Dr. Lambert Muzo almost jumped out of his chair when the door to his consulting room clicked shut. He had been so engrossed in his thoughts he had not heard it open. He stared at the man who had walked in. Had he agreed to an appointment and forgot?
“Good evening, Dr. Muzo,” said the man in English, with a slight Hausa accent.
“Don’t you know you should knock first?” said Muzo, annoyed. “Yes, how can I help you?”
The man, dressed in a faded blue kaftan, walked forward. He was huge with a shaggy beard and uncombed hair. Three scarification marks fanned out from the corners of his lips like dark drool.
Muzo’s mind raced. He never saw patients on Sunday unless by private arrangement. Was this a robbery? He was about to yell at the man to leave at once but reconsidered. It was Sunday night. There was no one else in the office, maybe the whole building. He didn’t recall seeing the security man when he walked in earlier. The guard was useless anyway, more like furniture. “How did you get in?”
The man turned and looked at the door. “I turned the handle to the door and it opened.”
Muzo knew not to dismiss people on appearance alone. Here in Abuja, Nigeria, people wore their wealth on them. Expensive watches, shoes, sandals, eyeglasses. On this guy, there was nothing. But still, Muzo was cautious. “Okay, so, how can I help you?” he asked, his tone sharp, eyebrows raised.
“I don’t want to waste your time,” said the man. “But I believe you have information you want to share with the highest bidder. I am your highest bidder.”
A knot tightened in Muzo’s stomach. “What information?” He willed himself not to look at his briefcase with the package.
The man smiled, looked down, and exhaled. “It seems like the person you went to see at the presidential villa was not there.” The man chuckled. “If you can hand over the package, we both can have a good night. Like you, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep. It’s been a long day.”
Muzo’s comfortable leather chair felt like concrete under him. The man must have followed him to Aso Rock. Maybe he should have waited at the Aso Rock clinic for his colleague to get back from his emergency.
Beads of sweat tickled Muzo’s forehead as if he was eating a bowl of spicy-hot goat pepper soup. “I don’t have any package,” Muzo said in a strangled voice.
“In that case, you can tell me the information you have,” said the big man. “I am a good listener. I understand it can make or break political aspirations.”
“Who are you?” blurted Muzo as sweat poured down his forehead like liquid fire. The information he had could, no, would impact the outcome of the coming presidential primary election.
“Doctor, my name is Gambo. I’ve come a long way to see you, and I’ve been following you all day. Every good thing must come to an end. The choice is yours. Tell me what I need to know and I’ll go away. Refuse to tell me and I’ll beat you until you do, then the EFCC gets what’s left of you.”
Dr. Muzo looked up. Gambo had him cornered.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission—EFCC—was a Nigerian law enforcement agency established in 2003 to investigate financial crimes and money laundering. The EFCC was like a chopping block and lived up to its unofficial motto: “WE WILL GET YOU”.
Muzo didn’t need an evangelical pastor to tell him that the bank officials would never swap his head for theirs at the EFCC chopping block. The bank would have no choice but to inform the EFCC unless Muzo came up with the cash.
Muzo had gone into debt to build his multimillion-naira clinic in the wrong location. His checks to cover the loans bounced. Bouncing checks was a crime in Nigeria. He had greased the bank officials for years to misplace his files, but now he had run out of grease, and the bank officials had run out of hiding places. The loan was overdue. Then there was also the gambling debt to that loan shark. Muzo was in a desert without a camel. The information would solve all his problems.
“Were you thinking?” asked the man called Gambo. “Thinking is good for you.”
“I . . . I have nothing to tell you,” said Muzo. At sixty-five, and overweight, Muzo was aware he had no chance if things got physical. “Please . . . don’t harm me; I’ll give you money.”
The man shook his head. “No. But you can tell me what I came for.”
Muzo reached out and grabbed his briefcase. His whole body shook. His heart pounded as if it would burst out of his chest.
“Oh, so, it’s in there,” said the man.
Muzo’s breath caught as Gambo reached into his trousers pocket. He brought out a phone, pressed the screen, and it lit up.
“It’s getting past my bedtime, sir,” said Gambo as he put the phone back in his pocket. He reached into his other pocket and brought out a black nylon rope and wound it around his palms.
Muzo had seen a lot of people strangled in movies. I must get out of here. Muzo sprang to his feet, pushing his chair back.
Gambo was faster, and before he could get his large frame away from the desk, Gambo was upon him, winding the rope around Muzo’s neck.
Pain exploded in Muzo’s throat. He reached for his neck, but the rope was too tight. The light in his office dimmed just as it became almost impossible to breathe.
“Are you going to tell me?” asked the man.
Muzo tried to speak, but only managed a choking sound. He would tell this man whatever he wanted to know, if he stopped. He nodded repeatedly.
“You’ve had enough?”
Muzo nodded, and the pressure left his neck. He gulped in air and went into a coughing fit. Tears stung his eyes. With the tightness in his throat gone, he inhaled deeply and the light got brighter. He wanted to live.