Once home and in the privacy of my bedroom with the money bag safe in the wardrobe, I settled down in front of the large wall-mounted flat screen TV and started going through the DVDs.
There were several videos, each stretching for hours. They were all the same thing as the ones I had seen before, Estella and Raphael having marathon sex and fun, drinking and plotting. It was always the same hotel room, but different date. There was no audio feed.
The data logs showed the first video recording was on 24th December last year, just two weeks after Estella gave birth to our son, and the last 13th January this year, the very day after she poisoned me. Raphael packed up his things hurriedly and left with Estella that day.
Scanning rapidly through the disks something odd caught my eyes. There was a third party in one of the videos – another man.
It was Bex!
I watched that particular video carefully, then hooked the camera recorder to a power source and checked the video recording on it. They were consistent.
I made up my mind fast and put a call to Fiona.
“Hello, Larry,” she answered right off.
“Hello, girl, how are you doing?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” she said dully.
“You sound far from fine. What’s up?”
She sighed heavily. “To tell you the truth, I’m fed up with things here. This polygamous and extended family business is just too much for me to handle. There are so many relatives and all of them are at each other’s throat over the sharing of the properties, and their father isn’t yet in the ground!”
“It’s that bad, eh?”
“It is worse! The main house has become such a battleground that we’ve moved into a hotel with high security. I never go anywhere now without at least four armed bodyguards and a police escort.”
“How is Bex coping?”
“Not too good, but he’s not here now, he traveled overseas on urgent business yesterday.”
“Where to? The U.S?”
“Yes, how did you know? I’m sure he didn’t tell you, he told no one.”
“Just an educated guess, when’s the burial?”
“They moved it to the end of April next month.”
“Then what are you still doing there? Waiting to get poisoned or murdered in cold blood?”
She caught her breath sharply. “It won’t… It won’t come to that. I’m being very careful.”
“Mongo Park got himself killed in River Niger and he had an Oxford degree in being very, very careful.”
“Larry, Bex’s family is royalty and Bex is the second son and an important Chief. There are just too many rites, meetings, and ceremonies demanding our presence before the actual burial. I have little choice, but to stay.”
“Listen to me very carefully, then go and inquire from any elderly Igbo man you can find around. By tradition, the only absolutely important person under the circumstance is the first son of the deceased, all others are excusable. Look, Fiona, you shouldn’t be there at all right now because lots of people must have figured out that Bex and his elder brother, being loved children will greatly be favored by their father in death even as he did in life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Think carefully now. Bex and his elder brother are the only children of a beloved late first wife. Of all eleven sons and sixteen daughters, they’re the only two the old man crowned with important Chieftaincy titles and gave high-value assets in his lifetime. I’m willing to bet he left at least half his fortune to just the two of them in his Will, we’re talking billions here. Have you any idea what people, even blood relatives, will do for that kind of money? They will kill a man and kill his entire family just to ensure no heirs are left to share. I know exactly what I’m talking about, my father’s only brother has tried to kill me, not once, but twice over a few plots of bushland. I ask you again, Fiona, what are you still doing there?”
“Oh, Larry,” she moaned. “What would you have me do?”
“Fake an illness and get on the first available flight back here,” I said firmly. “I hope your son is not there with you?”
“No, he’s with my mother.”
“There you have it, the perfect excuse, a seriously sick son simple.”
“I will call Bex immediately and talk to him.”
“No!” I said at once. “Don’t do that at all. Listen, there are two reasons I want you back in Lagos so fast, your personal safety is just the one that came to mind first on hearing about your circumstance over there. The other is the preservation of your marriage.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“There is something I need to show you urgently and it happens to concern your husband and his sudden trip to the United States. If Bex has gone there to do what I think he has gone there to do, then he is adding fuel to an inferno that will consume him completely and only you can save him at this point. But to do this you need to see and understand what I have to show you, time is of the essence.”
She was silent for a long moment.
“There should be a late flight to Lagos tonight, I will be on it. I will call you once I arrive.”
“Good, I will be waiting. Take care.”
I got off the phone and glanced at the time, five o’clock.
I tried Lillian’s line.
Her phone kept ringing, but she never picked. I persisted for some time then stopped.
Fiona arrived Lagos late that night. She called and I promised to come to see her early the next morning. I tried Sister Lillian’s phone again right afterward, but again it rang and rang without being answered. I finally gave up and went to sleep.
When I got to Bex’s place at nine o’clock the next morning, Fiona was waiting in the large living room.
“You look like you haven’t slept in days,” I said after giving her a warm hug.
She smiled tiredly. “The mere thought of Bex in danger was too troubling for me to sleep well last night. I’m still very much in love with your friend you know.”
