Rosario walked out of the hospital, and got into his white, 2010 beat-up Sentra. He looked at himself on the rear view mirror, combing his hair with his hands and, satisfied with his appearance, set in his phone’s GPS the address of their rented estate, at the foot of the mountains near the El Yunque National Forest. It was a good hideout, hidden in the rainforest, surrounded by thick, tropical vegetation.
The drive would take roughly less than an hour, and the road to the leased property would get progressively narrower, steeper, and murkier. His car would have to climb and snake through some very tight—most of the time wet—curves up the almost pitch-dark mountains. But he preferred it that way. In fact, lately he had begun to time himself, to see how fast he could negotiate the dangerous route.
He did not fully understand his boss’s—Enrique’s—insistence on intimidating this Lucas Alfaro character. If he wanted the guy removed, Rosario could have easily done so. He knew that Daniel, Angel San Miguel’s former right hand man, had expressed a great deal of respect for the Puerto Rican. Alfaro—Daniel had told the others the prior year, after returning from his first foray in San Juan—had almost single-handedly saved the Governor and his staff from the Macheteros.
“He is a tough and effective fighter, who must never be underestimated,” Daniel had assured the other members of the team.
“What is his line of work?” Rosario had asked him then.
“He works in a jewelry repair shop,” Daniel had answered.
Rosario had laughed derisively. In a jewelry repair shop? That was Daniel’s one-man army? Rosario knew that Daniel had admired honor, courage, and former military men, and that Alfaro had served in the U.S. special forces. Green Berets? Rangers? One or the other. But to hold the Puerto Rican in such high regard!
Rosario had respected Daniel while he had been alive, but Daniel had been prone to exaggerate. Of course, Daniel had never come back from his second incursion into San Juan, after he, San Miguel, and Czecka had returned there to make certain that the nuclear bomb they had planted in one of the city's tunnels was still set to go off during the G-20 Conference.
It had been a formidable team, no doubt. A team, however, that for all purposes had disappeared from the surface of the earth shortly after arriving in San Juan, as if swallowed by a black hole.
There was no certainty about how San Miguel and his men had met their end, but it seemed highly probable that they had been discovered and killed by the Puerto Rican police. Probably ambushed by them, since Czecka—San Miguel’s hulking associate and bodyguard—could not have been beaten in a head-to-head confrontation. The man had been nearly indestructible.
Now Czecka, there had been a fierce fighter! Rosario thought. Czecka had not seemed that impressed with Alfaro. Had never talked about him, although Czecka had not been much of a talker anyway. Czecka would have crushed Alfaro with one of his hands tied behind his back.
Rosario had seen Lucas. He had not been impressed. They had received information, apparently from a crew member on board the cruise ship Orion, that Alfaro and a policeman had been seen leaving San Miguel’s cabin, shortly after San Miguel had been shot to death.
It was possible that Alfaro had killed him. San Miguel had been their leader, a superior brain for sure, but he had not been such a dangerous fighter. If Alfaro had been armed, he could have managed to eliminate his former boss. Easily. But to hold Alfaro in such awe as Daniel had seemed to have held him, and as Enrique for some reason continued to regard him, was beyond Rosario’s present comprehension.
Rosario reached the tall, iron-barred gate of the rented compound, and flashed his headlights twice. A man with an AK-47 rifle walked out from behind the tall fence next to the gate, and flashed a light into Rosario’s Sentra. Then, he pressed a beeper, and the gate began to slide sideways.
* * *
Rosario drove into a long, palm-lined driveway that led to the front portion of a vast, floodlit three-story mansion. A big balcony encircled the entire villa’s second-floor terrace, interrupted only by a long infinity pool in the balcony’s center. Tall, beautiful trees covered the rear of the house, towering over its wine colored, sheet-metal roof.
Rented for a month, the mansion contained ten rooms, a huge living room and dining room area, a family-recreation hall with an eighty inch flatscreen and billiard and ping pong tables, two fully equipped offices, and a state-of-the-art kitchen.
Rosario stopped in a large open space next to a smaller, ground-floor terrace, where two other cars--a red Honda CRV and a black Chevrolet suburban--were parked.
In addition, there was a three-car covered garage further back, and another smaller garage-like structure a few yards nearer to the house, but both were closed. Rosario knew that inside the larger of the two structures, some men were working on a van. Why, however, he had no idea. His boss Enrique was very jealous when it came to revealing his plans to anyone.
Rosario stepped out of his car, and walked over a gravel path to the mansion. It had been hot in San Juan, but in the mountains the night air was pleasantly cool, the thick vegetation surrounding the compound teeming with the powerful cries of the “coquí” frogs.
