As Colonel Bello ascended the stone steps to the Abuja Supreme Court that Friday evening, she reminded herself of the futility in discerning Chief Justice Ogbor’s plan. Since her appointment as commandant in charge of the National Intelligence Agency’s Ghost Squad two years ago, she has had to make these trips rather frequently and though she often wondered about the wisdom in having to deliver mission update reports in person and at the same location each time, she dreaded bringing it up with her sole supervisor because she suspected such a move was the recipe for a lecture in espionage 101 and the principle of hiding in plain sight.
She pulled her shawl around toned manly shoulders as she stepped through the thick oaken double doors and into the dimly lit main antechamber despite sweltering temperatures. To the left stood a smaller door leading to the court archives through a makeshift refectory so designated since construction began on two additional wings to the right and rear of the building.
Any earlier in the day and that corridor would be bustling with various functionaries shuffling about, mostly immersed in several layers of paperwork and proceedings, and though her instincts drew her into situations which lent their own camouflage with minimal effort, a huge woman built like a bouncer doesn’t just step out of a white chauffer driven Maybach in all black and proceed to creep through the recesses of a courthouse at dusk, so she swung open the doors to the plenary chamber’s lower level and immediately took the stairs sloping upwards to her right after a quick glance revealed the massive enclosure to be quite deserted.
Routing the way she did meant she would have to cover the length of the rear balcony on her way to Harrison Ogbor’s door which lies at the end of the left balcony, but this way she could scan the bow-windows facing the construction site for straggling workers. Satisfied, she threw the straying right arm of her shawl over its left counterpart and thought of the hispid man behind the door now standing before her. With a suppressed sigh, she steeled her nerves and gave the unassumingly reinforced and soundproofed doors a solid rap. In the silence that followed, she knew the Chief Justice would be ogling his cathode ray monitors as they crackled to life in one of his desk drawers and was wouldn’t need to assault her knuckles any further.
After a long pause, the door clanged open with a muffled hiss and she routinely shoved it back into a wide office similar in size to hers at the DHQ, but that was where all similarities ended. In contrast to her office which was aesthetically finished with chrome fittings, fragrant wood trimmings, energy efficient white lighting and religious compliance with the world’s best advancements in feng-shui; this dull, cramped billet appears to have crept out of a Nordic catalog of barbarian homesteads right down to its shaded lamp stands, trophy décor and a chromatic inclination to various hues of black and brown. Across the wall behind his massive Victorian desk lay splayed a fourteen feet brown skin off a python whose only misfortunate was entertaining the bright idea of sharing a bunker with Harry during a particularly vicious shelling on one of his ECOMOG campaigns in 1997 Sierra Leone; back when he was a military intelligence conflict correspondent known solely as ‘Raptor’.
Once past the doorpost, she squinched at the mixed fetor of pipe smoke and garlic possibly coming from a tray of partly eaten sandwiches awaiting disposal on a side desk and reaching for a light switch along the wall, she flicked both switches she felt to ON, bathing the room in a warm yellow glow.
“Jesus Harry… what are you, the poster-child for probable cause?” She said, heading for a window which she threw open after a quick into the deserted yard below.
Without taking his eyes off the stack of papers he was skimming through on his IN-tray, his free right hand found a remote from one of several desk drawers and quickened the ceiling fan’s pace. “How’s your pup taking his new assignment?” he said, in acknowledgement to her presence.
She became familiar with his feigned attitude of disinterest several years ago, and after taking the seat across from him, produced a folded paper dossier from her coat pocket which she spread open on the desk to face him and gave an inviting nudge.
“Alphonse Ikhigbonaremen. He’s been planted for a whole week now and shows promise though it’s obviously a gamble” she said, brcing herself for a stern disapproval she felt was inevitably lurking in the very near future.
“Ali eh? I hear he’s quite the rooky… how soon will he be mission ready?”
