The Setup 2

The policemen jammed me in their car. I rode in the back with two other policemen while Malama Mataka drove.

Bedazzlement could not even describe what I felt right at that moment. How had things turned so ugly? Thomas was dead.  Did that seductive snake of a woman called Rose actually kill him? But why had she done so? Did he find out what happened last night? Why did she say I raped her and that I killed Thomas? Or did she even say that? Maybe all this was just a bad dream?

I needed answers.

I was quiet. The four men that rode with me, however, conversed incessantly in Bemba among themselves. They occasionally hurled insults and laughed at me.

“We are here, gentlemen!” Barked the huge Detective. It was then I realized that we weren’t at the police station. We were in some bush.

“Remember, leave your weapons,” he said. I was both afraid and confused.

“What the hell is going on?”

The answer was scornful laughter—lots of it. They dragged me out of the car and threw me to the ground a few yards from it.

“We are going to have some fun with you before taking you to the station.”

The punches and kicks came so fast, I did not know who or what was hitting me. My whole body throbbed with pain. I was engulfed in a sea of soreness. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. My face was bloody and I could hardly see. In fact, if it was not for my ears, I could not have noticed why the men had stopped the savage flogging.

They had been shot!

Malama Mataka stood, alone, gun in hand. He had shot his men. My brain was so tired it failed to think. I just looked at the man in my bloody stupor.

“Mark Jere, you messed with some dangerous people who would rather have your head hanging in their office than in jail. They have paid me generously to do just that.” He used Bemba and English interchangeably.

“You are probably wondering why I shot my colleagues, well it’s simple. It’s my alibi if there is ever any inquiry, all I have to say is that you managed to get a gun from one of these dead guys and started shooting. You killed everyone, and I not only survived, but I killed you also.”

“Please don’t do this. I didn’t rape or kill anyone,” I pleaded. “I have a wife and daughter.”

“Oh, shut the hell up, you’re as guilty as sin, and besides your wife and daughter will be dead soon enough.”

“What do you mean my wife and daughter will be dead soon?”

“Oh yes, as I said, these people don’t mess around, and they don’t just want you dead but your entire family as well. Someone is probably out there as we speak, getting the job done.”

My mind suddenly came to life. I could not afford to die. If I die, my family dies with me. I could not allow that.

However, there were two big problems: the man held a .45 pistol at me and I was handcuffed…

۞

I lay on the hot, uncongenial ground, my mind racing, trying to figure out how I could survive this cruel situation. Malama Mataka was still pointing the gun at me, but instead of shooting, he started to talk. I could not believe it. I knew he would shoot me eventually, but this gave me time.

“I don’t understand you,” he spoke. “I saw your home; it’s big, so you must be rich, and you have a very attractive wife.” He stared dreamily into the air. “I wouldn’t mind screwing that nice piece of ass.”

I gnawed in disgust.

Then it came to me: my situation was not as bad. My hands were cuffed to my front and not my back. That gave me an edge.

An idea came to mind.

“You know, even though you’re going to kill me, I can’t help but admire your plan. Killing your workmates, that was ingenious.”

He began to blabber like a drunk fool. I never heard a single word he said, I was waiting patiently for the opportune time.

There it was. It only lasted a second, and it was all I needed. His gun was lowered. I threw sand from the ground into his eyes.

I threw my bloody, injured body at him and we fell to the ground. Those muscles I had seen on him were no decorations, neither were they dormant. I felt like I was wrestling with King Kong.

BANG! BANG!

The gun went off and I could have sworn I had a heart-attack. I prayed to God that I had not been shot. I reached down my torso to check if I had any bullet holes. I was clean. Then I looked into the eyes of the man that had been shot.

What I saw scared me. The menacing look that Malama carried had disappeared. In its place was this desperate look to hang on to dear life. I felt a sense of remorse.

He died a few seconds later. I had never seen a man die before, and sorrow pierced my heart. I cried.

I didn’t carry out the act for long. In fact, it could probably enter the record books as being the shortest sobbing ever. My family needed me.

I searched the dead men for the keys to the cuffs. Within minutes, I was free, and driving like an F1 racer with a death wish. I nearly caused two accidents.

I was home in record time. I kicked the door open and dashed into the house.

“Angela! Angela!” The adrenaline in my body was at the point of an overdose. I searched each room as thoroughly as the circumstances would allow.

Nothing. They were not there. The anxiety and heightened adrenaline levels made me have shortness of breath, and then after the light-headedness, I fell to the ground. Suddenly the pain from my injuries returned. The combination of physical and emotional pain was unbearable. I did more than simply cry, I wailed.

The sound of the phone ringing roused me from my bout of self-pity. I dashed to the phone, hoping in vain that it might be them.

“Hello!”

“Good morning Mr. Jere.” I could not recognize the voice. It had an unusual calm that I found unnerving.

“Who is this, are you the one with…”

“Shut up Mr. Jere. I am Charles Mahimba.”

