I: DEATH COMES
Screecht . . . Screeeecchhhttt . . .
His name was Otis Lovejoy and he had been doing this for so long now he could do it with his eyes shut. Since secluding himself in the bedroom closet expecting his quarry to arrive any moment. Time had passed. He knew this even though he couldn’t make out the dials of his watch in the darkness. Only the fact that he had been enclosed in here for what felt like too long since breaking into the suite. A strip of light gleamed from a two-inch slit between the closet doors. He could see the bed and the curtained windows highlighting the onset of dusk. His knapsack containing his cadre of weapons sat beside his feet. His quarry would show—he was certain of that. The information he had was accurate enough to have brought him here. The hotel suite was his quarry’s resting hole whenever he came to town. The daytime was for conducting illicit business whereas night time was strictly pleasure. It was almost night time.
Screeehhhhttt . . . Screeeeeccchhhhttt . . .
His knuckles and arm muscles remained taut as he ran the sharp edge of his sickle blades against each other. He was unconcerned about the noise they made; the noise was irritating but soothing. Comforting and relaxing. It sharpened his nerves for the blood he intended to spill in the room. It wasn’t going to be his blood but it might as well be. He estimated how long he would have to wait until his quarry arrived. If the man really would return by himself or with company. If he was with company then how many? He asked himself these questions but not because he was worried. He reckoned his quarry would be with company. He was certain of it. He was very calm and prepared for whatever surprises the man would bring with him. He had his own brand of surprises to dispense. He recalled similar treatment he had meted upon the one whom he had acquired the information that had led him here. The recollection happened to sooth his mind. His hands gripped the sickle daggers hard; they felt melted together into one. The daggers were an extension of his hate.
His head snapped up and his eyes came alive in the darkness when he heard a door opening. His hands abruptly ceased their noise with the daggers. He measured his breathing through his mouth, listening to the chattering voices and laughter that invaded the room. He made out a woman’s voice with that of a man. The man’s voice was undoubtedly that of his quarry—it could not belong to anyone else; there wasn’t any other voice in the background beside theirs. He inched his face closer to the closet’s door and peeked through the slit. He caught movement of shadows in the room along with the woman’s voice. The lights came on and he stiffened like a cornered animal as he sighted his quarry through the door slit step into view beside the bed along with his female companion. The man relieved himself of his jacket and then pulled the woman to the bed. They groped and fondled without a care in the world. Neither seemed aware of the lurking danger in the room with them. He wiped sweat off his brow while still watching the frolicking couple and biding his time.
Otis breathed slowly as he counted off numbers in his head. He took one last breath when he felt ready opened the closet doors and came out into the room. Neither his quarry nor the woman he was with appeared instantly alert to his presence. The woman was not a special one. Just a working tramp the man could have picked up anywhere, even down in the hotel lobby. The main door stood ajar. Otis glanced that way to make sure nobody was lurking out there and saw no-one. He advanced slowly towards the couple. His sickle daggers held up with his arms poised above his head like he were a boxer warding a punch. His breathing was slow and laboured.
His quarry was on top of his woman too busy administering kisses on his date’s neckline while she guided him along. Her eyes opened and came alive instantaneously with startled fright at the strange man in the room with them. She simultaneously attempted to scream while fighting to push the man off her. She let off a scream that caught her would-be lover off-guard and then coming to his senses as he too sensed imminent danger. It was a move too late.
Otis jumped down on his quarry’s back and pinned him on top his woman still shrieking at the top of her lungs. Otis rammed his sickle daggers on the man’s shoulder muscles. The twin daggers tore deep through the man’s shirt fabric and embedded three inches into his flesh. The woman coughed up a scream as blood spurted on her face. The man’s screams took high-pitched reign over hers. Otis felt the tremor reverberate in his arms the moment he sank the daggers home. He gritted his teeth as he twisted the blades, ripping through the man’s scapular trapezius. What seemed like gallons of blood sprayed across the bed and the man kept on screaming and bleating like a near-decapitated animal. Otis choked the man’s screams off by pushing his face down on his woman’s torso. He extracted one of the daggers but let the other remain embedded in the man’s flesh. He surprised himself with how calm and unperturbed by everything he was. His eyes went to the working girl and he fixed his stare upon her
“You shut it, you hear me,” he said to her. “Shut it right now, or I’ll shut it for you.”
