"And Then They Came..." (Chapter XXXV)


Chapter XXXV

There were two reasons why Enrique’s original plan required a fake ambulance.

First reason: in case they were forced to shoot at the real ambulance when they intercepted it, and substituted Sami and Yousef—the two fake paramedics—for the two genuine paramedics inside. It would look really bad and suspicious if a bullet riddled ambulance arrived at the airport with Francisco in it. And even if the ambulance was not struck by any bullets, they could still be forced to shoot or kill any of the people in it. If so, there would be no time to clean the blood and the mess inside.

Second reason: there existed a possibility that the specially modified stretcher where Francisco was going to be transported would not fit in the real ambulance. And it was essential that the stretcher fitted, and made it into the plane that would fly the sick boy to Washington. Without the stretcher, the whole operation would fail.

Nevertheless, Enrique had high hopes that the real ambulance would not be damaged when it was intercepted by his men, and that Francisco’s stretcher would fit in it. In that case, they would bring back the fake ambulance into the compound, fill it with explosives, and drive it the next day to the police headquarters in Hato Rey. There, they would detonate it, destroying most of the building and the people inside.

It would be Enrique’s final farewell, and constitute his real revenge for San Miguel’s death.

“You’re planning to somehow sneak the second nuclear device into the jet ambulance, aren’t you?” Nour asked Enrique.

The diminutive man nodded emphatically.

“There is a special bracket under Francisco’s stretcher, big enough to fit the device into it. When Francisco’s stretcher is wheeled off the ambulance and taken into the jet, it will carry the nuclear bomb with it. The jet will fly to Washington D.C., to the children’s hospital, where he will be treated for the virus. The hospital is just a few miles away from the White House. As the jet is landing, Yousef will detonate the bomb.”

Rosario stared at Yousef with incredulity. “But that means that__”

“Sami and I will die?” Yousef said, his dark eyes burning passionately. “Yes. But so will the President of the United States, and thousands of its politicians and residents of the city. At last, we will be avenged for the deaths of our families.”

Hassam, Nour, and Da’ud considered the information in stunned silence.

“But…” The handsome man’s voice dripped with surprise and bewilderment. He looked at Enrique. “How did you know that they would take Francisco to Washington D.C.? Why not to a closer city? Why not to a facility here in the island?”

“It was a calculated but safe enough risk,” Enrique said, shrugging and dismissing the question as irrelevant. “That’s why it had to be an ebola infection. The name of the disease alone strikes terror in the hearts of everyone. They don’t have the facilities here, in the island, to treat an ebola case. The closest specialized facility, a facility specializing in children, is in Washington D.C. So we were fairly certain that they would take the boy there. But if not, Yousef would have hijacked the plane in order to detonate it as close to Washington as possible. In the worst case scenario, we could miss killing the President, but still kill a lot of other__”

“If the President is indeed there when the explosion happens,” Rosario interrupted.

“The President will be there. We checked. He’s not scheduled to be away tomorrow or for the next two days. That’s why we’re releasing the boy tomorrow afternoon, so that we have a good chance of getting President Powell while he is in the White House. And like I said, if for some unknown reason he's not there, we’ll still get thousands of others.”

“Once that bomb is on the plane, the United States will be exposed to its first nuclear attack in history. That will be more than enough for us,” Yousef added, beaming.

Enrique nodded. He turned to speak directly to Yousef and Sami, both men looking at him with almost adoring admiration.

“Our hopes ride with you,” he said to them. “You cannot allow that jet to deviate from our objective. You’ve both received special training on how to fly and navigate that kind of plane. If for any reason, the pilot decides to turn back, or fly elsewhere, you must make certain that we reach our target.”

“We will,” Sami said fervently, grabbing Enrique’s hand and bowing his head curtly.

“We will not fail you,” Yousef added, his pockmarked face filled with determination.

“God will be with you,” Enrique said with an intense fervor he didn’t feel at all. “You will be martyrs of our struggle to free our oppressed brethren, and your names will be remembered for generations.”

Nour watched them impassively, her face a mask of detached sympathy, while Rosario pursed his lips, unable to hide his internal amusement. Hassam and Da’ud looked on with horrified fascination.

