"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LXVI)
Lucas sat in his house’s porch, after watching the last weather bulletin in the Weather Channel.
The satellite image of the hurricane shown on TV was probably three times, maybe four, the size of Puerto Rico. Like a giant buzz-saw, the mammoth weather phenomenon had whirled onto the outlying islands of Vieques and Culebras—two Puerto Rican municipalities—and its outermost rim was already starting to shred the southeastern corner of the main island.
However, in Guaynabo—where Lucas lived—only a few small white clouds dotted the sky. In fact, the day had been unusually slow, as stores had closed, public transportation rapidly dwindled, and most people had huddled in the relative safety of their homes to await the oncoming storm. Even the chirping of the birds had stopped, as if sensing an impending catastrophe.
For a large portion of the day, the news had been divided between the approach of Hurricane Fay and the capture and pursuit of the terrorists.
Watching the broadcasts, Lucas had been exposed to endless interviews of meteorologists, civil defense personnel, concerned merchants, even more distressed citizens, astrologers, politicians, and some of the most flamboyant religious personalities of the land concerning the expected effects of the monster storm.
There had been reports of numerous evacuations from the shorelines, where the ocean was expected to surge, and from the island’s river banks, which were forecasted to swell and overflow from the heavy rainfall that was due to hit Puerto Rico.
Secretary of State Arizmendi had left nothing to chance, forcing a few recalcitrant citizens living in dangerous areas who refused to leave their homes, to move to the government-established shelters, fining or even arresting unscrupulous merchants who had inflated the price of essential items such as water, batteries, and food.
Regarding the raid of the terrorist compound, the media had released additional information on how it had been conducted.
“An anonymous source," the police had revealed, had led the authorities to the hideout of the gunmen. The area had been surrounded, and a massive gun battle had ensued, where most of the criminals—foreigners, all of them—had been killed or captured.
The FBI had taken over the custody of the prisoners, a few of which had already been flown to an undisclosed location in the United States, and the rest were under heavy custody in San Juan’s Medical Center.
In both Fox and CNN, a discussion had begun as to whether President Powell had erred in closing the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba the prior year, which would have been the ideal place to isolate and question the captured terrorists. The discussion had quickly extended to how safe our borders were, when so many foreigners, using fake passports, had been able to smuggle so many semi-automatic weapons and inflict so much damage in an American territory.
Lucas had noted, with extreme satisfaction, that neither his name nor that of any of the other persons who had fought at his side had been released to the news media. He silently prayed that it would stay that way.
There had been some passing references to the Governor’s son’s plight, and an outpouring of support for Pietrantoni’s decision to accompany Francisco to the hospital in Washington D.C. despite the impending arrival of Fay.
Puerto Ricans were, by and large, good-hearted, sentimental people and devoted parents who understood the order of priorities in a parent’s world. When polled about how they would have reacted in the Governor’s situation, eighty-eight percent had said they would have probably acted the same way, eight percent had remained neutral, and only four percent had condemned him for “abandoning” the island during its time of most dire need, as the political pundit Padilla-Cintrón had doggedly insisted.
There had also been a mention about how the police had frustrated an attempt from a couple of the terrorists to detonate an ambulance loaded with explosives near the Police Headquarters in Hato Rey.
The two terrorists inside the ambulance had been killed, their attack throughly frustrated. Images of the partly demolished ambulance, which had crashed against a car, were shown in the news media, as well as of the captured explosives inside it.
Finally, there had been a vague report of an additional small group of terrorists that had been discovered in the Isla Verde Hotel. The police had refused to elaborate on the news, merely stating that this was still an ongoing investigation, and that the capture of the terrorists was “imminent”.
Nevertheless, word had filtered out that several members of a police raiding party had been shot and killed while trying to capture the escaped gunmen, and images of more than two dozen police patrol cars and half a dozen ambulances surrounding the hotel had been broadcast on television.
Around three in the afternoon, Lucas received a call from Police Superintendent Montañez.
“I guess that you’ve been listening to the news regarding our terrorist friends,” the Superintendent said to him.
“Yes,” Lucas responded. “Thank you for not disclosing to the press our role in the raid.”
“Thank your brother-in-law Archie. He was the one who officiated the press conference. He’s a very skilled communicator.”
By which, Lucas was certain, the Superintendent meant that Archie was a very able liar.
“I also noticed that no mention was made about the device smuggled into the Governor’s air ambulance,” Lucas added.
“No, and none will be made,” Montañez responded, instinctively lowering his voice. “I spoke with the Governor earlier today. He was involved in some heavy heroics last night, your usual kind of stuff,” he added with another short laugh. “He said he would tell you all about it when he came back. I think he felt very proud about what he did.”
“And the device?”
“Was disposed of over the ocean, you will be glad to hear,” the Superintendent said. “I imagine that, like before, we’ll be able to count on your discretion?”
“Of course. It goes without saying,” Lucas assured him.
