Dead on ArrivalBy: Angela Ruth Strong
To Mike and Wendy Boswell for their dedication to The Journey and the lives they’ve changed through mission work. Including mine.
“The President of Peru is alive?”
Maritza paused at the stranger’s words, her right foot not quite touching down on the lower step of the rolling staircase in the private hanger at Washington National Airport. Why would anybody think her father was dead?
Gabriel, Papá’s bodyguard, motioned from the ground for her to continue her descent. “The Boeing went down?” he asked the two consular workers from the Peruvian Embassy.
What Boeing? Surely not the plane they would have been on if Gabriel hadn’t unexpectedly escorted them to the smaller aircraft.
“Sí.” The ambassador with a ponytail and goatee looked between her and Gabriel in confusion. “Over the Amazon. The crash site hasn’t been located yet, so the world thinks President Rosado and his daughter are dead.”
The world thought she was dead? Maritza’s heart hammered against her ribs, its beat echoing in her ears. “How is that possible?” She raced down the rest of the steps, hoping she’d mistranslated their English.
“You knew it would crash, Gabriel?” Papá’s voice boomed from the doorway of the jet, putting the puzzle pieces together to form a picture that chilled Maritza’s blood.
“Yes, sir. I believe Vice President Catari arranged it. I think he knows I have evidence to show you here.”
The air rushed out of Maritza’s lungs. Catari was the closest thing she had to an uncle. He would never do something to hurt her. She lifted her chin to argue, but as if performing a magic trick, the taller of the Peruvian consulate workers waved a gun and all her thoughts disappeared.
She couldn’t think to move. To warn Papá when the barrel aimed his way. To catch herself as Gabriel pushed her to the ground in his attempt to tackle the gunman.
She heard a whip-cracking sound as her body hit concrete, but she didn’t associate it with the silencer on the gun until Papá tumbled down the stairs. “Nooo,” she screamed, the sound dying in her throat as the barrel swung her direction.
Gabriel rammed into the man holding the gun just before another whip-crack sung through the air. A light fixture exploded overhead, the building dimmed, and glass rained down with a tinkling sound that made the moment even more surreal.
Gabriel had saved her life. Now she had to get to Papá. Make sure he was okay. Sing to him the song Mamá used to sing whenever Maritza had felt ill.
In a fog, Maritza pushed up on her stinging hands and knees and crawled through the shards toward the man lying in a heap at the foot of the staircase. The man who used to give her “horsey rides” on his back. The man who’d surprised her with a real horse for her 16th birthday. The man whose campaign she’d helped run. The man who had come to America to work with the United States President in cracking down on the drug and illegal gold trade.
“Papá.” She settled over him, stroking his forehead. He couldn’t be dead. A God who loved her would never allow such a thing. Especially after taking Mamá.
The tall consular officer also crumpled on the ground. She’d deal with her countryman, the traitor, later. Testify against him. Send him to prison for life. But for now, she’d leave him to Gabriel who was currently taking care of the second Peruvian diplomat—frisking him to make sure they wouldn’t be shot at again.
Papá was all that mattered. Blood oozed from his stomach. At least it wasn’t his chest. Modern medicine could work miracles if needed. But hopefully Dios in heaven already had. “Wake up, Papá.”
Footsteps. Gabriel leaned over and pressed two fingers to the side of Papá’s throat. She’d been afraid to do so herself. Afraid of what she wouldn’t find.
Maritza held her breath. Waiting for the bodyguard to give her good news. To reassure her.
“Call 911,” he said. “Emergency.”
Emergency? Of course. It was precautionary. Papá’s position would require a small troop of medical staff to care for him. And the sooner, the better.
No matter how much Maritza tried to comfort herself, her hands still shook as she pulled the purse strap from her shoulder and dug for her phone. But maybe that was because she wasn’t used to the cooler climate. Or maybe it was the adrenaline that kicked in when being shot at. It wasn’t because she thought Papá was—
“He’s dead, Maritza. I’m sorry.”
