"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LXIX)
Jeannie had opened the kerosene can and was unscrewing the kerosene lamp’s fuel cap when the loud clatter of breaking glass startled her out of her labour.
She was sitting on the kitchen’s floor, legs akimbo, a few feet away from where Ojeda waited for Lucas to emerge from the maid’s room. Her two small children, Sophia & Gabriel, were sitting by her side, watching her work.
The shattering noise, coming from the house’s second floor, was followed by the sound of rushing wind and of several objects falling.
“Mummy! Mummy!” four year old Gabriel shouted, looking scared. “The storm is coming in the house!”
Ojeda glanced in the direction of the racket and, drawing his gun, looked at Jeannie.
“Stay here,” he said to her. “I’ll go check. Wait for Lucas.”
The security man walked out of the kitchen and approached the stairs leading up to the upper floor. Water was trickling down the steps, and every so often, a curtain would blow briefly into view from the room immediately to the left of the stairs—the office.
“I’m going up,” he said to Jeannie in a hushed voice, looking briefly back over his shoulder. “Any sign of trouble, you hightail it to Lucas with your children. Understood?”
Jeannie nodded, looking worried and moving closer to the kitchen door.
“Stay where you are,” she told her children, who stared at her with scared faces.
Ojeda began to climb the stairs, until he reached the next to the last step before the upper floor. There he paused, pointing his gun with both of his hands forward.
The upper floor’s corridor was flooded with water, and wind was rushing in from the office.
From where he stood, he could not see the origin of the disturbance. He remembered the office to be a small space with a tall ceiling, basically containing a computer and a built-in desk, with various shelves filled with books. A small glass window on its upper, outside wall faced the roof of the lower part of the house.
In his initial survey of the residence, after his arrival to Puerto Rico, he had immediately considered the office to be one of the most vulnerable spots in the Alfaro home. Its only window was composed of two horizontal glass panels—each of them large enough for a man to crawl through—that provided the daytime illumination to the small space. The window looked down on the roof, some five feet below.
Ojeda had recommended that a guard be assigned as a lookout in that room, and while the police detail had protected the house, an officer had invariably been posted there to watch the roof. But the police was no longer there.
During the rounds of the house he had made earlier that afternoon, Ojeda had noted with satisfaction that Lucas had covered the two glass panes with metal storm shutters.
But the shutters fastened over the windows were held with metal clips from the outside. It would be relatively easy for anyone trying to break into the house to unfasten the clips and remove one or both of the shutters.
Anyone braving the hurricane, that is.
There was also the possibility that Lucas had not installed some of the clips properly, and that the wind had blown the shutters away. He hoped that was the case.
Ojeda steeled himself to move into the office. He would have to be fast, in case somebody was waiting inside for him.
Taking a deep breath, he climbed the last step, and quickly walked into the main corridor, aiming his gun at the office’s entrance.
It was empty.
One of its two window panes was broken, the metal shutter that had covered it partially sticking through it horizontally, every so often flapping upwards when a gust of wind blew through its underside.
Several of the small prints that hung on the wall opposite to the computer had either been torn off their hooks, or were flailing wildly, threatening to fall off, fanned by the incoming storm. Pencils, papers, and some desk decorations were strewn over the desktop and the floor, and the main computer would have been soaked and irreparably damaged had it not been for the plastic cover that protected it.
It became apparent to Ojeda that the hurricane metal shutter had been torn off, and flung against the glass window pane, shattering it. It would be impossible to re-install the shutter from the inside of the house, since the clips holding it to its frame could only be attached from the outside.
He decided to pull the loose metal shutter through the shattered glass pane and try to somehow lash or hold it from the inside, hoping to at least stop the main force of the wind and most of the water from entering the house. He would need Lucas’ help, but between the two of them, they could probably come up with some way to do it.
Ojeda slid his gun back into his shoulder holster, and climbed on the desk, from where he could reach the displaced shutter.
He got immediately drenched by the nearly horizontal pulses of rain sloshing through the window, which continuously splashed his face and made it nearly impossible for him to see clearly.
