Caesar’s Apartment, Lekki, Lagos, Saturday, July 10, 2011, 12:03.
Edwin ‘Caesar’ Clark let the knock go unanswered for a full minute before he went to the door. He was clutching his Browning 9mm automatic pistol, as he couldn’t be too careful these days. Journalists of his breed had a short life expectancy. His last major article had gotten a senator killed. He had shrugged it off as an occupational hazard but that did not stop the guilt eating slowly away at his heart. True, the senator had been a corrupt murdering bastard but if Caesar had not written the article that exposed the senator’s human trafficking racket maybe he would still be alive today. Sometimes he wished an ambitious assassin would do his homework well and make his day for him. The shadow of death lurked around every corner and a good night’s sleep was now a foregone luxury.
He was surprised when he saw who his visitor was. He had not seen Chinenye in eight years and here she was at his doorstep and it was as if he was back in college again. She had not changed much. Her eyes still had that glassy, soulless look that made him shiver anytime he saw her, and her slim, mannequin-like body was as trim as ever. They were a few lines on her face but they could easily be covered by makeup if she ever decided to wear any. Nevertheless, there was something different about her. She looked like someone whose composure was coming apart at the seams.
“Chinenye,” he greeted, his surprise evident, and gave her a hug.
She held on to him a little longer than necessary. Caesar knew her as someone who was normally bereft of an outward expression of human emotion so he was slightly perturbed at her apparent vulnerability.
“Hi, Caesar,” She smiled stiffly and appraised him curiously “You look well… considering.”
“Yeah,” he said, shrugging “How did you know I was an endangered species?”
“I’m a policewoman remember? I get wind of such things.”
Caesar held her round the waist and guided her to a sofa. “So to what do I owe this pleasure? I’ve never known you to be the visiting kind.”
“Aw, Caesar, you’re making feel bad. You are one of my closest friends.”
“I’m your only male friend if I remember correctly.”
“Yeah, well, your gender can be really disappointing.”
“Did you see the news?”
“Yeah… really bizarre. Something about 800 worshipers dying mysteriously inside The Church of Lost Souls.”
“822 worshipers including Pastor Deji and…” She paused, her voice cracking. “Ejiro.”
Caesar looked at her shocked. “Our Ejiro?”
“Yes.” A solitary tear ran down her right cheek
The three of them had all been close as undergraduates. It had taken Caesar a while to realise that they were both gay. Chinenye once told him that she hoped they could get married one day. Considering the position of many Africans on the issue of homosexuality Caesar knew that was a pipe dream. “What happened?”
“Ejiro had been attending this church for quite a while now. She used to be a Catholic but she left because of the Church’s views on homosexuality. You’re Catholic aren’t you?”
“Yeah but I haven’t gone to mass in a very long time.”
“Hmm… let’s just say my relationship with God is like that of an errant son and his very strict dad. I try to avoid him.”
“Errant? That’s putting it mildly. Anyway the Church of Lost Souls started just a decade ago with the ambition to ‘bring back the lost sheep’ people disillusioned by their failures in life who lost their faith; criminals looking for redemption; and others dissatisfied by the other Christian denominations out there.”
Caesar snorted. “Isn’t that how all these new churches always start out? They always claim that they are better than the older ones.”
“Well I guess they are like new businesses,” said Ejiro with a smile. “You have to bring something fresh to the table. So, the church was started by two brothers Deji and Kola Benjamin. The elder one Deji was a former oil tycoon while Kola used to be a very successful architect. He was the one who designed the famous cube shape of the church building. They both became pastors and started to preach about redemption. The number of worshipers increased daily. It’s rumoured they have close to 200,000 registered members already. Then the rift started.”
Caesar picked up a pack of Benson & Hedges that was lying on a side-stool near him. As he shook out a stick Ejiro paused to stare at him.
“You’re still smoking? I thought you would have quit by now.”
“A man needs a vice if he is to remain sane,” Caesar said. He lit up the stick, sucked in some smoke, and shot it out through pursed lips. “Mine is smoking.”
“Ha! If I remember, Caesar, you need the three cardinal vices to remain sane. What are they again? Yes! Smoking, drinking and womanising.”
Caesar shrugged. “Some men need more vices than others.”
Ejiro shook her head and sighed. “Well, like I was saying, the rift started. Deji became more liberal while Kola remained a fundamentalist. Pastor Kola could not tolerate Muslims and even other Christian denominations and he despised prostitutes and gay people. A row started between them and the church’s members split into two camps. However, no one wants to vacate the building because both are claiming the right to ownership, Deji provided the funds while Kola designed it. They now hold sermons on separate days. Will you stop blowing smoke rings? Grow up, Caesar!”
“Things came to a head when Pastor Deji started to openly invite gays’ to sermons so he could preach directly to them. Many of them started to become bold enough to attend and to testify about their orientation. These ‘coming out’ sermons have become increasingly popular and hundreds now attend. Pastor Kola however was outraged and openly cursed them to damnation in his own sermons. Other denominations joined in especially the Catholic Church. What about you, Caesar? What are your views on gays?”
Caesar grinned. “The more gay guys they are, the more hot women for me to sleep with.”
