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Episode 32

“You honestly think I’m gonna hand over the CD to you? What do you take me for Lara?” Tunji Banks deadpanned, looking suspiciously still.

Lara smiled, not allowing his stance to intimidate her. “I honestly think you don’t have a choice in the matter” she retorted, “You see dad…” she crossed her legs and smiled up to her father, “…thanks to your dignified position, I have the contacts of so many important personalities; government officials, officials, journalists… what have you…” she tapped the screen of her phone dramatically for some seconds before looking at her dad again. “With one click, the audio would be forwarded to all my Whatsapp contacts… think of how easy it would be for your political opponents if they got a hold of this recording”

Tunji Banks shifted pensively from one foot to the other, scratching his head in confusion. Lara had never seen her father look so vulnerable and cornered. It was almost like the case of a caged lion. “You would do this to your own father?”

Lara raised her brow. “I believe I am following in your footsteps dad” she smiled tightly. “You know dad, I have always thought you cared for me; that you loved mum and I even though you always hurt us. I thought your cruelty was your own way of expressing love and I tried every single time to forgive your cruelty and be more understanding. When I was kidnapped and you released your money to ransom me from their hands, I thought then that you definitely loved me…” she raised pained eyes to her father. “But it isn’t true, right? Pride was the only thing that made you pay the ransom, isn’t it? It would have been the mother of all news if the public heard that you couldn’t ransom your own daughter, right?”

Tunji Banks swallowed. “Of course, I love you”

“You don’t” Lara barked, her anger returning with full force. “You only love yourself! The only thing you love more than yourself is money!” she yelled. “You obviously couldn’t divorce mum because she knew your dirty secret, right? No woman would want to marry an… incomplete man, right?” Lara watched her father squirm and shook her head. This was just too much for her. This conversation was becoming really awkward; she wanted nothing more than to get as far away from her father as possible. “Don’t give me lectures on family ties because you definitely know nothing in that department” she dropped. Taking a deep breath, she stretched her hand. “The CD dad, I am losing my patience.”

With his shoulders slumped in defeat, the governor crossed over to the other side of the table and sat down on his chair gently. He pulled open the drawer and started shuffling through. “It better be the correct CD, because if not, I wouldn’t think twice about forwarding this audio.” She threatened.

It was uncomfortable to look at her father in the position he was in now looking like a tied down cow but if it had to do with defending her mother’s name and dignity in her absence, she would. She hadn’t been there for her alive, she would no doubt do her best now in her death. The governor searched through the drawer and extracted a CD case. Opening it, he removed a plain white CD with ‘X’ written on the surface with a black marker. He stared at the CD hesitantly for some seconds, and then raised his eyes to Lara uncertainly. “How sure am I that you wouldn’t still upload that recording?”

Lara could see the fear written on her father’s features and almost felt sorry for him; almost. But she knew her father and the realization that his worry was because of his own selfish interests made her discard every feeling of sympathy. “I am not as wicked as you father; I would only expose the recording if you push me, so dad, as long as you keep your own end of the bargain and not do anything rational to hurt anyone I love, you have nothing to fear from me”

He heard her but it seemed he didn’t as he stared at the CD deep in thought. Worry eased out of his features and Lara started becoming uneasy. ‘What could his mischievous mind be cooking up?’  She wondered. Lara shifted in her seat and cleared her throat loudly to capture his attention. “The CD dad, I don’t intend on waiting forever”

“What’s the rush?” He smiled and then, Lara knew something was up. “You think I am going to hand over the CD without having something with me to serve as insurance?”

Lara raised her brow. “You think I am bluffing when I said I would circulate the recording?” she returned. “Like I said earlier, you don’t have a choice in the matter”

He smiled. “I didn’t say you are bluffing, but think about it daughter, I also have nothing to lose. Going by the little display you carried out there, my reelection is already paralyzed.”

Lara stared at him. “I thought you said your money could rectify it for you”

“Yes!  And money is a luxury I don’t have, thanks to the kidnap organized by your damned mother”

Lara swallowed, thinking of the other person involved in the kidnap. “You have properties” she suggested.

