BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
Later, I say to GB, “Let’s play a game.”
“You’re this villain called Seagurd Bastard, you’re the bad guy. I’m the good guy, the cop, the private investigator. My job is to understand how you think. Or rather, to make you think. I’ll be the one asking the questions, you’ll be the one making up the story. I’ll call the game Criminal Minds.”
“Think about that office on the 6th floor of the landlord’s building, where we climb 108 steps,” yeah, I’ve counted them, “to pay our rent. Si we all pay it in cash, as in all tenants, in all their properties, have to physically go to this office and make their cash deposits there. So I want you to plan a heist to steal that rental cash. Tell me how you’ll do it.”
It’s the odd hours between 11 a.m. and lunchtime. We’re knocking back a bottle of Gentleman’s Jack in our deluxe tent here at Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp.
We’re here for the weekend. We’re here because, well, because at some point of your young marriage, you’ll get restless with your routines and you’ll ask yourself, “Is he boring?” “Am I boring?” “Are we boring each other to early bedtimes and binge TV?” Nobody is boring. (Well, maybe, a little bit.) It’s the marriage that gets boring. Hella boring. Not that it can get boring – it will get boring. Like any relationship is wont to.
Has your boss ever bored you to the point where, as they’re giving you a dress down about some bull, you think about what they’d look like if they grew a handlebar moustache and took this dress down on the road as stand-up comedy?
It’s a simple cause-and-effect, this boredom. Home is synonymous with the marriage. The marriage has become boring. Which equates to home being boring. So you pack up and get on the road and drive to wherever that road will take you.
(Just make sure you’ve not packed this boredom into an extra suitcase and brought it along with you on your road trip. Pack poorly-fitting lingerie instead. And whiskey. And board games. Hahaa.)
Well, we drove four hours and 205 kilometers from Nairobi to Nanyuki. It was drizzling by the time we got to Ol Pejeta’s park gates. It was a little before they shut the gates for the night at 6 p.m. The KWS guards are strict about this – you could bring a busload of boisterous traditional dancers to thaw them but the guards will icily stick to their guns. Screw you and the entitlement that comes with your urban tardiness.
Serena Sweetwaters Camp is one of the luxury tented camps in Ol Pejeta Conservancy; there are also bush camps, cottages, ready-for-sale villas and a sanctuary in the Conservancy’s expanse.
Sweetwaters is tucked 3kms into the Conservancy. The roads to the Camp are fairly graded and our city car, with its low clearing and pretentious pampers, navigated with little damage to its underbelly.
The Camp itself is a fenced oasis of green lawns, acacia trees that are evenly spaced out, neat concrete pathways, a small swimming pool, birdlife, a watering hole and 56 tents. Seventeen of these tents are deluxe, the others are standard.
The door of our deluxe tent opens to a deck and beyond it, past the electric fence, is the semiarid plateau of the park. It’s also more spacious and private, has a better view of the wildlife and park, than the standard tent.
It’s a tidy distance from the main housing of the Camp, though. And there are no telephone extensions in the tent. There was one morning during our weekend stay when the generators went off and water stopped pumping. It wasn’t amusing because I’d already soaped myself in the shower. Thank our lucky stars GB had Hussein’s number.
(You’ll meet Hussein later in this story. For now, think of him as something of a modern buff messiah in cargo pants and greasy curly hair. And eyes that are too close together. Oh, and a Coasterian accent.)
The tented structure means that the nights are howling cold, especially before dawn; room service gave us hot water bottles and extra blankets each night. We also do what we have to to keep each other warm. Wink.
Much later on this Friday afternoon, after lunch, GB and I will play two rounds of Scrabble. I’ll beat him in both rounds hands down. It’s fascinating that I always whoop his ass yet he’s the one who taught me how to play the game with tact.
I won our first game ever by pure luck and by his sloppiness. It was a Thursday, I recall, a plan for date night. We had set up the board on a pouf in the living room and had sat crossed legged on the rug, as if we were indulging in an Arabian feast. A Naija mix played on YouTube from the TV and, because this is what we do with each other when we aren’t parenting, we were having some whiskey. It was fun.
