Flanigan heard Fillo move behind him as the other men left. The scarred terrorist whistled a song that the American had never heard before, sometimes interspersing it with Spanish, rap-sounding words.
“Okay, gringo,” he said cheerily, “your time has come. Don’t get too choked up about it.”
A silken rope slipped over the American’s head and coiled tightly around his neck. Flanigan desperately tried to breathe, but no air reached his lungs.
For a few seconds, he struggled to free his feet, but the partially cut tape around his ankles would not yield. Then finally the tape broke apart, and with an ultimate effort, Flanigan stood on his two feet, dragging up the surprised terrorist with him.
The pain of his broken ribs nearly made him faint, exploding inside his head. Using every ounce of his fading energy, he began to quickly back up toward one of the walls of the small warehouse. Fillo hung on to the cord tied around both of his hands, his feet dangling in the air, and urgently tried to kick him.
Twice Flanigan's legs nearly buckled. But just as he was starting to black out, he staggered onto a concrete wall, letting all of his weight fall on the man behind him.
The thin terrorist screamed in pain, and the American thought he heard some of his captor’s bones crack, but still Fillo would not let go. So Flanigan rammed the wall again, and again, and again, until his legs would not hold him any more, and he began to slide backwards against the wall.
Just then, the rope’s pressure eased, one of its ends slipping over the big man’s chest, and a little air began to seep into his oxygen-starved lungs.
Flanigan fell on his knees, the metal chair still taped to his back, and heard Fillo’s body slump to the floor behind him. More air began to rush into his body in long, involuntary spasms, and he began to cough violently, spitting some blood—whether from his throat or a lung punctured by his broken ribs, he could not tell.
Exhausted, he nearly tipped forward, but managed to stay upright. He stayed that way for more than a minute, and then heard Fillo, next to him, stir and whimper.
He turned his head, and looked down on him, and saw that the thin terrorist was lying on the factory’s concrete floor. His face was covered in blood, and his right forearm was bent at an odd angle, a piece of bone sticking through it. However, with a shaky left hand, he was trying to reach and unstrap the gun secured to the right side of his waist.
Flanigan placed his right leg in front of him, and grunting fiercely from the mind numbing pain in his ribs, got back on his feet. Slowly, he turned towards the terrorist, partially leaning over his face.
“You…” he tried to say, but the word came out as a raspy unintelligible sound.
Flanigan tried again.
“You…” he whispered, as Fillo continued to reach for his gun, “…you should have…shot me.”
Flanigan turned his back on the injured terrorist, and carefully placed the end of one of his chair’s legs directly over the fallen man’s throat.
Fillo opened his eyes in panic, and shouted, “NOOO!” but his scream was cut short as Flanigan sat down.
* * *
The SWAT team arrived half an hour later. They surrounded the abandoned structure, and one of the men carefully spied through one of its broken windows.
At the back of the deteriorated factory, he saw the outline of a bound man, sitting on a chair and leaning forward. From the window, he saw that the building’s main entrance door was not rigged with any explosives.
SWAT Captain Gomez walked in first, unwilling to risk the life of any of his men. He approached the bound man, and was shocked by what he found under his chair.
A dead man, his face purple and his tongue partially out, still had his left hand wrapped around the chair’s right leg as if trying to remove it from his throat, his windpipe crushed by the leg’s tip.
“Jesus,” one of his men muttered, eyeing the scene with dread. “Poor bastard!”
Gomez placed two fingers on the neck of man tied to the chair, and confirmed that he had a pulse.
The man stirred, cast a quick look at Gomez, and said in a hoarse voice, “SWAT?”
“My name…my name is Mark Flanigan. I work in Lucas Alfaro’s security detail.”
The SWAT captain stared at the American with astonishment. He had a thousand questions to ask, but the safety of his men came first.
“Do you know if the terrorists have placed any boobytraps in this place?”
Flanigan moved his head slightly. “No…Not that I know off. None…none on me or…” he cast a glance at the body lying under his chair, “...or him.”
Gomez turned to one of the four dumbfounded men standing around the American security man. “Alex, call an ambulance.”