He frowned. “You really think I would go about selling properties so my opponents can get wind of the fact that I am broke? I am not stupid” he stood up, holding the CD with one hand. “Why don’t you call Jack uhn?”

The mention of Jack’s name caused her heart to skip wildly in her chest. She frowned. “Jack has no business here”

“Of course he does” her father countered. “He is financing my campaign as my intended son-in-law and since you have already created this mess, he would provide the money to pay-off the journalists.”

Lara frowned. “And if I refuse?”

He waved the CD mimicking the way she had done earlier. “Your mother’s porn video goes on air”

Lara swallowed and shrugged. “She is already dead, it cannot affect her” she said with a nonchalant look.

Tunji Banks roared in laughter. “But it would affect you, wouldn’t it? You can literarily imagine guys salivating when they watch your mother… how would you stand the thought that they are probably masturbating to…”

“Stop it” Lara barked. The image he was putting in her head was too horrific and was almost driving her nuts. She refused to think about it. This was what her father wanted, she told herself. To have her cornered. No doubt, he had used that same line on her mother till she decided to take her own life. She would be an idiot to fall into the same trap! She would be an idiot to let him do the same to her. “Is that how you want it to go down?” she barked as she jumped to her feet with renewed gusto. “I would forward the recording now! Spread the CD, I don’t give a damn! You wouldn’t manipulate me the same way you did with mum” her eyes blazed.

Tunji’s face tensed up, making her see that he was worried that she was serious. But she knew she couldn’t, not when there was a probability that he would indeed circulate the sex tape. But, he didn’t have to know that she wasn’t serious, right? She tapped away on her screen. “Don’t think I wouldn’t do it! You would get a court summon faster than you can ever imagine”

Tunji Banks swallowed. “Now, we don’t have to come to that! We don’t have to destroy one another, we can be sensible about it” he said quietly. “Jack has more than enough money; he would just settle the journalists and we wouldn’t have any problem. I would even give you the CD, in the presence of my lawyer, of course”

Lara frowned deeply. “What do we need your lawyer for?”

He glowered at her like she was mentally retarded. “You would have to sign an agreement stating that you would get married to Jack and also not circulate the recording after I have given you the CD. Even though you are giving me your word, I need legal backing” Lara couldn’t believe the person she was dialoging with was her birth father! “Also, I don’t want you to back out of marrying Jack at the last minute; he is the one financing my political campaign and since he is seeking your hand as compensation, I can’t have you ruining my plans against because of indecision”

The irony of the whole situation had Lara chuckling until she started laughing uncontrollably. Tunji Banks frowned at her, wondering if she had lost her mind. She covered her mouth with her hand, trying to stop her laughter. “It… it is funny, isn’t it?”

Tunji, still frowning. “What’s funny?”

She grinned infuriatingly. “The way you get played even in your own game” she stared at her father, her eyes showing her amusement. “You think Jack is disbursing his personal money to fund your bogus election ambitions?” she chuckled. She had told herself that she wouldn’t do this, but now, she saw no other alternative. She would not be manipulated by her father anymore; her mother didn’t die so she could behave like a little bitch for her father. But now, she had to resort to doing what she had told herself she wouldn’t do – expose Jack’s sins to her father! She would have to make her father see that trusting Jack was absolutely an act of sheer folly because never would she sign any stupid agreement with any lawyer. She definitely would not be marrying Jack, especially not after what she just discovered about him. But in her heart, she knew that she would regret doing this! Even though she had later found out that Jack was somehow linked with the kidnap case, he had been nothing but a savior to her. He had been there when no one was there to help her out; he had been her strength when she lost her mother and was almost going crazy. Could she repay his many kindnesses by exposing him to someone as rueful as her father? What if everything Jack had done was nothing but a scam? What if the kisses they had shared and the moments they spent together meant nothing to Jack even when it meant the world to her? He had already proved that it was that way since he had neither contacted her nor come looking for her since she left his place. But even after all that, what if her father wanted to make him pay for what he did, would she be able to stand it? Would her heart be able to make her turn a blind eye?

“What are you talking about woman?” her father barked when she did not continue her accusation.

