Posts tagged “bad people

Sanctuary, Chapter 30

Posted on 15/08/2017

Karen gaped at the lumberjack of a man prone at her feet. He was dead; the sole bullet hitting him square in the chest. She looked up at the wide-eyed Jennifer whose trembling hand held the smoking gun. Quickly recovering from her shock, Karen moved slowly toward her friend. “It’s alright. You’re alright…” She skirted the barrel of the gun while inching closer to a dazed Jennifer.

Her hand hovered Jennifer’s and slowly lowered until their fingers touched. Her eyes remained on the girl’s face, watching the tears sliding free down her face. “You’re okay…” she whispered. “Let go.”

As if realizing what she’d done, Jennifer quickly relinquished hold of the weapon and staggered back, tripping over the edge of her bed. She choked on a sob and began to hyperventilate.

Karen slowly placed the gun aside and hurried to Jennifer’s side. Holding her by the shoulders, Karen glanced once at the closed door of Jennifer’s bedroom. She could faintly hear the fire alarm. Her eyes skimmed the very dead body of the man that once held Jennifer prisoner. “We need to get out of here. We don’t have time.”

Jennifer shook her head, freeing herself from Karen’s light hold. “You… need to go.”

“I won’t leave you here,” Karen said firmly. “There’s a fire and we need to get out of here.”

“I have a score to settle.”

Karen noted the gleam in Jennifer’s eyes. “There’s no need for that. Revenge is mine, says the Lo—”

“Shut up, Karen.”

“Girl!” She scowled as Jennifer grabbed the gun and started for the door. “We need to find Clement and get out of here!” She caught up with Jennifer, though careful not to touch her in her agitated state and with a loaded gun, for that matter. “We don’t have time for a revenge plot, Jennifer.”

They turned the corner and both women halted in step. The hallway was completely black with smoke. Karen tugged the collar of her shirt over her mouth and held it there. “It’s no use. Let’s turn back and find another way–!” She scowled as the young woman walked forward. “Jennifer!”

She groaned as Jennifer disappeared in the thick smoke and tossed an exasperated glance heavenward before stepping in after her. The smoke pervaded the thin barrier of her clothes and assailed her nostrils. Coughing violently, Karen squinted against the sting and forged on. Attempting to call out to Jennifer, much less see her, was almost impossible now.

Karen staggered against a wall and dropped to her knees, feeling her way forward. Her sense of direction muddled as oxygen depleted. Karen lowered to her belly, attempting to stay close to what was left of the only breathable air, all the while praying for relief.

Just when she was ready to give up and succumb to the suffocating smoke, a hand grabbed her upper arm and yanked her into a room. Karen rolled onto her back and attempted to expel the polluted air from her lungs. The coughs racked her body and she moaned, clearing her throat.

“You okay?”

Her eyes shot open at the familiar voice and connected with Clement’s beautiful face. Karen couldn’t help it; she burst into tears. Clement didn’t hesitate grabbing her by the shoulders, pulling her up and against him. Karen wrapped her arms around him, clinging to his shirt. She wept against his shirt, afraid and grateful at the same time. He was okay!

She was okay. Clement held her tightly as she wept against him. He tossed a silent prayer of thanks and pressed his lips against her temple. That gunshot wasn’t hers. She was alive! Drawing back, he cupped her face between his hands and searched her face, checking for injuries on her. “You’re okay.”

Karen couldn’t stop crying, her blurry vision feasting on his face. “You’re… okay.”

“Of course I am,” Clement said, pulling her back into a tight embrace, rejoicing that she was better than okay. He whispered yet another prayer and pressed a kiss to her temple, letting her cry it out.

After a few minutes, Clement noticed the black smoke seeping from the crack under the door. He reluctantly loosened his hold on Karen and held her at arm’s length, gazing down at her. “I wish we could stay here but we have to move.”

Karen sighed. “The fire’s spreading too fast. I didn’t expect that…”

Frowning, Clement searched her face. “You… started the fire?” Her rueful expression invoked a laugh. Her slight frown made him smile. His thumb caressed her cheek. “Let’s get out of here, okay?”

