"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LXVII)
Juan Romany padded on his slippers to his front entrance door, and looked through its peephole, wondering who would be calling at his house an hour before the hurricane was due to strike. He saw a man in his mid thirties waiting patiently on the other side.
"Who is it, Juan?” his wife Mildred asked him as she approached her husband from the kitchen, wiping her wet hands on her apron.
“It’s a young man,” the septuagenarian replied. “I don’t know him.”
“Be careful,” Mildred answered. “It could be someone trying to rob us.”
“Just before the hurricane? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You never know…”
Leaving the door’s chain connected, Juan opened the door a crack. The stranger—movie handsome and well-dressed—was smiling apologetically.
“Sorry to bother you at this time,” he said. “I’m looking for house number 25 in Park Side, but I can’t seem to find it. Would you know where it is?”
Juan slid the chain off the door and opened it, while his wife Mildred came closer.
“Hi,” the stranger said in a friendly voice, his smile widening. “I’m so sorry to be such a nuisance, but I can’t seem to find house #25 of Park Side.”
The stranger showed Juan a piece of paper that read: “Lucas Alfaro, Park Side #25, Guaynabo.”
“Oh, Lucas, sure.”
Romany stepped onto his porch, and pointed with his thumb towards the back of the house.
“It’s in Street #6, the street parallel to this one, right behind our home,” he said, continuing to gesture with his thumb in the direction of Lucas' house.
Mildred got closer to the two men, smiling back at the stranger.
“Thank you so much. That’s what I wanted to know,” the young, handsome man said, casually pulling from under his shirt a gun with a silencer.
Not saying another word, he shot the homeowner point-blank in the stomach.
As Juan doubled down in pain, the stranger pushed him back into the house, causing him to fall backwards. Then he knelt next to the wounded man, and shot him in the head.
Mildred screamed and turned towards the kitchen to run away, but the stranger shot her twice in the back. The woman’s screams were cut short as she fell hard on the floor.
Looking back to make certain nobody had seen him, the man gently shut the front entrance door, then walked back to Mildred, and shot her in the head as well.
It was an unnecessary precaution, since Mildred was already dead.
* * *
Rosario picked up his cell phone and called Enrique.
“The house is clear,” he told his boss. “You can come in.”
“I’ll send Nour and Hassam ahead, then Da’ud and I will join you in the next twenty minutes,” Enrique replied, ending the call.
Rosario dragged the two dead bodies to one of the house’s rooms, leaving a trail of blood behind him.
He sat down in the living room’s sofa, and turned on the TV, placing his legs on the photograph-filled coffee table in front of him, knocking a few of the frames to the floor.
The television set was on a local channel, where a newscast was giving the latest information on the hurricane.
Rosario tried to follow the Spanish spoken by the newscaster, but it was too quick for him to understand. Despite his present Latin name—given to him by Enrique for the Puerto Rican operation—he spoke very little Spanish, and understood even less.
The news broadcast turned to footage of some undetermined place—presumably a Caribbean island because of the images of palm trees being buffeted by very strong winds.
The video showed the sea rushing into some bordering streets, carrying away in its waves a huge chunk of a wooden house. Then the scene shifted to a group of people, one of them holding a small child, who were trying to escape the rising water in their neighborhood.
Rosario watched for a while, then walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. After a brief search, he found some cans of the local beer “Medalla” and retrieved one, opening it and heading back to the living room.
However, before he could sit, he heard a soft knock on the front door, and holding on to his gun, walked to the house’s entrance.
“Who’s there?” he asked gruffly.
“Who do you think?” Nour answered.
Rosario smiled and opened the door.
“Welcome to our new house,” he said to the two newcomers.
The female Egyptian terrorist entered first, followed by Hassam. Both stared with curiosity at the trail of blood on the floor.
“Did you have to kill the house owners?” Hassam asked in a reproachful tone.
“What do you care? It was the most expedient way of making sure that they did not get in our way for the remainder of the day.”
“You could have tied them up,” Hassam protested.
“Too much work,” Rosario replied, taking a swig out of his beer can. He stared at it, shaking his head. “Not bad.”
Nour ignored the conversation, looking around her with tentative interest. She walked into the kitchen, and from there looked through one its windows to the back yard.
Grass extended beyond the house for about thirty feet, ending in a heavily painted, white masonry wall about six feet high. Behind the wall stood Alfaro’s house, its right half rising two stories up, its lower left side mostly invisible behind the fence.
The roof of Alfaro’s terrace was visible, though, rising a couple of feet over the backyard wall. From the initial scouting of the residence—done nearly two months before—Nour knew that the terrace was connected to the lower area of the house.
Nour could not see, however, into the terrace itself, her view blocked by the cinder block fence. Nevertheless, she could see the small glass window--now covered by a metal storm shutter--on the upper, second story of the house. It would be through that window that they would break into the house.
She imagined that if she walked to the backyard fence and stood on her toes, she would be able to see inside the terrace. However, anyone looking in her direction from the other house would probably be able to see her as well.
They would have to wait until it was darker, in order not to risk being discovered.
“Worried about Alfaro?” Rosario unexpectedly asked from behind, startling her.
“You shouldn’t be. I’ll take care of him.”
Anger briefly flashed in Nour’s eyes, but then turned to contempt.
“You shouldn’t be that overconfident,” she said to the handsome man. “It will get you killed.”
She smiled at him derisively.
“But don’t worry, I’ll be there to help you.”
* * *
By five thirty in the afternoon, the time that Enrique and Da’ud arrived at the dead couple’s home, the distant sky had acquired a dark, threatening hue.
Enrique walked into the house and cast a quick glance around him, paying particular attention to the broad swath of blood on the floor, already drying and turning darker. He said nothing.
Da’ud and he had abandoned the hijacked Volkswagen minibus more than a mile away from their present location, in a residential suburb, in case the body of its owner was discovered at the Isla Verde Cemetery and the vehicle traced back to them by the authorities.
Like Nour, Enrique had walked directly to the back of the kitchen, and examined the house behind them.
“That’s the Alfaro house, then?” he had asked Hassam.
The small Syrian had nodded.
“The police escort has left,” the short, wiry man said to his boss. “But they have a bodyguard with them,” he added.
Enrique nodded slowly, as he considered the new information.
“Hassam can take care of him,” Rosario hurriedly interjected. “I’ll take care of Alfaro.”
Enrique directed an amused look at his associate. “You really dislike him, don’t you?”
“Like I said before, I hate fakes. And this man is a fake, I can smell it a mile away.”
“You can have him, if that is your wish,” Enrique answered.
He looked up to the sky. Threatening, nearly black clouds could be seen closing in from the southeast, and a soft breeze had begun to stir through the backyard.
“It’s coming,” Enrique said. “The storm will be here soon.”
“When do we move?” Rosario asked him, barely containing his excitement.
“Not yet,” the small, intense man answered. “When they can’t see us. Then, you can fulfill your wish.”
(Chapter LXVIII will be posted on Monday, December 14)