Not seeing another way out, she opened her mouth to finish what she just started, hoping that when the time comes, she would be able to rescue Jack from her father’s hands – if he needs rescuing. “You really have been fooled for so long when you were busy thinking that you were making a fool out of everyone.” She began. “Jack knew about the kidnap” she dropped. “The money he wants to use in funding your campaign is probably part of the one they collected from you to use as my ransom. I found out a week ago!” she smiled, “so you see, Jack is not doing you any favour, in fact, you are doing him a favour by offering your daughter to him on a platter of gold” Lara watched her father stagger and grip the table. He looked like a large bar of chalk, shaken beyond measure. “Funny right? You always wanted to tie me to a rich man, now, you ended up doing just that, only that he happened to be a gold-digger”

And that was what Jack was, right? It only did not add up right. It didn’t make any sense. Lara was a testimony of the fact that Jack was indeed wealthy! She had seen his company, checked him out on net, seen the place he fully equipped for her still unfulfilled dreams, heard the testimony of Mrs. Balogun and from all that knew without a doubt that Jack was a man who, not only had money in his command but also was a good person. So, why on earth was he in league with a kidnapper? Was kidnapping another source of income for him? If so, why would he choose to get entangled with someone he kidnapped?

Something wasn’t right! For the first time, Lara wished she had given Jack a chance to explain himself. Maybe she had been too hasty in her judgement. Maybe she had shut him out too much. Mrs. Balogun had told her right? She had told her that she was the first woman Jack would ever bring home, even Bewaji was jealous, and that probably also explained why people had stared at her in complete surprise when Jack had taken her to his complex. She had also sensed Jack’s aversion to love, she had felt his personal struggle and strive to stay away from her. Maybe Jack had an explanation for his actions… maybe she could come to even believe and forgive him.

Lara swallowed. Was she really thinking straight, or just coming up with excuses for Jack because she wanted them to be true? Teresa, always taking Jack side, had chastised her all week for not hearing Jack’s side of the story before concluding and condemning him, saying that she had just repeated the same thing she did with her mother. Her mother had had a good explanation to give, would she also be able to justify Jack’s actions? She couldn’t express how much her heart ached to find his actions justified. Despite her arguments with her friends, the past week had been exceptionally long because she had spent every minute staring at her phone, hoping that Jack would at least call, seeking for her listening ear. He hadn’t called and she had been too proud to do it!

“That’s a lie” Lara’s father finally got out of his shocked mode. “You are making up stories to dissuade me”

Lara took a deep breath. “Why not call him? Let’s see what he has to say on the matter” she couldn’t explain it, but something told her that she was doing something right here. She feared the revelation that was coming. Somehow, she knew that Jack’s reasons and explanations would not be palatable.

Tunji Banks paced for some seconds and Lara could literarily see confusion clearly written on his forehead. After about a minute, the governor finally did what she had suggested. He took out his phone and dialed a number, tapping his foot restlessly on the floor. “Hello Jack… I want you in my house in ten minutes” he said to his phone. As he spoke, Lara hurriedly typed a message to Jack. “Ten minutes” he said and hung up.

*****
*****

Jack took the phone off his ear and stared at it with a frown on his face. Something was wrong! He could feel it! The governor had sounded harsh and even though it might be that the governor had some challenges, it could also be that the governor had found out something. A message popped in and when he saw the sender, his heart skipped. He took a deep breath and opened the message. “I had to tell him, I am sorry”

The message was short and precise but it held all the answer he needed. The governor had found out! Well, that was true and still untrue because no matter what Lara had told him, it couldn’t be compared with what he had to say when he arrived there, and yes, it was about time! The revelation was long overdue! Somehow, he felt relieved that something that had been in the hiding for twenty years would be exposed but still he was apprehensive. Judging from the text message he received from Lara, he could deduce that she was with her father and would probably be there when he got there. As much as he was glad that she would see her sweet innocent face again after eight long days, he suddenly wished she wouldn’t be there. He wished she wouldn’t be there to hear exactly the kind of beast her father was… That she wouldn’t be there to hear exactly what he had been planning to do to her as revenge for her father’s deeds.

