The Montague Gardens Hotel, London, England | July 4th, 2017 | 02:03 pm.
“Now that we are all here, can we finally focus on business?” Olorun asked.
“Yes,” Shigidi said.
Nneoma nodded; her mouth full.
“Good. Then let’s go over the job.” The colored beads around his wrist dangled noisily as Olorun reached for an ornate woven briefcase that he’d set on the floor beside him. He pulled out a sheaf of documents then unfolded one of them to reveal a blue and white schematic drawing and spread it on the table in front of them, using Nneoma’s wineglass to weigh down one of the edges. The schematic showed three floors of a building and had markings and symbols that Shigidi was sure were ancient runes, inscribed all around it.
Celtic? German? Anglo-Saxon? Norse? I can’t tell but Nneoma probably knows.
“This,” Olorun said, smoothing his hand across the drawing, “is the British Museum. It’s right behind us, more or less, and it is one of the largest museums in the world. Four wings, taking up more than ninety-two thousand square meters of space and comprising almost a hundred galleries which display over fifty thousand items, most of them stolen. Some of those stolen items rightfully belong to me or, to my people, those who worship and believe in me. But one of those items is of particular significance to me right now.” He looked up and swept his gaze from Shigidi to Nneoma. “So, you are going to help me get it back.”
They looked at each other, and then back to the elder orisha.
“What is it?” Shigidi asked.
Olorun leaned back again, pulled a photograph from the briefcase, and set it on the table on top of the schematic. “This is what I need you to get for me.”
The image showed a sculpted brass head of a man with bold eyes, wide nose, hard mouth, and a beaded headdress like a crown, which encircled the head in a three-layer composition and from which a vertical, somewhat phallic plume extended, slightly bent. Parallel lines ran from where the headdress met the forehead to the base of the jaw. Small holes circled the mouth. The head appeared to be just a little under life size, symmetric, naturalistic, and obviously the result of exquisite craftsmanship despite the patina and green-grey discoloration that betrayed its age.
Shigidi nodded. He knew the image well.
Nneoma shifted her glass slightly to the left and stared at it. “It’s beautiful.”
“Yes, it is.” Olorun pushed the image aside and pointed to a circled area on the schematic, which highlighted the upper section of the Museum’s lower floor. “Here. It’s held in the African Galleries on lower level two, right opposite the Center for Education.”
“What about security?” Nneoma asked.
Olorun pulled out another piece of paper that had lists and numbers printed on it. He passed it to Nneoma who scanned it quickly, running her long, red lacquered nails down its length as she did.
She said, “It all looks fairly standard. Almost boring. Basic scanners and bag checks before entry. The shifts rotate in a predictable way. About one guard per gallery. Cameras everywhere so I suppose we’d need to be a bit careful to avoid being spotted if we want to get out of the country easily later. I mean, I could just temporarily change our appearance, with some effort. Or we can just disable the cameras and avoid all that bother. Well, I can anyway.” She put the paper down and looked directly at Olorun, holding his wrinkle-framed gaze. “We are not thieves. And even if we were, there is nothing here that a good human crew of experienced robbers cannot handle. They could sneak in, create a distraction, snatch this and be out in a few minutes, I imagine. You could even do this yourself if you really wanted to, despite the spirit bureau tracker. So, what do you need us for?”
Olorun smiled, deepening the lines of his face. “You’re right of course. It’s a little more complicated than it seems initially. Physical security isn’t the problem as you’ve rightly pointed out. The museum is protected by a special branch of the Royal British Spirit Bureau called Section Six. They are very secretive and unfortunately my people on the ground here don’t know much about them except that they have ties to the very oldest spirits of this land, the ones that ran the spirit business here before the Christian takeover, and they are fiercely protective of what’s left of the British Empire.”
“Sounds like they would be fun at an owambe,” Nneoma rejoined sarcastically as she took another forkful of steak salad.
“Indeed. In fact, I don’t think they even enjoy their work, but they do take it very seriously. However, I did manage to find out two interesting things courtesy of Teju Odewunmi-Smith, new deputy commissioner at the Nigeria High Commission. These runes here and here,” he said, pointing at two of the largest symbols along the edge of the building schematic. Together they looked like an ‘H’ with the connecting line sloping downward. “They indicate an alarm for disruption,” he continued. “The moment any item is moved more than five meters outside its exhibition space without the curator-priest’s pre-approval, the building will be automatically locked down by a Section Six sealing ritual. Once locked, the doors won’t open without fingerprint, retinal, and spirit particle authorization from the curator-priest himself.”
“So if we try to move the brass head of Obalufon, we’ll be trapped inside.” Nneoma clarified.
Shigidi grunted, “I can break us out of any barriers they put up. I’ve destroyed four shrines and killed two minor gods already.”
Olorun nodded towards Shigidi’s chest as though he was trying to see through to Shigidi’s core to the power wrapped around his heart. The glow from Olorun’s head left a trail of light. “Yes, yes, I know you are eager to exercise your new abilities, Shigidi, but as you can imagine, most of the artefacts in that museum hold great power, psychologically, politically, and spiritually, if not directly to the British people then for the people they were stolen from and to the gods that feed on their belief.”
“Like yourself?” Nneoma asked, before taking another sip of her wine.
“Like myself. Exactly. And as long as the British hold them, they still hold considerable leverage and influence over those they subjugated long ago. This is the principle of the Commonwealth of Nations and all that jagbajantis, even though the only thing the member nations have in common is that their wealth was plundered by the British.” He scrunched his nose with scorn. “Anyway, the point is that this leverage and influence is valuable, and it is something I am sure they do not want to lose. Couple that with the fact that this is being handled by Section Six and, well, it may take more than a few well-placed punches or a blast of stolen lightning to get past that sealing spell. You should not underestimate the challenge. If the alarm is activated, you may not be able to escape.”
Excerpt from SHIGIDI AND THE BRASS HEAD OF OBALUFON published by Victor Gollancz Ltd. (UK) and DAW Books (US). Copyright © 2023 by Wole Talabi.