“But we must get ready,” Enrique added. “Tomorrow, when we intercept the real ambulance, the switch of the personnel must be seamless. We must make certain that the bomb gets into the plane without anyone suspecting that it's there.”

“But where is the bomb?” Rosario asked.

Enrique dramatically opened his arms over the low glass-topped table in front of the sofa, supported by a square aluminum base. “It’s right there,” he said, pointing at the metallic base. “It’s been right here, under the table, right under our noses, all along.”

* * *

The Governor sat on one of the six high-backed, wicker rocking chairs that were spread along the second story terrace of La Fortaleza, quietly contemplating the night sky through one of the large room’s windows. Only the yellow light of a table lamp illuminated the large, rectangular hall.

Below him was the courtyard of the Executive Mansion, where less than a year before Pietrantoni, his staff, his son, and Lucas had sought refuge from the terrorists.

That terrible night, they had climbed down a ladder into a recently discovered archeological excavation, close to the center of the courtyard. At the bottom of the dig, they had entered a dark, ancient tunnel that had not yet been explored by the archeologists. Lucas had led them, not knowing where the tunnel would lead, and in the hours that followed, they had been engaged in the most harrowing, dangerous fight of their lives.

Francisco and Nereida had been with him.

And they had all survived.

The memories of their narrow escape brought him both hope and despair. Hope, because they had beaten what had seemed impossible odds, and come out alive from the ordeal. Despair because he could still remember his relief after their deliverance, knowing that Francisco and Nereida would be safe, and forever free from the nightmare into which they had wandered.

But he had been wrong. They had not been safe. After a brief pause, the nightmare had continued.

An involuntary sob escaped him, and then another, until he was weeping uncontrollably, all the time feeling ashamed of his emotions. He was the Governor, he told himself. He, above all others, had to show strength, set the example. But the thought of Francisco, locked up alone somewhere, feeling terribly sick and scared, broke his heart.

He had helped Nereida fall asleep, lain next to her until the Valium that the doctor gave her had taken effect. He had never seen her so upset, not even when El Alacrán and the Macheteros were hunting them down, trying to kill them.

Francisco had been three years old when his mother had died in a terrible car accident. Nereida, as his nanny—and during the last year as his stepmother—had raised him. Francisco was her son, and his helpless, desperate situation robbed her of all peace. She had cried herself to sleep.

The corridor between the terrace and the Hall of Mirrors suddenly lit up, and the roundish figure of Double A was cast on some of the black and white tiles of the floor as he approached the Governor.

“It’s the latest report from the Hurricane Center,” he said, waiving tiredly a piece of paper. “Fay is coming straight at us. We should be feeling its effects the day after tomorrow.”

“God help us,” Pietrantoni said, looking more tired and thinner than usual.

“At least it will give you the chance to fly out with Francisco before the airport is closed,” Double A said, trying to find a silver lining in the distressing state of affairs. “Also, Lucas called,” Arizmendi added. “He wants to talk to you when you have a chance.”

“Get him through. Pass me the call.”

* * *

“Mr Governor,” Lucas said.

He was still in Archie and Michelle’s apartment, standing by the window that his sister used to look out to the sea. Everyone except Michael and Archie had already left.

“Roberto. I asked you to call me Roberto when we’re alone, remember?” the Governor responded.

“Roberto,” Lucas said grudgingly, wincing inwardly.

He respected Pietrantoni too much to address him by his first name.

“I was bothering you to find out if there have been any new developments since we last spoke. The kidnappers promised they would free Francisco after you published their Manifesto.”

Lucas felt terrible not revealing to his friend the true purpose of his call. He saw Archie and Michael watching him, and turned around for more privacy.

“They called me today. The terrorists, I mean. A man named Enrique is their spokesperson. He said they would release Francisco tomorrow night,” the Governor replied. “I am supposed to send an ambulance to the place they designate tomorrow, and Francisco will hopefully be there.”

“I will pray that that’s case. It sounds like good news,” Lucas said, genuinely relieved for his friend.

There was long pause on the other side.

“Mr. Governor…Roberto, are you still there?” Lucas asked, not sure if he had lost him.

