"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LVI)
(This chapter is dedicated to the real Alfaro in our family, my brother-in-law Che Alfaro, about as good, loyal, gentle, brave, intelligent, and tough a person as anyone will ever have the fortune to meet. Che is presently under the weather, but soon will be up and about, brightening the life of the rest of us.)
The police had arrived.
Those terrorists remaining in the house took a few token potshots at their vehicles, but quickly gave up after their initial resistance was met with a massive volley of gunfire.
The policemen, surprised by the scope of the operation they had just intercepted, herded the surrendering gunmen out of the mansion, making them lay on the ground, removing their weapons, and handcuffing their hands behind their backs.
In that surreal scene, Lucas and his group lay discarded their weapons and came out of hiding with their hands above their heads.
Nearly twenty police cars had already arrived, their bright, flashing lights flooding the mansion, its environs, and the scores of men moving through the blue, pulsing, otherworldly hue that the lights cast.
At first, Lucas’ group, like the captured terrorists, was made to lie on the ground and handcuffed. But then Archie arrived from the entrance alleyway, and was instantly recognized by several of the policemen.
The redheaded press officer prevailed upon the newly-arrived lawmen to release his friends, all of which were told to wait near one of the patrol cars for the arrival of Montañez, under the relaxed watch of two of Archie’s closest acquaintances.
“I alerted Montañez about El Chino’s whereabouts,” Archie told Lucas. “The Colonel…the Superintendent sent several patrols to investigate.”
Lucas nodded. “Did you get Negrón into the shuttle?” he asked in a soft voice, trying not to be overheard by their guards.
“Yes, Gomez and Tavarez got there a few seconds later, and Correcaminos followed them, although he was not very happy about leaving,” Archie responded just as softly, chuckling.
“How about Negrón’s wound?”
“He was lucky, as always,” Archie said. “I swear, that jíbaro has more luck than a multi-state lottery winner. I don't think that the bullet hit bone, or apparently hit any important blood vessels. He should be walking as if nothing happened in a couple of weeks. Aarón…you know, the shuttle driver?”
“Aarón told me that he knows a doctor in Río Grande that apparently takes care of El Chino’s employees when they are injured and don’t want the authorities to find out about it. He’s taking Negrón to him to have him checked. I think Tavarez was nicked in the throat by a knife, so he’ll probably be checked out as well. I imagine there will be a couple of stitches, and antibiotics, but that will be mostly it.”
“Thank God,” Lucas said with apparent relief. “I wouldn’t want__”
A black Lexus followed by three more patrol cars rolled through the alleyway and stopped several yards away.
Superintendent Montañez stepped out of the Lexus, and surveyed the incredible scene unfolding in front of him.
Two police vans also arrived, and several of the handcuffed gunmen were led into them.
The captured terrorists seemed dazed and demoralized, as if their world had collapsed around them. Most of them were young, and attempted to display a cocky, arrogant façade. However, they looked scared, their smiles appearing forced and appearing more like grimaces of pain.
Without evincing any kind of surprise, Montañez turned his gaze to Archie, then to Lucas and the others. His eyes swept over the American security men and Michael as if they weren’t there, but he raised an eyebrow when he saw Doel.
“Colonel Montañez,” the news editor acknowledged with a curt nod.
“What the hell are you doing here,” the Superintendent said, more than asked, with a resigned, quiet tone.
“It’s a long story,” Doel replied.
“I’m not sure I want to hear it,” Montañez replied curtly, as the headlights of a black Lincoln SUV swept over the entire group. “Anyway, we’ll discuss all of this later,” he added in a hurried voice. “I don’t want you to discuss this with anyone else until I’m present, understood?”
Montañez directed an intense look at the two policemen guarding the group.
“You heard that, right?”
The two men straightened up, as if pulled by strings. “Yes, sir,” they said.
“Good. Take them to the Carolina police station. Get them some food, and get any medical aid any of them may need.”
Montañez turned on his heels, and intercepted FBI Special Agent “Gumer” Mendez, emerging from the SUV, before he could approach the rest of the men.
* * *
The three police cars rolled slowly down Antártica Street, their lights turned off, two coming from one direction, the other moving from the opposite side of the narrow residential thoroughfare. Between them lay the short alley where the terrorist’s fake ambulance had been reported to park.
By that late time of the night, over 1:30 A.M., the street was mostly deserted, the lighting in the bordering houses off except for a few small lampposts and some decorative garden lights meant to stay on all night long.
The police vehicles stopped about two dozen feet from both sides of the alley, and fifteen men wearing protective gear and carrying rifles spilled out noiselessly out of them.
