Lucas and Michael arrived at the Ashford Courtyard Condominium around 6:20 P.M. Located in the Condado area of San Juan, it was one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in the city, closer to the ocean.
Archie and Michelle’s apartment was located about a block and a half away from the northern shore, in a dead end street, where they had moved four months before. Situated on the eleventh floor, Michelle had bragged that from the extreme left hand corner of her living room, she could catch a glimpse of the sea.
Lucas and Jeannie had visited the newlywed’s apartment half a dozen times, and verified his sister’s claim; there was a view—a very limited view—of a small patch of blue from the living room. Lucas had kidded his sister about it, earning him from Jeannie several under-the-table kicks and hard pinches, and equally numerous indignant stares from his kid sister.
“And what view do you have from your house?” Michelle had responded in more than one occasion in a peeved tone.
Lucas smiled at the happy memory, and pressed the intercom button of “Apartment 11-B”.
Archie’s voice boomed out of the intercom’s speaker almost immediately.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me. And Michael.”
Archie was waiting by the door by the time his two brothers-in-law reached the eleventh floor.
“You’re late,” the redhead told Lucas.
“Traffic is heavy. The gas stations have long lines of cars trying to fill their tanks before the hurricane hits us. Besides, it was harder than I thought convincing Ojeda and Myers that there was no need for one of them to escort us to the hospital to visit Michelle. I think Jeannie was also suspicious. I__”
Lucas stopped talking as he walked through the short entrance foyer and into the living room, surprised by the number of people in it.
Doel Reyes, Michelle’s news editor in WKPA, was sitting on the large sectional sofa that extended in a horizontal “L” shape through most of the center of the living room, talking to Billy Hazard, one of the Governor’s personal bodyguards.
Doel was a former hippie who had gotten drafted and had been stationed during the last days of the Vietnam War in Da Nang. After his military discharge, he had returned to Puerto Rico and eventually joined the WKPA News staff, initially as a news copyist, then as a news assistant, news writer, a sometimes reporter, and eventually winded up as the top news editor of the broadcast.
During his more than forty years of work, he had exhanged his trademark Fu Manchu mustache for a trimmer, less droopy version; his afro for a short, stylized haircut; and to deal with the television studios' frigid temperatures, his flowery clothes for pull-over cardigan sweaters and blue jeans, with an occasional suit for formal occasions. However, underneath his acquired civilized veneer, there still dwelled a rebellious, outspoken hippie.
Doel had taken Michelle under his wing, and become a second father to her, grooming her for her present position.
Billy Hazard had served as one of the main bodyguards in the Governor’s security detail for the last five years, from the time that Pietrantoni had run for Governor.
About five feet eleven—almost six feet tall—trim and athletic, with a full head of sandy hair and fierce black eyes, he had been wounded in the arm and captured by the terrorists during the prior year’s terrorist assault on La Fortaleza. Freed later by Lucas, he had been instrumental in saving the Governor and his staff, staying behind in one of La Fortaleza’s towers, and fooling the dreaded Machetero, El Alacrán, into believing that the Governor was with him.
In the course of the terrible fighting of that day, he had become a good friend of Lucas.
Correcaminos Frontera, the newscaster for WKPA, was patiently trying to connect what appeared to be a video machine to Archie’s television set—facing the sofa—while Negrón kept telling him how to do it.
Like Doel, Correcaminos had helped Michelle in her journalistic career, and had been a good friend of Michelle’s mom and aunts. Short, in his mid forties, dressed impeccably with only expensive linen and designer suits, sporting dark hair plastered with pomade and combed straight back, and flirting with nearly every woman who crossed his path, he generally gave the impression to those who didn't know him of being a womanizing dandy.
Nothing, however, was further from the truth. He had been married and had adored the same woman—Edna—for nearly two decades, and genuinely cared for Michelle as if as she had been his young sister.
A fierce competitor in the world of sports—his nickname “Correcaminos” literally meaning “Roadrunner”—he excelled as a point guard in basketball and as a shortstop in softball and baseball. Those sports figures who had been interviewed by him considered him tough but fair, knowing that he did not tolerate bullshit of any kind, no matter the interviewee’s fame, gender, or size.
He was fearless, even to the point where he had challenged one of then Superintendent Maldonado’s biggest policemen to a boxing bout, after the policeman had refused him access to the police chief during an emergency. The policeman and Correcaminos had subsequently ended up becoming friends.
The only person that Lucas had expected to see there—besides his brothers-in-law Michael and Archie—had been Edgardo Negrón.
Tall, lanky, young, and awkward, hailing from the mountain town of San Sebastián, Negrón had survived the terrorist attack against the San Juan main police station, where scores of his fellow officers had been massacred and the station set on fire. Later, he had teamed up with Archie and Michelle, and fought valiantly to rescue the hostages in the Grand Laguna Hotel.
Because of his bravery, he had been promoted to police sergeant after the terrorist attack had been quashed, and with Lucas, had followed San Miguel to the cruise ship Orion. After his capture, San Miguel had threatened to send word to his associates to have Lucas and his family killed. To silence him, Negrón had executed him.
Only Lucas had been present at that time, and he had kept the policeman’s secret safe. Yet somehow, knowledge about what had happened had apparently filtered out to San Miguel’s associates, prompting their return.
Oddest of all in the group was Captain Camilo Gomez, sitting next to Doel and Negrón. Gomez was the head of the Police Department’s SWAT team.
