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


Chapter LXII

“The plane was delayed by a couple of hours. It left the airport, though, by one in the morning,” Da’ud informed Enrique.

The bald, bearded, terrorist, Nour, Rosario and Hassam were huddling around their boss in his room, where they had breakfasted several pastries and coffee brought by the hotel’s room service.

It was near ten in the morning. José Ramón, the Spaniard in charge of providing the computer expertise for the group, had caught an Uber from the hotel at six thirty in the morning, to get to his flight out the island at 9:35 A.M. He had not objected when Enrique had informed him that he had no further use for him, and told him he could leave.

Da’ud and Hassam, however, had visited the offices of AmbuAir, the outfit that had been hired to transport Francisco to Washington D.C., to find out what had happened to the air ambulance’s flight.

At first, they had tried to bluff the information out of the sole executive in the office at eight in the morning. But when he had asked for their credentials, they had pulled out their guns and questioned him more forcefully.

It had required for them to break one finger and threaten breaking several others, before he had disclosed to them about the delay. He had also told them that the flight had been diverted from Dulles Airport in Washington, to Andrews Air Force base, but he could not tell them why.

He had confirmed that the jet had landed at the latter airport, close to five in the morning.

The unfortunate executive had been tied with duct tape, and his mouth had been taped shut. He had then been dumped in the office’s supply closet, where he would probably not be found until after the hurricane.

Enrique had considered the information with ominous silence, his furrowed brow the only sign of the intense fury brewing within him.

“Somehow, inexplicably, our plot has been discovered and thwarted,” he concluded, not addressing anyone in particular.

“Maybe the bomb’s detonating mechanism failed,” Da’ud suggested.

Enrique shook his head.

“No. It was a simple, tried-many-times-and-true mechanism that has never failed before, in theory or in practice. Besides, Yousef and Sami would have notified us by now about any problem or failure. I even tried calling them, but they are not responding. That means they are either captured or dead, I suspect the latter.”

A sober silence followed Enrique’s statement.

“Also, this morning, I heard some government officer say that the Governor had spoken with him from Washington, and was urging the citizenry to take all of the precautions suggested by the authorities. He is therefore still alive.”

“If Yousef or Sami were captured, they may have told the Americans about us,” Rosario said.

Again, Enrique moved his head in the negative.

“They would die before they betray us.”

“In any event, our mission here is finished,” Rosario concluded. “We should fly out of this accursed island before we get trapped by the hurricane.”

Enrique barked a short, mirthless laugh.

“We will do nothing of the sort!” he said.

“But__”

“This is all due to Alfaro’s interference. Somehow, he was able to find out about the bomb, and somehow, he managed to stop it. Not only has the man become a permanent hindrance in all of our operations, but a symbol of our greatest failures.”

Enrique looked at all of his associates, who waited expectantly for him to continue.

“You all know that I am not a person subject to emotional outbursts, and that normally I find revenge to be a futile exercise, a waste of time and of resources. But this time, we must make an exception. We will make an example of Alfaro, and kill him and his entire family, dismembering their bodies, so that we are never forgotten. That will teach his allies to take us seriously.”

Rosario exchanged a covert look with Nour, a thin smile etched on his lips, but she ignored him completely, her attention focused on her boss. Hassam’s visage remained neutral, but Da’ud assumed a worried expression.

“Is this absolutely necessary?” he asked.

Enrique did not answer.

“I would let him leave, if he can,” Nour said to Enrique, referring to Da’ud. “He’s become too squeamish in his old age.”

Rosario laughed out loud, sounding nervous, while Hassam remained impassive.

“No,” Enrique responded. “The best way to overcome his squeamishness is to make him participate. In fact, he will be responsible for killing the children. I am sure you will not fail us, will you Da’ud?”

The chubby, balding terrorist remained silent for a moment, then nodded his head slightly.

* * *

Governor Pietrantoni was led to a scrubbing area, where he took off his biological containment suit and was able to take a shower. Then, freshly dressed in a green hospital gown, he walked through a short, plastic-enclosed corridor and into an isolated room with a bed, a television screen, a desk, and a telephone.