“I’m sorry I asked. I should have known you would never give me a serious answer. Anyway, this last coming out sermon was supposed to some sort of mass wedding. Gay couples were invited to come and have their unions blessed by Pastor Deji. Of course, society would never accept it. The ceremony was mostly to make a statement. The government actually threatened the Pastor with jail time and you know in this country that anyone who is found to be gay will get three years imprisonment. Also the public was outraged and people are screaming for the church to be closed down before Lagos is turned to Sodom and Gomorrah. Pastor Kola warned that if the ceremony went ahead that no one inside the church would leave the building alive. He said they would all perish inside and their souls would descend into Hell.”
“That’s typical of these so called Men of God. They think they can control people with this kind of fear mongering,” Caesar said in disgust. He angrily quenched the cigarette in an overflowing ashtray on the side-stool. “What amazes me is the way their followers do anything they say, like they’re mindless sheep or something.”
Ejiro shrugged. “Well, I suppose their followers are looking up to them to lead them to the Promised Land.”
“Africans are just looking for someone to lead them period. You think we believe in democracy? We are looking for a king, someone that we can follow blindly, someone to push us around when we don’t.”
“Wow, do you really believe that?”
Caesar sighed. “No, not really. I just get sickened by some of the things our people do.”
“Don’t think you are any different from us just because your dad is British. You grew up here with your Igbo mother and you are as guilty as the rest of us.”
“Okay! Sorry for sounding off. Finish your story.”
“Thanks. Of course, there was going to be a showdown between the two brothers. Pastor Deji poo pooed his brother’s ominous warning and said the ceremony will hold. It took place yesterday evening around four o’clock. Deji managed to get policemen to search inside the church for bombs or gas and I also participated. There was nothing unusual. After that, we had our boys guarding the entire perimeter. The ceremony went on as planned and the doors were locked from inside.”
“Locked from inside? Hmm!”
“Yeah. It was around eight that we realised something was wrong. The building is soundproofed but there is a loudspeaker on the roof, which lets people outside hear the Pastor’s sermon. Around Seven Pastor Deji’s voice started to slur as if he was feeling sleepy and later there was silence. An hour later we got worried and broke open the doors.”
Chinenye shuddered. “Everyone inside was dead. They looked like they had all dozed off but I knew they were dead. Pastor Deji was on the floor next to the pulpit. I found Ejiro near the back. I was holding her body and crying. All the other officers were just staring at me.
“Jesus Christ,” said Caesar.
“We questioned Pastor Kola and of course he claimed that his curse came through. He is going to give a press conference tomorrow at ten a.m. and he’ll probably gloat about what happened. The general mood of the public is that Pastor Deji and his followers got what they deserved and the police Inspector General called off the investigation.”
“That’s terrible, I’m so sorry, Chinenye.”
“That’s why I need your help.”
“Me? What can I do?”
“You know we Africans are so superstitious and no one wants to look at this case from a logical standpoint but you, Caesar, are a reasonable man; you like to look at all the angles when investigating a story. I’ve followed all your work. I need your help.”
Caesar groaned. Here we go again, he thought. Stuff like this always got him into trouble. His previous assignments nearly had him killed and word on the street was that there was a price on his head so obscenely huge that any assassin worth his salt was looking for his august person. This was different though. He would probably be ostracised for trying to prove that Pastor Kola wasn’t a man of God but a mass murderer.
Church Of Lost Souls, Ikeja, Lagos, 22:59.
The church building was quite a structure; Pastor Kola must have been an excellent architect. The church was shaped exactly like a cube though with rounded rather than sharp edges giving the building a dice like shape.
The interior was designed like any other church with the usual pews, a pulpit, ornamental windows and an assortment of religious imagery. But, what should have been a peaceful and serene place for tired souls to seek refuge now looked like a house of death. An eerie silence roared in your ears and an intense feeling of not being alone. It seemed that the souls of the faithful departed had not really departed at all. Caesar shivered.
Chinenye sensed his discomfort. “Spooky, isn’t it? You should have seen this place when it was packed full of bodies. It was the most chilling sight I have ever seen.”
They walked around the premises, searching the place with their flashlights, however, about an hour later they came up with nothing new.
Caesar walked up to an open iron door that had a sign that read ‘Generator Room’. He walked in. The diesel-powered generator was massive and it looked well maintained. “Isn’t this generator too big for this building?” asked Caesar. “This could power a whole street!”
“The church is not connected to the power grid for some reason,” said Chinenye. “One of the peeves of Pastor Kola was that he hated power interruptions during his sermons and didn’t want to wait the couple of minutes necessary to switch to generator. Once there is a sermon in progress, the generator is always on.”
Caesar peered behind the generator and noticed some elaborately constructed pipes that led to the wall, obviously to channel the exhaust fumes out. A dark thought crossed his mind. “Do the windows open?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. They’re always closed because the air conditioning unit is always on,” replied Chinenye.
“Let’s check it out,” Caesar said. He went to the window nearest the pulpit, which, like the others in the church, stretched from floor to ceiling. He noticed they were very thick; possibly bulletproof and crucially, they didn’t open. There was rubber lining round the edges. He remembered that the doors at the entrance were as heavy as hell. If they were shut the church would be near airtight.“Let’s go outside.”
