The airport gates were open by the time that the ambulance reached the airport, and to Da’ud’s amazement, the emergency vehicle was waved through by the police without a review of any credentials.
The balding, chubby terrorist had expected to be detained and checked, and had carried the ID of the captured ambulance driver in a chain around his neck, in case he was stopped. Wearing a hood with a darkened plastic see-through face mask and a large air filter covering his mouth, there was no way that anyone checking the hijacked credentials could determine who really was under the protective headgear.
Nevertheless, just in case a zealous guard would have forced him to remove his hood, Da’ud had placed an Uzzi submachine-gun in the driver’s door compartment.
It had proven to be an unnecessary precaution.
Da’ud drove the ambulance past AmbuAir’s main office at the airport, and continued to the Learjet waiting on the tarmac, an additional one hundred yards away.
As Enrique had predicted—the terrorist driver noted with satisfaction—the jet’s entrance hatch was very close to the ground level, slightly above the height that a stretcher would have to clear in order to get into an ambulance van. It would be very easy to slip Francisco’s oxygen-tented stretcher into the airplane.
Da’ud walked to the back of the fake ambulance, and opened its double doors. Yousef and Sami, unrecognizable in their biohazard suits, peered at him for a moment, and then began to unload the stretcher.
Another man, also garbed in a hazmat suit, quickly exited from the Learjet and approached the men in the ambulance at a quick clip.
“Can I see him?” the new arrival asked anxiously as the others finished taking the stretcher out of the ambulance.
“Who are you?” Da’ud inquired.
“I’m his father,” the stranger replied.
“Yes. Please, let me see him. Is he all right?” Pietrantoni asked, placing his hands on the stretcher’s transparent bubble and peering inside.
“He was sedated by his kidnappers,” Da’ud replied, sticking to his script. “They probably wanted him to remain still while they brought him to us. For that same reason, they strapped him to the stretcher. But don’t worry, we checked his vitals and they are good. They’re strong. And the paramedics that are with him are taking good care of him.”
Da’ud turned to the other two men, who were watching him.
“Let’s take him inside the plane,” he told them.
“Wait!” Pietrantoni pleaded, staring desperately at his son.
He examined him through the transparent plastic, as if hoping the boy would stir and show more signs of life.
Da’ud watched the Governor, feeling an uncharacteristic sympathy for the distraught father, but at the same time growing increasingly impatient.
“Mr. Governor,” he said gently. “We have to take him into the plane. The quicker we do this, the greater your son’s chances will be. You will have more than enough time to spend with him during your flight to Washington.”
Hesitating, Pietrantoni took his hands off the stretcher’s plastic tent and nodded. “Yes, yes, of course. Go ahead.”
Da’ud stayed long enough to see the stretcher carried into the airplane, followed by Sami and Yousef. He climbed back on his ambulance as the jet’s hatch closed, and slowly began to drive his vehicle toward AmbuAir’s private exit.
Once outside, the vehicle picked up speed, heading at a breakneck pace toward the terrorist compound. It would not take him long to get there. The pre-Hurricane Fay roads were nearly deserted.
Poor bastard, he thought of the Governor. He only has three hours or so to share with his son. At least the boy will be unconscious when it happens. And the Governor will never realize what killed him. He and his son will be obliterated to atoms before any hint of an explosion reaches their consciousness.
* * *
The shuttle stopped about a quarter of a mile past the terrorist compound, on a dark, wet curb partially covered by tall, half-leaning bamboo trees.
Nine men—Doel, Correcaminos, Michael, Ojeda, Gomez, Tavarez, Myers, Hazard, and Lucas—quickly stepped out, while the rest—Archie, El Chino, Negrón and the bolita salesman-turned-shuttle driver, Aarón—remained inside.
Lucas leaned into the shuttle’s entrance.
“We should be in position within forty five minutes from now, tops. We’ll let you know,” he told to the men inside.
“We’ll wait for your call in the retirement home’s parking area further down the road. It’s about a ten minutes drive from there to the compound’s gate,” Archie replied. “Good luck.”
The men standing on the curbside saw the shuttle’s door shut, and watched the vehicle drive away downhill and quickly disappear from sight after crossing a small bridge.
A somber silence substituted the shuttle’s rattling diesel engine.
No other vehicles were circulating on the road, probably a combination of the hour and the impending hurricane. A gentle, spray-like mist, typical of the area, was already beginning to soak the men’s skin and clothes.
