"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LXXI)
Lucas awoke with several of the storage boxes still piled on top of him.
“…expected a lot more of a fight from you,” a man’s voice beyond the boxes was saying.
Someone removed one of the cardboard containers from his stomach. He tried to raise his head to see the person helping him, but the whole world seemed to whirl around him, forcing him to desist from his effort
Lucas’ view of the man addressing him was blocked by a large box,
“The one thing I would like to know before I kill you,” the stranger continued to say in a casual tone, “is what happened to Czecka.”
The reference to “Czecka” jolted Lucas’ memory with the same impact as the blow that had caused him to black out and fall a few seconds before.
He had not heard that name mentioned since the previous year, except in his recurrent nightmares, when the behemoth-like terrorist chased him through the dark tunnels under the old city of San Juan.
Czecka had almost killed him, even while spurting blood from a severed jugular vein, finally succumbing when Lucas had pried a gun from his giant foe’s belt, and fired it repeatedly into his body at point blank range.
Even after the humungous man had slumped and taken his last breath, Lucas had desperately struggled to push himself out from under him, fearing that like some mythological monster, the terrorist would come back to life.
The cardboard box blocking the stranger’s face began to move, and then was lifted and tossed away onto one of the two rattan chairs flanking Lucas, finally revealing the man behind it.
A handsome man in his late thirties was smirking at him. Lucas had never seen him before.
“Do you even know what happened to Czecka? Somehow, I suspect you don’t,” the man said pleasantly, shaking his head. “You don’t know, do you?”
Lucas didn’t answer, his eyesight still blurred from the blow, the coppery taste of blood in his mouth.
His mind raced desperately, knowing that the man who was talking to him—a total unknown—was a psychopath intent on killing him.
He had to buy time, while his head cleared and he regained some semblance of balance.
“I do know,” he whispered.
His answer caused the stranger to pause momentarily.
He moved closer, staring directly at Lucas.
“Really?” the man said, trying not to sound interested, but not quite managing to do so. “So what happened?”
“I killed him,” the Puerto Rican simply stated. “In the tunnels under Old San Juan. He tried to strangle me, but I killed him instead.”
Lucas felt something in his left hand, and realized that he still was holding the wire with which he had planned to tie the room’s door handle—the thick wire that Jeannie used normally as a clothesline—rolled in a wide circle. He began to move his other hand surreptitiously over the floor as he spoke, searching for anything else he could use to fight for his life.
“You didn’t…know that?” Lucas asked the stranger in a mocking voice.
By the man’s angry reaction, Lucas knew that he had struck a nerve.
“Your boss, that small guy with the mustache didn’t tell you?” he asked, hazarding a guess that the photo of the person that El Chino had circulated corresponded to his attacker’s superior.
At the same time, his right hand came upon a large shard from the porcelain lamp that had been broken by the hurricane’s wind, and he grabbed it, holding it with its sharpest edge pointing outwards.
Lucas had expected the intruder to continue arguing, but instead, the man suddenly pulled a large Bowie-type knife from his belt, and attempted to stab him.
The Puerto Rican reacted instinctively.
Even though he still had trouble focusing his eyesight, the sudden tenseness of his adversary’s body and the dull glint of the blade in the room’s semi darkness warned him of the impending knife thrust.
Lucas raised his left arm and swept it sideways, partially blocking and deflecting his attacker’s downward stab, aimed at his chest. Even so, the blade did not entirely miss, penetrating his left shoulder by more than an inch.
The stinging pain of the wound brought back into sharp focus the world around Lucas. Desperately, with his right hand, he slashed at his aggressor’s face with the porcelain fragment that he had grabbed from the floor.
The jagged edge of the fragment produced a gash that ran from the stranger’s lower forehead over one of his eyes and into his left cheek, causing him to grunt in pain and pull his head back briskly.
Just as quickly, Lucas swiped his makeshift weapon again. He nearly missed, but managed strike the intruder on the tip of his nose, nearly slicing it off.
The man shrieked as if he had been mortally wounded, backing away from Lucas and getting up onto his feet while wildly swiping his knife several times in front of him, but hitting only air. With his free hand, he covered his nostrils, blood oozing through his fingers.
