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Khalid was as eager as hell that would break out.
But he needed his men to heat up his furnace a hundred more times.
He wanted them to expedite background plans so nothing would fail that moment when the countdown runs down to zero.
His wide, brown eyes crawled forth and back through the mission plans and date logs marked out on notepads, and pinned to a board in his pottery company’s conference room.
He tossed a black inked marker in-between his fingers in quick, short paces.
Standing there, his backside to the seated eleven young men was as strong and determined as his commanding visage.
He struck the marker against his lap with two brisk taps. He found what he’d been searching for; what he’d been solving in his head.
He marked points out on the date logs.
It was a bright Wednesday morning. Thirteen days had passed since Khalid’s Dragonfire commenced the race against time.
The gang of twelve was left with twenty-seven days.
Khalid nodded, turned around and spun his seat at the head of the conference desk with a tug of a hand.
‘So, what’ve you found,’ he said to his seated men as he took his seat. ‘Team Alpha, present your report, please.’
Mark was heading the team.
A twenty-two year old, he had a young, fine frame. He was well bred. His father owned real estate investments in Britain and South Africa.
He studied for a Bachelor of Science in ICT at the University of Kentucky. It was the love for adventure that’d led him to Khalid.
Khalid didn’t choose him; he chose Khalid.
Mark spoke for his team. ‘Team Alpha is taking care of the pre-heating stage. We’ve ordered for the lighter from Afghanistan.
‘The plans for the heating have also been mapped out. Here’s the report of everything, Boss.’ He handed a file of papers to Khalid.
Khalid leafed through the report. He scanned through bullet points, nodding and humming at intervals.
He raised his head. ‘All right, let’s see what you’ve got too, Team Beta.’
Teslim spoke for the team. He was heading Beta. ‘We’ve scanned through the site and found a point with rich deposits of clay.
‘We’ve also begun to build a kiln around the spot. This is the report, Boss.’ He tendered the report to Khalid in a file.
Khalid scanned through the report awhile. He muttered. ‘Mm, very good.’
When he raised his head, he asked the Gamma team for its report. A young man called Kabir headed the team.
Kabir was twenty-seven at the time. He was a man Khalid had some regard for, owing especially to his inapt ability to improvise in straight situations.
But when he first met Khalid—or rather, when Khalid first met him, such kind of ability wasn’t in the least evident. With the state he met him in at the time.
It was on the streets of Lagos the two men first met about three years earlier.
Kabir was heading home from a big company where his job interview had gone awry.
He’d just been dismissed from participating in the job interview only because he kept a long beard, motivated by his faith.
This was not the first time. It was, in fact, not the tenth. That he was dismissed from a job interview—only because he kept a long beard.
But this particular job interview was an important one to him. It hurt him he lost the job ever before he was interviewed that day.
It hurt him to his very bones.
It’d been a bright sun shining in that afternoon’s sky, but Kabir’s visage hadn’t been radiant at all.
Khalid, with his uncanny eyesight for gifting in people, saw in the young man what he would, himself, not have notice.
And he exploited that opportunity.
Khalid met him walking with a downcast gaze and weaving his beard absentmindedly.
Khalid saw him weaving his beard and became fascinated for heaven knows why.
He approached him, talked with him and gave him his business card.
He trained him in the art of pottery and offered him a job in his pottery business as his studio manager.
This was how Kabir got enlisted. Thanks, or no thanks, to the discriminating labour market. This was how Kabir met the man Khalid.
He spoke for Team Gamma. ‘We’ve got the carriage ready, Boss. We’ve found and are preparing the exit path for the carriage.
‘We’ll also clear the coast after heating.’ Kabir tendered the papers to Khalid in a file while the latter flipped through.
Khalid took up Team Beta’s report again and crosschecked something.
He raised his head. ‘Um, Teslim… what’s the deal with the bridge, by the way? How’s that going?’
Teslim adjusted in his seat. ‘We’re working it, Boss. Only one side of the bridge is ready. The other side’s not ready yet.’