I showed off my mastery of the English language on that Thursday night of Scrabble. I played big words like ‘hubris’ and ‘memes’ and ‘chagrin’. Mastery and show-off isn’t the way to win at Scrabble, though. That was only half my naivety, the major half was that I carelessly placed my big-word tiles on the board. I was the one keeping score, and not once did my fancy words earn me more than 10 points.
GB went for two-cent words like ‘cute’ and ‘old-er’ and ‘last’. Words he placed with such thought that he got triple-letter and triple-word scores. He was mawing 21 points at each play.
The only reason I ended up winning is because of his sloppiness. We were down to the wire and I only had three tiles left. It was my turn to play. I followed his eyes and saw where he didn’t want me to place my tiles – some ripe corner of the board where he’d append one, maybe two tiles and score double bonus points to seal his win. And that’s exactly where I placed my tiles to bring the victory home. You should have seen my victory dance, hahha.
Now here we are at Sweetwaters playing this game called Criminal Minds, where he’s a villain called Seagurd Bastard (look that up, by the way, it means something) and I’m the private investigator.
Back to my question about the heist for the rental cash, GB doesn’t balk. The Kuyo in him has awoken and is relishing in the bad blood of his alter ego. He says, “So the first thing I’ll need to know is how often they bank the cash. I’ll get that intel from an inside guy.”
“You have an inside guy?”
“Yeah.” He sounds surprised that I’d ask.
“Why wouldn’t you have an inside chick?”
“Because chicks get emotional and they can spill the beans when pushed to the corner, so I’ll work with a guy instead, guys know how to keep it together.
“This insider will tell me how often they bank the cash; when and what time of the day, which bank it’s taken to. Because our landlord are chutis and they don’t want to spend more money moving the money, it’s likely they don’t use G4S or guys of security to take that cash to the bank. I’m sure they drive it there themselves, in one of their cars. So that’s where I’d strike. I wouldn’t climb up the stairs to get into their office building because–”
“Exactly,” I say interrupting him. “Because how would you get out?”
He nods. “So we’d just be two of us; masks and guns to make them cooperate and take us seriously. Then–”
“Ski masks, ey?” I interrupt again. This whiskey is making me rude and my mind shakey. It even makes me think of that old track from 50 Cent, Ski Mask Way. I get mine the fast way, ski mask way.
“Yeah. Take the bags of cash from there. I know how much I’d get because my inside guy would have told me how much they [the landlord] usually collect at this time of the month, when guys are making their payments.”
“He’d have told you this on that one month or over a period of time?”
“Over a period of time. Ofcourse.”
I feel dumb. “Ofcourse. Enhe…”
GB animatedly continues, “We’ll run the heist when most guys are going there to pay their rent. So that’s anywhere between end month, huko ma 28th and to the 5th, maybe 6th. Not later than 7th. 7th is late, tenants pay their rent on time because they don’t want to be fined for late payment. My inside guy should already have given me that intel about cash depos.”
“Right. And how would you drive off with the cash?”
“We’d drive off in a boda. Drive off in the first one from the scene of the heist then the first guy would meet up with the second guy at an agreed spot, he’ll be waiting with another bike with the engine running. The cash will switch bikes and hands here, and they’ll drive off to different locations. The first guy will go his way and the second guy will bring the stash to a safe house, that’s where it’ll sit for a few hours until the heat is off.”
It sounds like a foolproof plan. I think about what could go wrong. I think about the number plates on the bikes, and bike gear for the riders and any distinguishing mark on the bike that would tell it apart from the next bike. I also think about traffic. And if there happens to be a cop on motorbike patrolling the area. And if there are any CCTV cameras in the vicinity of the crime scene. Where would the riders dump the motorbikes? What about finger prints? And what about the cash itself, what if it has GPS or stuff like that? What if the bags are bugged? What if these bags are just decoys and the real bags are moved after the decoys?
