At home, El-hanook avoided Atisha’s gaze, as he gave a full account of his involvement with the Habalani Sect, holding nothing back. She listened to all he said in silence. He couldn’t bring himself to look into her eyes; for they bore in them a motley mix of incredulity, hurt and betrayal! He knew he had broken the cistern of their love in her heart; whether or not irreversibly, only time would tell.
“So if Fatrid and I hadn’t showed up, all I would have now is your letter?” Atisha shot at El-hanook, who looked everywhere but at her.
“And through all of this, did you for once stop to think about them?” she pointed in the direction of their kids huddled up together on a settee close by, silently observing. “Did you think about me?”
El-hanook tried to mutter a reply but choked even before he could begin. Then, he gathered the courage to look into Atisha’s eyes and saw that they were misty and he immediately appreciated the enormity of the situation. He beckoned to the kids to join their mother at the dinning table, as he knelt before them. Whatever he had to say would be heard by all of them.
“Atisha my love, believe me when I say that I thought this through and through and wrestled with my conscience regarding the course I had chosen. But I was stupid, selfish and callous, to you, our children and to everyone that would have died at my hands today. I promise to spend the rest of my life, seeking your forgiveness and that of the kids”
What followed was an eerie silence that clawed at the very soul of El-hanook and seemed to last for an eternity, until Atisha cleared her throat, as she held their children in her hands, as if shielding them from a monster.
“You are not the same man, I married fifteen years ago, that much I can say! We will leave the city as you have said and do whatever else you instruct. But I do not think that I can ever trust you again”. Atisha’s tears flowed freely.
El-hanook tried to take her in his arms; to pacify her, to tell her he loved her but she turned away from him, and left with Fatrid and his sisters. It was a just verdict and El-hanook knew that he would spend the rest of his days, earning the right to be by their side again.
Agent Mike Dunne’s rise to the headship of the security agency saddled with the responsibility of battling the Habalani Sect had been nothing less than dramatic. Drafted from the police, he had earned the nick name ‘The Well’ within and without the force, because of his alcohol addiction. An addiction that saw him take to the bottle even when he was on active duty. And after several spats with superiors and colleagues alike over issues such as insubordination and dereliction of duty, the only reason he kept his former job and secured his present posting was his uncanny attention to detail, his keen sense of intuition and his never-say die attitude. Like the time he had led a team of detectives, with a warrant, to search the premises of a suspected drug runner, after months of nail-biting surveillance. A thorough search of the premises; a casino, had unearthed nothing. The owner had begun to rant and rave, promising to sue the Jabok City police for all it was worth. However, Agent Dunne had noticed that the man’s eyes darted, as he talked, from the police team to the ceiling. Then without notice, Mike fired several rounds into the ceiling, which had every one scampering for safety. At the end of the interlude, what greeted proceedings was a rainfall of hard drugs, the largest haul ever to be confiscated by the city police. Mike’s reputation subsequently shot to the heavens.
Somehow, someone had recorded that event. And some how, that recording had found its way, along with a recommendation, to the top echelons, for Mike Dunne to head the special anti-terrorism unit of Jabok City.
His obsession for drinking was now overshadowed by a desire to see the Habalani Sect pay for its crimes. It was not a personal vendetta, but Mike felt it was the height of cowardice for people to take innocent lives in such gruesome fashion, as a way to express their grievance against the government. And he detested cowards and he also detested the fact that the sect had somehow managed to remain elusive. Their operations were proving a formidable match for all his years of experience.
Now, he had the blast at the city mall earlier that day to grapple with. Already, the sect had claimed responsibility for the act and Mike had received a call from the Mayor, soon after, ‘Get on top of this, Mike. I need answers and I need them NOW!’
As he sat in his office, Mike knew he had to apply a new strategy. Then he recollected a conversation he had had with a detective friend from abroad, not too long ago.
“The key, Mike, to making any headway in matters like these, is to try to isolate the events and situations that happened immediately before, during and after a terror attack. Usually, the individuals involved like to be close by when the attacks happen, to grovel in the euphoria of their actions .You could call it playing god and you won’t be wrong.”
