Gomez checked one more time to see if any patrols were approaching the perimeter, looking through the telescopic sight of his Browning rifle, while his younger counterpart did the same through his Remington rifle’s telescopic sight. Both men had installed noise suppressors—silencers—on their rifles.
“I’ll take the guard on the balcony to the left,” the SWAT captain told Tavarez. “You take the other one, on the right. Then we shoot the guys in the garage, same order.”
Gomez pressed the PTT button on his left hand. “Coquí One and Three, we are ready to start. Taking out the men on the balcony, then those in front of the garage.”
“Right, Coquí Two,” Lucas responded. “Let us know when we can move.”
“Roger that,”Gomez answered.
He looked at Tavarez. It had been a year since Sergeant Abraham Cordero, Tavarez, and him had been stuck behind a wall of Fort San Gerónimo. Gomez’s SWAT squad had just been ambushed and decimated by the Macheteros’ fire, after trying to cross the Condado Lagoon to rescue the hostages trapped in the Grand Laguna Hotel.
At that time, the dirty blond haired, freckled youth had shown courage beyond all measure, braving the strong current between the fort and the San Gerónimo Plaza Hotel, to swim to the opposite side of the Condado Lagoon and establish contact with Police Superintendent Maldonado. Tavarez had almost been swept out to sea, but somehow, he had managed to reach the razor-sharp reefs close to the hotel, and from there the Superintendent.
Then, Tavarez had been an impulsive, non-stop talking, too self-assured SWAT recruit, prone to act rashly and impetuously in moments of danger. But he had been held in check by Sergeant Cordero, a former Navy SEAL. However, Cordero was no longer with them, killed in the subsequent fighting in the Grand Laguna Hotel, while he held back, almost single handedly, a counterattack from the terrorists.
And Tavarez, who had idolized Cordero, now thirsted for revenge.
Gomez was aware that the young SWAT corporal had matured during the ensuing year. But had he matured enough not to act rashly under the present circumstances?
“Remember what we planned,” Gomez said to the young SWAT corporal, just in case. “We have to work together. I don’t want you going by yourself like John Wayne to wipe out the entire terrorist contingent.”
“John Wayne?” Tavarez repeated, chuckling “Who’s John Wayne?”
Gomez directed him a hard stare.
“You know what I mean. Don’t go ballistic on me. We work as a team.”
Tavarez stared at his superior officer with a half indignant, half amused expression. “Why captain,” he responded, “you know you can rely on me.”
Gomez took in a deep breath and nodded. “Keep your eyes peeled for the foot patrols. They may show up at any moment.”
“Yes, sir, captain, sir,” Tavarez answered with a smile, making Gomez wince inwardly.
The SWAT captain assumed a prone position next to his young companion, resting the barrel of his rifle on his left hand.
“On my count,” he whispered softly. “Five…four…three…two…one.”
The first two shots went off almost simultaneously, Tavarez’s producing a sharp “click”, Gomez’s a dull “thud”.
Tavarez’s target dropped almost instantly, as if tackled by the knees from behind. But Gomez’s shot missed by a couple of inches, ricochetting from the balcony’s concrete banister.
The guard, who had been walking in the direction of his companion, saw his partner fall and turned sideways, instinctively crouching for cover. But his reaction was a fraction of a second too late.
Gomez’s Remington rifle thudded twice more, and its first bullet struck the guard on his upper right arm, splintering his arm’s bone and continuing into his chest and heart. The second round struck the man on his forehead, producing a small cloudburst of red.
The guard dropped noiselessly to the floor.
Not saying a word, the two SWAT officers aimed their rifles at the two unsuspecting guards standing in front of the garage structures.
Gomez fired first with two quick, consecutive bursts, hitting his man on the chest with one bullet and shattering the AK-47 rifle—along with three of the man’s fingers—that he held over his stomach.
Maybe anxious to get his man, maybe unnerved by his first kill, Tavarez also discharged his rifle twice but missed, both bullets chipping off bits of concrete from the garage wall behind the man. The guard dropped to the ground, and fired a wild burst of his rifle into the surrounding night.
“Shit!” muttered Tavarez.
But by that time, Gomez had returned the fire, piercing the man’s neck and shattering his adam’s apple with the first of his three shots.
“I’m sorr__” Raymond began to apologize, but then a barrage of gunfire erupted from their right, and several bullets smacked into the ground in front of them.
Gomez pressed the “SPEAK” button of his PTT. “The cat is out of the bag,” he said to the other groups. “The cat is out of the bag.”
* * *
The burst from the AK-47 stirred a hornets nest. From where he and the others were hiding, Lucas heard confused shouting and the heavy steps of men running inside the trailer.
Ojeda took a quick peek from one of the corners of the mobile home behind which they were were hiding, trying to determine if any of the men moving inside the trailer or playing cards outside were heading toward the main house.
