The fake ambulance moved at a fast but steady speed, its red and blue lights flashing in the night, its siren wobbling and stuttering shrilly to disperse the automobiles in front of it. Inside, it's driver Da’ud, dressed in a yellow hazmat suit and unrecognizable in his yellow hood, knew exactly where he had to go, having driven there on various occasions during practice runs.
In the back of the fake ambulance, Yousef and Sami, similarly dressed, sat on the opposite side of the tented stretcher, eyeing the unconscious boy strapped inside the plastic bubble.
As if to reassure himself, Yousef moved his hand to a pouch attached to his hazmat suit, where he kept the firing mechanism of the nuclear bomb attached to the bottom of the stretcher. He tapped the small device twice for reassurance, feeling both oddly comforted by its presence, and terrified by what it would eventually do to him.
He would not feel anything, he had been told. His brain would be vaporized before it processed what had happened. He would leave his earthly bonds in a glorious flash, and then lead an everlasting life of eternal pleasure.
* * *
“It’s coming this way,” Parker said to Gomer, unable to hide his excitement. “It should be here any minute.”
The FBI Special Agent nodded. He opened the passenger door, and shouted to Montañez, standing by his car, “They’re coming!”
Montañez eyed him with angry resignation. Less than ten minutes before, the FBI agent had confessed to him that, contrary to his prior assurances, there had been a GPS tracking device in the ambulance.
Gomer had allegedly found about it, the Special Agent had claimed, after he had double-checked with his men that the tracker had been removed. To “his great surprise”, he had been informed that the GPS tracker had been left in the hospital vehicle, and that his order to remove it had somehow been "misinterpreted".
The police chief would never forgive his FBI counterpart for sneaking a tracking device into the ambulance and placing Francisco’s life in jeopardy, despite the Governor’s express instructions to remove it. Even though the Special Agent had apologized profusely, his present expression had been one of a smug I-told-you-the-tracker-would-be-useful satisfaction.
The asshole, Montañez was certain, had known all along. Fortunately, the terrorists had not found the tracker.
The Police Superintendent sat in his Lexus and grabbed his police radio’s hand microphone. “Units one and three, this is Montañez, over.”
“Unit One, copy. Over!”
“Unit Three, copy. Over!”
“The ambulance will be coming your way soon. Please escort it to the airport. All other units, gather at the pickup spot, over.”
Montañez handed the microphone to his driver. “Beto, you have the pickup spot locked in your GPS, right?”
Beto nodded. “Yes, sir,” he responded.
* * *
Sitting on the passenger front seat of the captured ambulance, Hassam watched its fake counterpart reach the end of Yagrumo Street, and then turn right and disappear as it headed toward the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport driven by Da'ud. Since they had transferred the GPS tracker from the real ambulance to the fake one that now carried Francisco, the police would never suspect about the switch of the vehicles. Or that the paramedics in the hazmat suits accompanying the sick boy were in reality Yousef and Sami.
Hassam looked at the driver sitting next to him.
“Let’s get out of here and go home,” he told his companion. Both were dressed in paramedic uniforms, in case they were stopped along the way.
The captured ambulance turned on its overhead lights and revved up its siren, turning to the left when it exited Yagrumo Street, in the direction contrary to that taken by the fake ambulance. The terrorists’ red CRV followed it at a casual speed.
As they traveled down Highway 186, two police cars heading the opposite way zipped past them at breakneck speed. Hassam watched them through the rear view mirror, smiling briefly as they vanished in the distance.
It would all soon be over, he told himself. He would soon leave the cursed island once and for all, never to return.
* * *
Rosario saw Hassam’s captured ambulance and the red Honda CRV drive past his parked car, picked up his cell phone, and called Enrique.
“The package has been delivered,” he informed his boss.
Then he turned on the engine, and drove away, in the same direction as the others.
* * *
Enrique placed his cell phone into his pants’ back pocket, looking mildly amused. He turned to Nour.
“Gather Da’ud, Hassam, and Rosario as soon as they all get here from their assignments. Also José Ramón. We’re leaving immediately after they're all here.”
The female Egyptian terrorist stared at his boss with curiosity, but said nothing, bowing her head briefly.
“Oh, and Nour?” Enrique called after her, as she began to move away. “Tell Nabil that I need to talk to him.”
* * *
One police squad car had already arrived at the pickup spot by the time Montañez’s black Lexus screeched to a halt, followed by two other police vehicles. Three policemen armed with shotguns stood waiting for the Superintendent, sealing the perimeter around the area.
Other armed men, some in civilian clothes, stepped out to surround the two abandoned houses in the cul-de-sac, the second of which had been originally designated by the terrorists as the place where Francisco would be found.