Holding on to his double-barreled shotgun, Correcaminos turned and began to walk uphill toward the bordering vegetation.
“Let’s get those bastards,” he said to no one in particular, disappearing into the lush, dark rain forest.
* * *
Enrique observed from the rented mansion’s second floor balcony as the fake ambulance driven by Da’ud made its way toward the garage, its wheels crunching over the loose gravel.
Still dressed in his yellow hazmat suit—except for the hood—the compact, bearded terrorist was intercepted by Nour as he got off his vehicle. The female Egyptian addressed him for a few seconds, prompting him to look up at Enrique while listening to her. When she had finished, he walked away into the garage.
“He’ll be ready to leave in a few minutes,” Nour shouted up at her boss.
“How about the others?” he asked.
“They’re all ready. They should all be here soon,” she responded.
Enrique heard footsteps approaching him from behind, and recognized them as those of José Ramón, the computer expert.
“I have printed all of the boarding passes,” the Spaniard told him without any preamble. “We will be leaving tomorrow on different flights, starting at 9:00 A.M. You leave first.”
José Ramón handed the printed passes to Enrique, who cooly leafed through them with an amused grin,
“I see that you booked yourself for the next flight at 9:35 in the morning. And…first class! You treated yourself well.”
The old Spaniard prepared to snap back at his boss, but then checked himself.
“Even if you don’t believe me, I did it randomly, just to be fair. Except for yourself. I booked you first class as well,” he replied as civilly as he could manage.
He delighted in getting under his associate’s skin. He noticed that José Ramón was shouldering a portable computer case and a small handbag.
“Ready to leave?”
The Spaniard nodded.
“Go downstairs with the others. We drive out in a few minutes.”
“I left the computers in the computer room untouched, as you instructed,” José Ramón told him. “You know that they will be eventually discovered by the police, don’t you?”
Enrique shrugged. “So? Let them know how we pulled off this operation. There’s nothing in them that can harm us. Let’s add to our legend.”
The small Homer Addams lookalike directed a quick glance at the man who was coming up the stairs.
“Ah, here comes Nabil,” he said in a happy tone, then added to his Spaniard associate, “Wait with the others downstairs.”
A thin man in his early twenties, with stringy, muscled arms and a taller than average height, Nabil crossed paths with José Ramón as the latter withdrew, neither acknowledging the other. The new arrival made his way into the balcony with a confident stride, his brown eyes beaming at his boss.
A Palestinian and former Hamas militant, he had caught the eye of San Miguel and Enrique after planting an explosive in a Tel Aviv public transportation bus that had killed fifteen of its passengers and wounded scores of others. It had also been Nabil who had trained the three squads of terrorists that had participated in the attack to the capitol and killed Superintendent Maldonado.
A cold blooded killer, the Palestinian formed an important part of Enrique’s inner circle, one of the people that he valued enough to save.
“You called me, boss?” Nabil said as he approached Enrique.
“Yes.” Enrique took out two boarding passes from the bunch that had been handed to him by José Ramón. “These are for you and Javid. You leave together tomorrow at 3:25 P.M. for…Boston. And from there…” He looked at the boarding passes. “From there to Paris for a two-day layover, it seems, you lucky dog!”
Nabil held the proffered boarding documents gingerly between two of his fingers, as if he disliked the idea of flying to Paris.
A religious fanatic, Enrique thought to himself, holding back a mocking smile.
“From there, you and Javid must make your way to our safe house in Amsterdam. We will meet there in three days' time.”
“Thank you,” Nabil responded soberly.
“I am leaving the compound with Da’ud, Nour, Hassam, Rosario, and José Ramón in a few minutes. You will be in charge of closing this place. Now listen to me carefully.”
“Da’ud has just arrived with the fake ambulance that took the boy to the airport. I want you to pack it, and to pack the other ambulance that we captured earlier, with all of the C-4 explosives that we have.”
“The three crates in the large garage?”
“Yes. I want you to rig the two ambulances with the C-4 explosives, and park them in front of the police headquarters in Hato Rey early in the morning. Do you know where that is?””
“No, but I can find out.”
“Good. We’ll leave the two ambulances as our farewell gift to the local police. Have Javid follow you. Rig the explosives so that they go off at nine A.M., when the police are changing their shifts, to maximize the casualties. After you park the ambulances, take an Uber and go with Javid to the airport.”
