"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LXX)
The wind had picked up considerably since Hassam and Rosario had left the others, nearly half an hour before. The sky was crammed with enormous, ominously heavy clouds that had erased most of the sunlight and transformed the late afternoon into an early twilight.
In the back yard of the house invaded by Enrique’s group, two small palm trees were mercilessly being whipped and pounded by the storm’s unrelenting fury, its few remaining fronds flapping wildly as if overtaken by angry demons. A few plastic pots where the murdered couple had planted some flowers and herbs, had been overpowered and overturned by the hurricane’s strong gusts, and bounced awkwardly, splashing over the yard’s water-logged grass.
A prodigious amount of rain kept pouring from the sky, falling at an impossible, nearly horizontal angle. It had already dumped more water than the yard could dispose of, quickly converting it into a small, dirt-colored pond.
From behind the dead couple’s kitchen windows, Enrique had watched it all with unconcealed fascination, not uttering a single word.
He had seen storms before, but nothing like this. This was nature at its fiercest manifestation, complicating the execution of their impending assault.
They had planned to invade the Alfaro residence by a two-pronged approach.
First, Rosario would open the door to the lower room that faced Alfaro’s backyard. If the room was connected internally to the rest of the house, Rosario would proceed inside, killing anyone he met. Otherwise, he would hide inside the room while letting its door open, to lure either Alfaro or his bodyguard into it.
Some five minutes later, Hassam would loosen the second story window’s storm shutter, and penetrate the house through it. From there, he would start his raid on the Alfaro residence from above.
Rosario had initially objected to the plan, saying that there was no guaranty that Alfaro would head his way, rather than Hassam’s, and that from the outset he had been promised that he would be the one who would kill the overrated Puerto Rican “hero”.
He had insisted that if Hassam encountered Alfaro first, he should hold him at gunpoint until Rosario could fight him.
Enrique had called his suggestion “stupid”, saying that they were not there to play games, but to kill everyone in the house and make an “example” out of them.
“If you later want to be the one that dismembers Alfaro or rapes his wife, that’s fine,” Enrique had told him. “But for now, anyone in there is a target of opportunity.”
The ruse of opening the yard-level room had worked. Rosario had had no problem prying open with a crowbar a door that had already been threatening to give way. The door had popped open with hardly any resistance.
Free and swinging wildly in the wind, the metal door had begun to bang against the wall next to it, or crash repeatedly against its frame.
The racket it generated had produced its intended effect: some fifteen minutes later, a man had stepped out of Alfaro’s kitchen and stumbled into the lower room. Though blurred by the torrential rain, Enrique had recognized the man's figure as that of Alfaro..
Enrique had laughed, shaking his head with delight; Rosario would be getting his wish after all, that lucky dog.
In the meantime, Hassam had run through the rain to the neighboring residence’s backyard wall, climbed over it, and leaped onto the roof of Alfaro’s back terrace. From there he had quickly disappeared from sight, moving toward his intended target’s second story window.
It had been Enrique’s intention to keep watching for any signs of further activity, but a few minutes later, his attention had been diverted by a scene occurring on the opposite side of the house.
A loud, scraping, metallic noise had prompted Da’ud to take a peek through one of the house’s front windows. After searching for a brief moment, he had begun to laugh outloud.
“What?” Nour had asked him, her curiosity roused.
“Take a look outside,” Da’ud had responded.
Nour had walked to her bald, bearded companion, followed by Enrique, and the three of them had watched with amusement at what was taking place outside.
Two houses away, close to the main San Patricio Avenue, a partially destroyed tin shed had crashed into a brand new SAAB sedan parked in an open driveway. Two Chinese men had run out of the adjacent house in their underwear and, in the blinding rain, attempted to dislodge the large piece of scrap metal off the car as smaller pieces of debris and broken branches whizzed past them.
For ten minutes, to the enjoyment of the three terrorists, the Chinese men had struggled to free the SAAB, shouting, stumbling, and slipping as they did so, failing in all of their attempts. Finally, frustrated and exhausted, they had returned to their house.
Enrique had stared at his watch as they left.
“It’s 6;15. Time to go,” he had said to the others.
Returning to the kitchen, he had been surprised to discover that most of its floor was covered by dirty water filtering through the backyard door. He had looked outside, but could not determine what, if anything, was happening in the neighboring house.
He had asked Hassam and Rosario to call him, once they had captured or killed the occupants of the Alfaro residence. Neither had done so, but that could mean that the cell phones were down.
He felt tempted to call them, but realized that if his two associates were still attempting to surprise the people in the neighboring house, the noise of a cell phone could be counter productive.
Enrique’s group would have to move in without confirming Hassam and Rosario’s status.
He saw that the Alfaro kitchen’s door had still not been closed, and decided to take advantage of the open access before one of the house's occupants decided to close it.
Pushing open the backyard door, he allowed more of the water accumulated in the backyard to rush into the house. With the wind coming mainly from the opposite direction, the three terrorists were shielded from its main fury. That, however, would change as soon as they went outside.
“Let’s go,” he said to Nour and Da’ud.
As he stepped out, his leather shoes sank ankle deep into the muck that was now the yard, throughly drenching his socks.
Slowly, pulling each foot from the sucking mud below, the three terrorists advanced toward the dividing back wall, and as they did, they began to get buffeted by Fay’s overpowering rage.
When they reached the wall, they were thoroughly drenched. They looked briefly into the other home’s yard, and confirmed that both the kitchen door and the door to the room facing Alfaro’s backyard continued to stay ajar.
