"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LII)
Lucas’ group had moved into the two garages of the compound, but found nobody inside. The lights in the larger of the two structures were turned on, and to their surprise, an ambulance was parked inside.
Doel approached it with cautious curiosity.
“Now what would these people be doing with an ambulance?” he wondered.
“With a second ambulance,” Lucas interjected. “Remember El Chino is following another ambulance that escaped from this place a while ago. Let’s take a quick look inside.”
Doel and Lucas walked to the back of the ambulance. Lucas aimed his rifle at its twin doors, and nodded at his friend to open them.
Doel opened one door first, and then the other, and stared inside in utter astonishment.
Three men in hazmat suits lay on the floor not moving, their head gears removed, their hands and feet tied, their mouths covered by strips of cloth.
“Mother of God!” the news editor whispered, quickly climbing into the ambulance to untie them.
Tucking his pistol into his belt, Michael joined him.
As Doel examined the man closest to him, he stirred.
“They’re alive!” the news editor shouted with startled, excited relief.
He immediately began to cut with his switchblade the plastic tie that held the captive’s wrists together. When he finished, he helped the man sit up, untying the rag that gagged his mouth.
“Are you all right?” he asked the freed captive, a thin man with plucked eyebrows.
“Yes,” the man answered weakly, still looking at his liberator with a fearful expression. “Thank you.”
“Who are you?” Doel inquired. “What are you doing here?”
The man in the hazmat suit paused, examining his liberator’s face intently. “You really don’t know who we are, do you? We were in the ambulance that was supposed to pick up the Governor’s son,” he answered, his eyes continuing to search Doel’s expression, and sensing for the first time that he was safe.
“I…I don’t get it. What are you doing here, then?” the news editor asked.
“I…This…this is the ambulance that was supposed to pick him up, th Governor's son I mean,” the thin man answered, for the first time becoming certain that Doel was not one of the terrorists. “My name is Edgar Reyes. You’re not here to kill us?” he asked anxiously.
By that time, Michael had freed his two companions. They all seemed dazed, but otherwise in good health.
“Kill you?” Doel repeated. “No! We’re here to free you!”
Edgar’s eyes filled with tears, and he embraced his rescuer. “Thank you! Thank you! God bless you!”
Lucas walked to the edge of the ambulance, while Ojeda continued to search the garage.
“Who are you again? Why are you here?” Lucas asked, as the second of the captives, a heavyset man in his thirties, rubbed his hands after being released.
“My name is Edgar Reyes,” the first man repeated, wiping away his tears. “This here is Gerry. We’re both paramedics who were supposed to pick up the Governor’s son in this ambulance,” he added, placing an affectionate hand on his companion’s shoulder. “And the grandfather you just released,” he said, referring to the third man who had just been freed, “is Fernando, our driver.”
Fernando extended his hand and shook Doel’s.
“How do you do,” he said with a relieved smile.
“We were stopped by the terrorists,” Edgar continued, talking directly to Lucas. “We were intercepted just before we were going to reach the place where we were supposed to pick up the Governor’s son.”
“Wait, so you were in the ambulance when it got to the airport?” Lucas asked.
“No, the ambulance__” Edgar began to answer, but Gerry cut him off.
“This ambulance never went to the airport. The Governor’s son was never in our ambulance,” he had said.
“Wait,” Doel exchanged a confused look with Lucas. “Didn’t we get information that Francisco had been picked up and taken to the hospital?”
“Both Archie and Negrón confirmed through their contacts that that had been the case,” Lucas stated.
“They must have taken the boy in their own ambulance,” Edgar suggested.
“Their own ambulance?” Doel repeated in a puzzled tone. “What do you mean?”
“After we were tied up, the leader of the men who ambushed us began to take us into this abandoned property,” Edgar replied, his voice shaking. “We thought he was going to kill us.”
“Yeah,” Gerry interjected, “I thought we were dead men.”
“We all did,” Edgar continued. “I started to pray, and I think God heard my prayer.”
“You?” Gerry scoffed in a good-natured humorous tone. “If we let things up to you, we would have all ended up in hell. It must have been Fernando. He has a better connection to God. I also prayed, but in my case, that might have been a disadvantage.”
Lucas was forced to smile, even though he knew that time was of the essence.
“Go on,” he told the paramedics.
Edgar continued with his narrative.
“Anyway, as the man was leading us into the alleyway of this abandoned farm, we saw another ambulance come out of the property. It looked very similar to ours. We never saw the Governor’s son. He must have been in the other ambulance. The man took us to a dark part of the farm and made us stand in a row and face him.”
