Panlam stood by her mirror, in nothing but a grey terry robe, held shut at the breast with her hands. From the window next to it, she could see out into the street. With ease that belied how often she’d done this, she let the terrycloth side onto the floor and stretched, her full body tantalizing displayed. She reached for her bed and took away a blue chemise with exquisite French trim and stepped into it, slowly pulling it up her legs and over her hips before settling its hem under her pectorals. She leaned forwards so her breasts would pour into the chemise’s cups and slid the thin silk straps up her shoulders. She knew no one was probably watching, but it was a small fantasy of hers, a talisman of sorts she employed when she needed to feel sexy. The final meeting with the financier the director had found for their film was today and he was hinging his decision on if her, the green scriptwriter and producer. She closed the window blinds and plopped on to the bed. She noticed her phone flash methodically, indicating internet activity.
—– ——————————- ——————————-
Panlam couldn’t hide her surprise as she stepped out of the cab she hired to ferry her from her house. She was in front of the building occupied by the address Emeka, the contact who’d reluctantly agreed to become her project manager and all around hype guy had given her. They’d met only twice before and had arranged this particular meeting over the phone. He’d told her to dress ‘slut formal’ and come prepared for anything. Even now, in one of Louise’s designer dresses and more make up than she’d worn in her entire life, she wasn’t quite sure she was prepared for anything. She took the walk from the gate to the lobby of the hotel in quick, long strides and smiled when she saw Emeka on the other side of the transparent glass, pacing anxiously.
He was one of those guys who always looked off unless he was wearing a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. He looked particularly uncomfortable now, his six foot three frame constricted into a sleekly cut evening tuxedo worn over a regular dress shirt. The lush beard that adorned his face in his social media profiles was gone, replaced with freshly cut buzz. He really was taking this meeting much seriously than she had.
He sighed in relief when he saw her and hurried out to bring her in. “I thought I told you the meeting was for five pm, I’ve been here waiting since four thirty.”
Panlam gave him a look. “Calm your tits Emeka. He said meet me up by five and here I am, at five on the dot. No point coming any earlier, we want to look punctual not desperate.”
“What the fuck ever, Panlam.” Emeka replied, “Now get your pretty ass inside, he’s already on his way down.”
Emeka didn’t wait for a response before threading his arm around hers and subtly but firmly steering her into the hotel. They went past the grand lobby with its beautiful colonnades and panelled walls, a grand reception leading into the visitor’s lounge. Emeka led Panlam to one of the sofas there and sat with her, fidgeting slightly as they waited. Panlam took out her phone and began to scroll through her social media timelines, looking for something to distract her from the nervousness slowly beginning to grow in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t know why, but suddenly she felt the urge to look up. It was then she noticed him coming down the stairs that led to the visitor’s lounge. Actually it was his shoes that caught her attention as the rest of him was still obscured by the landing of the first floor. They were genuine Giuseppe Zanotti’s; her father used to own a few pairs before he became what he became and gave them away.
“He’s here.” Panlam hissed at Emeka who was engrossed in his fidgeting.
They both rose to their feet as their mystery benefactor stepped out from behind the staircase and walked over to them. Emeka just stood there and fidgeted while they waited for him to say something. Panlam rolled her eyes and put out her hand, flashing a wide smile.
“Thank you so much for meeting us sir, my name is Panlam Nok and this is my project manager and the person who’s supposed to be doing the introductions, Emeka.”
The man took her hand in a firm grip and let out a mega smile of his own.
“Hello Panlam, I have heard a lot about you, my name is Jeremiah Lawson.”
—— —————————————- ——————————-
Tariebi froze when she heard Jeremiah Lawson’s smooth baritone sail through the waiting room. She and Chechet had come to the hotel nearly two hours before and had waited in the very same space where Lawson, Panlam and her associate were now. They’d quietly left when the guy had arrived and had watched from the relative safety of the nearby bar while Panlam came. Her heart had skipped when she saw him come down through the mirrors but hearing his voice….
Tari felt a sharp pain in her side and turned towards a very displeased Chechet.
“Cut it out.” He drawled.
“That shameless mooning. You’re drawing unwanted attention.” He mouthed.
She reluctantly leaned away from the conversation and waited for Chechet’s cue while Panlam and Lawson got to know each other. Tari could hear snatches of conversation and the occasional nervous giggle from the third wheel as they stood and talked and Tari’s tighten around her glass of Club Soda. It unnerved her, this unexpected jealousy she was feeling over a meeting she practically orchestrated herself. Sure the sex with Lawson was great and he was dangerous enough to keep her titillated but this, this was unexpected. She stole a glance at Chechet to see if he was watching her but his eyes seemed firmly glued to the mirror at the back of bar, watching Lawson and his sister. Eventually Lawson shifted stance and turned to the other guy who had come with Panlam, her manager. He said some words to him and the man practically bowed at the waist before curving around the older man and leaving the lobby.