There, a man in a hazmat suit took his vital signs.

Through the man’s transparent portion of his face mask, Pietrantoni noticed that he was of Oriental descent.

“I am doctor Li Chen. I will be examining you for the next few days. This is just a formality,” he said reassuringly. “Your son has not reached a stage where he is expelling bodily fluids, and you were very well protected, so the odds of you being infected are slim. But we’ve better be safe than sorry.”

The doctor took his temperature and blood pressure, then slipped from under this mask a stethoscope, and listened to his chest.

“You are in excellent health, Mr Pietrantoni,” he said cheerfully, when he had finished.

“How about my son?” the Governor asked anxiously.

“I cannot give you any guarantees, but he has many factors going in his favor. He is young, and strong, and if he has the virus—we still have to determine that with a PRC test__”

“A PRC test?”

“A polymerase chain reaction test. It is designed to detect low levels of the ebola virus,” the doctor replied.

“Why can’t I take the test?” Pietrantoni asked.

“You can. But for the first three days after contamination, the test is unreliable because it may take that long for you to develop detectable levels of the virus. That’s why you must consider this to be your home for the next few days.”

Pietrantoni sighed.

“Do not be overly concerned,” the doctor indicated. “If your son is indeed infected, the infection has been caught at a very early stage. If he has ebola, we can treat it by providing him with fluids and electrolytes, giving him oxygen, and reducing any vomiting and diarrhea that he may have. He will be all right, you’ll see.”

The doctor’s words provided some relief to the Governor.

“How about the pilot and copilot who were with me?”

“They are also under observation. We are treating the copilot for the knife wound to his back, but it is not a very serious wound, and he should recover soon,” Dr. Chen said. “It seems you had a very rough flight,” he added, looking at Pietrantoni with curiosity. When the Governor failed to answer, the doctor asked, “Is there anything else we can do for you at this moment?”

“I would like to see my son, when he regains consciousness,” Pietrantoni said.

“We can do that,” the doctor responded. “In fact, it will be good when he wakes up, he realizes that he is no longer kidnapped by the terrorists." Dr. Chen pointed to the room's right wall. "He is in the room next to yours, and there's a glass window between the two of you. The window is curtained right now, but I will arrange for him to see and talk to you when he wakes up.”

“I would appreciate that very much,” Pietrantoni told him. “Thank you.”

After the doctor withdrew, the Governor looked at his watch, and saw that it was nearly ten thirty in the morning. He felt exhausted, not having slept thorough the entire night.

He had been able to communicate telephonically with President Powell shortly after landing. As he was driven to the hospital, the Governor had told the President what had happened in the plane, including the attempt by the terrorists to detonate a nuclear bomb once they reached Washington D.C.

Powell had listened without interrupting, then told Pietrantoni that he would have the jet carefully searched for any additional explosives, just in case.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” the President had then inquired.

Pietrantoni had considered lying, telling him that at the time, they were too busy fighting the terrorists, and that it had not occurred to him to warn the President about what was happening. But he opted to tell the truth.

“I’m not sure that if I had revealed to you that there was a nuclear explosive in the plane, we would have been allowed to land in Washington,” he replied honestly.

“You think I would have shot you out of the sky?” Powell had asked, hitting the nail squarely on its head.

“I think that would not have been your decision,” Pietrantoni had answered diplomatically. “I think that decision would have been taken away from you, and made by your generals. Also, I thought that by keeping you uninformed, you could later not be accused of risking--for our friendship’s sake--that you allowed a plane suspected of carrying a nuclear device to land in Washington, if any of this ever came to light. This way, you can claim complete ignorance.”

There had been a quiet pause on the other side of the call, and then Powell had said, “You’re probably right. Although you can rest assured that no one will ever hear about this. I’ll have my security people comb that plane from its nose to its tail, for…any kind of weapons, explosives, or other suspicious objects that they can find. That should take care of it.”

