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Havana / Гавана (by Stephen Hunter, 2003) - аудиокнига на английском

Havana / Гавана (by Stephen Hunter, 2003) - аудиокнига на английском

Havana / Гавана (by Stephen Hunter, 2003) - аудиокнига на английском

Правительство США назначает Эрла Сваггера телохранителем для отбывающего на Кубу политика. Коррумпированный чиновник едет отнюдь не для налаживания дипломатических отношений, расследования страстей, связанных с процветанием преступной деятельности. Он сам заинтересован в непосредственном участии в незаконных действиях и укреплении связи с мафией и главным мафиози Мейером Лански. Сваггер становится невольным участником заговора, результатом которого должна стать смерть революционера Фиделя Кастро, угрожающего американским интересам. Эрл должен стать оружием в борьбе за интересы Америки, но знает ли он истинную цель своей поездки? А угроза истребления коррупции и мафии нависла реальная. Казино и бордели, штаб-квартиры ЦРУ и американские корпорации – все эти «заведения» должны быть защищены любой ценой, чтобы продолжить свою подпольную деятельность. Реформы, рекомендуемые к внедрению молодым Кастро, являются опасными для устоявшихся годами местным законам и негласным правилам жизни на Кубе. Россиянин Спешнев, напротив, прибыл не ради ликвидации Кастро, а с целью его защиты. Как быстро Эрл поймет, что он пешка?

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Название:
Havana / Гавана (by Stephen Hunter, 2003) - аудиокнига на английском
Год выпуска аудиокниги:
2003
Автор:
Stephen Hunter
Исполнитель:
William Dufris
Язык:
английский
Жанр:
боевик, приключения
Уровень сложности:
upper-intermediate
Длительность аудио:
13:22:54
Битрейт аудио:
64 kbps
Формат:
mp3, pdf, doc

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Havana Stephen Hunter Chapter 1 Chapter 1 In the early spring of 1953, a big noise from Winnetka dominated the diplomatic tennis circuit in Havana. That was what they called him, after the famous hit tune from the '30s. It summed him up: big, powerful, American, unbeatable. And it didn't matter that he actually came from Kenilworth, a whole swank town down the North Shore from Winnetka. He was close enough to Winnetka. His name was Roger St. John Evans, and to make him all the more glamorous, it was rumored he was a spy. He was in demand that season. He played at least three or four times a week, on his own courts or at some other embassy out in leafy Vedado or, even more frequently, at the Havana Country Club, or even occasionally on the private courts of the big Miramar houses out La Quinta owned by Domino Sugar executives or United Fruit Company bigwigs. In all those venues, the embassies, the big northward-facing houses in Miramar and Buena Vista, the courts behind the Vedado embassies, out as far as La Playa and the Yacht Club, the country club, his beauty, power and smoothness made him many a wealthy young lady's dreamboat, a sought-after dinner guest, a real catch. So on a certain late spring day-the sky was so blue, the summer heat had yet not attacked the Pearl of the Antilles, a breeze floated across Havana, just enough to lift flags and palms and young girls' hearts-Roger tossed the ball upward for service, felt his long body coil as pure instinct took over, and the strength traveled like a wave up and through his body and the complex computations of hand/eye circuitry functioned at a rate far more efficient than most men's. As the ball was released he tightened, then unleashed and his arm ripped through an arc, bringing the racket loosely with it in the backhand grip for a bit of English. He caught the ball full swat at its apogee-the nearly musical pong! signifying solid contact was so satisfying!-hit through it at a slight cant, and nailed a bending screamer that seemed to spiral toward the chalked line on the other side of the net. It hit that target square, blasting up a sheet of white mist, and spun away, far beyond his poor opponent's lunge. Game, set, match. His two opponents, a Bill and a Ted, executives for United Fruit, accepted the inevitable. "That's it, boys," sang Roger, allowing himself a taste of raptor's glee. "Well done, old man," said Bill, who though not an Ivy had picked up certain Eastern affectations from the many who dominated the island's American business culture. Roger's doubles partner, his eager young assistant Walter, who played a spunky if uninspired game of tennis and always seemed a bit behind, gave a little leap and clapped a hand against the base of his racket face, in salute to his partner's brilliance and victory. "Way to go, Big Winnetka! Boola-boola!" he chanted, in a voice clotted with affection and admiration. The players gathered at the net, to shake hands, exchange respects and towel off. "A drink, I think," said Ted. "Pedro, mojitos please. At the pool. And tell Manuelo not to spare the rum. I think we can afford it." He winked at Roger. "I have an in at Bacardi." "Si, senor," said Ted's senior servant, who trotted off to fetch. "Walter, help him, will you," said Roger. "Sure," said Walter cheerily. "No, no," said Ted, "it seems compassionate, but you spoil them and there's problems later. Let's go to the pool." They walked through the garden to the shimmering blue reservoir behind the great house. The men sat at a table under an ancient pruned palm, close to flowers, hedges, tropical bouquets and recently turned earth, in the shade of a vast umbrella, and Pedro brought the drinks. They were expertly made, the rum soaked in dense sugar, the mint sprigs crushed to loosen that herb's magic, the gassy water aboil with bubbles, all mixed to swirl and the ice cubes giving the whole an intense chill. The pleasing ritual of men drinking: the booze took the sting from the losers' loss and spread the glow of the winners' win. Cigars, Havana Perfectos in fact, came out, were lit and sucked and a warm fog settled upon the four. Blah blah blah and more blah blah blah, all pleasant if pointless: a little embassy gossip, a little business climate analysis, a little on current politics and what a good job the new president Batista was doing, he was really on the team, and on and on-- But then it seemed a shadow passed over the sun. No, it was Pedro. He whispered something to Ted, who nodded. "Well," he said, "this is so pleasant I wish it would never end. But now it must. There's someone you have to see. Will you follow me please? He's just arrived." Roger shot Walter a look. What's this? it seemed to say. Who are these boys to be playing so mysterioso? Being mysterioso: that was Roger and Walter's profession. And the locution was so strange: someone you have to see, as if it were a professional situation, not a post-match social obligation. But, of course, they both rose with their host and followed him into the big house with its gleaming floors and up marble stairs. United Fruit knew how to impress. Not even El Presidente, as Batista was mocked by the Americans behind his back, lived quite so grandly as United Fruit's most important executive. "That way. The library. I'd hurry. He's expecting you." Roger led the way through French doors and into a vast room, lined with books that had never been opened, and furniture from somebody's empire, and silk and damask and the usual gewgaws of conquest, a bronze telescope on a tripod, a Brown Bess hung on the wall, lancers pennants tripoded in the corner. Both men blinked, for the doors to the balcony were open and the light of day blazed in unrepentant and powerful. "Well hello, boys. My, aren't you a sight? Sweaty but unbowed, athletes of the moment." Roger recognized the voice, thought no, no, it can't be, and squinted as from a dark corner a man came into the light. He was not remarkable in any way and wore a simple khaki suit and a white shirt and black tie. He wore black plasticframed glasses, was quite bald, if a little tall and rangy. No charisma, no attraction, no drama. The face so regular as to instantly vanish from memory. He looked like a salesman or possibly a minor attorney. His name was known but to a few, though to those few it had acquired legendary status. Roger was one of the few. That name, however, was not spoken, and had never appeared in print. Instead he was called Plans, for he ran the Directorate of Plans, on the Agency's clandestine side. He didn't fight the Cold War, he was the Cold War. To his face he was called...well, nothing. It was awkward, but nothing could be done about it. Sir, uttered by the subjects of his attention, clumsily facilitated his face-toface transactions. This was a highly unlikely situation. Plans normally functioned out of the station, as the slang had it, in the embassy. He never just, er, showed up like this, in some private house miles from the embassy, unless something really interesting was about to happen. "Sir, do you know my assistant, Walter Short?" Walter bowed nervously; he could not have known himself who this fellow was, but as a quick study had intuited from pal and supervisor's gravity that he was important. "Hello, sir, I-" "Yes, yes, Short. China, no? Some military stuff, advising Chiang. Is that right?" "Yes, sir, I-" "Well, Roger, and, uh, Short, sit down, we must have a chat." And so they sat. "How are your parents, Roger? Is your father still prospering?" "Sir, Dad's fine. The heart attack slowed him down, but Mom says he's back at work now. Nothing can stop that man." "Yes, I know. I crewed with him at Harvard. But I was never an athlete like him. I wonder if he remembers me. He was a fine athlete." "Yes, sir. Dad was. He still has a three handicap." "That's remarkable. Now, anyway, Roger, I am here-" "Roger, should I take notes?" whispered Walter. "No, no, we don't want any of this on paper," said Plans. "Yes, sir, I-" "That's all right. Now, Roger, I just looked through your OSS record. Very impressive. Then there's your medal citation. Silver Star. Very impressive. You were part of a team that hunted down a German sniper in Switzerland. You killed him. I like the finality in that. No ambiguity to it at all. You blew the bastard out of his boots, you recovered some advanced technology that was very helpful. Short, did you realize you were working for a genuine war hero?" "I knew-" "So, Roger, you were, in a sense, a manhunter." Roger swallowed, ever so gently. It was all true, but just barely. He'd been a child. An officer named Leets did all the work. At the end, when they killed the German, Roger was aware that most of his burst of.45s had missed. He had just hosed the tommy gun away, running through thirty rounds in three seconds, the only bullets he fired in the entire Second World War. "I suppose," said Roger. "Good. A taste for it? Like it dark and dangerous? Like the guns, the excitement? Like the thrill of the hunt, the satisfaction of the kill? That's what we're looking for." "It was necessary," was all Roger could think to say. "Like to run another operation like that, Roger?" Well...here it was. Roger knew that if he said no, it would be a dark mark against him. Plans didn't come this far, enter through the back door, and fly home tourist class to hear a rejection. But if Roger said yes, well, that had its problems too: one didn't want to get caught up in something sticky and illegal that couldn't be controlled. He smiled, and said, "Of course I-" "Oh, I don't want you doing anything violent. We are not gangsters, after all. We plan, we make sure things happen, we liaise, we coordinate, we administer. But you know how to put something like this together? You've done it. Part of it, of course, would be finding a man to do the actual work. Someone from outside our organization, but someone who could be trusted. Someone reliable. We both know there are elements in Cuba who would do such a thing for money or selfinterest or a dozen other motives. But they are not reliable and we don't want anything coming back to haunt us, do we? That's why I rely on your discretion. You could find a man, no? You could supervise the operation. You could make it happen?" "Yes, sir." " Good show! I knew you'd say that. Short, you aboard? You can play this sort of game under Roger's supervision, can't you? You won't let us down?" "Yes, sir," said Walter, "and I-" "Excellent," said Plans. "Now, you are wondering, who is all this about? Well, it's a young Cuban lawyer," said Plans. He pushed a manila envelope over, and Short opened it to find the usual run of documents, plus a photo of a young man with an oval young face, a Spanish darkness, an intensity to eyes that could not yet have seen very much. He turned it over, said the name aloud, feeling its newness on his tongue: "Castro." "That's him. Very charismatic, an orator. He might be a problem." "A problem?" said Roger. "A problem," said Plans. "People are talking already. I'm getting serious inquiries from our own Caribbean Desk, from all sorts of people at State, from the Brits and the French, from the Mexicans and the Canadians. He was involved in anti-American demonstrations against John Foster in '48 in Colombia. When the Ortodoxo party founder Chiba killed himself, this fellow astutely put himself at the center of the mourning process and got on the radio." "There are so many of them," said Roger. "But this one is different. He may be a problem." He paused. "Everybody wants this island to stay just the way it is, now that we've reinstated Batista. We don't want any applecarts upset, and we don't want our Red friends taking an interest in this sort of fellow. He's exactly their kind of man; they could play him like a Stradivarius. Too much money has been invested, and too much time has been spent. We can't let this get out of control. If we're not on top of it, it could be on top of us." "Sir-ah, I-" "Yes, Roger, go on." "It's just that, well, isn't this a bit, you know, radical? I mean, there might be other methods: we could give him money, I suppose, or recruit him in some way. We could, you know, leverage him with photographs of some sort or other, we could acquire influence with one of his close associates so that we'd always have tabs on him and in some way could control him, why, there must be-" "You know, that's what some said in Langley. It's worked in the past, it'll work in the future. That's the American way and everybody's comfortable with it. You're comfortable with it." "Yes, sir, I-" "But maybe just this once, as a kind of test case, we ought to not do the American thing. We ought to make a statement. Nothing bold, nothing flamboyant, nothing cruel, nothing attention-getting. But the right folks would notice: this fellow, he was about to upset applecarts, and then suddenly he was dead. Who? Why, not the Americans, they don't do that...do they? Maybe it's time to add that do they? to the equation." "Yes, sir." "That's why I want to go ahead on this thing. I'm approving a budget and it gets tucked into a National Security Working Group, and a senior case officer will run interference at Langley and I'll supervise closely. We'll code-name it Big Noise. I like that. I love thinking up the right code names. I don't think an op can go unless it's got the right damn name. Anyhow, I'm clearing the decks for you on other assignments. You don't have to troll for sources at the country club any more. Though of course you should continue with the damned tennis. You can't just walk away from it and huddle in the office." "Does this mean I can start winning faster? I'm very tired of throwing a couple of games to keep these people happy." "Yes, it should get you in the right mood. Kill them, crush them, stamp them out. In the meantime, I want to see you put together a scenario, find the personnel, develop it plausibly, set up a timetable, and we'll run it by the Director and see if we can make it happen. I don't need to tell you how top secret the operation is. That's, of course, why I'm not operating out of the embassy station. You can't keep anything secret in an embassy. Are we together on this? Roger, you're with me now?" "I'm just concerned about finding a fellow," said Roger. "The whole thing would hinge on that. The wrong fellow, the wrong result. It has to be someone you can trust, who is heroic, capable, and patriotic. Where do you find such men?" "Well, Roger," said Plans, "the Agency has resources. We will-" Walter Short