All is Sound.
All is Bright….
Sleep in Heavenly Peace!
Sleep in Heavenly Peace!
In the distance, almost faint by the time it got to his ears, the bells of the church had clanged.
It was time.
It was Christmas Eve, in the year of the Lord 2012. A reported fifteen hundred people were to fill the interdenominational church that was the headquarters of Christianity in the country this night. This was the night.
Solomon took a last look of himself in the mirror. He could see the determination swirling in his eyes; he could feel as the desire to commit unto God tonight gurgled beneath him; he even felt himself closer to the One that tonight marked the eve of His birth. At this age, He had transformed humankind. He, Solomon, was bound for greatness; he was bound for glory; he was bound…for peace. He had gotten all that he needed into his rented car, except the three sacred books that lay on top of his raiment for tonight on the bed. Today, he looked brighter; today, he looked even younger, because today, he would see the fruit of his toil. As he made to turn away from the mirror, whimpering filtered through the bathroom door. He walked there, opened and stared at the young man, about his age, on the floor, tied both arms and legs, and gagged.
“Glory is for those who persevere, Philip. Glory is for those who hold onto the promises. It’s sad, that you have chosen to be deceived by the devil, and turn away from doing the right thing when the time has come. You shall suffer pain, before you die.”
He grabbed a jerry can by the door and emptied its content on the man on the floor. He whimpered more, his words stuck behind the gag as he wriggled on the floor.
There was more whimpering when the door closed and the locks clanked. Solomon walked to the bed, took the three books off his raiment and delicately set them on the bedside drawer, and then he began dressing.
In five minutes, the red Toyota Camry was cruising down the road, headed straight for the church. In his mirrors, the reflection of the flames engulfing the apartment he just left shined in his face. He drove steadily, without speeding, and was at the church in seven minutes. Today, apart from the clergies, no one was to be allowed to drive through the gate into the church compound. A new parking lot, fifty meters away from the church fence and about a hundred and thirty meters from the church building itself had been provided. It did not matter. He turned into a lot and parked. He gathered the three sacred books against his chest and looked up to heaven. The way to paradise is not by car; the way to paradise is by the Scripture; the way to eternity is by the Book.
When he got to the gate and his turn to be checked came, he held the three holy books high up so that they were almost a yard away from the metal detector as the security man ran the device up and down his sides. A few meters away, a police truck, with armed policemen parked. Nothing to be suspicious about. Satisfied, the security man beckoned him in. The upsurge of bombings, especially at places of worship, had called for this consuming exercise. Every single person that walked into this church today was to be checked. He had heard word that even the clergies had been subjected to this metal detector business. Yet he was full of hope, no, confidence, no, he was certain, that nothing could stop him. Four weeks of intense work would not go in vain. He was in, and he was in with it. He returned the books against his chest the way he had held them before he got to the gate. Sacred. Holy Books. Sound Books. Bright Books. Heavenly peace.
He took the main entrance door that led into the nave—the west and longer arm of the symbolic cruciform design of the church building. He walked up to the center, found an empty space beside a lady on one of the polished pews. He grinned at her and sat, his iconic books, sacred items, still held against his chest. Then he offered his hand to the lady, after he had set the three holy books in the backrest of the pew in front of them and bowed his head in a silent prayer. Today, Lord, I convey the souls of your children, only those who are your true children, to your bosom. Today they see you. Today they meet salvation. Today they live forever.
“Bless you, sister,” he said.
“Blessings upon you too,” the lady replied with a smile.
“Christmas is a wonderful time,” Solomon said, without looking in the direction of the lady, as if he was speaking to himself. “That is why there is salvation for repentance. I am glad to know Christ. It is a fulfilling thing. It is a peaceful feeling.” There was no danger in getting familiar; she could never remember him. No one could ever remember him. They would not be there.
“That is why He is the King of Peace.”
Yes, Solomon nodded. Peace!
The congregation had started swelling now, though just about quarter of the number that could get this enormous building filled, there was a feeling that the attendance would outpour. More people, unto Grace.
“I’d be right back,” Solomon said. “Let me give these to my friends.” He took two of the bibles and left.
He chose the south transept of the church first. He walked in and found a pew that, left for an old woman at the end of it, would have been empty. He sat by the other extreme end, set one of the bibles in the back of the front pew, bowed his head and again repeated his prayer. Two minutes after he finished praying, he walked out with the remaining bible in his hand. Confidence could not come in any other form.
The north transept of the church was bringing in more people. One more minute of delay, he realized, might leave him without a chance. He almost broke into a jog when he got outside, but any form of unusual activity here now would trigger mad confusion and panic. The enormous ambiguity his breaking into a jog would provide was a risk he was not prepared to take. It would be better to get there and fight for a seat than introduce any form of panic among these people. They were still pouring into the premises. He encouraged them within him. Get in, fill it up; fill the church, so the Lord can receive you, in numbers.
