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Iphey closed the phone and glanced around her. It was a bit dark and smoky in the bar as most of the guys in the room had a cigarette. It was either hanging from their lips or wedged between index and middle finger. A number of the ladies were smoking too. She sighed deeply and looked across at her brother-in-law.
"You were late." She blurted the first thing that came to mind.
"I have apologized for that, haven't I? I just had to make sure all was well." He glanced around again, eyes darting into the corners and jabbing at the door.
"Are you expecting anyone?" Iphey asked. She couldn't deny the suspiciousness that clouded his every move.
"Not really." He replied.
James had on dark clothes and it began to dawn on her that what Chinedu said might be true after all. Maybe she should not have come out here to meet James.
"Who was that on the phone?" he asked.
Iphey thought fast as the words began to leave her lips. "Oh, just a friend. She wants to talk and I promised to meet her after this. I said I'll be around in a few..."
"You mean you have to leave?" He interrupted, "but you barely got here."
"I know," Iphey sighed again. She was acting for her life here and didn't care how good or bad she was. "But you gave me such short notice, and then..."
"Anyway," he cut her off again, "maybe it's even better that we have just a short time together. I'll go ahead and explain why I called…"
“Yes I would like to hear that.” Iphey interjected.
“Well the thing is this. I told you the last time that I left Ngozi and Obi because of issues I was having?”
“Yes, you did…”
“Well, those issues are being untangled as we speak. See, I met this guy. He lives in a room at the place I’m staying at. We became friendly and began to talk. Along the line, when he mentioned the gang and their activities on the Island, I opened up to him.” James raised pleading eyes to her.
“Go on,” Iphey encouraged. She wished she could cut it short. Chinedu’s warnings sounded in her ears. “Look Babe, some people are watching you. Some very bad people…I thought I wouldn‘t have to tell you but…there." She shook her head as if in sympathy to what James was saying ads he continued.
“I had been keeping to myself so much and after my run in with you, I became even lonelier. So it was a relief to be able to unburden myself to this guy. But things have become more complicated now…”
“Don’t tell me the guy turned out to be a criminal too?” Iphey cringed in her mind. That would explain the urgency with which Chinedu had warned her to leave. Her heart began a slow pound as she her gaze involuntarily went round the small space.
“Nothing like that at all,” James said. He moved his chair closer. “He actually works for the EFCC and they happen to be on the trail of the guys that want me dead. The gang has been threatening my life till now but the police are on to them.”
Iphey mulled his words in her head. When he had told her this six months ago, she had not believed it but now, with the aura of danger all around, she had no other choice than to.
James was still speaking. “The guy I met was a mole, sent to penetrate a group they had in Ajegunle. I didn’t even know they were so close to me but I managed to keep out of their way. However it seems I was not careful enough. They have found me…”
“What!?” Under the table, Iphey squeezed her suddenly sweaty hands. This was beginning to sound like a movie. She didn’t think before now that such things happened in real life. Men on the run, undercover moles and criminal gangs…those were so not a part of what she was used to.
“James, I have to go,” she declared. Iphey clutched at the package Supo had given her from Chinedu and began to get to her feet.
“OK, OK…” James was trying to pacify her. “But you have to pass this message to Ngozi for me. It involves you too.”
Iphey paused, half on and half off her seat.
“The EFCC are ready to put all of you in a safe house pending when all this is sorted out…”
Iphey sat down abruptly. “Why do we have to do that?” she asked in a harsh whisper. Sweat was gathering under her arms, she shivered as a tickle made its way down her side. “Do these people know us? We have been living peacefully all this while.” Her voice rose in the hysteria that swirled around her but she was powerless to stop it. “What have you done?!”
“Iphey calm down, breathe…”
She realized she was panting in short bursts and tried to get her breath back. She exhaled through her mouth and dragged in air through her nose. You are a strong woman, she repeated to herself.
James continued. Let’s not throw blame around here. Not now.” He stared into her eyes. “However it happened, they found me, they found you and it’s clear they will make a move sooner or late…”
Iphey jerked to her feet. This was just too much for her to sit and listen. She didn’t care how Chinedu had found out about all this. She was just glad he had.
“I have to go to the ladies,” she muttered. She picked up the Shoprite bag and fled.
Iphey cracked open the door of the ladies and peered out. It appeared clear. James was still seated at the table, his back to her. She shook her head. She wasn’t going through the front door. She would take the side door out like Chinedu suggested. James would leave when he got tired of waiting.
She opened the door wider and stepped out. She felt stronger and just bolder. She had recovered her poise while she had changed and given herself a pep talk too. Or maybe it was just the full face of make up. She laughed under her breath. The high heels made her feel funny though and she couldn’t see too well behind the fringe of the wig. She blinked to clear her vision and closed the door behind her.
Iphey swiveled to meet the strange voice by her right. A man dressed in dark clothes was leaning against the wall. His avid gaze reminded her of what she wore, a miniskirt and shiny tube top. He brushed away her fringe and smiled into her eyes. All Iphey could see was a gap where a tooth must have fallen out, she hissed and moved away quickly.
"Dont you touch me!" She whispered and watched as all mirth left his eyes. The bones of his face hardened. 'Thug', she thought as she turned away with another hiss and began to walk in the other direction.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” The deep voice was right behind her, all business this time. His breath set the chandelier earring on her right ear to fluttering. The man was crowded against her back in a very uncomfortable way. As she made to turn and warn him off, she felt it. The touch of cold steel on the bare flesh between her top and the skirt, pressing into her spine.
And that’s it folks. Have a great weekend, Mwah!