interrupted. "Excuse me," he said, louder than Roger had ever heard him speak before. "I know where you can find such a man." They looked at him. "There's a man in Arkansas," he said finally. "Strong, tough, smart, capable. A real hero. A genius with guns and in fights. A man who's killed, who's good at it, but who hasn't been made crazy by it and doesn't need to do it. And a man who knows how to get anything done. If you could get Earl working for you, you'd have something. I mean, something." Chapter 3 Sauteed en beurre, then served with a complex red, possibly a St. Emilion, a '34 or a '35, the cockroach would have tasted delicious. Why red? Because red goes with meat. A cockroach certainly isn't fish, of that you may be sure. But Zek 4715 did not have a St. Emilion, a '34 or a '35, or a pan or any butter, or anything much at all, except the cockroach. It was not even much of a cockroach. But cockroaches were hard to come by, and so this one, as runty and pitiful a specimen as it was, would nevertheless have to do, and the zek held it between his long and elegant fingers and considered it carefully. Little bug, he thought, you and I, we are brothers. So it is entirely appropriate that you nourish me with your little pinch of protein. I salute you. I admire you. "Just eat it, damn you," said Zek 5891, known to be Latkowsky, the Polish saboteur and wrecker. "Don't torture us with your exquisite manners." It seemed rude to consume a sibling so quickly, however. Zek 4715 and the bug: both were held squirming against their will in the grasp of a larger organism, and would live or die according to the dictates, no, the whimsies, of that organism. So be it. Outside, a wind howled. This was not remarkable, as outside a wind always howled. It was Siberia, after all, where the wind was supposed to howl. It was Gulag No. 432, some twenty miles south of the arctic circle, not far-say 150 kilometers-from the big town of Verbansk, with its cosmopolitan population of thirty-five, and a railhead. "Gentlemen," said 4715, raising the bug, "to you, the living, I dedicate this kindred soul." The living included Latkowsky; Zek 0567, one Rubel, an oppositionist; Zek 9835, Menshov, the famous careerist who had murdered hundreds for Beria only to be sent just as far north as anyone else; Zek 6854, Tulov, the spy for the Zionists; Zek 4511, Barabia, the spy for the French and Americans; Zek 2378, Krakov, the deviationist and wrecker; and...well, on and on, a barracks full of former intelligence officers, diplomats and soldiers who had in one way or another disappointed the regime or, more likely, its boss, and were turned magically into zeks, sentenced to die out here amid howling winds, nourished on beet soup and the odd potato or bug. "Eat it, damn you!" someone called. 4715 did. There had never been any doubt about that. The bug squirmed against his teeth, then went still as it was halved, then quartered, then ground by forces beyond its comprehension. A weird prick of flavor, extremely odd, flew to 4715's brain, reminding him of something. What, possibly? The paella in Spain in '36, full of crackly shrimp and squid and zesty tomato? Or the leek soup at Stalingrad, so delicious after a day's battle in the snowy wreckage? Or possibly the veal sausage and sauerkraut he'd had in a German city, ruined though it was, in '45, before his final arrest. The bug vanished, leaving an aftertaste on his tongue to be savored for hours. Applause rose, for the diversion of 4715 and the cockroach had been more entertainment than the barracks had seen since Zek 2098 died spitting blood and cursing the boss several months or possibly years ago. "Thank you, my friends," 4715 said, and it was true: these were his friends, with their hollow faces and shaven scalps, cheek-bones like bedknobs, eyes black and deep and exquisite with suffering. Tomorrow, the road, the eternal road on which they labored in the cold, a road that would kill them. It was being built against the possibility that the Boss would someday want to drive to the North Pole. Although the Boss had died recently, and would never drive to the North Pole, that hadn't seemed to affect the roadbuilders of Gulag No. 432, not even a little bit. Onward, to the North Pole, in salute to triumphant socialism! So resigned were they, in fact, that when Senior Sergeant Koblisky entered the barracks with a loud thump and a bump, escorted by three men with rifles, it was an astonishment to all. The guards pretty much left the zeks alone on the one Sunday afternoon of the month they were not required to build the road to the North Pole, in case the Boss should come back from the dead and demand to be driven there. The guards didn't want to be at 432 any more than the zeks did. Only one person wanted all these humans to be out here at 432 and he was dead now and it still didn't matter. "Easy now, move back, you bastards, or I'll have the corporal run a bayonet through you." That was Senior Sergeant Koblisky in a good mood. It was so unfortunate that the Senior Sergeant, once a tank ace with Marshal Konshavsky's Fifth Shock Army at Kursk, had uttered a sentence of compassion for the poor German bastards he'd just machine-gunned as they surrendered (under NKVD orders of the day). That was enough to transfer him to 432 after war's end, a chestful of medals and twenty-eight Nazi Panzers destroyed or not. "Let's see, where is he? I know you're here, damn you. You didn't die yet. I saw you yesterday, I saw you this morning, I-oh, there you are. 4715, get your ratty little ass over here." "What?" 4715 said. "Why, I-" "Goddammit, get over here. It's cold out, I want this over with so I can get back to my bottle. Wrap yourself up and let's go." 4715 blinked, stunned. In fact this event was unprecedented in living memory. Men came, men died, men cried, men were buried, but men were never summoned. There was no point. It was almost incomprehensible. "Yes, Senior Sergeant, I-" "Here, wear this, dammit, it'll save time." He tossed the spindly 4715 a guard's wool coat, something that weighed so much it almost crushed the poor man, who was used to rags stuffed with newspapers as a barrier against the cold. 4715 found the strength to wrap it about himself, wished he had shoes of leather instead of wood, and, escorted by his protectors, stepped out. Cold of course. The eternal wind, the eternal pelting of pieces of grit and ice and sand and vegetation; a gloom that was endless, a landscape that, beyond the wire, was itself an eternal flatness of snow and scrub vegetation giving way in a distance too far to be measured to leaden, lowering skies. It was spring in Siberia. The party trudged against the blistering wind across the compound to its one well-constructed building, a headquarters house, of stout timber, with actual smoke escaping a chimney to signify the presence of fire and warmth within. Immediately the clever 4715 spied the anomaly. Camp 432's motley of vehicles, consisting mainly of old trucks that had somehow survived the war, were drawn up in formation outside the headquarters building. These were the ancient contrivances that hauled the prisoners' food out to them, and brought back the bodies, as the road headed farther and farther toward the Pole, a foot or so a day. Success was expected in 2056. But parked immediately before the building was something astonishing: a black, gleaming Zil limousine, well-waxed and showing only mud spatters on the fenders and a thin adhesive of dust after the drive from the railhead. But 4715 hadn't time to conjecture on the meaning of this strangeness; he was inside and felt absolute, pure, quite beautiful warmth for the first time in many a month, or year, whatever. "This way. You must be clean, of course. Important men can't be offended by your stink and filth. Really, it's sad how you've let yourself go." "True, I missed the morning bath. I decided on a second glass of tea instead, and a strawberry blintz with cream," said 4715. "See, men, how 4715 has kept his wit? Not like some I know. All right, 4715, there it is. Have fun and be quick." 4715 stood before a shower stall in the guards' quarters. He stripped quickly, stepped inside and turned on the blast of hot water. It scalded blissfully, grinding off years of filth. He shivered in pleasure, found a rough bar of soap and lathered. Possibly they were readying him for his own hanging; it didn't matter. This was worth dying for. "Speshnev, Speshnev, Speshnev," came a voice familiar to 4715 from a thousand or so years ago. 4715 blinked hard in the newness of it all; yes, his name. His name spoken publicly, loudly, affectionately, when to utter it had been forbidden for so long. It was a weirdness so profound he had no idea how to comprehend it, but that drama was dwarfed by the next, when he encountered the speaker himself, large and blustery, but with shrewd eyes and glossy hair that only partially softened the brutality of his features. It was his mentor, his teacher, his sponsor, his betrayer, his interrogator, his most reluctant torturer, his sentencer, the famous wizard of the service, one P. Pushkin, once a university professor and chess champion, then a secret soldier in the wars of Red conquest. P. Pushkin was the warrior incarnate, a kind of natural cossack who saw all opponents as manifestations of pure evil, fit only for obliteration. Though brilliant and even charming, his flaw and his genius was that he was without moderation in all things. He wore the dress uniform of a senior general of NKVD, and a chestful of ribbons that dwarfed even Senior Sergeant Koblisky's. "How are you, my good man?" Pushkin inquired warmly, giving the spindly prisoner a bearish hug, as if Speshnev had just returned from a week in the country. "Well, I am fine," said the man named Speshnev. "I just ate a delicious cockroach. I won it at cards from a Polish saboteur named 6732." "I see you've lost none of your edge. That's Speshnev, always at the top of his game, no matter the circumstance. Come, sit down, have some tea. A cigarette? No, cigarettes are probably meaningless to you at this stage of your socialist evolution. I'm hearing now they may even be bad for your health, so you were probably lucky to find them unavailable." He smiled, flipped a ciggie from a pack of American Luckies, and made a show of putting the pack away. Then he smiled, the cigarette wobbling in the tightening of his lips in that broad smile, and handed the package to Speshnev, who quite naturally adored cigarettes even if he hadn't had one in years. Speshnev internally cursed himself for his weakness of character, but he could no more turn down a cigarette than the shower, or the fresh clothes and the actual leather shoes he now wore. The lighter flared. It came to the cigarette Speshnev had inserted in his own lips; he drew the fire to himself, through the vessel of the tobacco, and his lungs flooded with the pure drug of pleasure. His head buzzed, his senses blurred, and for a second, he was happy. Was this some plot? Make him see the things he had disciplined himself to forget. Get him to taste pleasure, comfort, warmth, which had all but ceased to exist except in the zone of the theoretical? Then to plunge him back to the bitter nothingness of the barracks? To return him to zekness? That would be beyond endurance. He would hang himself, there could be no other way. "I know you may have some resentments, Speshnev," said Pushkin. "It can't have been pleasant out here, no indeed. And though no official apology will ever be uttered, I think you will begin to see people who will admit that mistakes were made. A shake-up now and then is good, of course, but the Boss went too far. I told him myself, yes, I did. Boss, I said, I'm all for discipline and commitment and keeping the fellows on their toes, but don't you think you've sent too many away? Well, you know the Boss, he always played his cards close to his chest. He just smiled in that mysterious way and went about his program." This, of course, was apostasy; it would have earned any speaker a trip to the cellars instantly and a committee meeting with a Tokarev bullet behind the ear by dinnertime. But the Boss was dead; new things were in the works. So Speshnev merely enjoyed his fabulous cigarette, feeling its smoke in his lungs, and drank the tea and felt the warmth everywhere. Pushkin leaned forward conspiratorially. It was as if he were afraid men were listening and reports would be made, when in fact, if he so wished, he could order all the men in the camp shot. "I will tell you this, Speshnev," he said in a whisper. "You may even have been luckier to be out here, though it can't have been fun. No, but Moscow in the last years of the Boss's madness was a terrible place. The fear, the paranoia, the betrayal, the burning out of whole bureaucracies, sometime three and four times, the brutal whimsy of the Black Marias as they took this one and left that one. No, it wasn't fun. A fellow hardly knew what to do. Here at least things were clear." Pushkin could not have believed this even for a second: he was a man without illusions, a practical man in all habits of mind. It pleased him, however, to utter the absurd and know that it would be accepted without argument. But Speshnev could not help himself. Merrily he said, "Yes, many a time, General, I woke at four in the morning for the long trudge across the snowy plains to work on that infernal road to the North Pole, telling myself, 'I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth, and thank the stars I have General Pushkin in my corner, looking out for me!' " Pushkin ignored the irony, as was his whimsy of the morning. "Speshnev, it's with great pleasure I have come all this way to announce your rehabilitation! Speshnev, so hard have I fought for justice in your case, so fiercely have I waged a campaign! I never forgot you, Speshnev, when all the others did. It is to me, Pushkin, that you should genuflect in thanks. I, Pushkin, give you your life back!" "Does this mean-unlimited access to cockroaches?" "Absolutely. Now listen. There is a county, Speshnev, that has long been oppressed. Its trajectory is toward chaos, crime, filth, degradation. It is owned lock, stock and barrel by American criminal and business interests, who use it as their whorehouse, shitter, and sugar factory." "Actually, it sounds delightful." "It is. Quite. The senoritas! Muchas bonitas!" "I take it this is a Latin country?" "The island paradise known as Cuba." "Excellent senoritas." "As there were in Spain. Same stock, actually, though with a tinge of negro blood for that extra paprika in bed." "In my mind, I'm there already." "Speshnev, there is a boy. We have him spotted. He is clever, committed, ambitious, unbearably courageous. He could be the leader." "I see." "You will study the documents on the train back to Moscow with me. But you already see where this is going." "I see where I am going." "This boy. He must be seduced, smoothed, trained, aimed, disciplined, taught to expect success. As he is currently situated, well, it's that Latin temperament. Romantic, unrealistic, too quick to act, too slow to think. He needs a mentor, a senior fellow of wisdom and experience. Speshnev, with your magic ways, your charm, your ruthlessness, I think this is a task for you. It was made to order. It is your redemption, your future, your rehabilitation." "So I'm to help the regime that imprisoned me twice. Eagerly, willingly, aggressively?" "Of course. There's only a paradox if you build it yourself. You can have a model contradiction in which we punish you unjustly, almost to the point of death, certainly to the point of misery, then we demand heroic service of you. A lesser man might find a source of resentment somewhere in the equation. It takes a great man to make the contradiction irrelevant on the strength of his will alone. Speshnev, I won't even ask you. Because of course I know the answer." "There's really not an alternative, is there? Not after tea and showers and American tobacco. Who could say no?" "No one, little 4715. No one." Chapter 4 The deer hovered between shadow and light. It was almost not there. The boy blinked, to make certain again that he had it fixed. There was a magical quality to it: the way it seemed to disappear, lose its lines among the blend of darkness