He carefully reached for the metal storm shutter, noticing it was wedged under the window’s frame. That had probably been the reason why it had not been blown away. He grasped it with both of his arms when he dislodged it, so that it would not be carried away by the storm, and flung it to the floor.
Then something strange caught his eye.
For the first time, he noticed that the entire frame of the window lacked any shards of glass.
It should not have been that way.
If the pane broke accidentally, there should have been shards of glass still embedded in its frame. However, it looked as if after breaking, the glass had been brushed away, as if to allow somebody to squeeze through the window without getting cut.
Ojeda automatically placed his hand on the hilt of his pistol to draw it out and began to turn, when suddenly tremendous pain shot up his right leg, causing it to fold.
The security man fell hard, crashing on the desk below him.
Half stunned, he drew out his gun, but a man wielding a knife stabbed him on his left shoulder, the blade sinking all the way to its hilt. The attacker tried to cover his adversary's mouth with his other hand, but Ojeda turned his head sideways and shouted with pain. With his left hand, he held on to his aggressor’s wrist as the man tried to stab him again, stopping the knife's blade just a few inches below his neck.
Ojeda aimed his gun at the intruder, but the latter grabbed his arm and shoved it away, causing the Neoyorican’s shot to go wide.
Even so, Ojeda fired two more times, hoping to free his hand or at the very least warn Jeannie about what was happening. But his attacker was surprisingly strong, and the knife hovering over him inched ever closer to his neck, until it pierced its skin.
“Jeannie!” Ojeda screamed in agony, “Jeannie! Run away! Get Lucas!”
The blade continued to penetrate Ojeda’s neck close to the collarbone, and blood began to trickle out of the wound. The security man desperately tried to swing his gun towards his aggressor’s face, but it was of no use; nearly a third of the knife had already cut into his body.
Gasping for air, he released his attacker’s hand and the blade slid deep into his collarbone. Ojeda groaned and seemed to lose consciousness, as the man with the knife withdrew it and prepared to sever his carotid artery and finish him off.
However, the seriously wounded agent suddenly sprang back to life, and jabbed his bloodied fingers into his adversary’s face, gouging both of his eyes.
The assailant howled in intense pain, letting go of Ojeda’s gun arm and instinctively covering his face with his hands. The security man swung his gun towards his aggressor, and shot him repeatedly, until the stranger slumped on top of him.
Covered in blood, Ojeda pushed the dead man off him, took a couple of steps, and collapsed.
* * *
Jeannie heard Ojeda fire his pistol and cry urgently for her to run away, and she immediately realized that somebody had invaded the house.
She had to find Lucas, she told herself, but knew she would not be able to do so with her children. The storm outside had continued to worsen, and Fay’s howling, vicious wind would surely sweep Gabriel and Sophia away.
Terrified, she turned to them and addressed them.
“Listen to me,” she whispered quickly, while opening the kitchen cabinet’s door under the sink. “I want you two to hide in here, and not come out until I tell you to do it. Do you understand?”
She tried to sound as calm as possible, but Sophia sensed her despair, and frightened tears welled up in her eyes.
“What is it, mommy?” she asked in a scared voice.
“I need you guys to be brave, like I know you are. I want you to stay in there without making a peep, until I come to get you out, okay?”
The two children nodded, their eyes searching their mother’s face for reassurance.
“Don’t worry, my loves, everything will be okay,” she said breathlessly as she pushed the kettles and bottles under the sink to one side, and ushered Sophia inside. “I just want you to hide in here until I tell you to come out. We’ll give your dad a big surprise. And remember, you don’t come out, no matter who calls you, unless it’s me, or you will ruin the surprise, okay?”
Sophia nodded, looking terrified, huge tears rolling down her cheeks, while Gabriel switched glances between his older sister and his mother, looking very concerned and confused.
“I love you, my beautiful, beautiful children,” Jeannie said to them, trying not to cry, holding and pressing their tiny hands for moment. “I will come back for you. I promise.”
“I love you, mommy!” Gabriel said as he began to follow Sophia through the cabinet door.
Jeannie heard the soft voice of her daughter talking to him.
“Hush, Gabo!” she said gently to her brother. “Mom said not to make a peep, or we’ll ruin the surprise!”
