Maiko stared at the man in the mirror, noticing the fine lines on his forehead, which appeared to be growing bigger by the day, like a seabed at low tide. The fine lines were more visible, perhaps because he had had many sleepless nights since his last business meeting a week before.
Maiko, a devoted family man, did not usually take business calls on weekends, preferring instead to spend time with Roda, his wife of ten years and their three energetic children. On the rare occasion that he had to work on a weekend, he always charged double, spending the extra money on family trips, the change of scenery smoothing over the interrupted time with his family.
And so on this Saturday as he prepared to meet a client, he had already promised Roda and the kids a trip to Diani in a few weeks, its white sandy beaches a family favorite, assuring that his absence was forgiven. Roda, a very understanding wife by all measures, greatly admired her husband’s dedication to his logging business. He had done very well for himself, and being the intrinsically moral man he was, had also overseen the planting of thousands of trees where his logging operations had concluded, to ensure provisions for future generations. Roda extolled his virtues to all, but his virtues needed no extolling because he was very generous to the less fortunate in their community. There was even talk that he would run for office, and the locals had all but assured him of victory should he choose to honor them by officially representing their county in government.
A week earlier, Maiko drove a beat up white pick-up truck, its ancient parts squeaking as he headed to the nyama choma joint where business would be discussed over barbecued goat and cold beer. His client, a respectable looking, statuesque woman in her mid forties, rose to greet him. He gave her a curt nod and studied her quietly. Before meeting his clients, he conducted a very thorough background check on them. In his profession, carelessness could lead to death, or if one escaped that, a long spell as a guest of the Government of Kenya (GOK) in its incarceration resort, commonly known as prison.
Food served, she launched into her request. Maiko listened carefully, his photographic memory eliminating the need for any note taking. He thoughtfully chewed the ginger infused barbecue goat, mulling over the woman’s words. If he was successful, this would be his last gig. It would set him up for life, and he could truly focus on his logging business, which, while barely profitable, provided a respectable cover for the lifestyle his family enjoyed. Maiko loved a challenge, and he knew he would take the job because it sounded impossible.
Now, Maiko bade Roda and his kids goodbye, hopped into his jalopy and waved as he left on a business trip. An hour later, he and his crew, Juma and the paradoxically named Innocent, were in their business vehicle, a small truck labelled Longonot Logging. Juma and Innocent only knew Maiko as Mkubwa, the boss, but not his real name. They also did not know that the man they worked for always wore a disguise around them, a fact that tickled Maiko. One could never be too careful in this line of work. Innocent, contrary to his name, was one of the best lock and alarm neutralizers Maiko had ever met. Juma was a strongman. He could lift seemingly impossible weights, which was why Maiko hand-picked him for this job. That and his sheer fearlessness.
By the time they arrived at their destination, night had fallen, and they felt the adrenaline rush through their bodies as they donned their masks and gloves. As described, the house was palatial, standing at a towering three stories with elaborate columns and plush gardens dotted with soft lighting, but the owners were almost always away, peculiarly leaving what was rumored to be Longonot’s only known gold bullion apparently unprotected. Maiko’s client’s instructions had been very clear. Take all the gold, and he would receive 10% of its value in payment. However, no burglar who entered that house had ever been seen again, a claim that Maiko had researched but could not verify. Perhaps they had taken some of the gold and disappeared, he thought. He however did not discount that peculiar anecdote as he scouted the property. His sixth sense kicked in, as it always did when he was on a job; it had saved his life several times when he started out, a primary school dropout, and some of his peers were felled by bullets while others cooled their heels as guests of the GOK. Now, he got the sense that he was being watched, but he couldn’t put his finger on why, as the property was completely unoccupied as far as he could tell.
Innocent quickly disabled the advanced alarm system and the trio set about finding the vault, rumored to be in the basement. A few minutes later Maiko, Innocent and Juma were standing before an open vault and by this time, his sixth sense was screaming at him to flee. He would have left if he hadn’t been transfixed by the sight of heaps of gold bars sitting on the floor, completely unguarded. Innocent and Juma watched agape, mesmerized at the sight. Maiko stood there for a good while, mentally going over the logistics of transporting as many of the bars as possible. He wished he had brought a bigger truck and a larger crew. Nevertheless, he called Innocent and Juma, startling them out of their trance, to start hauling the gold to the truck using the carts they had brought with them. It took the three of them a full half hour to load one cart, which the two hands carted to the truck. After a few more minutes of trying to figure out how much they could carry in the short amount of time they had, it occurred to him that the place had fallen eerily quiet. It was as if someone had pressed the mute button around him. Maiko was not one to panic easily, but when he called for Juma and Innocent, his voice echoing across the cavernous room, and receiving no response, his palms started to sweat. He quickly walked back the way they had come, and found, lying on the marble floor, two of the biggest snakes he had ever seen. Suddenly it all made sense. The unguarded home, the rumor that no burglar who went in ever came out. The pythons’ swollen bellies left him under no illusion as to the fate that had befallen Innocent and Juma.
Maiko immediately turned around to run from the house, but he came face to face with yet another gargantuan snake, the horrifying sight immobilizing him. He opened his mouth to scream but the snake struck, moving at a speed that defied its size, winding itself around him in a death grip, crushing his bones. Maiko’s last thought, wishing he had listened to his instincts, was lost in an avalanche of excruciating pain as the ophidian beast swallowed him whole.