and illumination, then to materialize, then again vanish. He felt his heart pound. He was eight. He had worked his father's deer camp for three years now and had seen them many times before, in the trees, or thrashing in fury as they were hit, just a second of rebellion against the steel message of the bullet, shot above the shoulder, or gutted skinless and hanging to bleed out from a rack. Nothing about it frightened him, except that he himself had not killed a deer yet. But he was ready. He had hunted squirrel with a Remington single-shot.22 until he hit what he aimed at every time. He had learned stillness. He had learned to sink to nothingness, until only the animal in him breathed, but only barely, yet at the same time he saw and heard so clearly. Now, cradled in his arms was a 94 Winchester, the.30-30, which he had just grown strong enough to shoot. He was eager, he was ready, the hunter's bloodsong pounded in his ears. "Let him come out into the light, Bob Lee," his father said. His father's presence loomed behind him, calm and imperturbable. That was his father. Whatever he was, no one could take that from him ever: he was a man among men. Bob Lee had begun to pick up the signs, the subtle ways others deferred to him, the coming of silence when he walked into a room. It wasn't just that his father was a state policeman or something they called a hero in the war. There was another thing. Something, well, hard to know what to call it. Just something else. Now the animal moved fully into the light. It turned. It seemed to look right at Bob Lee, with dark eyes as calm and intense as anything he'd ever seen. He looked right into Bob Lee's eyes. Or that's the way it seemed. They were like that: watchful for a bit, concentrated, and then forgetful. The entire animal tensed, its ears pricked, its nose sampled the air. It was about seventy-five yards away. "Are you ready?" "Yes, sir." Soon the animal forgot that something hunting it could be out there. The thought vanished and, without a care, the deer returned to its eating, picking at the tender shoots in the shadow of a pine tree at the edge of the cornfield. "All right, Bob Lee," his father whispered. "Easy up, hold that breath, see that front sight, head down and steady, tip of the finger against the trigger and then the squeeze. The gun will fire when it wants to fire." "Make your daddy proud," came the voice of Sam Vincent, his daddy's best and possibly only friend. Bob Lee took a breath. He was nestled against the trunk of an elm. It supported him and absorbed his trembling. He drew the rifle to his shoulder, let it point naturally to the animal, and the sight, steady as a brick, went to the beast's tawny shoulder where the bullet would strike and take its life. He knew the rifle. It was cocked, but he'd thumb-lowered the hammer for safety. Now his thumb flew back to that hammer, and notched it back where with an almost inaudible click it seated itself. His thumb returned to the rifle's grip, locked on, steadily, and his trigger finger went to that instrument, and began ever so gently to press against it. Steady now, just easy pressure, without disturbing the stillness of the sight, not a problem, something he had done in the fields and in his dreams for years. But-- Maybe it was the sun, the way it lit the deer's white withers. Maybe it was the spring smell of flowers alight in blossom. Maybe it was the buzz of some kind of insect life, or the chirping of some dim bird or other. He could not say. It wasn't that he could not kill. The boy had killed before, understood that it was somehow man's work, necessary, and it was what a fellow did, without complaint or doubt. But today, in the sunlight, in the warmth? "Daddy?" "Yes, Bob Lee." "I don't know. I just-I don't know." "It is your call. You are the hunter. You may take the shot, and we will eat good tonight. But I cannot make the decision for you, Bob Lee. It's a serious thing to take the life of something so beautiful. So you must decide." The boy decided. "Maybe not this time. Maybe in the fall again, when it's cold. It's spring now. It's all green, everywhere. Maybe not when it's green." "If that's what you've decided." "It is." "Then that's what it shall be. We'll let Mr. Deer have his summer and his fun. Then we'll come back for him in the fall." "You know what?" Sam whispered to him, on the long trudge back, "I think you did make your daddy proud. You felt it, you did what was right. You didn't do what someone said, and your daddy respects that." "Yes, sir," said Bob Lee. His father was a bit ahead of them, broad across the shoulders, bristly across the head where his hair had gone iron gray with age and been forced back with a stout brush. He still carried the marine discipline with him. The father was a man with scars. His son had seen them: streaks, where something long and sinewy had bit him, puckered clusters from bullet holes, more ragged ridges of dead tissue where the Japanese shrapnel had torn through him. His fists, too, were a latticework of dead white. A bitter mark or two also flecked his jawline. He was a man who'd seen a lot of what the world can do to flesh. "Come on, you two," he turned now and called. "If we don't get back by supper, Junie's going to be plenty teed off." They reached his brand-new used pickup, with the gray fender and the cracked rear glass, but still an upstanding vehicle, if cheap after much bargaining. "Daddy, what we gon' tell Mr. Nelson?" "The truth, Bob Lee. That's all. He can handle it." "Best way," confirmed Sam. Mr. Nelson, who farmed a spread seven miles the other side of Blue Eye, had a deer problem. The young bucks had grown brazen as they nibbled his corn. He was a man of law, and so didn't shoot, as so many might have, out of season. But he'd applied for a special dispensation from the state game agency, had gotten it, and asked Earl, the best shot in the county, to handle his problem in exchange for the meat to be harvested. It was a generous offer. Earl, who was not rich, could use the free meat. But that was before Bob Lee had decided not to shoot. Another father might have ordered the son to shoot, or shot himself. But Earl wanted his son making up his own mind about things, and tried never to order him toward conclusions. He alone in Polk County would not permit his son to call him sir, as all the other boys did to their dads on pain of a mighty licking. Earl in fact could not bring himself to strike the boy, even when he was bad. Why was a mystery that he never communicated to anybody; it's just the way he was, and when Earl Swagger was set in certain ways, then those were the ways they would remain. "I'll call him and explain," Sam said. "No, I will," said Earl. "Actually, I know a fine hunter named Hitchens, a colored fellow, who could come out and take the deer, and that meat'd do him and his'n right fine in the months to come." "If I know Ed Nelson, he'll not want colored shooting on his property." "I'll make him understand." The drive was not long, though they stopped and bought the boy an RC Cola. But when they got home to Earl's place off Route 7 this side of Board Camp, and saw the house that had been his own daddy's set a mile off the road, on a bit of a hill, painted freshly white and nice looking in the now failing light, they were amazed at what they beheld, as it was so completely unexpected: three state police cruisers and a Cadillac Fleetwood limousine, black and big and gleaming in the sun from somebody's fresh labor that very morning. "Oh, Lord," said Earl. "I do wonder what's up." "Can't be much," said Sam. "We drove on through Blue Eye, and there was no sign of a commotion." They approached. "I'll be damned," said Earl. "Lookie that." What he gestured toward was the white-and-black license plate on the Caddy, not green and tan like Arkansas's; this one bore a low number with no letters and the identifying inscription UNITED STATES CONGRESS. They pulled in, climbed from the pickup, and went quickly to the steps. Through the windows, Earl could see Junie inside, slightly nonplussed, and Colonel Jenks, who was his commanding officer, two or three other state police sergeants known to him as the sort that hung close to headquarters in Little Rock and thereby prospered, and two men in black suits. "Good lord, Earl," said Sam, "what does this mean?" "Daddy, what is-" "You just no never-mind, Bob Lee. It ain't a thing to worry about." He picked up his son, for the boy's fear upset him, and meant to give him a hug of reassurance, because he himself had never been hugged as a child. But immediately they were discovered on the porch, and en masse, the visiting party rose, abandoning poor Junie, and headed eagerly to him. Earl knew in a second this was no lynching party. "Well, Earl, by god, there you are," said Colonel Jenks in a way far heartier than his normal dour style. "Why, Junie said you and the boy and Lawyer Vincent had gone hunting south of Blue Eye." "We came back early." "No luck? I don't see no animal on the fender." "The best luck. It worked out fine." He put his son down. "You run off, Bob Lee. Seems these boys come to talk to Daddy. Junie, can you get the boy some lemonade?" "You come, Bob Lee," sang Junie, taking the boy in her sheltering presence. Earl turned to face whatever this would be. They stood, all of them, on the porch, in the pale twilight. "Now what is going on here, sir? You don't come to call with a Cadillac every day." "Earl, may I introduce Phil Mackey of Governor Becker's office and Lane Brodgins, on the staff of Congressman Harry Etheridge himself." The two men stepped forward behind large smiles and pushed hands at him; Earl shook each numbly. He looked behind them to see that Junie had been pressed to prepare for whatever this would be: A suitcase, the nice one he'd bought for her when she went on a trip to Cape Girardeau for her mother's funeral last year, lay on a table. In it he saw neatly folded clothes: shirts, socks, slacks-his own. He also saw his new Super.38 Colt, wrapped in a cotton cloth, nested in his undercover shoulder holster. It was the right gun to pack, whatever was coming up. Junie knew. "Earl-may I call you Earl, Earl?" said the governor's man. "Earl, you know how highly Fred Becker thinks of you. We all know you may have put him in the governor's mansion." "That was some years ago," said Earl. "Yes, sir, it was. Now-well, you tell him, Lane." This Brodgins, the Washington version of the slickster of which Mackey was only a rural prototype, stepped forward now, and put a well-manicured hand on Earl's shoulder. "Earl, you know how Congressman Etheridge-hell, Harry-how highly Harry thinks of you, too. You're one of three Arkansas Medal of Honor winners. Harry thinks of you as his boys." Earl just nodded. He knew enough of Boss Harry to go on edge, for he didn't trust the man: a speechifying, deal-making politician who rose to power through old Ray Bama's organization in Fort Smith. But Boss Harry-who came originally from Polk, moved up to Fort Smith, and made his way from gofer to secretary of the Democratic party to city legislator to mayor to congressman-had far exceeded his mentor. He was a man who, getting to Washington in record time, and quite young, had mastered its lessons, solved its system, and learned how to get himself into key positions. He'd been there so long he was a power, now especially, as chairman of some big moneybags committee. "The governor always says, 'That Earl, he's the most capable man in Arkansas,'" said Phil. "Earl," said Sam, "I'd keep my hand on my wallet. These boys are reaching for something." "Now, Mr. Sam," said Phil, "you may be Polk County's prosecuting attorney, but you are still Earl's best friend, so you advise him to listen to us, because we come with some damned good news." "Let's hear it," said Earl. "Earl," said Phil, "you've seen gangsters. You've seen how they take over, how they make things their own, how they kill what gets in their way. You know that truth well," said Phil. "The point is," Lane said, "as Senator Kefauver has exposed, crime ain't just home-grown no more. It's national. You saw the hearings, Earl. They're everywhere." "It was on the television, Earl." Earl didn't watch television much. "I see where this one is going," said Sam. "Harry's seen how much ink old Estes is getting and wants a big bite of gangster pie, too. They're saying Estes might run against General Ike in '56, that's how famous he is. Well, not if Harry has his way." "Mr. Vincent, Harry's commitment is to the people of his district, and his state. He's not anxious to give up representing Arkansas. But-" "Here it comes, Earl. You watch yourself." " But," continued Lane, "Harry ain't content to sit back and let the gangsters do what they want. Now it happens they're at their boldest on a little island just off of Florida called Cuba." "Woooieee," said Sam. "Earl, Cuba's so hot it makes Hot Springs seem like a Baptist church picnic." "We can't hold hearings in Cuba," said Lane. "It's not our country, though we cooperate closely with its government. But there is a large naval base called Guantanamo. Marines are there, too. Now there are allegations that the gangsters from New York might be muscling in on the contracts for all the service to Guantanamo: you know, garbage, laundry, that sort of thing. We can't have gangsters living off our servicemen, can we, Earl? So the congressman proposes an investigation." "Where do I fit in?" Earl asked. "Well, sir, the congressman needs a bodyguard. It's a dangerous town, Havana. He needs someone who can talk to the military, whom the military respects. He needs someone who's been out and about in the world, someone who's been the world over, say, in the Marine Corps. He needs someone who's been up against gangsters, beaten them down, knows how they operate. Any of these seem like anybody you know, Earl?" "What does Colonel Jenks say?" asked Earl. "Well, Earl," said Colonel Jenks, "the governor wants us to cooperate with the congressman, and so it seems we could easily enough detach you on special assignment to the congressional party that's headed to Cuba. You'd go down there with the congressman, help him in any way you can, report to Mr. Brodgins here, and of course the state of Arkansas will continue your pay, and you'd be back in a few weeks. It's a great opportunity, Earl. You could do well for yourself." "You've noticed, Earl, how them who help the congressman get helped themselves? It can happen to you, Earl." "Sounds to me," said Sam, winking at Junie, "like this deal's been signed, sealed and delivered for a month. These here fellows are just bringing the word." Chapter 5 "That's him?" Roger asked. "Yep," Walter Short replied. "Hmmmm. Somehow, from your descriptions, I was expecting Superman." "Don't get him mad. Then you'll see Superman." The two of them were huddled like junior G-men behind a sofa on the balcony above the foyer in the ambassador's residence in the American embassy complex in the posh precinct just west of Centro Havana called Vedado. It was an old sugar millionaire's place converted from opulence to mere luxury, and down below candles glinted, potted palms waved and a warm sea breeze cascaded in through the open marble atrium. A three-piece combo beat out one of Desi Arnaz's softer rhythms. The reception for the Honorable Congressman Harrison J. Etheridge and staff was well lubricated by ample rum from the folks at Bacardi, which bought so much of the sugar Domino milled from the Cuban cane. But all that labor against the good earth was far from view. Men in dinner jackets swirled about; women, brown and quivery, laughed gaily. Congressman Etheridge could even be glimpsed-that is, when he slowed down: a heavyset man with great, carefully tended mounds of white hair. But his dinner jacket was bespoke, from a fine Savile Row firm, and he cut a surprisingly dapper figure for a man whose Arkansas accent, amplified theatrically, seemed to come from a radio humor hour hosted by Lum and Abner. That mighty, booming voice cut through the air above the laughter and the music. But neither Roger nor Walter watched the congressman. The congressman wasn't nearly as interesting as he thought he was. They watched instead the congressman's bodyguard, the large, dour, flattopped man in the khaki summer suit