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


Chapter XXXVIII

The men had been slowly gathering in Archie’s apartment since two in the afternoon. Negrón and Archie had arrived about fifteen minutes to three, and met there with Ojeda and Lucas. Michael and Myers had come in ten minutes later, after driving all the way from the El Yunque area.

“The streets are semi-deserted,” Michael had said to the others. “I think everybody is getting ready for the hurricane.”

“I have to get ready for the hurricane,” Negrón had interjected.

“You live in the sixth floor of an apartment building in Bayamón,” Archie had told him. “All you have to do is secure your windows, like me.”

“Glass windows. I have glass sheets in my windows,” the young police sergeant had said. “I have to place plywood on all of them.”

“Have you bought the plywood?” Michael had inquired.

“No.”

“Then you’re already too late. I don’t think there’s any plywood left in all of Puerto Rico,” Archie had informed his friend.

“I boarded up my windows and have four plywood sheets left over, plus a few pieces from other boards. You can have them,” Michael had offered. "I'll give them to you tomorrow," he added, discarding the possibility that one or the two of them would not be alive the next day.

“That should be enough,” Negrón had said with apparent relief. “I only have six small windows. Unless a cow crashes through one of them,” he added in a more chastened, contemplative tone. “Those cows__”

“Now wait a minute,” Archie had interrupted. “You’ve had a cow go through a window before?”

“Well, no, not a cow, a donkey. In my hometown of San Sebastián, in my family’s farm. During Hurricane Georges,” Negrón ruefully confessed. “Went right through our terrace door and messed up part of our living room. Tough donkey,” the young policeman shook his head in amazement. “He was dazed, but survived. Walked away after a while. Now imagine if it had been a cow!”

“A cow hitting your sixth floor apartment? Really?”

“It is not unheard of. Didn’t you see it in ‘The Wizard of OZ’? And I think also in ‘Twister’, if I’m not mistaken.”

The ensuing laughter had helped ease the tension of the waiting men.

A love-hate relationship had existed between Archie and Negrón from almost the very moment that the two had met, when Archie had rescued the then rookie policeman from the terrorists that had attacked and burned down the police station in San Juan. The two men had never ceased to argue with each other, competing for Michelle’s attention, differing in the strategy to fight the terrorists. However, they had from the very beginning formed an unbreakable bond, loving each other like brothers, where both had unhesitatingly risked their lives for the other on countless other occasions.

Doel and Correcaminos arrived next to last, at a quarter past seven, after the six o’clock newscast had finished.

“I left Pedro Santiago covering the eleven o’clock news,” Correcaminos had told the others. “He’s not as good as me, mind you, but he’ll do.”

Doel had rolled his eyes in mock despair. “You know, it’s lucky your body is not as big as your ego, or you’d be spotted by the terrorists from a mile away.”

“I am seriously re-thinking about going to tonight’s event if you are going,” Correcaminos had replied in his most manly newscaster’s voice. “Your obnoxious personality should overwhelm the terrorists without my having to intervene.”

Negrón had guffawed. “You hear that, Archie? With your personality, you should be equally deadly!”

Gomez had been the last to arrive, close to a quarter to eight. The SWAT captain had shown up with an uninvited guest, each of them carrying a box.

“Sorry to spring him on you, but I trust him with my life,” he had said to his surprised associates.

Gomez had deposited the box he carried on the table in front of the television set, and urged his companion to do the same.

“Yes, sir,” the uninvited guest had responded.

He was a thin, freckled, dirty blond-haired youth with a round-tipped nose, who looked like the poster child for teenaged surfers.

“This is Corporal Raymond Tavarez, from my SWAT outfit. Don’t be concerned about him. He is completely trustworthy,” Gomez had assured the others.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Tavarez had said, smiling at everyone. “Please do not let me interrupt what you’re doing,” he had said in an English tone that bordered on a British accent.

Gomez had raised an eyebrow and smiled.

“He tends to be a little melodramatic, but he is brave, dependable, and like most of us, has a score to settle with the terrorists. He was stranded with me and Sergeant Cordero, after we tried to rescue the hostages in the Grand Laguna Hotel and were ambushed by the terrorists last year.”

“Those terrorists killed Sergeant Cordero, my father figure,” Raymond had said dramatically.

In reality, even though he had admired the ex-Navy SEAL, he had never struck an intimate relationship with the sergeant until the day of the failed rescue attempt. On that day, when the SWAT team had tried to cross the Condado Lagoon on fast moving motor rafts, Tavarez had fallen off the boat, and swum to the reefs behind the San Gerónimo Fort, where he had joined Cordero and Gomez, after Cordero had rescued the unconscious SWAT captain.

“Tavarez risked his life and swam through a strong current, to let Superintendent Maldonado know that Cordero and I had made it to the other shore. He was nearly swept out to sea, and suffered several cuts from the reefs, after he managed to climb on them.”

