“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” Rosa Luxemburg
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“What did you gather about Papa Oteng?” Malcolm asked her. He walked her outside the house after the meal to find out she didn’t drive to his house. He remembered yet again that his friend was breezy and curious at the same time.
“He lives above his means. His occupation doesn’t match his standard of living,” she answered.
“What data do you have to substantiate your claim? Moreover, most people here spend more than their jobs pay, which makes them poor and always indebted. So, wherein is the crime, Sab?” knowing she was right, he asked somewhat shocked how she came to that conclusion.
“There may not be a hard and fast rule against being poor, but spending beyond your means calls for a keen probe into your source of finances. Don’t tell me upon all you’ve seen, you still want to pretend there’s nothing fishy about Papa Oteng’s demeanour,” Sabrina was genuinely taken aback that Malcolm still reposed unflinching trust in his driver.
“You looked more cheerful during lunch, please don’t be influenced by Chloe and Nana Akua. Frankly, I don’t know what I’ve done wrong to any of you ladies today,” he said and stretched his hand to stop a taxi for her.
“I also have no idea what you’re talking about. Please, don’t get a taxi for me yet, I have one last stop to make,” she said.
“What do you need to do here again?” he asked. He put his hand down and turned to face her.
“Let’s walk around the block for a while. I want your ‘sophisticated human surveillance’ to capture me walking with you, if you don’t mind,” she sounded diffident.
“You mean in this scorching sun?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
“Can you tell me in plain words why we have to walk through this blistering sun only for people to see us together? I have a lot to lose.”
“I understood the proverbial ‘be each other’s keeper’ better today as I questioned people about Papa Oteng. I had a hard time getting people to talk to me, even kids. My most reliable technique was surprisingly shortchanged.”
“Now you’ve acknowledged there are eyes all over the place monitoring every movement in this community. Whilst you’re tagged ‘foreigner’, there’s little you can do, but if that’s your only worry, cheer up and let’s absorb some sun rays into our skin. Which way do you want us to go?” Malcolm was happy to lead the way. He was easily inveigled by Sabrina’s deportment and praise for Old Freeville.
“To the motorbike workshop street and then to a place that looks like a draught and tailoring centre,” she pointed down the block.
He looked at his wristwatch and happily led the ramble. He didn’t feel the scorching sun, how could he? Whatever the motivation was, it had something to do with the opportunity to prove to Sabrina, how wonderful Old Freeville is. He took pride in explaining to her how people liked him so much that she will see posters of him on some particular blocks, though he wasn’t contesting the assemblyman office.
“Where is your sunny disposition?” he asked.
“I bear bad news,” she answered.
“Er, how bad?”
“My former boss, the old man we met last night, is in intensive care; he was shot.”
“Yes, the colonel; I’m sorry. How did it happen?”
“I learnt that, as soon as we left, gang men invaded the place. They were the gunshots we heard. He was shot twice at the back whilst running for cover during the gun battle,” Sabrina explained.
“Which gang can be daring enough to attack a combined force of police and military?” he was astounded.
“Obviously, it has to be the kind which deals in arms. They hardly engage in such battles, but when they do, it is bloody.” In the face of her helplessness, she had to curtail her repugnance and anathema towards what she was up against in order not to look so much crestfallen.
“I’m sorry the sleaze of Papa Oteng is threatening the life of your boss.”
“He is my ex-boss. I should be sorrier for getting him involved in the first place. I was so bent on proving that Command was involved in this traffic of guns, drugs and fake currency. So you understand why I have to work extra hard to get to the bottom of this case,” she rued.
“I pray he gets well soon,” Malcolm was sincere.
“I do too.”
“Were there any other casualties?” he asked.
“Both the police and the military are being economical with the truth. I’m yet to read a single report that mentions the number of casualties. However, aside the colonel, I know few colleagues who have suffered blunt force trauma by the shots that hit their bulletproof vests. Looking at the crowd at the checkpoint, if the colonel was hit then, I believe some of the civilians will also be hit,” Sabrina belaboured.
“Strangely, none of the tabloids even whispered a word about a gun battle let alone stating it culminated in someone getting shot. They were all mendacious reports suggesting the security forces had a walk in the park chasing the gang men away to save the day,” Malcolm was fazed.