She silently nodded, taking the hand he held out to her and allowed him to help her stand. She didn’t let go of his hand, her eyes roaming on his handsome face. Relief swept over her as she verified that his face was intact except for a cut near the corner of his mouth. “I’m glad we’re okay.”

“You and me both, babe.” Clement squeezed her hand and tugged her toward the door. “Cover your face.”

Karen barely recovered from the pet name. “Do you know where to go?”

Clement nodded. “Cover your face.”

“Wait, we need to find my friend Jennifer.”

His brow furrowed. “I want you out of this burning building first, and then I’ll find—”

“I’m not letting you go,” Karen insisted. “Either we do this together or we don’t go at all.”

Clement squinted at her and then sighed deeply. “I see you’re gonna be a handful. Come.” He tugged on her hand and opened the door. Karen quickly covered her face and Clement did also, except for his eyes. It felt like forever before the two staggered to another end of the hallway not covered in smoke. Falling to their knees, the couple bowed over and violently coughed out the smoke from their lungs.

Karen grimaced as Clement pounded on her back but didn’t scold him. Holding up a hand, she gestured for him to turn and pounded on his back until both of them could breathe a bit easier. Then sharing a smile, they interlocked their fingers and stood to their feet. “Where to?” Karen asked, glancing behind them.

“Where did you say she was going?”

“To find her moth—” another gunshot rang in the air. Karen and Clement glanced once at each other and then raced toward the sound, Karen fearing for Jennifer’s life. Though his legs were longer and he covered a larger distance than her, Clement never released her hand until they came to another end of the hallway.

“What kind of maze is this?” Karen protested, gasping for air. She tugged her hand free and pounded at her chest. Her eyes scanned the doors. “Which one?”

One of the doors down the hall opened and Clement grabbed Karen’s hand, yanking her to one corner. He pushed her against the wall and covered her with his body. Karen’s breath caught in her throat, her face pressed against Clement’s chest. She could hear his rapid heartbeat in sync with hers.

Clement peered around the wall and frowned. “It’s just Mrs. Badri and her henchman.”

Karen recovered and shoved at Clement’s chest. He stepped back and she started for the open door when Clement grabbed her hand to stop her. She pulled at her hand. “Let me go.”

“Shh!” Clement glanced over her shoulder. “Do you want us to be killed?!”

“Jennifer’s in there,” Karen’s eyes filled with tears. Clement released her hand and she hurried inside, falling to her knees at the sight of Jennifer’s prone body. The tears fell free as she gathered her friend in her arms. Clement stepped inside and knelt beside her, his eyes moving over the woman’s body.

“I don’t see any gunshot wounds but…” he paused, holding two fingers against her jugular.

Karen held her breath, watching his brow furrow. “Is there a pulse?” She looked down at Jennifer’s face.

“She’s alive. Strong pulse.”

Karen sagged with relief and held Jennifer close. “Thank God.” Her eyes lifted as Clement stood. “Where are you going?”

“Stay with her. I’m going after Mrs. Badri.”

“Not without me.”

Clement sighed exasperatedly when she slowly lowered Jennifer to the floor before standing. “What about your friend?”

“You’re my first responsibility. I’m not losing you again.” Karen took his hand. “We’ll come back for her.”

For a moment, Clement just stared. He’d known Karen was strong and brave after the incident in Finch’awa, but it was as if he looked at her with different eyes. His heart skipped a beat when her beautiful eyes openly searched his face.

Her brows hitched in his silence. “What?”

Clement kept staring, the awareness of his feelings for her rendering him speechless. He loved Karen. Probably had for some time.

Karen rolled her eyes and tugged at his hand. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can leave this burning place—” the rest of her words were muffled as Clement pressed his lips to hers. Her eyes widened momentarily and then shut, leaning into his kiss.

When Clement lifted his head, Karen’s eyes fluttered open. It took a moment before she could finally speak. “What… what was that for?” her voice was barely over a whisper.