“There are some bad news, if they are true, though,” Pietrantoni suddenly said. “The terrorists claim that they have infected Francisco with ebola.”

The Governor’s statement left Lucas dumbfounded. “Ebola?” he asked with disbelief. “Who would infect him with ebola? Why did they__”

“I don’t know, Lucas. I don’t know why they would do such a terrible thing, if it’s true. But if they keep their word, I intend to fly out to Washington with Francisco, where they have the facilities to deal with the ebola virus. I’ve arranged for an air ambulance to transfer him there. I’ll be on board with him.”

“I am so sorry to hear that…Roberto,” for the first time, Lucas felt like he could address Pietrantoni by his first name. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Our prayers will be with you.”

“I must ask you to keep the news about the ebola strictly between us, for the moment,” Pietrantoni pleaded, making Lucas feel even worse. “I don’t want to create a panic here in the island.”

“I understand,” Lucas responded, seeing in the reflection of the window Archie and Michael looking at him with curiosity.

He would have to warn them and the others about the ebola, if they were going to attack the terrorist compound the next night. He felt awful, lying to his friend.

“Maybe it’s a bluff on their part. An attempt to torture you psychologically,” he surmised, hoping sincerely that was the case. Then he pressed on. “Did they tell you what time they would free Francisco?”

No. Sometime in the evening, so I guess about seven. By the time we leave the airport, it should be around nine,” Pietrantoni answered.

Lucas was going to suggest to the Governor that he let him know when Francisco was freed, but then thought better of it. Pietrantoni would have too much on his plate to worry about calling Lucas at the moment when he got his son back.

“I will ask Arizmendi to call you as soon as I have any news,” the Governor volunteered. on his own.

“Thank you, Roberto,” Lucas replied. “Give Nereida Jeannie’s and my love.”

“I will.”

* * *

Michelle sat watching TV, her back propped by the upraised end of her hospital bed and two pillows. She was watching the news, occasionally scribbling furiously on a notepad on her lap.

It was around ten at night when Archie walked into her room. He embraced her tightly, holding on to her for more than a minute, then kissed her repeatedly, examining her face every time they separated.

“Oh my! You’re very romantic tonight!” she exclaimed breathlessly.

“I’m just so happy to be with you. How are you feeling?” he asked her.

He had not seen her during the entire day, spending most of it at the police headquarters, then meeting with his fellow co-conspirators.

Michelle smiled at him. “Look!” she said, and she wiggled her toes under the sheets.

“Oh my God!” Archie exclaimed delightedly. “You’re moving your feet!”

“And my legs,” she added proudly, slowly flexing her knees toward her.

“Please be careful. Don’t overdo it,” Archie warned her.

“It’s okay,” Michelle said, caressing his cheek tenderly with one of her hands. “I’m supposed to try to move my legs and feet as much as I can. They stood me up today and made me walk around the room. The doctor said the more active I am, the quicker I’ll get out of here.”

“That’s great, honey,” Archie said happily. “So I’ll be the only lame person in the family once again, gimpy-legged, like Michael called me today.”

Archie cursed himself inwardly as he mouthed his last words, knowing that his wife would pick up on them immediately.

Just as he had feared, Michelle looked at him sharply. “Michael? You were with Michael today? Where did you see him?”

Desperately, Archie tried to change the subject. He stared at the notebook on her lap, where the words “RESOURCES”, “NUCLEAR EXPLOSIVE”, and “WHY” had been underlined and circled several times emphatically.

“What’s that?” he asked her, not answering her previous question.

Michelle smiled.

“I have too much time in my hands,” she confessed. “I start thinking about everything. And I guess my thoughts lately have been dominated by the people…you know, the people who killed mom.”

“Uhu.”

“So I’ve been thinking. Forcing myself to think like a reporter, like Doel trained me to think…”

She hesitated.

“I may be going paranoid. But I’ve been wondering…Why would these people come back to Puerto Rico?”

“Revenge, obviously,” Archie responded without hesitation.

“Really? Revenge for what?”

“For frustrating their plan of nuking San Juan, killing San Miguel, and not being able to eliminate the G-20 leaders that were here at the time. Isn’t that enough?”

