Hard-hitting talk show host Augustus Seeza has become a household name in Ghana, though notorious for his lavish overspending, alcoholism, and womanizing. He’s dating the imposing, beautiful Lady Araba, who leads a selfmade fashion empire. Fearing Augustus is only after her money, Araba’s religious family intervenes to break them up. A few days later, just before a major runway show, Araba is found murdered in her bed. Her driver is arrested after a hasty investigation, but Araba’s favorite aunt, Dele, suspects Augustus Seeza was the real killer.
Almost a year later, Dele approaches Emma Djan, who has finally started to settle in as the only female PI at her agency. To solve Lady Araba’s murder, Emma must not only go on an undercover mission that dredges up trauma from her past, but navigate a long list of suspects with strong motives. Emma quickly discovers that they are all willing to lie for each other—and that one may still be willing to kill.
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The day of the murder
In the lavish Trasacco Valley, the Beverly Hills of Accra, no one would have anticipated a murder. The sprawling gated community was landscaped with neat hedgerows and palm trees lining its streets. Pink, yellow, and red hibiscus bushes dotted impossibly green lawns. Red and yellow bougainvillea spilled over the walls and fences.
Completed about a decade before, the Valley couldn’t possibly fit any more buildings. However, east of it along the N1 Highway stretched acres of virgin land where the Trasacco Company had begun constructing several new gated complexes on what would be called Trasacco Hills.
The entrance to the Valley was a ten-foot-high wrought-iron gate with a sentry box where the security guards kept track of who went in and out. Peter, the veteran lead security guard, knew every resident by name and face, but all visitors needed to state their identity and destination, and their license plate number might be noted as well. Peter, forty-five, was older than his peers, some of whom were in their twenties. True, he was a tad overweight and could probably not outrun a fit young intruder, but the Valley’s five-year security record was impeccable, with not a single instance of robbery, burglary, or carjacking. Peter was proud of that.
Change of shift was between 6:30 and 7 a.m., giving Peter another fifteen minutes or so before he went home to his wife and kids. Another early bird in Trasacco Valley was Ismael, the head groundskeeper. With a small number of assistants, he kept hedges trimmed, grass mowed, and weeds cleared. Unlike Peter, he was wiry in build, but like the security man, he was friendly and smiled easily. He had a way with greenery. The elegance of the grounds was, for the most part, due to him. Today, he was to put in Blood of Jesus plants—eye-catching with their deep purple leaves and crimson veins that looked like streaks and splatters of blood—in select areas of the complex.
But before he did that, he had promised Lady Araba Tagoe, who loved decorating her palatial space with flowers and trees, that he would bring her a pair of planters for the upper terrace outside her bedroom.
It was a Monday—a fresh start to the week. Ismael went to the garden shed that stood at the end of Ruby Row next to a motion-sensor exit. From the shed, Ismael removed two large terra-cotta planters and carried them one in each hand to 401 Ruby Row.
For additional security, each mansion in the Valley had a remote-operated wrought-iron gate at the driveway entrance. Among the several different house types and colors, Lady Araba’s was called “The Duke,” painted orange chiffon with a red tile roof trimmed in white. A high-ceilinged portico formed the Duke’s front entrance. As Ismael approached, Lady Araba’s chauffeur, Kweku-Sam, was washing her Range Rover, which he did every morning before he took the boss out. Any driver worth his salt kept his employer’s vehicles shiny and spotless—barely possible in Accra’s dusty environment. Araba’s second car was an Audi, but she preferred the Rover for its high profile and smoothness over rough roads.
“Morning, Kweku!” Ismael called out.
Kweku-Sam looked up from his work and smiled. “Morning. How be?”
“I dey, oo! Wassup?”
They slipped seamlessly into Twi instead of English. Ismael was from arid Northern Ghana, while Kweku-Sam was Akan, but Twi was their lingua franca.
“Where is the house girl?” Ismael asked. “Usually she’s sweeping the yard by now.”
“She traveled to her hometown for a funeral. Where are you taking those flowerpots?”