“I thought that was our end,” Gerry said, shaking his head and shuddering involuntarily.
“He pointed his rifle at us, while I was praying out loud all the time,” Edgar continued.
“Did you pray?” Gerry said. “I never heard you, I was so busy peeing on myself.”
“The man hesitated. I really think he was supposed to execute us, but after an eternity, he said, ‘Fuck it’. He led us back into our ambulance, and tied us up.”
“So why__” Doel started to ask.
“Hey guys,” Ojeda interrupted from another part of the garage. “Look at this!”
A conversation between Myers and Gomez abruptly flooded the group’s earphones.
“Gomez, can you see the window that just lit up?”
“We see it clearly.”
“Shoot anyone you see moving inside.”
Lucas, who had begun to walk toward Ojeda, stopped abruptly, the distant sound of shots capturing his attention.
“We’ll have to move quickly,” he said to the others. “It seems that the fighting in the house is heating up.” He turned to his brother-in-law. “Michael, keep an eye on the door. We don’t want any unfriendly people walking in.”
Michael nodded. “Nobody will get in here,” he confirmed.
Doel and Lucas reached Ojeda, and looked at the object, located on one of the garage’s counters, on which the security man’s hand was resting.
It was a dirty rectangular black box, bearing on each of its two longer sides the yellow and black, fan-shaped circle that warned it contained radioactive material.
“What do you make of this?” Ojeda asked.
Doel stared at the box with dread. Then he looked at his two companions, the wheels in his mind ostensibly turning.
“Radioactive materials,” he stated. “And two ambulances. Why would they…” The news editor’s eyes widened suddenly. “Good Lord!” he said loudly. “This whole thing has been a ploy!”
Lucas and Ojeda stared at him with confused curiosity, still trying to place the pieces of the puzzle together.
“Do you know where they are flying Francisco to?” Doel asked Lucas urgently.
“To Washington D.C. I think the Governor told us they would take him to a pediatric hospital in…Washington D.C.,” Lucas responded, the hairs in the back of his neck prickling as for the first time he realized what was happening. He looked in shock at Doel, who nodded back knowingly at him.
Ojeda watched the two men with growing concern, still not fully understanding what was happening.
“What’s wrong?” he asked Doel, while Lucas took out his cell phone.
The news editor looked at him, his thoughts elsewhere, churning inside his head at the speed of light.
“The ebola infection, the two ambulances, the kidnapping of Francisco…It has all been a ploy to get the boy into a private jet and fly him to Washington D.C…to detonate a nuclear device when he gets there.“
“But that’s impossible,” Ojeda said with shocked disbelief. “The terrorists would need to smuggle it into the plane. How would they do it?”
Lucas silently considered his friend’s question.
His thoughts wandered back to the dark tunnels of Fort San Cristobal, when San Miguel and his people had smuggled a small nuclear device under San Juan, to detonate it during the G-20 Conference being held there.
It had been a compact bomb, about the size of a small photocopier, capable of generating an explosion similar in power to the blast that had leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the very last moment, Lucas had discovered it, and the bomb had been disposed of far in the Atlantic.
And the world, except for a handful in the governments of the G-20, had never found out about it.
“Surely, a nuclear bomb would by its bulk be noticed the moment that the terrorists tried to smuggle it inside the plane.”
Lucas shook his head. “No, these people have the capability of building a relatively small bomb, a suitcase sized bomb.”
Doel cast a questioning glance at his friend, and opened his mouth to ask him a question, but then thought better of it and kept quiet.
“But Francisco is not taking a suitcase with him. The Governor, maybe? How would they fool the Governor into carrying a suitcase with a bomb?” Ojeda asked.
“Because the bomb is not in a suitcase,” Doel responded. “What was brought into the plane from the ambulance?” he inquired, more to himself than to the others.
“Apart from Francisco…” Ojeda began to say.
“The stretcher,” Doel concluded. “The bomb is hidden in Francisco’s stretcher. The terrorists hid the bomb there.”
The men’s PTT earphones suddenly crackled into life. “Lucas, we’re into the mansion’s dining room. We’ll wait here for you.”
“Copy that,” Lucas responded distractedly. “We’ll be there shortly.” Releasing his PTT’s “Speak” button, he said to his companions, “We have to hurry, Myers and his people are in the thick of the fight.”
“The bomb is in the stretcher,” Doel repeated, with even more conviction than before.
Lucas nodded. “We have to call Montañez, tell him what’s happening. If that plane took off…what, two hours ago?”