“Ah! You’ve mentioned the reasons why they came here in the first place, but not the reasons why they returned. If it was to avenge San Miguel, there’s no information out there, at least as far as I know, about who killed him.”

“I don’t follow,” Archie said sincerely.

Michelle nodded. “Yeah, I get obtuse and convoluted sometimes. Let me try to explain myself better.”

She paused, trying to collect her thoughts.

“Look, these people…Did you see how many men they used to attack us during the ceremony? There were at least two dozen attackers, all of them armed to the teeth with semi-automatic rifles.”

“Maybe more,” Archie agreed.

“Do you know how much money and resources were spent to bring all of those people here, to arm, and to quarter all of them, to hide them.”

Archie looked at his wife, surprised by how lovely she looked, her brow furrowed in intense concentration, her green eyes lost in thought. He had almost lost her, he realized with a mixture of anger and dread, resolving that he would not allow those people to ever hurt her again.

“A lot of money,” he said.

“Not only money, but a lot of resources, effort, and time, which for these people must be very valuable commodities,” she stated firmly.

“So what are you saying?”

“I don’t think they came here for revenge,” she replied with unshakeable conviction. “Too costly just to hurt us.”

“Then what?”

“Like you said, the last time they were here, they planted a nuclear bomb under San Juan. They came here to shake the very foundations of our modern world. Only a few of us know about the bomb. It has been kept a secret, in order not to scare the rest of the island…of the world. But taking revenge on a few of us? That’s not in the same league. If they came back, if they mobilized a mini army, they must be here for some other, earthshaking reason.”

Archie considered Michelle’s words in silence. She was, as far as he was concerned, the smartest person he had ever known. During the prior year’s terrorist attack, he had quickly learned to respect her opinions, which were usually intelligent and well-reasoned. So he listened to her now.

“What are you saying, that the terrorists are here for another motive? To detonate another nuclear bomb, maybe? But why here? What will they accomplish here now? There’s no G-20 Conference or anything similar scheduled.”

Michelle shrugged. “I don’t know,” she responded honestly. “I’m missing something. A piece of the puzzle I don’t know about. But there’s got to be something else they’re after. Something big.”

“Maybe we’ll find out soon,” he said.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

* * *

BULLETIN

Hurricane Fay Advisory Number 14

NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL

500 AM AST (900 UTC)

…FAY BECOMES AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE...

...THE EYE AND THE INTENSE INNER CORE IS EXPECTED TO PASS NEAR

DOMINICA DURING THE NEXT FEW HOURS…

A Hurricane Warning has been issued for Puerto Rico, Culebra,

and Vieques.

The Government of the Dominican Republic has issued a Hurricane

Watch from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata, and a Tropical Storm Watch

west of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti

border.

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for...

* Guadeloupe

* Dominica

* St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat

* Martinique

* U.S. Virgin Islands

* British Virgin Islands

* Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for...

* Antigua and Barbuda

* Saba and St. Eustatius

* St. Maarten

* Anguilla

* St. Lucia

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for...

* Saba and St. Eustatius

* St. Maarten

* St. Martin and St. Barthelemy

* Anguilla

* Isla Saona to Puerto Plata

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for...

* St. Vincent and the Grenadines

* West of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti

border

DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK

------------------------------

At 500 AM AST (900 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Fay was located

by satellite imagery and data from the French radar on Martinique

near latitude 15.1 North, longitude 60.7 West. Fay is moving

toward the west-northwest at near 9 mph (15 km/h), and this general

motion is expected to continue through the next two days. On the forecast

track, the center of Fay will move near Dominica and the adjacent

Leeward Islands during the next few hours, over the extreme

northeastern Caribbean Sea the remainder of tonight and tomorrow, and

approach Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands early during the night after tomorrow.

Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 140 mph (225 km/h)

with higher gusts. Fay is an extremely dangerous category 4

hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Additional

strengthening is forecast during the next 24 to 36 hours, and Fay

is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane during the

next couple of days.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles (35 km) from the

center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 125 miles

(205 km).

The estimated minimum central pressure is 950 mb (28.06 inches).

(Chapter XXXVI will be posted on Monday, August 24)

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