At first, he saw no one. But then about a dozen armed men spilled out onto the tennis courts from the two trailers. A moment later, the overhead reflectors of the area went on, flooding everything with dizzying brightness.
Correcaminos also risked a short glance from the opposite side of the trailer, and to his great surprise, saw two men heading in their direction.
One of the men must have also seen him, because he shouted, “Who’s there?”
“They’re coming!” the sportscaster warned the others, as the sound of approaching steps got closer.
Placing his shotgun by his hip, he stepped out of his cover and with two loud “booms” fired first one barrel, then the other, at almost point blank range.
He discharged the shotgun too quickly, however, and most of the buckshot struck the man in front, the first of the shots opening a softball-sized hole on the right part of the man’s chest, the second demolishing most of his left elbow.
The terrorist fell to the ground headfirst, coughing violently as blood flooded his lungs.
The man behind him was also partially wounded on his left hand, pausing to examine it. It was bleeding, but it was a superficial wound.
Correcaminos nervously tried to break open his shotgun to reload it, but could not manage to do so, dropping both of the new cartridges he was carrying in one of his hands during his effort to do so.
The wounded terrorist began to raise his AK-47 to shoot him, but just then Lucas pushed the flustered sportscaster aside, and fired two bullets into the surviving attacker, striking him on the chest and stomach.
Not waiting to see the man fall, Lucas pulled back Correcaminos behind the trailer’s corner.
Crouching, Correcaminos finally broke open his shotgun, and let the two spent cartridges slide out its barrels. Then, he rushed out from his cover to recover the ammunition he had dropped on the ground.
With his hands shaking, he reloaded his weapon and closed it. Lucas joined him a moment later, holding on to one of the AK-47’s that the terrorist shot by Correcaminos had been carrying.
“Jesus! I’ve never shot a man before,” Correcaminos said to Lucas in an unsteady, grateful voice. “Thank you for saving my life!”
Doel knelt on one knee next to his friend, and cautiously poked his head from behind the trailer’s corner, while holding his .45 Colt up towards the sky with his right hand.
“Nobody else is coming,” he announced, continuing to look. “Not yet, anyway,” he added ominously.
“Half a dozen men heading this way!” Ojeda shouted from the opposite corner of the trailer. Like Doel, he was kneeling on one knee, while Michael leaned over him, ready to use his two guns.
“There must be twenty men in the tennis courts, most of them trying to figure out what’s happening,” Michael added.
Both men looked at Lucas for instructions.
“Don’t shoot unless they come closer,” Lucas told them. “And after you shoot, all of you, lay on the ground. You’re going to draw their fire, and I suspect the walls of this trailer won’t hold the bullets,” he said quickly, slipping his Glock into his belt. “Doel, Correcaminos, help me get up on the roof of the trailer, before__”
“Here they come!” Michael shouted, and both he and Ojeda opened fire.
Lucas heard some screams of pain and shouts of surprise, as some of the approaching men were hit by Ojeda and Michael’s first volley.
“Hurry!” Lucas said to Doel and Correcaminos, each of which cupped their hands to form a foothold.
Lucas climbed clumsily on them, slipped over the roof the AK-47 he had captured, and grabbed the upper edge of the trailer. He pulled himself up while his two companions pushed him from below, and climbed onto the rooftop.
Doel and Correcaminos returned to their corner and watched for movement on their side.
Flat on his stomach, Lucas took out his Glock and slid closer to the side of the roof facing the tennis courts. He saw more than a dozen men running away in the direction of the main house, probably seeking cover. Six more of the gunmen lay on the ground behind a tennis net, taking aim at the corner of the trailer behind which his friends were hiding.
Less than ten feet away, the men who had been shot by Michael and Ojeda were lying on the concrete floor, one of them holding his stomach and bellowing in pain while blood oozed through his hands, another—shot on a thigh—trying to crawl back to his companions. Two others—neither of which moved—had fallen one on top of the other, a dark, almost black pool of blood spreading under them over the green tennis court surface.
Lucas rolled back to the short edge of the roof from where he could see his friends, and noticed that only Ojeda had followed his instructions.
“Drop to the floor!” he hissed urgently into his PTT. “Hurry!”
Just as Doel, Correcaminos, and Michael fell to the ground, a massive volley of semi-automatic fire erupted from under the tennis court’s net, and was joined a scant couple of seconds later by more fire from behind the fence that surrounded the playing area.
Hundreds of rounds struck the right end of the trailer’s front wall, splintering and perforating it, shattering its side window and piercing the shorter wall behind which the four friends were hiding. The men were covered with fragments of the trailer’s fiberglass outer layer, and by the pink, cotton-like insulating material inside the wall.
“Stay down until they stop!” Lucas shouted over the din, not knowing if his friends could hear him or not.
