"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LX)


Chapter LX

Edgardo Negrón limped into his apartment, and slowly sat in one of the padded plastic cushions of his small dining room table.

He felt exhausted. For a moment he toyed with the idea of preparing some coffee, to stay awake. After all, a hurricane was coming.

But at five minutes after five in the morning, he felt too tired to stay awake.

His shift started at 8:00 A.M., but he was certain that he would not make it. He would have to call his sergeant, and let him know he was not coming. The wound in his left calf did not hurt that much—just a dull, throbbing pain—but he was certain that as the local anesthesia injected by the doctor wore off, the pain would start to increase.

The “doctor” that Aarón, the shuttle driver, had procured to tend his wound in the beach town of Luquillo, had been nothing like what the young police sergeant had expected. The man must have been in his mid eighties or even his early nineties, bald with a circlet of white thinning hair surrounding his hairless, age-spotted pate, a bushy, disheveled, gray mustache with matching eyebrows, and a pronounced paunch that emphasized his diminutive, five-foot height.

He spoke with a clear voice, though, and had a young, intelligent gaze—like Robert De lNiro, Negrón thought.

The young policeman had been ushered into a closet-sized, damp-smelling office at the back of the “doctor’s” garage that contained an examining table, a tiny wooden desk, and two gray chairs with vinyl-covered, partially peeling armrests and seat cushions.

“Nice bullet wound!” the old doctor had uttered, taking a quick look at Negrón’s lesion. “Clean right through your calf, no major blood vessels or bone affected. We’ll stitch it up and you’ll be ready to go.”

Dr. Angel, Aarón had vaguely called him, and Dr. Angel he had stayed. Humming, the good doctor had cleaned and anesthetized the wound, and then closed it.

“You can come back in a couple of weeks, and I’ll take the stitches off. Or, if you don’t want to come all the way back here, cut the stitches in the middle with a pair of scissors, clean cauterized scissors, mind you, and pull each of the cut ends out with a pair of tweezers,” he had said, slapping the police sergeant’s shoulders.

Doctor Angel had given him some antibiotic pills, some pain killers, and told him he could leave. Negrón had asked him how much he owed him. The doctor had replied that El Chino’s monthly allowance would take care of it.

“Will this hurt me later on?” Negrón had asked him.

“What do you think?” Dr. Angel had replied, his expression conveying what his duh! tone obviously implied. “You were shot in the leg! Of course it will hurt, for a few days!”

“I’m a policeman,” Negrón responded. “Will I be able to go to work?”

“Do you have a desk job?”

“No, I work in San Juan, patrolling the streets.”

“Well, you’re not going to be able to chase any criminals, if that’s what you mean. Not for about a week.”

Negrón considered the response.

“Can you give me a medical excuse that will keep me out of work for four or five days?”

Dr. Angel scribbled something in his prescription pad, ripped it off, and gave it to the policeman.

“Here. Now you officially have the flu, and should not go to work in order to avoid infecting your fellow workers. Anything else?”

Negrón stared at the sheet of paper that the doctor had given him and tried to read it, but could not understand a single word of the writing scribbled on it.

“Thanks, Doc,” he said happily. “You’re the best.”

Dr. Angel had done a cursory examination of Correcaminos’ bruised chest, where he had been shot. The bullet-proof vest had protected him, but the bullet's impact still had left a large bruise on the left side of the chest that was already yellow and beginning to turn green and purple.

“You’ll live,” the paunchy doctor had pronounced. “It will hurt you for a few days, but then get better. Put some 'Ubre de Vaca' Ointment ('Cow’s Udder' Ointment) on it, so that it gets better quickly.”

The doctor had then cleaned with alcohol the knife knick on Tavarez's throat, applying some antibiotic cream and placing a bandage over it.

Afterwards, Aarón had driven back to the El Guaraguao bar in El Yunque to pick up Negrón’s Jeep, still parked there. Along the way, they had passed by the entrance to the terrorist compound, where the place seemed to be ablaze with the lights of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. Captain Gomez and Tavárez had lain on the floor of the shuttle, probably an unnecessary precaution since its windows were tinted and it was still dark.

“I will take these gentlemen to their homes,” Aarón had said, looking at Tavarez and Gómez.

“I’ll drive you to your house, and return your Jeep tomorrow, before the hurricane hits us” Correcaminos had told Negrón. “By the way,” he had said to his other companions, “Doel just called. The police has just released the others.”

His announcement was followed by a muted cheer.

