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The crowd filled the streets that led to the Briggs mansion, necks craning and tongues wagging as police trucks zoomed in and out of the large compound.
“I hear say na thieves o.”
“E go be kidnappers jare. Na them dey get that kind mind. I hear say them carry plenty gun eh? You no hear all the gunshots? Very sophisticated machine gun sef, police no fit near that type.”
“I heard they shot many of the security men o. Chai. Na wa o!”
The speculations went on as frenzied activity continued in the Briggs homestead. The shooting had stopped, but a sense of urgency still hung in the hair. A wailing ambulance streaked out of the gates, heading towards the nearest hospital. Inside was a casualty of the shooting.
Inside the ambulance were Caleb Enyindah and Preye Briggs. Two hands were clasped, one grip strong, the other weak, holding on to dear life.
The private room was bright and airy, white curtains billowing in the morning breeze, chilly after a short rainstorm.
Chief Hanson Briggs sat on a chair drawn up to the bed, his voice droning as he summarized what had happened.
“Benson was contacted by the men who wanted the Olobiri documents so badly. Their offer of money was too great for him to resist and he accepted to work for them. He subtly convinced me to tell him the security codes that gave access to my basement, and I did. But when I noticed that someone one was trying to cripple me financially by buying out my companies, I grew paranoid. I suspected my old ‘friends’ had come out to play, so I installed a new security firewall to access the basement. Benson could not get in; even though my security footage tells me he tried.”
The chief took a deep breath and stared at his knuckles, still bruised and healing from his fight with Benson. A fight he had won. “So Benson and the men he was working for found out about a group of young men from Olobiri, with lofty ideals, who wanted to get the documents for their own purposes. And they took advantage of that, and forced them to work on their behalf, while keeping Benson’s involvement a secret until the very end. But you know this part, don’t you?”
In the hospital bed, Caleb sat up gingerly, and then rested against the pillow, careful not to tug at the stiches closing the bullet wound in his right side. “Yes sir, I do. I had no idea that Mr Benson Adewale was involved.”
Chief Hanson Briggs nodded. “I believe you. After the police arrested Benson Adewale and stormed his home, they found your accomplices waiting there. Pretty Boy was arrested and told us everything, but Blacky and two other men tried to escape in a red Nissan and were mowed down at a police road block.”
Caleb winced, this time not from pain. He was only slightly sorry to hear that Blacky had died, but he was glad Pretty Boy was still in one piece.
“What happens now, sir?” he asked boldly. It was a question that had plagued him for weeks, since the incident at the Briggs residence. Thinking about it had been like living with a guillotine blade dangling over his head. It was time to know his fate.
Chief Briggs frowned. “You infiltrated my house and betrayed my trust and that of my daughter, while putting her in danger. So what do you think should happen?”
Caleb turned away from the other man’s gaze, unable to ignore the feeling of guilt the man’s words had dredged up. It was true that Preye had been exposed to danger, and worse, he had used her to gain access to the key card that gave him access to the basement. He was a liar and a thief. Why would he expect to be treated as anything but?
“To be fair, you took a bullet for my daughter and saved her life. Many times, I heard, by also dissuading your accomplices from kidnapping her. She is fine because of you. Hurt and bruised, but fine.” Chief Hanson Briggs added. “I am grateful for that.”
Caleb watched silently as the other man stood up. He was glad the Chief was aware of how much effort he had put into helping Preye, but he knew it barely made up for his sins. “I’m sorry about everything, sir. I only wanted to help my community.”
The chief nodded. “I understand. And you will. I’m helping you spread the details on that document; the agreement between the oil company and those evil men. Those men, who stole from your people and tried to hurt me, will not go unpunished.”
“Aren’t you worried about what they will do to you sir?” Caleb asked.
Chief Hanson Briggs shook his head. “They have nothing over me. I once told you a story about a woman and her child who they asked me to kill. I did not. Instead i re-established them in another state, where they are alive and thriving. My hands have no blood on them, so no one can blackmail me with a murder that never happened. But for what they tried to do to me, they will pay.”
He leaned over and grasped Caleb’s hand in a firm handshake, smiling as he saw the surprise on the young man’s face. “Your community will get reparation ten times over. I’ll see to that. Also, I’m dropping all charges against you and your friend, Pretty Boy. Just see to it that you both stay out of trouble.”
“Thank you sir.” Caleb said, his voice almost breaking. “I don’t deserve this.”