He got there just in time to find a seat. He admired the pipe organ by the chancel—the trumpet that would trigger today’s triumphant passage unto His throne of Grace.
Solomon walked back into the nave of the church through the door he had first entered. He walked gorgeously. Somehow, eyes fell on him. Yes! Look at him, on whom all is bestowed.
“I am sure I told over twenty people that someone was already here,” the lady told him as he sat. There was no note of exaggeration in her tone.
“Thank you,” he said. “Your reward is in heaven.” He smiled. The lady smiled too.
By now, light singing had begun from the host choir. They had sweet voices; voices that brought down heaven to earth. And in less than three hours to come, he was certain that those sweet voices would lead this congregation to heaven.
The time was eleven forty-two P. M. Choir groups from different denominations had been singing gloriously for an hour now amid a host of other intermediate performances. But the iconic Christmas song, ‘Silent Night’, was to be sang by midnight. Everyone waited patiently for it. It was to be a rousing moment of spiritual indulgence. Much had been said about this song tonight. News had gone about that the host choir had spent a whole month rehearsing the original version of this song, sang in German, for tonight. After which its English version would hit the midnight hour mark…and lift everyone to Grace.
Reverend Mordecai Ande was the host of this gathering so, among the clergy here present, the information reached him first. A church official had walked up to where he sat, among other clergies, and whispered to him. Then he stood and followed him into the room behind the altar. There, he met four men, one with a big backpack. Two of them were in police uniform and the other two in mufti, but all of them were wearing bulletproof vests that ABS was embroidered boldly on it in white. They shook hands in a brief introduction before the man the reverend was almost as twice as tall as he was, the smallest man in the room, broke the news. The ABS on their chests and backs did not mean Antilock Brake System; it meant Anti Bomb Squad.
“There is a bomb in here, Reverend,” Smallest Man said, looking up at the tall pastor.
Terror rippled through the pastor, almost staggering him. “Holy Jesus! How?” he asked weakly. Fear instantly grabbed at the pastor’s jaws and tugged.
The mystery of how they found out about the bomb was no less than that of how it was successfully planted within the church building. And right now, it was not important how it got there or who and how he found about it.
“I don’t know. But Reverend, sir, that is the least of the problems. We don’t know where the bomb is. Or what type of bomb it is. Now, the problem is we have to find that bomb without scaring the crowd.”
“I will make an announcement.”
“You will scare the congregation no matter what you say to them. They will panic. There are about seventeen hundred people in this church building. Take it or leave it, Reverend, all of those people are going to try to run out of this building through four doors that are each barely two meters wide. Once you have a stampede out there, we would have no chance.”
“So what are you suggesting?”
“The information stays in here. Let every activity continue as it is supposed to and we will do our best here. No one will get hurt.”
“How sure are you?”
“You won’t have me making conclusions in a church, Reverend, but I am assuring you that we would do the best we can. But only if we have the chance. Only if the people out there remain calm.”
“How long will this take?”
“We will have to find the bomb first, know what type it is before we can defuse it. So please, go back in there and continue with the rest.”
“No! I will stay here. And pray!”
By the time they found the explosive, they were stunned that it was not just one bomb; there were three of them! The tension was thick and the smell of sweat could be perceived amid the blow of ACs. They were not IEDs, and it was not just about colored wires; something else was to trigger the explosives, which they did not know what it was. Whether they had to work with time now became unknown. There was more tension, and uncertainty. More sweat.
“Can we evacuate these people?” Reverend Mordecai Ande said, coming out from a small room, almost drenched. The glorious melody of ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht…’ could not douse the tension in here. There was sweat now that could fill buckets from just five men. Out there, unaware, the choir sang their hearts out.
“There is no time. Whatever time we have, we must use to find a way to defuse these explosives—”
“They are many?” the reverend broke in, sounding horrified.
“Three, and they are right in the heart of the crowd. See what I am talking about here, Reverend.” The small man pointed to a black monitor one of his men was working on. It showed the outline of the church in green. Somewhere in the middle of the right and left transept, and the nave, three red lights, which the man pointed out as the bombs, blinked. “One mistake, Reverend, and all of these people would panic. If it would have taken two minutes to have them out of this building, it’d take ten, maybe fifteen, because that panic would make them uncontrollable. I am sending in three of my men there. They’d get in, like they are part of the congregation. Once they find them, we know what next.”
The reverend looked up to heaven somberly. Oh Lord, let Your mercy be upon Your children. Don’t let them die.
‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht…’ had just been sung to an end. The next second, they did not know by whose cue, whether it was by divine prompt, the church exploded with ‘Silent Night, Holy Night….’ But the voices of the people, as lofty as they were, could not beat down the pipe organ.