standing near a pillar, almost at parade rest, his piercing eyes glancing around the large room. "He doesn't look capable of making the Big Noise we need. He's so banal," said Roger. "He won the Medal of Honor." "Not banal, admittedly. But he could be any cop. He looks so cop. The brush haircut, the size, the wariness, the solitude." "He was a marine sergeant." "Well, yes, a sergeant. I do see that. Not the college polish of your typical officer. Walter, really, this isn't a mistake, is it? A state cop with a good war record? We've bet a lot on this fellow, and engineered our butts off to get him down here." "Take it from me, he's not just a cop. Put a gun in his hand and he's something you would not believe. Ask the Japs at Iwo, they found out the hard way. Ask the thugs of Hot Springs, if you can find any above the ground. He made plenty of Big Noise in those places." "Well, I hope you're right. Let's go start the dance." But Roger immediately sensed something from his younger assistant: reluctance, possibly fear. At least awkwardness. It was odd coming from a perfect no. 2 like Walter Short. "Well? You're the one who knows him. It's your job to smooth this thing out, facilitate, make it happen." "Yes, but..." "But what?" "Well, we parted under ambiguous circumstances." "Now is a fine time to tell me." "I did tell you, Roger. Possibly you weren't listening." "Oh Christ, of course it's my fault. So you were sacked?" "Sort of. A long story. Not worth retelling. Then, a few days later, that outfit had a catastrophe and some men were killed. I had nothing to do with it, of course, but you don't know how some people may see things." "So suddenly you're frightened? Excellent timing. My compliments." "I just feel a little off tonight. If I'm there, you won't get a sense of who he is and how to handle him. My presence will throw the dynamic off. I'll make myself known sometime later." "God. You sound like a schoolboy with a crush afraid to ask the girl out." "It's complicated. Don't stare at him." "We're way up here-" But down below, it was as if Earl Swagger sensed that he was being examined, and from what angle. He immediately flicked his eyes up to them, and they were barely fast enough to recede into shadow before he locked on them. "See? He has incredible reflexes. He feels things. It's the predator's sense of danger. It's his natural aggression. You stare at him, he feels it. It's what kept him alive in the Pacific." "You are so ridiculous," Roger said. "All right, Walter, hide up here from your love object. You be Cyrano, I'll be Christian." "Go, Big Winnetka," said Walter. "Good lord, Sergeant Swagger, you don't have to stand at attention," said Roger heartily, turning on his best and most blazing Indian Hill Country Club charm. It had served him well there and at Harvard, in the army even, and most certainly in the Agency. He had no doubt that it would help him here, too. "Sir?" said Swagger, turning his direct gaze upon the younger, thinner, far more glamorous man. Roger saw less a face than some kind of Spartan shield with eyes: bronze, bone and leather, baked in the sun until brown, dented, battered, hooding gray eyes almost serene. Roger hurried onward. "I mean, the place is guarded by U.S. Marines. And it's Cuba, for God's sake, the forty-ninth state. It's practically Miami." "Sir, I'm just trying to pay attention," said the state policeman. "Let me introduce myself. I'm Roge Evans, I do a little something in the codes department upstairs." "Yes, sir. I guess you'd be the spy." Roger laughed. "Say, I wish it was that exciting. No, I just make sure the private messages to Washington stay private. I button things up for later unbuttoning. That's all. It's easy work, and it leaves me a lot of time to work on my tennis. You don't play?" "No, sir." "Please. A man with your combat record should not be calling a man with mine sir. It should be the other way around." "Sure, but don't you know a lot about me." "Sergeant, you can't keep a secret in an embassy, let me warn you of that right now. So everyone knows about the medal on Iwo Jima, the five battle stars. Why, I only have one-" "All that was a long time ago. I hardly ever think of it." Great! Roger had played what he assumed would be his best shot, the brotherhood-of-arms angle, and this Arkansas guy hadn't even noticed. But Roger wouldn't let it go without a struggle. "Well, I think of it all the damned time," he responded. "Nothing that big ever happened to me before or since. I'm no hero, Sergeant, not like you, but I tried to do the right thing. I even got shot at a little, over in Europe. I was a sergeant, too. Look, if you feel you must stand here, let me get you a drink or something. You look so damned rigid." "I don't drink no more. I'm fine. I'm not a man for parties, that's all. I just stand around like a dumb ox and maybe sneak a peek at a gal now and then. The congressman seems to be enjoying himself." Damn! Roger was disappointed that the man hadn't picked up on his warservice gambit. "Yes, well, if certain people are to be believed, he has a history of enjoying himself. Anyhow, you'll be happy to know that this is just the warm-up. The ambassador likes these intimate gatherings to show the staff and his millionaire pals how important he is. But next Monday, he's got the whole island coming in for a more formal thing. Oh, it'll be something. Movie stars, some athletes, Hemingway, newspaper joes, probably some actors, lots of corporation big boys, and the best kind of beautiful women: those of dubious morality. Some mobsters, some gamblers. They call themselves 'sportsmen.' If you don't like this, you'll hate that." "Thanks for the warning." "You sure I can't get you anything?" "I'm just fine." There was no contact at all. Earl Swagger wasn't particularly interested in Roger St. John Evans, and Roger felt his coldness totally, despite the net of charm the young man had flung out. It secretly enflamed him. He was, after all, the celebrity of the station: handsome, debonair, a superb athlete, a war hero, the one everybody picked as the best boy, the fellow who'd go far. But Earl just stood, in his centurion's stillness, his face wary but untroubled, his eyes steadily on the move, flicking this way and that, but nowhere near anxiety. He just watched. He was completely ill-dressed for the dinner-jacketed formality of the evening, and if he'd noticed it-unlikely-it clearly didn't bother him a bit. His khaki suit was rack-bought, new, rather baggy and shiny at once, and too tight through the shoulders. Roger had to fight the temptation to give the man his tailor's name. But then Roger noticed something, a lump under the coat, left side, under the arm where it oughtn't to be. "You're armed?" "Yes, sir. Today and every day." Roger sort of slid around and, looking across the chest, he could see the grip of a pistol protruding just half an inch from the shoulder holster that contained it. He brightened, because he recognized it. "Oh," he said, "your old.45? I carried one, too." "Close enough," Earl said. "Yeah, it's a Government Model, but not a.45. It's what's called a Super.38." Roger knew just a little about guns. "Super? It must kick?" "Much less than a.45. The point is, it holds two more rounds. Nine. It shoots a little small bullet, about half the weight of a.45, but much faster. It'll go through most anything. I figured down here if I'm shooting-and I hope to hell I'm not-I'm shooting through or at a car. Sometimes a.45 won't even get through a car door." Roger suddenly lit up. He had it! " Say," he said, "I know! You're a shooter, a hunter. Would you like to shoot pigeons while you're down here? You know what, I'd like to put you together with Hemingway. He's a great shotgunner. Damn, that would really be something. You're a hero, he's a hero, he'd love you. I'll bet you're a great shotgunner." "I've shot ducks. In Arkansas, we flood the rice fields in the fall, and the mallards come in. Many a fine morning I've spent there with a good friend. I hope to take my boy duck hunting soon." "Hemingway," said Roger, from his reverie. "Let me work on that! A little shooting party. You, Hem, possibly the ambassador, down at Finca Vigia. We'll hunt, then roast the ducks, drink wine, or rum punch or vodka. I've known him since the war. You'll love Hemingway. He's a man's man. Wait till you see his place, his trophies. He has a buff you simply would not believe. Oh, say, won't this be something?" "Uh," said Earl, "who's this...Hemingway?" Before Roger could register incredulity at the fact the state policeman had never heard of America's most famous writer, a new presence swirled in on them. It was Lane Brodgins, a little drunk, clearly on a mission from Harry. "Evans, Sergeant Earl, howdy. Great party, Evans. You boys know how to throw a hoedown and damn if Harry doesn't appreciate it." "Ah, yes," said Roger. "Well, as I was telling Sergeant Swagger, this is just the warm-up. Next Monday, the stars come out." "Say, that's a great idea! Harry will like that one, he will. Earl, you should relax. You're off duty now." "I'm fine." "I have a feeling Sergeant Swagger will only relax in his grave, if there," said Roger. Swagger, for the first time, let a crease of a smile play across his face. Roger had been flattering him hard, not easy work but he was good at it, and finally the effort was beginning to tell. "Tell you what," he said, "maybe I'll have a Coca-Cola." "That's the spirit, old man!" said Roger. He snapped his fingers, a waiter appeared. "El Coca-Cola, por favor," he said, sending the man off on his mission. "I was just telling Sergeant Swagger I thought I could put an afternoon of pigeon shooting together. He's a great sporting shot, I hear. It happens I know Hemingway a bit and we could all go down to Finca Vigia and shoot pigeons. Hem's a shotgun man." "Who's Hemingway?" asked Lane Brodgins. Then he turned to Earl. "Sergeant Earl, you'd better finish that Coke and then head back to quarters for your beauty sleep. The congressman has decided he has to see the Cuban criminality firsthand, for himself. So that means tomorrow we've arranged for a tour of certain areas. Who knows what we'll run into." "Good God, where are you going?" asked Roger. "Zanja Street," said Brodgins. "You know, in Centro, where the whores and the Shanghai theater and the-" "Zanja," said Roger, with a shudder that indicated how tasteless he considered the mention. "Sergeant, you'd better bring two Super.38s." Chapter 6 The Soviet Trade Legation was located on the upper floor of the new Missiones Building, nos. 25 and 27, in a section of Centro Havana formerly known as Las Murallas-the Walls. At one time the old city's walls had been the dominant feature, but they were now being dwarfed in the building boom as American-financed and -designed skyscrapers were taking off like rocketships all over the landscape, as Havana transfigured into Miami. The Missiones Building, however, had been designed by a Frenchman, and so it lacked the bold, soaring modernism of the New Havana of Batista's second regime; it looked, in fact, like something out of Barcelona or Madrid in the twenties, rather than something out of Las Vegas in the fifties. And so it was that Speshnev, in espadrilles and loose-fitting peasant's trousers and shirt, found himself sitting across from a rather intense young man in a suit, with hair brilliantined back glossily, who looked more like an American investment banker than a Soviet spymaster. Young Arkady Pashin was brilliant, feared, despised, connected, vigorous, tireless, ruthless, ambitious and oh such a pain in the ass. "Speshnev, you were supposed to be here at 10 A.M. It is 10:05 A.M. This is not acceptable, it is not permissible, it is not desirable. We must maintain tight discipline here. We are outmanned, under-budgeted and without adequate resources. Only discipline and dedication will see us through here, through these difficult times. Do you see?" "Pashin, they told me you would be a monster. But, young man, I had no idea that you would also be such a little prick." He smiled warmly. "Look, old goat," said bloodless Pashin through thin lips, "this was not my idea. I have a number of very promising projects going on here. This came from some doddering genius at Moscow Control who knows nothing of the complexities of the situation. I don't need a hoary old myth who's disobedient and insubordinate, eating up my time and budget for nothing." "It was a nice day in the spring sunshine. An old man wandered a bit on the way over, to smell some flowers, to smell the warm sea. The Boss would have sent me back to the gulag for such treason, but at least for now, Pashin, you lack the power. You have to play along. It has been ordered. So any shit you give me is unsanctioned, pure sport on your part." "And they said you'd be a proud one. Still the Comintern movie star. The vanity, the narcissism, the love of self. That is why you'll never be a true Soviet man. You can't let the love affair you have with your mirror go; you're too used to being special." "I am a humble servant of the people. Just make certain you get the name right. It's Zek 4715." "All right, all right. This is getting us nowhere. You have a job to do, that is why you are here. I'm assuming you're already on it." "I don't report to you, Pashin." "No, but my reports will help you or hurt you. Wouldn't it be nice if mine helped you and yours helped me." "Both our reports should help the revolution, that's all. But to get through the business, yes, I've nosed around. I've seen our young prince. Did you know he has a nickname? I assume he was initially your discovery? So you have a lot riding on this and are probably annoyed I was brought in to handle him, because you were not considered experienced enough. Well, his nickname speaks of his power, his promise, his grand possibilities and your excellent nose for such matters. Do you know what it is?" "I am not interested in-" "It's 'Greaseball.' Evidently, he's so anxious to hurtle into the socialist future, he periodically forgets to bathe. Ugh. Did you smell him before you saw him? I can't stand a dirty fellow when there's no excuse for it. I have quite recently gone nine years without a bath. Not pleasant. I will bathe every day of what little life I have left." "Forget his odor. Concentrate on his potential. Have you heard him speak? It's magnificent." "I have heard accounts. He likes long ones, or so I hear. And I hear also he likes the spotlight." "He is ruthless; he has already killed in the gangsterismo politics of the forties; he is dedicated; he believes, if in nothing else, in change. He has that thing you have, Speshnev, that most of us lack. The magnetism." "It's called charisma. Yes, I have it. Yes, you don't. Yes, he does. Yes, I suppose he has some potential. If only he learns to trim his fingernails." "This may not be as easy as you think. There has been a development." "And that is?" "Batista's secret police aren't a threat, at least as long as Castro is benign and an orator, not a fighter. The time for fighting is still some years off, and it is your job not merely to recruit him and train him and prepare him, but possibly also to protect him." "From what? His wife's wrath at his mistress? Or his mistress's wrath at his wife?" "No," Pashin said, sliding a photograph across the desk toward Speshnev, "this man's commitment to his duty." The photo had been snapped at the Havana airport. It was of a group of men leaving the Air Cubana Constellation's stairway and heading to the terminal. One was flashy in his white hair and two or three others clearly bowed to him in body posture, factotums or assistants or eunuchs or whatever. "This one?" Speshnev asked, pointing to the member of the group who was also not a member of the group. "That one." It was a large square-headed American, with a jutting jaw and a crewcut. "A soldier?" "According to embassy gossip, a killer. He killed in the war, many, many times." "Oh, yes, there's a word for that. I think it's 'hero.' Why is he here?" "Ostensibly as the bodyguard of that showy one there. That's a famous politician in their country. But this man for some reason was recruited to accompany the politician to Cuba. Our Washington people have noted it and alerted me. They find it curious." "And..." "And