A Short Story written by Lukhanyo Sikwebu
A New Empire – the Genesis of Power
Fresh out the bath and dressed in silky black pyjamas, Nicole sat alone on the balcony of a six-star hotel penthouse suite.
This was her home now. She’d grown content with it.
Her views were majestic, especially at sundown. She sat at an aerial angle, seeing the splendour of luxury Monaco yatchs docked at sea. She loved these waterfront views – young wealthy tourists on a mission to blow cash, and dash back to wherever they came from.
She loved everything about the posh city, though she wouldn’t dare step out to mingle. At age eighty-two now, she’d seen her fair share of parties and senseless social sessions. That ship had sailed.
Nowadays, she’d recoiled to a life of solitude, with only her care taker arriving twice a week to check up on her.
Nicole sat on a reclining leather couch, drinking ice tea, just watching.
FIFTY-FIVE YEARS EARLIER …
It was almost midnight, drizzly, with a mild fog.
Nicole sat with Ma Agnes in her farm barn house, waiting for Agnes’ workers to finish up. They’d been tasked to simply wrap the drugs up in black plastic bags.
Agnes couldn’t understand what took them so long. She grew annoyed, barking orders from her squeaky rocking chair.
Nicole had parked her van inside the farm yard, with another parked right behind her.
As usual, the two vehicles would carry drugs into the city, make drop offs at the dealers’ homes, and return back for more loads that same evening.
A tattooed and gold toothed Vincent waited with his men approximately two kilometers away, hidden deep in the forest. They had all the weaponry needed to carry out the mission – cocked and ready to go.
He’d brought along three vans, nine men and a terrified Sindi.
Vincent sat with Sindi only, in his van. He’d tried to flirt with her, yapping on about how cool and rich he was,but she’d shut him down. “Buzz off! You’re old enough to be my dad,” she’d said, sickened.
They all sat in the vehicles, counting down.
Nicole had ordered them to storm inside the farm yard in exactly twenty minutes time.
She sat with Ma Agnes in ‘the kitchen’, waiting for just five more minutes.
Agnes called her cocaine manufacturing barn, ‘the kitchen’ or ‘the pharmacy’. It seemed more polite that way. She especially liked ‘the kitchen’, as it was where the drugs were cooked.
Agnes was particularly excited that evening – bubbly and chatty even. She wanted Nicole to expand their distribution channels and sell a whole lot more, to surrounding towns.
A willing Nicole had already been informed, though she had a few ideas of her own. Taking over this barn will be a piece of cake, Nicky thought, looking around slyly. She observed the packers inside the barn. They all wore boxer shorts, panties and bras only – as an anti-theft mechanism. None of them were armed.
“Hurry up with the damn wrapping!” Ma Agnes yelled. She turned back to Nicole, “Nicky, I’m going inside for some tea, dear. Can I get you coffee? You won’t like my green tea …”
“Whisky?” Nicky asked, smiling mischievously. It’s chilly and I suspect it’ll be even colder soon.”
“I’ll spoil you with some of my husband’s Remy Martin,” Agnes boasted, walking off. ‘You are old enough to drink, right?’ She teased, stepping out the barn.
The constant reference to her age annoyed Nicky. She’d made it a point to remind all the goons she hung around with that she’d be thirty in three years, and that they should tread carefully around her. There was more to her tall and pretty frame than benevolence.
Nicole fidgeted now, wondering where Vincent and his men were. It was time!
Hidden deep in the bushes, Vincent fiddled with his pistol magazine loader when his silver plated alarm clock rang. It hung around his neck like a gym coach.“It’s on, let’s rock n roll!” He told Sindi, starting up his van and wearing a balaclava.
A terrified Sindi also put her ski mask on as they took off.
Vincent shoved his gun in his waist and signalled to the rest of his crew by switching his hazard lights on. He led the pack.
The two other vans followed behind.
They all drove over the dirt road with headlights switched off.
Agnes returned to the barn carrying a silver shiny tray. She was a pretty sixty six year old woman, with hardly any wrinkles on her.
