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By William Carmichael, David Lambert, Elizabeth Newenhuyse
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2009 William Carmichael and David Lambert
All rights reserved.
The tall man guided his new Mercedes out of Avenue Casanova traffic and pulled in behind a battered Volkswagen at the gutter; he had just seen the Ford van several cars ahead of him pull over, its emergency flashers on. He leaned to the side, straining for a clear view around the cars and trucks honking, jockeying for position, crowding the avenue. It was late—10:34, he affirmed with a glance at his Rolex—and the glare of so many lights on the rain-washed streets made him squint. He watched the van's driver get out, wait for a break in the traffic, and then jog across the street toward some sort of commotion. There were children running—one was on the ground, a boy. A heavyset man in a dirty white apron was yelling at the fallen boy, kicking him, and the boy curled into a ball. A girl threw herself between the fallen boy and the man; the man pushed her down. The van's driver arrived and held up a hand, yelling at the man in the apron, who yelled back.
There was nothing unusual about the scene. It was played out scores of times on this and many other Caracas streets every night: hungry, homeless children scrabbling for a living, treated as nothing more than human refuse by the adults annoyed by them or who sought them for other purposes. One needed no more excuse to kick—or exploit, in any of dozens of unsavory ways—a street urchin than one did a stray dog.
The tall man had seen the driver of the van, a missionary, make several such stops over the past few days, usually at night, chatting with groups of these children, teasing them, making them laugh, talking to them as long as the children were willing to stay. Twice the tall man had managed to get close enough to overhear the missionary asking kids where they lived, whether they had enough to eat, whether any of them were sick or knew other children who were sick, whether there were other homeless children nearby.
The name on the side of the van was Aldea Esperanza. Hope Village. The tall man knew exactly where it was; he had driven past it, slowly. It was a mission—a place that took in young homeless ones.
The missionary stepped between the angry man and the two children on the ground. The girl was talking to the fallen boy. She looked worried. The man in the apron pushed past the missionary and grabbed something from the young girl's hand, then brandished it at the missionary —evidence, no doubt, that the children had stolen from him. The missionary pointed toward the children, spoke to the man, and then reached into his pocket and offered to pay for what the children had stolen. The man grabbed it and stalked away, still yelling back over his shoulder.
Three or four other children wandered back as the aproned man disappeared. If any of these children had a home with a bed, they would undoubtedly have been in it by this time of night.
A group of young men walked by, their clothes and voices loud, two of them taking swigs from their bottles of beer. The avenue was crowded with those seeking thrills, as well as the homeless. From across the street, a prostitute caught the tall man's eye and waved. He ignored her. Peering around a passing truck, he watched as the missionary knelt and placed his hand on the forehead of the young boy.
This was a good thing that the missionary was doing. The tall man admired him for it. Yes, it was time to meet him face-to-face. Maybe he was the right man for the job. Maybe not.
* * *
The rain had stopped, at least for now.
"¿Hay algun familiar de este chico?" David asked. He removed his hand from the child's forehead. The boy was burning with fever, gasping desperately; his chest rattled.
David glanced up at the girl who had tried to protect the boy; she could not have been more than ten.
"He is my little brother. He started coughing five days ago," she said. "And after he runs, he cannot breathe."
"What's his name?"
"Ricardo. My name is Angela."
David smiled and touched her arm. "Angela, where are your parents?"
Angela shrugged. David saw this response often. It meant that the girl's parents were drug addicts, or that they were dead, or that she had no idea where they were and probably hadn't seen them in some time.
He brushed Ricardo's lank hair from his forehead. For five years now David had patrolled the barrios of Caracas, witnessing the misery of an endless supply of impoverished and sickly and homeless children. Was there no end to the suffering here?
Swarms of Latinos hurried by in the warm, humid night, seemingly unaware. Salsa music blared from one of the bars down the street. Honking cars, trucks, and buses jammed Avenue Casanova. The stink of urine rose from the gutter, a bitter note blending with the fragrance of fresh arepas, frying chilies, refried beans, and beer. "¡Vámanos, arriba!" someone yelled from down the street.
Ricardo stared at David with sunken, panicked eyes, his back rising off the broken sidewalk in his effort to pull air into his lungs.
"How old is your brother?" David asked Angela.
There was no point calling an ambulance. They refused to pick up the homeless. David pulled out his cell and called his wife. "Christie, call Dr. Vargas and see if he can meet us at the clinic in forty-five minutes. Tell him I have a seven-year-old boy I think is in the acute stages of pneumonia. He can barely breathe."
There was a pause. "Is he wheezing?" she asked.
"Okay. Get him here quick."
When David clicked off his phone and reached behind the boy to lift him, large olive-skinned hands reached down to help. David looked up to see a tall, well-dressed man.
"Can I please help you?" The stranger spoke in English. "We can put him in my car just down the street if you need transportation to the hospital."