“Yeah, I know. Come, let’s sit at the dining table and I’ll explain everything.”
We went to sit and I placed my briefcase on the table.
“Fiona, the things I’m about to show and tell you are so delicate, I don’t even know how best to present them, but present them, I must, so I need you to be patient and clear-minded while I try, okay?”
“Okay,” she nodded.
“Firstly, Estella has abandoned me and the baby and run off with another man.”
“What?” she cried, shocked.
“It happened in January just after you and Bex went down to Port Harcourt. She poisoned me on the 12th of January and while I lay in a coma in the hospital, she emptied all my accounts, took every valuable item in the house and disappeared into thin air. I spent three weeks in the hospital and then had to borrow the money to settle the bills. I’m keeping a lid on the whole thing right now, that’s why it’s not public knowledge and you haven’t heard of it yet.”
“Oh, my god, oh my God, oh my God!” Fiona was holding her head in horror, and then a thought suddenly seemed to occur to her. “What of the child?”
“He’s being taken care of by a relative, he’s fine.”
“MY GOD!” she exclaimed, stunned. “What about her parents, what are they saying?”
I shrugged. “Not much. They’re not even that worried which means they know she’s safe and well, but that’s not why I’m here,” I sat up. “The reason I’m here is that I’ve recently come across concrete evidence that suggests that Estella and her lover are now blackmailing your husband.”
“WHAT?” Fiona was horrified. “How is such a thing even possible?”
“It’s complicated, but let me explain…”
She listened attentively as I unfolded the story of Mr. Blue and his capture by the police. I left out how I got the money to pay for the blackmail.
“I got every video recording connected with Estella – thirteen DVDs and a cam recorder. One of those DVDs and the cam recorder are connected directly to your husband.”
I opened my briefcase, took out my laptop and set it up before her on the table. I took out a disk case from a side compartment of the briefcase and held it up.
“This is the DVD.”
I took out the disk and inserted it into the laptop to play. The monitor displayed a single video icon.
“There were originally five videos on it, but I deleted the other four and left just this one which concerns your husband directly.”
I hit a button on the keyboard and the video started to play.
The scene started with the captivating spectacle of Estella clad only in a white bathing towel, sitting on the big bed in the hotel room, sipping wine from a glass and watching TV.
Fiona glanced at me. “This is the private hotel room?”
“Yes, the hidden camera is close to the ceiling in one corner.”
In a minute the door opened and Bex walked right in.
“Oh, my God!” Fiona’s hand flew to her heart.
Bex stopped short briefly at the sight of Estella then walked fully into the room. They spoke for a minute, and then Estella suddenly put her wine glass aside on a stool, stood up and let the towel fall to the floor to reveal her nakedness. Bex stared at her naked body for a moment, then in a few quick strides, he was on her, grabbing her in his arms, fondling her body and kissing her hungrily.”
“Nooo!” Fiona burst into heartbroken sobs and covered her face with her hands.
I stopped the video and handed her my handkerchief. I wasn’t feeling right myself even though I had watched this video twice yesterday.
“Oh, this is all my fault,” she cried. “I brought her into our lives, your life.”
“Don’t even go down that road. We’re all adults and we make our own decisions. Good or bad, none of my decisions can ever be your fault, okay?”
She continued to cry and I gave her some time.
“Fiona, listen to me,” I said gently after a minute. “You need to watch this video to the end.”
She turned on me angrily, tearful eyes blazing. “I have to watch what? This bastard cheating on me with my best friend?”
“Your husband wasn’t really cheating on you,” I said firmly. “He didn’t even have sex with Estella in that video.”
She sobered a bit at that. “What are you talking about? I know what I just saw and it looked like it had been going on for some time.”
“You know what you think you saw and your mind is too clouded with emotions to see beyond the obvious. If you cut out the emotions and watch this video carefully with the shrewd eyes of the trained lawyer you are, you’ll realize quickly enough that your husband was skillfully set up to be blackmailed using the oldest bait in the evil history of mankind and charms too, I suspect. That’s another part of Estella I’m just beginning to discover. She uses charms.”
“Charms, as in witch doctor charms and voodoo?” asked Fiona in disbelief.
“Yes, and the best way to destroy things like that is complete exposure. You need to watch this video to the end and it will produce solutions to this problem all by itself.”
Fiona dabbed away her tears with the handkerchief and sat upright. “Please start it again from the beginning.”
I did and this time, she watched calmly as the woman that was supposed to be her best friend sexually mauled her husband.
Estella helped Bex take off his clothes quickly, and then they got on the bed completely naked.
“Keep your eyes on the bathroom door,” I said quickly, pointing, “That other door.”