The woman did not need to be told twice and promptly obeyed without a hitch. Her cries reduced to whimpering moans. Tears streamed from her eyes while sniffled repeatedly and wiped droplets of blood from her face. Otis came off his quarry’s back to enable the working girl extricate herself to scamper towards the far side of the bed. She wanted to leave but Otis whistled and that stopped her in her tracks.
“Get back on the bed and stay there,” he said.
She gave a mewling cry amid the shaking fit she was having. Everything about her appeared dishevelled; she looked like she had just escaped a massacre. She meekly got back on the bed and folded herself up with her chin touching her knees and her arms wrapped around her legs, mumbling incoherently while shaking and sobbing like she was having a seizure. Her eyes had a weird dazed look about them.
Otis returned his attention to his quarry who remained on his face groaning with hurt. The top of his shirt had gone crimson on account of his bleeding onto colour the sheets. Otis wrenched free the sickle dagger he had buried in the man’s shoulder. The man yelped aloud from the pain. Otis was oblivious to his hurt as he turned him over. The man was a rictus of pain. Otis leaned towards his quarry. He held the dagger inches from his face. The dagger bore bits of the man’s skin tissue and blood.
“I’m going to ask you some questions,” Otis said. “You’re going to give me the answers I want. Do that and I will call the hotel paramedics for you. Lie to me and I will slit your throat. Do you get me?”
The man tried to speak but more groans was all that escaped his mouth. Foam fizzled out of his mouth with specks of blood.
“Nod you head for yes, and shake for no.”
The man nodded his head frantically.
“You are Gideon, aren’t you? Gideon of the Black Path militants?”
The man groaned what sounded like yes.
“Good. You transport weapons for the Black Path, don’t you? Yes or no? Nod if you want.”
The man nodded. His feature was turning pale and his eyes rolled in their sockets. Otis sensed he had less time before his quarry passed out. Still he was getting a thrill seeing the man suffer like this. He wanted him to suffer plenty. He wanted him to experience a taste of similar hurt he and the elusive militant squad he served had bequeathed him and countless others. Men like these enjoy dishing out pain, except when it gets turned on them.
“I want Ishmael. He is your leader. Tell me where to find Ishmael.”
The man blinked his eyes against the pain before shaking his head. That was the wrong answer.
Otis drove his blade into the man’s side. There came a ripping sound, punctuated by an urgent one as his blade tore through the man’s flesh. The man tried to scream but Otis clamped his hand hard over the man’s mouth. His quarry made indescribable grunting noise while thrashing his limbs on the bed. The woman continued her litany of whimpers while still clutching her arms around her legs.
“You see what you made me do?” Otis said to Gideon ominously. He presented him with the sight of his blood dripping off his dagger. “You want me to end your life right here and now? I can do it, if you want.”
Gideon shook his head.
Otis released his grip from his mouth. “One last time, and get it right this time, where do I find Ishmael?”
“Sarbon Garki,” the man known as Gideon said in a swelter of excruciating pain. “Atemu District. Ask for Mallam Jude. Malachi . . . please.”
“And the other leaders. Where do I find them?”
The man shook his head.
Otis was growing frustrated with interrogating him. His interrogation time was almost up. He clamped his quarry’s mouth once more and slit his throat. Pools of blood sprayed out of his throat. The woman cried at the same time raised both hands to her face. The man gurgled and choked repeatedly on his blood and vomit. His body bucked on the bed and spasmed as blood continuously jetted out of his carotid artery. He was dead in a couple of minutes. Otis sat beside him and watched his body stop shaking before coming to his feet.
The woman was now mumbling gibberish to herself with tears streaming off her eyes. Otis came off the bed and tore a part of the bed sheets and tied the woman’s wrists and ankles with them. She did not offer any protest. Her eyes were vacuous even as he pulled her off the bed and led her to the closet. He picked up his knapsack and made her sit on the floor in the space he had previously occupied but didn’t shut the doors on her. She did not look like she was going to give him any trouble.
Otis went into the bathroom and laid his daggers on the sink. He found a bar of soap and vigorously washed the stains of blood off his hands and arms. He did the same thing to his weapons and brushed stains off his clothes. He washed his face then gazed at himself in the mirror. It was his face all right. But it wasn’t one he recognised anymore. There wasn’t any light reflected in those eyes anymore. Otis grabbed a towel and dried his hands and face with it. He wrapped his blades with the towel, threw them into his knapsack and left the bathroom.
The woman sat curled in the closet mumbling to herself and staring past him. Otis picked up the man’s jacket and relieved it of his wallet and mobile phone. He flicked off the light switch and left the lovers quiet and alone in darkness.