“When all the tabloids get it classically wrong with a police or military story like that, it can only mean the press is being manipulated to hide something. Even with information given, the press was able to stretch the truth to sing the praise of the police,” Sabrina was conclusive.
Malcolm was so caught up in the conversation that he took her further than she had requested; at least that was how it looked like. He walked her to every bijou shop and cafe which was the pride of the town. Malcolm waved and greeted as many people as he could to make Sabrina feel she was being helped though he avoided virtually all the women who controlled most of the information which went through the grapevine. He even introduced her to some of his customers who gave her backhanded compliments about her presence in the vicinity, some resounding, others, paradoxical enough for her to know that they were messing with her.
“Can you get Papa Oteng to speak to me? I need to hear from the horse’s mouth,” she asked on their way back.
“It shouldn’t be a problem getting him when he’s freed,” Malcolm answered. They took a different route back to his house.
“I don’t know who stood bail for him, but he’s been released from police custody.”
“That was fast. When did Papa Oteng get out?” It was good news to Malcolm but he did enough to hide his joy, fearing how Sabrina would take his delight. His release meant his client’s goods were not lost, but to Sabrina it meant unfinished business or years of work seemingly down the drain.
“He was taken to the district police station but strangely, instead of transferring him to the central police station, I was told this morning that he has been remanded on bail,” she confided.
“He should have called me by now. He knows failing to meet deadlines is bad for business. If he has been out since morning, I don’t know why he hasn’t called me yet,” he played along.
“Can you reach him?” Sabrina asked again, though she didn’t doubt him.
“Sure. Papa Oteng will not leave me in the lurch, he’s in town. He has only one place to hide, the VIP lounge of Dotty7Bet, a pub and entertainment centre.”
The short trip proved that Malcolm wasn’t just crowing about his popularity. Indeed, he was much loved, but Sabrina has always been uncomfortable with informants who didn’t ask for anything in return for their input. Malcolm could be wasting her time.
“I need to talk to him before whoever is pulling the strings puts him in a position he can’t be of any help to me,” she stressed more on her need to talk to Papa Oteng.
“I need to talk to him as well, Sab. We’ll see him tonight if you can come here again.”
“Good. Now, would you like to thank me for escorting you to see your clients?” she grinned.
“Unbelievable! What are you saying, Sab?”
“Yeah, I like it when I charm people so much that they forget I’m owlish. I look intelligent because I am. I saw the sort of places and the people you took me to, and the different names they called you by; they were all clients,” she rammed her point home.
“You’re welcome all the same,” he chortled with a sense of accomplishment; she is the one he’s been waiting for. He could swear to God that he had not met any of her kind; she had more unparalleled traits over and above her subtle charm.
“Can I take you somewhere?” a taxi stopped in front of them and inquired.
“Sure,” she answered. Malcolm recognized the voice.
“Chief, you don’t have to worry about the fare. I’ll take it in kind someday,” the driver said to Malcolm as Sabrina sat in the car. He was the driver who took him to Brofo Barrier.
“Master you’re here. My gut instinct told me you’d come and look for me tonight.” Papa Oteng put the snooker pole down and fetched chairs for them to sit at a quieter place.
“Papa, hiding makes you suspicious, don’t you think so?” Mal said when they sat.
“Who am I hiding from, Master? I needed to think this through before coming to you with the details of what really transpired. I’m not hiding.”
“You chose a bad place for your navel-gazing,” Sabrina didn’t wait to be introduced.
“Who is she?” Papa Oteng asked churlishly.
“Meet my friend Sabrina. She was with me at the check point last night when the police arrested you.”
“Lieutenant Ottoppah?” Papa Oteng kept the same lippy tone.
“You know her,” Malcom said.
“Yes I do, by reputation. She is the undercover lady, the cause of this havoc. I saw her talking to you last night, but I didn’t know she was the Sabrina,” Papa Oteng expounded.
“How do you know I’m undercover?” Sabrina sat up straight.
“Do I have to tell you? Master, why did you bring her here?” Papa Oteng directed the witty riposte to her, giving a look that said you’re not welcome into our fold.
“Papa, we want to talk to you. You don’t have to ponder over anything, tell us what you saw, particularly when the gang men invaded the checkpoint.” Malcolm had always discussed issues with his workers rather than commanding them, so the direct request from him was a bit unusual to Papa Oteng.
