It was on the news again, another body, another dead girl!!! Just last week, a girl had been found dead in her room, according to the police report, arsenic was found in her blood stream and that obviously caused her death. The police also reported that a diamond ring was carefully placed on the dead girl’s forehead, that was very strange. The mystery surrounding the girl’s death posed a very huge challenge to the police, crime scene technicians were called in from the police headquarters in the city capital but still no headway was made. I had forgotten all about the dead girl and her jewel until today, the news of another dead girl came on the radio and jolted my memory. The news came twenty minutes ago on my bus-ride from work and even though the commotion in the bus was almost deafening, I heard enough to know that another girl had been murdered. When I got home, I turned to the internet for more details of the story and sure enough, the cyberspace was awash with the news of the new dead girl, ‘’Thank God for the net’’, I muttered. All the blogs I visited were basically saying the same thing; police found the dead body of a young girl this afternoon, no identity yet, cause of death wasn’t known, I knew that much already but there was one interesting fact I didn’t know yet, the dead girl had a diamond ring on her forehead. ‘’Again?’’ I gasped. I could feel sweat snaking down my spine, I was so scared. I wasn’t just scared because a girl had been murdered again, I was also scared because her body wasn’t found in the suburbs just like the last girl, the dead girl was found in a dilapidated house just a street away from mine, in my neighbourhood!!! This means that this psycho killer could be anywhere right now, he could be at my doorstep even now. I jumped right off that train of thought, it wasn’t helping. Just then, my phone rang and that made me jump too, it was Jake, I picked it up.

‘’Hello’’, I said in a small voice.

‘’Hey, did you hear the news?’’ Jake said.

Hearing Jake’s voice chased away some of my fears, I felt a lot better. ‘’Doesn’t Jake always make me feel a lot better?’’ I thought to myself and smiled. Jake was my ‘best friend forever’; BFF for short, we became friends in our first year in the university, we both studied accountancy but Jake had other plans after graduation, he opened a gym. Jake was a fitness coach now, that was laughable to me at first, not for any particular reason, in fact, Jake was very passionate about health and overall well- being back in school. Despite that, I still found it hard to imagine him in that fitness coach character. Now two years later, Jake had proven what a successful fitness coach he could be, I wasn’t laughing anymore. As for me, I wasn’t as brave as Jake to venture into self-employment, so I stuck to accountancy, I was the accountant at the Girl Power Foundation, a budding NGO in the heart of town.

‘’Fi, are you there?’’ Jake’s voice snapped me out of my reverie.

‘’Don’t call me that’’, I snapped at him. Jake was the only person in this world that called me ‘Fi’ and despite my protests, I secretly liked it. I mean ‘Fi’ sounded very dumb to me but the way his deep voice caressed and wrapped around the name was nothing short of sexy, it was music to my ears. That wasn’t the only thing I liked about Jake, as a matter of fact, I liked everything about him… well, almost everything.

‘’Fi, did you hear the news?’’ Jake continued like he didn’t hear my warning. ‘’What news?’’ I said.

‘’The police found another dead girl this…’’

‘’Oh yes, yes…’’ I cut in before he could finish his narrative. ‘’I heard the news, I know all about that’’, I said.

‘’Alicia was one of my girls’’, Jake said. ‘’Who?’’ I asked.

‘’The dead girl’’, Jake replied.

‘’What the hell do you mean by one of your girls?’’ I said dryly. This was my way of showing my disapproval of the way Jake chose to refer to his clients. His gym was strictly for females and I really admired the passion he had for his job but did that make every woman that came there his?

‘’You know what I mean’’, Jake snapped

‘’Okay but how do you know that for sure? The reports say the body hasn’t been identified’’ I countered.

‘’Yes but er… err… Alicia was reported missing two days ago’’, Jake said.

‘’That still doesn’t answer my question, how do you know the dead girl is Alicia?’’ I said.

