The International Writers Magazine: Trouble in Africa
Peter Ike Amadi
The smelly bag was pulled off his head and Edwin ‘Caesar’ Clark greedily gulped down fresh air, trying with all his willpower not to throw up. He was sitting bound to a metal, stiff backed chair in a small room that had only a weak yellow light bulb providing illumination.
He wasn’t alone. Two men stood by his side, a woman sat in an identical chair opposite him, though she wasn’t a prisoner like he was, while two men flanked her. They all wore camouflage with black masks that had holes for the eyes and their mouths.
All carried guns: AK 47s that looked fresh out of the wrapping paper with rounds of ammunition in belts over their shoulders or round their waists. None of them smiled except for the woman that sat in the chair talking to him like he was a mentally retarded school boy caught stealing mangoes during classes. None of them actually scared Caesar except for her.
He knew she was a woman despite the mask she wore because of the way her impressive bust threatened to pop the buttons of her uniform and the way her wide hips stretched her fatigues. He also knew she was the most dangerous person in the room. All the other men seemed tense except for her. She was too relaxed for her to be just another militant. This woman was a killer.
“So, Mr. Clark, welcome to my abode” she said jovially, “Sorry for the circumstances of our meeting but you understand you can not have any idea where our headquarters is actually located. This is for your own safety.”
Caesar didn’t feel safe at all but he kept this to himself.
“Is it entirely necessary for you to leave my hands tied?” he asked “It’s not like I can take all of you on with my bare fists.”
“True, true” she agreed, “Please untie our guest.”
One of the men slashed at Caesar’s bonds with a huge knife and his arms were free. Caesar rubbed his wrists tentatively and kept his eyes on the woman while trying to maintain an air of indifference which contrasted sharply with his heart that clanged in his chest.
“Why am I here?” he asked.
“We know who you are, Mr. Clark,” she said, “We know you are a freelance investigative reporter here in Warri looking into the activities of the Black Mantis group. Maybe you think we are just another militant group but we are much more than that. Since we know you are quite good- I was impressed by your story that blew open the white slavery ring run by Senator Kuti which inevitably led to his demise - I’ve decided to bring you down here myself so you can get the message which we want to send to the Nigerian Government and to the world at large.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“That we are not here to play games, Mr. Clark. Most of the militant groups in the Niger-Delta may be trying not to cross the line but I want to let you know that Black Mantis has no line to cross. We will do what it takes to get what we want. Is this your phone?”
She waved Caesar’s Samsung flip at him.
“Well, we will use it to video a short demonstration of how serious we are then you can show the video to all the news agencies out there. Make sure you sell the video. It will make you rich!
She barked something to one of his men who left the room. A few minutes later he dragged a man back inside. He was blindfolded. Caesar saw that he was a European and that he was sweating profusely, his straggly, dark-brown hair stuck on his wet scalp. His captor took him to one corner of the room and pointed an automatic pistol at his temple. He began to sob as he felt the cold kiss of the metal against his skin.
Caesar’s eyes flew wide open and his heart began to beat even faster. His throat went dry and he felt a knot deep in his stomach.
“What’s going on? Who is he?” he blabbered.
The woman sitting in the chair was still smiling. She hadn’t even bothered to glance at their new guest. Her eyes had never left Caesar’s face for even a second. Caesar doubted that she had even blinked.
“This man’s name is Mr. Silas Simms and he is an oil worker from the United States. He works for a company called Axxel Oil which has refineries here in the Niger Delta. We kidnapped him three months ago and demanded a twenty million dollar ransom. The company didn’t even bother to send a negotiator. Now this poor man will have to pay the price for their callousness.”
“Please don’t do this…” Caesar begged as the man’s sobbing graduated to loud pitiable wailing, “This man is just another cog in the wheel. Why kill him?”
“To make a point.”
She barked another order and gave Caesar’s phone to one man who took position where he could get the best angles. The other kept Mr. Simms still as he began to struggle frantically. The gun was still pressed against the temple of the hapless American.
“Just leave him alone!” Caesar screamed furiously, struggling with his bonds. He refused to believe that a man was about to be executed in front of him.
“Just relax and enjoy the show. This will make you famous. You should be thanking me.” She cocked her head to one side and gave the order. Caesar squeezed his eyes shut.
A loud explosion filled the small room and echoed off the walls. The wailing stopped. He opened his eyes and watched Mr. Simms body crumple to the floor. A big, red stain was on the white-washed wall. The acrid smell of cordite filled his nostrils.
Caesar was speechless.
“Well, that was fun,” the woman said. She got up from the chair and stretched luxuriantly. Even in his shocked state he couldn’t help but admire her fantastic figure. She took the phone from the militant and walked over to him. She slipped the phone inside his front shirt pocket.
“Make sure that video gets to the local networks, CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera. Black Mantis is in business, Handsome.”
“You bitch” Caesar spat, “I’ll make you pay for what you’ve done even if it’s the last thing I do.”