“Master, it’s not as simple as you make it sound.”
“It’s difficult not to doubt the veracity of the police and press reports especially if you were at Brofo last night. She needs an eyewitness’ account of the situation.”
“Master, you know I’ve never had any difficulty confiding in you, but for my own good and yours, let’s not discuss this in her presence.”
“Papa, I’m not the enemy,” she said mildly.
“Papa, take my word for it, talking to her will stand you in good stead when the police come after you again.”
“Master, whatever her intents are, well-connected people who know better than you do have strictly instructed me to stay away from her.”
“Who asked you to stay away from me?” Sabrina asked in a manner that said she wouldn’t harm a fly, but the driver paid no attention to her.
“Papa Oteng, whoever they are, do you trust them more than me?” Malcolm was convincing.
“Master, it’s very confusing to see you and Sabrina together. You stand for two diverse beliefs; you believe in building the people of Old Freeville in spite of this corrupted system which was handed over to us, nothing beats your TLC for Old Freeville, but she, on the other side, believes in bringing the whole foundation of the town down because of the system.”
“Far be it from me to destroy any town and its people. I do what I do for God and country,” Sabrina tried harder to get him count her as an ally.
“Let strike a deal, and if you can keep your end of the bargain, then I will tell you everything you want to know. I’m already deep in, there’s no turning back now. I’m ready to face the consequences of my deeds.” Papa Oteng was ready to talk.
“We’re listening to you,” said Malcolm.
“Don’t go after Master Malcolm because society needs him, and protect him from the leader of the clique that warned me to stay away from you. Do these and I’ll happily talk to you and answer all the questions you spent hours asking about me this morning,” he was unequivocal.
“What are you talking about?” everything he said was news to Malcolm.
“She knows who and what I’m talking about,” Papa Oteng averred.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she contended.
“That’s the offer, take it or leave it. You know I’m not driving a hard bargain.”
“Listen, I can easily tell you I’ll protect him from whoever you’re talking about, so you tell me what I want to know. But honestly, if I don’t know who you’re talking about I’d make a promise I can’t honour,” she was forthright in her response.
“Papa, talk to her. She’s here to help both of us.”
“He’s called GB01. I saw him talking to you right before you left Brofo,” he finally began his account.
“Was he the clean-shaven old man wearing a green raincoat?” Malcolm asked in utter disbelief.
“Yes, Grand Boss Zero One! That was him. Can you protect Master Malcolm from him?”
“I don’t know why you or Malcolm needs protection from that man. The fact is, he’s my ex-boss and there is little I can do officially that he won’t find out.”
“That means you can’t offer that protection,” Papa Oteng said shaking his head in displeasure.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, he was shot last night and he is intensive care as we speak now. Oteng, this is the best time to get you out of trouble, because the minute he’s back on duty, he’ll stall every investigation he’s not comfortable with,” she spoke truer than they expected to.
“Sabrina, is it possible for the colonel to also be in on this?” Malcolm asked.
“Yes, very possible, and that’s something I’ll be very happy to look into. I’ve always wondered why he has directly or indirectly pulled the plugs on every investigation related to either Grand Boss or Zero One.”
“What or who is that?” he asked again.
“We have ample evidence to suggest that Grand Boss and Zero One may be related but are not necessarily one and the same. Nobody really spends good time or resources to investigate case related to these two. They’re almost sacred names,” Sabrina bewailed the hydra in her unit.
“How much trouble are we in?” Malcolm’s shock was palpable.
“Papa Oteng, the home truth is, the double life you’ve been living is bound to come to a horrible end. You could be in a huge mess. The people you’re in bed with can easily expunge you whenever they deem you a liability,” she presaged.
“That’s pretty obvious to me now,” Papa Oteng was not moved by her heads-up.
“Where do I stand in this?” Malcolm wanted to err on the side of caution. He got genuinely interested in Sabrina’s interrogation.
“Why were you stopped and who were the other two people with you?” she asked.
“Papa, I’ve never known you to be avaricious. How did you get here, to the extent of both the police and military coming after you? How did you get there, Papa Agyekum?” he added.