“A police van is driving them back up this way, so that Doel can recover his Prius, and Lucas can pick up his PT Cruiser. They should be here in about twenty minutes. So we should leave as quickly as possible”

It had been near five in the morning when Correcaminos had dropped Negrón in his apartment in Río Piedras.

“Do you need help getting up?” the sportscaster had asked.

Negrón had yawned. “I think I can manage.”

The policeman had never made it to his bed. While sitting on his dining room chair, and considering making some coffee, he had quickly fallen asleep.

* * *

As the automatic garage door rolled upwards, Lucas saw Jeannie’s figure framing the doorframe that led to the inside of the house.

A policeman—one of the men assigned by Montañez to guard the house—stood next to his PT Cruiser, waiting for the car to move in.

Lucas looked at his watch, and saw it was 5:45 A.M.

Driving his car inside, he pressed his beeper, and the garage door began noisily to close back down. Still, Jeannie did not move, waiting for him to get off.

He wondered how she would react.

He knew that she was too smart and knew him too well to really have believed his made up story that he would be spending a substantial part of the night in La Fortaleza.

It had ended up being more than a portion of the night. The sun would be rising soon. Michael was sitting next to Lucas, which would explain—at least in part—her restrained behavior.

After exiting the Carolina police station, a police van had driven them back to the area near El Yunque where Correcaminos had left Doel’s Prius parked by the road. The WKPA news editor had left the rest of the group there, looking strangely invigorated and excited, even though he was the oldest in the group.

Probably anticipating, Lucas thought, the news exclusive that he would be broadcasting later that morning in the news.

“We did it!” he had whispered to Lucas, after shaking the others’ hands as he stepped off the van. “I have to tell Michelle all about it.”

“Thank you,” Lucas had told him. “Thank you for everything.”

“There is nothing to thank me for,” Doel had responded. “This has made me feel younger than I have felt in decades. Wait ‘till I tell Vilma!” Vilma was his beloved wife of forty-something years.

When Lucas extended his hand, the excited news editor had embraced him instead.

The rest of the group had continued to the El Guaraguao bar, where Lucas’ PT Cruiser was still parked. The bar remained as deserted as when they had left it the night before, wet from the almost constant drizzle of the rainforest. The temperature had cooled down considerably, chilling the five men.

Michael had taken the front passenger seat—saying, “I ride shotgun”— while Archie, Myers, and Ojeda had sat in the back.

It had mostly been a silent trip, as Lucas drove his friends to their destinations.

At one time, while waiting for a red light, a car with loud, booming rap music had stopped next to them, and three noisy youths had checked the PT Cruiser, as if considering the possibilities of harassing, or possibly even holding up, its passengers. One look at the men inside, however, had sobered their mood immediately, quieting them until the light changed color.

Lucas had first dropped Myers and Ojeda at their hotel, the Courtyard Inn. He had gotten off to say goodbye.

“I feel strange not having any of us stay in your house tonight,” Myers had told Lucas, as he shook his hand.

“Don’t worry,” the Puerto Rican had replied. “It’s all over anyway.”

“A few of them escaped,” Ojeda had interjected.

“They’re probably out of the island by now,” Lucas had responded. “Running away from the hurricane.”

“And from us,” Ojeda had added with satisfied pride. “We really handed it out to them today, may they all rot in hell.”

Lucas had smiled. “Go to sleep. Better still, try to get out of the island before the hurricane gets here tomorrow night, although I’m not sure that any space is left in any of the outgoing flights.”

“Flanigan is still here,” Myers had responded. “I’m going to see if I can spend the night with him during the hurricane.”

“You might as well,” Lucas had said. “They will probably evacuate your hotel, being so close to the beach.”

He looked at Ojeda.

“If you can’t fly out, you’re welcome to spend tomorrow night in our house. But you should leave if you can. After the hurricane, the airport will probably be closed for a couple of days.”

“I’ll stay, if you don’t mind.” Ojeda had replied. “I want to make sure or job here is really done.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” had said Lucas, shaking his hand. “Take care,” he told Myers.

“I’ll be fine,” the former Secret Service agent had said.

Lucas had next taken Archie to his Condado apartment.

“I got a call from Aarón,” Archie had said to his two brothers-in-law. “Apparently, El Chino is in the hospital.”

Lucas had nodded, having heard the news earlier.

“What?” Michael had asked in a shocked voice. “Was he ambushed or something?”

“He stopped the men in the ambulance, when they tried to escaped the police. Crashed his car into them,” Archie had responded.

“Ouch!”

“He’s got four broken ribs, both his legs fractured, as well as one arm, and his nose is busted as well.”