“My nose!” he screamed plaintively in a muffled voice. “You’ve cut up part of my nose!”
Lucas also backed away, squeezing through the two heavy rattan armchairs that flanked him, pulling one down by its backrest to form a barrier between his aggressor and him.
Still feeling very weak, he stumbled back up to a semi upright stance, and faced his opponent some six feet away. He had to hold on to the other chair, in order to steady himself.
“Good,” he said earnestly. “Too bad I didn’t cut it off completely.”
His left shoulder throbbed painfully from the stab wound he had received, and he could feel blood trickling under his shirt, warmer than the fluttering waves of wind and water that surged through the room’s open entrance.
The door continued to open and close savagely, sometimes allowing more of the day’s rapidly waning gray light to filter into the room, other times turning it almost pitch black.
Even under the best of circumstances, it was too dark to see the man’s face fully, but Lucas could discern the outline of his body. The stranger continued to cover his nose with his left hand, while extending his enormous knife with his right arm.
Still holding on to the coil of plastic-covered wire with which he had intended to shut the room’s flailing door, Lucas surreptitiously wrapped it around each of his hands, and stretched it tautly.
“You cry like a girl,” he said to the man, trying to provoke him. “At least Czecka died like a man.”
“You have disfigured me!” the man shouted back angrily.
“I’m sure it will be an improvement,” Lucas jeered, as he struggled to regain his strength.
He noticed the man’s eyes shift to the door as it closed and the room went momentarily dark, and at once understood his plan.
The stranger was calculating the time between the periodic blackouts in the storage area, planning to move during one of them. His eyes darted from one spot of the room to another, trying to memorize where the obstacles would be, calculating where and how he could move.
Lucas could tell that his enemy was still not ready to strike, and concentrated on his face, knowing that his gaze would shift to him the moment he decided to act. He tensed the wire between his hands, keeping it below his waist and out of sight.
“My face! You have disfigured me,” the angry stranger said in an accusatory tone. “You will__”
“Well…” Lucas interrupted, still breathing hard and feeling weak, “I never laid my eyes on you before, but I have to agree with you. I doubt you were ever as ugly as you are now. Now, you’re just…a gimpy-nosed freak,” he said as spitefully as he could, channeling as much of his old Ranger training as he could.
Make them angry, his sergeant had drilled into his men, time and time again. The angrier they get, the less rationally they will think! That will be your advantage in a hand-to-hand fight.
“But that’s okay,” Lucas continued. “Monkeys don’t have noses either.”
The room began to darken, and the stranger’s eyes turned fully toward Lucas. He roared furiously and raised his knife over his head, taking a step forward as the tenuous light began to fail.
Lucas caught the gleam of the large knife as it plunged toward him, and raised the extended wire between his hands. It stopped the knife’s downward thrust, catching the stranger’s hand by the wrist.
In the nearly pitch black darkness that ensued, Lucas took a quick step to his left and, wrapping the former clothesline around the intruder’s knife arm, threaded it through one of the wide openings in the backrest of the fallen rattan armchair.
Pulling the wire sharply, he caused the stranger to partially stumble and slam his knife hand onto the overturned chair.
As the door of the room began to be yanked back open by the wind, Lucas caught a glimpse of the intruder sliding his other hand into his jacket and pulling a gun from under it.
The Puerto Rican reacted automatically, releasing the wire and striking his adversary’s injured nose with two short, vicious right jabs. Then he dove behind a nearby wooden dresser as his adversary, bellowing in pain and rage, discharged his gun blindly until he ran out of bullets.
Fortunately for Lucas, the man was firing with his left hand—apparently not his shooting hand—and his shots went wide, hitting various pieces of furniture in the room, two of the bullets puncturing the room’s aluminum paneled windows.
Even so, various bullets exploded through the back of the dresser, and two struck Lucas in his left leg.
Hot pain shot up the Puerto Rican’s thigh and calf, and he realized he had been hit.
In the semidarkness, Lucas saw his adversary struggling to untangle his right hand from the wire.
At the same time, he heard the distinct “clack” of the gun’s slide as it ran out of bullets, and realized that in a matter of seconds, his attacker would be discarding the spent ammunition magazine and reloading his weapon with another one.