“Let’s go.” Chechet announced, just as Panlam followed a beaming Lawson out of the visitors lounge and into the restaurant at the far end of the hotel’s ground floor. Chechet led Tari up three flights of stairs before turning right and stopping at the 10th door. He slipped a card from his front pocket and slid it into the card slot set into the door and pushed it open after the mechanism clicked green and the hydraulic lock gave.
Tari slid past Chechet into the room, a look of wonder mixed with genuine fear on her face.
“How did you get Lawson’s card key.”
Chechet gave a malicious smile. “You’d be surprised how much an accent and a little flirting will get you. We only have about an hour, let’s get to it.”
Tari subtly angled her face away to hide the tightness that now pulled against her cheeks and focused on the task at hand. Chechet had gotten her to weasel information about his meeting with Panlam out of Lawson the last time they’d been together. That was how they knew that he’d planted a camera in the room of the hotel he was going to meet Panlam in.
They were here to one up the older man by finding and destroying the camera. Tariebi didn’t think that was a very good idea but she kept her opinions to herself. Chechet was usually a selfish viper to people who couldn’t offer him anything, and him deciding to do something in Panlam’s favour probably served some plan he was hatching. She’d slept over in this room once before so she led the search, carefully avoiding the bed as they checked the rest of the room, scouring the wooden headboard and the fake wood panelling that went around the walls. They searched the light fixtures on the ceiling and scoured the cabinets and appliances set into a corner of the room all the while Chechet’s displeasure simmered into rage. His voice wafted to her from the other end of the room where he was dismantling one of the bedside lamps.
“So, I’ve been dying to know. What really happened with your friend Saanyol’s girlfriend and her Houdini pregnancy? Panlam told me about it, but then Saanyol said she wasn’t pregnant anymore and now she obviously is. Help my weak brain solve the ‘mystery’?”
“Actually all of that was my fault. Kike came to me and wanted advice on what to do with it. ‘It’ being her pregnancy. So I took her to some guy I’d overheard the other models talking about. How was I to know the machines weren’t always accurate. He misdiagnosed her and I told Saan the truth and here we are. At least she should be grateful she didn’t let him stick anything inside her, otherwise we’d be having a very different stor…”
A dangerous edge had crept into Chechet’s voice, so Tari kept quiet and continued searching. She stopped when she realised he was standing behind her.
“Tari,” he repeated, touching her hem of her jeans, “When you guys ‘did it’ here, what was his favourite prop?”
“Chechet…” Tari growled, but Chechet was undeterred. He put his hand on her neck and slowly bent her over the bed, pushing his appreciably engorged groin against her behind.
“Did he press you down like this? Feel your slick back with filthy rich fingers while he took you?”
He began to slam his clothed groin against her, starting slow and working himself into a frenzy as he slurred his little ‘questions’. Tari didn’t make a move to escape his grip on her neck even though she could have easily; she liked the role play, the illusion of powerlessness. They both started as the door knob clicked loudly and murmuring came from the other side of the room. Chechet flew off Tari in an instant, rushing over to the bedside to fix the lamp. He gestured to the en-suite bathroom and hurried Tari into it, following behind her. They pulled the door almost shut just as the door to the hotel room finally clicked and fell open, spilling Lawson with his arms around Panlam.
It was a miracle and a curse that the door to the bathroom was in full view of the bed. They could monitor everything that was going on without having to open the door anymore than a sliver but they were also very, very trapped. None of that seemed to be of any concern to Chechet, he was more interested in the thing he was rifling through his knapsack for while Tari held the door in place. He dug through the contents and drew out a non-descript ballpoint pen. Then they switched positions and he pressed a barely concealed button on the shaft of the pen and pressed it into the sliver the opened door created.
“It’s a pen camera.” He whispered to Tari who rolled her eyes.
They watched together as Lawson and Panlam flirted some more and the older man reached over and pulled her to himself. He was deft, and before long they were unbearably close, lips locked and Lawson’s hand running across Panlam’s thigh. Tariebi watched intently, unsure which was stronger, the revulsion she felt towards Panlam or the arousal that grew for Lawson. After about ten minutes of kissing and fondling Panlam pushed herself off Jeremiah Lawson and put distance between them.
“You said we were just coming up for celebratory drinks?” The question was evident in her voice.
“We both knew that was a lie yet here you are.” Lawson replied smoothly.
“Well, I came to see you to negotiate a deal, you might have signed the papers but that doesn’t mean you’ve given me the money I need to make my film. Until the film is made, I don’t think I have the luxury to call you out on your lies.”
Lawson gave a little laugh. “Very articulately put. Yes, until the film is done, I might own you but I’d much rather prefer a pet that comes willingly than one I have to use a leash on. Which one are you?”