The chief let go of Caleb’s hand and straightened up, his expression hardening. “No, you don’t. Which brings me to something else. Your freedom from prosecution comes with one more condition.”
Even before the Chief stated the extra condition, Caleb already guessed what was coming. He braced himself for the tsunami of emotion that rushed towards him, and yet he still lay broken after Chief Hanson Briggs spoke.
“You must never see or go near Preye again.”
Caleb drove expertly, his hands curled lovingly around the steering wheel of his brand new Honda Civic. It was his first true indulgence after more than two years of being a successful businessman. His haulage business was thriving and the newly built and bustling port at Olobiri had brought prosperity to his community. The oil company, who tried to cheat them, had been forced to shelve out billions in compensation and the simple fishermen were reaping the rewards of their long wait for justice.
Satisfied that his people were content, Caleb had sunk his own share of the bounty into various private businesses and painstakingly sweated to rake in profits. He shuttled between Lagos and Rivers state, a young businessman who took advantage of every legit business opportunity that had come his way. His business was thriving; his aged mother was comfortably ensconced in the house he had built for her in their village, a favoured relative living with her; he had built his own house in Port Harcourt, and now he had just bought his first ‘tear rubber’ car.
And yet, there was a gap in his life, a hole he had tried vainly to fill.
Every woman who came into his life could not meet the benchmark he had unconsciously set two years before, when he met Preye Briggs. They all fell short of the chaotic perfection she had brought into his life for just a few months. Every day, he woke up missing her and slept off dreaming about her.
From his investigation, she had relocated to the United States after that traumatizing night which had been the last time they had seen one another. She was doing well; having been treated and operated on for her condition, the spectre of epileptic seizures was banished from her life. Caleb had prudently stalked her on Facebook and Instagram. She still flamed and dazzled with life even from the flat pictures over which he ran his hands in longing. But he had resigned himself to never seeing her again, as he had promised. He still kept in touch with Chief Hanson Briggs, who had taken his under his wing, but he had not communicated with Preye, and had no plans to.
He would keep his word.
He frowned when he drove through the gates of his house. There was a jeep parked in his driveway and it puzzled him because he was not expecting any guests. He parked his car and exited, frowning at the jeep as he walked towards it. The vehicle seemed vaguely familiar, but he could not immediately place it.
His confusion cleared as the driver’s side door of the jeep opened and a pair of long legs appeared. The gleaming legs were followed by the willowy, yet curvy body which had haunted his dreams for over two years. It was a moment he had both yearned and dreaded in equal parts, and now it was here, he could not move a muscle.
“Well, are you going to keep staring at me like an idiot?” Preye Briggs said, her lips twitching as she tried to hide a smile.
Caleb swallowed hard and walked towards her, wondering if she was a mirage, his eyes taking in the cream gown that hugged her body and set off her brown skin. Her signature long braids fell over one shoulder and when he enveloped her in a hug, the smell of her perfume rose up and overwhelmed him.
“I heard you relocated.” He babbled, running his hands over her upper arms. “You should not be here. You father…”
Preye laughed softly. “Yes, I heard of the stupid promise he forced you to make. All this while I was hurt that you had betrayed and then dumped me, and he let me think that. I almost strangled my own father when my mother told me the truth. I made him cancel whatever silly promise you made to him. Nothing gets in the way of what I want.”
Caleb stared at Preye, surprise and hope warring in him. He had imagined she would hate him after everything that had happened. “What you want?”
Prey smacked him gently on his chest. “Did you think you could just work your way into my life and then disappear? No way.” She looked up at him, tears shimmering in her eyes. “I was angry, and I was hurt. But I cannot deny what we had, something so special that I’ve been searching for it in vain.”
It was as though Preye had plucked the last sentence right out of Caleb’s heart. He pressed his forehead against hers. “Me too, Preye. Me too. There can be only one like you…”
Preye moved forward and claimed his lips as her own again, sighing as their bodies moved together in a hug, uncaring of whoever was watching.
“I see you’re doing pretty well for yourself, still…. want a job?” Preye asked playfully when they pulled away from each other. “I need a driver. Right here.” She tapped her chest. “But I have to warn you I’m a bit crazy. Crazy about you..”
Caleb grinned and laid a hand over her chest, feeling her heart thump beneath his fingers. “I’m your employee for life, Miss Crazy. Forever.”
They hugged again, their bodies fitting into one another like two missing pieces of a puzzle. As long as they had breath, their heartbeats promised in the language of love, they would never let each other go again.