“You go first!” Enrique yelled to Nour through the storm’s noise.
The female Egyptian nodded, and placing a foot on Da’ud’s interlaced hands, she propelled herself upwards, clearing the fence with ease.
She looked into Alfaro’s terrace, noticing that it was empty of all furniture. Three ceiling fans were revolving at a lackadaisical speed, propelled by the breeze that flowed under the roof. On the side of the terrace that faced the yard, an orange canvas canopy had been rolled up and tied with rope, to avoid being blown away by the storm.
Like Enrique, Nour had experienced other weather phenomena before. Once, she had been caught in a severe sandstorm that had nearly choked her to death, forcing her to seek refuge in an abandoned car. Another time, she had been inside a supermarket during an earthquake in Italy where, for more than a minute, the merchandise had been strewn in a pell mell fashion all around her, and one of the overhead neon lamps had collapsed next to her.
Nothing, however, had prepared her for what she was witnessing now.
Hurricane Fay affected everything within sight, from the fast moving clouds in the sky above her, to the wind-swept plants crushed and dismantled by the storm’s unrelenting force and pressure, to the strange, varied sounds of distant crashing objects. All around her, the world seemed to move as if with a will of its own.
Strangely enough, Alfaro’s yard was not as flooded as that of its neighbors. Nour was soaked through and through by the heavy rain that pelted her mercilessly, but a deep culvert bordering the property seemed to provide adequate drainage, almost overflowing with a rushing torrent of rainwater.
Enrique climbed the wall next, landing directly on the drainage ditch and getting splashed up to his knees. Nour watched him with covert glee.
A gradual change had overtaken him since the previous night. The usually animated features of his hatchet-like face had been dulled to a deep-seated, slow-burning rage.
Alfaro had somehow frustrated his master plan.
The perennially practical, dynamic, emotionless little man had been overcome by an irrational desire to harm the person who had interfered with his operation, to make him pay, to turn him and his family into an example of what would happen to those who interfered with his work.
An example that the island--and the world, for that matter--would never forget.
Not that it bothered her. She would enjoy the killing that was about to take place.
Da’ud was the last of the three to climb over the wall, while Nour watched the back of the house for movement. During all that time, nobody—Rosario or Alfaro—exited from the lower floor room.
It did not seem to worry Enrique too much.
“Maybe Rosario killed Alfaro, and is cutting him apart,” he said off-handedly more to himself than to the others. “Let’s first make certain that Hassam and Rosario finished our business inside the house. We’ll post one of you by the kitchen door. If Alfaro tries to walk in, we shoot him. If it’s Rosario, we let him in. Now let’s get inside.”
* * *
Nour walked into the kitchen first, gun in hand.
Seeing nobody, she strode quickly into the dining room, then searched the living and family rooms, finding all of them equally devoid of any human activity.
Da’ud followed closely behind her, turning right into the stairway and dashing up to the second floor. In the upstairs corridor, he found the bodies of Hassam and Alfaro’s bodyguard, neither of them moving.
It was clear that his associate was dead, both of his eyes gouged out, a large pool of blood, still not entirely congealed and diluted by the water blowing through the open window, spreading out of his back.
Da’ud did not bother taking the pulse of the other man. It was evident that if he was not already dead, he soon would be.
Cautiously, he searched the three upstairs rooms, finding nobody in any of them. Racing back down the stairs, he returned to the kitchen, where Nour was talking to Enrique.
“The front porch door is open,” the female terrorist was saying to her boss. “Alfaro’s woman and the children must have run away, possibly with the aid of their bodyguard.”
“Not the bodyguard,” Da’ud interjected, as he approached them. “He’s dead. So is Hassam. They killed each other. There’s nobody else in the second floor.”
Enrique considered the information with impassive, almost resigned silence. However, Nour could see his inward disappointment.
He shrugged. “We still have Alfaro. Either he is dead and Rosario is disposing of him or__”
He had heard a faint, metallic rustle, as if of a kettle slightly clanging on another, followed by an urgent, muted “Shhh!”, and a quick whispered exchange of words.
Nour placed a finger over her lips, and slowly walked to the kitchen’s sink. Grasping the handle of the one of its two doors, she suddenly pulled it open, and grabbed the small foot of a child.
“Aha!” she shouted in triumph, as she dragged out a screaming, frightened Gabriel.
Nour released the boy’s foot while simultaneously grabbing him by his shirt, and roughly pulled him off the floor. She showed him proudly to her two companions.
“It seems there are some weasels hiding in the cabinets.”
The opposite side of the doors under the sink burst open, scattering with it several pots and pans that clattered noisily over the kitchen floor, and Sophia clumsily slid out from the open space, holding on to a large pan.
“You leave my brother alone!” she screamed angrily, attacking Nour with her improvised weapon and hitting her several times on the shoulder.
Nour laughed, unhurt, and with one of her hands snatched Sophia’s improvised weapon away, while holding Gabriel by the neck with her other arm.
“The mother must be somewhere near,” the Egyptian terrorist said to her companions loudly, trying to be heard through the terrified wails of the children. “She wouldn’t leave them alone.”
“Do you hear that, Mrs. Alfaro?” he shouted. “We have your children! You’d better come out of your hiding place if you don’t want to see them dead!”
Nour released Gabriel, and the four-year old ran to his sister and embraced her, both of them crying.
The three terrorists stopped talking, the only sound coming from the sobbing children and the noise of the storm outside.
After a short wait, the door of a closet at the back of the kitchen began to slide open.