Some of them began to knock on the windows and doors of the surrounding houses, identifying themselves, and prompting their alarmed residents to exit quietly from their homes. Other policemen climbed on the roofs of the houses nearest to the alley, and found places from where they were able to see the parked ambulance.
Three houses away from them, a dog barked furiously for several minutes, prompting its owner to quiet him with a shout. The approaching policemen waited to see if anyone inside the ambulance had been alerted by the noise, but detected no apparent movement.
The additional information received by the police, from their counterparts in the El Yunque compound, had been very alarming. Another ambulance had been discovered within the terrorist location with several crates of C-4 explosives stored inside it. Also, additional empty boxes of C-4 had been discovered in the main garage.
There was an enhanced possibility that the ambulance parked in the alley was packed with powerful explosives. The police had to approach the emergency vehicle with extreme caution, and evacuate the immediate residents in the area in case of a massive explosion.
After surrounding the ambulance, the police moved two of their patrol cars as close as they could to the mouth of the alley without being detected from the suspected vehicle, ready to block the exit at the first sign of any activity.
* * *
From his SUV parked further down Antártica Street, El Chino watched the operation with fascinated intensity.
He had done his job, and he could go. But this was better than a telenovela.
Two policemen walked past his vehicle, and he lowered himself in his seat to become less visible. He had helped fight the terrorists that had invaded his island, but he was not a friend of the police. The less contact he had with them, the better.
But one of the lawmen saw him, and tapped on the glass of his window. El Chino lowered his window.
“Good evening, officer. How can I help you?” he said in a soft, overly-friendly voice.
The policeman stared at him for several seconds, saying nothing, then asked, “What are you doing here?”
El Chino swallowed hard. “I__” he began to answer, not really sure of what he was going to say, but the policeman interrupted him.
“Please, let me see your driver's license,” he told the obese, nervous man.
EL Chino searched for his wallet in one of his front pants pocket, realizing for the first time that the Glock he had received from his friends was still on his lap. Casually, he moved his left arm over it.
With his right hand, he took out his wallet, and pretending to use the faint light from a lamppost, raised it close to his face, fishing out of it his license while trying to cover the gun. He handed it to the policeman, who examined it carefully.
“So Mr…Lopez. You never said what you’re doing here at this time of the night. It says here you live in Miramar. You’re far away from your home.”
“I’m…I’m visiting a friend,” he responded.
“At this time of the night?”
“He called me. He said he was not feeling well. Thought he was having a heart attack. He asked me to take him to the hospital,” El Chino explained, drawing the explanation from a telenovela episode he had watched two months before in La Fiera Montuna, a soap opera about a female drug cartel boss.
“So where is he?”
“When I got here he felt a lot better. He thinks it was a bad case of indigestion…heartburn. He’s going to the hospital tomorrow to make sure it wasn’t anything else.”
The policeman, a man in his mid thirties, exchanged a stare with his partner, and smiled.
“Well,” he said, “it’s good you’re still here. We’re evacuating all of the houses in the street. Maybe you can take him to your house in Miramar for the night. What’s his name, anyway?”
“Ahh…Agripino. Agripino… Andújar,” El Chino responded, blurting the name of two combined telenovela characters.
“Rubén,” the policeman said to his companion, “will you tell Agripino in the house in front of us…It is the house in front of us, isn’t it?”
“The one two houses from it,” El Chino answered, hoping he would have more time to leave before the policemen got to the residents of that house. “His son lives about a mile from here. I think he’ll prefer to go there.”
“We’ll see,” the policeman said. “Just in case, stay here. I’ll wait with you.”
As the police officer’s partner began to move toward the house, El Chino looked back desperately for a few seconds, placed his hands on the steering wheel, and sank his head between them.
“Okay! Okay!” he confessed. “I lied! I lied, okay? Don’t go to that house, please!”
“Rubén, wait!” the policeman shouted to his partner. Then he returned his attention to the distraught fat man. “Tell me the truth.”
“I lied,” El Chino repeated in a more subdued, humiliated tone. “I don’t know the name of the man who lives there. And he’s not my friend.”
“Listen, don’t call him, because it will all end very badly.”
“I was visiting…a friend. A lady friend. A married lady friend. Her name is Eneida. Her husband works nights as a watchman. But today, he came home very early, because of the hurricane. I had to rush out through the house’s back door. Nearly didn’t make it. As you can see, I’m not the most athletic of men. If he finds out I was there with my girlfriend…his wife, there’s going to be a lot of violence. Domestic violence.”
