Lucas tightened the knot of his tie, and tried to make it as even as he could. His father had taught him to do it, and he had had plenty of practice during his initial high school days, until the neck-tied shirts had been substituted in his senior year for open-necked, white polo shirts. But he still managed to end up with one end of the knot higher than the other.
“You know,” Jeannie said behind him, looking at the mirror, “neckties and jackets suit you. You should have studied law. You would have made a dashing lawyer.”
It was eight in the morning, and Jeannie was wrapped in a towel, still partially wet from the shower she had just finished taking.
“And you should have dedicated your life to wearing just towels, you sexy Cuban hot tamale you,” he replied with cool detachedness, eyeing her lecherously.
She protested unconvincingly, trying to keep her towel on while he wrapped an arm around her. He kissed her passionately, and then, looking at his watch, reluctantly let her go, as the grim reality of their present situation set in.
“I have to leave,” he told her. “The Superintendent’s funeral starts at nine, and there’s probably going to be a lot of traffic trying to get into Old San Juan.”
Jeannie nodded, looking worried despite her prior banter.
“You will take care__”
“Relax,” Lucas cut her short. “Security at the funeral will be tight, and I’ll be accompanied by one of the bodyguards the President hired.”
The three security men had arrived at Lucas’ home the prior evening, to acquaint themselves with the man and the family they had been sent to protect. Lucas had alerted the police security detail outside the house about their impending arrival, and they had been allowed in without incident.
Tom Myers was the leader of the group. A pleasant, sandy haired, six foot tall man in his early forties, his blue eyes seemed to take and absorb in just a matter of seconds every detail of Lucas’ house and family.
He had spoken with a courteous, Southern drawl that had instantly charmed Jeannie, and left Lucas’ sister Vanessa—who was staying in the house with her husband Michael and their son Alfredo—speechless. Lucas had seen him before, during his journey with the President to Afghanistan, as Myers was about to retire from the Secret Service.
One of his associates, Alex Ojeda, was of Puerto Rican descent, born and raised in the Bronx. It had been Ojeda who, speaking with a slightly accented Spanish, had introduced the others to the policemen guarding Lucas’ home. A couple of inches shorter than Myers, athletic, with short cropped dark hair, and a friendly smile that never wavered, he had greeted Lucas enthusiastically, eyeing him with curious admiration.
“I have heard a lot about you,” he cryptically had told his fellow Puerto Rican.
Mark Flanigan completed the formidable security trio. By far the taller, with a shaved head and the most imposing physique of the three, he had instantly endeared himself with Lucas’ children.
At first, Gabriel and Sophia had approached him warily, while he eyed them in silence. (Their cousin Alfredo had gone into Vanessa’s room to do his homework.) Then Gabriel had asked:
“Are you the Rock?”
Flanigan had raised one of his eyebrows, a la Dwayne Johnson, looking indignant.
“Do you think I look like the Rock? I’m way handsomer than the Rock! Don’t you think?”
The two children had guffawed.
“You’re uglier than the Rock!” Sophia had said, laughing loudly and pointing at him.
“Yeah, uglier!” Gabriel repeated, not to be outdone.
Flanigan had scowled at them and taken a step in their direction, feigning anger, and the two children had run away, howling with excitement.
Flanigan had smiled, then shaken Lucas’ hand warmly, nearly wrapping it in his huge paw. Myers had stared at him with amused resignation.
“You must forgive my partner,” he had said directly to Jeannie. “He tends to have that kind of effect on children.”
Jeannie had smiled at the men.
“Believe me, Mr. Flanigan is the best entertainment that the children have had in a long time.”
Flanigan had asked permission from Lucas to scout the perimeter of the house, and determine its most vulnerable areas, then disappeared into the yard. Ojeda had headed to the house’s roof.
Jeannie had offered to cook some food for them, but Myers had politely declined.
“Thank you ma’am, but we’re here to help you, not to burden you. We’ll get our own food later. I would like to discuss your schedule for the next few days, though, if it’s convenient for you,” he had said to Lucas.
They had spoken for more than an hour and agreed, despite Lucas’ protestations that it was unnecessary, that Ojeda would accompany him to Superintendent Maldonado’s funeral the next morning.
Flanigan had reported that the yard was adequately protected by the police, but Ojeda had noted, some fifteen minutes later, that the roof of the house could be approached from the roofs of the two neighboring residences. From the window of a small office in the second floor—Lucas’ computer room—a person could be posted to keep watch over the roof area.
Ojeda volunteered to talk to the policemen, so that at any time one of the four officers assigned to protect the house would keep watch from that position.
Two of the American security men had then retired to their hotel for the night, while the third, Flanigan, had volunteered to stay the night downstairs. Until close to midnight, Flanigan and Michael—Lucas’ brother-in-law—had played chess together, resulting in two disastrous defeats for the latter. However, the two men had instantly liked each other, discovering they were both rabid Philadelphia sports fans and avid historical fiction readers.
By the time Lucas came downstairs the next morning to have breakfast, Flanigan had left, and Myers and Ojeda were waiting in the balcony. Lucas offered them breakfast, but they assured him they had had an ample meal at the hotel buffet before heading to his home.
However, Ojeda cheerfully accepted Lucas’ invitation to have an espresso (“It’s a Puerto Rican…a Cuban thing,” he explained to his boss. “You can never say no to an espresso.”), and followed Lucas into the kitchen. Myers remained in the balcony, staring with curiosity at the park across the street.
Vanessa was already in the kitchen, cooking breakfast for Alfredo, who was getting ready to go to school. Michael was nowhere to be seen.
“Hi brother,” she said in a too pleasant, too normal voice to Lucas. “I took the liberty of starting breakfast. You don’t have much breakfast food, do you? No cereal, only some pancake mix, some toast, and a few eggs. What is it with you people? You don’t eat?”
She tried to smile, but tears filled her eyes, and she quickly tried to dry them off with a hand cloth, so Alfredo would not notice them. Lucas embraced her.
“It’s okay, Vani. It’s okay. These are terrible times, I know. But we’ll get through them. Everything will be alright, I promise.”
Alfredo stood up from his chair and embraced his mother by the waist.
“Don’t cry, mom. We’ll take care of you. Uncle Lucas, and dad, and…and..me. We’ll take care of you,” he said, trying to comfort her but sounding nervous.
Vanessa nodded, and this time managed a broken smile, kneeling next to her son.
“Yes, Alfredo. I am surrounded by brave men. I know we will be alright,” she answered in a more even voice, while she wiped her tears away with her apron.
Lucas observed them quietly, not knowing how to comfort them. He knelt next to Vanessa, and embraced her and Alfredo.
“Your mom is right,” he said to the scared boy. “We have been through much worse together. Remember when we were attacked by the terrorists in the tunnels? It all seemed pretty bleak then, but we managed to pull through, and we’ll do it again.”
Just then, Jeannie walked into the kitchen, and eyed them with a half sad, half humorous expression.
“I guess it’s group hug time,” she said, and she knelt and embraced the others.
Gabriel and Sophia, who had been following their mother, did the same, not certain of why they were doing it.
(Chapter X of "And Then They Came..." will be posted on Monday, May 25)