“Mr. President, I gave to one of your security men what appeared to be the bomb’s firing mechanism. I asked him to get it directly into your hands.”

“Thank you, Roberto. I’ll make sure I get it, and that it gets properly examined. By the way, I heard your men back in Puerto Rico dismantled the terrorist compound where the people who attacked you were hiding,” he had said as an afterthought. “Congratulations.”

“I heard about it when they notified me about the bomb in the plane, although, as you can imagine, they did not dwell on any details then,” he said.

Powell had laughed.

“I hear that Lucas was involved with the dismantling of what seemed to be a substantial terrorist cell. Why am I not surprised? I’m telling you, Roberto, we should build an anti-terrorist agency around that man, and just let him loose! Although the way you handled those terrorists in the plane, maybe we should include you in the anti-terrorist group! What is it with you Puerto Ricans, anyway, that make you so tough?”

Pietrantoni had sensed that behind the joke, the President was sounding him out on a more serious matter related to Lucas. He had decided to address Powell’s first comment.

“Well, Lucas and his family have gone through some terrible times lately,” he had responded. “Whatever happened to those terrorists, I’m sure that they had it coming to them.”

The President had taken several seconds to answer.

“As you and I discussed a few days ago, Lucas has lost a lot in the past few days. I’ve been thinking of how I can help…I’m thinking of offering him a job.”

Pietrantoni had said nothing, waiting for the President to continue.

“I think he can start fresh here with me. It should be no problem securing him a job as one of my personal security experts…You think he would accept?”

I don’t know him well enough,” Pietrantoni had answered truthfully. “I can tell you two things I’ve come to learn about him. He’s a proud man, so that if he sees your offer as a charitable__”

“Charitable? There’s nothing charitable about my offer,” Powell interjected. “I need men like him around me. It may mean the difference between life or death. What’s the other thing?”

“He deeply loves Puerto Rico. His roots are here…there, I mean,” Pietrantoni had corrected himself, realizing he was not in his island. “He may not want to leave.”

The President had considered Pietrantoni’s statement.

“There’s not much I can do about that. I mean, I’ll give him ample free time to visit Puerto Rico every year, but I guess that on that matter, it’s up to him. Maybe he’ll agree to a temporary relocation. See how he likes it. So…what do you think?”

“I think you should make him the offer, Mr. President," Pietrantoni answered reluctantly. He did not want Lucas to leave Puerto Rico. "The worst that can happen is that he says no. But he will feel very honored that you considered him for that position.”

“Great! Then I’ll make him an offer when I get to talk to him, which probably will be after that horrible hurricane that’s heading your way leaves your island.”

The President’s tone had sobered.

“Switching subjects, I received your request for a Disaster Declaration. I’m signing it as we speak,” he’d said. “I’m also sending the U.S.S. Mercy hospital ship your way, since you will probably be needing it.”

“Thank you, President Powell. Any federal help will be much appreciated.”

“You will need all the help that you can get. That storm is a killer. Our prayers will be with you and Puerto Rico.”

The call had ended shortly afterwards, with the President promising to follow up on Francisco’s condition.

At seven thirty in the morning, Pietrantoni had spoken briefly with his Secretary of State, Arizmendi, while he was being transported to the hospital.

Double A had filled him in on the results of the raid on the terrorist compound, on his wife Nereida’s flight to Washington, on the press conference, and on the preparations for Hurricane Fay.

After Francisco’s infection with ebola had been made public--Arizmendi had told him--the government’s Twitter account had been flooded with thousands of tweets, ninety-seven percent sympathetic to him and Francisco.

“So everything is under control, and you can take the rest of the day off,” the Secretary of State had told him.

After the conversation had ended, Pietrantoni had decided to lie down on his bed for a moment.

The second his head touched the pillow, he fell instantly asleep.

When he awoke, it was nearly six hours later, and Nereida was staring at him through the glass window opposite to Francisco's room.

(Chapter LXIII will be posted on Thursday, November 26)

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