"And Then They Came..." (Chapter XIII)
The second shrill “riiiiiiing!” of Nuestra Señora de la Providencia’s Elementary School bell reverberated throughout the entire block, signaling the end of the schoolday. Lucas’ godson Alfredo, wearing the wide phosphorescent orange vest assigned to the “patrol boys” in charge of directing traffic at one of the various street crossings, prepared to handle the stream of screaming kids—from grades 1 through 6—that would soon spurt out from Nuestra Señora’s three gates.
The ten year old took his job very seriously. He had been let out of his classroom ten minutes earlier—an additional benefit of being a patrol boy—to get to his street corner before the tidal wave of exiting children. It was not one of the school’s main corners, being located at the back of the school, close to the auditorium. But still, a lot of parents parked their cars or waited for their kids in that area.
In addition, the black SUV that picked up Francisco—the Governor’s son and his best friend—also parked in that area to avoid the heavier traffic of the other streets.
He had come to know Vicente, the easygoing bodyguard originally assigned to drive Francisco back to La Fortaleza, quite well. However, during the last couple of days, a second bodyguard had been added, apparently to increase Francisco’s security. Unlike Vicente, who greeted Alfredo daily by his name, the new bodyguard mostly kept to himself.
Alfredo had a grudging respect for the Governor’s bodyguards, having personally witnessed how they had fought to keep him and his family alive during last year’s terrorist attack. And even though Vicente was new—having come to La Fortaleza recently—Alfredo knew he would be as brave as those who had preceded him.
Except for a few passersby—a young woman hurrying towards Avenida Miramar, a UPS messenger parking his scooter to carry a package to one of the houses behind the school, a tall, muscular man apparently coming or going to the gym, and three women clustered around a parked car involved in an intense conversation—most waiting parents stayed within their vehicles, waiting for their offspring.
The mixed voices and delighted screaming of small children suddenly filled the air as the grade schoolers poured out of one of the side entrances. Alfredo automatically extended both of his arms to stop those who reached his corner first, and the children obediently complied, never questioning the authority of the older sixth grader. Then he carefully stepped unto the street, raising his right hand to stop the oncoming cars, while signaling those in the corner to wait until he authorized them to cross. As he waved his hand and the grade schoolers poured onto the street, he saw Francisco approaching him and waved briefly in his direction.
Almost simultaneously, three loud bangs made him look towards the bodyguards’ SUV. At first he could not tell what had happened, but then he saw the new bodyguard cling momentarily to the top of the SUV's hood, and then slide out of sight behind it.
Vicente drew his gun out of his holster, and began to run towards his companion on the other side of the vehicle, where the young woman, half hidden by the car’s hood, was looking at the ground. Two more explosions followed, and then the woman raised a gun with both of her hands and started to turn towards Vicente.
The bodyguard shouted at the woman to stop and prepared to shoot. However, at that same moment, the messenger who had stepped off his scooter pulled out a submachine gun from the box he was carrying, and with a burst of fire brought Vicente down.
Those grade schoolers closest to the shootout scattered screaming, dropping their books, tripping over each other, running in every direction. The panic spread rapidly, as terrified parents abandoned their cars to protect their small children, while some of the students huddled for cover, others looked about them confusedly, and a few tried to help some of those who had fallen.
Alfredo saw Francisco stop and stare in shock towards the SUV. The young woman and the messenger had seen him, and both were heading in his direction.
“Francisco, run!” he shouted to his friend, raising his arms over his head and waiving them frantically towards the school. “Go back! Go back! Run!”
Francisco could not hear Alfredo’s shouts, but he immediately grasped what his friend was telling him to do. Nodding, he turned, and sprinted towards the school gate. However, he had only managed to take a couple of steps when he crashed into two men heading in his direction.
The men, one thin and wiry, the second taller and even thinner, grabbed the boy by each of his arms and, lifting him off the ground, began to carry him in the direction of the other two attackers.
