Nabil and his explosives expert Javid, had nearly finished rigging the fake ambulance with explosives when the prolonged sound of gunfire drew their attention.
“Keep working,” Nabil told his associate. “I’ll find out what is happening.”
The Palestinian walked to the side door of the main garage, and called out to the guard standing outside. “Zapata… Zapata!”
When Zapata failed to answer, he wandered outside and hurried to the garage’s main door. He found Zapata sprawled on the ground, the front part of his throat torn apart, his head turned in an unnatural angle, as if most of the spine holding it in place had been severed. A quick glance confirmed that the other guard, Ocasio, also lay dead some dozen yards away.
Across the wide grassy area in front of him, and from the improvised quarters in the tennis courts, Nabil heard the sporadic sound of gunshots. He hastily retreated to the garage, and from his cell phone called one of the compound’s roving patrols.
“What is happening?” he asked in an irritated tone when a man answered.
“We have discovered intruders in our perimeter. Apparently, they were shooting into our property. We have surrounded them with three of__”
“Kill them. They shot the guards in front of the garage, and there may be other casualties.”
Nabil ended the call. He walked to the fake ambulance and looked inside. “Prepare to leave in thirty minutes,” he told Javid.
“But we’re not ready!” the latter protested. A heavily muscled man in his forties with a pointy goatee, he was sweating profusely.
“We will have to abandon the other ambulance, take the explosives that remain with us, and finish preparing this ambulance out of here. It is not__”
Javid stopped talking, as a short, black man with a large afro, in an apparent state of agitation, dashed into the garage.
“We are under attack!” he yelled in a flustered tone.
“I know,” Javid calmly responded. “Some patrols are already engaging the intruders who were shooting at the house.”
“No! No! I’m not talking about the intruders fighting our patrols. This is another group! They’re attacking the living quarters in the tennis courts!”
Javid turned toward the new arrival. “You’re sure about this?”
“Yes! They surprised us while we were sleeping, and they have killed or wounded about a dozen of our men, the filthy cowards! We are regrouping now, but some of the men are scared. Two of them say they recognized their leader.”
“The Alfaro man who killed San Miguel!”
“Impossible! How could anyone identify anyone during a shootout? And a night shootout, at that! They are imagining things!”
“The big lights of the tennis court were turned on. Everything was well illuminated. Remember how we were all trained to recognize him before we attacked the ceremony at the…the capitol? He was one of our targets, remember? We all memorized his face.”
The man opened his eyes, and lowered his voice ominously.
“Two of our men think that they saw him. He fought like a devil, possessed, killed many of us. The men are very nervous. They think he’s here to take revenge on all of us. To kill all of us!”
Nabil tried to maintain a neutral façade, but felt a chill run down his spine.
“That’s ridiculous. This whole thing is ridiculous,” he said in a dismissive tone. “The men couldn’t possibly see Alfaro, and what would he be doing here anyway? This must be a police raid.”
This time it was Javid who answered. There was fear in his eyes.
“If it is the police, shouldn’t there be lights flashing and sirens sounding? And if it was the police, why would Alfaro be here? He’s not a policeman.”
“Alfaro isn’t here!” Nabil shouted, his anger fueled by his increasing nervousness.
He took out his cell phone, and called the front gate. However, nobody answered.
He looked at the man who had just run in—he couldn’t remember his name…was it Pepe, Luis?—and said to him, “Go to the front gate. See what is the situation there. Let me know if there are any policemen there. Go!”
The scared guard ran out immediately. Nabil turned to Javid.
“Carry the rest of the explosives into the ambulance and get in. We’re leaving right now,” he said.
As if to reenforce Nabil’s urgency, more shots rang out from the front yard. Javid stared at him with doubt, then nodded and went to work.
* * *
Archie, Hazard, Myers and Negrón advanced quietly through the alleyway that led to the compound’s main house. Lined with tall, thick-trunked royal palms, the narrow, asphalted passage extended almost three hundred yards before reaching the mansion’s front yard, where it curved in front of it.
The group had just been briefed by Lucas over the PTT. “Coquí Two”—Gomez and Tavarez—were not responding to Lucas’ calls, and he was urging the other two “Coquí” teams to move in their direction.
Negrón and Hazard had taken the lead, moving quickly from palm tree to palm tree, while Myers and Archie followed. Suddenly, they had heard movement ahead of them, coming from their right, and Negrón had whispered into his voice communicator, “People approaching. Hide!”
The rustling noise of rapid footsteps had followed his announcement, and then the sound of breathless talk had followed.
“Where are they?” a deep voice had asked.
“On the perimeter! I already told you!” another voice responded. “Other patrols are there already engaging them!”
About twenty yards away, four armed figures walked out of the darkness, and stopped on the road, looking warily towards the sound of the fighting.
“Let’s follow the road,” a short man in a red beret said, his features hidden by the road’s poor illumination.
“Are you crazy?” another in the group, wearing U.S. Army fatigues and combat boots said with a raspy voice. “We don’t know where the shooting is! If we run into the open space in front of the house, we might get shot.”
The man in the red beret considered his friend’s suggestion in silence. “I guess we could follow the perimeter fen__”
“Quiet!” a taller, thinner man with long, light brown hair cascading to his shoulders, said to the other two. “Somebody’s coming from the house.”
The men stood behind some of the palm trees, and waited for the stranger to get nearer.
“It’s Pepe Carbón!” the man in the Army fatigues shouted, as a black man with an afro nearly ran past him.