She wasn’t surprised Harry already knew her latest recruit by his nickname; locked away in his small fortress here in the city centre, he seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere in the city if not the country. Very little went on without his knowledge, and as inert as the portly, balding, covert Head of the Secret Service may appear, none of the twelve individuals in the entire nation who knew his true designation as the agency’s boss would put any level of resourcefulness past him. The NIA always had an agency head that got appointed or sacked at the whims of the incumbent regime, or forced to resign whenever their shenanigans ran afoul of the media but he was appointed director for life in a closed military proceeding as the ultimate checkmate to any possibly of creating a vacuum of power in the agency.
“Mission ready Harry? I assume you’re aware he’s a civilian; he may not seem an obvious first choice, but we agreed the draftees are quite er…”
“Thick” he supplied, looking up at her for the first time since she entered the room.
“Well, I’d rather say they take their induction quite too seriously” she said.
Slowly rising, he took measured steps towards the open window, instinctively tracing a path that kept him beneath the line of site of any possible observer from Judicial Avenue, the access road slanting away from the court which comes into view some four hundred meters above the dense Moringa tree-line draped along the compound’s rear wall.
“I’m afraid it goes beyond that Miriam” he said.
Hearing her first name from the most dangerous person she knew sent an involuntary shiver down her spine. She bit down on her lower lip out of shame, and tried to rationalize her fear of him. They’d been friends for a very long time; her late husband used to be his squad leader in Liberia before he found a way to drive his jeep over the only landmine left behind by the fleeing insurgents as he led a charge, yet the man standing in the room with his back to her now is an entirely different Harrison from the charismatic gentleman of their youth.
While wars change everyone, he seems to have absorbed it all with unnatural relish and traded his simple life for the life of a warrior and though he now fights his battles from the benign façade of a court’s back office, he remains a formidable terror bent on continually attaining conquests both absolutely and ruthlessly.
Reaching into a coat pocket, he produced an intricately folded brown kerchief from which he carefully extruded a pipe and proceeded to fill its bowl from one of the cloth’s folds. “The right Symbolisms can make a mar a campaign; it’s something all the successful leaders know about, from the Pharaohs of Egypt to our very own hellcat: Queen Amina.” He said with a flourish, flicking a spent match out the open window.
“If we must pull-off operation Ghost dance flawlessly, the shock to the Nigerian people and her military must be genuine. All circumstances leading to that focal moment must appear impossible to orchestrate under the best scrutiny, something I don’t see you achieving if there are soldiers around when they lose their commander in chief; so it’s not just the key operative, it’s the body as a whole I don’t want stomping on my designs, leaving crumbs any media intern can follow”.
“Absolutely Sir” she said, moving both hands into her pockets where she could ball them up into fists… Trust Harry to single handedly assuage countless threats to national security and still find the time to micro-manage her first mission in four years which didn’t involve chaperoning female cadets for face value.
“If you feel like it, please share your motives for his selection… you will be informed duly when D-day is established, but bear in mind you have… he has ten weeks to justify your judgment”.
Now shaking with immense restraint, she slowly paced the room to control her tone. “Dogged by incredibly horrid luck he always seems to arrive at his goal moments before the bar gets raised and its been that way his whole life. He’s a washed up lad who’d never get a break without my intervention; he’s also brilliant, skilled, driven and knows it very much. His career training has taken a very rugged path and the system consistently fails him so you can believe when the time comes for him to seize a rare opportunity and escape his private vicious circle he’ll know it from experience, and for fear of failure he’ll take it for all it’s worth”.
After a long pause during which Harry retakes his seat, she turned towards the door and attempted a smile over her shoulder. “Take care of yourself Harry, I assure you we’d all hate for you to overwork yourself”.
It’s obvious to her the meeting is over as he nestles a paper envelop with the Seal of the Indian prime minister peeping over a huge red “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL” stamp in his stubby palm. With a smile and a salute, she tugged on her jacket, whipped her errant shawl back into place and stepped into the night. Next time, she’d get him to meet at an ice cream bar; she’s often considered tough and the thought of it gave her genuine concern for her friend.