“This is not how I wanted it to be, this is not how I wanted to end. I had big dreams. I didn’t only dream, I started living it. I was working at it; at my own pace, I was cooking with gas. I don’t know how it all began but with time people started seeing me fit to handle family and societal responsibilities,” Papa Oteng lowered his guard and began to speak from his heart.
“You don’t need to be in a hurry. Take your time,” she patted him on the hand tenderly.
“Though, these responsibilities came with recognition, they also came with substantial financial burden; one that seemed manageable. Then the load became heavier and heavier and heavier. Inwardly, I knew I was heading towards doom, but it felt good to be important. People around me started making demands I couldn’t meet, people I either loved or respected, people I was proud of that depended on me or came to me for help anytime they were in need. I was gaining respect for living beyond my means.”
“So what did you do?”
“Mal, allow him to speak, please.”
“I had to meet those needs come what may; I had to. So I started borrowing, the debts kept piling up until they swallowed me. It didn’t happen overnight; I saw it coming.”
“You couldn’t handle the debt so you were forced to deal in drugs, huh?”
“I didn’t wake up one day to transport drugs, Master. A creditor who got to know I was a truck driver gave me an offer I couldn’t turn down. He had loads of goods near the borders of the country and he wanted me to bring them from the hinterlands into the city at a very good fare. His only challenge was that he didn’t have a permit to move them across the regions.”
“So you decided to use the documentation for my goods to convey his,” Malcolm interrupted again and Sabrina gave him ironically, a soft look over her glasses.
“I didn’t have the stomach for it initially. However, when my inability to meet the increasing financial burden began to pique my pride, I called on him to take up the job.”
“This creditor didn’t force or trick you into it,” she asked before Malcolm could.
“No, he didn’t force me. He put the offer before me and gave me his business card that I should think about it and to give him a call when I make up my mind.”
“And you took the card.”
“That’s why we’re having this conversation in this godforsaken noisy tavern,” Papa Oteng nodded.
“Did you know what you were conveying?” Malcolm asked.
“He didn’t hide the truth; he told me point blank that they were drugs and fake currencies – Euros and Dollars. It wasn’t until later than he added guns and ammunitions. By then it was too late in the day for me to go straight.”
“Were you not afraid of getting caught?” he asked again.
“When I saw my first package, my fear dashed away. It didn’t look as scary and risky as I had envisaged. I was tasked to transport a truck full of biscuit and teabag, just that it was marijuana biscuit and marijuana teabag.”
“You have no idea of what man is capable of doing once he thinks he can get away with it,” Malcolm couldn’t believe his ears.
“He has guarded warehouses across the country mostly in the suburbs. Swiftly, I transport his goods from wherever location he would give, to the nearest warehouse, afterwards I attend to yours. He paid five times more than you did, and always had goods to move. I needed your papers so whenever you called me for business, it was Christmas. I became a trusted member after I was able to deliver without police interruptions. So, I was entitled to huge bonus in addition to my charge”
“That should explain why you habitually got to the industrial area late,” Malcolm said.
“Was it worth the risk?” she asked.
“How can it ever be worth the risk?” Papa Oteng retorted.
“Did he cancel your debt?” she asked.
“No, he didn’t cancel my debt; I settled every single cedi of my debt. Just when I was about quitting, I was introduced to GB01 and things went from bad to worse or good to better. Nobody really questions me; the assumption is since I’ve been a truck driver for three decades, I should be able to afford second-hand four-wheel drive and a second-hand salon car for my daughter. I kept going until I passed the threshold of no-return. You can be disappointed in me, but you know that I’m a good man. Even in my immorality, I remained good. I was caught up in series of bad decisions.”
“Isn’t it amazing the things we tell ourselves so we can conk out each night?” Malcolm was sarcastic and without any mercy for his long trusted friend and driver.
“I’m not proud of it but it wasn’t out of greed, Master. I was able to complete the house I abandoned years ago. I bought a new car and one for my only daughter. I sent my youngest son abroad to study engineering. My father got rich late in life when it was too late for me to go to school. So my terrible childhood wasn’t an experience I wanted my kids to have. I looked at my kids and cried that I was going to disappoint them. My wife deserved a break from borrowing from her parents to support our needs.”
“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Marcus Tullius Cicero