“I’ve seen a lot in my life…but nothing like her.”
There were three armed robbers, Jericho, Mace, and Scorpion. And they lived under a bridge in Lagos where even the sun dared not shine.
They were the best at what they did, and what they did was not very nice.
Jericho, the leader, sat back on the mound of wood with a can of Bullet in his hand and belched. “So,” he said, “my guys. What’s the status for this week?”
Mace stood up, his chest out. “I robbed five houses and stole two car radios. I’ve sold them all, and now we have some cash to, you know,” he winked here, “get busy.”
Jericho looked at Mace. Mace looked at Jericho. Then Jericho looked at Scorpion.
“I don’t get it.” Jericho said. “Why are you winking?”
“Yeah,” Scorpion said, in a boyish voice. He was the youngest of the three. “I didn’t really…catch that.”
“I was just trying to communicate,” Mace winked again. “You know.”
“See,” Jericho said, “you’re doing it again, and none of us understand what you’re saying, guy.”
“Yeah,” Scorpion squinted. “What do you mean?”
Mace sagged his shoulders. “Don’t worry,” he mumbled, pouting as he sat down.
Jericho gave Mace a look as he stood up to talk. “Well, boys, this week I killed five men. I burnt two buildings to the ground for the hell of it, and I’ve become one of the most wanted men in Lagos.” Jericho closed his eyes and waited for the applause.
When none came, his eyes still closed, he slowly moved his hand to the black revolver on his waist. Then, the applause came.
Jericho sat down, fulfilled. “So,” he said, “Scorpion, it’s your turn.”
“Yes, Scorpion,” Mace jeered. “It’s your turn.”
Scorpion stood up, biting his nails and shifting his feet. “Well…” he said. “I…I…”
“Get on with it!” Jericho roared.
“Yes,” sneered Mace, clapping. “Get on with it.”
“I helped a woman cross Awolowo road.” Scorpion blurted.
Jericho looked at Scorpion. Then he looked at Mace. Then he looked at Scorpion again.
“What?” Jericho said, his voice quiet.
Scorpion scratched his head. “She was old,” he said. “And I was on the way to…you know, rob somebody, but I swear it was just a small stop and then she gave me 1k and then she told me to—”
Jericho moved like lightning and was suddenly in front of Scorpion’s nose. He towered over the boy.
“What?” Jericho repeated; his obsidian revolver aimed squarely at Scorpion’s temple.
The smile widened on Mace’s face.
Scorpion looked like he was going to cry.
“Do I look like a fool, boy?” Scorpion shook his head. “Do you mock me?” Jericho asked again and Scorpion shook his head again.
“Back in my day,” Jericho said, “armed robbers were feared! We were the scourges of the streets, the banes of the law. My father himself was Shina Rambo’s partner.” He bared his teeth. “We were revered. They would tell stories of us to their children. We were rough, rugged…” he trailed off as he tried to find another adjective that started with an ‘r’.
“Raw,” Mace chipped in.
“Raw!” Jericho shouted. “We were raw. Not like you children of nowadays,” he sneered, “small and meek.” Jericho looked at Scorpion like he was fresh cow dung. “If you weren’t my son, I would have shot you. Do you understand that?”
Jericho put down his gun, for effect, and also because his arm was really starting to hurt.
“Mace,” he said. “Call Sand, tell him to have the setup ready. We move at dawn. And get me my plantain chips from behind the pillar. I’m hungry.”
Mace nodded and quickly went off, while Scorpion just stood there, still shaking, his eyes watering.
When his plantain chips didn’t come, Jericho furrowed his brows.
“Mace!” he shouted. “Where are my damn—”
He was interrupted by, well, Mace, but Mace being held up with one hand by a woman who looked like she had better things on her mind.
In a blink, Jericho’s gun was in his hand, and he shot without hesitation. He didn’t care if it hit Mace. That wasn’t his problem. There were charms he had procured to protect them, to make it near impossible to be found in their spot under the bridge. They were good charms.
The woman was his problem, and he would take care of her, without thinking or feeling.
But the gun only clicked. And the woman stood there, smiling, as Mace wriggled in the air, hands on his throat.
Jericho looked at the gun, his eyes wide, and shot again. The gun still just clicked. And the woman still just smiled.