Nabil stared at his superior without any expression, his eyes showing little concern with the instructions he was being imparted.
“It will be done as you say. I will also rig the explosives with my cell phone, so that if the timing mechanism fails in either of the ambulances, or the police tries to move them, I will be able to set off the explosions with a call.”
“Excellent!” Enrique slapped Nabil on the shoulder, prompting the tiniest of smiles from his counterpart. “Now remember, you must give yourself and Javid enough time to get to the airport. The hurricane is expected to arrive here tomorrow night, so if you miss your flight, you might not get the chance to leave in another one.”
Nabil nodded several times.
“How about the others?” he asked, referring to the thirty to forty plus odd men that were quartered in the compound. Most of them had been recruited by Enrique from the gangs terrorizing the residents in El Salvador and Honduras, mostly thugs who would do anything for money.
Enrique shrugged. “Leave them behind. They are expendable. We won’t need them after tonight, and their deaths or capture will not harm us in any way.”
Nabil did not seem particularly affected by the prospect of abandoning his companions. He had never mixed with them, and barely knew any Spanish. He considered them to be hoodlums, not freedom fighters, and was glad Enrique was getting rid of them.
“You have my cell number?” Enrique asked, almost as an afterthought.
“Call me if you need me for anything, although I expect you won’t. If you have to call me, my code name will be Clark Maisonnet.”
“Everything will be done as you ask,” he replied. “May God be with all of you,” he added, bowing his head slightly and leaving.
“And with you,” Enrique answered automatically, not really believing a word of what he was saying.
He looked at his watch. It was five minutes to eleven.
Time to leave.
They would drive to the Hotel Isla Verde, close to the airport, and spend the night there. From there they would leave at staggered times for their flights.
He looked around him for a last time. He was not a sentimental man, but he would never forget his time in Puerto Rico.
History was about be made. The world would be shaken to its core. He would succeed where Angel San Miguel, with all of his faith in God, had failed.
Not bad for a month’s or so work.
The red CRV pulled up under the balcony and honked its horn.
Rosario, popping his head from one of the rear passengers’ windows and looking at him, shouted, “Are you coming or not?”
Not responding, Enrique headed down the stairs.
* * *
Hurricane Fay Advisory Number 17
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
11 PM AST
...EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE FAY HEADED FOR THE VIRGIN
ISLANDS AND PUERTO RICO...
SUMMARY OF 11 PM AST...0300 UTC...INFORMATION
ABOUT 65 MI...100 KM WSW OF GUADELOUPE
ABOUT 205 MI...325 KM SE OF ST. CROIX
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...160 MPH...257 KM/H
PRESENT MOVEMENT...WNW OR 300 DEGREES AT 9 MPH...15 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...934 MB...27.58 INCHES
WATCHES AND WARNINGS
CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:
SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for...
* 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
* St. Lucia
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for...
* Saba and St. Eustatius
* St. Maarten
* St. Martin and St. Barthelemy
* 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
Interests elsewhere in Hispaniola, the southeastern Bahamas, and
the Turks and Caicos Islands should monitor the progress of Fay.
Additional watches and warnings may be required today.
DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK
At 1100 PM AST (0300 UTC), the center of Hurricane Fay was located
near latitude 16.0 North, longitude 62.3 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 day. On the forecast
track, the eye of Fay will move over the northeastern Caribbean
Sea today, and approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico tomorrow night.
Maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph (257 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 category 5 hurricane while it approaches
the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. An Air Force Hurricane Hunter
aircraft is currently investigating Fay.
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
The estimated minimum central pressure is 934 mb (27.58 inches).
HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
WIND: Hurricane conditions will continue to spread throughout
portions of the hurricane warning area in the Leeward Islands this
morning. Hurricane conditions should spread through the remainder
of the Hurricane Warning area later tomorrow. Hurricane
conditions are possible within the Hurricane Watch area in the
Dominican Republic in two days. Tropical storm conditions are possible
in the Tropical Storm Watch area in St. Vincent and the Grenadines
this morning, 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
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...6 to 9 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 the next two days:
Central and southern Leeward Islands...10 to 15 inches, isolated 20
U.S. and British Virgin Islands...10 to 15 inches, isolated 20
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 will 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
(Chapter XLV will be posted on Thursday, September 24)