‘’Fi, you know what? I have to go, duty calls… I’ll see you tomorrow’’, he said hurriedly and hung up. This was one of the reasons I didn’t like everything about Jake, I thought as I walked gingerly to my bedroom. There was this cloud of dangerous mystery around him. I could tell he had anger mixed with a lot of sorrow bottled inside him, I had tried severally to get him to talk to me about it but he clammed up each time. I always suspected it had something to do with his biological family. At the age of ten, Jake was put in a foster home, his foster parents died the same year we graduated from the university, he was their only heir and they left him a sizable fortune. I only got to know that much when his foster parents died, all through our days in the university; he made me believe they were his real parents. I didn’t know if his real parents were still living or dead, if he had sisters or brothers, I knew nothing at all about that part of his life. I pushed these thoughts out of my mind and focused on making it to work before 7:15am tomorrow, my boss wouldn’t appreciate it if I came even a second later.

It took a very long time for me to fall asleep but when I did sleep, it was a very restless one filled with bad dreams, I tossed and turned throughout the night but I finally managed to make it to the office just some scant minutes away from 7:15am; not without my new brown leather handbag and the bags under my eyes. I bought the handbag last month at the flea market and I had been saving it for a great occasion but I couldn’t quite remember what the great occasion was today, maybe I was tired of seeing it hanging on the wall; unused, miserable and lonely. That echoed my own feelings right now but in my case I felt used, overused by that monster called my boss, miserable because I felt used and lonely because Jake refused to ask me out, in all of my years of knowing him, he had treated me like a sister that he was overly fond of but I wanted more. The atmosphere in the office today was gay and it didn’t take me long to know the reason, the boss was on some business out of town. That meant no Mrs. Monster at the office today, that thought cheered me up but I knew Mrs. Monster had some baby monster spies stationed all over the office; so one had to be up and doing even in her absence. When I entered my tiny cubicle, I got down to the business of the day immediately I hit my squeaky chair because I had paperwork lying in wait for me.

‘’Hey Fiona, care for some lunch?’’

That was Sandra Jackson’s chirpy voice, I looked up and saw her standing at the door of my cubicle. I was so immersed in the paperwork that I didn’t know when she got here.

I sighed and asked, ’’Is it lunch break already?’’ Sandra started giggling.

‘’I mean I didn’t know so much time has gone by’’, I said in my defence.

Sandra stopped giggling and said, ‘’Okay, I understand, I mean if I too were looking at numbers all morning, I would probably forget the road to my house by close of work’’.

‘’I wasn’t looking at numbers, I was balancing accounts’’ I snapped.

‘’What’s the difference, Madam Accountant?’’ Sandra quipped and started giggling again. ‘’Okay, okay, you’ve made your point. Get me my usual, please’’, I said with a smile.

‘’Yes Ma’am’’, Sandra said and left.

As usual, Sandra left something behind, the smell of fresh lemons. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, I wanted to take in as much of Sandra‘s parting gift as was possible before it finally faded away. Sandra had an enviable collection of expensive perfumes; I had seen it with my own eyes, but apparently that lemon-smelling one was her favourite. I remember the day I saw her array of perfumes neatly lined up on her dresser, it had been raining heavily that day and I was stuck in the office, she offered to give me a ride home but somehow, we had ended up in her plush apartment first. After that day, our friendship grew in leaps and bounds, we transitioned from ‘just colleagues’

to ‘best chums’; at least that was what everybody in the office thought but I knew better, I knew who my best friend was. Even in the face of his annoying and puzzling behaviour, Jake would always be my BFF, Sandra on the other hand, though very close hadn’t hit the BFF mark just yet. A month after I started working with the foundation, the project manager went on maternity leave and Sandra was hired to take her place in the interim. In her first few months of being with the foundation, Sandra struck me as a very spoilt brat who had everything going for her. Now I knew better, of course she had everything going for her, after all she had very wealthy parents and Philip her handsome boyfriend who doted on her, she was living the life. But regardless of all that, she wasn’t spoilt. She was just a happy-go-lucky girl who loved to have fun with her boyfriend, who by the way; would be proposing to her very soon because the other day, Sandra told me she found a beautiful diamond engagement ring carefully hidden in his closet, only the good Lord knew what Sandra was looking for in Philip’s closet in the first place; I didn’t ask. I envied the life Sandra had but I couldn’t do anything about it, all I could do was to wait for her to come back with lunch, I was starving. But it wasn’t Sandra that walked into my cubicle, it was Jake, he came bearing food. Even without looking, I already knew what was in that neatly packed food basket, salad and some fruits. I was so tired of Jake’s green lifestyle.

