They thought all the men were in tents for the night, but those first tentative steps into the campsite made Henry’s heart race. He was glad to have spent several hours in reconnaissance before entering this space blind.
A small campfire smoldered in the center of the campsite, which seemed to be the remains of a city square. The river to the north was closer than he’d realized but he didn’t think they’d be affected by it. What looked to be a citadel loomed on the other side of the campsite, which could serve as a place to hole up and become a stronghold if necessary.
The first team of boys crept carefully along the edge of the campsite toward the truck. They each stabbed their hunting knife into a truck tire then tucked themselves into the surrounding forest near the road leading to San Ignacio. The four teams assigned to attack the tents simultaneously separated and skirted the edges of the campsite on the north and south sides, effectively surrounding the four tents. Once all four teams were in position, Henry, Xavier, and Machudo each took one tentative step into the campsite and waited.
They took another step.
Still no response from any of the tents nor from anywhere else in the campsite.
The tents each only had one opening, all facing in toward the fire, all flaps shut.
Henry gave the sign and all four teams advanced quickly to the tents, surrounding them. In a flurry of confusion, the boys used hunting knives to slit through the backs of the tents, not bothering with the front flaps. Multiple hunting rifles fired off almost simultaneously, girls screamed, and men swore.
All around him, Henry heard the boys calling out in Spanish, “We’re here to rescue you. Follow the white woman.”
Girls began scurrying away from the tents, most of them clutching some sort of clothing or blanket, none of them wearing shoes, one girl was completely naked. One of the boys near Whitney quickly removed his shirt and draped it around the naked girl, offering her some comfort and protection.
Only eight girls were recovered.
Henry’s heart sunk, knowing the others had already been taken further down the line to the trafficking ring in Belize City. He caught Machudo’s attention from twenty feet away.
Machudo shook his head with sadness in his countenance. His girlfriend wasn’t among the eight.
Within minutes of cutting open the tents, all eight girls, Whitney, and an entire platoon of amateur soldiers had disappeared down the path toward El Pilar. The girls would be offered immediate care. Whitney had brought shoes, hoodies, sweatpants, food and water, enough for all twenty-one missing girls. Only eight would be needed. That angered Henry and he attacked more ferociously.
Taking the men into custody was not so easy. Although unprepared for the attack, some of them partially dressed, and all of them wounded, they were larger and more experienced in a fight. Seventeen teenage boys who were shaken and scared were no match for six hardened criminals. The boys had no idea what to do. This was a mistake.
Henry had two choices; retreat or kill the men. They couldn’t retreat down the footpath back toward El Pilar because they needed to lead the men away from the girls. That meant they needed to retreat toward the citadel. But first they had to give all they could.
Most of the boys had already lost their knives when throwing them at the men or stabbing them. There was only one hunting rifle for each team of four. They were unarmed, untrained, and terrified. There was only one real choice.
“To the citadel, now!” Henry yelled and all seventeen teenage boys ran to the far end of the campsite. None of them were wounded in their legs and they ran hard.
All of the kidnappers had at least one wound but none of them were incapacitated. The men also had found their weapons and shots were fired. None of them hit their mark and all seventeen boys made it through the zig zag pattern at the entrance to the citadel, up the stairs, and two of them used their rifles to shoot back at the kidnappers.
The citadel was designed in a way in which any enemy trying to climb the stairs would be sitting ducks for the boys above to kill them easily. The men would have been stupid to attempt an attack, even if they weren’t injured.
The boys were safe for now.
But they were trapped.
Hemmed in by the sheer cliff down to the Belize River on the north and the kidnappers just out of shooting range with the hunting rifles, the boys could hold their position within the crumbling stronghold, but for how long? Even if they called back the platoon that had left to escort the girls back to the reservation, there weren’t enough soldiers. Although not outnumbered by the enemy, young boys were no match for grown men who likely had unlimited ammunition and no motivation to keep the boys alive.
With dwindling supplies, and few options, Henry locked eyes with Machudo, hoping to convey a confidence that didn’t exist in his heart. He pulled out his cell phone and connected immediately.
“Aaron, time to call in reinforcements.”