“Stop!” the man in the red beret shouted.
The running man stopped abruptly, nearly falling to the ground from the surprise.
“Carajo! Don’t scare me like that!” the man in the afro said.
“Where are you going?” the Army fatigues guard asked, looking at him with suspicion.
“Nabil sent me to the gate. The people at the gate are not answering. We are under attack__”
“Really?” the tall man asked sarcastically. “I thought we were celebrating New Year’s Eve!”
“This is no ordinary attack,” Pepe Carbón insisted. “Alfaro is behind it!”
“Alfaro? Alfaro who?” the man in the red beret asked, while snapping his fingers in the air as if to recall some fact that eluded him.
“Alfaro, the man who killed San Miguel?” the tall man prompted before Pepe could answer.
“That’s the one. Some of the men recognized him! From the pictures, remember?” the afro man said.
“Oh yeah! I remember,” the man in the red beret said. He looked around him nervously. “He’s here?”
“Yes, fighting like a madman. So be careful!” Pepe renewed his quick march toward the gate.
“Wait!” the tall thin man called after him. “Where is he?”
“We’re here,” Negrón said unexpectedly, stepping out of the shadows, just six steps away.
Totally surprised, Pepe emitted a piercing scream and dropped his weapon.
“Don’t move!” the police sergeant warned the terrorists, pointing at them with the AK-47 he had captured.
The man with the red beret knelt and started to aim his rifle at Negrón, but Myers—hiding behind another of the royal palms—shot him twice from behind, once on his upturned leg near the knee, the other in one of his buttocks. The gunman dropped to the ground, groaning with pain.
Another of the terrorists—the fourth member of the patrol who had not uttered a word—managed to discharge three shots in Negrón’s direction. He missed, but one of the bullets ricochetted from a small boulder lining the road, and hit Negrón on his left calf.
The shooter and his two other companions were immediately cut down by a barrage of bullets from Archie and Hazard.
“Oh shit!” The police sergeant shouted in pain, dropping on the asphalted road.
“I surrender!” Pepe shouted at the same time, sobbing and raising his hands, even though no one in particular seemed to be paying much attention to him.
Archie ran to the fallen policeman, and knelt next to him.
“Are you all right?” he asked him.
“No! Dammit! I’m not all right!” Negrón mumbled angrily, gritting his teeth. “I’ve been shot in the leg!”
“Let me see, let me see!” Archie pleaded in a worried tone.
He tried to raise the pant’s leg to see the wound, but Negrón slapped his hand away.
In the meantime, Hazard picked up Pepe Carbón’s discarded rifle, and began searching him for weapons.
“Don’t you move, or I’ll kill you,” he said to the terrified terrorist.
Pointing his Sig Sauer at the other fallen men, Myers approached them at a fast clip, first kicking away their weapons, then kneeling to examine them.
The tall thin man was dead, two shots striking and shattering his clavicle, each bullet perforation about an inch from the other. The wounds would have been survivable—even if very painful—had not another round struck him squarely on the forehead and killed him instantly.
The silent terrorist who had gotten to fire the three shots was not silent any more. A bullet had struck him in the stomach, a few inches from his navel, and another in the groin. The man had lost so much blood that he looked pale, and was about to lose consciousness.
Myers had seen wounds like those before in Afghanistan. He knew there was very little he could do for him.
The man with the red beret was also in great pain, moaning loudly as he held on to his wounded leg.Myers pulled the man’s belt off his pants, and pulled it tautly around his right thigh.
“This will keep you from bleeding to death,” he told the man through the latter’s screaming, not knowing if the terrorist had heard him or not.
He did not have to get close to the man in Army fatigues to realize he was dead. He was lying face up, one leg pinned under his body, his eyes staring as if in shock toward the cloudy night sky. Blood pooled around his waist and had soaked part of his fatigue deep red, which in the darkness looked like a black stain.
“The bullet went clear across your calf,” he heard Archie tell Negrón. “It didn’t even hit the bone, you lucky bastard.”
“Lucky? You think__”
At that moment, the men saw the headlights of a vehicle coming toward them. Hazard picked up one of the AK-47s and stood in the middle of the road, raising one hand, and signaling the vehicle to stop. Instead, the headlights increased their velocity.
Hazard pointed his rifle upwards and fired a short burst of ammunition into the air. Disregarding his warning, the vehicle—an ambulance, Hazard now noticed—continued to head toward him at breakneck speed.
The group on the road—including Negrón—scattered to the sides as Hazard shot at the front of the oncoming ambulance, jumping headfirst to the side to get out of its way at the very last moment.
One of the headlights of the vehicle exploded, and its windshield shattered, but the ambulance continued to move towards the gate at an unabated speed, rolling over the dead and wounded left on the road as if they were speed bumps.
Hazard got up and fired at the rear of the ambulance as it disappeared into the darkness.
Angrily, he walked toward Pepe Carbón—who was also getting back to his feet after diving headfirst into the driveway’s edge—and grabbed him roughly by the shirt.
“Who was in there?” he asked him, giving him a teeth-rattling shake.
“Nabil,” he answered tearfully. “Nabil and Javid. They…they were left in command of our garrison.”
“And now they’re running away,“ Hazard said, with both regret and satisfaction.
“I…I don’t understand...Why would they do that.”
“Damn…” Hazard whispered to himself. “They’re going to escape.”
“I’ll call El Chino,” Archie volunteered. “See if he can have somebody follow them.”
(Chapter XLIX will be posted on Thursday, October 8)