The guard with the pockmarked face and the bleached mohawk watched with irritated amazement a small shuttle bus as it approached the compound’s entrance and shuddered to a stop in front of the gate. Holding his AK-47 across his chest, he began to walk to the stalled vehicle.
“Hey! Hey!” he shouted. “What do you think that__”
He had to stop mid sentence, as a redheaded man descended from the shuttle’s steps and walked to the front of the bus. The man opened the vehicle's hood, and began to examine its engine.
The guard hurriedly walked next to him, and addressed him agitatedly.
“Sorry,” Archie said, not taking his eyes off the engine and ignoring his weapon. “Our engine keeps shutting down. We couldn’t stop safely in the middle of the road, and this was the first entrance where we could check it__”
“Well, you’re blocking the entrance to our property! You have to get this thing out of here. Now!”
“I’m really sorry. We’ll get out of your way__”
“Get out of here now!” the man with the mohawk shouted exasperatedly.
“Listen, talk to my boss inside. Maybe he can call a tow truck.”
Archie continued to fiddle with the engine.
The mohawk man shook his head, barely containing his anger, and began to walk toward the shuttle’s door. However, he stopped when Andrés, from the other side of the gate, shouted at him.
“Hey, Astro Boy! What’s happening?”
Astro Boy turned and addressed his two associates.
“These idiots have decided to fix their shuttle at the entrance to our house!” he said angrily. “I’m going to talk to their boss, so that he calls a tow truck.”
“Just tell them to get the fuck out of here now!” Andrés replied, glaring at Archie’s turned back. “We’ll push them out into the road if they don’t get out of here quickly.”
Andrés’ distress seemed to improve Astro Boy’s humor.
“Yeah, well, keep me covered! Maybe Fonso can turn around and fire some of his ammunition at the shuttle. That should drive them away!” he added, laughing.
Astro Boy poked his head into the stalled vehicle’s door, and stared at the very fat man sitting by the driver’s seat.
“Are you the owner of this van?” he asked.
“What?” The fat cupped his ear with his left hand. “You’ll have to speak louder!” he shouted. “I’m almost deaf, and the batteries in my hearing aid are not working. Don’t know why, because they should.”
“Are you the owner of this van?” the mohawk guard shouted.
The fat man shook his head, causing his jowls to move in waves, and grimaced, raising his hands in frustration.
“I’m sorry. I can’t understand you. You’ll have to come closer.”
Astro Boy impatiently stepped into the van, and leaned his face toward the fat man’s ear.
“I said...I asked,” he screamed into the fat man's ear, “if you are the owner of this van?”
Astro Boy felt the cool harsh press of a metallic cylinder on his back, and froze.
“If you so much as turn or look back,” a voice said behind him, “I will shoot you right here. Follow my directions, if you don’t want to die.”
The fat man pushed his little finger into his left ear, and moved it rapidly several times.
“You didn’t have to be so loud, man,” he said in a plaintive, mocking voice. “You almost made me deaf!”
* * *
“Hey guys!” Astro Boy leaned out of the shuttle’s door and shouted to his two companions. “I’m going to need your help to push this thing into the road!”
“Now get back inside and wait,” Negrón whispered to Astro Boy behind him, his gun—“Sally”—still prodding the terrorist’s back.
Even though it was too dark for the men at the gate to see into the unlit interior of the shuttle through its partially tinted windshield, the young police sergeant squatted behind the driver’s seat, within reach of the bleached mohawked guard.
Negrón had hidden between the shuttle’s first row of seats and the back of the driver’s seat, concealed by the van’s shadows, while Astro Boy’s attention had concentrated on El Chino. With the terrorist’s back turned toward him, it had been very easy for the policeman to approach him unseen while staying out of sight from the guards at the gate.
The two men behind the iron-grilled entrance hesitated. Archie, who continued to lean over the engine, straightened up and stared at the shuttle’s door with apparent indignation.
“What do you mean, push out the shuttle into the road? Are you crazy?” he shouted, beginning to move towards the vehicle’s entrance.
“Stop where you are!” Andrés shouted from the gate, as it began to open sideways. “Stop or I’ll shoot you!”
