The whole team was still sitting at the dining table after dinner. Henry was sitting at the shorter side alone while Jennifer was sitting alone on the left side with Dave and Samantha on the right side.
“So, now that you ruled out involving Sheila Jack. How are we going to achieve all these without someone as capable as her?”
“We will find someone else,” Henry replied.
“I still think there’s none else we can trust like her,” Samantha put in.
“There are many more experts we can invite, even in Anthanna. I just want to be careful to select someone who has a good record.”
There was total silence for a couple of minutes. Dave was about to say something when Henry hushed him.
“Hold on, Dave.” He said after checking the time on his mobile phone. “It’s time to speak with our FOX personnel.”
They all stared at him as he dialed a number on the phone and placed it on the table. The call was placed on loudspeakers and it began to connect as they all listened.
“Agent Carl?” Evelyn finally answered the call from the other end.
“Yes, Agent Carl. How are you, Evelyn?” Henry replied.
“I’m fine, I’ve been expecting your call since yesterday.”
“I know, Evelyn. I only settled today and I had to wait until you’re out of the office before I call. How’s it at the office?”
“The office is the way it is,” Evelyn replied. “We’re still trying to identify the man whom we found dead in your apartment and they’re also trying to locate the woman who came to clean the items at the forensics.”
“The pictures were sent to Anthanna to be identified,” Henry chipped.
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve been monitoring the messages from the FOX to Anthanna. Besides, it is a regular practice in the FOX. They’ll always try to find out if the criminals come from other countries.”
“You’re right,” She replied and there was a short silence. “Well, everything is under control. No one could identify that I was the one who came in that night. So, I guess all the investigations on this case will be leading to a dead end.”
“And what is the next plan?”
“We’re shifting the targets of our investigation,” Evelyn replied.
“That’s great, Evelyn. There are some important things you need to know,” Henry cleared his throat gently.
“And what’s that?”
“Even though the FOX may arrive at a dead end,” Henry began. “The Wolves are likely to find out that you helped me and they would come after you.”
“The Wolves?” Evelyn asked, she seemed surprised.
“Yes, but you don’t need to be scared. We can make it work to our advantage.”
“I’m not scared, I’m just glad you’re telling me early.”
“Great!” Henry exclaimed. He was certain that Evelyn wasn’t scared. “You have to be careful to find them immediately they locate you. They may start following you or try to lead you into traps to get information about me but I’ll get back to you with a plan. For now, stay careful.”
The night was peaceful and silent. Apart from the sounds of the rolling fan blades, no other sounds could be heard in the whole building.
Samantha clad in her nightgown walked as gently as possible through the hallway towards the control room. She had gotten up to get some water when she noticed the dim reflection of light through the control room. She was somewhat certain that no other person could be in the place except for Henry. But out of curiosity, she decided to find out what he was doing in there.
She got to the entrance and stopped. He was sitting in front of the control system. His chair was some distance away from his table. It was an ergonomic chair which had a mouse pad, so he could read on the computer without being near it. He only moved close rarely when he needed to type on the keyboard.
She took a step forward and leaned against the door frame. He seemed to have heard some sound as he turned immediately. He stared at her for a couple of seconds trying to identify who was at the entrance. He could tell instantly that it was a lady but the darkness made it a bit difficult to tell if it was Samantha or Jennifer.
“Samantha,” he called softly and turned back to face the screen after identifying her.
She took some steps further in and he didn’t look back until she got to his side. She dragged a chair closer and sat beside him.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” he glanced at her and turned back to the screen quickly, his hand busy with the mouse.
“I was,” she let out a breath. “I woke up some few minutes ago and couldn’t sleep again. I came to get a glass of water when I noticed there was someone here.”
He glanced at her and only smiled briefly without saying anything.
“What about you?” She asked as she turned to look at what he was doing on the screen. “Why aren’t you sleeping?”
“Well, I’ve got to finish some work before I go to bed,” Henry answered her.
“Why the hurry? Can’t it wait till tomorrow?”
Henry took his hands off the mouse and turned to give her full attention.
“The team is not complete for now,” he explained. “I have to do some work I would have asked Cole to do.”
