"And Then They Came..." (Epilogue, Chapter III)
Da’ud, the chubby, bearded terrorist who saved Jeannie and her children from Enrique, was never found.
About three weeks after Hurricane Fay, a farm in the south of the island where he had hidden for a while was raided by the police, but Da’ud—nor anybody else, for that matter—was caught there.
The property had been deserted for at least the past two weeks, the resident of a neighboring household told the police.
A video clip of the TSA screening area in the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport later revealed a cleanly shaven, chubby man with an abundant head of curly hair, who went by the name of Francois Guillermaud.
Guillermaud flew out of San Juan to Amsterdam three weeks to the day after Hurricane Fay.
Ten days after his departure, Interpol sent a communication to the local authorities warning that Guillermaud was a dangerous terrorist traveling with a fake French passport, and that should he return to the island he should be apprehended immediately.
Efforts to find him in the Netherlands, and in Europe in general, had so far failed.
The few men who survived the attack by Lucas’ group to the El Yunque property were interrogated by the police and the local FBI, but it soon became apparent that they had little information to give. They had been gang members, recruited by a man called Hassam in El Salvador and Honduras. They had been paid handsomely, in cash, to travel to Puerto Rico and conduct the attack on the capitol, but otherwise they knew very little else.
A few of the captured gang members were able to identify Hassam from the photographs of the corpse in Lucas’ home. He was the eyeless body that had been found lying by Ojeda, near Lucas’ office.
Subsequently, the federal authorities acquired jurisdiction over the Honduran and Salvadoran men, and transported them out of the island to an undisclosed location.
* * *
Francisco recovered fully from the ebola virus,
It had not been easy. High fever had wracked his body for days, as had bouts of almost continuous vomit and diarrhea, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes bloody.
But Francisco had received the best medical attention available, and he had survived.
Nearly four weeks after being brought to the Children’s Hospital, he had been declared free from the virus and successfully discharged.
He had been bone-thin, weighing almost twenty pounds less than what he had weighed when he had been flown into Washington. Every joint in his body, every muscle hurt when he stirred—sometimes even moving his eyeballs hurt—but in the end, his youth and strength had pulled him through.
Nereida, Puerto Rico’s First Lady, had remained with him throughout the ordeal, and Governor Pietrantoni had alternated his time between flying to Washington during the weekends, and then returning to Puerto Rico to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Fay.
On the Saturday of his discharge, Francisco had been wheeled past a line of applauding nurses and doctors, accompanied by his mom and dad.
Alfredo, his best friend, had been waiting for him at the airport when the latter arrived in Puerto Rico, and the boy’s face had lit up with an infinite pleasure that he had not shown until that moment. The two friends had instantly engaged in an animated, non-stop conversation that had continued even after they had reached the Governor’s limousine.
“Do you think that Alfredo could spend the next couple of nights in La Fortaleza?” Pietrantoni had asked Vanessa, Alfredo’s mom. “It will do him a world of good. And I promise, this time no terrorists will break into our home.”
“Of course,” Vanessa had responded nervously but proudly.
The two boys had continued to talk as they climbed into the limousine, Alfredo briefly looking at his mother and blowing her a kiss.
* * *
The political pundit, Carlos Padilla Cintrón, attempted to capitalize on Francisco’s illness, claiming that the Governor was being irresponsible by bringing into Puerto Rico a person who had been infected by the terrible ebola virus, risking its spread in the island.
However, his message had been flatly rejected by most of the island’s population, to such a degree that a movement to boycott Padilla had been started.
* * *
Michelle also recovered during the months that followed, and celebrated, in a special newscast edition, her return to television.
It was the most watched show of the year.
At the time, she still had to walk with a cane, but her prognosis was very encouraging. It was expected that she would regain full mobility in the near future.
Her prospects for a complete recovery did not surprise most of her closest acquaintances, who had confirmed, time and time again, how strong and committed she could be to anything she intended to do.
Behind her every move, however, Archie watched her like a hawk, making certain she did not push herself beyond her health boundaries.
To Archie’s extreme pleasure, Michelle spent more time at home. He became her trainer, her cook, her driver, and her overall protector, taking off two weeks from his work at the Police Department, after her release from the hospital, basically to stay with her.
It was during that time that she abandoned her wheelchair, and began to walk again.
* * *
El Chino also returned home, after three weeks in the hospital.
The portly bolita kingpin ended up weighing nearly forty pounds less than what he had weighed when he had been brought in. With four of his left ribs broken, plus his two legs and his left arm fractured, he was discharged from the hospital in a wheelchair.
By that time, he had become a celebrity of sorts, having sacrificed his car and his health to stop the terrorists from escaping and detonating the explosive-filled ambulance.
Several reporters had tried to interview him. But for the man running an illegal bolita operation, publicity was the worst thing he could have desired.
And so, he avoided the reporters like a plague.