“How is Francisco doing?” Lucas was very fond of the Governor’s son, Alfredo’s best friend.
“He’s stable, which is about all I can tell you at this moment. I think they’ll be running some tests on him to determine if he really is infected with ebola.”
Lucas had taken a deep breath, not trying to imagine how he would have felt if it had happened to one of his children, or to Alfredo, for that matter.
“Please tell Governor Pietrantoni, if you talk to him, that all of our prayers are with him and his family.”
This time, it was Montañez who paused.
“And now, for the main reason I called.”
“It’s about the group of terrorists that are still on the loose, isn’t it?” Lucas had asked him, trying not to sound worried.
“Yes. We were able to capture one of them. Their computer expert, he is cooperating with us, in the hopes that he won’t be locked up with some of our unsavory characters in jail.”
“And believe me, we managed to produce some very unsavory characters.”
Lucas waited, knowing that Montañez would follow with less sanguine news. He was not wrong.
“Unfortunately, four of the terrorists still managed to get away. According to the information provided by their captured associate, the group includes the mastermind behind the attacks and some of the main leaders of the terrorist cadre,” the Superintendent informed him in a more concerned tone.
Lucas had suspected as much. The terrorists he and his group had faced had seemed lost and directionless, merely reacting to their attack in a piecemeal and haphazard fashion. Besides, only the ringleaders would have had the authority to abandon the compound at that time of the night.
There was no doubt that Lucas' band had dismantled the main terrorist force, that the small criminal army had been whittled down to a fraction of its strength. However, the fact that the leaders had escaped—so far—made him uneasy.
“At least they haven’t left the island, and probably will have to stay here until the airport reopens after the hurricane,” Lucas said to Montañez. “That will give you a better chance of finding them. Did the man you captured tell you anything about them?”
“Not a lot more so far, but he's still talking. He told us that Enrique—that’s his boss—was puzzled by the failure of the nuclear device to detonate.”
“Oh, so he admitted that a nuclear bomb had been planted in the Governor’s plane?”
“He didn’t mention it at the beginning, until our interrogator told him that we knew all about it, and threatened to bury him in a cell with several local criminals until a few weeks after the hurricane. That’s what really got him talking.”
“And what did he say?”
“If we are to believe him, and I can assure you that he was terrified when he told us about his friends, they wanted to find out what happened to the bomb and the plane in general. That’s the last thing that he claims he knows about, since afterwards he left for the airport.”
Lucas considered the Superintendent’s statement.
“So in essence, they could have attempted to leave around the time that the guy you captured attempted to leave, but they opted to stay.”
“They will have to find somewhere to stay during the hurricane.”
‘That about sums it up,” Montañez confirmed.
“And you think they may be considering to attack my house?” Lucas gingerly suggested.
“It’s a possibility,” the Superintendent answered reluctantly. “Among many others. I’m thinking of sending back the police patrol that withdrew from your house a few hours ago. I wanted to pick your brain on this.”
Lucas had taken his time to answer.
“The way I see it…If they’re interested in finding out what happened to their bomb, I don’t see why they would try to attack my house. I wasn’t involved with the Governor’s flight, and I don’t think they would even know that I was involved in the raid of their compound, much less that we warned you about the nuclear device. It’s…it’s too far fetched.”
“I tend to agree…” Montañez said in a hesitant voice. “Still, it would be a place where they could spend the hurricane.”
“If you send the police, where would they stay? Inside the house? I already have Ojeda, one of the bodyguards that the President sent to watch over us, who will be spending the hurricane with us. That should be enough, even if for some reason those people decided to visit us.”
“I’m glad to hear that you won’t be alone,” Montañez responded, still not sounding very convinced. “You’re certain that you’ll be okay?”
“We’ll be okay,” Lucas assured him.
It would be ridiculous, he thought, that the terrorists would go after him after their plot had failed. But even if they did, the window of opportunity to do so before the hurricane struck was dwindling with each passing minute.
“Let me do at least this,” Montañez suggested. “I’ll have a patrol drive by your house every half hour, until it’s no longer safe to do so. That will make me breathe easier. Also, you have my phone number, right?”
“Yes, I’ll give it to Ojeda and Jeannie, just in case,” Lucas responded. "Thank you for all your help.”
“I’ll keep you posted if we find anything else,” the Superintendent added, ending the call.
Ojeda had arrived by 4:00 P.M. He had parked his car in the open, roofed area next to the porch, where the residence’s old parking spot had been before the two enclosed garages had been added to the house.
The security man had sat next to Lucas in the front balcony, where Jeannie had brought him a cold glass of lemonade.
“Ah! This is so good!” he said to Jeannie. “You make the best lemonade in the world, or is it limeade?”
“Limeade,” Jeannie responded, looking through the iron-grilled front part of the porch at the increasingly cloudier sky. “There are some clouds overhead, but it doesn’t look like a storm is coming, does it?”
“No,” the security man answered. “I’ve never been in a hurricane before, but it sure doesn’t look like one is coming. Is it always like this?”
