Embassy row in Washington DC was dark that night, save a pair of lights that permeated through the ground floor windows of the Nigerian Embassy. A moment later, one of the of the lights dimmed to darkness.
Abashi, a man in his early thirties, propped his feet on the desk. His tie was loose and his collar unbuttoned.
“And that’s why we need your help”, he spoke wearily into the phone. The caller barked a response that made Abashi tip the receiver away from his ear. He scrawled a line through a name on his notepad, thumbed the hook, and punched in a new number.
“Mazi”, Abashi pronounced, widening his eyes and hanging up the phone. “What are you doing?”
“Get back here Mazi” she exclaimed. She withdrew the pen from her hair, sending frizzy hair tumbling out to one side, and forced the papers towards his chest. Mazi aimed his palms in her direction and pushed himself away. “I’m not signing anything else. Mbeke. There’s no point.”
Mbeke eyed Abashi indignantly, and rolled her eyes. Mazi took a final survey of the office, eying the empty, ransacked desks of former employees, who had departed under the assumption of unmet wages. Overturned files spilled papers over every surface, floor and desk. Mazi’s eyes met with Mbeke and Abashi, who stared back angrily. He then buckled his coat and departed.
Abashi stood in silence, grinding his teeth. He walked over to the water cooler, which dispensed its last few drops into his coffee mug. He approached the drinking fountain in the hall and held the mug under a stream so weak that the water dribbled backwards onto the metal spout. He then returned to his desk, plopped back down and dialed the next number on his list.
The call went straight to a voicemail. “Hello, Mr. Ambassador, this is Abashi Abacha, Acting Director of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC. We have been informed by the Foreign Ministry that our President has been assassinated, and his family, along with his cabinet department and the Vice President are now being held hostage. We require a third party in order to help resolve this matter. Please return this call as soon as possible, the number is 202-545-4500, extension 434.”
“It’s late” said Mbeke, with a sigh. “Everyone probably went home already”
Abashi frowned at his new assistant. “Is that really the point? Call off our search simply because it’s practical?”
Mbeke nodded. “We should call off the search. With an empty office and no multilateral support, it’s crazy for you to think you can do anything right now. We should go home and continue in the morning.”
Abashi looked at her with sympathetic eyes. “If you believed that, you would have left with Mazi.” He approached her and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You and I are still here because we both know that there is nowhere left to go”
A phone erupted in a clattering of rings. Abashi slid across a desk, spraying papers through the air, and lifted the receiver. “Nigerian Embassy, this is Abashi Abacha”.
“Hello, this is George Riker of the Australian Foreign Ministry. I’m here on a conference call with the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff. What is your situation?”
“Hello sirs”, Abashi said, grabbing a notebook and pencil. “At 8:35 am on Thursday, rebel forces took control of the capital. Our President has been assassinated, and the rebels have placed the remainder of our government in detention and are demanding a 120 million ransom.”
“What about the troops on the ground?”
“No contact since the rebel demands were issued” replied Abashi.
“And what is the word on your ability to pay?” asked Riker.
“Unfortunately, before being killed, our President called a state of emergency, which resulted in a freeze on all federal bank accounts.” Abashi said.
“So we have no access to money to pay off the ransom.” Added Mbeke.
“This is why we are using this opportunity to solicit your co-operation and assistance.” Abashi said. “We need urgent help to get the ransom money to Abuja as soon as possible.”
A click could be heard on the other end of the line. “This is Duncan Quick, Chief of Staff. What approach are you looking for us to take in regards to this matter?”
“Once you wire us the money, we will be able to pay the ransom, and then unfreeze our bank accounts. After that, we can pay you back.”
A pause was heard on the Australian end. After a moment, the Chief of Staff came back on the line. “So to summarize, you’re asking for 120 million dollars in cash to be wired to Nigeria?” Mr. Quick asked.
“Yes sir.” Abashi said excitedly. “Although the captors actually requested the payment to be made in Euros. Did I mention the 100 percent Nigerian guarantee?”
A low rumble of voices could be heard through the receiver, followed by shouting, and a click. Abashi’s mouth dropped. “Hello? Hello?!” But his shout was met with the line’s disconnection. Abashi held the phone in the air, staring at the receiver.
“What did they say?” asked Mbeke.
“They hung up.”
Mbeke exhaled loudly, and put the back of her hand to her head. “Well. Let’s hope they call back.”