***** This is a continuation of the series. If you missed the first part, you can view it here. *****
The Man In Black tried opening his eyes, but they felt heavy and sore. All he could see was thick darkness. He could hear some distant noises too, but couldn’t tell what the pandemonium was all about. He tried moving his body, but it felt as heavy as a rock, with pangs of pain shooting through every vein and bone.
What’s going on? Why am I feeling this way?
He made another effort to move his hands and legs, but they did not move an inch. He wriggled and wriggled, but nothing happened. Then he heard a faint voice say, “E be like say him don wake up!” Before The Man In Black could make out the meaning of that, he felt a heavy bang on his head.
“Flog am well well!” another voice screamed.
Another knock landed on his head. The Man In Black could feel blood gushing out of his head. He tried opening his eyes, but his eyelids still wouldn’t make way.
“Oya pour am sharp sharp!” the faint voice which was now getting clearer said. The Man In Black felt a stream of liquid covering his head. The liquid trickled down his cheeks into his mouth. He could taste it. It tasted like gasoline.
“Bring another one!” another voice yelled. The Man In Black felt some hands forcing something around his neck. At this point, one of his eyelids popped open and out of his blood-blurred vision, he could make out some hands fixing a tire around his head. He tried screaming but all that came out of his mouth was air. He had lost his voice.
At this juncture he knew what was going on. Bound all over with ropes and used car tires, and covered in a pool of his blood and an ocean of petrol, The Man In Black knew his end was imminent.
“Bring matches! Bring matches!!” an angry voice barked. The Man In Black spotted a figure coming from the crowd around him with a match box in hand. The figure pulled out a match stick and struck it against the match box. A gust of breeze put out the fire just as soon as it was lit.
“Were, you no fit light matches again?!” an angry voice from the crowd bellowed.
The man with the matches tried lighting another stick, but the stick fell off his hand to the ground. The on-looking crowd seemed to be getting impatient with him. They chanted in anger and requested that somebody else took over.
A burly, bullish man snatched the matches from the first man and struck frantically. With each strike he made, the sticks kept breaking. He slowed down and struck yet another match stick. This time around, the yellow-blue glow stood on the match stick. The crowd screamed in excitement.
“Oya, burn the maga,” a voice commanded.
Just as the burly, bullish man got set to throw the lit match stick at the PMS-soiled Man In Black, he heard two loud cracks.
Gun shots rang in the air. The burly, bullish man just like everyone else in the crowd scurried away as fast as his legs could take him. The Police had arrived just in time.
Sarah Udemudia stood by the giant-size digital bill board at Edet Akpan junction with the scorching sun threatening to boil her blood if she stayed a second longer. This wasn’t funny anymore. She had walked the whole length of the dusty six kilometre long road in search of the firm of Bakersfield & Rutledge. Every local she asked appeared not to have heard of a firm by such name. Her once shinny white pair of shoes now looked old and dirty and her earlier neatly pressed NYSC khaki outfit was as rumpled as a squeezed twenty naira note.
She stared at her watch. The time was 3:00pm. She had had enough. She was going back home. This would be the third day since she left Camp in search of the firm, but there still was no sign that it existed.
If Bakersfield & Rutledge really want me, let them come get me.
As she made to halt a keke, she spotted a small wooden sign post on the opposite side of the road. It had the inscription: B&R on it.
B&R? she muttered.
She crossed over and followed a tiny path through some groceries shanties. Behind the shanties was a block with an office door with the B&R inscription. She walked in, to the reception desk. No one was on seat. The reception was small and smelled of stench. Old books and journals piled up everywhere, an SMH fan with two blades clung to the ceiling, a waste basket filled to the brim sat at one corner in the room, an old typewriter was on the reception desk with a few other paraphernalia scattered around.
“Hello?” she called. “Is anyone here?”
A short fat man walked in through another room Sarah had not noticed.
“Yes?” he replied curtly.
“Is this Bakersfield & Rutledge?” Sarah asked, in a scared tone.
The short fat man winced. “Yes. What do you want?”
“Excuse me, this is Bakersfield & Rutledge? The law firm?” Sarah asked again in disbelief. She dreaded the response she was anticipating. This couldn’t possibly be the Bakersfield & Rutledge she had in mind.
By no stretch of imagination can this den be Bakersfield & Rutledge.
“Does this look like a brothel to you?” the short man replied. “Look young lady, am under pressure here. If you don’t mind, I will like to return to work.”
The short man made to go.
“I was posted here,” Sarah stopped him with those words.
The short man turned around in surprise.
“You were what?”
“I am a corper….”
“I can see that. And you were posted here?”
To Sarah’s utmost surprise, the short man burst out laughing. She did not know why.
The short man too did not offer any reason. He too was surprised that a corper was sent to the firm.
“Am I at the wrong place?” Sarah interrupted his thought.
“No no no,” the short man replied. “You are exactly where you should be. Come with me.”
The short man led Sarah to another small office. He got to a seat behind a desk and offered Sarah another seat in front of him. Hardly had Sarah got down to her seat before the short man pulled out a file from his desk and handed same to her.
“Here,” he said, smiling cynically. “Your first case. A murderer was arrested by the police yesterday. He is currently at Zone 2. Somebody from the Chief Justice’ office brought this file this morning. He said we have been assigned to handle the matter.” The short man took a deep breath and sighed. “I don’t know what these people want from me. It’s a good thing they sent you here to come serve your fatherland. Now, I want you to take this file, go to the station, get that murderer bail…. Or whatever. Just go do your thing.”
Everything was going too fast for Sarah Udemudia. She had not recovered from the fact that her earlier assessment of what Bakersfield & Rutledge should look like was a huge fallacy, now she was being hurriedly assigned to a matter she had no idea of. And by the way, who was this short man?
“Sorry Sir, I need to get some facts right.”
The short man stood up from his seat and forced the file into Sarah’s hands. “I have told you all you need to know for now. Just get up and go do something,” the man almost barked.
Sarah rushed off her seat, totally perplexed.
“Good,” the short man said. “Alright then, go. Go.” The man pointed to the door, shooing her away. “Run along, run along.”
Sarah made for the door. As she stumbled out of the room, she heard the short man scream, “I am Bakersfield Rutledge! Nice meeting you!”