we don't know why. Maybe just because. Or maybe it's that if you had to kill someone, this is the man you'd want to do the killing. He's not like the rest of them. Give him a job, he does it." "Hmmm. That doesn't sound like them." "No, but maybe they're thinking of changing their ways. They want to get the attention of certain people in certain countries and this would be a very good way to do it, wouldn't you say?" "Possibly." "So I think you should look about carefully. See what this fellow is up to. And..." "And?" "And if he's here to cut short the career of the prince of all our dreams, Zek 4715, then it's simple. You must be the faster, the better man. You must kill him." Chapter 7 The old men were not pleased. They made him hide in a warehouse on the East Side, among rats and spiders, where it was cold. No one brought him coffee, no one commiserated with him, no one asked him how he was doing. He felt their displeasure, but he could not truly gauge its fullness because he saw no newspapers for three days, saw no television, heard no radio. It was just him in the darkness of the warehouse, and every ten hours or so some greasy food was brought: cold hamburgers wrapped in wax paper from a diner, warm soda in a Dixie cup, a dried-out Danish. For a shitter he had a bucket; for wad he had old newspaper left around; for a mattress he had nothing except a wall to doze against, his butt on the hard cement floor. Then he was summoned. He traveled by garbage truck from his warehouse, across the boroughs of the city, at last to Brooklyn and there, at night, shadowy figures smelling of cologne took him in through an alley. He found himself in a social club from Garibaldi's day, where the old men sat at single tables, drank bitter coffee from tiny cups, and smoked gigantic cigars. Most wore glasses, all looked creaky and wrinkly, but he understood that he was among the powerful and the legendary. "Frankie, Frankie, Frankie," said one. "A cop, maybe. Two cops, at the limits. But...you clipped a horsie?" "It's the fuggin' horse, Frankie, you understand?" said another. "Our people have never whacked a horse. It don't look good." "On the television, Frankie, the horses with the cowboys. Little kids love the horses. Now one of our people machine-guns a horse in Times Square in broad daylight." "I didn't have no choice," said Frankie. "If you want to know, wasn't Lenny supposed to handle lookout? He's responsible. I can't do everything. I'm coming out of the place and there's no Lenny and just the cop galloping my way on a horse. Lone Ranger or whatever, he's about to pound me into the sidewalk. I just did what I have to. Fuggin' cop, what's he doin' there anyhow?" "Frankie, he works there. It's his job, goddammit. They can't eat donuts all day long. Frankie, some, some even in this little room, they'd like to see Frankie the horsekiller floating in the river with a stevedore's hook through his throat, so as to say to the newspapers and the people, see, we don't kill horses. We only kill our own kind. Frankie, is that what you'd like to see?" "No, it ain't." "Frankie, what we gonna do with you? You want to go for a swim inna river with a hook?" "No, sir." "Miami don't want you, Tampa don't want you, Cleveland, Boston, they don't want you. You are hot as Catholic hell. We can't send you to Vegas 'cause they'd snitch you out to butter up Washington. They'd find a way to let certain people know you were available, and next thing you know, you're sitting in front of a television camera and you're talking 'bout us and you're famous." "I wouldn't never do that." "We can't let that happen. Frankie, my friend, you are now a pawn in a game you couldn't possibly understand." "I could go back to Italy." "Italy! I wouldn't wish you on Italy. In Italy, they expect results, not chaos, scandal, shame and newspapers." "They like horses in the old country, Frankie. "Frankie Horsekiller, I can only think of one town where you can go and not be noticed. A man of importance has agreed to take you in, as a special favor and because we have arrangements with him over long time. You must be good and obey him and work hard for him before you can ever begin to think of coming back to your home." "Yes, sir." "Frankie, the Jew Meyer, that's Mr. L to you, he will take you in. He may have some enforcement problems and you might fit in to his plans. Frankie, don't embarrass us again, do you understand?" "Yes, sir," said Frankie. "And, Frankie," said one, "say hello to Desi for me." Chapter 8 The boss and his man Lane stayed in the embassy itself, in VIP quarters; Earl had been dumped at an old joint called the Plaza, facing a beauty of a park square, right at the border of Old Havana. It didn't make much sense for the bodyguard to be that far apart from the body he was supposed to guard, but it was clear that Lane didn't want Earl getting too close to the action. So he took a cab in on that first morning and found the whole shebang starting with a briefing, put on by one of the ambassador's brightest boys, which laid out the realities of organized crime in Cuba for the Right Honorable United States Congressman Harry J. Etheridge (2nd, Democrat, Ark.), chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee, winner of the American Legion of Merit, awardee of the Hearst empire's "Proud to Be an American" contest, 1951. It was a familiar story. With the big American gambling spas like Saratoga and Hot Springs and, worst of all, Coral Gables, being closed down by reformers, the boys, the fellas, the mob, whatever you wanted to call them, they looked south to Cuba ninety miles away. Somehow Fulgencio Batista was coaxed out of retirement (suspiciously, he had retired to Coral Gables), and in 1952, in a bloodless coup, re-took the government. And so the mob moved in, and with its know-how at the gaming tables, soon took over the big houses. Muscles Martin, of Pittsburgh, ran the Sans Souci; Billy Bloom ran the games at the Tropicana; the old S. and G. wire syndicate, closed down in Coral Gables, moved over and operated the Casino Nacional. Meyer Lansky bought a share of the Montmartre and was the unofficial boss of American criminal interests in Cuba. So well set-up was the outfit here, the functionary explained, that a courier took off every night for Miami with the checks of the losers, to clear them that very night. If they didn't clear, the managers could confront the check-bouncers the very next day. Boss Harry appeared to listen during this explanation, but he asked no questions and he took no notes. Earl, with his police brain, wrote it down in the interior of his mind; that was the way he worked, filing the data away. A quick rundown of what the young man called "risque" spots followed, with admonitions to avoid them all, but Earl did note that Lane took this down: the Bambu on Zanja Street, the Panchin at Fifth Avenue and C, the South Club at San Rafael and Prado, the Taberna San Roman at San Pedro and Ovicios, the El Colmao on Araburu, the Tasca Espanola at Carcel and Prado-all spots of colorful reputation and possible organized crime ownership. The mob probably hadn't taken over Johnny's Dream Club out on Almendares River, or Mes Amis or El Mirador, and it certainly hadn't taken over the Shanghai Theater, also on Zanja Street, where naked women and dirty movies could actually be seen. The Palette Club and the Colonial were two other dives the congressman and his intrepid investigators were advised to avoid. And that was it for the official American presentation to the congressman, as if the government itself had made peace with the idea that some of its nastiest boys had set up a government in Cuba. It made everything easier on everyone, and, what the hell, it was only Cuba after all. Then the investigation itself commenced, and Earl was surprised to learn that despite Lane's prediction and Roger's warning, a stop on Zanja Street didn't turn up the first day, or the second, or even the third. What happened instead proved less an investigation than a sightseeing tour, well-fortified by huge rum drinks with little American flags on toothpicks stuck in pieces of pickled pineapple, melon or whatever. The boss had several of these an hour at this spot or that, and his face turned redder and his hair whiter. Other than that it was cruising. The boss was driven about slowly, seeing the sights, admiring the women, checking out the casinos. They did the big downtown joints first, old and distinguished, the pleasure palaces that made Cuba in the twenties and the thirties and the forties and now, in the fifties, such a destination. In Old Havana the Hotel Sevilla-Biltmore on the Prado, then over to La Rampa, where the Hotel Nacional, the Hotel Lincoln, the Hotel Capri all clustered, like Spanish castles, usually white and tall and flanked by trees and elaborate gardens just off the broad avenues of the most modern section of the city. The casinos themselves followed, such as the Tropicana, the world's biggest and most beautiful nightclub, and the less imposing but still beautiful Sans Souci, all in the section called Centro, clustered in the same modern downtown that could have been Cleveland with gambling. In these joints, the layouts were the same: the gaming room with its busy sense of drama, the wide esplanade where a pool of aquamarine water glinted in the sun and waiters plied the bathers with elaborate fruit-and-rum concoctions, the nightclub and bar, with a stage and always a vast bar. Boss Harry was always expected. A senior executive waited, and an attending staff. There were many pretty women, flashy and fleshy, as if that too, were a coinage all knew the boss to enjoy. Usually, a tour ensued, and the boss and his party were taken from the big gaming rooms to the nightclub to the backstage area, where in the day the behind-the-scenes theater world seemed stale and filled with sad odors. Then they moved to the pool, usually overlooking the sea, where hundreds of vacationers lay out cooking in the sun, trying to turn brown in a basting of cocoa butter or Coppertone. When recognized, as happened more than a few times, the boss generously mixed with the common or not-socommon men, shaking hands, posing for pictures, holding babies. You'd have thought the man was running for office of mayor of Havana or something. Another day there'd been a long, larky drive out La Quinta, as the broad Fifth Avenue was called, as it ran along the North Coast, a two lane road with parklands between the lanes, where lights gleamed and trees rose. They passed through the section called Miramar, and went to the famous resort at La Playa, next to a Cuban version of Coney Island, complete with rides and freak shows, as if the city itself weren't already a freak show. At La Playa, a big do was thrown. A later stop took them to the Havana Yacht Club, the greyhound races nearby and then even further inland to the Oriental Park, a racecourse where in season the swells went in straw boaters and white linen suits to throw money away on the ponies. Now, however, it was not in season, and only a skeleton crew of lackeys awaited the great man, to show him what he wanted to see. "Noticed any gangsters, Earl?" Lane said at one point. "There seem to be some slick fellas watching us," said Earl. "If they're gunmen or pimps or hooligans or grifters, I couldn't say. But in places like these, they watch hard." "Well, what I see," said Lane, "is people having a good time, having some fun. I don't see no gangsters. Earl, I think you've been reading Dick Tracy in the funny papers." Lane in all matters seemed to know a little better than Earl, as if he were afraid anything Earl might say could impress Boss Harry and in that way damage his own position as the boss's no. 1 boy. "Now, Lane, you listen to Earl," said Harry. "He's fought gangsters toe to toe, isn't that right? He cleaned up Hot Springs. Didn't stay clean long, but he did the job up fine, as my friend Fred Becker tells the story. Ain't that so, Earl?" "We fought 'em but it did seem they got that town up and running again fast after the shooting stopped," was all Earl could admit, for he had dark superstitions that moneys were paid and that some of Arkansas's most distinguished sons-like the heroic Hot Springs reformer Fred Becker, who rode his victory to the governor's mansion, and the wise and compassionate Harry Etheridge, congressman and Washington kingmaker-all somehow turned out the richer for it. And now finally, on the night of the fourth day, they had descended to the lowest of the low, to the lower end of the seventeen blocks of Zanja Street, where everything was cheap and easy. The long byway carved a streak through Centro, aiming toward the far more elegant Prado, but where the Prado made many think of Paris, Zanja made men think only of sex. It was lined with bodegas, fruit stands, old women rolling cigars at card tables along the street, lottery agencies-the town seemed washed in numbers, testament to the greed that lay everywhere-bars and tabernas, nightclubs of smoky reputation, a mess of open-air Chinese restaurants just off the main drag, the mysterious doors in which a single square hatch opened, a man was examined, then admitted-and of course the Shanghai Theater. They pulled the big Cadillac slowly over the cobblestones and the building itself came into view. "I do believe we ought to take a look-see," said the boss. "Might never get a chance like this again." "Driver, did you hear?" Lane, sitting next to Harry, asked. "Si, Senor Brodgins," said Pepe, a sergeant in the police seconded to chauffeur's duty. He pulled the car over not far from the destination. "Earl, you go on in and make sure it's safe, now, you hear?" said Lane. Earl looked at 205 Zanja on the shabby whore street whose washing of pastels only emphasized its crummy squalor, and saw just a big theater marquee with TEATRO SHANGHAI lit by orange lamps so that it had a lurid blood glow to it. Chinese symbols ran down the wall flanking the ratty entrance on either side, also orange in the lamplight. One of the lamps, however, was somehow miswired, and it flickered and crackled and nobody had gotten around to fixing it yet. Like a broken radio, it leaked hiss and sputter into the night, while it pulsed orange weirdness across the land. Earl looked at Lane, bathed in the orange light so that he seemed to be an ice cream treat. Lane nudged him forward with a little shooing motion of his eyes. Earl got out, slipped toward the theater, and stepped in. It was shabby inside as out, and seemingly deserted, and a small box office under a sign in Spanish (but with $1.25 clearly marked) stood toward the rear. But it smelled not of popcorn but of disinfectant, and soon enough a fat Cuban came to him with a hand out for the buck-two-bits, and Earl just flashed the big automatic in his shoulder holster, as if to say, I am here to see what I will see. The man melted away, smiling broadly and insincerely. Earl stepped through a curtain and into a darkness. He was aware of other men in there, an immensity of them, row after row after row, silent and transfixed, and the smell of more disinfectant, and in the glare of the screen he could see the men staring, unmoving, unbelieving. He looked up. In bold black and white a woman in a mask seemed to have something in her mouth and be working it easily, and it took a little while for Earl to put the details together and then he realized what she had in her mouth and that she herself wore only stockings and heels and that flabby immensity to the left of the screen was her big butt, inelegantly parted, revealing in its flaccidity that which should not be revealed. He recoiled, stepped back, and looked away from the screen. Jesus Christ, don't this take it all! This old coot come a thousand miles from Washington, D.C., to look at a smoker on a movie screen in a theater. He looked around and realized the place was full and the other watchers in the dark wouldn't be paying any attention to anything except what was on screen. He slipped back out to the car. "It's okay. The boys are watching the movies and the movies aren't like nothing playing in Washington, D.C. Mr. Congressman, you sure you want to go into this place? It don't smell very clean." "Why, Earl, I must go where duty takes me." And with that he rose into the orange