Francisco screamed in terror, trying to kick the men with his feet, but the thinner of his two captors slapped him hard on the face, stunning him momentarily. Then the smaller, wiry man brought out of one of his pants’ pockets a small glass cylinder with a needle, and plunged it into Francisco’s arm. The Governor’s son continued to struggle and shout for a few seconds, and then lost consciousness.
Alfredo watched in horror as the two men continued to drag his friend’s inert body towards the other two shooters.
“No!” he shouted, “Francisco’s getting kidnapped!” But his words were drowned by the pandemonium that enveloped him.
Desperately, he ran towards Francisco’s captors. He was a brown belt in taekwondo, and knew that taking on two grownup men would be nearly impossible for a boy his size and age. However, he had to try to save his friend.
Alfredo ran after the man who had slapped his friend, and kicked him behind the right knee. The man’s leg collapsed under him, and he yelped in pain, releasing his hold on Francisco.
The other man turned and looked at Alfredo with surprise and what seemed to be admiration. He hesitated and smiled, as the young boy stood with his legs straddled protectively over his friend's fallen body and assumed a combat position.
“Don't you touch him!” the boy muttered furiously.
However, unseen by him, the woman who had fired the first shots quietly approached him from his blind side, and struck him on the head with the barrel of her gun.
The world seemed to explode into a thousand stars inside Alfredo’s head as he fell to the ground. He tried to stand up, but his legs failed him and he tumbled backwards, unable to keep his balance.
Through the semidarkness, he saw the small, wiry man place Francisco’s inert body across the back seat of the scooter. The man dressed as a messenger then covered Francisco with a dull silver tarp and sat in the front part of the motorcycle’s long padded seat, while the taller, thin kidnapper, limping and cursing, sat at the back and held on to the unconscious boy.
The scooter roared to life and began to snake its way through the tangled traffic, while the short, wiry man and the woman discharged several shots into the air, making certain that nobody followed. After the two wheeler had disappeared down the street, the two shooters trotted away from the scene, heading a block downhill to Ponce De Leon Avenue, where they were picked up by a brown sedan.
Sobbing with anger and frustration, unaware of the bloody gash on his cheek and right forehead, Alfredo finally managed to get up, and ran to the closest car on the street. He tried to open its door, but it was locked, its window up.
Urgently, he knocked several times on the raised glass until a woman hiding behind the door glanced up and saw him. Looking nervously around her, she lowered the window, and stared at the boy with pity and alarm.
“Oh honey,” she said with genuine concern, while still searching with her eyes for the shooters, “you’re hurt! Are you all right? We need to take you to a doctor!”
“Please!” Alfredo said in a desperate voice. “Call Nine-One-One! Tell them that Francisco…the Governor’s son, has been kidnapped!”
Staring with disbelief at the young boy, the woman extracted her cellphone from her purse, and dialed 911.
* * *
The scooter carrying Francisco only traveled two blocks to Elliot Place Street, where a waiting van with its rear doors open and a metal ramp pouring out of its back, allowed the scooter to roll in.
Then the van’s driver, a bald, chubby bearded man, closed the van’s doors and, getting into the front seat, casually drove away.
* * *
Tropical Storm Fay - Advisory 1
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
5:00 PM AST
At 5:00 PM AST (2100 UTC) Tropical Depression 21 has become Tropical Storm Fay with maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour. The storm continues to move towards the west-northwest at 20 miles per hour (32 km/h), but this motion is expected to change into a more northwesterly course within the next twelve hours. On the forecast track, the center of Fay is expected to be near the Windward Islands later today and tonight, and slow down as it begins to take a more northward turn, passing close to Puerto Rico within the next three days.
Strengthening is forecast during the next forty-eight hours, as there is little ahead of it to hinder its development. Fay should become a hurricane as it approaches Puerto Rico.
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for…
* St Lucia
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for …
* St. Lucia
* St Vincent and the Grenadines
Interests in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Hispaniola should monitor the progress of Fay as watches for these areas could be required tomorrow.
(Chapter XIV will be posted on Monday, June 8)