Khalid squinted. ‘Hmm, so what’s your plan?’
Teslim sat up, his hands gesturing a little broadly as he spoke. ‘We made findings. We realised the other side doesn’t have a phone to make bonding conversations with the first side easier.’
‘Then get him one. There must be trust between the two ends. No betrayal without trust, remember.’
‘Yes, Boss. We’re on it already sir; he’ll get one in two weeks.’
‘Make it a week. We don’t have the luxury of time.’
Khalid slammed the files closed. He took a calming breath.
He raised his head and scanned his men’s eyes. ‘You must be wondering why the two have to be friends for the mission to be carried out successfully. Well, you’ll remember one is a means to an end…’
He leaned back on his seat, swivelling in a slow, sluggish pace. ‘It doesn’t hurt fishes that they’re cooked and eaten by humans.
‘What hurts them is that they’re cooked in water.
‘The same water that was home to them becomes their grave.’
He sat up. ‘You see, the game’s more fun when there’s a twist of trust. So let’s build them a strong, sturdy bridge of trust before we breech that trust!’
The house was impressed. A murmur of commendation filled the large room.
Khalid raised a hand to have his men’s audience for a second.
‘I’ve done the calculation. After one end gets the phone in a week, there’ll still be two full weeks before the D-day to allow both ends form a good bond.’
The young men nodded in agreement.
Khalid finished. ‘Let me hear just one thing about this in the next meeting. That it is done.’
◙ ◙ ◙
Now here’s your boyfriend heading this way,’ Tolu alerted Yemi.
The two young women stood leisurely that same Wednesday morning in the peopled lobby of the Department of English and Literature.
The lobby always had students loitering around in their large numbers during week days.
Some standing around press boards, searching their eyes through some news stories or a trendy campus gossip.
Some others resting on the lobby railings, or simply sitting on the long benches there, chatting about just anything talkable.
Yemi span her gaze around in a moment. Kelvin was just right behind her. She was caught pretty unawares.
She shot her gaze back to Tolu, but it was her retreating backside she saw. Tolu had excused herself soon enough.
She returned her gaze to face Kelvin now. And she only stuttered. ‘When… did you…?’
Kelvin interposed in a soft, hushed voice. ‘You’re asking the wrong question. You don’t think what you should’ve asked me was why I came to you?’
Yemi’s look was a little askance. Kelvin was a master of eccentricities, the novel way he spun rather odd ideas and manners.
Kelvin continued irrespective of what went on in Yemi’s mind. ‘For your unanswered questions. The ones you’ve asked and the ones you’re about to. You can listen to my answers.’
Next, his eyes closed lightly.
‘First, your gown’s really nice on you,’ he breathed as low as the whisper of a passing breeze—‘I’ll love to get two of it,’ he added, and then went on in a quiet, little voice.
‘Second, I know you’re boiling with jealousy now. An uncanny sixth sense tells me your lovely brown eyes widens within their sockets with some moist, reddening jealousy!
‘But don’t let ’em be ’cause the gowns aren’t for some admirers as anyone may think.
‘I haven’t told you I have younger twin sisters but now I do. They are only for them.’
He cleared his throat briefly. ‘And last, I came behind you today ’cause I’m afraid to look in your eyes; it’s a little scary.
‘Why’s your makeup a little excessive today? Is another handsome dude catching your fancy somewhere?
‘Are you really taking a fancy to someone else other than me?
‘And if not for this excess, I swear I’d have told you a precious secret this morning, but I can’t stand your eyes!’
By the time Kelvin had his eyes open, Yemi was walking away already.
Kelvin knew she must’ve been really angry with him, but why she must be that angry to walk out on him was what he still didn’t process.
She’d taken only about six steps away when he parted his eyes open. She must’ve heard almost all he said.
He looked on as she gorgeously walked away. With her long, dark lustrous hair swaying over her slender shoulders.
She just looked so darn cute and kissable, he thought.
He shook his head and muttered with a smile.
‘She is going with my heart again.’
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