Governor Pietrantoni looked at the photocopy of the Manifesto, just sent by the criminal lab after the original had been retained by the police for fingerprints and other types of examination. His Secretary of State, Alberto Arizmendi, pored over another copy, sometimes pausing and reading back some passages.
As he finished, Arizmendi—or as he was commonly known to most Puerto Ricans, “Double A”—tossed the papers on the Governor’s desk, and shook his head in disgust.
Looking pale, the Governor regarded him with silent misery.
“This is crazy,” Arizmendi despaired. “The ravings of a fanatic.”
Pietrantoni moved his head slowly in the affirmative. “Yes. And?”
“You are going to publish it?”
“Do you have any doubt? My son’s life is on the line.”
Arizmendi nodded contritely.
“Let’s get it over and done with,” he said.
* * *
Myers walked next to Flanigan’s stretcher, as it was wheeled from the CT-scan facilities to a room in the hospital. It was close to eight at night, and he had spent nearly an hour trying to find his associate in the huge medical complex. His limited Spanish had made things worse, as he wandered from building to building, following complex, sometimes broken directions of where the trauma center, Flanigan, and finally the CT scan room where located.
He had arrived at the scanning facilities while Flanigan was being examined and, after identifying himself, chatted with the two SWAT agents who had escorted his injured associate there.
The men had described what they had found in the warehouse, relating in hushed, awed tones about how the big man had disposed of his captor while being tied up to a chair.
Flanigan was conscious when he had been rolled out of his examination, despite having been given a sedative for his intense pain. He had tiredly raised a hand in greeting; a very swollen right hand.
“Next time you decide to take a vacation, let me know first,” Myers told him with a wide grin.
Flanigan seemed to chortle silently, and then winced. “Stop trying to be funny. It hurts…when I laugh.”
Myers continued to smile, but inwardly felt alarmed by the condition of his friend.
Flanigan’s face showed several dark bruises, and its left side was puffed up, his eye so swollen that Myers could not see his friend’s eyelashes, his nose possibly broken. Some of the fingers of his upraised hand seemed bent out of their normal shape, and his arm showed countless bruises and more than a dozen cuts and scrapes covered in dried blood.
“They did a number on you,” Myers said in a neutral voice. “Mind you, the terrorists didn’t have that much to spoil in the first place.”
Flanigan closed his eyes again, pressing his lips together. “You jerk, I told you not to make me laugh.”
Myer’s expression slowly hardened, as he thought about his friend’s kidnappers. “Bastards. Did you get to see their hideout?”
“They kept me in a garage,” Flanigan responded. “Brought me there while I was unconscious, and kept me locked up in there. Saw a bit this morning…” he paused, to wet his dry lips. “This morning when they carried me out, I had a brief chance to look around before they placed me in a van. I saw part of a white house…a big house, with more than one garage, and many trees...bamboo trees…Many ferns too…”
“Large ferns,” Flanigan repeated. “In the background…like….growing in the background. And a lot of other vegetation.”
“Anything else?” Myers asked.
Flanigan thought for a while, as they continued to move through a labyrinthine hospital corridor. “Yeah…one more thing.”
“I counted six other people, all of them well armed, four of which went with me to the other place to kill me…but I’m sure there must be more of them than six. A man named Da’ud seemed to be the leader of the four men who took me to the warehouse.”
“One of which you killed,” Myers interjected. “More like crushed him.”
Flanigan stared at his partner. “Yeah…Like the cockroach he was.”
The stretcher stopped in front of an elevator, and the group waited.
“Did you see or hear anything about the Governor’s son?”
The doors to the elevator opened, and a woman getting off stared at injured security man with muted pity.
“So…where do we go from here?” Flanigan asked.
“We is too many people,” Myers responded. “I’ve never dealt with people this dangerous before. Not even when I served in Afghanistan.”
“We have to help Lucas and his family.”
“We will,” Myers replied absently. “We will.” He returned his attention to Flanigan. “Anything you need?”
The big American smiled. “Yeah. I’d like you to buy me some moe-fongo.”
* * *
Francisco lay on his bed, shivering. He was sick, his body alternating between feeling very hot and, like now, very cold. And his headache had worsened, despite the headache pills he had been given. Except for the water, which he drank constantly to quench his thirst, he did not feel hungry, and most of the food that his captors—mostly Nour—brought into his room remained untouched.
He had to get out soon, or he would die, he told himself. Nour and whomever else she was with would never let him go. He had to escape and find his father.
And he had a plan. He had been working on it for the past two days.
It had happened by accident.
He had been trying to turn off the small air conditioning unit installed in the lower part of the room’s outside window, and it had budged—shifted slightly—when he had pressed the “Off” button.
Curious, he had opened the window over his bed, and pretending to look outside—he knew he was being watched—had noticed that the metal frame of the air conditioning unit had rotted away, and that a large chunk of its bottom had fallen off.
Maybe, he thought, if he pushed the small unit toward the outside, it would fall and he could squeeze through the unit’s hole.
He had tested his theory that same day.
