"And Then They Came..." ( Chapter XX )
Governor Pietrantoni stood behind the podium bearing the seal of Puerto Rico, while Secretary of State Arizmendi, Fire Chief Francisco Oronoz, Police Superintendent Alejo Montañez, and other agency heads crowded around him. A television technician stood behind a camera, signaling with his fingers the seconds left to go on the air. Several reporters loitered at the back of the television studio.
As the count went to zero, the Governor took a deep breath and addressed the country.
“Good afternoon. The National Meteorological Center is tracking Hurricane Fay, a storm that is slowly approaching the Leeward Islands. At present, it seems the main hurricane force winds will pass to the east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as of the islands of Vieques and Culebra. However, it will be about three to four days before this system passes us, and its track is still very uncertain. This is a big storm. Even though its hurricane force winds now extend a little over a fifteen mile radius from its center, tropical force winds extend outward an additional one hundred and five miles. And the more it slows down, as it is predicted to do, the more strength it will gather.”
Pietrantoni paused, gathering his thoughts.
“In summary, even in the best case scenario, Fay will produce a lot of rain over the island, and probably provoke substantial flooding. Even if its present path seems to indicate the worst part of it will miss us, we can’t afford the luxury of not taking it seriously. Therefore, we urge all of our citizens to take the necessary precautions, and prepare for the worse."
The Governor waited a few seconds for his words to sink in.
"Store water and food sufficient to sustain your needs for a period of three days, as well as the means to see in the dark and to cook without power. I have instructed our Secretary of DACO, the Department of Consumer Affairs, Alberto Morales, to freeze all retail prices for water, batteries, gasoline, portable radios, and other basic necessities. You should report to the authorities any store or person involved in price gouging. A dedicated telephone line, posted right now in the bottom of your television screen, has been opened by DACO for such purposes.”
Once again, Pietrantoni stopped, this time consulting his notes to make certain he had covered all of his speaking points.
“Oh, yes. Should it become necessary to evacuate people from flood-prone areas, all of our schools, as well as several government buildings, will be open to take in anyone who needs refuge. I urge all of our fellow citizens to follow the weather reports, and not wait until the last moment to get ready. If and when the flooding starts, it will be too late for you to get out and for us to help you.”
The Governor looked at the members of his Cabinet, standing behind him. “Anything else?”
No one spoke.
Pietrantoni nodded, and looked at the members of the press. “Any questions?”
A gaggle of hands went up, mixing with scores of shouts of “Mr. Governor”.
Pietrantoni nodded at a middle-aged man in a dark suit. “Mr. Guevara, from El Nuevo Día.”
“Are there any new developments in the kidnapping of your son?”
Looking irked, the Governor shook his head. Several other shouts rang out from the back of the studio.
“What steps are you undertaking to find him?”
“Has the FBI been brought into the matter?”
“Do you suspect anyone or any organization?”
“Do you think the kidnap is related to the attack and assassination of Superintendent Maldonado last week?”
Pietrantoni raised a hand to still the shouting.
“Look,” he said, “I am here to talk about Hurricane Fay. I can’t…”
He had to pause, as his voice momentarily failed him.
“I can’t tell you anything else about my son right now, “ he responded with apparent anguish, “except to ask you to keep my wife, Nereida, and I in your prayers. Thank you.”
The Governor walked away from the podium, followed by the others standing by him.
* * *
Myers looked at his watch, and noted that is was ten minutes past four o’clock, way beyond Flanigan’s 1:30 PM time to return from lunch. Myers had called him twice, but each time, after five rings, Flanigan’s voicemail had responded.
It was an extremely bad and unsettling situation. His partner would never disappear without an explanation.
Myers tried to call him for a third time. On the third ring, an unfamiliar, high pitched voice answered.
“Who is this?”
A mirthful chuckle followed Myers’ annoyed query.
“The real question should be, where is mister…” the voice paused, then continued, as if reading from a document, “Flani…Flanigan. Where is mister Flanigan.”
Myers closed his eyes in despair, already knowing that his friend was in trouble, praying he had not been killed.
He took a deep breath, and answered as evenly as he could, “No, the question continues to be who the hell are you?”
This time, his demand was answered by a full laugh.
“You don’t expect me to tell you, do you? The next thing you will ask is where are we. So let me answer you. I am Enrique, and I, we, have your friend.”
“Is he alright?” Myers asked, trying to conceal his anxiety.
“That is a very subjective question, is it not? Let’s just say that he’s…alive.”
Myers kept silent, desperately trying to figure out what to do next.
He was standing near the window in the family room of Lucas’ home, where Gabriel and Sophia were watching cartoons nearby. He heard steps outside, and saw that Lucas was unlocking the iron grilled door of the front balcony, just arriving with Ojeda from Michelle’s hospital.
“Hello, are you still there?” the stranger, Enrique, asked through the phone.
“What do you want?” Myers asked at last.
“What do I want? What do I...want?” Enrique asked in a mocking tone. “Hmmm. Let’s see…I don’t know what I want…yet. Maybe I’ll ask you to shoot Alfaro in exchange for your friend’s life, how does that sound to you?”
“Listen, you piece of shit__,” the security man began to say angrily, before being interrupted by Enrique.
“Relax, my friend, relax,” the terrorist said mirthfully. “Nothing as dramatic as that.”
“All in due time. We will contact you when we decide to use Flanigan. In the meantime, don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Lucas and Ojeda walked into the room, laughing from some comment the latter had made. Their faces, however, sobered quickly when they saw Myers’ sombre expression.
“What happened? Has some__” Lucas began to ask in an alarmed tone, but then stopped talking, when Myers placed an index finger over his lips.
“I want to talk to Flanigan,” Myers said into the cell phone. Both Ojeda and Lucas immediately tensed.
“He’s unable to talk right now,” Enrique replied. “Maybe next time.”
“What about the Governor’s son? Is he__”
Myers lowered his cell phone from his face, staring grimly at his two friends.
“They’ve got Flanigan,” he told them.
“What__” Ojeda began to say.
“Flanigan. The terrorists have Flanigan,” Myers said impatiently. “That was one of them, just now. He calls himself Enrique. He answered Flanigan’s phone.”
For a moment, the three men remained silent, too shocked to speak. “There you all are,” Jeannie said pleasantly from the dining room, unaware of what was happening. “I’m making arroz con gandures, and I know you eat it,” she told Ojeda, “and Flanigan is always game for trying Puerto Rican food. Would you__”
Then, as she saw their worried faces, she also stopped talking.
“What’s happening?” she asked uneasily.
“The terrorists have kidnapped Flanigan,” Lucas replied.
Jeannie unconsciously brought her hand to her mouth, and began to cry. “Oh my God! Is he alive?”
Myers nodded. “Yes, as far as I could tell. Apparently, they want to use him as bait for something. What, I’m not sure.”
Lucas placed an arm around Jeannie’s shoulders, and brought her closer to him.
“We’ll find him,” he said bleakly. “I promise.” He turned to Myers. “What can we do?”
The American shook his head. “Nothing, for now. We were sent here to protect you, not to create more problems for you. I’ll notify the FBI.”
“I’ll call the local authorities,” Lucas replied. He looked at Myers with sympathy. “We’ll find him, okay?” he repeated.
Myers nodded again, looking very unconvinced.
His expectations of seeing his friend alive again were slim.
Flanigan was, as far as the terrorists were concerned, of not much value for them. Why would they go through the trouble of taking him?
He was afraid he would soon find out.
(Chapter XXI will be posted on Thursday, July 2)