Bex didn’t get far at all before the door opened and Raphael stepped out holding a pistol at the ready.
“Oh, my God!” Fiona exclaimed, sitting bolt upright.
Bex scrambled off Estella and that bed fast, moving to the far side, away from Raphael. He snatched up a pillow to cover his erect nakedness and stood there staring at the armed man in shock. Estella calmly climbed off the bed, picked up her towel from the floor, re-wrapping it easily around her body as she walked right past Raphael into the bathroom.
Bex was looking bewildered now.
“This was all a setup,” said Fiona quietly.
“You’re getting the picture now. Watch carefully, this is the interesting part.”
Raphael went over to the table and picked up a small cam recorder hidden in plain sight between Estella’s handbag and a flower vase. He checked it, then held it up triumphantly, speaking quickly and smiling happily.
Bex suddenly looked very dejected.
Fiona glanced at me. “Is there no audio? I want to hear what he is saying.”
“There’s none, but what he’s saying is quite easy to figure out… ‘I have everything recorded on this camera and if you don’t pay me whatever I ask, your wife will get colorful copies of it in a neat envelope from an anonymous sender’.”
Fiona glanced at me quickly, then back at the video,
Raphael waved his gun and Bex walked dejectedly over to where his clothes were on the floor, got dressed and left quietly, closing the door behind him.
Looking very pleased with himself, Raphael went quickly over to the door and locked it. He crossed back to the table, put the gun and cam recorder away in a drawer and poured himself a drink from a bottle.
I looked at Fiona. “Did you notice exactly how dejected Bex was and how he kept nodding in agreement to everything he was being told? A heavy price is being demanded of him and he’ll pay because he doesn’t want to lose you. Keep watching now.”
Fiona stared expressionlessly at the screen.
Estella walked back into the room looking like she’d showered and Raphael forgot his drink instantly. He went over to her, undoing his trousers and the video suddenly jumped fifty-three minutes ahead to the part where they climbed out of bed naked and went into the bathroom together, closing the door after them.
“I programmed it that way to cut out the lewd part.” I explained to Fiona, “Now watch carefully.”
The entrance door to the room soon opened and Mr. Blue slipped in. He went straight to the table, opened the drawer and took out the gun and cam recorder, stuffing them into a bag hanging from his shoulders. He closed the drawer again, crossed quickly back to the door, opened it carefully and slipped out. The door closed behind him and the room was empty again.
The screen went black as the video came to an end.
Fiona looked at me with a very troubled expression.
“The man you just saw steal that camera is the leader of the criminal ring that tried to blackmail me. He was watching and recording the whole thing in the next room then decided to steal the cam recorder and do the extra blackmailing himself. He and his gang had master keys that opened almost all the doors in that hotel.”
I took the cam recorder out of my briefcase and placed it on the table in front of her.
“This is the very video cam recorder in the video and the recording on it is consistent with what you have just watched, but from a different angle. It’s now yours to do with as you please, the DVD too,” I ejected the DVD from the laptop, put it back in its case and placed it on the table next to the recorder in front of her. “No copies of these videos exist anywhere else.”
Fiona sat perfectly still, staring fixedly at the items in front of her on the table.
“The man in the video is the one Estella ran off with. His name is Raphael Osondu, and he’s a sophisticated con man I used to know when I lived up in Abuja years ago. That guy is bad news, even on a good day and I certainly did not give him a forwarding address when I left that city for good, yet, somehow, a month before Estella put to bed, this guy tracked me down, asking for financial assistance to immigrate to the United States. His documents were in order so I gave him the money he wanted just to get rid of him. He was supposed to be in the USA as of early December at the most, but apparently, he never left. Estella changed completely after the birth of our son. She became cold and distant towards me, wouldn’t even let me touch her in bed anymore. At that time, I put it down to the loss of libido women often go through after childbirth, but once I saw these videos, I realized she was just too busy screwing someone else. And from the look of things, they’ve been together a very long time.”
Fiona looked surprised. “What do you mean?”
“The high level of familiarity I saw between them in the other videos I watched is that of old lovers coming back together, not new ones just getting to know each other. It explains why Estella suddenly turned against me so terribly. Do you remember that at the time you introduced her to me, she had just been through a very disappointing relationship in Abuja?”
“Yes, yes, I remember,” Fiona said thoughtfully. “She was heartbroken and came to Lagos to clear her head.”
“I’m convinced Raphael was that heartbreaker and she never got over him. Watching how alive she was with him in those videos, I realized he was her true and only love, I was just some sort of contingency plan. I’m also convinced that he’s using her even now, that bastard came back into her life because she had a rich husband and he was too broke to finance his new beginnings in the United States, it was just pure coincidence I was that rich husband. I believe they are together now in the United States and your husband has gone there to pay blackmail money.”