A day after moving into the house, he had discovered that the “coquís” were very tiny, and had been surprised by the volume of their cries. They annoyed him. He had heard that somebody, a Puerto Rican probably, had imported the tiny frogs to Hawaii, and that they had promptly proliferated throughout the islands. The Hawaiians had hated them, and had begun to spray their plants and crops with coffee, hoping the coquís would absorb the caffeine through their skins and die from heart attacks, unable to handle the adrenaline rush.
Rosario had tried it, splashing some of the surrounding plants with a pot full of coffee. The frogs had quieted down until he had walked back into the house, and then renewed their explosive chorus.
Another man holding a rifle leaned over the railing of the second story balcony, and nodded at Rosario. He was a thin, nervous-looking man in his early twenties, recently recruited from a refugee camp in Syria.
“Nabil,” Rosario said to him. “Is Enrique awake?”
“No,” the young Syrian replied. “He went to bed early, after the Isha evening prayers.”
“Did you see him pray?” Rosario asked in a guarded tone.
“No, he walked into his room to do it.”
Rosario chuckled to himself. Enrique was the least religious man he had ever met, less religious than himself, who did not believe in God. If Enrique had led Nabil to believe that he was praying, it had been for a specific reason.
In fact, Rosario could not understand how Enrique had been so close to the late Angel San Miguel—a deeply religious man—except for the fact that both had been friends since childhood.
Enrique operated strictly on the basis of facts. He would not engage in any operation that did not have a solid factual foundation and good odds of succeeding. San Miguel, on the other hand, had justified all of his actions on the will of God. His plans had been brilliant, but always, according to him, “divinely inspired”.
For some unexplainable reason, though, most if not all of San Miguel’s principal partners had been non-believers. Daniel, his second-in-command for the prior San Juan operation, had been a confirmed atheist, as was Enrique, his best friend and confidant. There was no way of telling what Czecka, San Miguel’s giant henchman, had believed in, since the man had barely talked, and now was dead. But he had not struck Rosario as a religious type.
Rosario himself was an agnostic: he was not convinced that God existed, but would not discount him—at least openly—in case there was an afterlife.
As he was halfway up the stairs to his room, he caught sight of Da’ud, sitting in the living room below watching TV. He walked back downstairs and stood behind him, trying to determine what his associate was watching with such attention.
The television screen showed the demolished façade of a commercial establishment, a heading below identifying the place as “El Joyero de San Juan”. The immediate area, including the sidewalk in front of it, was cordoned off by yellow tape.
A newscaster holding a portable microphone was standing in front of the store, speaking in Spanish, Rosario’s third language.
“…and no cause for the explosion has yet been determined,
although a source close to the police investigation stated
that all signs pointed out to a homemade bomb. This terrible
event, which took the life of the three store owners, also seriously
injured WKPA star reporter Michelle Alfaro—a photo of the smiling
female reporter appeared on the screen—who was taken to the hospital
and is reportedly in critical but stable condition…”
“Did you do that?” Rosario asked Da’ud, startling him out of his concentration.
The short, brooding man nodded quietly.
“Another of Enrique’s schemes, eh?”
Da’ud directed a dark look at Rosario. “I did not know it would cause so much damage,” he said.
Rosario laughed. “You placed a bomb in the store, and you didn’t know it would cause ‘that much damage’? Please! Wait…Alfaro? The injured woman was named Alfaro? Lucas Alfaro’s sister?” He shook his head in wonderment. “Enrique must really have it in for this guy!”
Da’ud said nothing. He turned off the TV set and began to walk away.
“Wait!” Rosario called after him, still laughing. “It seems such a waste to injure such a beautiful woman. You should have raped her instead!”
Da’ud stopped, and looked back angrily at his associate.
“You’re a disgusting human being,” he said. “There’s nothing funny about what I did.”
Smiling, Rosario watched Da’ud climb the stairs to the second floor.
He would have to ask Enrique in the morning why he had decided to make Alfaro’s life a living hell. He could understand revenge from anybody else, if in fact Alfaro had had anything to do with San Miguel’s death.
But Enrique was not “anybody else”. He was as cold and calculating as a computer, a schemer who would not waste any time seeking emotional redress, even from the man who allegedly had killed his best friend. If Enrique was systematically destroying Alfaro’s world, there had to be some other reason, some other practical reason, behind it.
And even though Enrique always kept his cards close to his chest, Rosario would find out what that reason was.
* * *
“A broad low pressure system located about 700 miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands continues to produce a large area of disorganized showers and thunderstorms. Gradual development of the system is expected for the next day or so, while it continues to move west-northwestward at 15 to 20 mph. Environmental conditions could become more supportive after the next 24 hours, and a tropical depression is likely to form later this week over the Lesser Antilles.”