“The Obsidian Gun of Ogun,” she said in a quiet voice that carried easily. There was a way she talked, like her accent was jumbled. Jericho didn’t like that, it sounded exotic. And exotic normally meant trouble. “A weapon that never needs to be reloaded, a weapon that never misses its target. A worthy weapon for a worthy holder.”
Jericho squinted at her. “Are you…are you trying to insult me, you bitch?”
The witch laughed at that; it was a long, long laugh. She let Mace down still laughing and holding her stomach. Then she stopped smiling, and Jericho wished she hadn’t.
She flicked her fingers, and blue sparks flew from her hands to Jericho, holding him in the air and electrocuting him. He screamed. Scorpion reached to help but thought better of it. Jericho fell on the ground whimpering, with smoking flesh and burnt clothes.
“Would you like to try that again?” the woman asked. “I like to be insulted by men. It gives me an excuse to be…nasty.”
Jericho didn’t have energy in him, but he shook his head all the same. No, he would not like to try it again.
“My name is Doreen,” the woman said. “I have come because I want your help.”
“With…what?” Scorpion said.
“Shut up.” Jericho sneered, and then to Doreen as he slowly got up, “With what?”
Doreen observed them both for a moment. Then, “A robbery. I want you to help me steal something.”
“Will you pay well?” Jericho asked, not smiling.
Doreen snapped her fingers, and a suitcase of money appeared in her hands. “Will you help me?” She asked.
Jericho nodded, with the radiance of the fresh minted notes in his face, smiling this time.
The room was in disarray.
It was a sea of papers, books, pictures, and in the middle of it, a man with bloodshot eyes, his skin a dull brown.
Detective Robins was seated in his office with his face to the far wall staring at the pictures on it. Pictures of different women, who came in and out of a small shop on a small street.
He had taken the pictures over the course of two weeks, always in the shadows, always careful not to be seen. There was something strange about the shop, but he couldn’t place it. He tried to verbalize it, but he couldn’t. It lingered in his mind like a bad joke he couldn’t shake and followed him around like a bad smell.
Something drew him to the shop. He had gone into it once. Was attended to by a girl with bright hair and bright eyes, but her eyes seemed distracted, her fingers were in her pocket. Thumbing something.
It all began with the damn piece of paper, he knew. But what did it mean? What did any of it mean?
The door opened, and Robins stood up, his chin high.
“Good morning, Inspector,” he said to the portly man in glasses who walked in. “I was just doing some more investigation on the… case.”
Inspector Ganiyu grunted and shook his head, adjusted his glasses. “Robins…” he began.
“Sir,” he began. “I’m almost there. I can feel it. I can crack this one.”
Inspector Ganiyu shut the door behind him. Hard.
“You keep going on and on about this nonsense, Robins. I have given you a very long rope. A very long one.” He looked at Robins. “And does it look like I make ropes, Detective?”
“No, sir,” Robins shook his head. “But, it’s going to pay off, sir, believe me.” He went over to his board, and took a picture off the wall. “See this woman?”
Inspector Ganiyu nodded, sighing.
He took a newspaper clipping and showed it to Inspector Ganiyu. “Now,” he said. “Look at this.”
Inspector Ganiyu thumbed up his glasses. “Yes,” he said, “and? Politicians die all the time, and Olukola Martins was a man who had…expensive habits. It was a well-known thing.”
“No,” Robins said, “look closer. There’s a woman at the funeral, dressed in purple.”
“Yes?” Inspector Ganiyu said, his patience wearing thin.
“Look at the bracelets,” Robins said, taking the picture from his desk and comparing them, “the clothes, the jawline. I don’t know how she’s doing it, but the facial structure is unmistakable. They’re the same person. She must be using a disguise somehow…”
Inspector Ganiyu waved his hand in the air. “Wait,” he said. “So, you’re saying that this woman, somehow, changed form, and what? Seduced the late Olukola Martins?”
“The will,” Robins said. “Olukola Martins had a wife and four children, but all his money in the will went to some woman they had never even heard of. A woman, they said, who wore gold bracelets and purple clothes.”
Inspector Ganiyu sighed. “So, you’re saying she’s a witch.”
Robins took a breath before speaking, this was the big one. “Sir,” he said slowly, “they’re all witches.”
Ganiyu put his face in his hands. “Oh, God. Not this again, Robins. I told you to stop this Africa Magic nonsense.”
“Sir,” Robins said, his teeth clenched. “I know what I saw that night in Gbagada.”