His lips twitched, sending her heart racing all over again. “I’ll tell you later.” He tugged her toward the door.

Karen dug her heels, stopping him. “No, tell me now. Why’d you kiss me?”

Clement sighed deeply but turned to face her. “Why do you think I kissed you?”

Her mouth moved but no words came. It was though she was afraid to articulate it for fear it wasn’t true.

His expression softened and he lifted a hand to her cheek, his thumb caressing her skin. “Let’s discuss this afterwards, okay?”

Before she could protest, a round of gunshots split the air. Clement stiffened and Karen noted the fear flit in his eyes. “No, Ejigu!” He dropped his hand and started down the hallway.

Karen had no choice but to follow.

Reaching the west wing, Clement and Karen stopped as a uniformed man dragged a Kutfi soldier in handcuffs walked past them. Clement placed a hand in front of Karen as though to shield her, but the officer barely gave them a glance as he shoved the handcuffed soldier forward. A step behind his comrade, yet another uniformed officer pushed his prisoner. Three more police officers ushered their prisoners out of the lobby and out to the front of the mansion.

Hand against Clement’s back, Karen looked up at Clement. It was over and Clement squeezed her arm as if to prove it wasn’t a dream. They moved quickly toward the opening, the scene before them stopping both in their tracks. More police officers filled the room, ushering bound and injured Kutfi soldiers toward the exit. Taking Karen’s hand, Clement steered her away from their path.

“Brother!”

Clement followed the sound and his eyes widened at the sight of Dula and Ashon, standing beside a uniformed officer. Ejigu was nowhere to be found. His eyes scanned the room, searching for his friend.

Ashon smiled at the sight of Karen and waved. “Missy!”

Karen waved back, grateful to see her friends again. She started toward them, tugging Clement along. Then released his hand to give Ashon a hug. “I’m so glad to see you again.”

Ashon patted her back and looked over her head at Clement. “You okay?”

Clement nodded. “Where’s Ejigu?” The hesitation in the man’s face had him seeking Dula. “What happened?”

“He was shot.”

Karen gasped, a hand to her mouth. Clement resembled a gutted man.

“He’s fine,” Dula assured both. “It’s a flesh wound. He’s with Priscilla and the police now.”

Clement didn’t relax yet. “What about Mrs. Badri? And Mahmoud?”

Karen held her breath, fearing that she’d escaped. Clement’s grip tightened around her hand, he also worried that their work had been for naught.

“In custody,” Dula responded. “They found Ejigu holding them hostage, and the officers mistakenly thought he was one of them and disarmed him. Priscilla let them know he wasn’t before they shot him dead.”

“I guess even Ethiopian police are trigger-happy,” Karen mused aloud, rubbing Clement’s arm with her free hand. “Thank God he didn’t die… although I’m still angry with him.”

Ashon and Dula chuckled. Clement only smirked, his gaze fixed on her.

Karen gasped and tugged her hand free from Clement’s. “Jennifer!”

Clement watched as Karen raced out the door and started for her when Dula put a hand to his shoulder.

Dula’s eyes roamed his friend’s face. “You okay Who started the fire?”

“We’re okay. I’ll explain later.” With a smile revealing what was inside, Clement hurried after Karen.

Jennifer managed a smile as Karen dabbed the handkerchief against her cheek. “Thanks…”

“Not a problem,” Karen said gently and sat back in the chair beside her hospital bed. Her eyes swept over Jennifer’s face. “You’re gonna be okay.”

“I don’t know about that.” Her brow furrowed, conflicted. “I thought I could get to know her, maybe develop a relationship with her but… she left me there to die. Let that man knock me out and left me there. Abandoned me for the second time.”

Karen reached out to cover Jennifer’s cool hand with hers. “She may have given birth to you but she’s not your mother. Remember?” She squeezed her hand and offered her a gentle smile. “I know you will. It’ll hurt for a minute but you’ll be just fine.”

Jennifer sighed heavily and lay her head back. “I’m tired.”