Through the PTT's earpiece, he heard Negrón ask, “Coquí Three, Coquí Three, we hear a lot of distant shooting. Are you all right?” However, he was too busy to answer.
Grabbing the AK-47, Lucas began to crawl toward the gap between the two trailers, pausing midway to take a glance over the edge opposite to the tennis courts, to see if any men were attempting to reach his friends from the other side of the trailer.
Reassured that the terrorists’ attack was only coming—at least for the moment—from the area of the tennis courts, he continued to slide unseen towards the blue tarp under which some of the terrorists had been playing cards.
When he reached the trailer’s end, he detected no movement below him. However, he could not see if any gunmen were still gathered under the tarp. The noise of the shooting from the tennis courts began to taper off, and afterwards stopped completely for several seconds. Then several gun blasts originated from the corner where Lucas’ group was hiding, and he guessed that Ojeda and Michael had renewed their fire.
Another thunderous volley followed, silencing the gunshots from Lucas’ friends.
In the distance, he detected movement behind the tall, green cloth-covered fence surrounding the tennis courts, and realized that a group of terrorists was moving behind it, and that it would only be a matter of minutes before his friends were outflanked by them.
He could not delay any longer. Holding on to his AK-47, Lucas dropped from the roof, on the side opposite to the tennis courts. To preserve his ammunition, he set the rifle’s firing mechanism from continuous bursts to only one shot every time he pressed the trigger, and dashed towards the tented area between the two trailers.
As he rounded the corner, he came face to face with two armed men who were standing next to one of the two wooden tables under the tarp. One of the men screamed in surprise just before Lucas shot him in the middle of the chest, while the second retreated a couple of steps, tripped, and accidentally discharged his rifle into the air in a long burst of fire.
The terrorist tried stand up to escape, but Lucas shot him twice in the back, and the man fell on top of the second wooden table.
From where he stood, Lucas had a clear view of the six men lying in a row behind the tennis net, and he opened fire. The closest of the terrorists began to sit up and tried to extricate his gun’s muzzle from the net’s fabric, but in his frantic struggle he entangled his weapon even more into the thin, black webbing, and was shot while still on his knees.
The next two gunmen died as they stood up directly into the line of fire of the man furthest away from Lucas, who panicked and fired a wild round of bullets in the Puerto Rican’s direction.
Lucas crouched and shot back at the three remaining men, who turned tail and ran out of the tennis courts.
Without pausing, the Puerto Rican rushed back to the corner of the trailer where his group was taking cover. Switching his rifle to its automatic mode, he fired continuously into the cloth-covered fence behind them until he ran out of ammunition.
Several shrieks of pain and dismay and the sound of retreating steps followed from the other side of the enclosure.
However, someone fired out of the darkness and a bullet struck Correcaminos on the chest, causing him to fall backwards with a grunt. Ojeda and Michael instantly returned the fire with a hail of bullets that silenced the unseen attacker.
Terrified, Doel knelt next to his longtime associate and raised him in his arms.
“Oh God!” Doel whispered in despair. “We need to call an ambulance!” He turned to Michael, who was staring at the two men with a worried face. “Call an ambulance!”
“It’s…it’s too late,” Correcaminos whispered, barely audibly. He grabbed Doel by the collar of his shirt, and pulled him toward him. “I want you…I want you to…”
“No! Hold on!” Doel muttered frantically.
“I want you…to give me a raise,” Correcaminos said with a thin smile.
“You want what?” Doel asked in a stunned voice.
“A raise. I need a raise…”
Doel released his friend, and let him drop to the ground. “Why you incredible asshole!” he said with outraged relief. “I thought you were dying!”
Correcaminos began to laugh, but then closed his eyes in agony. “Oww! My chest hurts.”
“Your bulletproof vest saved you,” Ojeda observed, as the men standing around the sportscaster joined in the relieved laughter. “You must have been shot by a handgun. An AK-47 round would have probably gone right through the vest.”
Grabbing the extended hands of Michael and Ojeda, Correcaminos slowly was pulled off the ground to his feet.
“Ow, ow, owww! It really hurts!” the sportscaster said, this time sincerely.
“You’re going to have a large welt on your chest for a couple of weeks,” Ojeda told him.
“You asshole!” Doel said, angrily striking Correcaminos on the shoulder, and making him wince. “You incredible, fucking asshole!”
Then he embraced his friend.
“Stop it, it hurts!” Correcaminos complained, grinning.
“And you!” Doel turned to Lucas. “I’ve never seen anything like what you just did! Never!”
“We can’t stay here,” Lucas responded.
Unlike Doel’s euphoric mood, he sounded emotionally depleted.
“If we stay here much longer, the others will come back. Better that we meet them in a place of our choosing. Let’s gather some of their weapons, and move out of here.”
(Chapter XLVIII will be posted on Monday, October 5)