“Until it hit us. Then everything changes, very abruptly,” Lucas said. “Did you get to see Flanigan at the hospital?”
Ojeda nodded, sipping contentedly from his “limeade”.
“The big man was in good spirits. He’s recovering nicely from the beating he got from the terrorists. His face is starting to look like Flanigan’s face again, after the pounding he got. Personally, I think he looked better with his face all beat up, but that’s just me. I think he’ll be out of the hospital in a couple of days.”
Lucas laughed. “And Myers?”
“He’ll be staying in the hospital with Flanigan. They shuttered the room’s window with metal panels. Hopefully, they’ll be okay.”
Lucas was not so sure.
The Condado Medical Center was located half a block away from the water. There would be a storm surge, coupled with the hurricane waves. Even though Flanigan was in the hospital’s third floor, and the hospital had relocated its emergency generators to the top floor so they wouldn’t be flooded, the sea would inevitably roll into the medical facility’s lower area.
But Flanigan and Myers were survivors, and Lucas was certain that they would manage to take care of themselves. Knowing them, they would end up helping other patients during the storm.
Lucas then told Ojeda what he had found out about the terrorists, and as if to confirm what he was saying, a police car slowly drove past the house, its driver pausing and waving at the two men.
“It’s unlikely that those terrorist assholes will try to break in,” Ojeda said, after listening to Lucas’ summary of his conversation with Montañez. “But just in case, I’ll do a couple of rounds around the house, just to make sure no funny stuff is happening.”
Fifteen minutes later, Ojeda left to conduct his first walk through the yard and the back terrace.
Lucas took the opportunity to call Archie, who was planning to spend the hurricane with Michelle. To his surprise, it was his sister who answered.
“Hi, big brother,” she said in a happy tone.
“Hey! You sound cheerful! And better. You answering Archie’s phone now?”
“He’s in the bathroom,” she said in a conspiratorial voice. “So I took over his phone. Just finished having a conversation with Doel, who’s cooped up in WKPA, to see if he had any new news about the hurricane.”
“It’s still coming,” she answered. “And if I sound cheerful, it’s because I can move my legs and my feet! The doctor came by today, and said that it was a very good sign that I would recover completely.”
Lucas smiled. “That is awesome! Archie must be ecstatic.”
“Now if that hurricane went away, everything would be perfect!”
“Yeah, well, that’s why I was calling Archie. What__”
“You can talk to him directly,” Michelle interrupted. “He just came out of the bathroom.” Lucas heard his sister say in a lower voice, “It’s Lucas.”
Then Archie’s voice came on the phone. “Hello!”
“Hi, Archie. Gave you a call to see how you guys are doing.”
“Did Michelle tell you that__”
“It’s great news, thank God. Are you ready for the hurricane?” Lucas inquired.
“Yes, the hospital covered the windows in the room with storm panels, and I brought a couple of flashlights with me, in case we lose power.”
“Good thinking. Hopefully, we’ll be able to communicate by cell phone,” Lucas said.
He was not that concerned about Archie and Michelle’s safety. Her hospital, the Holy Name, was inland, and it was an old fashioned construction, built of solid-walled concrete. “Did Montañez tell you about the terrorists?”
“About an hour ago. You think they’ll try anything?” Archie asked, not sounding very concerned.
“No,” Lucas responded with the same lack of concern. “But just in case, be careful. We don’t know what these people will do, although I doubt they would come after you.”
Archie laughed. “You make it sound as if I am not worth their efforts.”
“You are definitely not worth their efforts,” he replied, trying to sound serious. “But my sister, that’s another story.”
“You jerk! I’ll do my best to send them your way, if they do show up,” Archie said jokingly.
“By the way, have you heard from El Chino?”
“This morning. He’s in good spirits, and will be happy as long as he has a television set where he can watch his telenovelas.”
“Michelle will have to give him the royal treatment when he gets discharged. Maybe spend the day with him, give him a personal tour of WKPA.”
Lucas heard Archie’s muffled voice as he repeated his suggestion to Michelle. Then Archie returned to the phone.
“I’m sorry, but your ears may be too delicate for me to repeat what your sister said,” the redhead said, chuckling.
“She must really be feeling better,” Lucas replied with a laugh. “Listen, I’ll talk to you guys later. Stay safe.”
A few minutes later, Ojeda returned from his walk around the house.
“Everything okay?” Lucas asked him.
“Everything’s fine,” the Neoyorican answered.
“So now, all we have to do is wait,” Lucas said, looking at the park and the jogging track in front of the house.
The gazebo for social gatherings had been repainted recently, as had the doors of the two small concrete structures next to it—the administrative office and the park’s restrooms. The nets of the two tennis courts had been removed, and the flower beds and other decorative plants trimmed just the week before.
The park looked beautiful.
Lucas wondered how much of it would remain after the storm.
He hoped that a lot of it would.
(Chapter LXVII will be posted on Thursday, December 10)