Panlam kept her eyes on Lawson as she walked towards the door. She stopped beside it and her right hand disappeared behind her. Tari’s smile bloomed from within her, a sunflower opening to morning light. She felt her smile fall when instead of the door handle turn, she heard Panlam unzip her dress. It was then she realised Chechet had been bristled beside her the whole time and that he just relaxed. He began to click the camera pen as Panlam gave a walking strip tease, stopping right in front of Lawson and dropping her chemise. She began to lean forward to give a sprawled Lawson a kiss when the silence was rent by the blaring of Davido’s Skelewu. Panlam’s hands flew over her breasts.
“Oh God! That’s my mother.”
Lawson couldn’t hide the disappointment on his face as he waved Panlam off to take the call. She leant over to the room’s worktable and fetched her bag, pulling out her phone and putting it to her ear.
The room’s acoustics were good enough that everyone could hear Panlam’s mother’s howling through the phone’s speakers.
“Panlam, get home right now! First we find out today from immigration that your brother is back in the country, after everything we did to make sure he didn’t come back….Now your father is asking me what you have been up to. He’s been following us for weeks….I couldn’t lie to him. I’ve managed to calm him down and buy you a few hours but you need to get home and face him right now, you hear me? NOW!”
Panlam whispered into the phone, pacifying her frightened mother as she slowly stepped away from Lawson and squatted to pull up her chemise and dress still pooled around her borrowed Louboutins. Lawson sat up and watched her lazily as she tried to reorder herself. He pulled himself to his feet and grabbed her arm, announcing with cold disinterest.
“That was quite amusing but we’re not quite done here.”
Panlam looked up at him with frightened, saucer wide eyes. “You know I would never jeopardize my movie getting made. I’m already yours; please you can have me any other day.”
Lawson shook his head like petulant child. “That’s the thing, I want you right now.”
With that, he hefted Panlam by that single arm and threw her onto the bed. She howled in pain and Tari felt her blood go cold. Lawson crawled onto the bed, taking care to pull off Panlam’s shoes so she couldn’t cause any damage with them. He trapped her flailing thighs with his haunches, pressing his weight on top of her. She struggled against him, scratching at him with her fingers and he gripped her neck with his left hand and dealt her a series of heavy slaps across the face. Her thrashing quieted immediately after that, replaced with a defeated whimpering. Tari tried to leave the bathroom but Chechet put a leg in her path. She looked up at him and he scowled.
Tari turned away from the door, listening in horror as Jeremiah Lawson peeled off Panlam’s dress and fondled her roughly, all the while whispering filth at her. It was too much even for Tari and in a split second of instinct she pushed Chechet out of the way and flung the bathroom door open. Lawson turned at the sound, surprised by Tari who clambered on to his back and tried to pull him off Panlam. Lawson flailed defensively, landing a glancing blow on Tari’s jaw. She felt her jaw shift a second before the rest of her face did. That, not everything had happened before, finally woke Chechet. He sprung to action and ran out of the bathroom, fists clenched. He sent two well aimed rabbit punches to Lawson’s sides, knocking the wind out of him and Lawson fell off the bed. Before Lawson could rise to his feet, Chechet drew out a pocket knife and pointed it at him.
“Man, don’t fuck with me,” he said. “I’ll shank you before you take your next step.”
He turned his head back at the bed. “Tariebi, help Panlam get dressed.”
Tari climbed onto the bed ignoring her jaw which was beginning to swell, helped Panlam off the bed and into her torn chemise and rumpled dress. Panlam cooperated, seemingly oblivious to her swollen eye and torn upper and lower lips. The bruises on her shoulders were visible and there was a scratch on her chest, Tari quietly inventoried, surprised that such damage could be done so fast. Chechet directed Lawson into the bathroom after making him empty his pockets and then locked the bathroom door on him. He turned to the girls.
“We have one hour before someone comes looking for him, get a move on.”
Tariebi and the siblings snuck through the floor and the staircase, both girls averting their faces as they passed the reception. As they left the lobby and entered the cool early night air of the street beyond, Tari felt herself finally release the breath she’d been subconsciously holding in. Panlam just stood there, looking at Chechet with blank eyes. Something about the way she looked must have unnerved him because his hand slid back into the pocket that held the knife.
“Are you going to just keep looking at me like you’ve seen the devil or are we gonna get you to a hospital?”
Panlam ignored him, it was taking all of her sanity to not snap at either of them. She pulled off her heels and hobbled to the road. It took them nearly ten minutes to find an empty cab and they piled themselves in, Panlam and Tari in the back, Chechet in the front. The driver began to move, driving in the general direction of the island. Panlam pulled her phone out of her handbag and began to scroll frantically. Chechet, irritated by the gesture leant into the back compartment.
“Are you going to direct us to a hospital or are you going to stay there pressing your phone?”
Panlam looked up from her phone, ignoring Chechet and tapped the driver.
“Please turn the car and head for Ikoyi.”
This time Tariebi was the one who asked.
“Ikoyi? What the hell is happening in Ikoyi?”
Panlam shut her phone and sighed. “Kike is in labour.”