Standing unseen on a promontory near Fort San Cristobal, Enrique Montero watched through a pair of binoculars the scene unfolding in front of the Capitol. He observed with spellbound interest several men slowly raise a body and place it on a stretcher.
Next to the unseen watcher, Rafael Rosario worked on his fingernails with a metallic nail file, unconcerned with what was happening below.
They were an odd pair. Enrique stood at a height of five feet, five inches, with deep black hair that belied his well-into-his-fifties age, and even darker, large and intense eyes framed by bushy eyebrows. A crooked, aquiline nose rested on a thick, rectangular mustache just as dark as his hair, partially hiding his thin lips. It was, overall, a narrow angular face, a “hatchet face”, as one of his associates had described it. He seemed to move in short, concentrated spurts of activity, like a windup doll, as if thoroughly considering any action before he engaged in it.
Rosario, on the other hand, was nearly six feet tall, with a thin but broad-shouldered, muscular frame, and a full head of wavy, auburn hair. His eyes were amber nearing on yellow, and his nose perfectly proportioned and straight, despite the dozens of fights he had been in. He was clean-shaven, and when he smiled—which was not often—his mouth—usually in the shape of a bored, annoyed pout—revealed perfect, Hollywood-style white teeth. All in all, he was a very good looking man who nevertheless lacked an attractive soul. In contrast with his companion, he moved with an elegant, effortless, almost feminine grace.
“That’s the Superintendent,” Enrique said in a matter-of-factly, businesslike tone. “They got him.”
“Well, at least they got something right,” Rosario said in a bored tone, without taking his eyes from the nail file. “And that Lucas Alfaro character, did they remove him too?”
“No, I saw him. He’s still alive, not even wounded,” Enrique replied, searching him with his binoculars and failing to find him. “Maybe we’ll get him at the jewelry store. But if not, he’ll still be useful to us alive, as a diversion.”
“I can take care of him, if you want to,” Rosario suggested.
“Maybe. If worse comes to worse. But there are plenty of other things that will keep him busy and out of our__”
Enrique paused, refocusing his binoculars.
“What is it?” Rosario asked.
“We have a visitor heading this way,” Enrique stated.
“Really?” For the first time, Rosario turned and looked downhill.
The men were standing behind one of the thick walls of the El Abanico fortress, a small fortification near the cliffs that bordered the Atlantic Ocean and the entrance to Old San Juan. From there, they had observed the entire massacre—designed by Enrique—without being seen.
It had all gone according to plan. Dozens of men, recruited mostly from gangs in the Central American countries, had been given additional training in hand-to-hand combat, the use of semi-automatic weapons, and the handling of explosives, and then been filtered into Puerto Rico during the prior three weeks. There, in a distant farm in the mountains, they had practiced the assault they had just conducted, plus other “interactions”—as Enrique called them—that had been planned for later times.
Of those men, nearly sixty of them, a dozen had been chosen to attack the crowd in the Capitol, not because they were the best among the recruits, but because they were “expendable”, as Enrique called them. The rest had been moved to another secluded property unknown to those who had participated in the present "interaction", so that if any of them were captured, they could not lead the Puerto Rican authorities to the new hideout.
The main purpose of that morning's exercise had been to create overall chaos within the island, and to throw the police force into disarray by eliminating its principal leader, Police Superintendent Maldonado.
Also, Enrique’s recruits had been told—again and again until it was ingrained in their brains—that they would be avenging the men that had been killed in the frustrated terrorist attack of the previous year. That meant that if on that morning they managed to kill Lucas, Michelle, Negron, or Archie, they would be rewarded with a one hundred thousand dollar bonus. The Governor and his family, however, were to remain unharmed.
It was not, as the recruits had been told, a matter of revenge. Enrique just wanted them to think so, in case any of them were wounded or apprehended, as had been the case.
But it was crucial for the authorities and Enrique’s “expendable” recruits to believe that this was a classical case of revenge. It would help them to execute the real plan--Enrique and San Miguel’s Plan B--after the latter’s attempt to destroy the heads of the G-20 world powers had failed.
The “expendable” recruits had been sent to that morning’s ceremony in what had amounted to a suicide mission, although the men had been assured that three unmarked vehicles would be waiting for them when their operation was completed, to take them away.
However, it had been a lie. Only one man had made it back to the rendezvous point, and no cars had been waiting for him. He had been cut down by two policemen as he tried to escape on foot.
“Yes, it’s the redheaded man married to the newspaper reporter. The Archie person who is the spokesman for the Police Department.”
“Shall I kill him?” Rosario asked, with a tinge of anticipation in his voice.