“I’ll let you sleep.” Karen released her hand and stood. After one look at her friend, she turned and walked out of the hospital room. Clement stood on the opposite wall, waiting. He looked up when she closed the door and she gave him a smile. “How long have you been waiting here?”

Clement only answered with a smile and held out his hand to her. Karen didn’t hesitate taking it and let him lead her on a walk down the hallway. A technician pushed a cart towards them. Karen bit back a smile when he laced their fingers and tugged her closer to him, avoiding the cart by an inch.

She glanced up at him but didn’t say a word, admiring his handsome profile.

He led them to the front exit of the hospital and down a winding path to a small bench overlooking a body of water. Djibouti was nothing like Bichena or Kenya, but the scenery was still beautiful. Or maybe it was an effect of her floating on cloud nine.

Clement gestured for her to sit and sat beside her, their hands still joined. He placed his other hand on top, thumb caressing her palm. “You okay?”

Karen still couldn’t believe this was happening. She’d reasoned that it was the spur of the moment and Clement’s relief that made him kiss her, but here he was being so attentive and sweet and…

He was looking at her now, brow furrowed. “Are you?”

His look of concern melted every ounce of anxiety and she smiled. “Better than okay. You?”

Clement nodded with a ghost of a smile. “Me too.” He sobered. “I thought I lost you. When Ejigu came back looking the way he did, and you weren’t with him, I…”

“We made it alive, Clement. Thank God. And thank you for coming for me.”

“I had to.” His gaze searched hers. “Karen, I think I love you.” He shook his head. “No, I know I love you.”

She smiled, heart soaring with elation. “I’m glad you corrected yourself or else.”

He arched a brow. “Or else what?”

Karen grinned fully. “I love you too, Clement. Very very much.”

Clement responded by pulling her close until their faces were inches apart. Karen forgot to breathe, her eyes wide and searching his. He chuckled and lowered his face until their lips touched. She sighed against him, grateful it wasn’t a dream.

Then he embraced her close, placing butterfly kisses against her temple. Karen smiled, hooking her arms around his waist. Her eyes took note of the blue sky and she immediately thought of Bichena’s beautiful plains and valleys. “When are we going home?”

He pulled back a bit to look down at her. There was a slight wrinkle in his brow and Karen mirrored it. “What?” When he didn’t answer, Karen pulled away. “What is it, Clement?”

“I want you to go home—wait,” he added before she could protest. “I want you to go home and rest for a bit. Spend time with your family, I know you miss them.” He lifted a hand to cup her cheek, his thumb brushing her skin. “You need your time with them.”

“We just got started,” Karen whined shamelessly. “You’re sending me home after telling me you love me?”

“Woman, can you let me finish?”

“If you’re gonna say more foolish stuff…” Karen heaved a sigh. “Fine, finish.”

Clement fought a smile and gave her a quick peck, unable to help himself. He then lifted his head and watched her eyelashes flutter. His grin widened. “Being a missionary isn’t easy. Heck, life with me won’t be a walk in the park… which is why I’m giving you the break you’ll need.”

Dubious, she arched a brow. “How long of a break is it gonna be?”

“You decide how long,” Clement replied. “Just know when you return, we’re hitting the ground running. We’ve still got work to be done.”

“Like finding Alice and Petra. Even if Mrs. Badri’s in jail, there are many like her out there.” Karen then frowned. “Wait-a-minute. That better not be a proposal. Are you being serious?”

Clement choked on a laugh. “You’re gonna be such a handful.” His kiss cut off her protests and he pulled her into an embrace. Life with Karen was going to be an adventure of a lifetime and he sincerely couldn’t wait.

<<Chapter 29 || Chapter 31>>

Sanctuary, Chapter 28

Posted on 09/08/2017

An hour after Karen left with Ejigu, Clement paced the length of the empty chapel. Though he believed sending Karen home was the best decision for the two of them, he felt anything but peace. She hadn’t even looked at him, ready to leave after he’d walked away from her. Back then, he’d convinced himself it was better this way, before things got serious between them. Now he wasn’t so sure; he missed her already.