Lucas shook his hand, smiling.

“I do remember you,” he said. “Welcome to the group.”

“I managed to bring this,” Gomez said, pointing at the two cardboard boxes. “They’re bullet-proof vests. One for each of us. It will lessen the risk of our getting hurt. Also, I gathered these PTT devices with earpieces and small Motorola radio devices.”

Gomez held up what looked like a coiled earpiece attached by a wire to a square, tiny, plastic device. Another, longer wire led to a small, oblong-shaped object. Both wires joined, and were connected to what seemed to be a small transistor radio.

“What’s a PTT?” Correcaminos asked.

“A ‘Push To Talk’ switch.” Gomez pointed to the oblong object opposite to the earpiece. “That goes through your sleeve and into your palm. We can communicate with each other by pressing the button on the PTT.”

Gomez looked at the men, who were mostly staring at the communications devices with expressions of concerned curiosity.

“Don’t worry. I’ll show you how they’re used before we leave. Tavarez saw me as I tried to take the equipment out of our war room, and I knew, from his face, that he suspected something was going on. So I told him, and asked him to keep what he saw to himself. He volunteered to join us.”

“Captain Gomez is like a second father to me,” Tavarez said, before realizing he had said the same thing about Cordero. “I mean…he’s also a father figure to me, like Sergeant Cordero. I’m glad I can help.”

“SWAT, huh?” Negrón said with a hint of doubt in his voice. “Well, I hope__”

The voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “Hasta la vista, baby!” over and over again interrupted him. It was the ringtone of his cell phone.

Grinning sheepishly, he pulled it out of one of his pants’ pockets, and answered.

“Somehow,” Doel said softly, “I suspect Tavarez and Negrón are going to get along famously.”

Several in the group smiled. Correcaminos opened one of the boxes and pulled out one of the vests, trying it on.

Negrón finished speaking, then looked at the others.

“That was a call from one of my police friends. The police have been alerted about Francisco’s release. The Governor got a call from the terrorists, telling him where to pick up Francisco. The police are cordoning off all of the roads within five miles of the designated location. My contact says it will take about an hour for the ambulance to pick up Francisco. We should__”

Lucas’ cell phone began to ring. He looked at his screen, and placed a finger over his lips, cautioning his companions to be quiet. “It’s Secretary of State Arizmendi.”

Lucas answered and listened briefly.

“Arizmendi just called,” he said after the call ended. “He confirms what Edgardo just said.”

A tense silence followed the two announcements.

“One word of caution. I have already informed most of you personally about this, except for Gomez and Raymond, who’ve just arrived,” he said, looking at the two SWAT officers. "But it bears repeating."

Lucas paused, to stress his words.

“The Governor told me last night that Francisco was infected with the ebola virus by the terrorists. He didn’t tell me how they infected him, and I don’t think he knows for sure.”

“Mother of God!” Tavarez made the sign of the cross.

Gomez shook his head, without uttering a word.

“The Governor told me this in the strictest confidentiality,” Lucas continued. “I am betraying his trust when I tell it to you, but I think it’s important that you know it when we go in. God knows where they kept Francisco, if there are other contaminated people, or what else is happening there, so be careful. If you see anything or anyone that looks like it may have been exposed to the virus, avoid them at all costs.”

Everyone nodded, the tension in the room increasing exponentially.

“We must never tell anyone about this. When the information surfaces, it surfaces. In the meantime, we keep what the Governor told me to ourselves, understood?”

Again, several nods and voices confirmed his statement.

“One last thing,” Lucas said, looking at all of them. “I know each and every one of you, most of you very well. I know how brave you all are, and I am very grateful for the great risk that you are taking for my family and for me. You have nothing to prove. I don’t want anyone getting involved in any unnecessary heroics. You all know what you have to do, we practiced it last night. We move at a set time, and with the PTT’s that Gomez has just brought us, we have an added advantage that we can communicate with each other.”

Lucas paused. Of all the men in the room, saving maybe Gomez and Tavarez, he was the best trained in the execution of covert operations, and they all knew it. A sober mood pervaded in the room, as they listened to his final instructions.

“As long as we act as a unit, we’ll be fine,” he said, only half-believing it. “Move on our own, attempt some Bruce Lee tactics, and you’ll not only doom yourself, but the rest of us. Understood?”

Lucas looked at each of the men surrounding him, trying to determine what they were thinking, feeling scared and guilty for each of them.

Was he leading them to a massacre? He would have preferred to act alone, knowing that if he failed, it would only be him who would be killed or wounded.

In the Army, he had commanded men into combat, but all of them had been highly trained fighters, who knew exactly what they were getting into, and what they had to do. Here, he would be pitting a group of—at best—retired army veterans and police agents and—at worst—inexperienced civilians, some of them bordering their senior years. It was a daunting proposition.

But at the same time, he knew that he could not succeed without them.