He knelt next to Flanigan, took out a switchblade, and cut through the American’s bonds. The security man fell forward, and would have fallen straight to the floor had not two of the SWAT officers held him and helped to lay him on the floor.
Flanigan breathed in short, shallow bursts, his face a mask of pain.
“Get him some oxygen,” Gomez ordered, noticing for the first time the pink, bleeding gash around Flanigan's neck.
He looked back at the dead man, and saw a white short chord still held by his left hand. He immediately guessed what had happened.
A plastic envelope, with the word “Manifesto” written on it, hung from Flanigan’s neck. It was the “package” that he had been sent to get. With his switchblade, he cut the ribbon holding the plastic envelope, and gave it unopened to one of his men.
“Get this to our lab, and send a photocopy to La Fortaleza, as quickly as you can.”
* * *
“Flanigan is alive!” Lucas said in an exultant voice to Myers, grinning happily after he had finished talking over the cell phone with Archie. “He’s hurt, but he's alive. SWAT is driving him to a hospital right now.”
Myers and Ojeda embraced, both of them too emotional and relieved to speak.
“Where are they taking him to?” Myers asked, quickly wiping away a tear before anyone noticed.
“The trauma center at the Río Piedras Medical Center. Apparently, he’s got a lot of bruises and some broken ribs.”
“With your leave, then,” he told Lucas. “I’ll head out there right away. Ojeda will stay with you.”
“Actually, I’ll be taking Ojeda with me to the Santa Trinidad Hospital,” Lucas responded. “Archie just told me over the phone that my sister Michelle has come out of her induced coma, and is conscious.”
“Alright Alfaro!” Ojeda slapped Lucas on the back enthusiastically.
Myers shook Lucas’ hand, beaming at the Puerto Rican. “This is a double celebration, then. Maybe things are starting to turn around.”
Lucas assented, looking at his two friends with a half-convinced smile. Maybe, he thought. Maybe it’s the beginning of the end. If only Doel’s drone would find anything…”
* * *
Fernández stared at Aarón, and shook his head. The drone operator went to the detailed map of the area, and crossed off another five-square mile quadrant. He looked at his watch, and saw it was over five forty-five P.M.
“Let’s call it a day,” he told Aarón. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning.”
“They’re out there,” Aarón assured him, afraid that Fernández would not return, and that he would lose his $500 reward.
“Well…if they are out there, we will find them,” the technician responded, in a tone that did not reassure Aarón at all.
“They’re out there,” the illegal lottery vendor repeated, emphasizing each of his words.
Fernández shrugged, and began packing up his gear.
* * *
Lucas, Vanessa and Ojeda arrived at Michelle’s room, and found Archie holding her hand and speaking to her. Vanessa ran to her sister's bedside, unable to contain her sobs, and embraced her. Archie moved away, so that Lucas could stand on the other side of the bed.
Lucas examined his sisters face while he patiently waited for Vanessa to finish fuzzing over her.
Michelle had been crying; it was plainly evident by the redness in her eyes and nose. Her lips were cracked, some scabs from the cuts caused by the explosion dotted her skin, and the medical team had still not removed a feeding tube inserted into her nose, but even so she looked beautiful.
Lucas had never really noticed how much she looked like their mother, her long, auburn, almost reddish hair spread over the pillow, her green eyes expressing more emotion than any words ever could.
He had been able to control his emotions while she had been unconscious. But now he found himself choking up, as all of the grief pent up for days finally welled up in his throat. Michelle saw his face, and extended one of her arms to him, and he enfolded both sisters in a hard embrace, the three of them weeping bitterly.
“I couldn’t save them, Lucas,” Michelle said in a heart-rending whisper. “I was too late…”
“It’s not your fault,” Lucas responded, not knowing what else to say.
“You did everything that could be done, and more!” Vanessa said at the same time.
As the three siblings continued to mourn, only the beep of Michelle’s heart monitor disturbed the stillness of the room.
Ojeda stood quietly by the door, standing next to the two policemen who guarded the room, making sure that the family was not disturbed in any way.
“You will find the people who did this,” Michelle said to her brother, more as a statement than as a question.