electrical glow, and with Lane hustled into 205 Zanja. Earl smoked an orange cigarette and blew orange smoke while the boys had their fun. They were in there for almost an hour while he lounged on the fender of the Cadillac, and eventually, they came out. "Ain't never seen a thing like that. Where do you suppose they find the gals? Earl, you are a po-liceman. You would know such things. Where would they find the gals?" "Them gals looked pretty broke-down to me," Earl said. "Old whores, can't walk the streets no more, don't know nothing else, that's what I'm betting." "Whoo-ee," said the boss, "that was a thing to do, and now I am all up and ready for the next step. Shall we see what other adventures we might get into?" Earl knew: he was looking for a woman. He said nothing to express his discomfort, but kept looking back, his eyes flicking quickly to the rear as he examined what lay back there. "We being followed, Earl?" Lane wanted to know. Earl wanted to say yes, for he felt something. A presence, an attention, something somehow concentrating on them. But it was only that feeling and that alone; nothing emerged to his vision to confirm the suspicion. "I don't think so," said Earl. "But if we are, he's a damn better man than I am." "Didn't think there were no better men than you, Earl." "There's plenty. But no, I don't think there's anyone back there. Maybe it's just my old imagination heating up." "Earl, have a drink, relax. A little drink wouldn't harm you a bit." Actually, Earl knew it would. He be back on the bottle full-time. "No thank you, sir," he said to Lane. Earl checked the rearview mirror again just in case. No, nothing. Here, in this human tide of hustlers and grifters, whores and low-rent crime dogs, it was the bottom of the Havana pool. It reminded Earl a little of Hot Springs in 1946, that sense of a town gone mad for pleasures; but the Spanish twist to it also called up Panama City and its whores' paradise from 1938 when he'd done a tour down there, and every weekend the boys would head off for cheap beer and cheap women. Earl was no saint; he'd had a big share of each on the principle that if war came he'd not survive it and so he should take what he could buy now. He had no regrets, but now, married, with several wars under his belt, he somehow couldn't connect with it. He didn't need it. "Now there," said the boss, "goes a right fine piece of pootie." She was a right fine piece of pootie, too. "She sure is," said Lane. "Yes, sir, that she is." "Si, senor," said Pepe, who immediately got what was going on. "Is she a nigra, do you suppose, Lane?" asked the boss. "Well, sir, she does have a caramelly skin and that behind of hers shakes just like a negro gal's. I'll bet she rattles around in bed like a negro gal, too. Don't you, Earl?" Earl had examined the flowing clothes of the senorita only briefly, pausing not at the quivering abundance of the flesh of shoulders and rather awesome breasts, nor at the undulations of high, proud buttocks, nor at the firm, luscious legs held just so tensely atop a pair of spindly black heels, for he had ascertained that so dressed, she probably didn't conceal a machete or a hand grenade, and had passed on to other concerns. "Yes, sir," said Earl, in his dullest cop voice. "Let's see where she goes," said the boss, still consumed by the presence of the undulating brown woman. "Just, you know, for the damned heck of it." "Yes, boss." The car oozed down the narrow street, over ancient cobblestones laid by slaves in the previous century or two. Lights danced or sparkled, illuminating the brown flesh. The woman, all ajiggle on staked heels and thongs that cut into her ankles, at last found her destination, and saucily halted. She turned to confront the men in the close-by Cadillac, and threw a lascivious wink right at the boss. Then she opened a door bathed in red light, and slipped inside. "Boss, I think she likes you." "I think she do, too. Don't you, Earl?" Earl thought: she's a whore. She's paid to like you. That's what whores do. That's why they're whores. "She looks available," was all Earl could think to say. "Pepe, you pull over here. You follow her up, Pepe, and see what's what. You give me a good report." Pepe started to get out. "Now hold on, sir," said Earl. "Mr. Congressman, this is not a good idea. This here is a very tough part of town, that I know. That gal is a whore, sure as rain and heat. You don't know who's up there, some pimp fellow with a knife, some robbers, it's all the kind of thing a man in your position cannot be involved in, let me tell you that. Nothing here for you but bad trouble, sir." "Now, Earl," began Boss Harry, but it was Lane Brodgins who took over. "Damn, Swagger, it ain't up to you to judge and call shots. This here is a United States congressman and he will go and do as he pleases and your job isn't to second-guess him but to make goddamn clear and sure he is safe. That is your only job, goddammit." "Earl, you go with Pepe and you see what's what. We'll wait here. Pepe, come here a second." The tough little Cuban leaned close, and Harry whispered something in his ear. Pepe nodded sagely. Earl didn't say a thing. Didn't seem like there was much to say. His hand fled to the big Colt Super.38 resting in the holster hung under his left shoulder, to remind himself, yep, it was there. Then he went along with Pepe, under the glow of the red bulb, and watched as Pepe knocked. In time, a small square hatch in the door opened at eye level, and someone examined them from within, up and down. Then the hatch snapped shut, the door opened, and in they went. Chapter 9 Speshnev never followed directly. He had learned that lesson the hard way, in Barcelona, in 1937, when two members of the Anarcho-Syndicalists had observed him, counter-ambushed, and sent him crawling through the alleys with a Luger bullet in his belly. So he ran his operation carefully using classic technique, drawing on a hundred years of tsarist and Cheka-NKVD collective espionage experience. He still did the small things well. He never went out of town. It was impossible to follow on the dusty Cuban roads. But in Havana, it was different. He trailed by taxicab, but never directly. Sometimes he paralleled, other times, if streets were busy, he crosscut and switched back. He had a bagful of hats and changed them every hour, from the white straw boater so popular in the streets to the more elegant felt fedora, to a shapeless straw rural head cover, to, finally, a red bandanna, knotted tightly about his head. He never wanted to stay in the same profile. He had two ties and a bolo, which came on or off as circumstances warranted; his jacket too was on or off, buttoned or unbuttoned, collar up, collar down. Then, at random hours determined by predesignated unpredictables-like the appearance of a pigeon with gray wings, or of a rare woman seller of bolita tickets (as the unofficial lottery was called)-he'd abandon the cab he was in, or he'd make a guess as to destination based on good professional instincts, and zip ahead, not to follow them but to foreshadow them. It was expensive, of course; too expensive for the annoying Pashin, who would not cover the taxi expenses, would not hire a car and driver, yet would not alter the nature of his assignment either. Make do, Speshnev. You are supposed to be so good, simply make do. So early in the mornings, when the congressman and his more interesting companions had tired out, he went to a smallish casino, lost a little money playing blackjack, and then, when the decks were charged with face cards, made a swift big hit, pocketed the excess and left. He never hit the same place twice, he never wore the same hat twice, he never won too much to get himself beaten or robbed. He just knew the numbers and held them in his mind with an eerie concentration, made his profit, and retreated quickly, before he became known, before his card-counting could be classified a professional's skill as opposed to luck. He'd already made $10,000 that way, in a few nights. It was a shame he didn't defect, he thought, and make the numbers work for him in the world's gambling spots. But fool that he was, he did his duty, for men who despised him, for a system that had almost murdered him, for cynics and scoundrels and sociopaths that ran the intelligence service. His duty: it was all he had. He followed them for the better part of a week and had reached some kind of provisional judgments already. The first was that the American congressman, showy and vain about his hair, was a man of great strengths but equally great weaknesses. The man was a drinker and if Speshnev still had instincts for such things, a whoremonger as well. He loved to dominate and to be obeyed and he sat back and watched people scurry, enjoying every second of the theater of fear. Of those around him, most were of the sort familiar in political circumstances: little factotums who did what the Great Man ordered and sought to acquire his favor and avoid his rage whenever possible. An assistant seemed to be the chief of these pathetic creatures, and he never ventured far from the Great Man's elbow, which made him the prime subject of those compliments and those terrible rages. There were a few others, a Cuban driver, an embassy babysitter, a secretary, who at various times accompanied them. But mainly, there was the bodyguard. This was Speshnev's true quarry, the first American he'd ever been assigned to evaluate from a professional point of view, and the man whom he might in fact have to eliminate. Speshnev knew the type. He had something. Some tankers had it, some ace aviators. Old infantry sergeants had it, and the snipers, the really good ones, who scored kills in the hundreds, they had it. He'd seen a lot of it in Spain too, in some of the crazier advisors who had to go on every attack, so burning were they with fervor. Death truly meant nothing to such men. It was courage and cunning, but those alone weren't it. Speshnev picked it up at once. No word really existed in English; the Russians had one however, tiltsis, expressing a certain unmalleability of character. This chap could not be bent, influenced, seduced, tempted. He simply was what he was. Speshnev read body language. In the separation, the isolation, of the bodyguard he saw the man's bull-pride. He would not be one of them, "them" being political operatives of a parasitical nature. He had a quality of stillness to him. His body was under discipline at all times, his arms always held in. He carried some kind of big American automatic in a shoulder holster. Through opera glasses, Speshnev studied his hands, and saw that they were huge. Typical: the good pistol people always seemed to have large hands, and manipulated the guns so much more surely than the rest. But mainly it was his shrewd eyes. It wasn't that the fellow craned his head this way and that, and made an extravagant show of checking things out at every opportunity; rather, it was that the eyes, disciplined by battle, were always moving. They roamed, probed, pierced, incised. They made quick discriminations and quick judgments. His face never changed, his emotions never showed, but he was watching everything, always on the scout. Speshnev knew from the first and his further observations only convinced him further: this man is dangerous. Kill him now. There were no other options. He would slide closer. He had a.25 caliber Spanish automatic in his left sock. He would meander close, never approach on a line, he'd fall back in a second if detected. The man had a natural radar for aggression, fear and turmoil. You had to approach under camouflage. You had to believe in the benevolence of yourself and sell that message through every pore in your body as you floated ever closer, ever more slowly, ever more gently, and then, at the very last second, only then commit to murder. The gun would come out swiftly, for to hesitate was to die. The gun would come out, cupped in the hand, and with extravagant nonchalance, the nonchalance of a confident lover, sweep upward until the unseen muzzle touched the base of the neck. The small pistol would fire its small bullet into spine or brain, he would melt away, and the American bodyguard would topple, not even aware that he had been stalked and murdered. That is what I must do, Speshnev said. I must do that, and prevent the complications this sort of man can bring to my mission and in that way guarantee myself a freedom from the gulag. It is a simple proposition: I kill him, I am free forever of the gulag. He sat at a sidewalk table outside the Bambu on Zanja Street. It was late, but not so late. The street still seethed with action, the lights blared garishly from the enticements along Havana's most notorious boulevard. He sipped a coffee, so strong and black it would kill the unprepared. He saw them. The Cadillac had been halted now for some time. Other cars maneuvered wretchedly to get around it, and people yelled and cursed and honked. But the Cadillac, like the great American empire it represented, refused to acknowledge an outside world. Speshnev could see there was an argument of some sort with the bodyguard holding forth against the no. 1 assistant, who was clearly out of control. Obviously, this no. 1 fellow had a problem with the bodyguard, for the bodyguard, by his body language and head placement, refused to accept the no. 1's authority and clearly, by a thousand subtle clues, let his contempt be known. Speshnev had a laugh. As he himself had, the no. 1 assistant had discerned how dangerous the bodyguard was, and was now moving to kill him. Unlike Speshnev, he hadn't the courage, the decisiveness, the ruthlessness to kill him literally, but he was trying to do the deed bureaucratically, symbolically. What a fool. Speshnev took another sip of the black sweet Cuban coffee. The Spaniards and their bean artistry! The brew was so thick and powerful and relentless it would keep him awake for another thirty hours, which is exactly what he needed. The sugar would keep him jacked and primed. And now at last, some movement. The bodyguard and the driver got out of the car, endured the ritual of examination at the door in the red glow, then headed inside. Speshnev knew negotiations were being made. And soon enough, the bodyguard came back down, and leaned into the car. The congressman, his white hair pinkish in the glare of the red lamp, rose from the car, looked about nervously, slicked back his hair, and headed inside. The bodyguard, his eyes ever watchful, his hand never far from his automatic, his movements lightfooted and prepared, shadowed him in. Another ten minutes passed. Speshnev had another cup of coffee and a Cuban sweet roll. It was delicious. And then, the door of the brothel flew open and a bleeding man crab-walked out groggily, holding an arm atilt from breakage. Oh, my, thought Speshnev. Somebody tried to get tough with the wrong fellow. Then, its sirens bleating savagely, its red lights pumping illumination into the night, the first police car arrived. And then another and another. The no. 1 assistant rose to intercede from his place in the car, but was rudely pushed aside by the Cuban coppers as they assaulted the stairs, clubs and guns at the ready. Chapter 10 Why are they always green? But they are, and he should know, having been in whorehouses in Shanghai and Panama City and Nicaragua and Pearl Harbor and San Diego and Hot Springs. They were always green, but a thin wash of green, pale and sloppy enough so that the grain of stucco or stone or drywall shone through. The Asian ones were smokey and sedate and dark, as if sex were a form of narcotic. The Spanish ones all had crucifixes, gaudy and wracked, hanging on the walls, while in America the tendency was toward calendar art, with preposterous hourglasses of womanflesh showing garters and thighs and a hint of pink-tipped breasts. This one had the crucifixes, the candles, the stench, the beaded curtains, the dark corridor leading back to small rooms, a toilet somewhere-you could smell it-and a mama and her girls. Earl checked it out, wondering if there was a bouncer somewhere. If so, he wasn't visible. He poked a look down the dark hall and saw nothing, and peered into a small kitchen and again saw nothing. Maybe he was downstairs, maybe he was on the roof. But he