As the gap of the sliding gate widened, the two guards rushed toward the bus with their rifles ready to fire. In their haste, they failed to see the two men who quietly emerged from the forest and pointed their guns at their backs.
“Stay where you are!” Hazard, the Governor’s bodyguard shouted. “Drop your rifles and place your hands on top of your heads!”
Both guards stopped dead in their tracks. Andrés immediately threw his rifle on the ground, and began to raise his arms.
However, Fonso, after hesitating for a moment, quickly swung around and readied to fire.
He was too slow. Myers fired twice, hitting him squarely in the chest. The swarthy, long-bearded man grunted and fell backwards in front of his companion, twitching briefly and then lying deathly still.
“Don’t move!” Hazard shouted to Andrés, who gaped at his dead associate in panic, his hands shaking uncontrollably over his head. As if to torment him one last time, Fonso’s body expelled one long, noisy fart.
Archie hurriedly approached the captured terrorist and frisked him, removing a gun from his ankle and knife from his belt. Myers and Hazard grabbed his dead companion, and dragged him into the surrounding bush.
“Do you think they heard the shooting inside?” Archie asked after they returned from hiding the corpse.
Myers spoke briefly into his PTT. “Coquí Two and Three, any unusual activity?”
Gomez answered first. “Coquí Two here. Heard some shots. Was that you?”
“Affirmative,” Myers answered. “Did any hostiles react?”
There was a pause. Then Gomez answered, “Just a curious stare in your direction from the guards in the balcony, but they seem to be calm. Don’t know about the others patrolling the area, though. Be cautious.”
“Roger that,” Myers responded.
“This is Coquí Three,” Lucas said. “Similar reaction, although the shots sounded more distant. Nobody heading your way, although two men walked to the tennis courts and looked into the night. They’ve returned to their quarters, though. You guys all okay?”
“Affirmative. We have two prisoners. Will begin heading toward the house soon. Will let you know when we’re in position.”
Archie led his prisoner into the shuttle, where Negrón had finished tying up Astro Boy, binding him by his legs and feet with rope, and then further securing him to the back of a seat by criss-crossing him with additional rope from each of his shoulders down to his crutch.
The two men then sat Andrés two rows further back, and repeated the operation. They stretched rags around both terrorists’ mouths, so they could not speak.
“Drive the bus to the old people’s home parking area, and wait to hear back from us,” Negrón said to El Chino when they had finished.
The bolita overlord eyed the police sergeant with shrewd skepticism. “And if I don’t hear from you?” he asked.
“Wait for an hour. If you don’t hear from us, go to the police.”
“The police?” El Chino repeated with apparent reluctance. “And what do I tell the police?”
Negrón thought for a moment.
“Tell them our cover story. Tell them you are Archie’s friend, and that he called you to pick up these terrorists, who kidnapped Lucas and threatened to kill him unless Archie and I surrendered to them. Tell them that a group of us decided to rescue Lucas, and that we didn’t call the police because they said they had contacts in the department and would kill Lucas if we sought police help. Most important of all, tell them where we are. Because if you don’t hear from us in an hour, we’ll all probably be captured or worse, dead, and what we’re doing here, legally or illegally, won’t matter anyway.”
El Chino considered Negrón’s story, his dark, cunning, rat-like eyes reflecting the myriad thoughts circulating through his brain.
“Okay,” he said at last. “I like it. It sounds like a telenovela. I never dreamed that I’d participate in a telenovela.”
Archie, who had been checking that the knots tying the two prisoners were securely fastened, joined them.
“I want to thank you for all your help,” he told El Chino, extending his hand and shaking it warmly. “You are a true friend.”
His words seemed to affect his former boss. The fat man nodded, unable to speak for a moment, and he wiped his face awkwardly with the back of one of his pudgy hands.
From the outside, Myers leaned into the shuttle’s entrance and said urgently, “We need to move!”
“Go!” El Chino said to Archie and Negrón. “Get those bastards!”
El Chino watched Hazard, Myers, Archie, and Negrón melt into the night’s darkness, as they dashed into the alleyway that led to the terrorist compound.
“Let’s go,” he told the nervous Aarón, who had been sitting at the back of the bus, but now had returned to the driver’s seat. Then he muttered to himself, “May God protect them.”
(Chapter XLVII will be posted on Thursday, October 1)