“I just spoke with the bomb squad. They should be here in another five minutes,” Montañez told a lieutenant standing by him. “We’ll wait for them, since the terrorists may have boobytrapped the area. When they arrive send a couple of our men to protect them, in case any bad guys are still hiding in any of the houses, which I highly doubt. Once the area is cleared, we'll move in to search for any evidence.”
The lieutenant, a trim, athletic man in his mid-thirties and a friend of Montañez, nodded. “Yes, sir.”
As he left, another patrol car drew up next to the Superintendent, and a man with wavy black hair, a Kirk Douglas-like cleft chin, wearing a rumpled, chocolate brown suit lowered his window and leaned over the door.
“Colo__Mr. Superintendent,” he said, with a hesitant smile. “Sorry, I can’t get used to your new title.”
“That makes two of us, Gutierrez,” Montañez replied humorlessly. “Speak up.”
Captain Gutierrez was one of Montañez’s most trusted men in his former anti-drug unit, dubbed by the locals because of its string of successful arrests as “The Untouchables”. Short, with a hoarse voice, and a permanent shoddy appearance, he was now in the running to take over his boss's former position.
“I saw those FBI people getting off their SUV about a of a quarter mile away, and searching the area. It looked sort of strange to me they would stop there, and not come here with the rest of us.”
Montañez frowned. “It sounds strange to me too. They know this is the spot where the exchange was supposed to take place. Why would they be searching…”
The Superintendent stopped for a moment, and shook his head.
“I am so dense!”
“Their GPS tracker. They had a GPS tracker in the ambulance. They know the exchange didn’t happen here,” Montañez said, pointing at the two abandoned houses. “It happened further up the road. Gutierrez!”
“Gather all of the men. Leave just one patrol car guarding the houses. The rest, join me where you saw the FBI stop.”
Montañez climbed back into his Lexus, and after a couple of seconds, the vehicle sped away toward the road’s exit.
* * *
“See anything?” Special Agent Gomer Mendez asked his associates, Parker and Guzmán, who were searching the road with their flashlights.
After a long pause, Guzmán shouted, from the entrance of an abandoned, weed-filled alleyway, “I see some tire tracks on the ground here.”
“Let me see,” Agent Gomer responded, hurrying toward where Guzmán’s light was pointing, and squatting where the light was shining. “They must have intercepted the ambulance from that property over there,” he said, pointing with his flashlight into the gloomy alley.
Gomer drew out his gun, prompting Guzmán to do the same.
The two men began to walk into the darkened passageway, noting several more tracks from tires along the way, trailed by Parker half a dozen yards away.
It was a moonless night, and most of their surroundings were totally dark, prompting the agents to walk slowly and cautiously.
Finally, they reached the ruins of an old abandoned mansion. Parker and Guzmán climbed up the porch’s stairway, and walked into what must once have been the interior of the house, now filled with small trees and dense vegetation. In the meantime, Gomer searched the exterior of the property.
Except for the tire tracks, they found no other signs of any recent activity.
Frustrated, Gomer began to walk back to the front of the house, and nearly stumbled into the dark figure of what looked more like a bear than a man, stopping abruptly.
“Jesus! You nearly scared me to death!” he said with a shaky voice to Montañez, who stared at him wordlessly, his arms folded over his chest, his expression hidden in the shadows. “We decided to…We decided to stop by this area, since…”
“Since your GPS tracker determined that the ambulance stopped here?” Montañez said in a low growl, finishing his statement. “Not in the the area where the pickup was supposed to take place.”
The FBI agent nodded hesitantly.
“And you were planning to tell us when?” the Police Superintendent asked with deceptive mildness, as more of his men arrived at the scene.
Gomer did not answer. Montañez breathed in deeply.
“Now listen to me, you asshole,” he said, barely able to contain his anger. “You can’t keep hiding information from me. We need to cooperate with each other in order to deal with this crisis. Your evasiveness and outright lying doesn’t help either of us.”
The FBI man opened his mouth to object to the Superintendent’s accusations, but Montañez silenced him with a threatening look.
“I want to catch these criminals as much as you do,” Montañez continued saying. “Hell, probably more, since they murdered several innocent Puerto Ricans, including someone that I considered to be my brother. So I will make this last deal with you. I will keep you totally informed of what we do and find out. But in exchange, I expect you to do the same.” The Superintendent sighed. “From now on, anyway.”
Montañez paused briefly, trying to calm himself, letting his words sink in. His fists were clenched, and he looked as if he was about to pounce on his counterpart.
“So having said that, is there anything else that you want to tell me?”
Gomer shook his head emphatically, clearly intimidated.
“Okay. But keep this in mind. If I ever find out you are lying to me again, I will personally pound you into the ground.”
(Chapter XLIV will be posted on Monday, September 21)