” Okro said. At first, he’d found conductor-speak rather repulsive. All the yelling and the yelling and more yelling. All that yelling irrespective of the punching that touts were constantly meting out to one’s vulnerable midriff. Your lungs had to be in tip-top shape. No wonder the conductors that smoked weed regularly had raspy voices, he figured.
Lamidi had driven for two minutes when John began to collect his money. Passengers generally started getting off around Famous bus stop and they were approaching it. John did not want a situation where he had to collect money as the passengers were alighting. It was more often than not a frustrating ordeal. Especially if he had to give them change…
They were approaching the final stop where everyone would have to get off. John looked around the bus. There were only three passengers left now: a tired-looking middle-aged woman seated beside him in the middle row who had two baskets of tomatoes in the boot, a chatty fellow seated up front who had managed to make Lamidi’s driving experience rather enjoyable – John could tell that Lamidi would have loved to have the man follow him around for the rest of the day without paying – and a gentleman in the back row who hadn’t raised his face from the newspaper he’d started reading as soon as he got on. He sat at the extreme left; behind the driver’s seat.
In his line of work, especially since he’d started working on the Palmgrove to Bariga route, men in suits were not uncommon. Especially in the mornings and late evenings. Most of them, he’d figured, were bankers or other professionals going to work or returning home. There were a lot of banks and white-collar institutions on Ikorodu road and Ikorodu Road was parallel to half his route.
So he couldn’t figure out why something about this gentleman just seemed off. Uncomfortable even.
Then he began to piece it together: John glanced at his N200 wrist watch. It was 12.30pm. It was neither closing time nor time for resumption for most banks or law firms. In truth, this was the period of the day when transportation experienced something akin to an ebb in these parts because most people were at work. Then there was the issue of the man’s suit: it was impeccable. And expensive. He’d spent enough time working at Trytek Nigeria to know what a bloody good suit looked like. This was a bloody good suit. John shrugged it off: the man had paid his exact fare without any fuss whatsoever. His kind of passenger. Maybe he was a rich dude off to a clandestine location to hang out with his mistress.
At 4am earlier that day, Magnum 365 woke up and entered the five-star hotel’s bathroom for his morning rituals. He peed, shaved and then sat on the loo. Thereafter, he had a bath and while dressed down, took a few minutes off to re-read the details of his latest assignment. All the necessary info was there: the plate number of the vehicle, the photos and bio of the man he’d be transacting today’s business with and the location where he would most likely find his soon-to-be acquaintance. He looked at the time: 4.20am. Way too early. He was always ready too early. He sighed then turned on the TV and immediately was on to National Geographic. Nothing gave him more simplistic joy than the sight of a lion tearing into a speeding gazelle. It resonated with him. It seemed like the lion was saying “Run all you like. I’m still gonna get you.” Two hours later, he was hungry. Being a vegetarian, he ordered a salad. It was great. After exactly 15 mouthfuls, he pushed the rest of his breakfast away and got dressed up. When he got to the hotel’s exit, the doorman greeted him cheerily.
“Good morning sir.”
“Good morning,” he replied and sent a plastic smile in the doorman’s general direction. He walked out of the hotel and hailed a taxi.
“Onipanu bus stop sir,” he politely told the taxi driver his intended destination. He was actually headed for Palmgrove but he preferred to walk there from Onipanu. Just because.
“Two five!” the taxi driver yelled in Magnum 365’s direction.
“I can’t pay you two thousand five hundred. One five. Nothing more.” Magnum liked to haggle wherever possible. He could easily pay a hundred grand but these moments made him feel like he was actually normal. Like he was really blending in. He stood back and waited for the driver to mull it over.
“Two thousand sir,”
“One five,” Magnum was almost sweet.
“Oya one eight. Let me just manage that one sir,”
“One five oga. Or I can call someone else.” Magnum stood back and acted like he was scanning the street for alternatives. After a moment’s thought, the taxi driver beckoned him in with a hand signal and reached across to open the backdoor from within. Magnum was quickly settled in. He leaned back and allowed himself a brief smile. It was going to be just an ordinary day, he thought.
After all, all he had to do was kill a guy.
A guy named John Okro…
He’d timed his entry into the bus to perfection. The devil was in the details. He knew he would stick out of the crowd dressed as he was but he knew he’d stick out. However, most of the people who plied that route were unlikely to ask questions of a person whose looks instantly intimidated them. And the less he had to say, the better.
