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“The Money Syndrome” — A Short Story by Somtoochukwu Benedict Ezioha

The shrill ring of the telephone violently rousted me from my well-deserved sleep. Blindly, I rummaged about for the annoying piece of technology, found it, and said into the receiver. “Hello.” I was still groggy, but the words I heard made me to be fully awake.

“Are you going to be asleep while the greatest scoop of your entire career passes you by?” It was my boss, Samson Lawal. He always had a way of getting your attention, no matter the situation. “Better get your ass into your car and drive up to the address I’ll send you now.” And then he clicked off. Few seconds later, my phone beeped in reception of the address he sent. It was an all-too-familiar address; never in a thousand lifetimes would I have thought that such a thing would be happening there. And I would be the very first person to document it; well, also with the gorgeous beauty lying next to me.
I turned to her, and gently tapped her bare thighs. “Hey sleepy head,” I said, brushing a kiss on her ear. “Duty calls.”
She groaned, stretched, and yawned. “Why can’t we shut off duty for one more hour?”
“Not unless you want to explain to Samson why we lost ‘greatest scoop of our entire careers.’ ”
She sat up, pecked my cheeks and said, “Thanks for last night.”
Before I could comment, she waltzed off into the bathroom, her large buttocks dancing seductively. Thank God I had another bathroom in my apartment; I quickly ran into it and prayed that I would be fast enough.
As it turned out, we barely made it to the address before the events began. It wasn’t an occasion we were invited to, so we stuck to the shadows, with our cameras and recording devices poised to pick up the slightest occurrence. This story would rocket me to the zenith of the media and publicity world. If I made it out alive. We went behind some containers, wanting to get a vantage position; all the while, Maria stuck to my side, keenly aware of all the signs I gave to her.
Without warning, I got a call. Thankfully, it was on vibration, so it didn’t create a noise. Still, in the quiet environment, it jarred me to my bones. It was my boss. There was no way I could pick it up without disclosing our presence to the men inside the room, so I chose to ignore him.
And he chose to disturb me. He kept on calling till I had no choice than to answer the call.
“Mark, listen to me! You need to get out of there. Now!”
I didn’t understand why he would want me to suddenly leave here while I was witnessing what would perhaps be the greatest crime in modern Nigeria. “What do you mean?” I quietly hissed into the receiver, “This isn’t something I can leave!”
“It’s for your own safety! Are you with Maria there?”
“She’s not—” His words were cut off by a heavy object landing at the base of my head; my vision blurred as I fell with a thud on the cold metallic floor. The last thing I saw was Maria standing over me, a pistol in her hand, and a devilish scowl on her pretty face.
The heavy incessant clanging at the back of my head finally woke me up. I opened my eyes and instantly regretted it. The flash of the lights in the room was blindly, and its burn seared into my brain. I was bound by chains to a rickety metal chair. I gave a weak moan, which drew the attention of the other occupants of the room.
A short, squatty man with a belly that could fit a tiny swimming pool walked up to me. He was fair with black spots on his nose. He had soulless black eyes which always looked menacing. I needed no one to tell me his identity. His face was instantly recognizable by anyone who was a Nigerian; as a matter of fact, he appeared in the news just yesterday. And obviously he was the mastermind of the whole network of operations.
“Good morning Mr. Mark Osua,” he said in his famous drawl. “I’m deeply sorry that we’re meeting in such… uncomfortable circumstances. But you must agree, it isn’t my fault. Rather, the fault is wholly yours.”
Speaking was an uphill task, but I’ll it was damned if this imposter, this chameleon would get the better of me in a word duel. “It’s no problem at all General Bankole. At least, this way, your true colours have been exposed.”
“Ah, such a feisty spirit. But you see my dear friend, everyone has a hidden colour. Especially, this…” he made a welcoming motion with his hands, and my heart actually stopped when she came out “… gorgeous woman.” It was Maria! In the flesh. So, I hadn’t dreamt of her clobbering me then. She came to his side, he grabbed her butt as plastered his mouth on hers. When they broke breathlessly broke apart, she took a step towards me, and stared at me for a long time before saying,
“Hello, Mark. Surprised to see me like this?” I felt my tongue tied to the roof of my mouth, and my heart shatter into tiny little pieces, how could I still be alive when I felt such pain? And I couldn’t talk, well, what could I have said? She continued:
“Cat got your tongue? Say something dammit!”
“W-w-wh-why?” I managed to stutter out.
“Because you deserve every bit of it. You deserve every pain you’re feeling down. You think I hurt you? Well—news flash!—you started the hurting game.”
I just looked blankly at her.
“Let me jog your muddled memory. Three years ago, you uncovered the secret business dealings of a top government official. He found out that you knew about him, and begged you to keep it under wraps. But what did you do? You refused and went public with it.
“He couldn’t stand losing everything he had, so he killed himself. But do you know who really killed him? You! You, Mark Osua. You killed him with your godforsaken integrity!
“I was his fiancée then. His death devastated me. I badly wanted to revenge his death but didn’t know how. Not until the General approached me. As at that time, you had already started sniffing into his arms smuggling business. So you needed to be taken care of.”
The force of what I was hearing hit me with the impact of the punch of Floyd Mayweather. She had been on a revenge mission all this time. For something I was right in doing? But it was what finally broke me. It was the realization that my one-year relationship with her was a setup. All along, I’d been played, and ultimately, I had fallen into their hands.
She continued staring at me with cold darts of hatred. “You know the best part of this whole episode? The look on your face! I would die right now a happy woman knowing that I had hurt you beyond measure.”
“Now, now, darling. Don’t sound like that,” General Bankole cooed, “the only death we’re witnessing is the death of this… vermin. And on that note,” he brought out a golden pistol, and gave it to Maria, “you have the honour eliminating him.”
He backed off, and I was left with her. She cocked the gun and pointed it at me. My mind shouted at me to say something, anything to save myself. But my mouth remained glued together. I stared into her eyes, eyes that I had thought looked at me with love. Now they only burned with malice and murderous glee. As she stared at me, I realized the truth, something that I had suspected while she was talking. Something that gave me hope that I had never hurt her.
“How much will you get, Maria?”
“What are you saying?”
Her tone told me that my gamble was right. Hon. Arthur Nwachukwu (the one she claimed was her fiancé) had a reputation of being gay; the only official partner he had had married six months after his death. Maria was simply a sellout.
“You were not Arthur Nwachukwu’s fiancée. He was not into women. So, this your… betrayal is all about money. How much is it?”
In response, she shot me in the chest. I didn’t feel the pain and the wave of darkness took over.
I woke up disoriented and confused. My body had various tubes protruding from it. I thought I would be in immense pain, but I couldn’t feel any part of my body. Thank God. The pain meds worked superb. I thought about the events of the previous two weeks and sighed in sorrow.
When Maria had shot me, it turned out that Samson had already called the police. The gunshot was the cue they needed to swoop in on them. Maria had resisted arrest, and was killed in the crossfire, while General Bankole was apprehended. I was rushed to the hospital when I was miraculously kept alive by the magic of expert doctors. Luckily for me, the bullet had missed my heart by a few inches.
I recalled what Maria had said, and sighed again. I would die right now a happy woman knowing that I had hurt you beyond measure. In the end, she had indeed died.
I shook my head regretfully, and dialed my boss.

Read Also==>“Galactic Warrior” — A Short Story by Somtoochukwu Benedict Ezioha.

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