On the tray was an expensive bottle of Cognac, ice blocks, a whisky glass and her herbal tea with honey.
They sat on rocking wooden chairs by the exit, conversing,
Nicole visualized mansions, expensive handbags, sports cars and yachts. Both my parents died from your products, you witch, she thought, staring innocently at her ‘mentor’. You deserve what’s coming.
“So when did you get in the game, Mama, and why?” Asked Nicole, pouring herself a shot of forty five year old Cognac.”
Agnes chuckled, dropping her arm from a sip of tea. “You’re inquisitive, my girlie.”
“Just wondering how a beautiful and smart woman like you would land up in this kinda business. Is it greed, huh? Did your circumstance lead you to it? Talk to me.”
Agnes glanced back at her, confused at the nerve of little Nicky.“Well, it started when I was just a young girl, like yourself, back in the …”
Agnes paused. The barn house phone rang – an old rotary dial telephone that hung by the exit. Agnes stood to answer. She still felt uneasy about Nicky’s manners, trying to shake it off. “Hello, who’s this?” She answered.
Nicole stared at her intently.
It was on.
Someone was screaming at Agnes through the phone.
Gunshots rang from outside.
Everyone in the barn paused, wary and suspicious.
“HELLO, HELLO, I can’t hear what you’re saying,” Agnes yelled on the phone. “What the hell is going on out there?”
The gun shots rang louder and closer.
“Are those gun shots I hear,” asked a startled Agnes.
The line cut.
Agnes dropped the phone and turned to Nicole with loathing eyes.
“What’s going on Mama?” Nicky asked, displaying an innocent Oscar winning performance.
Agnes stared back at Nicole with fury running through her. She waved a menacing finger. “This is you, isn’t it? Don’t lie to me!”
Panic in the barn escalated to tears and looks of horror.
One of the packers quickly ran to Agnes – a scrawny man, seemingly in his late forties, with bad oily skin. “What’s going on out there, Mama? Anyway, this is all we have in here,” he explained, handing her a silver plated Colt Python revolver. He also had one for himself as he put jeans and a t-shirt on, which were buried in the dirt beside them.
A blindsided Nicky hadn’t foreseen it. It’s only the two of them, armed, she consoled herself.
“What’s going on here, Nicole?” Asked Agnes, pointing a gun at her.“TALK!”
“I don’t know, I swear, hand on the bible Mama,” she responded, horrified, wondering why Vincent’s men hadn’t busted inside the barn yet. She stood up.
“Go outside and check,” Agnes ordered them both.
“They’re shooting, I can’t,” Nicole pleaded.
“I’M NOT ASKING YOU, LITTLE GIRL. NOW GO BEFORE I PUT A HOLE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN!” Agnes’s hands rattled as she spoke. Her eyes watered with serious intention.
The gunshots were as loud as thunder. Everyone in the barn screamed, taking cover.
Nicole followed behind Agnes’s guard, ready to pee herself.
Agnes placed the weapon aside and started dialling another number on the phone.
A frightened Nicky said a quick prayer and ducked down as they walked out. She ran and took cover behind a zinc outside toilet. It was freezing, drizzly and foggy too.
Agnes’s guard held his pistol up and ran straight towards the action.
Nicky, petrified to no end, watched men running inside Agnes’s main house. They were all armed. She couldn’t tell whether it was her own, Vincent’s men or Agnes’s.
Gunshots rang rampantly from inside and outside the main house. Mayhem!
Nicole froze like a statue, watching a gruesome scene – a woman had just been shot twice in the head. Nicky’s jaw dropped. She recognized the woman.
Sindi was dead. Her cousin, Sindiswa, had just been killed.
Nicole held her hand to her mouth, paralyzed. She breathed in deeply, trying to compose herself.
Gunshots rang like fireworks. The smell of blood and gun powder intoxicated the air.
With a slight sense of ease, she spotted Vincent run towards the barn, followed by one of his men.
Excellent, Nicky thought, ready to come out of hiding.
As Vincent was about to open the barn up, to face Agnes, he got gunned down from behind.