He sneaked a look at the conductor when he’d asked for his money. The photos given to him by Intelligence were accurate save for the lack of contact lenses. The target was 5 9″, dark-skinned and of average build. For a conductor, he was reasonably well-built. He had a cynical but enlightened look in his eyes. Magnum 365 was also very well acquainted with the mark’s story and thus knew why John was stuck in a bus rather than a 20-storey building in the heart of Lagos. The target looked like hard times had fallen upon him since the photos were taken. His misery would be at an end today.
Normally, the easier way would be to kill the mark in his sleep. But Intelligence found that he rarely slept in the same place twice. He seemed to be almost destitute at times. They needed something predictable. This way would be more open but they were left with rather limited options.
Depending on when the bus got empty, Magnum 365 had various plans. Before today, he had cased the area for a week entering various other buses but compulsorily avoiding the mark’s. Just to get a feel for how things worked in the area. The worst case scenario for him would be if the bus didn’t get empty till he arrived at the last stop. He’d simply make his move when alighting. However, it seemed that Lady Luck was smiling upon him. Two stops before the last, Magnum 365 pushed the newspaper down just enough to allow him observe the lady seated in front of him get off. He listened without turning as the conductor got her tomatoes out and slammed the boot shut. The passenger in front wasn’t going to be a problem but he’d gotten off as well. Tomato lady had been the last of them. This was going to be easy.
Magnum 365 raised the newspaper again as he saw the conductor re-enter the bus. The bus began to move again. Magnum 365 reduced his eyes to slits so that he could barely see as he concentrated on counting to five in his head. When he got to four, he reached for the silenced pistol in his jacket. At five, he fully lowered his paper, eyes wide open and extended his arm as he made to shoot.
But save for the driver, the bus was empty.
Still seated, he asked rather calmly: “Driver, where is your conductor?” Lamidi, the driver, turned and almost lost control of the vehicle as he experienced, for the very first time, what it felt like to have a pistol aimed in one’s direction.
He scanned the bus with his eyes in utter disbelief. Where was John? “ I… I… don’t….” he stuttered. His sentence was punctuated when out of seemingly nowhere (in actual fact, ‘nowhere’ was the open bus’ doorframe) a foot shot in and kicked Magnum’s wrist at full velocity, knocking the gun out of his grasp, out the nearest window and into the street. Lamidi, scared that the gun would go off both ducked and stopped the car at the same time.
The tell, for John, came when the man had lowered his newspaper. John saw the mole. It was an artificial mole placed precisely two inches above the left eyebrow: The Mark of the Magnum. He had shared bosses with that crew of assassins while at his previous place of employment. He had shut the boot after giving the lady her tomatoes and re-entered the bus. He knew the Magnum would make his move anytime. As soon as he saw the paper go back up, John noiselessly climbed to the roof of the bus. He was surprised that the Magnum hadn’t noticed at once. Sloppy. Moments later, he’d heard the man speak. John then swung from the edge of the roof and aimed his foot at the man’s wrist perfectly. If he’d aimed for the hand, the gun might have inadvertently gone off. The wrist possessed the control. Luckily, the gun fell out of the bus and out of immediate reach. Pivoting on the edge still, John swung himself back up on the bus and was about to roll to the other side of the vehicle so he could get the gun. However, a burly hand reached up and began to pull him down by his arm.
It was a really strong hand.
John landed on the road with a small thud.
He sprang to his feet and was instantly face to face with the Magnum.
“Hi, John,” the Magnum almost whispered, “I’m here to kill you.” He said confidently.
“You don’t say! And here I was thinking you came to admire my cologne.” John quipped and instantly sniffed his underarm. He regretted that last move because it immediately quashed the cologne theory.
Immediately assuming the role of aggressor, John aimed several quick punches at his midsection. But they were all blocked. Easily. In truth, the punches caused more pain to John than it did Magnum 365. Each block more painful than the last as forearm clashed with forearm.
“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow!” John Okro winced every time he tried to land a punch. Finally, Magnum made his move as he trapped John’s arms to his sides, making John unable to move. John was breathing rapidly from the exertion. Magnum 365, however, was respiring rather evenly. He cocked his head to one side peering at John Okro as if he was seeing his face for the first time. He flashed one of his plastic smiles at John for the briefest of moments before sending his forehead into the bridge of John’s nose sharply.
And once more.