But a sides that, would her presence there prevent him from killing the one who had instigated his mother’s death? Would he be able to control his rage, the rage that had burned in him for more than twenty years? Would he be able to release the feeling of bitterness for Lara’s sake? But ultimately… Would his former self be restored after this?

His nerves were all over the place but he took a calming breath. The governor had said ten minutes, but… who was he to order him around. He sat down, grabbed a pen and paper to write down a note for Felix. He didn’t know what the outcome of his meeting with the governor would be, so he would definitely tell Felix everything he should know. In the paper, he wrote everything! He wrote about his mother, explaining how she died in a very short paragraph, somehow writing was far easier than either thinking or saying it. He explained his revenge plans and how recent events had changed his plans.

He concluded by writing the relationship Felix had with Lara and asking him to stay away until the coast was clear. He folded the paper and put it on the table, took his car keys and left.

*****
*****

After thirty minutes of sitting and watching her father pace restlessly, a knock finally interrupted the silence, making her heart skip. The door opened gently and a maid stood back, allowing Jack’s towering form to stroll in lazily. Lara swallowed the lump in her throat. After eight days, she was finally seeing Jack again and he was looking more handsome than ever in a simple pair of jeans and T shirt. Many might argue that there were people with better looks but to her, he was the most handsome and striking man she had ever come across. Her heart thumped as the door closed behind him with a frightening thump, making her wonder if being in the lion’s den could even be as frightening.

Jack’s cold eyes did not even give her a fleeting glance, making her feel almost nonexistent. His stare seemed to be focused on the only other occupant of the room, steering a vague unfamiliar uncomfortable feeling in Lara. Something was wrong! No one was talking and it was becoming scarier by the minute.

She turned to look at her father and he was also staring at Jack although, with a different look. His was assessing, probing and generally trying to ascertain if there was a modicum of truth in what she had said earlier. She swallowed, maybe it was up to her to prevent a disaster, since she had orchestrated the meeting in the first place. She had been scared that Jack could get hurt, but now, the more she looked at Jack’s stance and cold eyes, she had the feeling that he wasn’t the one on danger here…

“Jack…” She called.

He blinked and for the first time, he seemed to register her presence as he turned to her. His eyes settled on her and she lost her power of speech. His eyes were ablaze now, almost melting her like butter on hot coal. She swallowed but her throat was too dry, she needed water!

“Lara…” Her father’s voice interrupted the moment. “… now repeat what you just told me” he ordered.

Immediately, Jack’s eyes turned to her father and the coldness returned. “That wouldn’t be necessary” his voice came out firmly, carrying through the room. “I know what she told you and it is true, I was involved in the kidnap scheme” he dropped and for the second time, Lara saw her father staring in complete bewilderment. “In fact, I am not just involved, I was the main instigator” he said, not even having the slightest bit of remorse in his voice.

What was he talking about? Just when Lara thought he could be sorry enough to gain her forgiveness, he stood there boasting about it? She couldn’t place this! The governor himself was dumbstruck.

“I following your late wife, looking for a loophole to use in penetrating this household, then, I overheard her talking with her friend. She was asking for a large amount of money to use for her father’s operation; she said you couldn’t give her the money because you wouldn’t have her associating with her lowly family.” Jack explained into the silence. “Her friend couldn’t give her anything! That was when I came in, I asked Sword to go instead and present the idea of kidnapping her daughter in order to get money from you.”

An awestruck Lara was listening with her mouth agape, looking totally surprised. She had thought Jack was involved, she didn’t know he had been the mastermind of the entire thing! Oh God!

“I told Sword to promise not to hurt Lara in order to make it easier for her to fall for the scheme.”

“You bastard!” Tunji growled.

Something stood out in what Jack said and it made the air on Lara’s skin stand at attention. “You… you wanted to penetrate the family… Why?” Lara managed. For the first time ever, she was very scared of Jack. Maybe he was a serial killer, or…

Jack shifted slightly but stared coldly at her father and his face was becoming a furious mask, becoming more fierce by the second, “he knows why” he muttered.

