"And Then They Came..." (Chapter LXXII)
Jeannie stepped out of the closet and raised her two hands, shaking so badly that she could not hold them still.
Nour watched her with quiet fascination, while Da’ud stood by the kitchen’s door, taking periodic peeks at the backyard.
Enrique smiled, and with one of his hands, beckoned her to approach him. Jeannie hesitated, standing by the closet’s door.
“Mom!” Gabriel shouted, and both children ran to where she stood, embracing her by her legs.
Jeannie continued to stare at the three interlopers, her face a mixture of fear and defiance.
“Where is your husband?” Enrique asked her.
“Why are you here?” she said in reply.
Enrique laughed. “My dear, you are in no position to ask any questions. I can force you to answer in so many different ways.”
Jeannie remained stubbornly silent, fiercely grasping her two children.
“You choose not to tell me?” Enrique said calmly. “This is your last chance. After that, you will have to live with the consequences of your own actions. I will even make it easy on you. He is in the room that opens up to your patio, is he not?”
Holding on tightly to her children, Jeannie stared at the small man, her jaw rebelliously clenched.
“Why are you here?” she repeated in a quiet, angry voice.
“I’ve come to kill your husband, if you must know,” Enrique responded impatiently. “Now for the last time, where is he?”
Jeannie did not answer.
“Nothing?” Enrique shrugged. “Nour, take the boy and kill him.”
Smiling, Nour approached Jeannie and grabbed Gabriel by the waist. The small boy clung to his mother’s legs, screaming desperately, while Sophia began to punch her.
“Come on, you little weasel,” the Egyptian terrorist said in a pleasant tone. “Say goodbye to your mommy!”
It all happened in an instant.
Jeannie moved her right hand behind her back, and brought out the large kitchen knife that she had carried with her to the closet. With one quick move, she plunged the long blade into Nour’s chest.
The female terrorist opened her eyes in astonishment, and moved her lips to speak. But instead, a torrent of blood streamed out of her mouth.
She tried to grasp Jeannie’s shirt, but her strength failed her, and she began to slide slowly to the floor.
Jennie stepped back with her children, and pushed her away, while Sophia and Gabriel continued to cling to her legs, terrified.
“You stay away from my children, you bitch,” she muttered in a choked, indignant voice.
Both Enrique and Da’ud drew their weapons, pointing their guns at her.
Enrique snickered nervously, staring at her with ill-concealed surprise.
“You are a deadly little viper, aren’t you?”
Jeannie stepped away from her children, but they followed her, sobbing.
“Stay where you are!” she shouted desperately, causing them to stop momentarily and look at her in scared bewilderment. “Stay where you are," she repeated in a calmer voice. "Mommy will be with you soon.”
“Don't leave us, mommy!” Gabriel bawled.
Sophia embraced her little brother, and gently pulled him away.
“It’s okay, Gabo. Just do as mom says,” she said in a shaky, soothing tone.
Jeannie turned again to face Enrique. The small, Homer Addams lookalike smiled broadly; a fierce, angry smile.
“You killed Nour,” he said softly. “That was a mistake. Nour was a very valuable member of my team.”
“Nobody touches my children,” Jeannie replied with a calm finality that surprised the terrorist leader.
“That’s too bad,” he said. “I’m going to have to kill you and your children more quickly than I had planned to. Your children first.”
Enrique’s statement hit Jeannie as if she had been physically struck. She took a long, shaky breath, and stared with contempt at the little man standing before her. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“I am ready to die. But why my children?”
Enrique shrugged again, as if brushing aside her inquiry.
“Because I say so. Because your husband interfered with my plans.”
“My husband will find you and kill you,” she replied, her voice reflecting her deep loathing.
“Your husband has not returned from his outside stroll, has he? Do you know why? My best man took care of him.”
“Where is your best man?” Jeannie asked contemptuously. “Is he here now?”
The terrorist leader’s confident façade cracked for the fraction of a second, but then he smiled confidently.
“He’ll be back soon,” he replied. “But you and your children won’t be alive to see him.”
Enrique aimed his gun at the two children, and Jeannie ran to them.
Crouching, she embraced them, covering them with her body. Sophia and Gabriel hugged her around the neck, weeping disconsolately.
“Believe me,” Enrique said in a mocking tone. “This will hurt you more than it will hurt__”
The terrorist leader stopped mid sentence, as a long, serrated blade pierced his breast.
He turned and stared with astonishment at Da’ud, as the bald, bearded terrorist pulled out the knife, and plunged it two more times into him, once into his stomach, once into his neck.
Enrique shakily began to raise his gun, but Da’ud grabbed it by its barrel and snatched it away.
For a brief moment, the terrorist leader held on to his associate’s shirt, blood spurting from his neck and chest.
Then, he fell to the floor.
Da’ud approached Jeannie, and helped her up to her feet.
“I am sorry,” he said to her. “I am not the murderer of women and children. It is one thing to fight the Americans for a strategic reason. It is quite another to cause evil for evil’s sake. Enrique, the man that I killed, had a sound plan, but it failed. He should have walked away.”
Jeannie looked at him, and tried to speak, but instead a sob escaped her, followed by many bitter tears.
“Thank you…” she barely managed to say. “Thank you.”
Da’ud shook his head.
“Do not thank me. I have much to blame, and much to answer to God,” he replied bitterly.
Jeannie breathed in hard, trying to steady herself.
“My husband, do you know__”
“Your husband is hurt, but he killed Rosario, the man trying to kill him,” Da’ud stated. “I saw it all from the kitchen’s door. I will help you get him inside the house, but then I must leave.”
Jeannie looked at the terrorist, then at her children, still holding on to her.