How much more exaltation would the Lord get? Solomon asked himself as the sound of that heavenly melody trailed to his ears where he had been sitting in the Camry for the past thirty minutes, monitoring CCTV footage of the church’s interior. While he was still in there, five groups of children from different church denominations had performed songs that had drawn standing ovations. The line from the chorus of Ann Mker’s ‘Pick up Your Child’ came to his mind: Unto them, for such kids, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Solomon was engrossed by the CCTV footage of the activity going on in the enormous church building. But the reckless speed of the car that had just stopped by the gate, almost crashing through it, wasn’t an incident to miss. Was that a suicide bomber trying to crash his car through the gate? The answer came when someone stumbled out of the passenger’s side and fumbled toward the gate, screaming. He was pointing frantically toward the church. Some of the policemen had charged forward with their guns drawn to stop the man.
No way! It can’t happen! He can’t be alive! He died in that fire! Solomon brought the Camry to life and swerved it out of the lot.
“It’s…bomb…the song,” the man said painfully, his voice barely audible. “Stop the song!”
‘Silent Night’ was nearing its last stanza now in a glorious explosion of hearty joy. Sleep in heavenly peace. They must sleep in heavenly peace!
As the police tried to stop this mad man, another car bumped onto the scene, and without warning, the sound of a pistol broke into the air. Solomon was not in doubt that he emptied his fully loaded pistol on the man that was screaming. The police returned rapid fire on the Camry, instantly opening dozens of holes in the body of the vehicle. Then the Camry veered dangerously, almost flipping over, missed the police truck and crashed against the fence at top speed that had had the engine vibrating. Rubble cascaded onto its hood. The engine was still vibrating, its front tires spitting earth, as the car seemed to have hooked against something. The sound of gunshots had rented the air, instantly ending the church song just as the second and final repeat of ‘…in heavenly peace’—the bomb trigger—was to be sang. Pandemonium had broken and people were pouring out of the church through every opening, tumbling against each other and screaming toward directions that they did not know.
Some of the policemen rushed toward the Camry, treading carefully, their guns still drawn. One of them ordered the driver to step out as they flashed light on the car. There was no response. He repeated. Still no response; no movement. He waved his subordinates forward when it became evident that there was no more sign of life in the vehicle.
The driver of the vehicle was fallen against the steering wheel, with several bullet wounds in his head and chest. They first released his leg that was still hard on the gas, killed the engine, and took him out of the car.
Within the church premises, there was no controlling the crowd, as mad confusion reigned.
“Has he started talking?” the bald-man who walked with strides that had the other people following him doing a light jog asked.
“No, sir. He is still unconscious. But there is a lady in there. She said she knows something, but she wants to talk exclusive. Name’s Cynthia Michael.”
“Where is she?”
Someone pushed the doors of the reception wide open. The momentum at which the bald-man was coming, he would have just jammed through it.
“I guess that’s Cynthia Michael?”
Bald-Man Strides wheeled the rest toward a young lady, surrounded by two policemen when they got inside. Her right wrist was bandaged, and there were two stripes of Band-Aid on her left temple. She looked terrified.
Strides flashed his badge when he got to where she was. “Special Agent Tanko Azazi, SSS. I want a word with Ms. Cynthia Michael.” He squatted smartly. “How are you feeling?” The lady did not answer as pain gradually formed on her face. “Okay, let’s not go there. They say you want to talk exclusive so I am pretty sure we could work with your information.” He looked up sharply. “Guys would you mind? This is exclusive business.”
“I saw him,” the lady began when everyone had moved out of hearing. “He did not look like someone who would bomb a church. He was carrying three bibles when he walked into the church and sat with me. No one could have known those three bibles were bombs. He spoke to me. We spoke. And he did not sound like someone who would bomb a church. He was so excited about Christmas….”
“You know, maybe, we’d have to do the talking later. Can you identify him when you see him again?”
“They say two men are in there. One is dead, the other is unconscious. Can you tell us whether he is among?”
“He is. The one who is dead.”
Kurannen Baaki was born in Mkar, Benue State. He is a graduate of Estate Management from Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna. He has completed coursework for a Post Graduate Diploma in Estate Management Law at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Kurannen is the author of Courage to go On and The Quest. His novella, The Quest, just made the reading list for the ANA/Yusuf Ali Reading Campaign in Kaduna, and is being read at the University of Mkar, Mkar, Benue State. His first novel, a high-concept thriller, ON THE RUN, which has received critical acclaim, is coming soon. He writes on his blog www.thrillersfromafrica.blogspot.com, which is dedicated to promoting the thriller genre in Nigeria. He is also a contributing writer at Iam Benue, a non-partisan online community—coming soon—with the goal of taking Benue forward through togetherness. He lives in Kaduna where he writes, and practices Estate Surveying and Valuation.