Tunji Banks had never looked more enraged. “What the hell does that mean?”

Jack took two steps forward and Lara saw his clenched fists. Oh God! What is happening? “You don’t know me, Mr Banks?” He gritted out through clenched teeth. This was a side that Lara had never seen before, Jack seemed almost like a complete stranger. “What if I was a couple of years younger, would you know me then?”

Now, anger was not on Tunji’s face, but fear. Lara looked from one man to the other. She wanted to run screaming from the room. The scene before her was maddening.

Tunji shrank back as Jack advanced, shivering. “Would you remember me if I appeared as a boy? A seven years old boy perhaps?” Jack barked. Lara rushed forward and gripped Jack’s hand, not fearing that he might strike out and hit her considering the anger roaring through him. “Please calm down Jack” she held on to his arm with all her might. “Please Jack”

Jack stopped advancing towards her father and she was grateful for that small victory but he was still glaring at her father. Tunji looked like he was face to face with a ghost as he pointed his shaking finger at Jack. “No… No…” He shook his head, shrinking backwards like he was trying to deny the inevitable.

Lara had never been so confused in her entire life. “Would someone tell me what the hell is going on?” She screamed. She might just run mad if they kept up the display.

Jack turned to her sharply. “I would tell you what is going on and you would know the kind of beast… your father is”

***Flashback – Twenty Years Ago***

Margaret and Jack were so happy, grateful to be out of the cold. They sat beside Mr Banks at the back while two men sat at the front of the car, one of them driving. Margaret thanked Tunji every five seconds for showing them mercy and taking them off the street. Jack, also taking a cue from his mother, thanked the big man repeatedly. Margaret held Jack flush to her side in the car. “Say thank you to big daddy again” she whispered.

Jack raised his head off his mother’s chest and looked at Tunji Banks, “thank you sir” he said, flashing his wide boyish smile at him.

Tunji nodded and a small fleeting smile crossed his face. “It is okay son”

The rest of the drive had been quiet as the man driving at the front – Mr Banks’ driver – drove them to an unknown destination. All they knew was that they were going to their rescuer’s house. Surely, the car soon zoomed to a stop at the gate of a big house and blared the horn. The gate flew open seconds after and the car rolled in. As they alighted, Jack looked at the towering house, it was bigger than his father’s house, he thought. It was taller and wider. He drew closer to his mum, and looked at the face of the man who had rescued them. It was unsmiling. He frowned, not liking the man very much. But mummy had said he had to be nice to everyone.

The two men who sat at the front were apparently working for Mr Banks and their faces were as straight as their boss’. “Come with me” Mr Banks said to Margaret and Jack and they both walked behind him to the house. Jack looked up, gazing at his mother’s weak face. She smiled encouragingly at him and squeezed his shoulder. All Jack wanted was to sleep, wake up and go to his aunt’s place, just as his mother had said. He could play football with his cousin and forget this night ever happened.

When they got in, Mr Banks turned to the men. “Take them to the guests’ room and make sure they are comfortable.”

Margaret, defied her pains and went on her knees. “Thank you very much sir, God bless you, I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t save us tonight. I am very grateful”

He nodded, “it’s okay”

With that, they were led to a room, Margaret took off her clothes and Jack’s clothes. She gave Jack a quick bath and covered his body with a towel she got from the bathroom. Also tying a towel around her chest, she led Jack to bed and asked him to sleep. Jack was too tired to argue but he said he wouldn’t sleep until his mother had joined him on the bed. Margaret smiled and kissed his forehead sweetly. Going to the bathroom to hurriedly wash the clothes.

Jack woke up from sleep. He had dozed off, but from the atmosphere, it was still dark. Maybe he had been asleep for only a few minutes. He hadn’t been able to keep his tired little eyes open. He looked around. His mum was not on bed and he wondered if his mum was still washing the clothes. She should be resting, she is far too weak and wounded to be doing chores, they could put on their dirty clothes tomorrow, he didn’t give a damn, he just wanted his mother.