They walked round to the back of the building and Caesar found where the exhaust pipes jutted out of the generator room. He studied the ends of the pipes with his flashlight. His fears were confirmed. “Oh my God,” he whispered.
“What is it?” Chinenye asked urgently, pushing forward.
“The pipes have been sealed with rubber plugs,” he said softly. “The fumes had nowhere to escape to. Those people died of carbon monoxide poisoning. They didn’t stand a chance.”
“So they were murdered?” Chinenye said, looking horrified.
“Yeah. Ingenious if you think about it. Pastor Kola designed the building so he knew how to do it. The rubber plugs could have easily been overlooked since you cops were mostly concerned with searching inside the church and providing security. If the congregation had been Caucasians their skins would have gone purple and would be a dead giveaway. Carbon Monoxide is colourless and odourless so no one would notice they were being gassed. They would start to feel drowsy and then fall unconscious, never to wake up again. It actually kills a lot of people every year especially those who sleep near generators in poorly ventilated areas.”
“Poor Ejiro,” Chinenye whispered, and her eyes began to brim again with tears.
“If it’s any consolation she probably died peacefully and amongst friends,” said Caesar.
“We were supposed to grow old together, to get married and now God has taken her away from me.”
“Pastor Kola killed her not God. He is an evil man.”
“But God let him get away with it.”
“What do you mean? That’s your evidence right there.”
“You don’t get it do you? This is Nigeria. Rich and powerful people get away with murder all the time. Pastor Kola has the cops in his pocket and the public on his side. The Inspector General has already buried the case. He is going to get away with it.”
“I can’t believe you’re giving up. I’m not. I am going to write this article and expose this to the whole world.”
Chinenye didn’t seem to be listening. “God always hated our kind. Ejiro didn’t agree with me but then why is all this happening to us? That’s why bad things happen to us and people cheer. What did Ejiro ever do to anyone? She was harmless. Now she’s dead because of some crazy pastor and the God she loved failed to protect her.”
“It’s okay, Edwin, let’s go. You can write what you want.”
She turned away from him and walked away while he stood there feeling entirely powerless.
Caesar’s Apartment, Lekki, Lagos, Monday, July 11, 2011, 09:43.
Caesar hammered away at the keys of his laptop, typing out his article. He worried about the backlash. People would probably not believe his article despite adding pictures of the rubber plugged pipes that he took with his camera phone. People believed what they wanted to believe despite any evidence staring at them in the face.
He didn’t really regard himself as pro-gay. He felt anyone’s sexual orientation was his or her own private business just as long as you kept it to yourself. He was ashamed to admit he was more comfortable with lesbians, after all what man didn’t secretly desire to watch them copulate? But, he had never really been down with the gay guys. Maybe in the end he wasn’t different from the other uncompromising religious types that he spoke so vehemently against.
He doubted whether any newspaper house would print his article. He didn’t care. Even if the papers rejected it, he would post it online. What a stir it would cause! A reporter accusing a beloved pastor of mass murder? It was unthinkable!
He remembered that Pastor Kola was to have a press conference at ten a.m. so he switched on the telly. A few minutes later the news channel showed the front of Pastor Kola’s mansion which was besieged by the press. He was speaking to them, a huge man in white traditional attire.
The volume was low so Caesar barely listened to him as he typed his article. The pastor said, “The Sodomites got what was coming to them and that other people involved in such evil acts should repent and beg for forgiveness.”
The gunshot was barely audible. He looked up, startled to find the press conference in disarray. People were running helter-skelter and there were loud screams. He stood up and went closer to the screen. A bold cameraman was focusing on the pastor. He had crumpled on the floor like a paper doll, a huge red stain rapidly spreading on his immaculate white clothes.
Caesar’s mobile phone rang. In a daze, he pulled it from his pocket. “Hello?” he croaked.
“Hi, Caesar!” Chinenye said gaily. “Watching the news?”
“Yes… wait… you did this?”
“Yeah! Did I not tell you that I’m a crack shot with a rifle?”
“You murdered him!”
“No, I executed him for his crimes. There’s a big difference.”
“I can’t let you get away with this.”
“Ha ha. What are you going to do, Caesar? Expose me? I don’t care what happens to me. I just lost the love of my life and now only hate fills my heart. The war has only just begun.”
The line went dead.
Caesar stared sightlessly at the TV. It had happened again. He had just gotten a pastor killed. In a fit of rage he deleted his article.
'Midnight in Golgotha' was written by Peter Ike Amadi.
Copyright © Peter Ike Amadi 2012.
Peter Ike Amadi was born in Enugu, Nigeria and had his primary education at Parkland's Primary School, Sketty, Swansea before returning to Nigeria to complete his education at the University Secondary School and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His first published short story is 'Daughters Of Eve' which headlined an anthology edited by Dr. Emma Dawson of Keele University in England. Peter also publishes comics and contributes to various online magazines. He presently lives in Lagos working as a graphic designer while writing in his spare time.