10:25 a.m., Corporate Paradise Restaurant, Upperhill. The attractive usher at the entrance flashed a cheery smile which contrasted with her dull-coloured, ill-fitting kikoi uniform. Her plastic heart-shaped name tag had the name Shiko engraved on it. The contrast of woman and attire only heightened the upsetting sense of unreality broadcast by the glowing ball-and-chain sign outside, corrugated iron roof and cottage-like bay windows, and the sunny yellow and green vitenge table covers.
“Welcome to Corporate Paradise,” Shiko said. “Table for two, ladies?”
Amba followed Atieno to a table, which was already being cleaned by a male server wearing the same abominable kikoi as Shiko. Was this the third or the fourth time Atieno had started her day here this week? She wasn’t sure. It had all been a blur since the nightmare with Thoth began. It was a welcome taste of freedom after the blackmail roller coaster. After two weeks in the bed, she had been excited to finally get a chance to revive AMMA in earnest.
After Atieno pulled her chair and sat. She eyed her companion inquisitively. “What did you do?”
Amba shrugged and opened her menu. “Exercising my blogging right,” she smirked. “It’s amazing. People got bent out of shape over a series of blog entries Thoth used to write about why he believed his revolutionary business tactics were going to change branding and advertising forever in this country. People believed him; people were waiting for him to unveil his plans. But when they saw his dead body in his own blog yesterday, boom! Wallop! BOOM! The end of an empire. People are miffed, I know. But I don’t care.”
Atieno smiled, and looked away for a second, then fixed her friend with a stern look of disapproval. “The end of an empire? You post images of a dead man in his blog and bring down his business empire and you say you don’t care?”
“Frankly speaking, he deserved it, you know that.”
“To die, you mean?”
Amba nodded. “More than that: to burn in hell.” She crossed her arms and straightened in her seat. “Seems the truth’s as hideous as can never be imagined. Look, he forced me… blackmailed me. You know how he is. Teddy cannot trust me anymore, you know. Thoth used Pato to scare him. Pato had some of my filthy pics.”
Her grim narrative was interrupted momentarily by Shiko’s appearance. She poured hot cocoa, dropped in a pair of cherry-filled chocolates, added some mint liqueur, and then topped them both with whipped cream.
“Karibuni,” Shiko said and went away.
Atieno flashed a humorless smile. She picked up the thread. “How tasteless. That crippled jerk could’ve become the first man to drive me into adultery. Can you imagine, Mukami?” She paused, made a face. Then she added, “I went there to kill him in order to save AMMA. But I swear to you I found him dead.”
Amba nodded. She sniffed at her mug, smiled and took a sip, getting some whipped cream on her light brown nose. “I believe you. I had called him an hour before you were to meet him and he was not picking his phone. The autopsy report showed he died at six-thirty.”
Atieno heaved a heavy sigh. “To tell you the truth, I too don’t care. With all those corrupt technocrats like Thoth out of the picture, ordinary folks, people who can offer some useful product or service to others like me are now getting their due. The country might be in chaos right now with the politicians running amok all over the place but it’s a far sight better, as far as I’m concerned, than it was before the Government’s public funds committee scandal and the mortgages scam that nearly brought our economy to its knees. Thoth was plagued incessantly by his dirty deeds. He needed a break, for sure. For my money—and I earned it by knowing a thing or two about the value and power of a woman’s private parts yesterday— I think it was worth the cost.”
Amba almost spilled her drink. What was she hearing? “What money?”
Atieno smiled sheepishly. “The twenty-eight million. He touched me then he gave it to me. And don’t forget he; in reality, wanted to bring me down. He took Lolando away from AMMA. He was poised to take AMMA away from me and he was succeeding.”
Angle fed her colleague with a curious grin. “He couldn’t take no for an answer. What trick did you use.”
Atieno smiled. “You know that old high school trick of faking periods? Staining pad with tomato sauce, yah? It worked, imagine.”
Amba leaned frontward, leered, “If his death is your mea culpa it still sounds silly and unfortunate. I don’t care a hoot if you did it.”
Amba knew it sounded misleading, for; surely, that was not the way to reflect her sentiments on a grave subject like this. But they were both in good spirits. Both were nursing deadly thoughts. She even noted for the first time that they had the same initials: AM. They were both wired to be nasty business women, it was clear.
“So…” Atieno paused, stirred the whipped cream into her drink, and took a long, thoughtful sip. “If it weren’t for you acceding to Thoth’s screwy idea to take AMMA away from me and make you a director, it wouldn’t have been necessary to ignite what happened. And that makes his death neither your fault nor mine. It’s the businesswoman’s fault. Maybe this makes it our mea maxima culpa? The businesswoman in us.”
Amba sipped her cocoa and conjured to her mind the answer to the question. She gazed beyond her boss for a long moment before saying anything. When she did, her voice was low and laced with emotion, like she was on the verge of tears. “Businesswoman’s fault? My mea culpa? I don’t think so. I was only stemming the tide. I was windmill-tilting myself to launch Ji-Clad Poa when he knocked me down and blackmailed me with his cranky proposal to betrayal you. But after what you just said, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’m looking at my fault. My fault? Our fault? You and me? Really?”
Atieno smiled, leaned forward and whispered, “Who’s fault? Nobody’s to blame, Mukami. Just say like Americans say: it’s nothing personal, just business. Don’t look at me that way, it’s cynical. Hey, now that it’s all over, do I say we’re even?”
Amba nodded. “If you say so and if you mean it.”
“Then forgive yourself and let’s keep everything under wraps, can we?”
Amba sighed tiredly. “You win and I’m happy for you.”
The fire hadn’t gone out of Atieno’s eyes. Not quite. “Uh-huh?”
“For us. Back in business.”
“That’s what I want to hear. It’s a win/win for us and for AMMA. Now, can we discuss your Ji-Clad Poa?”
Amba nodded. “You want an update or what?”
“Let’s get moving. Brief me on the progress. You hungry? I could do with some steamy Luo aliya... Let’s go to Kosewe.”
“No, I’m still a bit queasy from the thunder slap.”
“Wewe wacha. You’ve got to eat. Look at you, are you losing weight? Let’s go now.”
But Amba knew she had another think coming. Could her mea culpa lead to her downfall? Her thoughts were in lockdown mode, her mind nearly void and empty.
Atieno, though, reflected on what had happened with relish. She had issues, with herself as well as with Amba. She had resoundingly floored Thoth and stopped Amba. She didn’t particularly care for the manner in which she had been forced to deal with this, but all in all, her choices were limited. She did what she had to do as a business woman.
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