His eyes were demanding sleep but Jack forced them to stay open as he crawled out of bed. “Mum?” He called as he opened the bathroom door to look in. She was not there and neither were their clothes! Alarmed, sleep vanished from his eyes as he got out of the bathroom, still, there was no sign of her in the room. He opened the door of the room and tiptoed out. Where on earth was his mother? Did she go out to spread the clothes? Fear gripped him. The lights were out in the large sitting room. Jack’s heart raced fearfully in his chest as he walked in the darkness. “Mum?” He whispered as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he saw nothing but couching chair. He saw a bucket ahead and walked towards it. In it were their clothes.

He looked around. She had definitely gone out of the room to spread the clothes but… where was she? ‘Mum?’ He called louder. He moved towards the passage that came to sight with his heart thumping, then, above the sound of his racing heart, he heard it – the sound of his mother’s screaming voice. It was like a repeat of what happened he had experienced hours ago when he had awakened to his mum’s screams only to find his mother being beaten by his father. He stood paralysed, to be sure he was not imagining it, but the more he stood, the more his mother’s pained voice floated to his ears.

Without waiting a second more, he started running on bare feet towards the sound. He finally arrived at a room and became certain that the sound was coming from somewhere behind the door. Without waiting a second longer he wrenched open the door and the sight before him stopped the pace of his heart instantly.

There, lying spread out like an eagle was his mother, stark naked. Her hands and legs were tied to the bed and the man who had been their rescuer stood over  her with his buttocks exposed and his trousers around his knees. The two men who had been at the front, stood together at one corner of the room looking horrified and scared. Jack stood like a statue at the entrance, not understanding the scene before him. The towel his mother had been using earlier was on the floor.

The two men turned their heads when the door opened and saw him. Jack had eyes only for his mother as he watched her struggle, screaming and pulling at her hands helplessly. Mr Banks, angry, for some reason, pushed his trouser back on angrily and claimed down the bed, only then, did he see him. Jack’s legs unbuckled and he ran to the man he had thought to be their saviour, throwing his fisted small hands at him and raining blows on his stomach.

“Leave my mummy alone… Leave her…” He yelled as he blew him over and over.

Mr Banks’ hand flashed out with anger and blew him away forcefully, scraping the side of Jack’s face with his wristwatch. Margaret screamed as Jack hit his head and fell. There, on the floor, unable to stand up for whatever reason, he watched as Tunji Banks dropped to a seat and turned to the men, still angry. “Sleep with her” he murmured.

The faces of the men showed complete horror and jack wondered with his childish mind, why ‘sleep with her’ should induce fear in them. They shrank back but them, Tunji Banks brought out what Jack knew too well to be a gun. Fear gripped Jack as one of the men walked towards the bed and started pushing down his trousers. His mother’s screams intensified, nearly bringing down the roof but Jack… Jack was paralysed on the floor,unable to move a limb to help his mother. The fall and hitting his head had sent him into partial unconsciousness. It was like watching a movie in a dreamlike manner. And there, he lay as the two men raped his mother on Mr Banks’ orders. The more the performance went on, the angrier Mr Banks became. His mother’s screams died down, going weaker and lower until Jack couldn’t hear it, slipping him fully to a complete state of unconsciousness.

When Jack opened his eyes, there was a glow of light showing that it was already daybreak, though it was probably the wee hours of the morning. He thought everything that happened was nothing but a dream, the worst he had ever had. But no! He head ached as he strained his eyes. He was not in a house, he was on a bushy path. He pushed his weak body up  and then, his hand connected with something. He turned sharply and saw his mother lying beside him. He saw the battered state they were in, unclothed and battered. Then, it registered to his brain… It hadn’t been a dream. He tapped his mother but she didn’t answer. “Mum” he called and shook her but she wasn’t responding. She wasn’t answering… “Muuuummm…” He screamed. Some events breaks us, this… changed Jack forever!

***Present***

Lara grabbed her throat, as the impact of all she had just heard choked the breath out of her lungs. Tears streamed out of her eyes as she stared into space, seeing into the story Jack had so clearly displayed. “Nooo…” She gasped under her breath, shaking her head, unable to accept that her father was capable of such evil. No…

#MaimedSoul

Thoughts are Real!
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