But I didn’t show my irritation, I pasted a smile on my face as I walked around my table and hugged him. I said, ‘’Hello Jake, good to see you, have a seat’’. I took the food basket from him and walked back to my chair but I didn’t sit down. I put the food basket down beside my chair and started arranging my hair with one hand while trying to straighten the crease on my skirt with the other hand, I was rubbing my skirt furiously now, it was no use; I stopped.Jake took the only other chair in my cubicle, he acted like he didn’t see how flustered I was but I knew he saw all my desperate attempts to tidy myself. Jake was very intelligent and I doubted that by now, he didn’t know that his presence always made me self-conscious. I sighed and plopped down on my chair, I wasn’t trying to be prim and proper anymore.

Jake said, ‘’Are you okay?’’

I nodded and said, ‘’Thanks for the food, that was thoughtful of you.’’ Jake didn’t reply, he fiddled with the box of tissues on my desk.

‘’What’s with the long face you’ve been carrying since you got into my office?’’, I asked in an irritated voice.

Still no reply came.

‘’What’s wrong with you?’’, I asked calmly now.

He hissed and said angrily, ‘’Someone was very rude to me downstairs.’’

I understood what it meant to be rude to Jake, in fact, back in school a lot of people had been rude to him, a lot of people that didn’t allow him to shove his greenlife-healthyeating-fitness mumbo jumbo down their throats. He almost got into a physical fight one day because Dave, one of our course mates, didn’t heed his advice to forgo mayo in his salad. Dave didn’t only insist on having mayo in his lunch, he bought a big bottle of coke to go with it. After that day, the friendship between the two young men went sour, I didn’t tell Jake what I thought about his behaviour, I thought he had behaved very childishly. I wondered who refused to listen to his good health gospel this time.

‘’What happened?’’ I asked in a concerned voice.

‘’Can you imagine what your friend Sandra said to me when I invited her to the gym this Saturday?’’ ‘’For what?’’ I asked in confusion.

‘’For Smoothie Saturday’’, He snapped.

I had totally forgotten this Saturday was Jake’s Smoothie Saturday. Every third Saturday of the month, Jake had what he called ‘Smoothie Saturday’ in his gym. On that day, he served everybody that came around to the gym healthy fruit or vegetable smoothies. He made the smoothies himself and he chose a different recipe for each of these Saturdays, it was always a big day for him, his girls and any other person that cared about fitness. Jake knew I didn’t care much for all that healthy living stuff but he always invited me and just to please him, I always tried to be there.

 I remained mute.

When Jake saw that I wasn’t forthcoming with words, he continued ‘’Sandra said she didn’t need my smoothies.’’ Jake stood up and started pacing.

‘’Is that why you’re this worked up?’’ I asked.

‘’Sandra asked me to take a good look at her trim hour-glass figure and tell her if she looked like those fat pigs that came to my gym’’ Jake exploded

‘’Sandra can be very sarcastic, I’m sure she didn’t mean any of that’’, even as I tried to calm him down, I was trying not to laugh.

‘’How could she call my girls fat pigs?’’ Jake asked, he was almost in tears now.

I couldn’t hold back anymore, I threw my head back and laughed very hard. Even long after Jake stomped out of my office in frustration, I was still shaking with mirth. I just didn’t understand Jake, why was he always so touchy when it came to these fitness issues, why couldn’t he understand that Sandra was joking around? Speaking of Sandra, where was she? Where was that little devil that almost moved my BFF to tears with her sharp mouth? She’d better hurry before I starve to death.