Jeannie bit her lower lip, trying not to cry.
“Okay,” Gabriel whispered softly.
An involuntary sob escaped from Jeannie’s throat, as she closed the cabinet door behind her son. She rushed to the kitchen’s open door, hoping to see Lucas returning from the outer room. However, she could not see him.
She would have to walk out into the storm and get him, she decided, and not waiting another moment, she stepped out onto the top flight of the kitchen stairs.
However, her heart skipped a beat as in the darkening day she saw the outline of an unknown person standing by their neighbor’s back wall, helping another person to climb over it. The head of a third person could be seen watching from the other side of the fence.
The three strangers were so concentrated in climbing over the wall that they did not see Jeannie. Realizing that they were heading toward the house, she quickly stepped back into the kitchen, and for a few terrifying seconds watched from behind the door’s frame as the second person dropped into her yard.
Anger and fear flooded her mind, but instead of clouding her thinking, they helped her to focus on her desperate situation.
She could not flee out of the house with her children, since the wind was too strong. And closing the kitchen’s door would only alert the intruders that she had seen them, and stop them for a couple of minutes at most. It would also alert whomever, upstairs, had penetrated the house.
Besides, she would leave Lucas stranded outside.
Not wasting another second, she dashed back into the kitchen, and opened the drawer where she kept her cutting ware, taking out the biggest and sharpest of the knives stored inside.
“Stay hidden, my children,” she whispered to Sophia and Gabriel, who to their credit kept completely silent.
Then, muttering a voiceless prayer, she quietly ran to the bottom of the stairs, and stared upwards toward the second floor.
She heard nothing, noticing that the water trickling down the stairs carried traces of red blood, and that the wind was rushing into the upstairs corridor unchecked.
For a moment, she wondered what to do. It seemed to her that if the person who had broken into the house had overcome Ojeda, he would have already descended the stairs and attacked her. So he was probably wounded, hopefully dead. She also knew that in order to defend her family, she would need to get something better than a knife. She had to secure Ojeda’s help, or at the very least get his gun.
She decided to risk it, and try find the Neoyorican bodyguard.
Aware that she could lose no more time, she rushed up the stairs to the second floor, moving as noiselessly as she could.
Her precautions, however, proved to be unnecessary.
She found Ojeda lying on the floor next to another man, neither of them moving. She stifled a cry when she saw that the stranger’s eyes had been gouged out and that his face was an unrecognizable mask of blood.
Nevertheless, she did not pause to determine the condition of either man, and instead searched for Ojeda’s gun, finding it almost instantly, still in his right hand. Unfastening his fingers from the weapon, she grabbed it, but noticed right away that the slide of the gun was open, showing it had spent all of its ammunition.
She had only fired a gun twice, and that had been a long time ago, when Lucas was dating her and still serving in the Army with the Rangers. He had taken her a couple of times to a shooting range, and let her fire his weapon, “in case she ever had to use one.”
“When you see in the movies a gun with its top sticking back—the slide, it’s called—" he had told her, "that means that the gun has run out of bullets. If somebody fires that gun afterwards without reloading it, it’s just something fake that can only happen in Hollywood”
Cursing to herself, Jeannie ran back downstairs, and returned to the kitchen.
A quick peek through the kitchen door revealed that the third person was finishing his climb over the neighbors’ wall. Soon, the three strangers would head into the house.
Jeannie sprinted toward the balcony, on the opposite side of the house. She unlocked the porch’s iron-grilled door and pushed it open.
Then she ran once more back into the kitchen.
At its back was the food pantry and an extra closet used to store those odds and ends objects that wouldn’t fit anywhere else in the house.
“I’m still here!” she said to the children hiding underneath the sink. “Don’t make a peep now!”
She walked quickly to the back of the room. The interior of the storage closet was subdivided into sections wide enough to hold large objects. It was semi-empty now, as Lucas and Jeannie had removed from it a big cooler, in order to store ice.
Jeannie crawled into the closet’s lower level, and pulled shut one of its two sliding doors, leaving only enough space for her to see through a small vertical crack.
Then, she waited.
(Chapter LXX will be posted on Monday, December 21)