I initially wrote this for Jeremy Target’s blog,you can see the original post here.
Anyway, I thought about making this into a sort of series, but let us see what we think about this first. If you are a lover of Espionage and spy thrillers and of course, if you are familiar with the awesomeness that is Codename: Ali then you are welcome.
East-West road, Choba
“Move you fool! Is that all you are capable of? You giant lummox of a fellow! Come on, move those feet ma fren! Would you call yourself a champion? Would you call yourself a leader of men when you can’t achieve a single goal? Run fool!”
Cars whizzed past him on both sides in the early morning light, their headlights making wavy yellow lines in the misty harmattan morning. He jogged on the median of the road, the white nylons and trainers a blurry piston to the pedestrians and motorists. At this hour, the sidewalk and the median, which had become a sudden favourite for pedestrian commuters, was mostly empty. As far as he could see in the mist, he was alone on the median, just how he liked it. Ahead of him loomed the big Setraco mile marker. The stone block was his goal, only two hundred yards from him, but still so far. Essien was alone with his thoughts, and his voice to berate him.
“How do you ever hope to be reckoned with? How will you raise your head above your peers? You fat, ugly, un-fit fuck! Run! Don’t stop now, the goal is no further than the next step idiot!” he cursed, the words puffing out his lips with each breath in small clouds of mist as the mile marker seemed to belie his words, retreating further into the mist.
“Now, I have found self-flagellation to be a suitable motivator, but never so vehemently,” came the smooth voice beside him.
Essien almost fell off the median. What the fuu…! He hadn’t heard anyone come up behind him, and here was this fellow loping along beside him, lean, muscular legs eating up the ground in effortless bound after effortless bound. A truck approached the jogging pair, the rooftop lights washing over them as it passed from the opposite direction. The stranger was dressed in a wide shirt, the sleeves cut out to reveal muscular arms that seemed to ripple as the light caught them, and grey shorts. Turning away in part envy, part embarrassment, Essien huffed and pushed himself forward as his arms sliced through the air. It was a hundred yards in the final dash.
“Competition however, is a far more excellent propellant,” continued the stranger’s voice as he kept pace with Essien, the increased speed brooking not even the slightest hint of strain. They reached the mile marker at almost the same time, Essien a half-second faster, though it seemed the stranger had flagged off at the last to let him win. The young man flopped to the floor, his chest heaving as he leaned back against the mile marker. A car drove past, the owner looking askance at both men.
“I’ve been jogging from Rumuosi, you know,” Essien panted. “And it’s been a while since I did this.”
The stranger just leaned one arm against the stone, his eyes sweeping through the early morning, watching the traffic at both ends. Essien ignored him. Creepy fellow. Getting up, he started stretching. It was time to start heading back. Hopefully this strange guy won’t jog back with him. There’s only so much sanity can take.
“You like spies don’t you, Essien?” he asked suddenly.
For the second time that day, Essien nearly fell off the median. He snapped his head back to look at the strange man again. Surreptitiously balling his hands into fists, he came forward slowly. “Who are you? And how do you know my name?”
“You like spies,” was the answer. Then the stranger looked at him. Indifference covered every inch of him, his body, muscular though it was, seemed only too loosely draped against the stone, his face impassive and non-threatening. But in that indolent posture was a coiled strength, in the stranger’s eyes, a certain intensity.
“You have always loved them. Books, movies; all the stories. You talk about them, you write about them, you are training even now so you stay as fit as the characters from your stories. But are they real?”
Essien stood still. The sounds of the road all seemed to be drowned out by the stranger’s voice. He continued in a mellifluous tone. “My name is Ali.”
Essien sprinted around the building, his eyes wild as he tore down the street. He was dressed in a pair of dirty blue jeans, the lower parts soaked in what seemed a mixture of grease and slime, or perhaps the contents of a well-used trash dump. In his right hand, the operative held a black Glock P29, like the weapon of his teacher, and across his back he carried a duffel cloth bag. Behind him, the car swerved into the street, a gunman perched out of the driver-side passenger seat lifted a gun and fired at Essien. Essien ducked behind a hedge and slipped in between the alleyway of two buildings. He did not reduce pace. He had to get to the extraction point.
Your mission would be simple, he said. It is pivotal, but simple. Grab the device, beat through the meager security and get to the Extraction point. ETA should be 15mins from action time.