A rumble sounded on the roof and Clement groaned. Nothing like rain to darken his mood.

His phone rang and Clement tugged it free from his shirt pocket. The caller ID was unknown but he accepted the call anyway. “Hello?”

“Junior, hey.”

It was Darah, his only sister. He smiled, grateful for the brief distraction. “Hey. Back from your honeymoon?”

“Been back for weeks now. I guess you’ve been too busy to call home?”

Clement walked to the altar and sat on the steps. “Yeah, my bad. How’s married life?”

“Wonderful. You should try it soon.” She giggled when he snorted derisively. “So when are you coming to visit? Your nephew’s gonna burst out any minute.”

Clement smirked. “Sounds more like wishful thinking. You being for real right now?”

“For real,” Darah laughed. “I’m ready now but he’s taking his precious time to move… just like his dad.”

“I just returned from Houston a month ago. Can’t leave for a while.”

“Aww. Yeah, I guess that’s true… missionaries can’t be gone too long.”

“Glad you understand. Don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you and my namesake.”

Darah laughed. “Who said he’ll be your namesake? Any-hey, is Karen still with you?”

His smirk eased away. “Not anymore.”

“Oh, she left already? Did you get to spend some time with her? Hope you treated her well.”

“Sort of.” He rubbed his right earlobe. “Why are you all up in my business anyway? Don’t you have better things to do, like get ready for motherhood?”

Darah laughed. “Ooh, I can hear you getting defensive. You want the truth? I’m trying to set you up.”

Clement tossed an exasperated glance to the ceiling. “And why would you do that?”

“Because you two look cute together and it’ll be another fine Teka couple for the win. I’m never wrong about these things. Abe and Phoebe, Bart and Geri, and now you—”

“Oh please. All you did was nag ‘em to get together.”

“I recall you doing the same with Bart, so hush. Any-hey, it’s my turn to nag you to get a move on.”

“But why bug me when you should be taking care of yourself and J.R.?”

“I can multitask. Besides, if you marry Karen, you’ll be coming home more often.”

Clement scoffed. “That’s unlikely. There are people I’m responsible for here…” he trailed off, recalling the same words he’d spoken to Karen on their drive to Bichena. Except he’d rescinded on his promise and sent her away. Dragging a hand over his face, he sighed heavily. “Speaking of, how’s Eli?”

“Nice transition, Junior… Not.” Darah sighed. “He’s fine. He mention how he wants to come live with you?”

A furrow formed in his brow. “I thought he’d forget about it if I didn’t call back.”

Darah snorted. “Well he didn’t. He’s begging for his birth certificate to go get a passport.”

Clement rubbed the tension between his eyes. Just as he’d finally sent Karen back to America and away from the impending danger, his baby brother wanted to come. “I can’t deal with him right now.”

“He won’t leave us alone, Junior,” Darah bemoaned. “Maybe he can come stay for a month and see—”

“A month?!” Clement shook his head. “No way. What about school?”

“I guess he didn’t tell you. He wants to take a break from school for now. Abe and Bart blame you.”

Clement scowled. “Of course they do. Which is probably why they’ll let him come for a month or longer.”

“Well, they’re holding out right now because Phoebe says no.”

He sighed with relief. It was no wonder Phoebe was his favorite sister-in-law. She was reasonable.

“But she’s gonna cave. Geri already gave in. Y’know Eli’s relentless and won’t take no for an answer.”

“He’s being a brat.” Clement dragged a hand over his face, frustration mounting. Having Eleazar underfoot would complicate matters.

Just then, the chapel doors swung open and Clement looked up, his brow furrowed as a lone figure stumbled out of the darkness. Recognizing Ejigu, Clement stood abruptly. “Hey Darah, let me call you back.” He disconnected the phone and hurried to him.

Clothes soaked from the downpour, an injured Ejigu staggered toward Clement. Once Clement caught him from stumbling, Ejigu sagged against him and sobbed openly.