Samantha heaved a sigh. Cole’s impact was still being felt by the team and she wondered if they were going to stop missing him even after they got a replacement for him.
“You told us we are not in a hurry,” Samantha retorted. “Working at this time of the night makes it look like you’re working on something urgent.”
Henry was quiet for a while.
“Yes,” he dragged in a breath. “I said we’re not in a hurry to attack them. But it doesn’t mean they are not in a hurry too. We don’t know what they could be planning right now. I have to do everything to ensure we follow all their moves.”
There was silence for a while and then Henry turned back to the system, hoping Samantha had gotten all the answers she needed already.
“Carl,” Samantha called gently after a few more seconds of silence.
Henry froze for a moment and then he turned slowly with his eyes squinting at her. It was the first time any of the team members will call him with the name Carl. It felt somewhat strange even though still soothing.
He stared at her anxiously, wondering what she was about to say. But it seemed like she deliberately remained quiet to increase his anxiety.
“I sense that you feel some fear or you’re uncertain about how successful our mission would be,” Samantha finally said.
“Fear?” Henry raised his brows. “No, I’m not afraid or uncertain about anything.”
Henry turned back to the system to continue his work.
Samantha stared at him silently for a few seconds.
“Carl,” she called gently again.
He took another deep breath and stopped moving the mouse in his hand.
“It’s okay to feel fear sometimes. Your fear could help you make the right decisions carefully. But it’s also okay to share what you feel,” she said and stared at him for a while again.
He closed his eyes briefly and breathed in and out deeply. His mind flashed back quickly to the day before, the moment when he had waited to hear if they would continue the mission with him or opt-out. While both Dave and Jennifer had expressed their wish to continue just to avenge Cole’s death, only Samantha had said she trusted him.
Her exact words echoed in his mind as he thought about it. “I’m with you, Henry. I believe in you,” she had said that afternoon.
He opened his eyes to see her already getting up to leave.
“I’ll just go back to bed and let you focus on your work,” she tried to excuse herself.
“No, Samantha. Please sit,” he urged her.
She returned to the seat slowly and kept her eyes on him without saying any word.
He turned the chair to her and rubbed his palms on his face briefly, breathing into them. He then looked straight into her eyes and began to speak. “You’re right, Samantha. I’m a bit afraid. I’m not afraid of the plans or mission but I’m afraid of losing someone else.”
He paused and bit his lower lip gently. “I led many teams in the FOX to victory in many missions but this is quite different. The FOX men are trained, not necessarily by me. And they have also sworn allegiance to the state, ready to give their lives if they have to.” He paused again and looked into her eyes. “But you guys are different, just a couple of guys trying to survive and make something for their families. I can’t afford to lead you to your deaths anymore.”
“But I thought we talked about this earlier,” Samantha frowned at him. “You already identified why the plans almost got us all killed because there was a loophole that made them imperfect.”
“Yes, I said that. But you see, knowing that there was a loophole in the previous plans doesn’t mean that a loophole cannot be found in any other plan we make,” Henry gasped and then sprung up from his chair.
He heaved a sigh of frustration and ran his fingers through his hair as he began to pace around, muttering some words to himself.
Samantha let him alone for a while before she got up.
“So, are you saying even though we would take our time to make the plan and work it out, you’re still scared it would not be perfect?”
“I told you before that a plan is only perfect until your opponent finds a loophole and in this war, there would be several loopholes.”
“What do you mean by several loopholes?”
Henry stopped pacing and turned to her. “How long have we known each other, Samantha? Is it up to a year?”
“No,” Samantha shook her head, wondering why he was asking that.
“You see,” he said and began to pace about again but slowly this time. “We began the whole mission less than a year ago but Hutton has been planning this for several years.”
He stopped at her front again. “He most likely has a lot in store that he could use against us,” he said in a croaky voice. “He would have gathered many things during his years of planning and it could be easy for him to escape even we have a perfect plan.”
“Even a perfect plan without loopholes?” Samantha questioned.
“Samantha, understand this; the loophole doesn’t have to come from the plan itself. The plan could be perfect but there are other things he could use against us that we don’t know about.”