Pulling his bedsheet over the foot of his bed, he had pinched its other end between his desk’s chair and the wall opposite to the bed’s footrest, forming a small tent over the small space in between.
He had made sure that the tent veiled the air conditioning unit and the area immediately in front of it from the camera installed diagonally across the room, close to the ceiling. Then he had crawled under the his makeshift refuge.
Nour had walked into the room a few minutes later, and leaned in to see Francisco.
“What are you doing in there?” she had asked with a smile.
“I’m playing knights and dragons,” Francisco had replied with a straight face. “This,” he had said, pointing at the bedsheet stretching over his head, “is my castle.”
Nour had examined the flimsy structure and laughed. “Oh! Okay, your Highness. I hope you slay all of the dragons that invade your kingdom.”
“I will,” Francisco had responded with surprising conviction.
The next day, after covering himself with the bedsheet to sleep during the night, he had rebuilt his “castle”. This time, nobody had walked in.
And during the night after that, he had left his tent intact, covering himself only with his blanket.
He had played on and off the tent in the morning, sometimes laying to rest on his bed, sometimes inside the tent.
As the night fell, he had pretended to sleep. He had no way of telling the time, so he had waited, and unintentionally fallen asleep.
He awoke with a start, dreaming that he was late for school. He had been shivering, but now felt hot.
It was still dark, and he got off his bed and went to the bathroom, flushing the toilet even though he hardly peed. Then he walked out, stopped in front of his tent for a few seconds, and crawled into it.
For a long while, he listened for activity outside, and heard none. He had rehearsed what he would tell to Nour, if she had walked in and asked him why he was in his tent at that time of the night.
He was not sleepy, he would answer. He would play for a while, to see if he got sleepy.
But nobody walked in.
Francisco unplugged the air conditioning wall unit, and took a deep breath.
“Please, let me out,” he pleaded very softly to the air conditioner, and pushed.
The unit slid out with surprising ease, and fell into the backyard outside with a deep “thud”.
Shaking with fright and excitement, Francisco pushed his head through the square space where the unit had been, and looked below.
He was on a second floor, and would have to drop several feet. The ground was covered by grass, and sloped down from the house. The displaced unit had bounced several feet down the slope, fortunately creating very little noise.
Francisco pulled his head back in, and waited quietly under the tent, his heart thumping so hard inside his chest that he thought it was going to burst. If anybody had noticed what he had done, they would be reacting any time soon. He would still try to brazen it out, since the hole in the wall would not be visible unless his captor leaned into the tent. But as the seconds passed by, nobody showed up.
After several minutes, he returned his attention to the hole in the wall.
He would have to drop several feet to the ground, but his best friend Alfredo had taught him—from his taekwondo classes—how to fall.
Slipping his feet into the open space, Francisco began to push himself out until only the upper half part of his body remained inside.
It was a tight fit, but he could squeeze through it. Exhaling, he continued to slide his torso, placing one hand on each of the sides of the hole. Then gravity overtook him, and he could not hold on any more.
He fell longer than he expected, and landed hard on the grassy slope. However, the inclined ground helped him lessen the blow, causing him to roll downhill and absorb part of the impact of his fall.
Francisco tumbled for several seconds out of control, trying to stop himself with his arms, scraping his elbows and knees. But finally, about a dozen feet from the house, he came to an abrupt halt.
Spitting out some grass and dirt that somehow had gotten into his mouth, he checked himself briefly. He noted, with a great deal of relief, that nothing in his body hurt a great deal or prevented him from moving.
Quickly, he stood up and, slapping some mud off his hands and pants, ran toward the line of thick vegetation that grew just a few yards from the house, where the tropical forest instantly absorbed him.
* * *
Enrique awoke to the urgent pounding on the door of his room, and looked at the clock on his night table. Four twenty-eight A.M.
“Yes?” he asked, sitting on the bed.
“It’s Nour,” a feminine voice said from the outside. “Francisco has escaped.”
Enrique grabbed the .45 automatic laying on his night table, and half-walked, half-stumbled to his door, opening it. He was wearing striped pajama pants and a sleeveless T-shirt, and looked thoroughly confused.
Outside, Nour and two other men waited.
“What did you say?” he asked in a low, disbelieving tone.
“He’s escaped,” Nour repeated. “Apparently, the bracket holding the air conditioner was rusty, defective. The sneaky weasel covered the area where the air conditioner was, pretending he was building a tent. A ‘castle’, he called it. He played that way for a couple of days. Then, tonight around ten, he went to the bathroom, and then disappeared into the tent. Sometime between then and half an hour ago, he must have pushed the air conditioner out of the wall and escaped. Jumped into the yard below.”
Enrique said nothing, the only sign of his mounting anger being the intense angle at which he raised his eyebrows, comically accentuating his crooked nose.
“But it is now…Who was in charge of watching him through the computer?” he inquired quietly.
“Sebastián,” Nour answered.
A scared looking man standing next to Nour timidly raised his hand. Young—he must not have been older than nineteen or twenty years old—with a mop of dark, greasy-looking hair that almost covered entirely his right eye, clean shaven, and full of pimples, his hands shook so hard that he could barely hold on to the AK-47 he was carrying.
