When James Mwangi was a little boy he wanted to be a racecar driver. There was nothing he loved more than cars. His father used to put him on his lap when he drove and the feel of the steering wheel beneath James’ hands was heaven to him.
Later, James came to terms with the fact that he would never be the next Michael Schumacher or even the next Patrick Njiru but cars were still his life and when he was 17 he began work as a mechanic’s apprentice in Kawangware. He fixed all types of cars there. From majestic Benzes to massive Pajeros and the much looked down upon Proboxes. His fingers would caress the engine, the spark plugs, the shocks, the fuel pumps. He deftly handled whatever wiring work came to him and soon he was the star of the garage.
Then he got fired. His boss could not handle people asking for James and not for him, the big-time owner of the damned garage. It was hard getting work after that. He had given seven years of his life to that garage and people like him did not have many prospects in terms of the job market.
It was during this time when he was between jobs that he met with one of his friends from secondary school. A raucous young man called Patrick Awende. They met in a rundown bar in Kangemi and between their sips of Senator Keg, Patrick offered James a job but he said it was unconventional.
“Minimal hours, maximum profit,” Patrick burped. “Good money.”
“I don’t know, man. It sounds shady.”
“Look, you have nothing to worry about,” he patted him on the shoulder. “I’ve been doing it for years!”
“And yet you choose to drink in this hell hole,” James said.
“I come here for the ambience.”
They laughed heartily.
“Come see me tomorrow evening. You won’t regret it.” Patrick stood and left. For a person who had been drinking so much, he did not seem to stagger or slur in his speech. James would remember this when he had completed his first job with Patrick. He would remember that it was a setup.
The next evening, James met up with Patrick who had brought another guy with him called Kelvin. Kelvin sat in the driver’s seat of an old Toyota Corolla G Touring – the kind the Fielder was birthed from. He was smoking something that definitely was not tobacco.
“Glad you made it,” Patrick said.
“I need the money,” said James.
“And you’ll get plenty of it.” Patrick opened the back door of the car for James. “Get in. We’ll talk on the way.”
James hesitated for a while but curiosity got the better of him and he hopped into the car. Patrick and Kelvin said nothing as they drove. They were on the road to Nakuru. The dark sky was clear and James stared up at the stars looking for the only constellation he knew, Orion. The mythical Grecian who was killed by a scorpion, he remembered reading that in one of those Encyclopaedia Britannicas in the school library (one of the very few times he actually stepped into the library). And there Orion was, his bright three-star belt illuminating the sky holding up a shield that James did not see. Protecting himself from Scorpio, the bug that killed him. In the driver’s seat of the car, Kelvin pointed ahead and Patrick nodded. “Jamo, kaa rada,” he said.
“Why?” James started when suddenly Kelvin sped up and hit the car ahead from behind. Not a big hit but enough to break a tail light and to get the driver of the silver Mercedes to stop.
“What the hell is going on?!” James yelled.
Just then Kelvin pulled a gun on him and hissed, “Be quiet. I swear if you ruin this I’ll shoot you right in the fucking face!”
James held up his hands. Kelvin stared him down for what seemed like hours before turning back to the wheel. The Mercedes in front had already pulled over to the side and turned on its hazard lights and Patrick did the same for their Toyota. The driver of the luxury vehicle stepped out to assess the damage. He was tall, light-skinned with wide shoulders that made him look massive. He had on a white shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, no tie, and black maybe blue trousers. A man who was definitely from a corporate office somewhere.
“Get out of the car, James,” Patrick said. “And be cool.”
James obeyed the order. Kelvin had his pistol trained on him again. He got out right behind Patrick who James noticed had a gun in his hands as well.
The Mercedes driver stood at the back of his car waiting for them. To exchange insurance information or whatever when Patrick pulled his gun on him.
“On the ground! Get on the ground right now!” He yelled. The man was puzzled for a minute, James could see it in his eyes in the light of the Toyota’s headlights. Then Patrick fired into the air. A warning shot. The man (and James too) figured that this was serious. He got down on his knees and put his hands in the air.
“Please,” he said. “Please, please. I’ll give you all the money I have on me. And there’s a laptop in the car. But let me go. I have to go.”
“Shut up!” Patrick said. “Give me your phone.”
The man rummaged through his pockets and produced his phone. Patrick signalled to James to take it from him. James took it and felt a wave of sickness when he did. He was a thief now. A common thief. He should have just rotted in that Kangemi bar. That was a thousand times more preferable than this.
“Where are your keys?” Patrick asked. And just as he asked that a large trailer came down the road. Taking advantage of the distraction, the man stood up and lunged towards Patrick, knocking him down. Patrick fired his gun but missed the man who punched him in the jaw. The man then ran towards the back of the Toyota, away from the lights, towards the trailer that had gone past the two cars and was now slowing down. That was when Kelvin got out of the car and fired twice.
James did not see it but he heard the thud as the man fell. Patrick got up quickly as Kelvin got back in their vehicle. “Jamo, get in the car.” He pointed to the Merc.
“Dude, what the hell is this?” James said.
Patrick pointed the gun at him, “I won’t ask you again.” Patrick pushed him into the Mercedes. “Drive to that mall in Naivasha. Leave the car there we’re right behind you.” James nodded, shaking as he placed his hands on the wheel. The gun was still pointed at his head. “Don’t do anything stupid,” Patrick smiled.
James started the car and sped towards Naivasha.
Patrick and Kelvin raced after him, away from the man’s body. In the rearview mirror, they could see that the trailer had fully stopped now and its driver had stepped out to check on the man. Patrick took out his phone and dialled a number. “Hello, police? I saw on the news you’re looking for a carjacking ring along the A104. I’ve just witnessed a carjacking. The driver is on the road to Naivasha or Nakuru. It’s a silver Mercedes Benz.”
In the Merc, James felt the man’s phone vibrate in his pocket. He ignored it. His hands gripped the wheel so tight they might as well have been fused to it. As he drove fast towards Naivasha, something told him to take a detour. He was far ahead of Patrick and Kelvin by now, thank heavens. Their G Touring could not keep up with the speed of the German machine.
They had taken the car close to Soko Mjinga and James dumped it at Flyover. He found a throw blanket in the back seat and used that to wipe the steering wheel and the car door handles, both inside and out. James left the key, after wiping it down, on the dashboard and walked slowly along the road till he found a bar. There he walked in and asked for a drink, waiting out the night.
The phone is his pocket vibrated again. James took it out and cursed himself for not leaving it in the car. There were 11 missed calls from the same caller and one message. Unlocking the screen, for the man did not have a security code, he read the message.
“It’s a boy.”