She laughed. “You amuse me, Mr. Clark. You are just- please let me borrow your expression- a cog in the wheel. Aren’t we all just part of some grand plot? Are we not all pawns in a chess game? But who is playing us? The answer might be closer home than you think. Let me tell you something about the situation in the Niger Delta. This isn’t about freedom or better life for the people here. It’s not even about money. It’s about power. The Niger Delta is a keg of gunpowder just waiting to explode… and I’ve got a match.”
She barked a final order. One of the men beside Caesar brought down the butt of his rifle on his head with enough force to stun an ox. He went out like a light.
When he finally came round he was inside his hotel room, stretched out on the bed, his head feeling like he had been hit by a ton of bricks. At first he couldn’t remember where he was or what had happened but his memories came rushing back like an out of control freight train and he had to rush to the bathroom to puke.
After he had cleaned up, he took out a bottle of whisky from the bar and began to drink it straight from the bottle. The harsh liquid provided some relief and soon enough his fingers stopped shaking. He sat down on the bed and tried to think. He spied the phone lying on the coffee table next to his bed and eyed it the same way you would eye a black mamba that had just crawled out from under your pillow. He couldn’t bring himself to watch the video and relive the horrific scene all over again.
He knew he had to send it to the media. This video was pure dynamite. People had to know that an ultra-violent militant group now existed in the Niger Delta not averse to murder in cold blood. This could start a full scale war on the militant groups in the Niger Delta possibly leading to the Government imposing martial law in the area. The whole region could be destabilized with only the poor locals left to suffer the cost.
What did she mean by that they were all a part of a grand plot? Was there someone tugging the strings somewhere? Of course someone always was but this sounded different. Everything happens for a reason. Why did they need him to send the video? Why did they choose him? How could they let him witness such a cold, blooded, barbaric, execution-style murder and let him walk away?
Caesar frowned as the wheels in his brain turned and turned. Something wasn’t right. Something just didn’t fit.
He had been haggling with a hooker outside the hotel yesterday evening before he got grabbed and he guessed she must have been in on it. He should have gotten suspicious of the black van that had pulled up beside his Benz as he talked to the lady’s cleavage and by the time the van doors opened and men spilled out, it was too late. They just pulled open his car door and three men- each built like a brick shithouse- dragged him out. He made a desperate lunge for his Browning 9mm automatic pistol in the glove compartment but he reacted too slowly. Damn that Jack Daniels! Next thing the bag went over his head and three hours later he was facing Ms. Evil Eyes.
How did they know so much about him? If they felt he could be a threat why not just kill him? There was something voyeuristic about the way that woman had watched his reaction to the murder. She had enjoyed seeing the terror in his eyes. It had aroused her.
Caesar picked up his phone and dialed a number.
“Hello?” said a cold voice.
“Hi, long time no see.”
“Yeah, we haven’t seen since in ages.”
“Huh. How’s life in the S.S.S?”
“Is that an accusation?”
“No, not really. I need your help with something. I have a video I want you to see. It could mean a whole lot of trouble for you boys.”
“Let me know where you are.”
“This execution is staged” said Malik as he pulled out the earpiece. He had just arrived at the hotel from Warri Airport after flying in from Abuja. He was a big, muscular fair skinned man with a close shaved head and bright, malevolent eyes.
“That’s impossible” retorted Caesar “I was there when it happened.”
“Did you actually see him get shot?”
“Well, I did close my eyes but I heard the shot and saw him fall…”
“I ran a search on the name you gave me through our database before I left the office. There is no Mr. Simms on Axxel Oil’s staff roster. A few of their staff have been kidnapped in the past few months but their ransoms were paid and they were released. All are accounted for.”
“Then who was he?”
“He could possibly be a paid actor. We have informants in Black Mantis but none of them told us about this execution. If you take a close look at the gun he used to shoot Mr. Simms in the video you can see it is a replica.”
“A replica” he repeated as if Caesar was deaf, “The guy recording this actually makes an effort to show the viewer the type of gun used. Any guy with military or law enforcement background would know this gun is a replica. Someone wanted you to believe that this was an actual execution but wanted a real expert to know the execution was staged. I think someone wants to discredit you.”
“You mean… this was a set up?”
“Yeah. Remember what happened to that big, black guy from CNN a few years back? He came to the Niger Delta to interview some militants and it was later proven that the video he showed to the world was staged. CNN quietly fired him and he hasn’t been heard of since. You would have gone the same route.”
Caesar sat silently and boiled. “I think I know who is behind all this” he fumed. “Thanks, Malik, you’ve just saved my reputation from being tarnished forever. But I think that despite this execution being staged I believe there is a real threat out there. If someone could go to all this trouble to scuttle my investigation into Black Mantis then that means there is something big going on.”
“Hmm… like what?”
“I think someone or some people want to start a war in Nigeria with the Niger Delta as Ground Zero. I’ve got to find out who they are and expose them before they can pull it off.”
“You can’t save Nigeria, Caesar” said Malik ruefully “This country is going to Hell in a hand basket and no one can stop it.”
"Let me tell you something about the situation in the Niger Delta. This isn’t about freedom or better life for the people here. It’s not even about money. It’s about power. The Niger Delta is a keg of gunpowder just waiting to explode…"
"And I’ve got a match."
© Peter Ike Amadi November 1st 2010
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