Eagle1: Control, Control, come in for Eagle1!
Control: We read you, Eagle1! How’s your pay-load?
Eagle1: Can’t say I’m not nervous, but pay-load’s sitting pretty! Approaching runway with about half-tank. Stats look good. Please advice.
Control: In your shoes, I’d be nervous too. Runway cleared for high-profile landing. Please proceed.
Eagle1: Airbrakes in place; now deploying landing gear at 108 knots. Next update upon touchdown!
Control: Roger that!
………… screech screech ……………
Eagle1: Mayday Mayday. Craaater on runwaaaay. I’m losiiiing heeer!!!!!!
Control: Code–Red! Code–Red!! All units be advised; Eagle1 in runway distress. I repeat: Eagle1 has been knocked down! Fire–Services, Search–n–Rescue, get down there NOW! All EMTs, engage until Code–4. We cannot lose that bird!
Conrad and MEO hit the crux after a typical exchange of loud pleasantries. They had been together long enough to know that “serious talk” usually meant serious talk. They quickly got down to business and Conrad reminded MEO of their last meeting with the GM and some project partners – the one in which the idea of temporarily cutting project funds was approved. MEO had been thinking about that meeting for a long time, but at the risk of sounding too money-conscious, had held his tongue. Now, the opportunity to talk had presented itself – but he still wasn’t sure what approach to employ. He chose, rather, to furrow his brow.
As they both exchanged worried looks, Conrad emphatically told MEO to erase the “temporary” part of that discussion because – according to him – such a move was hardly ever reversed in their company. “And he should know”, MEO thought, “afterall, he’s been here longer than I”.MEO’s mind raced back and forth, putting his life into pressured perspective. His life was at a crucial stage now, and reduction of funds was that last thing he needed. With all the plans for a lofty future with Yetunde still bouncing around in his head, he didn’t see much wrong with Conrad’s plan to delay the payment of contractors “for a short while” so as to “augment the situation” with interests on those sums. He would just tell his boss he was not yet satisfied with the quality of work; his Quality-Control certificate lending ready credence. Silence took charge as they both thought it over. It was a great plan – one that demanded some celebration. So, once again, the PS3 was called into action, accompanied, this time, by pizza (which Conrad had bought) and red-bull from his host’s over-efficient fridge.
Things carried on that way for a while – and they appeared to be making more money after the budget-cut than before. So long as they had enough to spend and stash away, it mattered little that they were feeding off honest workers. As it turned out, MEO was not the only one thinking of “settling down”. Yetunde had always wondered what it would be like to share her life with MEO. And, now that fate had brought them back together, maybe it didn’t have to remain a dream. Things were going great between them – and it was only a matter of time before the “m-word” rolled off someone’s lips. In truth, MEO had changed a lot since their university days – but, if anything, it only made her love him more!
Things were now approaching a critical point and, knowing the way he felt, MEO didn’t want to delay the question of marriage much longer. He often asked himself how close he would get to perfection before reaching out to grasp it. The puzzle was now almost complete. All he needed now was to get enough money for a befitting wedding – and maybe a brand new car too! It would be the start of an era of perfection!
Later that evening, he sat down to estimate what he thought a befitting wedding would cost. No offence to his cousin, but he wasn’t the man for a court-wedding. If the whole town couldn’t double their weight at his occasion, it wasn’t to be called a wedding. Still, “some moderation”, he thought. After striking out the things he considered superfluous, he still couldn’t get below 25 million – including 4.8 million for the car of his “moderate“ dreams. As he checked and double-checked his calculations, he realized he was in a fix. How was he to ever to spend 25 million from his 7.5-million bank-balance and still have enough to raise a family on? On seeing how ineffective the air conditioner had become against his perspiration, he decided to call for help. Maybe his pal could allay his apprehension!
Of course, nothing ever caught Conrad off guard – even when they did! He convinced MEO the situation wasn’t as hopeless as it appeared, though they would have to “sit down for a proper discussion” later. At this, MEO suddenly felt some relief. For the umpteenth time, his pal would come through for him.
When they eventually sat down to talk through it, Conrad was as direct as possible.
“Bro, if I’m to be frank with you, only magic can turn 7.5 into 30 overnight. Still, since the wedding is not tomorrow, there is some hope”.
MEO’s anxiety was now spilling over. “Connie, abeg tell me wassup”, he quipped.
At this, his friend opened up. “It’s risky, MEO but it’s the only way I know. There’s a delivery going down in one month – and there’s big money involved”
“How big”, MEO asked.
“65 to 70 mill big – and all we have to do is pick-up and drop some goods”, looking his transfixed friend dead in the eye. MEO just sat still; taking huge gulps of nothing. When he finally opened his mouth, he spoke with imposed soberness.
“Connie, I’m in a tight spot. Lemme have the night to prepare my mind; you can gimme the full gist in the a.m. Thanks for having my back. I appreci..”.
“Anytime, bro. let it be tomorrow night, then. I’m kinda boxed-in in the morning”, Conrad cut in.
It all began to make sense to MEO; no wonder his pal didn’t seem to know what ‘broke’ meant. That must have been how his junior colleague-friend maintained three different apartments in an expensive city. But why did Conrad wait this long to introduce him to the “oil-well”? MEO’s head was teeming with questions – but he wasn’t in the mood; he had a proposal to make. One month had felt like a year but finally, the moment was upon them. In that time, he had taken the liberty of kick-starting plans for the wedding. There was no way he could exhaust the 7.5 million before the windfall! Perfect bliss was in sight – and he felt nothing but gratitude to the two architects of such great fortune. One was going to make him very proud; and the other, very rich. What else was there to desire?