I don’t ask these questions. Instead, “How would you make sure you guys don’t get caught?”
“We’d lay low for many months, maybe even years. Stealing that cash is only 50 per cent of the jobo – the other 50 per cent is in not getting caught.”
“And how do you make sure your inside guy doesn’t get caught?”
“I’d already have briefed him on what to do: don’t quit your jobo, wait for them to fire you; don’t change your lifestyle in any way – don’t move out of where you live, don’t make any big investments at home or huko shagz; don’t buy some flashy phone or car or suit; don’t buy your wife any jewellery; don’t suddenly become happy and show it. Haha. Stay as you are.”
“As frustrated and broke as he is, aye?”
I probe, “Where would you guys have met with your inside guy? How would you guys have planned all this without phone calls? I’m imagining that you don’t talk anywhere where you could leave a paper trail.”
“I’d meet him at the kiosk or the stage or the bar where he drinks. Or just have a conversation with him by the side of the road. We’d be two unsuspicious guys. But I’d never be the one to meet him, I’d have one of my guys do it.”
“Oh, because you’re the mastermind?”
“But what’s in it for your inside guy? Why would he agree to be part of a crime that could lose him his job and land him in jail? Why would he consider being someone’s bitch at Kamiti?”
GB chortles. “They’re probably not paid very well huko, si you know how chutis roll? I’d give this guy a ticket to buy his freedom without anyone getting killed.”
“Would you involve his mother?”
“Why would I involve his mother?!”
“Si you know how in movies the bad guys tell the good guy who doesn’t want to be part of the crime,” my voice flattens into a chilling monotone, Pablo Escobar style, “‘I know where your crippled mother lives, 2kms off the dirt road in Gachagua. I have someone watching her right now. Oh, they just sent me a picture of her milking her cows. Wanna see it? I also know where your daughter, Wairimu, goes to school, the van picks her up 3 sharp and the help waits for her at your court gate at 3.35 sharp. Would you want anything to happen to Wairimu? Or to your lovely wife who works at Nation…’” I laugh out aloud. GB snickers.
“And how would you know your inside guy is The One?”
“I’d have stalked him for many months,” GB says in a assured tone, “and gathered intel about him. I’d know that he needs the cash and would be willing to go the extra mile for it. And that he’s a smart guy who can think on his feet and keep up with appearances.”
We look out of the slightly open glass door and into the park. Zebras in a herd stroll past. There’s a watering hole opposite the main housing of the Camp. Most late mornings and early evenings, the animals from the park congregate here to catch some sips – the waterbucks, wildebeests, elephants, lone buffalos, even a black rhino. It’s calming to sit on the lawn benches and watch them socialize and poke fun at each other.
I’ve been thinking about heists a lot of late after catching this series on Netflix, Good Girls. You seen it?
Good Girls is about three suburban women who rob a convenience store because they need the money.
Mine is a short story, I can’t introduce three new characters who won’t go further than here, so I’ll tell you who they are instead.
The three women: one is a black woman who works in a diner; her husband is a cop, they have two kids; their daughter is fed oxygen by a tank she drags everywhere with her – she needs surgery after her kidneys fail because of something to do with the oxygen.
The other woman is a white single mum to a daughter who’s androgynous; she’s a cashier in the convenience store they rob, she’s their insider; she needs the money to fight for custody of her daughter.
The other woman, big sister to the other white girl, is a housewife with four kids; she discovers her husband is having an affair with his secretary and has dug the family into a grave of debt; she needs the money to keep her family afloat and from becoming homeless.
It’s not the why of the heist that piques my interest. We’d all do with some immediate extra cash in our pockets, heaven knows, the moral dilemma notwithstanding.
It’s how they did it.
How I’d do it.
Remember that story from last December, about the three brothers who stole 52 mil from KCB Thika? (Well, they’re the ones that got their hands dirty, there was someone sitting somewhere pulling the marionette strings.) The brothers dug a tunnel from their rental kiosk – stall, bookstore, whatever – at the exhibition centre next door, into the bank’s strong room.