I decided to go to the gym immediately after work today. Since the day I laughed Jake out of my office; I hadn’t seen or heard from him; it had been two whole days and I really missed him. When I got to the gym, I saw Fred, Jake’s assistant outside talking and laughing with some ladies, I waved at him as I walked past. Inside, everybody was busy with one gym equipment or the other but Jake wasn’t in sight. If he wasn’t here then he would definitely be in his office, so I left the gym area and headed to his office. Jake wasn’t in his office either, I turned and left the office to find Fred, he would know where Jake was. Five minutes later, I walked back into Jake’s office and sat down on his chair. Fred told me that Jake had been right here in this office when he went off to lunch but he didn’t meet him here when he got back, Jake’s car was right there in its usual spot, so Fred believed Jake was down in the basement doing some work. Fred also said Jake didn’t like to be disturbed whenever he was in the basement working. I couldn’t imagine what kind of work Jake would be doing in the basement that required all his attention, I guess I’d know when he got here. I was very exhausted, work had been very stressful today and I was very tired and hungry, Sandra had left the office for the bank and promised to get lunch on her way back but for some reason, she hadn’t returned with the food or crisp bank notes for that matter. Sandra didn’t return to the office until I left at closing time, I had tried calling her before leaving the office but her number didn’t connect, I didn’t see her car at the parking lot on my way out of the office. Maybe Philip intercepted her on her way out and swept her off to somewhere cosy for some romantic lunch, this happened sometimes but Sandra and her beau were having it rough right now, so I didn’t think that was the case today. Sandra finally confided in me yesterday that she was having a very big fight with Philip and this had been going on for a little over a month now, in fact, she told me they were on the verge of break up. But I could be wrong and they had worked things out and Philip actually came by to take her out for make-up lunch, this for  me was the only reason that came close enough to explaining Sandra’s unserious attitude to work today. But I didn’t believe that reason was good enough, Sandra couldn’t have vanished from her duty post without a better reason, that was irresponsible and Sandra could be anything but irresponsible. Or maybe she was taking advantage of the boss’s absence to play truant, if that was the case then I’d have to warn her to be careful and retrace her steps if she didn’t want to lose her job, she of all people knew that the boss’ spies were working round the clock, she should know that her bad behaviour would have gotten to the boss’ ears by now and she’d have a query to answer as soon as the boss got back. I called her number again but still it didn’t connect.

***

I slept off in Jake’s office, when I opened my eyes, everywhere was quiet and through the window; I could see it was very dark outside. I didn’t know how long I had slept but I’m guessing very long because when I checked my watch, it was 10:30pm, the gym closed at 9:30pm. Where was Jake anyway? I began to wonder again. Has everybody gone home? Was I the only one left in here?

started to panic. The door opened and Jake came in looking bedraggled, that usual cloud of mystery around him was thicker, I could feel it. For some reason or no reason at all, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Jake was looking at me with hooded eyes and I didn’t like that at all.

‘’Hey’’, Jake said.

‘’Hey yourself’’, I said angrily and looked away. I didn’t feel nervous or afraid anymore, I suddenly felt anger and resentment towards Jake and I wasn’t hiding it.

Jake flashed me a smile and said, ‘’Ahh _ someone is angry with me.’’

I hissed and said, ‘’What were you doing in the basement the whole time?’’

‘’Basement? I wasn’t in the basement, I was out shopping for Briton.’’ Jake said a little aggressively. Briton was Jake’s dog and he showered him with so much love, so it wasn’t surprising that Jake went shopping for him, he did that all the time. But he couldn’t have been shopping for Briton for more than two hours.

‘’You were shopping the whole time?’’, I asked in disbelief.

‘’Err… not really. Who even told you I was down at the basement?’’, Jake queried.

It was obvious Jake was lying to me and that made me angrier, why would he be lying to me? I got up and walked out of his office. Jake followed me outside begging me to come back but I walked on. Something in me wanted me to get away from him as fast as possible, so I started running but I shouldn’t have bothered because when I looked back; Jake was walking back to the gym. I was hurt, Jake didn’t care enough to catch up with me. I didn’t know why Jake and I failed to get along lately. Sometimes, I wondered why we became such good friends in the first place when it was obvious we had a lot of differences.

***

My phone rang in rapid succession but I didn’t pick, I was still in shock. It was on the news yet again, another dead girl and a diamond ring carefully placed on her forehead. I was shivering, I couldn’t think straight. I needed to talk to Jake, I had something to tell him, I dialled his number. He picked on the first ring.

‘’I think I know who might have killed Sandra?’’, I said in a tearful voice. Then I went ahead to tell him all Sandra had told me about her big fight with Philip, I also told Jake about the diamond ring Sandra found in Philip’s closet.

‘’Are you sure you can repeat all you’ve just told me to the police?’’, Jake asked after I finished my  narrative.

‘’Yes’’, I muttered.