“What happened?” Clement glanced behind him, alarm seizing him. “Where’s Karen!?”

The younger man only groaned and turned his bleeding face to Clement’s shoulder. At that moment, Dula hurried into the chapel with Ashon at his heels. “What happened?” Dula asked, helping to hold Ejigu up.

“Where is Karen, Ejigu?!” Clement demanded, grabbing his collar tightly.

Ashon stepped forward, alarm etched in his features as he took in the younger man’s bruises and the blood. He turned toward Clement. “Where is Missy?”

Ejigu’s battered face did nothing to calm the mounting panic in Clement. “Answer me, man! Where is she?!” he demanded, jostling the injured man. He ignored Dula’s attempt to calm him down. “Ejigu, talk!”

“K-Kutfi.” Ejigu dissolved into sobs, the heart-wrenching cries echoing in the chapel.

Clement’s grip loosened and Ashon stiffened beside him, both equally stricken.

“The Kutfi are here?” Dula looked understandably terrified. “How did they find us?”

“It’s my fault,” Clement said in a daze. “I sent Karen with Ejigu to the capital an hour ago.”

“Why would you do a thing like that?” Ashon demanded, anger displayed in his face. “It’s dangerous!”

“No,” Ejigu said, sniffing loudly as he righted to his feet. “It’s my fault. I led them here.” The young man lowered his face in shame and regret. “I’m sorry.”

Anger surged through Clement, the extent of Ejigu’s betrayal hitting him like a freight train. And true to his impulsive nature, he lunged at Ejigu with avenging hands before anyone else could recover.

Ejigu was a double agent; working for both the government and the Kutfi. He’d served as an Agazi Commando officer near Somalia and some parts of Djibouti for many years when his mother suddenly became gravely ill. His sister was too young to take care of their mother by herself and even though she’d dropped out of college, her job wasn’t enough to sustain them. The money Ejigu made as an officer was not enough. He became desperate and couldn’t refuse the offer to serve as an informant for the Kutfi.

Grim-faced, Clement and Dula stared in stunned silence as the young man moaned bitterly, tears falling down his bleeding face. Distraught and afraid, this former soldier broke down as he divulged the details of his treachery to his nation and his friends.

“I just have one question…” As Ejigu lifted red-rimmed eyes, Clement continued. “Did you approach me on purpose? Were you aware I was a pastor of a church and an orphanage before you approached me?”

There was a flicker in Ejigu’s eyes and this time, it was Dula who swung his fist at Ejigu’s face. Only Ashon pulled off the older man from pummeling Ejigu to death. “Hold off,” Ashon gasped, holding his son-in-law by his arms. “We won’t be able to find out the truth if you kill him.”

“Traitor! Coward! Devil!” Dula even hurled insults in Amharic, each word a visible blow to Ejigu. “How could you do that? You put our lives in danger to save your skin? What about the kids? What about my family?!”

Ejigu lowered his head, ridden with shame and regret.

“Ashon is right,” Clement said, sounding surprisingly calm. “I would like to kill you with my bare hands but God wouldn’t like that. Besides, keeping you alive will help us more than hurt us.”

Dula threw a glare at Clement. “He’s the reason why Karen was captured!”

“And he’ll be the reason we find her again… and get rid of the Kutfi for good.” Clement narrowed his eyes at the younger man. “That is if you want to be forgiven?”

“I will never forgive him!” Dula seethed. “What if he’d lured the Kutfi here?”

“Calm down, son,” Ashon softly said, though his hardened gaze remained on Ejigu. “Listen, I’m barely holding back 180 pounds of muscle, young man, so you better talk or I’ll join them to kill you.”

Fear flickered in the young man’s eyes and the other three marveled at how he’d managed to live a double life for so long. His Adam’s apple bounced as his eyes darted from one man to the other before settling on Clement’s face. “I didn’t plan on—” he paused when Clement held up a hand.

“I don’t want your excuses or apologies. Just tell me where they’re taking her and why.”