The moment to act was now.
Lucas crawled to a tall, aluminum-tubed floor lamp and, leaning on the dresser, stood up. He saw his adversary, now back on his feet, frantically fishing for more ammunition through his pants pockets.
Grabbing the lamp’s long metal tube, he pulled it up and swung its base toward the intruder like a mallet, just as the latter finished slamming a new magazine into his gun.
The lamp’s heavy base struck his adversary with unexpected force, knocking the gun from his hand. The weapon flew through the air and crashed against one of the room’s walls, sliding behind a heavy wooden cabinet.
Lucas swung the lamp again, aiming it at the stranger’s face. Trying to avoid it, the intruder took a couple of startled steps backwards and tripped over a stool, losing his balance and crashing into some chairs and boxes.
Using the lamp as a crutch, Lucas started to hop toward the room’s exit, constantly looking over his shoulder, hoping to get there before his attacker. A few feet from the door, the nearly horizontal rain whipped by the hurricane’s wind began to pelt him.
He paused briefly by the door’s frame, waiting for it to swing open, already thoroughly drenched by the torrential downpour. Then, seeing that the other man in the room was already starting to get up, he stepped outside.
His leg was bleeding profusely, staining bright red the water puddling around his feet. He would need to tie his belt around his upper thigh to stem the flow of the blood, but at the moment, he only had time to flee into the storm, using the lamp as support.
He limped two dozen steps, nearly getting knocked down by various strong blasts of the storm’s powerful wind, and then turned to face the room’s door.
He knew that the stranger would not be able to retrieve his gun. It had fallen behind a solid, very heavy cabinet surrounded by other heavy furniture. The only way that the man would recover his weapon was if he first removed from the room some of the other objects stored inside, and that would take him a lot of time and effort.
The intruder would not waste his time, knowing that in the meantime Lucas could escape. He would come out of the room and try to finish off the wounded Puerto Rican with his knife.
The world whirled about Lucas, upending, flinging, ripping, and shredding everything around him. He was aware that at any moment, debris picked up by the hurricane could strike him or drop directly on him, but he could not afford to take his eyes off the lower room’s door.
One particularly powerful gust nearly threw him off his feet, and for a moment it seemed as if it would tear off part of the wooden roof of the terrace to his left. However, leaning on the lamp’s metal tube, he managed to hold on, as did the terrace roof.
He was exhausted, and knew that the severe loss of blood from his wounds would only weaken him more. The heavy rain, even though falling mostly against his back, blurred his vision, and he kept wiping his eyes to be able to see.
For a moment, he felt tempted to seek refuge under the roof of the terrace, just a few feet to his left. He knew, however, that if he was going to survive that fight, he would have to face his attacker where he stood.
Choose your ground well, he heard his Ranger instructor say inside his head. It may be the factor that decides who lives and who dies.
He knew that if he was to win that fight, he had to face the interloper in the open, where the rain would hit him in the face.
So despite the dangers of the hurricane, he would make his stand there.
He continued to steady himself by holding on to the floor lamp, as the wind pushed him forward with powerful, uneven shoves.
It seemed to take forever, but finally the stranger appeared in the room’s exit, and stepped out into the storm. Shielding his face, he looked for Lucas. It was nearly nighttime-dark, and it took him some time to find his adversary.
He stopped a few steps away from the door, after spotting the Puerto Rican in front of him. As Lucas had thought, he was only holding on his Bowie knife, his gun irretrievably lost after disappearing behind the heavy furniture in the room.
He shouted something to Lucas, but his words got carried away by the clamor of the storm.
Lucas slid off his belt, and wrapped one of its ends around his right hand, leaving the buckle swinging from the other side. Extending his arm defiantly, he beckoned his enemy to approach him.
The stranger obliged, taking clumsy steps towards Lucas as he fought to keep his balance.
About half the distance away, a large, plastic trashcan flew out of the sky, and bounced between the two men, crashing against the chain link fence next to Novas’ house. It startled the interloper, causing him to crouch, and reminded Lucas how precarious and subject to the whims of the hurricane their lives were.