The blood drained from my face. Charles was Thomas’ father.

“Now, you listen to me. You killed my son and I plan on getting my revenge.”

“I didn’t kill anybody…”

“Shut up!” Charles barked. “I have your wife and daughter and if you ever want to see them again, you will meet me-”

“Please just listen to me.” I could tell from his grunt that he disliked people interrupting him midsentence. “Give me a week and I will find your son’s killer, and evidence to support it.”

He wrestled with the idea.

In the end, he said, “Okay Mr. Jere, since you’re so adamant, I’ll give you 48 hours.” It was not a lot but it was more than I expected.  I sent out a prayer of thanks to God. “You will meet me at Ndola airport. I will be leaving the country.”

” I should remind you, however, failure to comply and meet our agreement……” he paused; “Will mean the death of your family, and I will send my best men after you to kill you like the dog that you are.”

He hung up.

I felt a slight sense of relief. I had bought myself some time. But, it would not be long before the police would come looking for me. I had to work fast. The first thing I did was throw myself in a cold shower. I was a bloody mess…literally. After that, I had a change of clothes and then had a look at my injuries. I had a few broken ribs, a heavily scarred face, and an inflamed left arm. My body hurt like hell, but I would survive.

I took one of my other cars from the garage and drove into town. I was in the town center within ten minutes. I parked my car away from the traffic and the crowds. I got out of the car and tried not to look conspicuous.

It was midday now. The man I was looking for would be heading for lunch at his favorite eating spot. It was then that I remembered that it was my birthday. Ironic, the day that was supposed to bring joy brought turmoil instead.

There he was. I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.

He turned sharply.

“What?! Mark, do you know how much-”

“Shush, let’s talk somewhere private.”

“Okay, I own an abandoned building, we can go there,” Chama Chisebula said, a little tense. He was a diminutive with soft wobbly features. His exterior was in sharp contrast with the man he was—best mind in legal circles the country had. Everyone from the president to the mafia had dealings with him. He had been married five times and divorced the same number of times. He looked at women like a necessary commodity, like clothes, or a pair of shoes. He thought love was fleeting rubbish preached by lonely fools.

We had been the best of friends during our youth. We were in so many escapades, it felt like we had lived a lifetime in 18 years. However, we took separate paths. I turned my life over to Christ

“Man, what were you thinking?” he asked.

“You already heard?”

“You forget that nothing happens in this country without me knowing about it, and besides, it was on the radio news at eleven. The police are looking for you.”

I nodded. I then told him the whole story, starting from how I met Rose and the phone call from Charles Mahimba.”  He absorbed the information with ease.

“Seems the punk set you up.”

“I honestly don’t know what to do, Chama.”

He thought for a moment. “Well one thing is certain: you can’t turn yourself over to the police. You will be dead before you know it, together with your family.”

I shuddered at the thought.

“Just one question, the person that called you, are you sure he is Charles Mahimba?”

“That’s what he said, why?”

“I think someone is playing you. I’ve known Charles for a long time, and that is definitely not the way he operates.”

I was confused. “Man, I seriously need your help.”

“Don’t worry. I have a gift for sorting out messes.” He looked me hard in the eyes. “I have an idea…..”

۞

I was at Thomas Mahimba’s funeral.

The place had the security of a United Nations General assembly; guards, police, even the damn military was there. In some way, it was hilarious. What were they scared of? Someone stealing the body? I had only managed to get inside because I had knocked out one of the funeral attendants and stripped him of his uniform, which I found fitted me perfectly.

I was now looking through the people that were in attendance, trying to pinpoint Rose. I was not sure what I was going to do when I saw her, but for now, I was worried about locating her. I never did, though, I saw something better.

At the corner of my eye, I saw my TOYOTA CAMRY!

The damn nerve of that whore; not only does she screw me over, but she steals my car as well. Was there any limit to her decadence? I walked to the car and tried the door.

Yes, the thing was not locked. I looked around to make sure no one was looking, then I stealthily entered the backseat. I removed the gun from my jacket and waited eagerly. The tension in the air was thick.

I waited for close to two hours before the proceedings were over and people started to return to their cars. I looked the place over. It was a new cemetery that had been built in the outskirts of Lusaka. It was classy and expensive.

There she was. My heart started to race uncontrollably, my palms were sweaty. I prayed I would not mess this up.

She opened the door to the driver’s seat and got into the car. Just when she was about to put the keys into the ignition, I came out from my hiding, and the barrel of my gun kissed the back of her neck. She was startled.

“Now, now,” I said to her, “Just relax; you try anything stupid and I will paint the windscreen red with your blood and brains, that’s if you freaking have any brains in that sorry excuse of mass you call a head.” My voice was stony and cold.

“Mark,” she exhaled. “It’s so good to see you. We have been expecting you.”

“W-W-HA-T?” My voice was unsteady. Before my brain digested the full weight of her words the car door flung open and I felt a gun to my head.