“Did you fall asleep?” he asked the young terrorist.
Sebastián shook his head emphatically.
“No, I swear! I was awake all the time!” he said in a high-pitched voice.
“And you thought he was inside the tent, playing, from…When did you say, Nour?”
“Around ten…until four in the morning?” Enrique growled incredulously.
Sebastián said nothing, looking more miserable than ever.
“You were playing with your phone, probably. Or watching porn, most likely,” the terrorist leader concluded still in muted tone.
Sebastián looked down at the floor. “I…I…”
Enrique shook his head in frustration. “How did you discover that he had escaped?”
“I didn’t see him in his bed__” Sebastián began to explain, and then stopped himself, realizing he had made a mistake.
“So you realized for the first time, at four o’clock in the morning, that the boy was not there,” Enrique concluded. “You had not noticed until then?”
Sebastián stared at his boss in panic, not knowing what to say.
“He was locked up…” he finally blurted. “It was late! How could I know that he would disappear from a locked room?”
“It’s my fault,” he said more to himself than to the others. “How could I have recruited such morons? Give me your rifle.”
Sebastián obeyed instantly, handing his AK-47 to his diminutive boss, who grabbed it with his free hand.
“Tomás,” he said to the other man standing next to Nour, the same bearded man who had guarded Flanigan in the garage with Fillo. “Take him outside and shoot him.”
Tomás stared at Enrique, his expression momentarily reflecting shock and disbelief. Sebastián began to weep.
“And you better do it right,” Enrique warned him. “I’m going to check the corpse in fifteen minutes.”
“Please!” Sebastián begged, falling on his knees and embracing Enrique’s legs, snot trickling from his nose. “Don’t kill me! It was a…mistake! I swear it won’t happen again!”
“You were using your phone, right?” Enrique said calmly.
Sebastián nodded, weeping.
“You know, I could have forgiven you for falling asleep. It can happen to anyone. But losing our most precious hostage because you were playing with your phone…”
“Ple-e-e-a-__” Sebastián began to scream, but Enrique cut it short, raising his .45 and firing point blank into the youth’s forehead.
The dead man, still holding on to Enrique’s pajama pants, fell backwards, forcing the terrorist to grab them to avoid having the corpse pull them down.
Nour chuckled at the scene, while Tomás stared, his face a mask of dread and astonishment.
Several other men, sleeping in the surrounding rooms, came out into the corridor carrying their weapons, and gaped at the scene with consternation.
“Take him away and clean this mess up,” Enrique said to Tomás.
He examined his pants and saw they were splattered with blood.
“I’m going to have to get new pajamas,” he said disgustedly.
He turned to Nour, signaling her to follow him into his room.
“We need to get the boy back, as quickly as possible,” he whispered. “He is an essential part of our plan. Fortunately, we’re several miles away from the nearest place, and that place is a bar that should be closed at this hour. Send a couple of men to intercept him if he goes in that direction. Have you searched for tracks?”
Nour nodded. “Very briefly, since it is still dark, but it seems the little weasel headed into the forest.”
“Good. The boy will get lost there, and we should be able to find him in the morning. Remember, if he has ebola, he will be contagious. I don’t care about the expendables. If they find him and get infected, that’s their problem. But make certain that any of the people in our core group take the necessary precautions not to get infected, if they have to handle them personally. Even though we have all been vaccinated against the ebola virus. Use the biohazard protection suits that we have. Understood?”
“Yes, boss,” Nour answered with a mocking smile. “You almost lost your pants.”
Enrique regarded her silently.
She seemed more amused by the near loss of his pants, than affected by the death of Sebastián; a totally ruthless, callous woman.
He needed people like her.
* * *
Hurricane Fay Advisory Number 10
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
8:00 AM AST (12:00 UTC)
SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for...
* St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat
* St. Lucia
* U.S. Virgin Islands
* British Virgin Islands
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for...
* Antigua and Barbuda
* Saba and St. Eustatius
* St. Maarten
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for...
* Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra
* Saba and St. Eustatius
* St. Maarten
* St. Martin and St. Barthelemy
A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for...
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK
At 800 AM AST (1200 UTC), the center of Hurricane Fay was located
near latitude 14.7 North, longitude 60.1 West. Fay is moving
toward the west-northwest near 10 mph (17 km/h), and this motion
with some decrease in forward speed is expected through tomorrow
night. On the forecast track, the center of Fay will move across
the Leeward Islands late today and tonight, over the extreme
northeastern Caribbean Sea tomorrow and tomorrow night, and approach
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in two days.
Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate
that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 120 mph
(195 km/h) with higher gusts. Fay is a category 3 hurricane on
the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Additional rapid
strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Fay is
expected to be a dangerous major hurricane as it moves through the
Leeward Islands and the northeastern Caribbean Sea.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 15 miles (30 km) from the
center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 125 miles
The minimum central pressure estimated from the Hurricane Hunter
aircraft data is 959 mb (28.32 inches).
(Chapter XXVII will be posted on Thursday, July 23)