I couldn’t believe what was happening, I couldn’t believe Sandra had fallen victim to that psycho killer running all over the place killing innocent women and decorating them with diamond rings. And Philip, could he be the murderer? It was very hard to believe Philip could have killed Sandra but wasn’t anything possible in this mean world? Sandra Jackson my colleague was dead, she didn’t live long enough to hit the ‘best friend forever’ mark, now she was gone forever.

The police arrested Philip but they found nothing on him. His alibi had been investigated and found to be true, so they released him, the psycho killer was still on the loose somewhere. We at the office had a service of songs for Sandra and two days later, she was buried in her hometown. Two months had gone by, no other dead body had popped up, everything but me seemed to have returned back to normal. I was still in great shock, I went about my usual life like a zombie, I wasn’t concentrating at work, I had lost interest in most things. Jake tried his very best to bring me out of my mood, he took me shopping, he took me out on dates. His scheme was working gradually, I really had a great time the last time we went to grab a drink at the bar, I had laughed so hard and that had felt really good.

***

When I opened my eyes, everywhere was dark and muggy. I was lying down on a rough sofa that smelled like it needed some airing, I needed some air too; I could feel sweat beading on  my forehead. My FOREHEAD!!! That was the same spot Sandra’s killer dropped the diamond ring, I became hysterical. I didn’t know where I was but I knew I had to leave at once. I wanted to get up but the sudden numbing pain in my head pushed me right back on the sofa, I heard the strike of a match and when the flame flickered, I closed my eyes in fear. I wasn’t alone, that was alarming, I began to shiver.

‘’Hey’’’, that was Jake’s voice, I opened my eyes to see that a candle had been lit and set on a nearby stool but I couldn’t see Jake’s face clearly. Jake’s voice didn’t pacify me as usual, it terrified me and I didn’t know why. What was I doing with Jake in this stuffy room?

‘’How’s your head?’’, Jake asked as he moved closer to stand above me. I could see his face clearly now and then I remembered, I remembered where I was and how I got there. I had come for the usual Smoothie Saturday, I remembered seeing the name of the gym, ‘Skinny Girls Rock!’ boldly written above the front door and wondering why Jake changed the colour of the inscription from black to red, the colour red ticked me off; it was the colour of blood and I didn’t like blood. I remembered coming into the gym and wondering where everybody was and Jake assuring me he wanted to start a little later than usual today because he had something important to tell me first, I remembered feeling butterflies in my stomach and hoping to God that Jake would ask me out officially finally. Jake didn’t want us to be disturbed, so we had gone down to the basement with me in the lead and Jake right behind me. Down in the basement, someone had hit me on the head with something and I blacked out. Someone didn’t just hit me on the head, the blow had come from behind and my BFF Jake; had my back literally.

Jake’s voice came again, ‘’I know you’re wondering what happened.’’

I wanted to speak but fear had numbed my vocal cords, I just lay on my back there shivering. ‘’You know…’’, Jake continued softly then paused to light a cigarette.

I was stunned out of my mind and ignoring the pain in my head, I sat up abruptly, ‘’You smoke?’’, I had found my voice again. I couldn’t believe Jake the health instructor smoked and it was even harder to believe I didn’t know about it all these years. Jake was a stranger to me and I didn’t know why I ever thought he was my best friend forever.

He ignored my question and said, ‘’You know I’ve always liked you very much but… Do you still want to know what happened to my real parents?’’

I didn’t know why Jake was asking me that question at that point but I nodded all the same, the pain in my head was irked.

By now Jake was sitting in front of me on a plastic chair, he kept puffing on his cigarette and blowing the smoke in my face. He finished his cigarette and brought out a small box from his pocket and gave to me. My heart was beating very fast now, I opened the box to find a beautiful diamond ring smiling at me but I knew Jake wasn’t asking me to marry him, I shuddered at the thought of what the ring might mean.

‘’Those women? You killed them?’’, I asked in a small voice.

‘’Bingo! You have the answer to the puzzle already’’, Jake announced.

I was shaking my head vigorously now despite the pain, ‘’No, no, no, it can’t be true’’, I screamed and started crying.