His reluctance to appear in the public eye, however, was deemed by his media pursuers and the public in general to be an act of humility and selflessness, and he had soon acquired the nickname of the “Anonymous Good Samaritan”. Hunted by reporters, paparazzi, and even some drones, he had locked himself in his Miramar penthouse.
His diminutive, evil-tempered house mistress, Modesta, had taken the attempts of the media to photograph and interview her boss as a personal affront. She even collected and threw rocks at the drones that buzzed past their terrace, and splashed water on the reporters waiting below.
In the end, though, it all worked out well for him.
Aware of his former boss and friend’s plight, Archie brokered an exclusive interview with Michelle, her first interview after being discharged from the hospital. Totally infatuated with the beautiful reporter, El Chino immediately accepted, and spent more than two hours talking to his idol.
However, it was another event—this one concocted by Doel—that completely shook and overwhelmed the portly bolita chief.
About a month after El Chino’s discharge from the hospital, Correcaminos, Archie, and Lucas showed up in his apartment.
To El Chino’s surprise, a smiling Modesta ushered the visitors into his penthouse flat, and allowed that—over his strong vocal protests—he be wheeled out and sequestered into a van especially outfitted to carry wheelchairs.
Cursing his captors and threatening retaliation, he was driven to the WKPA television station, where seeing where he was, he abruptly shut up.
Doel waited for him at the entrance of the station, and quietly assumed control of the subdued bolita chief’s wheelchair.
Not saying a word despite repeated inquiries by the injured fat man, the news editor guided El Chino through several of the station’s corridors, and finally entered the huge studio where the Son of Renzo telenovela was regularly taped.
There, the whole cast of the soap opera waited for El Chino in two parallel lines, and it burst into applause when he was paraded between them.
Overwhelmed with emotion, the avid telenovela fan had wept.
* * *
Another tribute, this one happening only four days after Hurricane Fay, took place in the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport police hangar. This tribute, however, was of a very different and somber kind.
A dozen policemen stood at attention on each side of Ojeda’s casket, which was draped in a Puerto Rican flag.
The men saluted the coffin as it was wheeled into the C-5 air transport that would fly it back to Brooklyn.
Because of his injuries, Lucas had been unable to attend. But Jeannie was there, as well as Police Superintendent Montañez, Police Sergeant Negrón, Archie, Michael, SWAT Captain Gomez, SWAT Corporal Tavarez, Doel, and Correcaminos, and even the Governor’s bodyguard, Hazard, prompting Michael to mutter, “The whole gang’s here.”
Ojeda’s two associates, Myers and Flanigan, had flanked the coffin, the latter pushing himself in a wheelchair.
As the casket got to the airplane’s front ramp, Myers approached each of the men who had conducted the raid on the terrorists, and shook their hands, exchanging a few, cordial words.
Jeannie was the last in the line of mourners. Myers extended his hand to her, but instead she leaned forward, and kissed him on the cheek.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for protecting our family,” she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks. “May God be with you always.”
Myers’ face reddened slightly, and he shook his head.
“It is you who should be thanked,” he said to her, smiling sadly. “You would not give up on Ojeda, not even when it seemed you would all be swept by the current. Lucas is a very fortunate man, to have someone like you by his side.”
“Lucas wanted to be here__” she began to say.
“I know. I spoke to him yesterday over the phone. I wanted to see him personally, but taking care of this big lug took most of the day,” he replied, gesturing toward Flanigan with his head, as The Rock look-alike made his way through the mourners in his wheelchair. “Tell Lucas that he will always have another brother in me, wherever I am.”
“And in me,” Flanigan added, as he reached the end of the line.
“Flanigan,” Jeannie said with undisguised delight, wiping away her tears and smiling. “The children have missed you so!”
The big man grinned.
“I miss them too. Tell them…” he had to stop to clear his throat. “Just tell them that l’ll come back, and that they’d better get ready because I’m going to hunt them down.”
“That will keep them excited for a long while.”
“And I will come back, I promise,” Flanigan said in a more serious tone.
“Wherever we are?” Jeannie asked cryptically.
Flanigan stared at her with curiosity, and then nodded. “Wherever you are.”
Two policemen had been folding the flag draped over Ojeda’s casket, and one of them now approached Myers and handed it to him.
“He may have been born in Brooklyn,” Montañez, standing next to the policemen said, “but he was one of us, Puerto Rican, through and though. Thank you all,” he told Myers and Flanigan. “Come back to visit us.”
A ten-man police band began to play Puerto Rico’s anthem, La Borinqueña, followed by the national anthem of the United States.
Afterwards, the coffin was wheeled into the plane, followed by Myers pushing Flanigan’s wheelchair.
The two men waived goodbye from the inside of the air transport, and then, as the ramp closed, followed the casket inside.
(Chapter IV of the Epilogue will be posted on Thursday, February 4)