“It must be about an hour away from Washington,” Ojeda confirmed. “But if you call Montañez, we’ll have a lot of explaining to do,” he warned.
The three men looked at each other, considering the consequences of what they knew had to be done.
“If we call Montañez, there’s not a rational explanation as to how most of us got here, Our cars are elsewhere,” Doel said, raising an eyebrow.
Another silence followed.
“We have to do it,” Lucas finally concluded. “We have no choice.”
He looked at his two companions, who assented slowly.
Lucas opened the directory of his cell phone, and looked for the Superintendent’s phone number.
* * *
Police Superintendent Montañez’s personal cell phone buzzed in his jacket’s pocket, and he quickly retrieved it. On the screen, he saw it was a call from Lucas Alfaro, and he walked to his car, to move away from the various conversations happening around him.
He was still in the property that had been used by the terrorists to intercept the ambulance prematurely, and he was feeling very frustrated. Both his men and the FBI squad had searched the abandoned estate from one end to the other, and they had found nothing, except for some footprints on some muddy spots that mostly could be used to determine where the terrorists had been hiding.
And soon, the hurricane would come, and erase any other clues that had not been found.
For some unexplained reason, however, Alfaro’s unexpected call had raised his spirits. Not for any explainable reason. But the man had the knack of turning up in the most unusual places, of finding—and many times terminating—threats that the police had been unable to deal with.
In fact, had Alfaro not been so successful in stopping the terrorists, the Superintendent would have suspected that he was in league with them. But Lucas had proven, over and over again, to be the real thing, so the present call heartened him.
“Montañez here,” the Superintendent answered. “How are you, Lucas?”
“Superintendent Montañez, thank you for answering so quickly,” Lucas said. There was an urgent tone in his voice that made Montañez’s stomach suddenly constrict with concern. “We are at the terrorist compound__”
“We? Who are we? How__”
“There’s no time to talk now. We’re in the middle of a heavy firefight,” Lucas responded.
“Tell me where you are,” Montañez said, gripping his phone so hard that his knuckles whitened.
“We’re on Road 191, climbing towards El Yunque, past kilometer 61. It’s a private mansion, with an entrance on the left side of the road,” Lucas replied.
“I’ll send help immediately,” Montañez stated. “How did you find them?”
“That’s not important right now,” Lucas responded. “But we have discovered something that does need your immediate attention.”
Montañez held his breath. “Go ahead,” he said, biting his tongue in order not to ask the thousand questions that he wanted to ask.
“We’ve discovered that the people in the ambulance who took Francisco to the airport were not real paramedics. They are part of the terrorist group.”
Montañez listened to Lucas’ shocking statement, and for a moment had to lean on the roof of his car. “Say that again?” he whispered into the phone, hoping he had misheard Alfaro.
“We’ve just found the real paramedics here, in the terrorist compound. And the ambulance where they traveled,” Lucas said. “They were kidnapped by the terrorists.”
“But the ambulance reached the airport. My people confirmed that to me!”
“A fake ambulance, with fake paramedics reached the airport,” Lucas replied. “Did the paramedics climb into the plane with the Governor?”
Montañez closed his eyes in despair. “Yes,” he confirmed. “They’re in the plane with him now. They left some time ago.”
There was a short pause on the other side. Then Lucas said, “Can the pilot be trusted?”
“The pilot?…I don’t know. I’ll have to check,” Montañez answered.
“Listen very carefully. We have found indications that the terrorists may have planted a nuclear device__”
“A what?!” Montañez interrupted.
“Listen to me! This is very important! They may have snuck a nuclear device in Francisco’s stretcher, knowing the boy would not be searched. They may be planning to detonate it when the plane reaches Washington, which may be at any moment now.”
“No,” Montañez looked at his watch, his thought process still trying to absorb Alfaro’s incredible news. “The flight was delayed. It's taken off, but it shouldn’t reach Washington for another couple of hours.”
“Then we have a little more breathing room. We have to warn the Governor. If the pilot can be trusted, you have to radio him and let him know what’s happening.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. We have to think of something.”
Montañez heard in the background what seemed to sound like gunfire. “Are those shots?”
“Yes,” Lucas replied. “I have to go. Deal with the Governor.”
“I’ll send you help.”
“Thank you! But Colo__Superintendent?”
“Tell your men to be careful. There’s about six or seven of us here, fighting the terrorists. Tell them not to shoot at us by mistake.”
“Stop fighting them! Let that to us!” Montañez urged his caller angrily, but by that time, Lucas had ended the call.
(Chapter LIII will be posted on Thursday, October 22)