I know this is a tad twisted but that patience they put in, and intelligence and smarts, their obedience to the masterminds of the heist, calls for rounds of applause. It does, admit it. I secretly hoped the brothers and the masterminds wouldn’t get caught.
I sip my whiskey and ask GB, “So now you guys have stolen, what, let’s say 25 mil. You’ve laid low for many years. How do you wash that money back into the economy? How do you spend it without raising eyebrows?” I hastily add, “Money is power, you know, and it corrupts the heart and mind of man. That’s how people end up cutting off the loose ends – you’ll kill to keep that plunder to yourself.”
There’s a swimming pool at the Camp but the water is uncomfortably cold to stay in for too long. It doesn’t get any warmer, even on those scorching afternoons. I lounge under the shade instead and read a book from my Kindle.
Saturday afternoon, the resident masseuse gives us a relaxing aromatherapy massage in her grass-thatched parlour. I don’t remember much because I fall asleep a few minutes into my hour.
GB scratches the top of his head as he thinks, he’s shut his right eye half way down. This shutting-eye-thing is what he does when he’s about to share brilliance. It’s a hilarious gesture. I hold back my laughter.
He says, “I’d take a huge bank loan then use the heist money to pay it back. Then I’d use the loan to build a flat for rent, launder more money in there. I’d still have more money left….” he trails off, “I’d loan some to a pal, then finance him to build a flat.”
Aki Kuyos and their flats, hahha. If a Kuyo man had the option, he’d ask to be buried in one of his flats.
I say, “Wouldn’t you want to travel or something? Indulge in some sort of luxury? I would.”
“Nah, that’s a dead giveaway. It’s like telling the cops, ‘I’m here, come arrest me.’ It’s not smart.”
On our third and final day, Sunday, we take a game drive in the park at 6a.m. The Camp charges heftily to hire their tour van and driver but we use our pampered car because the inroads aren’t that rough. Also because it doesn’t hurt to put that money back in our pockets.
We got Hussein to take us on the drive. The buff messiah I’d mentioned earlier. He’s a chatty, long-time environmentalist with the Camp.
Hussein speaks mostly in Coastal Swa and throws in some English; his accent underlines every word and adds multi-dimensions of flavour to our game drive experience.
It’s probably because of this accent that I never forget when he explains how beautiful the Grevvy zebras are and how thick the thighs of the Common zebra are all seasons, even during droughts like this. Or how the Thompson gazelle differs from the Grant’s gazelle and how they all fall undcer the category of antelopes. Also, how the giraffe’s skin patterns differentiate the Rothschild from the Reticulated. And how the black rhinos are more shy than the white.
The highlight of our game drive is a cemetery that’s a memorial for all the rhinos killed in the park by poachers since 2004. It’s solemn. One headstone reads, “Ishirini. Female black rhino. Born 17th May 1996, died 22nd Feb 2016. Rhino likely killed by use of poisoned arrows. The security team found her writhing in pain with the horns already chopped off. She was 12 months pregnant.”
I ask Hussein and he tells me Ishirini was about four months away from giving birth. I shiver.
A rhino’s horn is one of the most expensive elements in the world, by the way. A gram in the black market retails at $110. A gram of cocaine is $236 (hello, Narcos.) A gram of antimatter is $62.5 trillion.
There’s something Hussein later mentions that pricks me to my core. He says, “Poachers wanataka pembe ya kifaru pekee. If they were patient enough to drug the rhino and wait, then cut of its horns bila kumuua, these rhinos wouldn’t be endangered. Lakini hawa poachers ni wezi na wanataka kutoka haraka, hawana wakati wa kupoteza.”
We don’t see the lions, though. By the time we drive to where they usually hang out, it’s about 7.30a.m and they’ve already cleared the meat from the bones of their previous evening’s hunt.
Hussein says they’ve probably gone somewhere to nap and ward off the gradually rising temperatures of the Ol Pejeta.23