Vincent’s accomplice turned around, blasting away, screaming from all the adrenalin. He too met the same fate from the hands of a young boy who couldn’t have been older than sixteen.
Nicky remained behind the toilet, ready for anything. She sensed death around the corner. She didn’t even have a pistol to take her own life with. What was she to do?
The gunshot quietened down.
Nicky knew that the only way she’d survive would be to kill Agnes inside the barn, and assume command. The old evil witch held the cards to everything. Cut the snakes head, the body drops, Nicky kept reiterating in her mind.
And then all of a sudden, two goons with balaclavas moved closer to the barn, tip toeing. Nicky recognized them. They were Vincent’s men.
“Guys, I’m here,” she whispered. She stepped out from hiding, “Wait, wait, Agnes is in there.”
They pointed their guns at Nicky, ready to fire.
“It’s me, it’s me, damn it,” she yelled, raising her arms, ducking. “Don’t shoot, man. Agnes is in there, and armed.
They aimed their weapons back at the barn.
Nicole approached, but not before kneeling down over Sindi’s dead body. She shut her cousin’s eyes closed. A wave of cold fury ran through her. She kissed Sindi on the forehead and walked towards the barn.
“MA AGNES COME OUT, YOU’RE SURROUNDED,” she hissed, livid. “YOU’RE SURROUNDED, AGNES, COME OUT DAMNIT.”It was the first time she’d addressed Ma Agnes as Agnes.“EVERYBODY, OUT,” Nicky screamed, throwing a brick at the door. “WITH YOUR HANDS UP, OR DIE. DON’T MAKE ME HURT YOU. I’M COUNTING TO FIVE! FIVE … FOUR … THREE…”
Moments later, they started trickling out, one-by-one. Most were still half naked as they raised their hands nervously, walking out. It was a conglomerate of frightened villagers, pleading for their lives.
“GO BEHIND THE TOILET THERE,” Nicole commanded them all, eagerly anticipating Agnes. “ALL OF YOU GATHER THERE. YOU’RE SAFE, UNLESS YOU TRY ANYTHING STUPID,” she instructed, wondering why Ma Agnes and her guard hadn’t appeared.
The villagers obeyed.
“GET OUT AGNES, I’M WARNING YOU!” Nicky yelled, stepping closer to the door. She signalled to Vincent’s men to come closer. “GET OUT NOW AGNES, YOU’RE SURROUNDED.”
“DON’T TEST ME, DAMN IT!” She insisted, confused a tad.
“This is crap,” one of Vincent’s men spat, shooting in the air and charging inside the barn with his UZI sub-machine gun aimed. He was an oversized bearded man with a slight limp to his walk.
Nicky and the other gent followed behind, slowly.
Nicole ducked cautiously as she stepped inside the barn.
“There’s no one here,” the first guy told Nicole, dropping his weapon.
Nicky looked around, “What the hell?”
She walked around the place, puzzled. “What the hell is going on here?” She shouted, still searching.
She stopped at the far end of the room – the far left corner, and found a hole dug at the bottom. It had been covered by large Bunsen burner, mixing cylinders and tank of paraffin.
Agnes was gone.
A livid Nicole kicked the tank of paraffin angrily, screaming. “Did you kill the old geezer in the wheelchair, inside the house?” She asked one of the men.
“Yeah, David popped him in the head. He didn’t even put a fight up.”
“Good! At least her husband is gone,” spat Nicole. This is a monumental screw up, she thought, grinding his teeth nervously.
There’d be no time to search for Agnes in the dark foggy forests, she feared.“Okay gents, let’s load everything up. Take everything. I reckon we have about fifteen minutes before the local cops show up. Take everything and torch the place. Hurry!”
Nicky stood there, pondering, as Vincent’s men grabbed the narcotics.
The reality brought about mixed feelings.
Nicole was on top of the world, as Queen now – yet she wondered if she’d made the right choice.
Would she have to look over her shoulder for the rest of her life?
Would the money and power bring her joy?
“We have ten minutes left, gents, hurry. I’ll be in my van,” she commanded, walking out. “Don’t forget to torch everything.”