would be there. Meanwhile, Pepe negotiated. It was brief and intense and it turned out that Pepe had talents along these lines, suggesting that he'd done this ten or possibly fifteen thousand times before. It was all done in advance, so that when the boss arrived, all the embarrassing financial details would be worked out, all questions settled, all bills paid in full, and only the pleasure remained. There were three girls, the one the boss had chosen and two others. Mamasita told the two others to take a hike and they disappeared down the dark hall, leaving Esmeralda, as she was called, to face her fate, which was Boss Harry the American humanitarian politician. The yellow negress had rolling shoulders, breasts and buttocks; in fact everything about her was somehow rolly and quivery, fleshy and powdery and sweaty meat, and dankness and moisture. A sheen of wet glittered on her forehead. She looked nervous and forlorn. But the boss wouldn't notice. Earl heard Pepe, after some lengthy hassles in Spanish, divert to English. "Drink the Coca-Cola bottle, no? El Coca, si? That's what he wants." "He pays the extra, he gets." "Then it's done, Mama?" "It is done." He turned to Earl and just nodded. No expression at all lit his eyes, the mark of a professional. Earl went down the dark stairs, opened the door and went to the car, its engine still running to provide the power for air conditioning. A window wound down under the power of a miraculous modern pushbutton. "He says it's set," Earl said to Lane. "You sure, Swagger?" asked Lane. "I'm sure that's what he said. What that means, I don't know and can't say. This ain't a good idea." "Just do the job, Swagger." The window clamped shut. Earl looked about and around. It was a familiar whoretown scene: when a customer came to call, it was as if he entered a bubble. The commerce was sacred and invisible, and the Cuban throngs massing along the sidewalks of Zanja walked blankly on, watching nothing. Earl looked about for photogs-you never knew-and saw none, saw no sailors from Gitmo or the Merchant Marine, no American college students out raising rum-soaked hell. Just Cubans, who lived here, and, down and across the street, a few late drinkers at a cafe, maybe some diners headed down to the Pacifico in Chinatown, the best Chinese eatery in town. "Okay," he said. The door of the Cadillac opened and the congressman stepped out, wobbled slightly under the influence of his own rum consumption, ran his hands through his magnificent white hair, tightened his tie as if the Duke and Duchess of Windsor awaited upstairs, and started unsteadily forward. Earl thought he might fall, even pass out, which would make things easier all around, but no, he was set in his course and he made it to the red-lit portal, Earl opening the door to admit the man, nervously following and scanning. Both headed up the stairs. The congressman's brogue-shod feet pounded heavily on the ancient stone, as they rose a story under the illumination of a single bare bulb at the top. Up, up, up they went, until at last he stopped. He turned to Earl. "Now don't judge me harshly, Earl," he said. "I have been in a cathouse or two myself, sir," said Earl. "I know I have a beautiful wife, a handsome young son and a blossoming career. But sometimes a fellow has to have what he wants, and gol-dang it, here is such a time." "Yes, sir." "I have an idea about a certain thing, Earl, god help me. It's a thing you can't get no white woman to do. I've had a few girls in my day, but there's a thing I've never had. Tonight I will have it, by God." "Many a man feels the same way, sir, and don't you think nothing about it. Now I am on your six o'clock, and will keep a watch." "Good work, son. You are a true man of Arkansas, I can tell. All that stuff about how hardheaded you was-no, sir, you are a fine young man." The congressman smiled, seemed almost to pass out, and Earl made to catch him, but he got hold of himself in the instant before his knees buckled, then turned to continue his advance on paradise. Earl waited a second or five, or even ten. He didn't want to see the man's exchange with the woman. He heard muttering, her nervous laughter, the madam's admonitions in harsh Spanish, and the swish and tinkle of the beaded curtains as john and whore sought privacy for their commerce. Only then did Earl enter, finding a bored Pepe lounging on a couch, the mamasita sitting at a table working on financial accounts, and a radio blaring from a shelf, chronicling the narrative of some mambo-rama or other, with excitement from the male and female hosts but nothing he could pick up, though he knew a form of brothel Spanish from his years before the war. Pepe made no room for Earl, who in any case didn't want to be on his butt, but on foot, ready. So Earl leaned, arms crossed, the interior hand not far from the Colt hanging under his shoulder. Time passed, one mambo became another and then another, Pepe said nothing, Earl saw nothing, mamasita added columns and columns of numbers and then"AIEEEEEEEEE! No, please, no!" It was Esmerelda, screaming as if the devil himself had forced himself upon her, and then came the unmistakable thud of a hand hitting a face with considerable velocity. "Damn you, you thief! Damn you, damn you, damn you to hell's fires!" There was the sound of another slap, and another. "Do you know who I am! Do you know who I am?" Earl was there in an instant. The congressman was atop her in the flickering candlelight, slapping her hard in her bloody face. Earl grabbed him in a bear's iron grip and hoisted him from her, aware that his pants were bunched around his knees absurdly, that his stiffened member was jousting crazily, his face as wet with sweat as hers was with her own blood, his fabulous hair a nest of silver thorns and curls. Earl heaved him into space but not against the wall, and put himself between him and the sobbing woman, who had gathered herself up in bedclothes and was shivering violently, her blood filling the fibers of the sheets and turning them purple in the flickering light. "I paid," the congressman was screaming. "She wouldn't, she wouldn't, but I paid, I paid!" Earl spread his arms like a crossing guard to keep the congressman away without hurting him. "Now, now," he counseled, "now, now, now. You don't want to be doing something you will regret. It ain't worth it, sir. You just settle on down and we'll get you to the embassy and you can have a nice shower and-" Pepe was beside him now, saying, "But, senor, she is only a nigger whore, is no matter, the whore must do what-" And mamasita went over as if to comfort Esmerelda but in the inverted madness of the moment didn't hug her at all. Instead-WHAP!-she hit poor Esmerelda harder than the boss ever had, and with a fistful of rings. Earl grabbed the madam, threw her hard aiming for the wall, so that when she hit her arms flung wide and her mouth and eyes popped. Then he shoved Pepe for good measure too, just because he was in a shoving mood. Then, finally, he turned to the congressman and somehow gathered him without actually touching him, as if to get him out of there with a minimum of damage, and if Pepe's back were broken from the way he went over and through that table, so be it; he, Earl, would drive the big Cadillac and get the congressman back to the embassy. It seemed to be going quite well, at least for a moment or so, and he actually had the congressman under control, his pants up if not yet belted, as they headed to the door-and that's when Earl saw the man with the knife. Where had he come from? Earl would never know. And worse, behind him was another, also with a knife, a Spanish thing with bone handle that had just flashed outward, spring driven, from its concealment. "Hey, hey," said Earl. "Oh, Jesus," said Boss Harry, and commenced to slide pitifully to the floor, as if that was a form of escape. "Motherfucker," said the first knifeman. "Going to cut choo bad, cabrone." Well, Earl didn't think so, and he hit the fellow square up in the nose with a shot so fast and hard no camera could possibly have caught it. He felt the satisfactions of the perfect impact. That man's head jerked back and his eyes rolled up even as his nose, now squashed, began to spritz blood. He wheezed wetly and large numbers of shattered teeth came out of a suddenly slack mouth. He turned ash gray, his knees melting, his eyes rolling skyward. Then he went with a thud, landing next to the balled-up congressman, and then the other man came around and jabbed at Earl with his knife. You can't fight a man with a knife and not get cut and when you get cut you can't let the sight of your own blood scatter your mind. The man, clearly a knife expert from his balance and precision and the backwards grip with which he clenched his weapon, got a good two-inch diagonal gash across Earl's parrying left arm, which began oozing its own red through the cheap suit, a garment that offered no stanching qualities at all. Pleased at what damage he had wrought on one pass, the man stepped back to admire his work and accept the plaudits of the audience, a mistake, because Earl caught the bottom of his wrist with his good hand, twisted and pivoted, stepped under the raised arm with a nifty jujitsu thing he'd picked up somewhere eastern, and brought his man under control, though his cut had begun to hurt like hell. Now, what to do with him? That was the question. The stairs: that was the answer. Earl, controlling him roughly, though he squirmed like a fish on a line, monitored him to the head of the stairs and without giving it a second thought pitched him down. He yelled and clattered as he went. He limbs went this way and that and his head hit stone stair or wall several terrible times, each with its own particular thunk. He came to rest at the bottom, arms akimbo, eyes closed, small patches of blood from the abrasions of the fall beginning to seep through his clothes and mark his face. Oh, shit, thought Earl, thinking he had killed him and wouldn't that be a pretty pickle. But the men who guard whorehouses as a profession tend to be a hardy lot, and this one opened his eyes, shook his head and rose unsteadily. He looked up the steps at his conqueror, gripping his own now weirdly twisted arm, screamed a Spanish blasphemy, pushed open the door and headed out into the night. Earl turned, gripping his arm to hold the bleeding in. Now it really stung. From the floor, Boss Harry looked agape at him with eyes full of love. "Sir, get yourself dressed and we will git the hell out of this place. You, goddammit-" this to hapless Pepe, still stupefied on the sofa, "-you help him and get him out of here. I have to get this cut stitched before I bleed out." "Oh, si senor, yes, sir," said Pepe, jumping into action. And suddenly, like three goddesses from some old Greek story, Esmerelda and her two colleagues were on Earl, one cleaning, one pressing, one wrapping tightly. They gazed at him with adoration too, and were nattering away in Spanish at a mile a minute. "They say mucho hombre, much man. You have defeated two of El Colorado's worst fellows, Scarface and the little one you tossed down the steps, he was Mulatto Sam. They beat these girls and so many of the girls often and on Zanja Street are very well known as the Dark Angels of El Colorado." El Colorado. Now who the hell could that be? It didn't sound promising. "Just help the congressman, you," said Earl. "Ladies, thank you for your help, but this will hold me fine till I get to a hospital. You are very sweet and kind and-" The clambering on the stone steps announced the arrival of the local constabulary, and come to think of it, Earl had heard sirens, he just hadn't affiliated them with his current situation. He turned, and began to smile at his rescuers, but it was the madam who dominated the action. She suddenly stepped from behind the curtains and began pointing at Earl, and shrieking. Behind them, rushing to the fallen congressman who Pepe now had more or less dressed, came Lane Brodgins, the color of dry leaves, and he bent, screaming hysterically, "Oh my god, oh my god, sir, sir! Harry, dear God, what has happened? Oh it is so awful." This was fine and good and spoke of Lane's love, devotion and admiration to his boss, but it did Earl no good whatsoever, for evidently on the instructions of the madam, the two beefy policemen advanced on Earl and began to beat him. Taken by surprise, he covered up and had a brief respite when the three whores ran to the cops to implore them on Earl's behalf in their own form of hysterical Spanish. But mamasita had the stronger will, the louder voice and presumably paid the biggest bribes, so the two coppers-now three, now four, now a whole mob-closed on Earl and the blows rained down. As he fell, he saw Lane and Pepe gently guiding Congressman Etheridge to the steps, but at that point someone hit him expertly on the elbow and the pain was so intense, he uncovered to rub the spot of the blow. The next one hit him flush to the jaw, the knockout punch, and down he went, into swirling darkness. Chapter 11 Earl's head felt like Esmeralda had it between her thighs and was crushing it to pulp. The place stank of piss and shit and sweat, and Esmeralda-he thought she had liked him!-just crushed away, squeezing his temples toward nothingness, while meanwhile the other whores rifled his pockets. He fought to be free, and only upon opening his eyes did he realize he was in a holding tank in some Centro police station, and Esmeralda and her two pals were nowhere near. The crushing sensation was just the residue of the cosh's solid thump against his jaw. He shivered, and the magpies scattered. They had been looting him, not that the cops hadn't already picked him clean. His shirt was gone, his jacket and tie, the gun and holster of course, and his shoes and socks. Only his pants remained, though not the belt. But his cellmates were searching him for what few remaining dollars they thought he might have. He had none. "Get out of here!" he screamed, kicking one away, shoving several others. They scampered to the other side of the room, where they joined the larger night's haul of street scum, pimps, grifters, pickpockets, strong-arm men and what have you that the Havana cops had rounded up that night on Zanja Street or other dark corridors of the city. They watched him suspiciously, muttering among themselves. Earl's head hurt bad. It hurt extremely bad. This had to be concussion ten or so. A few more and he'd start to go punchy, like some old fighters he'd seen. He touched where the hardest blow had landed and found that someone had taped a grapefruit to his face. But it wasn't a grapefruit on his face, it was the grapefruit of his face. It hurt also to the touch. He touched the gash on his arm, found it secured tightly by a linen strip. The blood had blackened on his skin where it congealed. He could hardly move it. He needed stitches bad; it could reopen at any moment. He pulled himself upright. He was in the back of the biggest cell in the back of the biggest cop shop in the town, him and twenty or so of his best friends. They eyed him ominously. These boys didn't appear to care for Earl. Perhaps word had gotten out that he'd whacked the shit out of two bad boys and these fellows in here thought they'd score some points with bossman El Colorado, whoever that nightmare might be, by giving Earl a little taste of same. But that's what the cops had already done. He spit something on the floor and saw that it landed and splattered red. Somewhere in the night's squalors he'd cut open his tongue on a tooth. He reached in, and felt, and all the teeth remained, but the jaw was swollen on the left side and crowded the choppers, and several teeth wiggled loosely even as they jacked in pain. He drew his hand smartly away, and the fingertip too was red. He needed three weeks leave at the beach somewhere, and a diet of Jell-O and Coca-Cola. "Hey!" he screamed, and there was no answer from wherever officialdom concealed itself. Outside the bars was only a deserted stone corridor and way down it some light, where perhaps the office was. He knew this was the tank. Every city had a tank. You dump the shit in the tank: that's how it worked. In the morning you flush it out and let all the scum that are still alive run free, knowing