"Thank you," David said, "but my van's right here." He nodded toward the white nine-passenger Ford van he used as both bus and ambulance. It was double-parked, emergency flashers blinking, Aldea Esperanza painted in bright red letters on the side. "I'm taking this child to my clinic."
Before David could object, the tall man lifted Ricardo's thin little body into his arms and headed for the van. David grabbed Angela's hand and, weaving through honking, halting traffic, hurried ahead to open the back doors. Inside lay a mattress neatly wrapped with clean white sheets. The man gently laid Ricardo on the mattress.
David motioned for Angela to climb into the back of the van with Ricardo. She hesitated. "What about my friends? Two of them are also coughing."
David looked back across the street, where seven children stood watching. He glanced at the well-dressed man, who shrugged. "
We don't have room," David said. "I'm sorry. Right now, I can only take your brother and you. And for your brother's sake, we must hurry."
"Then take Maria instead of me. She has been coughing for three days," Angela replied.
David looked at the stranger, then across the street again. "Jesus, help ..." he whispered, then asked, "Which one is Maria?"
Angela yelled, "iMaria, ven!" motioning Maria forward.
A girl David guessed to be about the same age as Angela wove her way through traffic toward them. Without asking, Angela quickly shoved Maria up into the back of the van next to her brother.
Always choices, David thought, and most of them are bad. How can it be the will of God to simply choose among the least bad alternatives?
He put his hand on Angela's shoulder, urging her into the van with Ricardo and Maria. As she scrambled in, she smiled. Already a skilled negotiator, David thought.
David shook the stranger's hand and hurried to the driver's door. "Thank you for your help." He grabbed a business card from the dash and handed it to the man, then cranked the engine and slammed the door. "Why don't you visit us?" he hollered through the window, over the engine noise.
"I would like to. Perhaps soon."
David waved over his shoulder and inched out into traffic, his headlights reflecting on slick, wet streets. Ricardo hacked a loud, racking cough.
David took a sharp right, leaving the business district and entering a darker, less congested area, a faster way home. Big raindrops began again, slowly at first, then pounding hard and fast against the windshield while the wipers beat like rapid rubber drumsticks. And there was another sound. At first David thought that the windshield wipers were broken—the motor giving out, wheezing ... and then he realized that the sound was coming from the back of the van. It'stopped. David glanced in the rearview mirror. The boy's sister hovered over Ricardo. "Angela, how's your brother back there?" David asked. "Everything okay?"
Angela's little face tilted up, her eyes frightened. "Señor!" she said. "He cannot breathe! He is choking!"CHAPTER 2
On a remote beach several miles south of La Guaira, they slipped ashore an hour before midnight, undetected except by the small pod of dolphins that followed their ten-foot inflatable to within a hundred yards of the beach. Their GPS took them within fifteen feet of the location they'd targeted. They pulled their craft onto the beach and crouched next to it for a few minutes, listening, watching shadows. Then the leader of the four men gestured, and the man to his left ran in a crouch across the deserted beach to the rocky slope behind it. In the light from his tiny waterproof flashlight, he found the package exactly where they'd been told it would be. He signaled with his flashlight to the men waiting by the inflatable, who pulled the craft the rest of the way across the beach into the shadows.
The leader of the four Israeli mercenaries took the package, wrapped in plastic to protect it from the rain, and carefully opened it. Code-named Hawkeye, he was not a big man by Western standards. At 5'10" and 180 pounds, he wouldn't have looked out of place dressed in casual clothes and walking down the streets of any city in the Western hemisphere. He'd just turned forty-one. His skin was a sun-darkened bronze. He had black, short-cropped hair. There was a small scar on his right cheek, just under his eye, from a knife wound. It had damaged a facial nerve, which made his right eye twitch when things got tense. With the body of a decathlete and a razor-sharp mind, he had excelled in every aspect of his training. Never impatient, never overconfident, and always alert to his surroundings, Hawkeye was, in all aspects, a killing machine.
The package, as he had expected, contained fake IDs, room keys, and directions to the resort hotel where they would stay, along with the equivalent in Venezuelan cash of twenty-five thousand U.S. dollars and the key to a waiting vehicle.
No stranger to this kind of work, Hawkeye hired out all over the world. Although earlier he'd done it for love of country, now he did it for money. Big money. His last assignment had been for the CIA in Uganda, Africa, secretly exterminating the thugs who were terrorizing the country.
"Drop!" came a nearly inaudible voice, and all four men dropped, disappearing into the shadows. Each immediately saw why the command had been given: wandering down the beach from the north came a solitary figure. A man. He seemed in no hurry. There was something in his hand. If it was a weapon, he was a dead man. Hawkeye flipped down his night-vision goggles, then shook his head. It was a bottle. The man was walking slowly because he walked clumsily, unsteadily. Just a drunk.