Ejigu’s face twisted in pain. “It’s you they want, not her. If you go, she’ll kill you.”

Clement frowned. “She?”

“Mrs. Badri. Her husband controlled the Kutfi until his death—”

“I don’t need a history, Ejigu!” Clement snapped, his calm quickly slipping away. “Mrs. Badri has Karen?”

Ejigu nodded, bowing his head. “She must’ve recognized me somehow. I’m sorry.”

Clement felt like air was knocked out of him and he rested a hand on a pew to keep from teetering backward. He was the reason Karen had been kidnapped. Him, not Ejigu, was the real culprit.

Ashon clamped a hand over Clement’s shoulder. “Now is not the time for that. We need a plan.”

“He’s right,” Dula said begrudgingly. “Brother, we need to work together if we want to save your lady.”

Clement tucked away the guilt and regret and turned to Ejigu. “Where are they headed?”

“Djibouti.” Ejigu grimaced from the blows he’d suffered from not just the Kutfi but also both Clement and Dula’s avenging fists. He met Clement’s unrelenting stare. “I will come with you.”

Dula snorted disdainfully. “We can’t trust you. Just tell us the way.”

Ashon placed his other hand on Dula’s shoulder. “We take him with us since he knows where they are.”

Baba,” Dula protested. “He worked for those who took Wubit from you.”

He nodded, squeezing his son-in-law’s shoulder. “But he wouldn’t have come back to tell us what happened to Missy if he didn’t regret what he did. Isn’t that so?”

A despondent Ejigu dissolved in sobs while Dula and Clement scowled. Ashon turned to Clement. “What’s your plan, Missionary?”

Karen tried moving her right foot and grimaced at the sharp pain that shot up her leg. She hissed and clutched her calf, freezing until the pain subsided. A leg cramp; for the third time since she’d been transferred from Ejigu’s wrecked vehicle into a van full of scary armed soldiers.

Frisson shot through her and Karen silently scanned the metal rods barring her from escaping. The armed soldiers had tossed her unceremoniously into this dank cell an hour ago, and refused to acknowledge her or the questions she screamed at their backs as they left her here.

Groaning, Karen bowed her head and closed her eyes. “What is this?” she whispered, tears falling from her cheeks to the cold cement floor. They couldn’t even provide a blanket or a pillow. Even the small window that let in some light wasn’t enough to calm her down. “Why is this happening to me?”

The bravado that sustained her through the cramped plane ride in a tight cubicle had dissolved the minute the sickening sound of metal locking in place sealed her fate.

A sob caught in her throat and Karen choked on it, her shoulders shaking as she wept loudly for the first time since she left home. This wasn’t at all what she signed up for, never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined such a terrible end to her adventure. The thought of many innocent children having to face such a terrifying experience made her weep even louder, her despondent cries echoing against the stone walls.

Fear painted a horrifying image of her stripped to her undergarments and her thick hair shaved to the scalp. Karen trembled uncontrollably as she imagined herself being doused with cold water before the tranquilizer needle was shoved into her arm. The life in her eyes dimmed and her head lolled forward.

Screaming, Karen held her hands over her ears and shook her head to clear the ghastly images.

I am with you always.

The voice, though softly-spoken like a whisper, sounded louder than her screams. As though someone had spoken over her shoulder. Karen jerked around, coming face to face with a wall. She hiccupped, scanning the markings on the wall. Some were from the uneven and unpolished stone surface, but some were purposeful etchings on the stone.

Sniffing back tears, she scooted closer and squinted. The etchings looked like some kind of language but it might as well have been hieroglyphics. Karen sighed and pressed her head against the cool stone. She closed her eyes, ready to give up. But in that moment, she thought of her family; of her parents, her sister and brother, and her niece and nephew. She recalled the last night she’d knelt beside them in bed for night prayers and listened as they softly recited the Bible verse she and their mother had taught them.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Karen whispered, her voice trembling. “I will fear no evil for You are with me.” A lone tear fell down her cheeks as revelation hit home. “Father, please protect me from evil.”