Enrique considered the question.
“No,” he said at last. “I think we can use him more effectively if he helps to propagate our message of revenge. But we need to get ready for him. Let’s hide.”
* * *
Archie continued to climb the hill, limping on his right leg. He was crying, the death of his mentor overwhelming everything else, the bright sun of that beautiful, terrible morning and his tears stinging his eyes and partially blinding him. Instead of going to El Abanico, he should have been canvassing the facts related to the massacre and preparing for the inevitable press conference.
But as his boss was being covered and prepared to be taken away, something had flashed from the promontory in front of the Capitol building. He had looked up in time to see a second flash coming from the old fortification, El Abanico. What would anyone be doing there? On a hunch, he had left the others and headed in that direction.
It had taken him almost ten minutes to traverse the sea of overturned chairs and the scores of dead and injured attendees, before he had reached and begun to climb the hill. Already, scores of medical personnel and other first responders were helping the attack victims, dressing their wounds, placing IV’s, or taking them away in stretchers. In the distance, he had seen Archbishop Garrido kneeling, praying over a woman covered in blood, while a distraught, older man hovered over them weeping.
A strong breeze blowing from the sea tussled his hair and flapped through his clothes. As he neared the fortification, he searched for movement along its relatively low, crenelated walls, but detected none. A wire fence was supposed to keep it inaccessible to the general public, but several gaps—caused by a combination of curiosity seekers, vagrants, and past hurricanes—kept the enclosure as tight as a sieve.
Archie limped around the tiny fort, shaped like a large “V” with its narrowest part pointing in the direction of the Capitol, and entered it through a narrow wooden bridge located at it’s back, that spanned the moat that surrounded it. He climbed a set of stairs that led onto its upper battlements, and searched its walls, finding nothing. In the distance, he could see the Capitol’s grounds, seething with hundreds of tiny moving figures, like ants in a stirred anthill.
Who could have done that? he asked himself for what seemed to be at least the hundredth time. What kind of monster would open fire on the defenseless men, women, and even children participating in a peaceful ceremony? Archie continued to search around him, but could find no one.
He should have known better. It was all a product of his imagination, hoping to find somebody on whom to pin the blame, on whom to spill his anger. Looking at his watch, he noted it was barely ten in the morning. Less than an hour before, Maldonado had been alive, the terrorists had been an unpleasant memory of an event that had happened more than a year before, and the world had made sense. Now everything had been turned upside down and placed in doubt.
Archie sighed. He would have to begin picking up the pieces, and find some way of bringing the killers to justice. He had a press conference to prepare for. He had to leave.
He began to descend the stairs, passing by a room that had lost its door decades, if not centuries before, and which smelled of garbage and feces.
A voice, followed almost immediately by the hard, metallic prod of a gun muzzle on his back, startled him and stopped his descent.
“Don’t turn around, or I will shoot you,” the hostile, somewhat high-pitched voice warned him.
“What do you__”
“Be quiet!” the same voice said.
“We want you to take a message to the people of Puerto Rico,” another voice said in an amused, chuckling tone.
“Go fuck yourselves,” Archie replied, letting his pent up anger explode.
“A physical impossibility,” the chuckling voice said.
A hand grabbed Archie’s shirt collar by the back, and a pistol whipped him hard twice on the head, forcing him to lower it in pain.
“Pay attention!” the higher-pitched voice commanded.
“Today is your lucky day,” the chuckling man continued. “We were going to kill you today, but we changed our minds. We’re letting you live. For now, anyway. Tell the news media that we’re back. We’re here to avenge our fallen comrades, the ones that you killed a year and a half ago. What you witnessed today is only the beginning. Everyone else responsible for our comrades’ deaths will die. The Superintendent was only the first one. Others, including their families, will follow. You cannot stop us. Now turn against the wall, and spread your arms and legs.”
His head still reeling from the pistol blows, Archie was pushed against the wall, and frisked. The searcher extracted everything the redhead had in his pockets, throwing away his wallet and keys, keeping his cell phone.
“You may go now,” the chuckling voice told him. “Do not turn around, or we will kill you.”
The hand holding Archie by the shirt pushed him down the remaining stairs, causing him to stumble and fall. The redhead managed to briefly turn his head and glimpse at the room with the open door, but there was no one there.
Limping as quickly as he could, he began to head back towards the Capitol grounds, shouting and waving his hands, hoping to draw the attention of the policemen below.
However, by the time help arrived, the terrorists had vanished.
( "And Then They Came..." will return with Chapter IV on Monday, May 4. )