The basics had been observed; the cameras had revealed nothing, as the perpetrator had parked well beyond view. Even if a face had been recorded, the person could easily have been wearing a mask. The car responsible for the explosion had been found and thoroughly searched but it had been stripped of evidence and its registration was fathom. Once again, it seemed like the perfect strike, although Mike wondered why the sect had targeted only the parking lot of the mall.
The suddenly, Agent Dunne’s eyes brightened as he remembered that he was yet to obtain records of telephone conversations, around the area, at the time of the attack.
He pressed the buzzer of his telecom machine.
“Sandy, please come to my office.”
Sandy was Mike’s executive assistant and her entry broke Mike out of his reverie. He had always felt that Sandy’s gorgeous looks should have paved the way for a career in the movie industry. But she had informed him that her dad had retired as a police officer and her brother was in the customs.
‘So, Sir, I just sort of gravitated to the force’ she had surmised sweetly. And on more than one occasion, he had contemplated asking her out, but knew it was bad business mixing work with pleasure, so he battled to banish such thoughts, continually. Toady she looked more beautiful than ever, clad in a figure hugging skirt suit.
“Do you need anything Sir?”
“Yes I do.” Mike pretended he was in search of something on his desk. “I need you to obtain telephone records from before, during and after the terror attacks at the city mall from all the communication companies. I need them today!”
“Will there be any leads from those sources” Sandy asked again.
Mike wanted this to end quickly. “Let’s just say I have a hunch. So please get to it, will you?”
As Sandy sashayed her way out of his office, in the most alluring manner, Mike could not help but wonder for how long this resolve of his would last.
A little while later, Mike had in his possession transcripts and recordings of all the calls incident to the time of the blast. ‘Sandy is beautiful and efficient’ he mused. He let out a chuckle as he scanned the conversations; they ranged from the sublime to the mundane to the simply outrageous. An hour’s work led nowhere and as Mike was about to call it a day, his eyes brightened at a particular thread.
‘……. Thin boy hit the mark but Fat Joe did not take-off……’
Mike’s pulse began to race. If his knowledge of history was any good, he knew that the Americans gave the first two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, those names. Or something close to that. ‘This could be the lead my good friend told me about’ he thought aloud.
Immediately he and Sandy ran the voices through the latest voice recognition software device recently acquired by the Agency. The voices did not match any in the Agency’s rogue gallery.
Then Mike’s hunch came to the fore again. He had always suspected that the Habalani sect had sympathizers within the government itself and had voiced this opinion to the Mayor, who had secretly granted him the permission to obtain the vitals of members of the city’s ruling council.
He turned to Sandy. “Perform a check against the profiles of the members of the ruling council”
One of the voices gave a hundred percent match with a member that left both Mike and Sandy wide-eyed and open- mouthed.
The Supreme Leader was in a foul mood. The city mall project was supposed to have underlined the ruthless determination of the Sect to drive home its point at all costs, to the government, and indeed the world. But it had failed and the fact that he couldn’t place a finger on the cause(s), unnerved him.
“This was supposed to have gone down like clockwork. The brother….. El-hanook I believe was properly tutored, wasn’t he? Has he made contact, yet?”
His aide was equally as distraught. “No Your Lordship, he will not make contact until after twenty-four hours. For now all we can do is to make conjectures.”
“True, very true. Alright keep a tab on him and his family and if at out meeting tomorrow, we do not find his reason(s) for the failed attempt cogent, then he will pay the ultimate price. You may leave now.”
As the aide took leave through a back exit, the Supreme Leader had already begun preparations for the sect’s next assault. A new and bigger target would have to be chosen and this time he would personally oversee the operations, to forestall a repeat of what had happened earlier in the day. He looked forward to the meeting with El-hanook.
Satisfied, He straightened himself out and took his leave through a front door and straight into another room full of eager press crews and cameramen and addressed them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to announce that The Mayor will not be making a statement on the unfortunate event, which occurred at the Jabok City Mall. As the Chief security officer of the city, he is right now being briefed by members of his security team about the situation. As his Special Assistant on Media matters, I will issue a statement and take any questions you might have, thereafter. Again, do accept the sincere apologies of the Mayor. Thank you for your patience!”