“Will they be safe here by themselves, while we go outside?” she asked him.
“There are no more of us,” he replied. “I am the last one. Your children will be safe here.”
Jeannie crouched and spoke gently to Gabriel and Sophia.
“You two were very brave, and I am so proud of you. But now, I’m going to ask you to be brave one more time. Your daddy is hurt. I’m going__”
“Will he be okay, mommy?” Sophia asked, sniffling and rubbing her nose with her arm.
“Yes,” Jeannie answered without hesitation. “Yes. You have to wait for us in the living room until I get him back inside, okay?”
Both children nodded.
“I don’t want you to wander anywhere, is that clear? Just wait for me.”
“We’ll wait for you, mom,” Gabriel said, hugging her tightly by the neck. “But hurry back, okay?”
* * *
Da’ud stared with dread and astonishment at the body of his former associate, Rosario.
His shoulders had been wedged in a corner formed by the terrace’s roof, and a small concrete ledge protruding perpendicularly from the kitchen.
The cord that Lucas had slipped over his head still pulled tightly into his neck, and even though the hurricane had partially shredded the canopy that had dragged him up into that corner, its remains were still being wrenched with sufficient violence to keep him hanging in the air.
There was no resemblance between the handsome Rosario that Da’ud had known, and the grotesque corpse dangling before him.
Rosario’s face had acquired a deep purplish color, the tip of his nose flapping in the wind, his tongue sticking out. The cord, yanked relentlessly by the storm’s inexorable blasts, had continued to cut into his neck, becoming embedded in its skin and causing the head to tilt forward and sideways at an unnatural angle.
It had been a fitting end for one of the most cruel and vain men Da’ud had ever met, he thought.
Casting a cursory glance at the dead man, Jeannie had run to her husband with a cry of dismay.
They were partially protected from Fay’s fury by the terrace’s concrete, eight-foot tall, back and side walls, and the terrace’s roof. Nevertheless, bursts of windy rain surged periodically, sweeping and puddling the floor.
Near Lucas, one large puddle had mixed with his blood, soaking and dyeing parts of his shirt and pants in a dull, pinkish color.
Desperately, Jeannie knelt next to him, and placed his head on her lap.
He looked very pale, but was still breathing.
She saw that he had a gash on the upper left side of his forehead, and that there was clotted blood in his hair. Dark blood also stained the left side of his shirt, near his sleeve.
But what really alarmed her the most were the two bullet wounds in his left leg, which were slowly oozing blood.
“Lucas! Lucas!” she whispered close to him. “It’s me, Jeannie! Wake up! Please, wake up!”
She slapped gently his right cheek, and to her great belief, he opened his eyes and smiled at her tiredly.
“I…I…knew…you’d come…” he said in a barely audible voice. “Are you…the children…are you okay?”
Da’ud knelt next to Jeannie and placed a thumb on his wrist.
“His pulse is very weak,” he told Jeannie. “He needs urgent medical attention.”
“Can you help me carry him inside?”
Da’ud nodded. “Yes, but then I must leave. Is there any neighbor that can help you?”
Lucas stared at the stranger without uttering a word, but his eyes momentarily seemed baffled, as if he could not explain the man’s presence in his house. Then they closed, as he lost consciousness again.
Da’ud grabbed Lucas’ left arm and placed it around his neck, while Jeannie did the same thing with his other arm.
Slowly, between the two of them, they raised him up and carried him through the brief, storm-tossed open part of the yard that led to the kitchen steps.
* * *
They lay him on the living room sofa, which up to that moment Jeannie had managed to keep clean despite its light beige-colored fabric and the daily activities of the children.
Sophia and Gabriel clustered around Jeannie, eyeing their father warily.
Da’ud remained silent for a moment, his dark, bushy beard dripping with rainwater, his dark eyebrows accentuating his hardened expression.
“I will call my brother-in-law,” Jeannie said. “He will help me.”
Da’ud seemed puzzled.
“Are the cell phones working?”
Jeannie ran to the kitchen, and returned almost immediately, dialing her cell phone. She waited for nearly a minute, and then ended the call.
“No, all I get is a busy signal,” she said. “But my brother-in-law lives next door, and we have an alternative means of communicating…Alfredo’s—my husband’s godson—walkie talkies. They have one and we kept the other in the living room, just in case regular communication failed.”
“Good,” Da'ud said.
He was bald, and chubby, and not very tall, yet he exuded the self-assured hardness of a seasoned combatant, or of a dangerous terrorist.
“I must go now. You will not mention me to the authorities?”
Jeannie shook her head.
“No. But where will you go in this storm?”
“I have the means to move around,” he answered cryptically.
Jeannie nodded, her voice failing her for a moment.
“Thank you,” she said finally. “God be with you.”
Da’ud directed a sad look at Lucas, and Jeannie thought that his expression softened briefly.
“It’s the least I could do for you. I am to blame partially for his mother’s death and his sister’s injuries. It was I who placed the bomb in the store, even though I did not know of the damage that it would cause.”
Jeannie stared at the stranger with a shocked expression, his last words blindsiding her.
“It was…it was the man you killed in the kitchen who told you to place the bomb there, wasn’t it?”
Da’ud nodded, casting his gaze on the floor.
“Then you have avenged our family. Go in peace,” she said in a calm, unemotional voice.
It was Da’ud’s turn to be astonished.
“Thank you,” he said, genuinely affected by her words. “Alfaro is very fortunate to have you as his life’s companion. May Allah be with you.”
Without uttering another word, he turned around and walked out of the porch, instantly swallowed by the hurricane’s dark, furious frenzy.
(Chapter LXXIII will be posted on Thursday, December 31--Happy New Year!)