The two mobile police officers at the gate scanned his papers with trained eyes before letting him into the school compound. People milled in every corner, and for every civilian, two or three wore uniforms of the Nigerian army and JTF. Rifles bristled on almost every shoulder, and in the air, the tension was so palpable – it was a wonder passersby beyond the school fence could not sense what was going on within, the spark of a match alone could have set ablaze the kindle. His eyes surveyed the crowd, roving casually to the untrained eye, but scanning every face, taking in every detail. Essien observed the rhythm of the military patrol as he walked across the field. It seemed random, but he could see the pattern. Whoever had planned this, had done a good job. AK-47 guns stayed in the safe position, to avoid any panic shots, but were held in experienced and ready hands. The military patrolled their ground in precise movements, ensuring almost no angle was left uncovered by a pair of eyes at every minute.
Around one of the classroom blocks, the activity was greatest. Naturally, Essien gravitated in that direction, drifting in unobtrusively at an angle. The space was packed almost entirely by soldiers, these ones held fully automatic F200 rifles, eyes most definitely scanning every individual from behind their dark sunglasses. The short queue of civilians shuffled forward in a silent file between the soldiers. They would then climb the stairs unto the building, and enter the classroom, each person fingerprinting through a series of ten times in sets of hundred for the candidate. One thousand votes; and each civilian paid one hundred thousand Naira to see it happen. There would be fifty civilians; number fifty though was currently enjoying a long respite under guard in a barred room. But they wouldn’t notice. It was enough to balance the outcome of a state election.
Within the guarded classroom would be a table with the fingerprinting machine, thought Essien, only this was like nothing INEC had bargained for. This machine warped and changed the whorls on each finger as the individual voted, translating one vote to a hundred using simple algorithms based on a log sequence. A small device, barely the size of a POS, he had said, but enough to change the fate of a nation.
Essien glanced at his watch, it was 11:34. He had six minutes. He joined the line, shuffling forward with the other voters, and willed them to hurry. On his left side, past the wall of soldiers, at two hundred paces was the other end of the school fence and a quite recently renovated and painted section of the wall already laced with timed explosives. Explosives timed to go off at 11:45.
He got to the head of the line and presented his pass, the coded and sealed piece of paper that admitted him into this farce, and they waved him in. He walked down a corridor to the last room at the end. Inside the room, a refurbished teacher’s office probably, there were no soldiers. Neither was there any on the corridor. No government would risk the integrity of the armed forces in something so criminal. They were to be given plausible deniability, so as far as the soldiers knew or would confess, they were simply guarding the election venue. That the officers involved were all given fat bonuses for the day’s job was no man’s business. How many okpos una want?
Inside the room, two dark suited men stood, one beside the doorway, his big black hands wrapped around an Uzi Pro SMG, the while the other, a stocky pot-bellied fellow who was a complete contrast to his partner, stood behind the desk, a high-powered laptop and a device the size of a typical printer on the table before him. Essien stepped forward casually; his pass held in front of him, wrist angled as though he only wanted to check the wristwatch on his right hand, palm flattened and rigid.
It was 11:44.
Behind the table, the windows of the small classroom had been boarded up, and to the side of the desk was a server rack with data centre equipment connected to the fingerprinting device, a cooling system had been mounted on the wall with a hose leading through a hole in the wall to the outside.
“You place your thumb here and here,” said the man behind the table, motioning to the machine. “Then the other fingers go here.”
“All the fingers?” he asked, wiggling them. The guard at the door raised a quizzical eyebrow. Essien smiled at him.
It would take ten to fifteen seconds to run to the room from the outside. And they would be running in protection formation, not attack.
The blast sounded like an earthquake; drowning out all sound. Essien’s hand shot out, striking the guard in the throat. It was a blow enough to paralyze a gorilla, but the guard didn’t go down. One hand clutching at his throat in reflex, he whipped the Uzi through the air as he aimed for Essien’s head. The operative ducked, digging his hand into the guard’s solar plexus and then rising with an uppercut that cracked the man’s jaw in immediate succession. As the guard fell, Essien turned to the other man who was busy trying to fix a flashdrive into the device.
As Essien picked up the gun, his first thought was to wonder why the man had not bothered shouting. Even if he couldn’t be heard over the sound of the explosions, it was only normal to shout for help. And then it struck him. A virus! The man was trying to infect the device with a computer virus! If the files on the device were corrupted, they would never trace who or what party was responsible. No need to bother about noise now, guards would be here any minute. Snapping back the bolt, Essien shot the other man in the head as he bent over the device, the force of the bullet snapping the man’s head into the wall behind. The operative had detached the flashdrive and was scooping the device into his arms before the man hit the floor.
He could hear the footsteps coming down the corridor. Whirling, Essien snapped the Uzi into full automatic burst and aimed for the section of the wall where the AC hose led to the outside; a weakened section.