But the drunk nearly stumbled in the slight rut made by the inflatable where the mercenaries had pulled it across the beach. When he regained his balance, he gazed down, then turned to follow the furrow with his eyes down to the waves —and turned again, craning his neck forward as if to try to follow the furrow up the beach in the pale light.
Hawkeye felt the man on his right tense, and he put out his hand and touched him. Not yet.
A long moment passed. No one moved. Then the drunk lifted his bottle, tilted it straight up as if draining it, tossed it away into the waves, and continued down the beach.
The four commandos remained motionless until he was out of sight, another minute for good measure, and then at Hawkeye's signal began gathering their equipment. One opened the valves on the inflatable and sat on it to speed its deflation. Another used a branch to obliterate the trail their boat had left across the sand.
They bedded down across the highway, hidden among palm trees and tall grasses, relieving each other on watch every two hours.CHAPTER 3
David skidded the van to a stop on the muddy gravel beside the road, threw open his door, and slid through the mud to the back of the van, pelted by warm rain. As he opened the back doors, rain poured in, and he motioned Angela and Maria back away from the opening. He grabbed a blanket and handed it to Angela. "Try to hold this over him to protect him from the rain," he said.
Ricardo's chest was heaving, his eyes were no longer listless but now bright with panic, the cords of his neck strained taut, and most ominous of all, no sound of breathing came from his open mouth. A fish out of water, David thought. He pulled the boy toward him, felt his chest, his neck, looked into his mouth—and realized that he had absolutely no idea what to do. He grabbed his cell phone from his belt and hit Christie's speed-dial button.
"He can't breathe!" he yelled when her voice came on the line. "Nothing! No wheezing, no air at all. What do I do?"
A slight pause. "You said he was wheezing when you first picked him up. Was his skin dusky, slightly greyish, or bluish?"
"I don't know! I' mean, the light wasn't good, and now we're out alongside the road—"
"Okay. You said it looked like pneumonia, right?"
"He's burning with fever, he couldn't breathe—"
"Was he running or exerting himself before you found him? Do you know?"
"He—the kids had stolen some food, and the vendor was chasing them. Ricardo fell down."
"Okay, I think we may be dealing with two different things here. Look in the emergency medical bag. Pull out the epi pen."
"Dump out the bag."
David hit the speaker button on the phone, put it beside Ricardo, and then dumped the contents of the medical bag. "What am I looking for?"
"A plastic Ziplock bag. Inside there's a tube about the size of a cigar. Orange cap."
David rummaged frantically. "Okay. I have it. Now what?"
"Take it out of the bag and out of the tube. You'll have a pen-sized syringe in your hand with a black rubbery tip at one end. Got it?"
"Yeah. What now? He looks bad—like he's about to lose consciousness."
"Jam the black rubber end of the tube against the fattest part of his thigh. Not too hard! You're not pounding a nail—you're giving a shot."
"What about his pants?"
"Forget about them—go right through them." She paused. "Okay—have you done it? How's he responding?"
"Do it! Right now! Don't think about it!"
David slammed the pen against Ricardo's thigh, felt something give. Too hard! he thought. I broke something.
"Done?" Christie asked.
"Okay, now watch him."
Fifteen seconds passed. Twenty.
"Any change?" she asked.
"Nothing. Not yet."
"Get ready. You might have to do CPR."
David pulled the boy toward him, wiped mucus from Ricardo's nose and mouth, and positioned the barely conscious boy's head toward the left. He tilted Ricardo's jaw upward—and suddenly Ricardo gasped, arched his back, then doubled forward, gulping air.
"Okay, something's—he's gasping," David said. "He's getting air."
"The pen's working. The epinephrine is opening his airways."
"They usually do. From the relief."
"He's not okay. He's still in danger. Check the rest of the bag—is there another epi pen?"
David sorted through the pile of medical supplies. "No. That's it."
"The effects of the injection will wear off in twenty minutes, maybe less—maybe only fifteen. How far are you from the clinic?"
"In this rain—maybe twenty minutes."
"Put the pedal to the metal, hon. Get that boy here now."
* * *
David had seen Christie watching through the window as he pulled the van up behind the clinic, and she pulled the rear door open as he jogged in with the weakly gasping Ricardo in his arms, Angela and Maria trailing closely behind. He lowered Ricardo onto the nearest bed. "The relief lasted pretty well for about ten minutes or so," he said, "and then he began to labor a bit, and for the past few minutes it's been almost as bad as before."
Christie appeared at his side and without hesitation or wasted motion slapped another epi pen against the boy's leg. As before, twenty or thirty seconds passed before Ricardo's airway suddenly opened and his lungs expanded fully. After several gasps, he coughed heavily, and Christie handed the boy a Kleenex to spit into. His features relaxed; panic eased from his face.
Excerpted from The Missionary by William Carmichael, David Lambert, Elizabeth Newenhuyse. Copyright © 2009 William Carmichael and David Lambert. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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