In-house Prize Winner: Short Story
THE LAST STAND
A Short Story
Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema
This was the end and they knew it.
‘‘You’re completely surrounded!’’ The voice on the bullhorn roared. ‘‘Throw out your weapons and march out, one at a time, hands in the air!’’
Jackson looked at his men, his bulging eyes hell-red. He held his Uzi submachine gun firmly. He was six foot three and as wide as the door of a prosperous Igbo yam farmer’s barn. He wondered what was racing through the minds of his gangsters now that they were truly trapped. Only Beelzebub knew how many soldiers and policemen had thrown a ring round them. This was the kind of ring that covered all pathways and byways.
Ernest, the small, slick driver, was shaking, almost unable to hold onto the .45 automatic pistol that looked ridiculously large in his right hand. Okata looked like the god of war, with his bandolier crisscrossing his massive chest and assault rifle. Tomi, the tall, slim bookworm who had never stopped reading even though his degree never got him a job, bit his lips nervously. He had not removed his .38 Colt from his holster. The only female member, Linda, had not lost any of her sultry, take-me-to-bed appeal as she crouched by the door leading to the bedroom passage, clad in denim shorts and a half-unbuttoned black shirt.
‘‘How did they outwit Bobi and Adama?’’ Ernest muttered. The two guys had been posted outside on the lookout. If they were not dead, they were by now cuffed and gagged. The commando style of the security forces meant a totally new ballgame. The new bosses of the army and police had decided to wipe them out.
‘‘It doesn’t matter.’’ snarled Okata.
Jackson took a deep breath. ‘‘Take positions.’’ he ordered.
‘‘Your head correct?’’ Linda’s voice was a whiplash. ‘‘They will massacre us.’’
The men looked at her. They knew better than to challenge Jackson so blatantly, even now they were at hell’s gate. But Linda had always been too bold for her own good. Perhaps that was why she was so effective in the gang.
Jackson did not explode. ‘‘Do you think we’ll escape if we surrender? These bastards no be oyibo police.” he said reasonably. Tomi’s stomach played unwholesome konga. Extralegal executions by Nigerian cops were not uncommon. Besides, he and his colleagues had so shamed them, they were safer dead.
‘‘Nobody’s taking me alive.’’ Okata’s voice was grim.
‘‘Then die alone!’’ Linda‘s funk was unalloyed.
The bullhorn cut in relentlessly. ‘‘Six minutes!’’
Jackson set his gun at full automatic to restrain the panic seizing his head. His eyes roamed over his operatives. He had set out to be a Robin Hood and for the last one and a half years he had succeeded. But three months ago, it turned bloody when an army Colonel tried to play hero during a successful bank robbery. Tomi, the newest member, shot him dead.
Okata cocked his rifle and looked at the backdoor. Tomi looked furtively at Linda. She felt his gaze and gave him a soft glance. Okata saw it and bristled.
‘‘See these ones, boss, doing love nwantiti.’’
‘‘You dey craze.’’ Tomi snarled. He knew the love between him and Linda was knife-edged. Okata had always desired Linda and was devastated when she fell ayakata for Tomi. His handsomeness and degree gave him an advantage. Only Jackson’s intervention stopped the two men from drawing pistols after the aggrieved older member caught his rival and Linda in bed the night after a spectacularly successful operation.
‘‘Sharrap!’’ Jackson growled. ‘‘I will shoot both of you and save the cops the stress.’’ He meant every word.
Tomi spoke quietly. ‘‘Boss, if one of us can hold them the others can cut out through Route B.’’
Everyone looked at him as if he was crazy.
‘‘This no be James Bond movie.’’ Jackson said harshly.
‘‘Yes, but it’s a chance. Route B’s the only way out if there is covering fire.’’
Linda’s eyes rested on Tomi, brimming with tears of undiluted love. You are doing this for me, they declared. Tomi’s hard face concealed the feeling of joyful lightness that filled his heart.
‘‘Four minutes!’’ boomed the bullhorn.
The robbers looked at each other. Who would stay behind?
‘‘Boss, give me your Uzi.’’ said Tomi decisively. ‘‘I’ll cover you. Everyone, zap.’’ The authority in his voice belied his position in the gang.
Tears filled Ernest’s eyes. Okata’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly. As if pulled by an unseen string, all eyes turned to Linda. She walked up to Tomi and kissed him, crying openly.
Tomi held her off with one hand. This was no time to be soft. He turned to Jackson, right hand outstretched. Jackson hesitated, then handed over the Uzi.
‘‘Go, Okata. Protect Linda, please.’’
Okata nearly broke down. He opened his mouth, shut it and impulsively hugged his rival.
‘‘Two minutes!’’ snarled the bullhorn.
As the robbers trotted to the in-built underground door to the eastern wing of their den Tomi called: ‘‘Linda!’’
She turned, sobbing.
‘‘I love you. Pray for me.’’ he said calmly.
Linda could only sob as Okata led her out.
Immediately Tomi opened blistering fire, praying his guys would make it. He paid little heed to the swarming feet of the attackers. He was a good marksman and was fast in diving out of the way of the police guns. But he knew it was only a matter of time: the enemy had the advantage of numbers. All he could do was keep them pinned down till his comrades got away.
The fusillade that slammed into his body hurled him through the bullet-shattered door. He fell, knowing instinctively that the Universe had heard his prayer. Route B was unknown to the security agents.
His soul departed, full of Linda.