“My God!” exclaimed Fiona like her blood had gone cold. She was holding her head in her hands now. “He emptied our joint account and took twenty million from my own account. He wasn’t even explicit about what he needed all the money for.”
“There you go,” I said with satisfaction. “Estella and that bastard cleaned me out without mercy. They took every last penny in my accounts, over half a billion naira in total. Trust me when I say they have the same plans for your husband.”
Fiona suddenly became desperate.
“Please, Larry, you have to do something to stop this,” she pleaded, clutching urgently at my arm. “If he gives away all that money or signs away anything, we will be in trouble.”
I put a hand over hers and spoke gently.
“You’re still not thinking clearly. Those evil bastards no longer have any leverage over your husband compelling him to pay a dime, but he doesn’t know that yet and they sure won’t tell him. That leverage is right here in front of you,” I pointed at the cam recorder and DVD on the table. “All you need to do is take a picture of it and send it to him, that alone will halt him in his tracks even as you put a call through.”
I picked up her phone from the table, snapped a photo of the cam recorder and sent it on its way with a brief message. I waited a minute, then dialed the number and handed her the phone as it started ringing.
Bex answered fast.
I left them to talk and went to sit quietly in the living room.
Fifteen minutes later, Fiona left the dining table and came to sit with me in the living room. She was strangely quiet.
“Well?” I asked.
She took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh.
“You were right about everything. He’s in a hotel in New York and was to meet that man in two hours. He was just going to hand all that money over. But that wasn’t all they wanted.”
“What else did they want?”
She met my eyes. “He told me that you helped him move a lot of money out of his father’s company last year.”
“Yes, I did.”
“And you told Estella about it, didn’t you?”
“Shit,” I cursed. “Look, Fiona, don’t see this the wrong way. I kept almost no secrets from that woman because I felt we were one and the same, but apparently, I was very wrong. That’s one mistake I’ll never make again as long as I live, that’s for sure.”
Fiona shook her head gently at me. “You mustn’t feel that way. The complete union of a man and his wife is never a mistake, it’s a beautiful thing. Some women are just not worth it and some men are blind to it even when it’s placed right at their feet. I just found out my husband has been secretly operating a Swiss account and laundering money from his father’s company for two years. Other people knew, but not me, how do you think that makes me feel?”
I didn’t say anything and we sat quietly for a moment.
“What are his plans now?” I asked finally.
“He’s catching the first available flight out of New York. He’s coming straight home.”
She sighed. “My feelings for him haven’t changed, but we are going to have things out when he gets here.”
“Fair enough,” I got to my feet with my briefcase. “I’ll be off now. My mission here is accomplished.”
“No, no, no!” Fiona objected getting up quickly to stop me. “You’re not going anywhere without eating something!”
I smiled at her fondly. “No need to bother yourself, I’m not hungry. I’ve been suffering from lack of appetite since that poison incidence and memories of Estella kind of worsens it. I feel like hell right now and just want to be alone.”
“I understand. But all this will pass and you will heal with time,” Fiona was full of compassion. “Can’t you even have a light meal or something? I feel terrible letting you just walk away like that after everything you’ve just done.”
“It’s alright, Fiona, I’m good.”
She didn’t look too happy. “How are you financially? I mean… isn’t there some way I can help?”
I rubbed her arm affectionately. “I’m not entirely as helpless I seem. All I need is just time to recover.”
She abruptly put her arms around me in a warm hug and I held her lightly. When she drew back, there were tears in her eyes.
“I’m so very sorry, for everything,” she said quietly.
I squeezed her hand in mine. “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
She cleaned the tears off her face with the handkerchief.
“If there is ever anything I can do to help, no matter what it is, please ask it of me at once. It will help make me feel better about all this.”
I smiled at her. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you, Larry. You’ve been a true friend.”
“Not anymore, Fiona,” I said shaking my head and dropping the smile. “You tell Bex for me that we’re done. I’ll have nothing further to do with him.”
She clutched at my arm. “Please, Larry, can’t there be –”
“No, Fiona, I’m sorry,” I pulled my arm free, gently, but firmly. “Bex broke the cardinal rule, which is unforgivable, never a friend’s woman. I’m hoping you’ll understand and respect my wishes as I have always respected you. My affection for you personally remain unchanged and I’d really like us to stay friends if possible, if not, I’ll just leave things be.”
Her shoulders slumped and she looked mournful.
I reached forward and kissed her gently on the cheek. “You take good care of yourself, girl. I wish you both well.”
I turned and walked out of that house without a backward glance.