The bullets battered the wall, hollow point 9mm parabellum rounds slamming into the weak cement filling with deadly force; further weakening the entire structure. Slamming his shoulder into the wall, Essien fell out of the building with his back just as the first soldier burst in through the door in a crouch. Still in the air with one arm wrapped around the device, and the other holding the Uzi snug against his side, he fired the rest of the bullets, tearing through the soldier and two other who appeared behind him. The operative landed in a shower of gravel. He quickly oriented himself. On his right now was the section of the fence which had been blown apart by the bombs, around it, just hidden from his view by the building he had fallen out of, milled most of the soldiers, as they shouted and ran, searching for the intruders. From the front of the building, surely, the detachment in the corridor sent to secure the device and the agents inside the room had already fallen into defensive crouch, guns in the ready to pepper the voting room and what else lived within with .375cal magnum bullets. On his left side, the fence was just about a hundred yards away. Essien sprinted.
He vaulted the six ft high fence, package still under his arm, and landed in a pool of water. He had less than a minute before the soldiers discovered he had escaped the compound and mounted a search. The large pothole covered the road, the stagnant water green with slime, and black with grease from the mechanic shop across. Wading through the water, he ran into the now empty mechanic shop, the occupants having fled at the sound of the bombs and gunshots.
The Jincheng motorbike rested against the side of a shed. Essien smiled grimly as he imagined what the mechanics must have thought when they came to work that morning and discovered a strange motorbike among the other vehicles. Taking the key out his pocket, Essien started the bike in one kick. He placed the device in front of him on the fuel tank.
Less than thirty seconds now.
Whirling around in a perfect wheelie, he pointed down the wooden ramp that led back to the road. The extraction point was about 22km away. He had had to be there by 12:30.
The man threw his hat against the table in anger. The wide-brimmed hat bounced against the polished woodtop and landed on the rug. “Find him! Find him!” he shrieked.
The politician had developed over time a public persona of good old-fashioned honesty and the abhorrence of corruption, as much as any public official since George Washington could hope to achieve, and that was what his state knew him for, what the country heard and what all but his very aides and the opposition believed. Even among his aides, the diverse machinations he variedly applied were termed ‘political genius schemes’ and argued necessary for the growth of the people.
This campaign was his, all the work that had gone in, all the plans – every eventuality accounted for, studied underneath a microscope and a full set of plans made against it. It would not fall to pieces because of the actions of one individual, no matter who his backers might be. Picking his hat up, he set it on the table and sat down. He was calm again. His aides, two young men, one of them a lanky thirty-five year old who had begun his career shining the politician’s shoes, looked at him and marveled. This was the man. This was the one on whose career they had staked theirs. Their wunderkind! They marveled at his calm – the tidal nature which at one moment vehement and opposing, haranguing whatever government in place, the next soft and placating, sweetmouthing the voters. They loved it. The people loved it.
The politician retrieved a phone from the folds of his etibo. The aides recognized it immediately. It was the Red phone; the secret communications link restricted to the top members of the party. Quietly, they shuffled out of the room; it was time for the politician to make the call that would put this problem to rest.
In the office, the politician was speaking. “Yes, someone must have heard of the mission. The device cannot be loose in their hands. All we have worked for, all we have sweated for in this country would come out in the open.”
He listened for a few moments. “You know better than that. I am fully commited. Nothing can save me if those details come out. I will be finished. Nothing can save both of us.” He listened again. “Yes. They will be pressed, and who knows what they will confess for some amnesty. The device must be retrieved at all costs.”
The voice at the other end spoke a few more moments and then hung up. The politician stared into space, his hands drumming on the tabletop. For his outward serenity, his heart thudded only too madly; and in his head churned the same words he had just spoken: at all costs.
Essien walked in through the secondary school gates, nodding at the sleepy guard. The school field yawned in front of him, the expansive green rivaling the pitch of many stadiums; it stretched right across to the other side of the school, ending at the fence shared with the University. It was big enough for his needs. He stared up at the sunny sky and cursed. He had been walking for almost fifteen minutes, and with the dirty water from the puddle he had landed in and the sweat running down his back into his crotch, he was beginning to itch. He let his mind wander as he walked unto the grass. Only minutes now, and a nice shower, then maybe a trip to Kenya till all the heat died down. He had abandoned the bike once he left the Omagwa-Choba link road, the Election Act prohibited unauthorized vehicular movement on election days and one did not tempt the law especially when running from it. With the device under his arm, he had walked through a number of military checkpoints with barely a glance from the officers, except when one asked if he was carrying LaserJet or DeskJet. To which he had promptly replied in the inconclusive.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of rotor blades. He looked up into the sky as the chopper coasted in, the civilian markings identifying it as owned by a major helicopter charter service. It was 12:34. Essien smiled, he decided to make the shower a soak. There was this Jacuzzi thing in the rooms at Prot…the whine tore through his subconscious with the intensity of a knife wound, as the rocket slammed into the helicopter. In one second, Essien was aware. He saw the dovewhite tail of the rocket’s exhaust as it trailed into the distance behind him. He could almost read the shocked expressions of the pilot and mate. He felt the weight of the package underneath his arm, the tingling feeling at the back of his neck of being watched, the sensation of nakedness at the absence of a gun’s weight in his waistband. And oddly, the thought of if the blast would wake the security guard. Then the helicopter exploded.