In his late thirties, clean-shaven, and an Afghan War veteran, Gomez had during the prior year lost half of his men when then Interim Governor Meléndez Rovira had ordered an ill-advised daytime rescue attempt on the Grand Laguna Hotel. A mole in the Police Department—the then head of the local FBI—had warned the terrorists about the impending attack, and Gomez’s men had been ambushed and massacred.
Gomez himself had been knocked unconscious, and would have been swept into the sea had he not been saved by his sergeant, Abraham Cordero. That same night, both men had managed to sneak into the Grand Laguna Hotel, and together with Negrón, Archie, and Michelle, had liberated the hostages, and then held off repeated counterattacks by the terrorists to recapture them. In the process, Sergeant Cordero had been killed, and Gomez barely escaped with his life, his kevlar armored vest stopping three bullets during the most intense part of the fighting.
In that same fight, Archie had nearly died after being shot in one lung. Only the heroic efforts from some of the medically trained hostages had kept him alive during the ongoing fight.
It had taken the redhead months to recover, time which he had for the most part spent with Michelle. They had married a few months later.
And now, the terrorists had returned, seriously injuring her, killing her mother and aunts.
Everyone in the apartment had a score to settle with the men who had inflicted so much grief upon them. All of them were bent on revenge.
“Before you say anything,” Archie hurriedly interjected, taking Lucas by an arm to a corner of the living room, just as he and Michael had begun to greet those present, “it was me who invited all of the people you see here for this meeting. Well, almost everyone except for Captain Gomez.”
“Jesus!” Lucas whispered to him. “What did you do, place an ad about this meeting in a news__”
“I invited Gomez,” Negrón interrupted in a loud voice, overhearing the conversation and raising one of his hands while keeping his arms crossed across his chest. “He's is a good man, and he’s promised to keep his mouth zipped about what we speak here today. Like the sown lips of the shrunken heads of the Amazon.”
Despite the gravity of the moment, everyone was forced to smile. Gomez confirmed his fellow policeman’s words by nodding curtly.
“Picón also knows,” Hazard said, referring to the head of the Governor’s bodyguards, Orlando Picón. “He wanted to come__”
“Actually, it was me who invited Picón,” Negrón interrupted again.
“But since he has his arm in a cast,” Hazard continued, despite the young police sergeant’s interruption, “he talked to me instead.”
Lucas grimaced, looking at the floor unconvinced. Then he raised his head, staring at all of the men in the room.
“I trust all of you. However, this is a very serious step that we're considering. It may involve criminal charges, and at the very least the loss of some of your jobs. Therefore I would suggest that anyone having any second thoughts leave now, before the discussion__”
A light tap on the door caused him to stop speaking. Those in the room exchanged an inquiring look.
Archie mouthed the words to Negrón, “Did you invite anybody else?”, and the young sergeant shook his head.
Hesitantly, the redhead walked to the entrance door and opened it slowly.
Lucas listened to a muted exchange of words, and then Myers and Ojeda entered the living room.
“I’m sorry,” Myers said to Lucas and Michael. “We just couldn’t let you go without knowing where you were heading.”
“Which was obviously not Michelle’s hospital,” Ojeda blurted out.
Lucas shook his head in despair, and gestured at the new arrivals with one of his hands.
“For those of you who don’t know them, these are the family bodyguards, Tom Myers and Alex Ojeda. The President asked them to protect me and my family while the men who attacked us are still out there.”
A long, uncomfortable silence followed. Myers noticed the TV, where Correcaminos had frozen a video showing the overhead image of a large house surrounded by tropical foliage.
“It is better that you don’t hear what we’re discussing,” Archie told them. “If you want to make certain that Lucas and Michael are protected while they're here, you can wait outside in the corridor.”
“Yeah,” Negrón added. “And also, we would appreciate that you erase from your minds this meeting. Like it never happened. Like Obi Wan Kenobi said to the Storm Troopers, ‘There’s nothing to see here.’ Or something like that.”
Myers glanced at the TV set. “You’ve found them, haven’t you?” he said.
“Found who?” Archie said, hoping to somehow veer the conversation away from the TV set, inwardly cursing Correcaminos for not turning off the television screen.
“You’re planning to go after the bad guys without notifying the authorities,” Myers stated flatly.
Lucas looked at the others.
“We haven’t decided anything yet. That’s why we’re meeting here now, to discuss it.”
“You don’t trust the police?” the security man asked.
Negrón answered. “Overall, yes. But I can’t vouch for everyone. We’ve been betrayed before, you know.”
“And you know what taking matters into your hands may mean, if you’re caught,” Myers said.
Several in the room nodded.
“It’s part of the discussion,” Lucas replied. “So before you get more involved in this, you should wait for us outside of the apartment.”
Ojeda and Myers exchanged a glance.
“We also have an ax to grind,” the latter said. “They almost killed Flanigan. There’s a fifty-fifty chance that he won’t recover the eyesight in his left eye completely. As it is, it will take several months for him to heal.”
Myers sat down next to Negrón.
“So if you don’t mind, we’d like to stick around for a while.”
Ojeda smiled and shook hands with Correcaminos, who was standing next to him.
“Ojeda,” he said to the newscaster. “I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced.”
“It’s a pleasure to have you with us,” Correcaminos replied.
(Chapter XXXII will be posted on Monday, August 10)