Before Polycarp had been arrested, he’d always taken Java along to social outings. But the places they’d gone had given Java the opinion that his mother’s village, where the house was situated, was the most rural place there was in Uyo.
His opinion changed when Shaggy took him to meet someone named Nkakad. He wasn’t well versed in the local dialect but he at least knew the meaning of Nkakad – the wood eating termite, and Java worried anew what this guy would be like.
Well, his mother’s village was quite modern compared to the hellhole Shaggy innocuously took him to; the environment actually seemed dark, despite the scorching noon sun. Although, that might have had something to do the many trees everywhere one looked.
The place was a criminals’ haven, Java was sure no cop in his right mind would venture here for an arrest, unless the cop had a death wish.
After dropping from the tricycle they’d hired to bring them here, Shaggy had suggested the make the rest of the way on foot. It took ten minutes to get to the bush track and in that time, Shaggy had chewed groundnut, biscuit and was currently pricing a roasted delicacy made from mashed melon.
While Shaggy teased the teenager with the iron basket of melon delicacy, Java looked around. From the area the tricycle had dropped them, normal neighborhood activities went on, though sparsely. The population of that neighborhood, from what he could see might have been seven.
They’d passed only one kiosk built with decaying zinc and church banners, where Shaggy had bought the groundnut, biscuit and a pack of cigarette. The erosion beaten road was empty of people, well, except the girl who was currently giving Shaggy his change, while smiling shyly as Shaggy continued teasing her.
From where they stood at the edge of the bush track, a path that the teenage girl had obviously come from, Java couldn’t see anything but bush and giant trees. He was about wondering if this Nkakad guy lived in the forest, when Shaggy motioned for Java to follow him into labyrinth.
“That was Nkakad’s girlfriend,” he informed Java casually, his purchase swung from his fingers as he walked.
Java started and turned to look back at the girl but she’d already moved out of sight. “She’s like twelve,” he pointed out in shock, he assumed Nkakad was an adult male.
Shaggy shrugged, “She has boobs and a pussy.”
“She’s a child,” Java protested in alarm.
“Which makes her malleable,” Shaggy said mildly.
“Doesn’t this bother you?” Java asked with a frown.
Shaggy stopped in the middle of the path and turned, pinning Java with a fierce stare. “And yet, you are here to arrange for two innocent boys to be kidnapped.”
Java blanched, his heart thumping painfully and guilt searing a path from his throat to his stomach, because Shaggy was right. Who was he to judge when he was building to be like them? He was now a certified criminal, not a pretend one any longer.
“Look, your cousin asked me to watch out for you and make sure everyone stays in line during this op. These people we’re are going to see are dangerous and greedy; if they sense that you aren’t dangerous and greedy, then you’re dead.”
“These are mercenaries and they are suspicious of new people. Just now, you took a moral high ground for someone that’s supposed to be bad enough to kidnap kids, if you’d been heard, you would be wishing for death.”
“It’s just not about the looks, Java, I give you hundred percent for the looks. You are rocking the bad/innocent look well, you make it believable. But it is more of your opinion of things thrown at you, like I just did.”
“If you want to stay alive long enough to at least leave this forest, you have to remain unperturbed by whatever you see and hear and try to sound honest even if you’re lying. Do you understand?”
Shaggy had been tutoring him in a fierce whisper; he called it tutoring instead of threatening, to avoid scaring himself to death. He nodded vigorously, understanding and realizing his gaffe.
He licked his dry lips and swallowed none existent saliva, “So, she isn’t really his girlfriend?” he insisted, hoping it had just been a tutoring example of what to expect.
The hairy guy scoffed, rolling his eyes in exasperation, “She is,” he grumbled and turned to continue walking, muttering under his breath.
Despite his muttering, Java heard him say, “Maybe you might not survive this after all.” It wasn’t a comforting observation but it was motivating enough. All he had to do was maintain Udo Ebenezer’s face in his subconscious and all the fury, determination and focus returned.
He could do this; he had to do this. He blatantly refused to imagine what would be done to Morgan Ekpembe and his sons and how his wife would feel; a hardened criminal didn’t worry about things like that.