The stranger continued to advance, holding his knife ahead of him. Finally, he stopped some six feet away from his adversary.
Lucas saw the tip of the man’s nose—about the width of a dime—flapping in the wind, barely hanging on by some of its folded skin. It was bleeding less, the blood apparently washed away by the rain, and underneath it, it showed the shiny deep pink of raw meat and a part of his breathing holes.
“…are dead!” he partially heard the man say.
Lucas cupped his ear with his right hand, showing the stranger that he could barely hear him. His gesture was returned by a look of pure hatred.
He pointed at his enemy's nose.
“YOU LOOK REALLY GROSS! IT MUST STING A LOT!” he shouted.
With a scream muted by the wind, the man rushed forward.
Even though expecting the attack, Lucas barely evaded the man’s thrust, parrying the large blade at the last moment with the lamp’s metal tube.
The stranger, however, was quick and agile, and he swiftly lunged with his knife again at Lucas’ stomach.
The Puerto Rican instinctively stepped to his left, barely avoiding getting stabbed. Even so, the blade would have reached his ribs, had not the heavy rain partially blinded the intruder.
Lucas whipped the buckle of his belt at his attacker’s face, gashing his right cheek under the eye. He began to retreat toward the terrace, seeking some cover from the wind.
But he was seriously hurt. His wounded leg failed from under him, and caused him to fall on his left knee.
Stinging pain flooded his brain, nearly making him faint, but he pushed himself backwards with his other leg, knowing his enemy would pounce, dragging with him the floor lamp he had used as a crutch.
He fell back on the steps of the terrace, close to the column where the cord he used to raise and lower the terrace’s orange canvas canopy had been tied to an iron hook. Most of the cord had been unraveled by the wind, its looped end whipped by the storm’s wild gusts.
The cord threatened to become completely free from the hook around which it had been tied. But even if it unraveled completely, the canopy would not have unfolded, since Lucas had bound it with an additional, thicker rope.
The loose cord, however, gave Lucas an idea.
As the stranger prepared to renew his attack, he took hold of the cord’s looped end, and finished untying it from the hook around which it was wrapped.
Just then, the stranger pounced, jumping on Lucas and trying to stab him in the chest. But the Puerto Rican had anticipated his move, and as his adversary advanced, he raised the foot lamp like a spear, and thrust what remained of it’s lampshade at his face.
“You son of a bitch!” the intruder screamed furiously, struggling to shift the lamp away from him, blindly swinging back and forth his huge knife a few inches from Lucas’ chest. “I’ll kill you!” he shouted repeatedly.
Gathering his remaining strength, Lucas raised his right leg and violently kicked his attacker in the groin three times.
The man groaned and fell on his knees, dropping his knife and cradling his injured scrotum.
Lucas slipped the looped cord of the canopy over his moaning opponent’s head, and grabbed the knife. Using the lamp as a crutch, he stood up and tried to cut the cord’s opposite end to tie the man’s hands behind his back. But as he reached for the cord’s upper end, he saw his adversary pull a taser gun out of his jacket, and aim it at Lucas.
Not pausing to think, Lucas cut the other rope he had used to tie up the terrace’s canopy. Free from its restraints, the rope instantly snaked off the canvas curtain, and the canopy immediately burst open, billowing up like a sail.
The hurricane’s wind caught it one second before the stranger pulled his taser’s trigger, and tore the inflated canopy off the terrace’ wooden columns, making it fly diagonally up like a huge kite.
The taser’s shot went wide, its two hairlike wires flying harmlessly into the terrace’s interior.
The canopy’s cord instantly grew taut around the man’s throat, as the canopy flew away.
Struggling in vain to free himself, the man was dragged by the parachute-like terrace awning, swinging upwards and getting wedged between the kitchen’s back wall and the terrace’s roof.
There he hung helplessly, slowly strangled by the cord, his legs kicking desperately as his face turned purple, until he stopped moving altogether.
Lucas stared at him for a long moment, the man’s nearly severed nose tip flapping loosely in the wind.
Clumsily, he tied his belt around his upper left thigh, and tightened it as much as he could.
Then, grabbing the floor lamp, he took two steps toward the kitchen stairs.
And promptly fainted.