“Drop, the weapon slowly, Mr. Jere, and move over so I can come in.” It wasn’t so much the gun that scared me but the voice of the man holding the gun—I had heard it before. It had lost most of its cool, calm and authoritative flare; it was more youthful and vivacious but there was no mistaking it. It was the voice of the man that had called me earlier claiming to be Charles Mahimba. As soon as the man entered the car, he knocked me out.

After a few hours, I regained consciousness. I found myself tied to a metallic chair in what looked like a cellar or dungeon. The first image I saw when I came through was Rose. She was still beautiful as ever, but this time, her looks had an adverse effect on me. They filled me with ineffable revulsion.

“Hello, Mark, missed me?”

You WHORE!” I barked angrily.

“Disrespectful fool! Never talk to my woman like that, you hear?”

I repeated my derision. He geared himself to deliver another blow when a voice stopped him.

“Enough.”  We all turned to look at the man who had spoken.

It was Chama Chisembula.

۞

“Hallo Mark, this is an awkward situation we find ourselves in, isn’t it?”

“I don’t understand.” My voice was marred with shock. “What are you doing here? What is happening?”

He shook his head. “Oh, my dear Mark, you’re such a fool at times. It’s as clear as day isn’t it? I set you up; I am the mastermind behind everything.”

“Why I thought we were friends! We grew up together!”

“Oh don’t hand me that sentimental bull. Our friendship died a long time ago, when you left me, left the life we always knew for that holy crap. You and your stupid God.”

“Go to hell!”

He laughed.

Chama then proceeded to tell me everything. Thomas Mahimba had bought a painting from one of his trips to Italy from a street merchant. He bought it for a reasonable price of 5 million kwacha. However, the painting turned out to be a rare piece done by the revered Pablo Picasso. It was worth at least 5 billion dollars on the open market. Thomas knew nothing about this; Chama, who was an expert in paintings, was the first to note. The idea of earning five billion dollars consumed his brain until he devised a plan that could pocket him the money.

His whole plan circled around one fact—Thomas, in his uncultured ignorance, had left the painting to Rose in his will. Chama knew about this because he was the Mahimba family lawyer. Rose naturally agreed to help him because she detested Thomas. He was abusive and treated her like a slave. Tony, who was Thomas’ youngest brother and the prodigal son of the family, was enticed by greed. He had been cut out of the family fortune due to his shameful and reckless behavior.

On the night of the incident, Rose had slipped some valium into my drink; not enough to knock me out immediately, but enough to put me to sleep when the time was right.

While I was asleep, Rose got me to touch the gun with my hands so that my fingerprints would be there. She used gloves so hers would not be found. Then she put a call out to Tony who was waiting outside. He called his brother and told him that his woman was cheating on him. He then hid in the closet while waiting for Thomas. Meanwhile, Rose woke me up and told me about Thomas’ arrival. When I was out of the house Tony got out of the closet and got the gun that had my fingerprints planted onto it by Rose. He also wore gloves when handling it.

When Thomas arrived, Tony shot him in cold blood. He then left the gun besides Thomas and left. Rose then called the police, putting up a convincing story that she had been raped and when her boyfriend arrived, the assailant put a gun to him and ended his life.

“So I guess you are the one that sent that beast detective after me?”

“Yes, I did,” replied Chama. “I thought he would get the job done, but it seems I underestimated you.”

“So I guess you the one holding my family hostage?”

“I am afraid not. That would be Charles Mahimba.

I was confused. “Wasn’t it this black sheep over here that called me yesterday?” Tony grimaced at the term ‘black sheep’.

Chama laughed. “I see you have noticed the extremely unusual similarity between Mr. Mahimba’s voice and Tony’s over here.

“People do it all the time. That was how I used to steal from him, by impersonating him,” the young man said with no shame.

“You see, Charles is not too convinced that you killed his son, which is why he called. He suspects Rose over here. That is why he agreed to meet you.”

I was distraught.

“Look, please, I’ll give you anything, just help my family. For old times’ sake, Chama.” I added further something in Bemba we would say to ourselves when we were young.

“We are not kids anymore, neither are we friends.” I looked into the man’s eyes with whom I had shared 18 remarkable years as best friend, and then something hit me—my friend was dead.

“Tony, kill him, and bury his body. Make sure you cover your tracks.” He then turned to Rose. “Let’s go.”

Then I saw it. I had only seen it once many years ago before. It was the same look in his eyes—the fool was in love. It was almost unbelievable. This man had only loved one girl, a girl who had crushed his heart so severely the man could never love again. However, it was there, as bright as the morning sun. The fool. It made me wonder about Tony; he had defended her honor when I had cussed at her. Who then was she in love with? Did she even love any of the two, or was she just using them?

“Time to die,” Tony said to me with the gun pointed at my head. It was the second time someone had tried to kill me in the space of twenty-four hours. This time, it looked like death was imminent…

 

▪۞▪

 

Luka Mwango

 

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