The phone slipped from her fingers and clattered to the ground as the trembling spread from her hands through the rest of her body. But even as her body accepted the news, her brain refused. “You didn’t find a pulse? Check again.”
“Maritza.” Gabriel’s dark eyes focused on her. Softened.
If Papá really was dead, Gabriel was all she had left in the world. Papá had wanted her to marry this man, but only because he could keep her safe in the midst of political upheaval. Papá didn’t accept that this would not be her life forever. That once his presidency ended, she planned to spread her wings and leave the cage behind. But it couldn’t end like this.
“Check again,” she begged.
Gabriel dropped his head toward one shoulder and sighed. He squatted down beside her, fingers to Papá’s neck. He blinked a couple times before lifting his gaze back to hers. “You know I loved him too, Maritza.”
Loved. Past tense. Because Papá was no more.
Maritza jolted to find the same gun that killed Papá now cocked and aimed directly at her. Only this time it was held by the shorter man with the flat nose. Both diplomats wanted her dead? Did they both work for Catari? What did it matter? What did she have left to live for? Her heart might as well have ceased its beating along with Papá’s.
Death would reunite her to family. Bring sweet release from the pain that knifed through her with every breath. Since the plane she was supposed to be flying on crashed in the Amazon, the world would already assume her to be dead, so what would getting shot even matter?
“Run,” Gabriel whispered.
The soles of her feet tingled. The muscles in her legs tensed. Reignited. Because Gabriel was right. She had to keep fighting. For her father this time. Nobody was going to kill Papá and get away with it.
“Maritza.” The intensity of Gabriel’s words snapped her attention to him once again. Did he have a plan? “Make your life worth my death.”
His death? No. Gabriel could tackle this man, as well. Call the police. Expose Catari. Become a national hero. Maybe even run for president himself. That’s what she wanted for him. That’s what Peru needed.
But she didn’t have any time to tell him this before he lunged between her and the gun. “Run!”
Her body obeyed as the whip cracked a third time. She expected to feel herself being pulled down to the earth by a bullet. That would be easier than racing out into a world she’d never experienced before. To be on her own and completely unknown in this foreign country. To have to live up to Gabriel’s last request.
She knew it was his last request because as she escaped through the huge door of the hanger, she glanced back to see his lifeless body on top of the man who’d killed him. He indeed did give his life for her. And now she had to make it all worth it.
Levi Parker knew it would be worth it in the end. Come Friday his youth group would have a whole new perspective on life. They’d realize how every one of the homeless people entering the Central union Mission had never planned to be homeless. They’d see that each druggie/bum/prostitute had a story to tell of abuse or neglect or abandonment. How it could happen to anybody. And how they all needed the Lord just the same.
This trip would be worth it because each of his teens would go home with more gratitude about what God had done for them. But right now, on the first day of their “adventure,” these kids all thought themselves at summer camp.
Levi leaned against the kitchen counter, arms crossed. “What are you doing?” They obviously weren’t packing sacks of food as assigned.
JoJo—the smallest and most energetic—looked up from under his ball cap, smiling over the multiple jalapenos stuffed inside his mouth. “Chubby Chihuahua,” he said. Or something like that.
“It’s a contest to see who can fit the most jalapeños in their mouth,” Sophie explained, her eyes serious behind thick glasses.
“Of course.” Levi might as well let them have their fun. God would work in their lives in His own time. Levi’s job was to keep them safe in the process. “Somebody hand JoJo a paper towel. He’s drooling.”
Levi’s assistant tossed a role of paper towels to JoJo. Chase had apparently been here for the whole thing.
“This wasn’t your idea, was it, Chase?” he questioned the college student.
Chase smiled mischievously. “What makes you think that?”
Levi turned to fully face the younger man. “Wild guess.”
“So…” Brandt wiggled his eyebrows. “Why isn’t Kayla helping out this week? We really could have used her in the girls’ dorm.”
Levi shifted uneasily at the change in subject. His assistant knew how to play musical chairs with the hot seat.