They didn’t live in trees exactly, but Java had been right to imagine that the trees would be used, in this case, as sentry posts.
Shaggy had begun eating his melon snack when he neared a particularly dense part of the forest. He offered Java some but he had refused for fear he wouldn’t be able to swallow, terror had blocked his throat; swallowing saliva had become a challenge as the neared the den of criminals.
“Who goes there?” a harsh voice had barked from the trees but was invisible to them no matter how Java looked.
“Shaggy…I bring business for Nkakad,” Shaggy had called back, while still chewing his snack and looking extremely relaxed as though he was visiting his mother for Christmas.
Java almost peed his pants when someone appeared from behind them, brushing past him with a suspicious look. The short, stout, muscular guy, took his malevolent stare from Java and pinned it on Shaggy as he walked by.
“Long time, Shaggy, you still dey chop,” he sneered.
Shaggy chuckled and followed him, “Long time, Ikpa, you still dey vex,” he retorted amicably.
Java focused all his energies to appear unafraid, but he thought he might have seen a slight lift of Ikpa’s lips when he’d turned, he might have been mistaken though because when he blinked, Ikpa’s stare was still malevolent. Java wondered how one short dude could have so much negative vibe.
As they went deeper and deeper into the forest, so much so, a glimpse of the sun through the tree foliage became impossible; Java practiced silent deep breaths and refused to wipe his sweaty hands on his jeans for fear of eyes in the trees.
At that moment he knew he would have given anything to never have mentioned his debt and Udo Ebenezer to his cousin, therefore he wouldn’t have been convinced to meet with King Edem and present him with evidence of a thriving Morgan Ekpembe.
He was silently regretting that decision and was even cursing the day he’d met his cousin. He was a humble hacker for God’s sake, not a guy that organized hardened criminals for a kidnapping. He was comfortable in front of a laptop and could go days without food when he was in cyber space, not traipsing a thick forest to an uncertain future.
The cloying scent of marijuana reached them first, before the gruff voices as they arrived the clearing in the middle of the forest. A giant shack took up the better part of the clearing, broken bottles, buried with the necks in the ground and the jagged body up, rounded the edge of the clearing like a fence.
The cloud of marijuana smoke was so thick and the scent so heavy, it felt as though the narcotic grass was being burnt as incense.
Java noticed the shack was built with wood and tarpaulin and not much else. A corner of the clearing had a cut iron drum with iron netting on top obviously for barbecuing. And that observation was justified when Java saw one of the many guys around the clearing, painstakingly picking feathers from a dead hen.
Contrary to what Java had expected, Nkakad wasted no time in appearing and surprisingly greeting his guests with smiles.
He was of average height, dark, muscular and his teeth carried stains from drugs stronger than marijuana and his voice was suitably gruffer than that of his men, he was their leader after all.
Crudely hammered wooden benches were made available for both Shaggy and Java.
Nkakad reemerged from the shack with a half drunk bottle of what Java suspected to be fresh marijuana leaves soaked in illicit gin.
He still hadn’t done anything about his bare upper body or his jangling, unbuckled belt and precariously hanging jeans. His propriety was protected only by his grey colored, cotton boxer, but he didn’t seem bothered.
How could he be bothered, Java thought, when his eyes drooped heavily, possibly from the effect of drugs, hard drinking or both. It was probably why he was amiable too, as opposed to Ikpa’s obvious meanness and Java was grateful for small mercies.
He couldn’t imagine how terrible this meeting would go if Ikpa had been the leader of this rag tag group of mercenaries. The short dude was probably in charge of keeping everybody in line, a look from him would certainly squash disobedience.
Nkakad settled on a not so crudely hammered arm chair, with square cushions for the seat and the backrest. There was only one shot glass and he poured the marijuana drink, a thickly green liquid in it and flung it back into his throat, grimacing at the burn that followed such violent drinking.
Java was glad he wasn’t a stranger to illicit gin or the marijuana soaked variety fondly called combine; a name that alluded to the ingenious combination of marijuana in locally brewed gin.
“We share a cup as we will share minds,” Nkakad declared in halting English and offered the shot and combine bottle to Java.