By the day of the “job”, MEO and Conrad had gone over the plan so many times it began to feel easy. Drive to the wharf at exactly 11.45pm; Flash the torch-signal at the gate; Drive straight to the abandoned-cars section; Carry all ten bags in the trunk of the dark grey 1992 Mitsubishi Galant; Take cargo to the second alley on Kunbi Avenue; No questions, No delays, No tampering! The money-man was to be in a black truck at the end of the alley – and the sheer thought always made MEO’s heart skip. It sounded like a simple plan; almost too simple for the kind of money involved. In fact, if not that his trusted friend was going to be by his side throughout, his doubts would have spilled over. A little whisky came in handy to numb the tension. They – as if by agreement – both gritted their teeth to the sting as they emptied their glasses, and then set out. “All or nothing”, ‘Connie’ said as he yanked the door-handle; his partner responding in kind.
As expected of a get-away vehicle, the 406 had just been serviced and fueled, so they set out without further delay. This was by far the riskiest venture MEO had embarked on – and characteristically, he was nervous.He just didn’t know what to expect. They had reached the gate and flashed the signal at 11.43 but nothing had happened for a “long“ time and his palms began to sweat as he gripped and re-gripped the steering. ‘Connie’, in contrast was as calm as could be.
The gate opened at exactly 11.45 and they drove in – quietly. They took a while to locate the “vault” but they were soon emptying out its fairly heavy contents. Thankfully, the 406 had enough trunk-space. MEO kept expecting to be accosted and was brought close to a heart-attack when Conrad’s phone rang. Conrad walked some distance and spoke in a very “hush” tone throughout the conversation. From then on, there seemed to be an added spring in his steps, repeatedly urging his partner to “hurry up”. MEO didn’t quite understand; by his reckoning, they were ahead of schedule. After a brief pause, Conrad explained that the call was from their contact who demanded they made a “routine stop” before the final delivery. The information was both insightful and relieving, so MEO picked up speed.
The drive back out was uncharacteristically quiet; no one said a thing to them at the gate. It was just as if they were never there. “Perfect”, MEO thought. He really couldn’t wait to get his hands on the ‘wedding-money’. They were now approaching the stopover point on the modified route but Conrad still didn’t see the need for “leisure driving” – as he called it.
“Ehen, stop here. They don’t know there’s two of us; so please wait. I’ll be back in no time”. MEO noticed the hurry in his partner’s tone and pace but he had come to trust Conrad – even with his life. He checked his watch as soon as his partner was gone, and began to panic after about ten minutes. What was keeping him for so long? Was he in some form of trouble? He had seen enough gangster movies to know to keep the engine running. As such, it didn’t take much time to get off the mark after the first of a long series of bullets hit his car.
At first, he thought the race was against foot-soldiers but that illusion soon disappeared; there were at least two cars and five bikes on his tail, each generously dispensing bullets. His precious car was soon a mess; his side-mirrors, bumper and windshields were all gone – but only his life had any value to him at that moment. He couldn’t even control his heart-rate enough to think straight. What had Conrad gotten him into? He knew he must have been way over his head to have listened to Conrad – but the question of right or wrong could wait. At the moment, was he to head home, for a police station or the expressway? If the expressway, how long before he ran out of fuel? “God please, God please ……………”.
He was now approaching the expressway; once there, he could use his engine’s rapid acceleration as a life-saving advantage. But, his luck drained out as quickly as hope appeared. Two bullets hit his right arm in rapid succession, causing him to veer suddenly to the rhythm of the pain. He struggled to keep control of the car but, by then, he was way too fast. The car ran into a pot-hole, swung off the road and was quickly up in the air; completing a complex routine of cat-saults. The priceless contents of his trunk were now scattered all over the road. As his pursuers left him for dead, “stupid double-crossing bastard” were the last words he heard.
When MEO’s eyes opened again, everything felt strangely peaceful; none of all the dust, glass and blood that tainted his memory. From the sight of a nurse, he could tell he was in a hospital; he just didn’t know which, where or when. She explained to him how fortunate he was to have survived the ‘armed-robbery’, judging from the amount of blood he lost. As he lay there, immobilized by heavy bandage, it all came to him in an envelope of goose-bumps: Conrad had led him to take someone else’s “whatever-it-was”. The call had warned Conrad of danger, and he had taken; leaving to him bear the mortal consequences alone. His mind ran a hundred miles within a static body. The police had closed the case as an armed robbery but what was he to tell his mom and Yetunde? Was ‘Connie’ ever the right friend for him? Was all the money really worth it? Where did it all go wrong?
Just like that, his father’s words seemed to take on flesh. He had formed a habit of taking from honest workers and lying about it. Now, karma had come right back to bite him in the butt. It’s painful to fall close to the finish-line; even harder to swallow is having been warned about it. How could he have been blind all along? He had been the plane his father spoke of: take-off was fun, cruising, moreso but he had now crashed before the very audience that should have applauded him!
All his father’s words seemed to bring him pain – and tears! He was still lost in thought and tears when the nurse dashed out of the room after checking her watch. Upon her return, he felt the slight prick of a needle but his mind was too busy trying to pick out the few positives of his ordeal to really care. He could be happy to be alive; that meant he had some form of hope! He laboured hard to rally his thoughts but the bandage wasn’t helping much. Eventually, when he found some words he would someday be proud to tell a son, he tearfully muttered them to himself: “I have experience from yesterday, joy for today and hope for tomorrow”. He felt some strange peace taking over him as he repeated the words – and with the peace, came the vision-blurring anesthesia!
Specially dedicated to the Legend [Ladi Osasona] – for choosing to teach more by action than speech! Happy 60th, too!