John was dizzy and in pain. He gasped as he felt his breathing become even more strained. The wetness spread quickly from his nostrils to his chest as blood spilled freely from his nose to his shirt. His eyes could barely focus but he noticed more movement as Magnum tried to head-butt him again. This time John evaded, shifting his face to the other side and then putting it on Magnum’s shoulder so that the bigger man could not connect with the front of his face anymore.
Around them, John Okro could hear a crowd gathering. This was Bariga after all. If you scratched your head too loudly, people gathered. Now, there was actual violence. If Lamidi had any business acumen, Okro thought, he would gate and start selling tickets.
John Okro was at his wits’ end trying to figure out how to come out of this alive. His primal instincts took over as he sunk his teeth into the shoulder before him. He could tell that the bite was causing the Magnum little or no pain but Magnum tried to shake him off nonetheless. When John wouldn’t let go, Magnum raised both fists quickly to punch John on both sides of his head. That inevitably eased his grip on John who immediately extracted his teeth and made to turn.
But Magnum 365’s fists connected before John could escape.
It was dizzy-time once more for John as he fell onto one knee. His assailant was about to knee him in the face when he heard Lamidi’s voice.
“Lea… lea… leave him alone or I will shoot!” Lamidi was stammering again. Some of those in the crowd gasped. A few began to retreat for fear of a stray bullet. Lamidi was now in possession of the once fallen weapon and was pointing it at Magnum 365 from point blank range. The Magnum turned, looked at Lamidi and frowned.
“You can’t shoot that.”
“I s-s-s-s-say I will shoot!” Lamidi was backing away as the Magnum left John, who was still reeling, and started to walk towards the man with the gun. Lamidi was trembling and sweating profusely. Obviously scared. The Magnum could smell that part. Another plastic smile as Lamidi, not watching where he was going, backed himself into the side of the bus. Panic set in as he scrambled to move away. But the Magnum was quickly upon him. With his right hand, he grabbed Lamidi’s wrist as he twisted it to collect the gun. Then he planted his knee into Lamidi’s groin with such force, the poor bus driver couldn’t even scream. His mouth formed an ‘o’ and his eyes widened with brand new pain. Lamidi crumbled to the ground.
While Lamidi hadn’t been able to stop the Magnum, he’d distracted him long enough for John to pounce.
John, finally able to once again see past his nose, leapt on the Magnum’s back. He tried to disable the assassin’s right arm, the one with the gun, from behind with both his legs. He managed to squeeze both legs around that arm limiting its range of movement. Then he began to work on his head.
John wrapped his left arm around the Magnum’s jaw and put his right hand on top of his head. Then he snaked his middle finger down…
And began to scrape at the mole.
Now it was Magnum 365’s turn to panic. Not the mole! With his free hand, he reached up and tried to prise John’s fingers away from the mole. Then he felt John’s grip around his jaw tighten and he knew he’d been had. John wasn’t after the mole. He knew the move. He’d executed it countless times before. But there was no time to react. He felt John’s fingers snake back up as his palm moved quickly to the back of his skull. John pushed it viciously sideways and upwards. The resistance offered by the arm around the jaw was enough to elicit a ‘snap’ as the Magnum’s vertebrae got dislocated from his skull. He barely groaned as he fell to ground. Unconscious.
Lamidi, eyes still red, managed to blurt: “You don kill am?”
“No. But e fit no waka again. I no sure but I no go wait to find out. Make we move abeg.” John was sure this was going to be the end of his time conducting for Lamidi. He’d gotten the innocent man into enough skirmishes as it was. John couldn’t bear to put his life in danger again.
And he was sure that whoever sent this Magnum would be sending a few more soon.
“Oh dear! What happened to your nose?” Miriam asked with more than a hint of concern. She’d invited John over. Now she could see why he’d been reluctant to show up
“I was tracked by my former employers.”
“My former employers. They got to me.”
“Why?” Women and questions, Okro thought to himself. Must she know why he almost got killed?
“I’m not sure but I probably have something they want.”
“Not sure? Probably?” She stressed that last word. Full-on sarcasm.
“Okay. I know why. But I can’t tell you.”
“It’s a loooong story.”
“I’ve got time.”
“Well, I might have to kill you.”
“You’ve tried before,” she rolled her eyes with a smile. John shook his head.
“This is no time for sex jokes,”
“Yeah yeah. Start talking buster. I ain’t scared and I’ve got time.” Of course she did. John rolled his eyes and winced.
“Ugggh. Crap…” he began.