The policeman laughed, shaking his head. “Why you sly dog…Okay, tell you what we’ll do. I’m writing your address in my note pad, as well as your license plate. If we need to contact you later, we will. Now please leave. It’s not safe for you to stay here.”
As the two policemen continued walking down the street, El Chino turned on his SUV, but continued to linger, unwilling to leave.
Somehow, he knew, things were about to get really interesting.
* * *
“Nabil! Nabil! Wake up!”
Javid shook his companion by the shoulder, awaking him with a start. They were taking turns to catch some sleep, while the other one kept watch.
“What…what is it?” Nabil asked in a peeved voice.
“I saw some strange movement near by,” Javid said nervously.
“Strange movement, what kind of strange movement?” Nabil looked through the ambulance’s windshield, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“Shadows moving, on a roof,” Javid answered.
Nabil looked at the rooftops of the surrounding houses.
He could see nothing, but that did not mean they were alone. Javid was not prone to panic. If he thought he saw something, it probably meant he had. It didn’t necessarily had to be related to them, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“A cat, perhaps?” he asked.
“Bigger,” Javid replied, grabbing his AK-47 from the floor and placing it across his lap.
Nabil nodded. “Maybe we should move,” he said.
He switched on the ambulance’s engine without turning on its lights, and left it running on the “Idle” position. To his consternation, he saw the shadows of two vehicles moving from the both sides of the alley’s entrance to close it down.
“They’ve found us!” he shouted, and placing the engine in reverse, he floored the accelerator. The ambulance squealed its wheels and bolted toward the two moving police patrol cars, crashing into the two of them, as several police snipers opened fire around it.
For a moment, it seemed as if the fleeing ambulance would be trapped between the two police vehicles, struck on its rear left side by one of them and slowing down to a crawl as it burned its rapidly spinning tires on the pavement.
Several bullet holes punched into its metallic skin, criss-crossing its hood and puncturing its roof and sides, while Javid, leaning his semi-automatic weapon through a window, opened fire on the driver of the police car to his right.
One or more of his shots must have struck the driver, because suddenly the patrol car stopped surging forward, and the ambulance burst through.
Nabil pointed his battered vehicle towards the eastern end of Antártica Street, and sped towards its exit.
* * *
El Chino had just pulled into the neighboring house’s sloping driveway in order to turn his SUV around and drive out of Antártica Street, when the high pitched shriek of spinning tires, followed by the undeniable “pop-popping” noise of automatic gunfire drew his attention to the left.
For a moment, he watched in utter fascination as the police tried to contain the terrorists from breaking through their barrier. Then, almost impossibly, he saw the ensnared vehicle burst out of its trap and streak at breakneck speed in his direction.
In the intervening instant that El Chino watched the terrorist’s van rush down the street, his heart skipped a beat, and he closed his eyes in resignation.
Saying “Oh shit,” he placed his SUV in reverse.
* * *
The champagne-colored SUV popped out of the house’s driveway just as the ambulance hurtled towards its freedom, giving Nabil no chance to avoid it. The speeding vehicle smashed into El Chino’s car with an earsplitting, thunderous crash, demolishing the SUV’s entire rear, and spinning its front part into the ambulance’s left flank.
El Chino’s air bag deployed, but he was still severely injured by the tremendous impact, losing three teeth, breaking his nose, and fracturing both legs and an arm, as well as several ribs.
Nabil, driving the ambulance, was not as fortunate.
Modified not to carry any airbags that would interfere with the C-4 explosives and crashing directly into the sports utility vehicle, the ambulance hit El Chino’s SUV with surprising violence. Its left side disintegrated into a mass of metal scraps, shredding the terrorist’s body, its steering wheel collapsing his ribs into his spine.
Nabil died instantly, the explosives’ triggering mechanism still grasped in his bloody left hand.
Javid was more fortunate, breaking his left femur and fracturing three of his left ribs. Unfastening his seat belt, he managed to kick open the front passenger’s door with his right foot, and holding on to his rifle, limped slowly out of the ambulance, firing wildly at the pursuing police vehicles.
He managed to shatter the headlights and damage the engine of one of the patrol cars, but then was mowed down by a nearly solid wall of return fire, discharging the last of his ammunition as he tumbled to the ground.
Carefully, very slowly, the police approached the fallen terrorist.
One of the officers thought that the terrorist had moved, and fired his gun at him, provoking a second outburst of concentrated gunfire that riddled the corpse with more bullets.
Then, certain that the man no longer posed any threat, several policemen rushed toward the destroyed vehicles.
(Chapter LVII will be posted on Thursday, November 5)