He nodded with an accepting smile, poured the drink and knocked it back just as Nkakad had done earlier. While he passed the pint glass and bottle to Shaggy, he glimpsed an approving smile on Nkakad’s face and knew the first of his many tests had been successful.
The heat of the drink coursed through his body and without consciously meaning to, he pulled his t-shirt, having no inner shirt under, his fair skin, the slew of tattoos on his left arm and his muscled physique came were exposed.
“That was good shit,” he exalted, pushing up his glasses and breathing out through pursed lips as though expelling smoke.
Nkakad grinned at his reaction, “It hit you strong, eh?” he commented and grinned when Java nodded.
“You know me, I’m not really a drink person,” Shaggy grimaced after taking half a shot of combine and held out the pint glass and combine bottle to no one in particular.
“Now, if you were to offer me that chicken,” Shaggy suggested with a shit eating grin and everybody laughed, everybody but Ikpa.
“Jesus, you’re always eating,” Java said with a smile, collecting the shot and bottle from Shaggy and pouring another pint full, he was surprised that he didn’t just seem relaxed at the moment but he felt it.
“Yes. He is like a chicken in the poultry, if there is light, the chicken will eat all night,” Nkakad explained and they all laughed again, Shaggy joined in good naturedly.
“Eye wey see go follow chop,” Shaggy insisted in pidgin English, causing laughter.
“Remove your eyes from the chicken, Shaggy, I’m preparing it for my woman,” Nkakad declared proudly.
Java was glad he’d just swallowed the fiery drink or else he would have choked when Nkakad mentioned his woman. Surely, he wasn’t talking about the teenage girl.
“I was lucky to buy melon from her as we were coming,” Shaggy commented, totally breaking Java’s heart. Nkakad was definitely in his late thirties and Java couldn’t imagine the small girl under him. She was underage for crying out loud, it was a punishable offense, but it made no meaning to a hardened criminal.
Java took another shot of the drink to cover his shock, then he held out the shot and bottle to Ikpa who stood beside Nkakad’s seats. It was supposed to be a branch of friendship, but Ikpa pinned him with a derisive look and said nothing.
“I don’t think your man likes me,” he joked while handing the shot and bottle to Nkakad, silently congratulating himself for steering the conversation from a sexually abused girl.
Nkakad laughed while collecting the bottle and shot from him, “Ikpa does not like anybody, and it is good for business. He does what has to be done with no excuses.”
Java managed not to swallow in obvious trepidation but smiled and nodded in approval. He was glad when Shaggy steered the conversation to the main order of the day.
“I like Polycarp and I like his cousin,” he said this sparing Java a glance before continuing, “So, I will hear what you have to say.”
And Java was given the opportunity to explain his predicament. Nkakad whistled impressively when he mentioned the amount Udo Ebenezer had duped him of and he whistled again when he told them he had met King Edem, the legendary crime boss of the south.
“Polycarp is always a sharp man,” Nkakad praised, his expression was beyond impressed. Java could see that he wished he’d been the one to speak to the incarcerated crime boss; the man had reached a level in crime that Nkakad only dreamed about.
When Java completed his tale, Nkakad leaned forward, “I am impressed that you met King Edem, and even though I am on holiday, I can provide what you need for a good price,” he said magnanimously.
“I really value your experience and expertise, so I’m grateful that you would do this. In less than seven days, I’ll be expecting about four hundred thousand from King Edem’s manager as the initial payment. But before he releases the money, he has to see the squad and probably hang around when we are planning.”
“I do not plan on only collecting only my ten million from Udo Ebenezer, I plan on collecting all his money, so whatever extra millions are there will be yours,” Java said sincerely.
Nkakad nodded in agreement, smiling, “And you will not try to double cross me?” he asked mildly, but Java saw through his mild manner and knew the question was extremely serious.
“Why would I do that, am I stupid? There’s just me and there are a lot of you,” Java replied not just sounding vulnerable but feeling it, because, truthfully, there was just him and maybe Shaggy, but could the hairy dude be trusted?
“Hmm,” Nkakad grunted, his eyes having a sleazy type of glow in it for just a second and then he grinned, ordered more combine be brought and discussed strategies with them until Shaggy indicated they had to go.
DUCT SEASON 4 continues
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