“Sweet Jesus!”

“He was taken to the Medical Center, but Aarón told me that he kept protesting, saying that he wanted to be taken to the same hospital where Michelle is.”

Lucas had laughed and shaken his head in amazement.

“Well, he’s certainly earned at least a visit to or from Michelle.”

“I’m going to see him tomorrow morning,” Archie had said. “Then I’ll go and spend the hurricane with Michelle, just in case.”

The three men had paused, quietly enjoying the moment, knowing that soon they would have to face a different kind of menace.

“We did a good thing tonight,” Archie had said.

“Got rid of some very bad people,” Michael had added, looking at Lucas with admiration. “Hadn’t seen you fight before,” he had told him. “You’re quite something. I still think I can whip you, but nevertheless…”

The three men had smiled.

“Well, I’m going to try to sleep for a couple of hours, and then roll down the hurricane shutters in the apartment and go see El Chino. You guys take care of yourselves,” Archie had said, stepping out of the PT Cruiser and tapping its roof. “Don’t fall asleep driving.”

Fifteen minutes later, Lucas had reached his house, and was stepping out of his car under the intense gaze of his wife.

It took her a full minute to conclude that he was okay, her expression of intense concern changing to one of relieved anger.

“You’re late,” she said to him in a cold tone, her arms folded across her chest.

“Oh, oh!” Michael said from the other side of the car. “Somebody’s in trouble!”

Lucas embraced her, but she still refused to uncross her arms. She continued, however, to covertly examine his face.

“I’m fine!” he assured her.

She freed herself from his arms, and stood in front of him, moving her hands to her hips.

“I just heard on TV. that the police found the terrorist hideout and that after a serious gun battle, they took the terrorists down. Or so they say. I think you were there, weren’t you? You,” she said, and then shifted her eyes accusatorially to Michael, “and you too!”

Michael took an involuntary step backwards, surprised by the intensity of Jeannie’s anger.

“Is Vanessa also upset?” he asked in a meeker tone.

“She’s still sleeping. She doesn’t know yet. But she will, rest assured of it!” she answered heatedly.

Michael walked around the parked car and headed toward the house.

“I’ll leave you kids to hash this thing out. I have to go to sleep, to wake up early tomorrow and begin to prepare my house for the hurricane,” he said, quickly retreating.

“You were in that fight,” Jeannie repeated to her husband, in a tone that admitted no contradiction.

He did not answer.

“You could have gotten killed, and I would have found out about it...When? After the hurricane? From the police? What then, you asshole!”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, feeling miserable. “I should have been more straightforward with you. I just wanted you…I didn't want you to worry. It was something that we…I...had to do it. Please forgive me. It won’t happen again.”

Jeannie remained silent for a moment, torn between her anger and her relief. She shook her head.

“When you gave me that stupid excuse about being in La Fortaleza, I didn’t believe you for one second. I know you. You can’t fool me! And when you tell me that ‘it won’t happen again’, that’s something that you can’t guarantee, no matter how much you mean it at this moment.”

“Jeannie, I give you my solemn promise that__”

“Don’t! Because you’ll end up breaking it.”

“I won’t. I__”

“Look, suppose in the future someone would harm the children, or Vanessa or Michael, or me, are you telling me you would not go after them?”

Lucas did not answer.

“You would! It’s in your nature. You would hunt them down until they were all captured or killed. So don’t make any promises that it won’t happen again, because it may…It probably will,” she said in a mortified, more resigned tone. “It’s who you are. It’s part of the person that I married.”

“So then?”

“So then...if and when that time comes, tell me about it. Don’t lie to me! It’s better that I know what’s happening than to be kept in the dark. That is ‘what should not happen again’. It will be hard for me to accept, and I may argue with you and try to convince you not to do it, but in the end, I will deal with it. Can you do that?”

Lucas nodded, then embraced her, and for the first time in their conversation, she embraced him back.

“I promise,” he said. “I won’t hide anything from you ever again.”

“You’d better,” she responded, still hugging him tightly. “Because if you lie to me again, I swear to you that I will take the children and leave you.”

The two slowly separated from their embrace, and he grinned at her sheepishly.

“I know you will,” he said. “Like my dad used to kiddingly say, you're 'one hell of a woman'. You really are.”

Jeannie’s expression softened. “And I love you beyond all measure.”

She sighed.

“I hope you really gave that scum what they deserved,” she said fiercely.

“We did,” Lucas responded, surprised by her intensity.

“Good.”

(Chapter LXI will be posted on Thursday, November 19)

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