“We should go,” he said, looking at his watch, and noticing it was already close to eight at night. “We can’t risk that the terrorists disappear before we hit them. We rendezvous in an hour, you all know where. Our attack begins at 10:05 P.M., which means everybody must be in position by then. Let’s coordinate our watches. Ready?”

Lucas waited while all of the gathered men attended to their watches.

“It will be seven fifty seven in ten…nine…eight…seven…”

“Wait! Wait!” Negrón fiddled with his watch for a moment. “Got it!”

Lucas looked around him one more time. “Everybody ready?”

Correcaminos raised his hand for a moment, then assented.

“Got it!” Michael confirmed.

Gomez groaned.

Lucas renewed his countdown. “Four…three…two…one…7:57. Everybody got it?”

His question was greeted by an uneasy silence. He looked at Captain Gomez.

“Okay. Gomez will distribute the bulletproof vests and the guns, and…quickly explain how to wear and use the PTT voice communicators. And then, we leave. I have a bad feeling about the terrorists. I think they are not going to stay in their hideout for a long time after they deliver Francisco.”

“You mean, if they deliver Francisco,” Correcaminos said in an ominous tone.

“They will,” Lucas assured him, with no reason for being so certain. “Otherwise, we’ll free him.”

* * *

BULLETIN

Hurricane Fay Advisory Number 16A

NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL

800 PM AST (000 UTC)

...EYE OF CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE FAY MOVING OVER DOMINICA...

SUMMARY OF 800 PM AST...0000 UTC...INFORMATION

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

LOCATION...15.5N 61.4W

ABOUT 0 MI...0 KM NW OF DOMINICA

ABOUT 270 MI...435 KM SE OF ST. CROIX

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...160 MPH...260 KM/H

PRESENT MOVEMENT...WNW OR 300 DEGREES AT 9 MPH...15 KM/H

MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...924 MB...27.29 INCHES

WATCHES AND WARNINGS

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

CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:

None

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for...

* Guadeloupe

* Dominica

* St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat

* 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

* Martinique

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 800 PM AST (0000 UTC), the center of Hurricane Fay was located

near latitude 15.5 North, longitude 61.4 West. Fay is moving

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

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

track, the eye of Fay will move over the northeastern Caribbean

Sea tomorrow and approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

Late tomorrow afternoon and most of the day after tomorrow.

Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft

indicate that the maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph (260

km/h) with higher gusts. Fay is a category 5 hurricane on the

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale Some fluctuations in intensity

are likely during the next day or two, but Fay is forecast to

remain an extremely dangerous hurricane while it approaches the

Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 30 miles (45 km) from the

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

(205 km). Ham radio reports indicate significant damage to

structures has occurred in Dominica.

The minimum central pressure estimated from reconnaissance data is

924 mb (27.29 inches).

HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND

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

WIND: Hurricane conditions should continue over Dominica during

the next few hours. Hurricane conditions should spread throughout

portions of the hurricane warning area in the Leeward Islands

tonight and early tomorrow. Hurricane conditions should spread

through the remainder of the Hurricane Warning area tomorrow

and the day after tomorrow. Hurricane conditions are possible within the

Hurricane Watch area in the Dominican Republic late after tomorrow, with

tropical storm conditions possible by earlier that day. Tropical

storm conditions are possible in the tropical storm watch area in

St. Vincent and the Grenadines through tonight, and are possible in

the tropical storm watch area in the Dominican Republic the day after tomorrow.

Wind speeds atop and on the windward sides of hills and mountains

could be much stronger than the near-surface winds indicated in this

advisory.

STORM SURGE: A dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and

destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11

feet above normal tide levels in the hurricane warning area near

where the center of Fay moves across the Leeward Islands and the

British Virgin Islands.

The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause

normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters

moving inland from the shoreline. The water is expected to reach

the following heights above ground if the peak surge occurs at the

time of high tide...

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands…9 to 16 ft

The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to

the north and east of the landfall location, where the surge will be

accompanied by large and destructive waves. Surge-related

flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal

cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances. For information

specific to your area, please see products issued by your local

National Weather Service forecast office.

RAINFALL: Fay is expected to produce the following rain

accumulations through today and tomorrow:

Central and southern Leeward Islands...10 to 15 inches, isolated 20

inches.

U.S. and British Virgin Islands...10 to 15 inches, isolated 20

inches.

Puerto Rico...12 to 18 inches, isolated 25 inches.

Northern Leeward Islands from Barbuda to Anguilla...4 to 8 inches,

isolated 10 inches.

Windward Islands and Barbados...2 to 4 inches, isolated 6 inches.

Eastern Dominican Republic...4 to 8 inches, isolated 12 inches.

Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash

floods and mudslides.

SURF: Swells generated by Fay are affecting the Lesser Antilles.

These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip

current conditions. Please consult products from your local

weather office.

(Chapter XXXIX will be posted on Thursday, September 3)

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