If the plan goes wrong, we will all die. He went over it again in his mind for the last time, probing, testing, searching for flaws. He could find none. The plan was daring, and it called for careful, split-second timing. If it worked, it would be a spectacular feat, worthy of the great El Cid. If it failed...
Well, the time for worrying is past, Jaime Miro thought philosophically. It's time for action.
Jaime Miro was a legend, a hero to the Basque people and anathema to the Spanish government. He was six feet tall, with a strong, intelligent face, a muscular body, and brooding dark eyes. Witnesses tended to describe him as taller than he was, darker than he was, fiercer than he was. He was a complex man, a realist who understood the enormous odds against him, a romantic ready to die for what he believed in.
Pamplona was a town gone mad. It was the final morning of the running of the bulls, the Fiesta de San Fermin, the annual celebration held from July 7 to July 14. Thirty thousand visitors had swarmed into the city from all over the world. Some had come merely to watch the dangerous bull-running spectacle, others to prove their manhood by taking part in it, running in front of the charging beasts. All the hotel rooms had long since been reserved, and university students from Navarre had bedded down in doorways, bank lobbies, automobiles, the public square, and even the streets and sidewalks of the town.
The tourists packed the cafes and hotels, watching the noisy, colorful parades of papier-mache gigantes, and listening to the music of the marching bands. Members of the parade wore violet cloaks, with hoods of either green, garnet, or gold. Flowing through the streets, the processions looked like rivers of rainbows. Exploding firecrackers running along the poles and wires of the tramways added to the noise and general confusion.
The crowd had come to attend the evening bullfights, but the most spectacular event was the encierro - the early-morning running of the bulls that would fight later in the day.
The previous night, at ten minutes before midnight in the darkened streets of the lower part of town, the bulls had been driven from the corrales de gas, the reception pens, to run across the river over a bridge to the corral at the bottom of Calle Santo Domingo, where they were kept for the night. On this morning they would be turned loose to run along the narrow Calle Santo Domingo, penned in the street by wooden barricades at each corner. When they reached the end of the street they would run into the corrals at the Plaza de Hemingway, where they would be held until the afternoon bullfight.
From midnight until six A.M., the visitors stayed awake, drinking and singing and making love, too excited to sleep. Those who would be participating in the running of the bulls wore the red scarves of San Fermin around their throats.
At a quarter to six in the morning, bands started to circulate through the streets, playing the stirring music of Navarre. At seven o'clock sharp, a rocket flew into the air to signal that the gates of the corral had been opened. The crowd was filled with feverish anticipation. Moments later a second rocket went up to warn the town that the bulls were running.
What followed was an unforgettable spectacle. First came the sound. It started as a faint, distant ripple on the wind, almost imperceptible, and then it grew louder and louder until it became an explosion of pounding hooves, and suddenly bursting into view appeared six oxen and six enormous bulls. Each weighing fifteen hundred pounds, they charged down the Calle Santo Domingo like deadly express trains. Inside the wooden barricades that had been placed at each intersecting street corner were hundreds of eager, nervous young men who intended to prove their bravery by facing the maddened animals.
The bulls raced down from the far end of the street, past the Calle Laestrafeta and the Calle de Javier, past farmacias and clothing stores and fruit markets, toward the Plaza de Hemingway, and there were cries of "Ole" from the frenzied crowd. As the animals charged nearer, there was a mad scramble to escape the sharp horns and lethal hooves. The sudden reality of approaching death made some of the participants run for the safety of doorways and fire escapes. These men were taunted by shouts of "¡Cobardon!" - coward. The few who stumbled and fell in the path of the bulls were quickly hauled to safety.
A small boy and his grandfather were standing behind the barricades, both breathless with the excitement of the spectacle taking place only a few feet from them.
"Look at them!" the old man exclaimed. "¡Magnifico!"
The little boy shuddered. "Tengo miedo, Abuelo. I'm afraid."
The old man put his arm around the boy. "Si, Manuelo. It is frightening. But wonderful, too. I once ran with the bulls. There's nothing like it. You test yourself against death, and it makes you feel like a man."
As a rule, it took two minutes for the animals to gallop the nine hundred yards along the Calle Santo Domingo to the arena, and the moment the bulls were safely in the corral, a third rocket was sent into the air. On this day, the third rocket did not go off, for an incident occurred that had never before happened in Pamplona's four-hundred-year history of the running of the bulls.
As the animals raced down the narrow street, half a dozen men dressed in the colorful costumes of the feria shifted the wooden barricades, and the bulls found themselves forced off the restricted street and turned loose into the heart of the city. What had a moment before been a happy celebration instantly turned into a nightmare. The frenzied beasts charged into the stunned onlookers. The young boy and his grandfather were among the first to die, knocked down and trampled by the charging bulls. Vicious horns sliced into a baby carriage, killing an infant and sending its mother down to the ground to be crushed. Death was in the air everywhere. The animals crashed into helpless bystanders, knocking down women and children, plunging their long, deadly horns into pedestrians, food stands, statues, sweeping aside everything unlucky enough to be in their path. People screamed in terror, desperately fighting to get out of the way of the lethal behemoths.