‘’My mother died when I was ten leaving my twin sister; Irene and I behind without a father.’’ Jake stopped then continued, ‘’Do you know why she died?’’, that question wasn’t meant to be answered because he went right ahead, ‘’She died because she was fat, my father left her because she was fat. She caught my father cheating on her with her best friend and my father told her to her face that she was a fat pig and he was tired of her. Two weeks later, my father left us and went off with Serena my mother’s best friend, they got married afterwards. Serena was beautiful, she was slim.’’

‘’You were only ten, who told you all that?’’ I asked.

‘’Mother’s suicide note, not only that, we found her diary too’’, he said. ‘’What? She killed herself?’’ I gasped.

‘’Yes, she took her own life, the last words on her note were ‘skinny girls rock’.’’ ‘’What happened to Irene?’’ I quizzed

Jake stood up and started pacing, ‘’She resorted to taking all sorts of pills to keep her from becoming fat, she became depressed and anorexic, finally she died of drug overdose.’’

I went cold and quiet.

‘’Don’t you want to know why I killed Alicia and the others?’’ Jake asked. I remained mute.

‘’I’ll tell you anyway, I vowed to kill any woman that taunted or disrespected fat people, any woman that made fat people lose their self esteem. If someone had killed Serena before she got out of hand, mother and Irene would be alive now. I became a fitness instructor because I wanted to help fat girls so they don’t end up like mother’’ Jake said and grinned.

‘’And Sandra?’’ I asked softly.

‘’Sandra called my girls fat pigs, the same thing my father called mother, so Sandra had to go before she caused more havoc. I lied the day I told you I was out shopping for Briton, I was down here killing Sandra. I followed her to the bank because I had been watching her since the day she bad-mouthed my clients, there I convinced her to come with me in my car to the gym on the pretext of needing her help in choosing an engagement ring I wanted to give you.’’

Jake was still pacing, I lunged at him screaming, ‘’You sick bastard, you’re going to pay for this.’’

Jake pushed me and I fell on the hard floor, I stayed there cursing the day I met Jake, fear, anger, and disgust coursed through my whole body.

When I calmed down, I asked, ‘’Why the rings?’’

Jake started laughing hysterically, his whole body convulsed with mirth, ‘’A tribute to mother, mother’s last words on her note were skinny girls rock, remember? So I thought to myself; why not make skinny girls rock for real? What better way to do that than to leave them with a rock, a diamond; girls’ best friend.’’ Jake said with a grin on his face.

All the while we were together in university, why didn’t I notice Jake was a cold blooded killer? ‘’How long have you been doing this?’’ I whispered.

‘’I started my revenge after graduation, I don’t know why I didn’t start earlier though.’’ He answered. ‘’You need help Jake, you need to talk to someone, you’ve lost your mind.’’ I said.

Jake lit another cigarette and came to sit on the floor beside me.

Finally, the mystery was solved, everything was clear now but there was one thing left, I turned to Jake and asked, ‘’What have I got to do with all of this?’’.

Jake smiled and said, ‘’Do you remember the day I took you to the bar and you made fun of that fat waiter that served us drinks, did you see the pain in his eyes when you told him he was an uncle to the African elephant?’’

‘’For Christ’s sake Jake, I was tipsy and I didn’t mean any of that’’, I cried. Jake was mute.

I got up from the floor and started pacing, ‘’So what are you going to do with me now?’’…

***

Jake was arrested and charged to court, I stood in the witness box and testified against him, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Fred was my saving grace, he had called the police and they had come exactly when Jake was trying to force arsenic down my throat. Luckily; I didn’t swallow any of the poisonous liquid but the trauma of the whole escapade landed me in hospital for several days. Fred visited me everyday at the hospital, on one of such visits, I asked him how he knew I was in danger that fateful day, he said he had been suspecting Jake for a long time. He told me how he found a diamond ring hidden away in Jake’s office drawer and when he asked Jake about it, he snapped at him and told him to mind his own business. He didn’t understand why Jake spent so much time working in the basement and never allowed anybody come close. Fred said his suspicions heightened when Jake cancelled the gym sessions that Saturday and told him to stay away from the gym claiming he wanted to do some repainting all by himself, he Fred had come to the gym early in the morning and parked across the street from where he could see the entrance of the gym clearly, he had seen Jake go into the gym and sometime later, I had came along too, it was getting really dark and none of us had come out, so he called the police.

by Chinasa Okaro from Nigeria

 



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