“And you’re so confident that he has an upper hand against us? Even without seeing any evidence.”
“Yes, Samantha,” Henry replied and began to pace about again. “Hughes Kanwa H-Force is not a man that would start a war without strategies to counter unforeseen circumstances. He must have had a lot planned already.”
Samantha folded her arms and watched him again as he walked about.
“Carl,” she called in a soft tone but he seemed not to have heard her as he continued pacing. “Carl!” She shouted this time.
He stopped and turned to her for a second and continued pacing again.
“Are you not the same Carl Winston I’ve always read of?” She squinted at him. “The same man who led the FOX in several international battles and returned with victories always?”
“Samantha, in every major war we fought, there are always some casualties. Sometimes, we lose our men, and a lot of times many get injured.”
“So, that’s all you’re scared of? Losing any of us?”
Henry let out a sigh and turned his back to her without replying to her.
Samantha held him gently by the elbow and turned to his front.
“What if we come up with a perfect plan and we also identify the loopholes. The knowledge of the loopholes can help us return without casualties if we use them perfectly.”
“And that’s the problem, Samantha. Is there any plan there wouldn’t be a loophole? Remember we are not just going against some terrorists, we are going against terrorists led by one of the greatest strategists ever.”
“And you are also one of the greatest strategists alive,” Samantha countered. “You can lead us to victory but you seem to have lost faith in yourself.”
“I know we can have victory, Sam. I’m only concerned about the timing. Hutton has been planning this for years and we don’t know when he would launch his next attack. He might get to achieve all his aims before we finish our plans.”
“Nothing of such will happen, Carl. You’ve been overstressed and you need to rest. You should shut down the computer and go to bed, I think it would do you a lot of good.”
Henry stared at her face for a while, wondering if he should take her suggestion.
“Please, shut down and go to bed,” she said in a pleading tone.
He felt like firing back at her to let her remember he was a trained soldier and was supposed to be able to come up with strategies even under stress. But he remembered that he was not only facing physical stress at the moment but he was also emotionally stressed.
“Please,” she said again.
He nodded gently and then stepped away to save his work and shut down the computer.
The computer was still shutting down when something struck his mind. He squinted at the screen for a while and then turned back to look at Samantha.
“You said there would be no casualties if we used them well, right?” Henry asked, his face seemed to have lightened up a bit.
“Not again, Henry. You should go to bed now, we can continue this later in the day.”
“No,” Henry said in a strong tone. “Tell me now, is that what you said?”
Samantha sighed. “Yes, I said if we used the loopholes to our advantage, we can return without casualties.”
“No, not the loopholes,” he said in an excited voice. His mood seemed to have suddenly changed.“We can use them, the FOX, to our advantage. We’re fighting against an army of terrorists and there are only four of us. We can let the FOX do a lot of the dirty works for us while we finish the execution.”
“How do we do that?” Samantha asked.
“We have infiltrated the FOX already through Evelyn Alex, and we infiltrate more.”
“So, does that close the loopholes in the plan?”
“No,” he shook his head. “We don’t even know the loopholes.”
“How do we take care of that?”
“By creating plans with loopholes,” Henry replied. She raised her brows, surprised at his response. “Yes, by creating imperfect plans with loopholes and we will catch them when they try to use the loopholes.”
Samantha squinted at him. “Are we not going to be creating a big mistake?”
“Yes, it will seem like a big mistake but with already made corrections.”
Samantha took in a deep breath. She was yet to fully grasp what he was saying but it was obvious he was already getting a way out.
“Do we have anything yet?” Kahn asked as he walked into the room.
It was an operation center with different computers in all corners. Hutton and two other men were in the room sitting far apart with different computers.
“We’ve got her, Kahn,” Hutton replied him. He minimized the software he was working on and opened a picture. “Here she is, Evelyn Alexandra.”
Kahn took a look at Evelyn’s picture which was displayed on the screen. “When do we go after her?”
“We won’t go after her, Kahn. Carl Winston knows she is exposed and would expect us to come through her. He might have also prepared her for our attack.”
“So, how do we do it?”
“We’ll make the FOX catch her,” Hutton replied.