“And it gets deeper,” Robins said, using his hand to pause the inspector as he took another picture off his wall showing a woman in blood red. “I’ve connected this woman to four crimes in the Surulere area. She’s some kind of crime boss. I don’t have—”
“Concrete evidence?” Inspector Ganiyu bellowed. “You know, the thing we would need to make any actual arrests? The thing that our system is built on?” He sighed and took off his glasses. “You need to take a break, Robins. You haven’t been the same since Gbagada…” He took a breath. “I don’t know when all this started but, in a week, I want it done. We have real crimes to solve.” And with that, he left the office.
Robins slumped on his chair and spun until the room was a blur of shapes and colors. When he stopped spinning, he was facing the wall. His eyes fell on the picture he took of that strange shop, this one showing a tall woman coming out. She was wearing a blue scarf. She had strong arms, long hair, eyes that could melt stones. Eyes that he could swear he had seen before.
He knew when all this started, he knew how it all started—with that deep red piece of paper, folded in the shape of a bird, waiting for him at his desk, with only four words:
71 Adelabu Street—Witches.
Marina is a beautiful, chaotic place on its good days, but on its bad days, it’s hell.
Hell and nothing else.
This, Doreen knew, was not a good day. But she was about to change that.
Elephant House sat at the edge of the chaos. A behemoth of a building with eighteen floors all made with the best materials money could buy at the time it was built. Or at least that’s what the contractors were told.
Elephant House has a nineteenth floor, laid deep in the ground, a cavern built by a hundred of the finest stone masons. Men who suddenly died that night as the work was finished, their blood boiling in their veins as they wept tears of deep scarlet.
When the physical work was done, the supernatural work began. Fifty virgin women were slain on the stones to fortify the place. Nobody could see it. Nobody who wasn’t supposed to enter, could. Thirty children were drowned in the cavern rivers; the cavern would continue to grow on its own and stretch underneath all of Lagos until the end of time.
And the men sacrificed? Their lives strengthened the charms, made them unbreakable, unshakable, impenetrable.
Nobody but their coven could use magic in here. It was the place of their ultimate power.
That was what made it painful, perhaps, as Funke Aminu, the head of the Witches of Blood and Tears, knelt on the ground, glass and shrapnel cut into her hands as her blood leaked into the ground.
The other witches all stayed in the outskirts of the clearing, watching in darkness as their leader raged and bellowed. They all knew that to speak to her now meant death, and they all rather liked living.
“How did they get in?” She screamed. “How?”
“So,” Doreen said as she stood on the platform, the sun bright in the sky as afternoon hit. She looked down at the armed robbers. “Do you all understand how we get in?”
Scorpion nodded while Jericho and Mace looked at the witch like the madwoman she was.
“You’re mad,” said Mace, his mouth open. “You’ll kill us.”
Jericho looked at Doreen, twirling the Ogun’s Gun in his fingers, a small smile playing along his lips. “It could work,” he said.
Scorpion nodded in agreement.
Mace shook his head. “You bastards are fools. I’m not doing again. Are you hearing yourselves? She’s planning a group suicide. And all for what? One stupid knife?” He stood up. “I dey go abeg.”
Doreen looked at Mace, and her eyes glowed a deep blue. “You all agreed to be a part of this. All of you swore your loyalty.”
“I’m taking it back,” Mace said, his chin high.
“I don’t think you understand who I am,” Doreen said as she took a step towards him.
Mace walked up to her.
Doreen stood a full head taller than him, but Mace, to his credit, did not back down. “Some of your kind come here from time to time,” he spat. “You people aren’t special. You still bleed like the rest of us. You still beg.”
Doreen looked at Jericho, who shrugged. She turned to Mace and raised her right hand. “You have never met anyone like me. I have no people; I have no kind.”
“I’ve seen—” Mace was saying before Doreen lifted him by his neck. She had their entire gang for months. She knew the crimes they committed; she knew the bitter taste that was left in her mouth knowing what she knew. So, for Mace, she had only one question: “Will you help me, or will you die?
Mace looked at Doreen’s eyes. Something about them filled him with dread. It wasn’t the glowing blue power or the strength he could feel, no, fuck those.
It was the coldness. The abyss.
He saw, in the witch’s eyes, a formless darkness. And knew he would need to pick his next words very carefully.