“To the terrace,” Ismael responded. “Madam asked me to get them for her.” He worked part-time at a plant shop in town.
“Okay,” Kweku said, glancing at his watch. “She will be down in about thirty minutes. Today is a big day for her—the fashion show.”
“Ah, fine.” Ismael knew next to nothing about that kind of thing. It was a different world. The lives of Trasacco’s residents were far removed from his own.
Ismael took a left across the green lawn with sprawling hibiscus, past the projecting bay window of the living room and the kitchen, then a right at the staff quarters to the rear of the house.
On the second floor, Lady Araba’s master bedroom occupied the west wing and opened directly onto a terrace via a framed glass door. Ismael already had a ladder leaning against the wall from the day before when he had been up on the terrace. It was tricky climbing up with a heavy planter in one hand, but he was accustomed to awkward maneuvers. At the top of the ladder, he reached over the decorative terrace wall and set down the first planter gingerly. He returned to the ground and did the same for the second planter before skipping over the wall into the terrace. Ismael loved it here. The shaded pergola, which Lady Araba had designed herself, was surrounded by explosions of color. Hanging ferns, blue plumbago, red ixora, yellow galphimia, and pink desert rose flourished. There wasn’t any other homeowner in Trasacco who could boast of such plant glory. Ismael moved the planters to either side of the pergola. Lady Araba liked symmetry and matching pairs. As Ismael went past, he looked toward the glass door and felt his stomach plunge.
He scrambled down the ladder, jumping the last four rungs to the ground. He ran around to the front of the house, shouting, “Kweku! Kweku!”
Kweku-Sam looked up from polishing off the Rover with a chamois. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Madam,” Ismael said, breathing hard. “Something bad has happened. Do you have a key to the house?”
Kweku-Sam shook his head. “No. But what has happened?”
“She’s lying in her bed,” Ismael said, “and there’s blood. Take the car and bring Peter here. Quick!”
The Rover’s tires squealed as Kweku-Sam gunned the engine.
Inside the security booth, Peter had finished entering his summary of the night’s activities into the logbook and was giving the morning report to the two security guards taking over duty. There wasn’t much to report, as the shift had been quiet.
He looked up as Lady Araba’s Rover came toward them at top speed. Kweku-Sam jumped out. “Peter, come! Ismael says something bad has happened to Lady Araba.”
Peter frowned. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. You just come, my brodda.”
Peter dropped everything and got into the Rover. Kweku-Sam made a rubber-burning U-turn, and they took off back to 401, where they skidded into the driveway. Ismael was nowhere to be seen. Peter followed Kweku-Sam at a full run to the rear of the house.
“Ismael!” Kweku-Sam called out.
“I’m up here!” Ismael’s head appeared over the terrace wall.
“Chaley, what’s going on?” Peter asked.
“I think she’s dead,” Ismael said, voice shaking.
“Do you have a key to get inside?” Ismael asked Peter.
“No, no, I don’t.” Peter started up the ladder. Kweku-Sam followed.
“Then I have to break the glass door,” Ismael said, grabbing a metal patio chair from the pergola. By the time the other two men reached the terrace, Ismael was attacking the door with the legs of the chair. It splintered open on his second attempt, and he reached inside and pulled down the door handle. The other two men were right behind Ismael as he pushed the door open.
“Awurade,” he said. “Oh, Jesus.”
Shades of white and cream were the color scheme of the room. The copious scarlet of the spattered blood on the carpet and bed was a jarring contrast. A bloody duvet covered Lady Araba’s body up to her neck. She was lying on her back and might have simply been asleep, save that her face was bloated and gray. Her eyes, now milky white, were still open. So was her mouth. The pillow on which her head rested had a wide halo of dried blood.
Peter and Ismael stood staring, frozen. They heard a loud wailing sound and turned to see Kweku-Sam weeping as he rushed inside. Calling out his boss’s name, he lurched toward the bed, but Peter grabbed him and held him back.
“Kweku,” he said quietly, then more emphatically, “Kweku, there’s nothing you can do. Madam is dead.”