A metal door slammed open followed by the echoes of footsteps approaching her cell. Karen shifted around and crawled toward the bars, prepared to plead her case. As the person came in view, Karen froze in shock at the familiar face of the woman standing on the other side of the bars.

A grim-faced Jennifer, her once-colleague, stood with a tray of food. “Hello Karen.”

Karen could only stare, her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Jennifer approached the gate and sighed when Karen scooted closer to the back wall, her eyes wide with fear. “Don’t look at me like that,” she mumbled, bending to place the tray right in front of the bars. “Eat.”

As Jennifer turned to go, Karen’s tongue loosened. “Wait!” Her voice rang along the walls. When Jennifer turned back with a blank expression, Karen’s mouth moved but nothing came out.

“You want to know why I’m here,” Jennifer supplied, walking back to the gate. “Or maybe why you’re here?”

Karen nodded, still unable to form the words bouncing in her head.

“It’s a long story…” Jennifer folded her arms. “And I doubt I’ll have enough time. My mother’s coming soon.”

Mouth agape, Karen gawked at the young woman as she quietly connected the dots; starting from the story about how Jennifer’s mother had abandoned her. “Why…?” she croaked out in disbelief.

“I came here to Djibouti because of her, y’know.” A sad smile twitched her lips. “The minute I saw her picture in some artsy-farsty magazine, I had to know where she was. I had to see her, had to know why she left me.”

Karen didn’t know what to say. It was clear that Jennifer still battled with the hurt of being abandoned, but it didn’t explain why she was part of child kidnapping.

“It made sense when I got here,” Jennifer said with a sneer. “She’s got a good life here, people waiting on her hand and foot, treating her like a queen. It’s no wonder she’d stay here instead of with a broke husband…” she paused when Karen’s brows furrowed. Then sighed deeply. “Look, I was surprised to see you here. She’s very angry with you. How’d you get involved in this mess?”

“I…” Karen shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

Jennifer glanced over her shoulder and then looked back at Karen, her own brow furrowed. “She’s coming so hurry, eat this.” She reached into the cell, handing Karen a bread roll. “I’ll come back when she’s gone.”

Karen obediently shoved generous pieces of the roll into her mouth, chewing fast as Jennifer collected the tray and hurried out the door. Swallowing the dry bread, Karen waited anxiously.

The metal door swung open and heels clicked loudly as her second visitor entered the prison quarters. Pulse pounding loudly in her ears, Karen willed herself not to tremble and kept her eyes on the approaching figure. The woman came to view and Karen swallowed a gasp.

There was a clear resemblance between mother and daughter; both with the oblong features and high cheek bones. This woman was darker, from many years in the eastern sun, and features harsher than Jennifer’s.

Her dark eyes narrowed. “You are Austin Legesse’s woman? Or is it Pastor Clement Teka?”

Chiils sent shivers down Karen’s spine. Still, she steeled herself against the fear that threatened to crumble her. “I-I don’t know what you mean. Who is that?”

The woman smirked although there was a wicked glint in her eyes. “It won’t do you good to lie to me, young lady. I have eyes everywhere and already know who you are, Karen Wells from Houston.” At Karen’s silence, the woman’s eyes swept over her. “No matter. I’ll soon have who I want. Rest for now.”

At the woman’s exit, Karen sagged in defeat. The evil woman had discovered Clement’s identity, which meant that this abduction wasn’t a mistake. She’d been captured in order to lure Clement here, to his demise. The bread stuck in Karen’s throat suddenly pushed upwards and she expelled the contents forcefully.

Jennifer hurried inside and halted in front of the cell, grimacing at the sight. “Are you alright?”

Groaning, Karen wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and tossed Jennifer an accusing glare.

“She’s a piece of work, isn’t she?” Jennifer said with a wry smile. “Don’t worry. She won’t kill you.”

Not yet she won’t, a disturbed Karen thought, her hope dissipating fast as Jennifer set the tray before her.

<<Chapter 27 || Chapter 29>>

  

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