The blast tossed Essien backwards and to his right, which probably saved his life. As he landed, he spun on the grass, rolling over and over to absorb most of the shock and avoid the bullets that would come. His mind was roiling, who was attacking? Had he been set up from the first? Debris rained from the sky, fiery remnants of the machine slammed into the earth, missing him narrowly as the hulk of the craft slammed into the earth in another shockwave that bounced Essien as he rolled. A car skid in through the gates, a Volvo S80, with rifles bristling from every corner. The vehicle stopped at the edge of the field which was on fire and beginning to look like a warzone. Essien could hear sirens in the distance. Rising carefully, doing his best to remain invisible to the attackers who were trying to stare through the haze. His right elbow hurt, it had been almost akimbo when he struck the ground, and his thighs felt like they had been squeezed by a fat woman in a bad mood. But he could move, and fast if he needed to. And the package was safe. That was most important. He inched his way towards the shimmering heat of the burning helicopter. It had to have escaped the flames, or he would have heard it pop. His eyes searched the ground, watering in the heat, and his breath came short. From the corner of his eyes, one of the men was beginning to round the flames, coming over from his left, from where Essien had just come. In a few seconds, he would be on him. Essien glanced behind, at the fence behind which lay the University. He had a shot going that way, but would he reach the fence in time? It was fifty yards and these men were professionals, that they had not shot wildly upon driving in was testament to that. If he suddenly made a break, they would see a rapidly moving target. Then he saw it.
The mercenary crouched around the fire, his eyes adjusting to the heat haze and smoke. The sirens were so annoying, soon the police would be here making matters harder for everybody. Shey he told them to wait till the man had boarded, but the boss said he wanted the device unspoiled. Only God knows if the device didn’t blow apart in the shockwave of the explosion. If he could just find the man and confirm he was dead, then they could go. There! He thought as he spotted Essien bent over rummaging through a small duffel. The man raised his weapon, taking careful aim as Essien spun around too fast to follow, his feet a blur on the ground and shot.
You only get one of those, thought Essien as he fired frantically through the fire and smoky haze. In the duffel, just like he had kept it in the chopper earlier, had been his gun and four magazines. Stuffing the mags in his pockets, he jammed the device into the bag and slung it across his shoulder. Then he ran for the fence.
Essien ran out the alleyway into the east-west road. Ahead loomed the Choba bridge. A police truck sped past him, and then screeched as it swerved around upon sighting him. Without taking a second to consider, Essien fired two shots into the truck’s tires, and four through the windshield. Then he ran unto the bridge. The Volvo would be coming around from the street at any minute. On the other side of the bridge was a police checkpoint, but no way he was going that way, his goal was closer. Behind him, the Volvo screamed into the road, the engines grinding madly as they ate up the distance. Essien ran like he never had. The gunman leaned out the window, the rifle on his shoulder spitting out bullets that slammed into the road in his wake, coming closer with each second. Twenty yards, fifteen…
He could see the police on the other side, barricaded behind their cars, rifles at the ready ten, five…the water beneath the bridge flashed in his eyes, the sun reflecting off a metallic glint from the water.
The bullet tore through Essien’s thigh, the force of it nearly spinning him around, as his legs buckled and he went off the bridge. The Volvo skid to a stop, its occupants jumping out. Essien fell through the air, the wind whistling through his clothes, cold needles stabbing into his eyes, forcing away the tears that had brimmed, as he grabbed the rope dangling from the side of the bridge. The slack rope paid away as he fell freely, the water coming up towards him at an amazing speed, and then suddenly the rope jerked short, the force snapping his elbow. Essien screamed as he let go and landed on the deck of a small boat.
“What took you so long?” said Ali in a soft voice, as he shot the Stinger missile into the bridge.
- The locations are all real
- The man who would be Essien actually does run from Rumuosi-Choba every weekend morning in those white nylons and trainers
- Any other resemblance to persons living or dead, hat-wearing or not, is purely coincidental and this tale does not pretend to tell the future
GOD bless Nigeria.