they'll be back in the evening, or if not them, then their twin brothers. Nobody cared what happened back here. "I demand you call the American embassy!" he tried again. No answer and then, "Eeeye deman choo call Americana eeem-buzzy," a notbad imitation of himself from one of the concealed comedians, and everybody laughed. "Hey, Charlie," someone said, "choo inna lotta shit, man." Earl said nothing. What was there to say? His head hurt too much to think, it was so dark he could hardly see a thing, and the boys were roiling themselves toward violence. Not good. He drew back. He'd been in a prison before but there he'd had the righteous wrath of hating it and what it stood for and the dream of its destruction to impel him onward. He had none of that now. He felt tired and old, and his wife and son were oh so far away in Arkansas, as were his friends, his hopes, his ambitions. Fuck, he thought. I am going to die in a prison. Maybe the cavalry would get here in time, maybe it wouldn't. But for now he could do nothing but wait and ache and pray. Some time passed, though here in the Centro tank no sense of a concept called "time" truly existed. He may have passed out. Possibly it was near dawn. He wasn't sure. He felt human warmth, and blinked. He looked up. Three men loomed over him. They dangled shivs from hands, blades formed from spoons or screwdrivers or whatever. Their eyes had the blank look of killers. The pride they had in what they were capable of doinganything-radiated off them. Two of the three had scars, which meant that the one without was really dangerous. Earl was flat against the wall, on a bench that passed for a bed. He had no room to maneuver. They towered over him, pressing in, all advantage to them, none to him. If he rose, they'd gut him quickly enough. If he stayed down and balled up, they could cut him bad enough that he'd lose his strength, then pry his limbs away in that fashion, longer but going the same inevitable destination, and get their blades into his guts. "Hey, Joe," said the scarless one, "choo got money?" "I don't have nothing, friend," said Earl. "Oh, that is very bad. I want to help you, but my friends here, they want to cut you now." "They can cut me all they want, but they're not going to get any money, because I don't have any money." "Then maybe they cut you for fun." "I ain't done nothing to you. Please leave me alone." He had decided on the balled-up defense. It wasn't much but it was all he had. Now it was a question of how quick he could get his knees up to his chest and bury his face and throat in them and lock his arms around his legs. "We don't like Yankees. El Colorado tells us choo people come here and fuck our women and steal our crops and make us your monkeys, and we don't like it nohow. Cuba libre, motherfucker." "Just leave me alone," said Earl. "I ain't done a thing to you." "I think we have to teach norteamericano a lesson. Charlie, you are the history lesson of the evening." Suddenly a fourth party joined the exchange. He said, "Excuse me, gentlemen, but would any of you be interested in purchasing a very fine vacuum cleaner?" "He's where?" said Walter Short. "The police took him," said Lane Brodgins. "I don't know-" "You idiot! You moron! Who the hell gave you authorization to head to Zanja Street?" "Congressman Etheridge doesn't need authorization, Short. Who the deuces do you think-" "You moron! If anything happens to Earl, I will personally see that your career is so completely destroyed you won't even be able to get a listing in the phone book!" "You cannot-" "You were to get him here so we could develop him. That was the point. That was the only point. This wasn't a let's-get-Boss-Harry-laid mission." "You try and tell a United States-" " You had an obligation to us. We put money into this, we are picking up the tab, we are getting you great press, you had one job to do-" But it was pointless. He slammed down the phone. Then he deslammed it and quickly called Roger, who answered groggily. He explained. "Oh, Christ," said Roger. "We can handle this. I have friends in the Cuban State Police." "You would, Short." "Roger, I have to do the shit so you can be the golden boy at the Yacht Club tennis tournament. Now please get dressed, get a cab, get over here. Meanwhile, I have to think." He hung up, then started dialing. There was a moment of dumbfoundment. All eyes-the three thugs', Earl's-went to the vacuum representative, to discover a scrawny scarecrow of a man with a bristle of gray hair, wearing a baggy linen suit. His face looked as if history itself had marched across it several times in several climates. He spoke with some indeterminate European accent and had the palest eyes Earl had ever seen. Then he smiled. "Hey, you, get the fuck outta here!" screamed one of the assailants, drawing himself up to full power and stepping forward to thrust his bull-chest against the skinny man. "You, go, I cut your-" That assertion was halted by the evening's biggest surprise: what could only be the sound of a small pistol firing. Everyone looked down to discover that the European vacuum salesman had just shot out the knee of the knife-wielder, who collapsed. As he fell, the European caught him, twisted an arm behind his back, and stuck the muzzle of the small gun into his throat. He spoke in a commanding Spanish of such intensity it was amazing, not only in fluency, blasphemy and eloquence but also force, for the seriousness of his argument was instantly recognized, and the others backed off. The wounded man crawled away, howling. Earl, astounded, watched them go. The man sat next to him. "As I was saying, I have a very nice upright model, superpowered, what we call the Atomvac 12. It's not atomic-powered of course, but you know how sales brochures love to exaggerate. Anyhow, it's new to the island, has a thirty-foot extension cord and-" "Who the hell are you?" "Ah, yes. Of course. Vurmoldt, Acme Vacuums. This is my territory. I don't seem to have a card on me. Perhaps you have one on you and I could call and make a more formal presentation." "A vacuum salesman with a gun?" "It comes in handy." "I'll say, bub." Earl stared at him in the darkness. What astounded him was the utter finality with which the vacuum salesman had just shot a man, then forgotten about it. That was the first mark of a professional. Shooting a human being isn't an easy thing and some people never come back from it and you see it in their eyes forever. Yet this Vurmoldt, of Acme Vacuums, had done it precisely, even scientifically, and had not wasted a single breath on it. It was necessary, he did it, and now he had moved on to other arguments. "You seem to have been in some scrapes, if you don't mind my saying so," Earl told him. "The recent ugliness. Oh, it was quite unpleasant. I was shot at in France by French, in Russia by Russians, in Italy, then France again, and finally in Germany itself, all by Americans. Quite annoying, you know. Possibly you and I exchanged shots at Normandy or the Ardennes offensive?" "I was in the Pacific killing Japanese. Though I'd have been happy to shoot you too, if you'd given me the chance." The man's face lit in laughter. "Say, you are a scamp!" "My name is Swagger, Mr. uh-" "Vurmoldt. Lower Silesian. An old family of mercantile disposition. The vacuums, by the way, really are quite an excellent product. You would be pleased." "Earl!" Earl looked up. It was Roger St. John Evans, rushing down the corridor, flanked by nervous-looking Cuban policemen and various embassy assistants. Keys rattled, men bustled with urgency. It was a little war party come to rescue Earl. They weren't as quick as the vacuum salesman, but they had finally gotten there. "Earl, Jesus, I had no idea until that idiot Brodgins called the embassy to complain about the Cubans. Good god, are you all right?" The doors were flung open. "I'm fine, I'm fine. This here fella saved me. I-" But Vurmoldt had disappeared into the dark mob of Cubans gathered in the corner, away from the husky guards with their clubs and automatic pistols. "Hell, he was just here. Sir, I-" But then Earl looked at the man next to Roger. "Hi, Earl," said Frenchy Short. "Long time no see." Chapter 12 The old men met in an impoverished mountain state so foreign to all the things they knew it seemed like a trip to someone else's old country. The site was an air-conditioned house that had once belonged to a mine manager and looked down across the coaledout ridges, the abandoned and rusting steam shovels, the scars in the earth. It was like a mansion in a battlefield. They arrived by Cadillac, each with two or three bodyguards. The huge cars dominated the roads up from Miami and New Orleans, over from Cleveland and Pittsburgh, down from Boston and New York. When they reached the small town that was their destination, it was almost like a funeral parade: black Caddy after black Caddy, negotiating the hairpin turns, crawling through ruined, desolate, misty villages, past knots of curious, slat-ribbed children with hollow faces, lank hair and deep eyes. And the men in the cars were famous too, at least in their worlds. They were the wisest of the wise, the toughest of the tough, the meanest of the mean, the fastest of the fast. What stories they could tell if storytelling were permitted, though of course it was not. What those old eyes had seen, what those old brains had calculated, what those old, still-strong hands had crushed. They were lumpy, dark men, set in their ways, in black suits and ties and white shirts, and fallen socks over big black shoes. The lenses of their glasses were thick. Their veins showed, their eyes were rheumy and bloodshot, their hands large, their jowls fallen, their faces swaddled in fat and unsmiling, drawn, serious. They spat a lot, smoked a lot, cursed a lot. They wore pomade in their thinning hair. They looked as if they'd never laughed in their lives, or had a drink with a girl or gone to a dance or a ball game or a party. Their faces had the gray pallor of indoors at night, the waft and stench of cigarettes, the glow of neon. They were old men of the city. They drank Sambuca or Frangelico or Amaretto from small glasses and sat listlessly around the living room, not at a single grand table like medieval potentates-there was no nobility in their world, only practicality-but like old peasants at a coffee-house in Salerno, too frail to toil in the fields. The subject was not who was there, but who was not there. Chicago was not there. "These Chicago people, I don't know," said one. "They get more arrogant all the time. They think their thing is such a great thing." "What is to be done? Our thing must be protected, but I am not eager for a return to the old days." "Me neither. I've been shot enough already, six times, cut twice, beaten a dozen." "If I'm to be stabbed in the back," one joked, "I want it to be by friends, not enemies!" Everybody laughed. "The Chicago thing could become a problem," said the eldest of the equals. "The Chicago thing grows mighty on the river of money that flows to it from this Las Vegas, the city in the desert. Who would have dreamed such a thing? A city in a desert!" "Sometimes even the longest shots come in. Someone picks the number." "The Chicago thing owns Las Vegas, so Chicago now sees itself first among equals. Soon, possibly, it will see itself as first without equals. It will be the only thing. Our things will be nothing." "Ben Siegel would be horrified if he knew how his dream had turned out because he was always, in his heart, an East Coast boy," someone said. "He was a great man, a seer-" "He was also a nutbin jaybird whose eyes were bigger than his brain and he never had no judgment at all. He starts a fight in a train station with a fellow turns out to be a professional boxer. Goes urp all over his fancy clothes. He ends up like all the hot ones, with his face blown off on his sofa. His eye, I understand, is on the floor." "But Ben was committed, rest in peace and a slow death to whoever done the deed on him, to a fair shake for all the things. His idea was that Vegas would be for us all, we'd all have a piece. Not this Chicago thing, as these greedy bastards have established, and now it teeters dangerously toward what nobody wise and old wants." Though unsaid, all acknowledged privately the theory of mutually assured destruction that kept the peace, fragile as it was, in their tough little world of things. All knew that if any thing grew too powerful, it would wage war on the others. Alliances would be formed, treaties broken, it would be city against city, thing against thing. Worst of all, of course, it would embolden the class of men these men feared the most: The FBI? Not a chance: No, far worse: their own children and grandchildren, eager to take over, eager to drink from the river and to strut their strength and to push the old bastards aside. These people really frightened the old men. The kids: they wanted their thing. But at last the one from New York, the wisest of them all, spoke, and all listened. "The Chicago thing has Las Vegas. We have Cuba. As long as we have Cuba, we need not fear Chicago. Chicago needs to fear us. Next to Cuba, Las Vegas is nothing but an annoyance." "This is very true," someone said. "He speaks what is real." He continued. "We have our best man down there. He is clever, oh so clever with the numbers-" "The Jew? He is not one of us." "He is in cunning. Only he lacks our will to do what is necessary. He has not killed, I believe." "No, he has not. He is an arguer, a fixer. With the guns, the boomboom, the flying blood, the puddles all sticky and black, the faces blown off, the hair mussed, the newspaper shots of what happens in alleys to men who have transgressed. No, not for him." "That is a shame. Sometimes that is where it must end. In an alley, with a pool of blood and the face gone." An amen chorus agreed. That was where it had to end some time. Nothing else would satisfy. "This is why I have made an arrangement, which I now put before you, for your approval," said the New York thing representative. "I have done this already. It can be undone, if you demand, but I think you will see some wisdom in it." "So, go ahead." "What is needed down there is someone with our kind of hot blood. The balls to get close with knives or guns. Fists even. Sometimes necessary as we have said." "It is not in the Jew to be that way. Any Jew. They have been beaten on too many times for them to take pleasure in that." "It was in Ben, at least a little. It was in Lepke Buchalter, rest in peace. It was in Murder, Inc. and in Barney Ross, the boxer. They were all Jews. Now in this Israel. These Jews are fighters, too. With the machine guns, what have you." "They are a new kind of Jew. Our kind of Jew is like our man in Havana. Or Abbadabba Berman: the numbers, the quickness, the sureness with the figures. That is your typical Jew. Certainly, yes, in certain times, it changes. You cannot, I think you will agree, count on it to be that way. You have to count on the typical, not the extraordinary." "So what have you done?" "I have sent him a man." "One man would make such a difference?" "One man, yes. This man." "And who is this man." "Frankie Carbine." "Frankie Horsekiller? Frankie of Times Square? Frankie of the two policemen? That Frankie?" "That Frankie, exactly." "Oh, my god!" The amen chorus rumbled nervously, then the wise man spoke again. "He is crazy. He has no judgment. He likes too much to shoot. All his problems he solves with a gun. He wants to be big but he hasn't the vision. He just has his gun and his craziness. But sometimes you need craziness. You need that thing where there is no fear. Some of the old-timers had it. We had to move on, but there are throwbacks, and Frankie Carbine is such a man. We may have need of the crazed down there. Cuba is the lynchpin of all our things; we may have to defend it with crazy. Sometimes, crazy is necessary." All amened in honor of crazy. Chapter 13 "It's obvious," said Roger. "You were set up." But Earl couldn't concentrate on what Roger was saying. He kept looking into the front seat at Frenchy Short and images returned of the young man in Hot Springs in 1946, his talent, his ambition, his anger, his hurry, his inability to fit in. There'd always been something funny about it. They'd had to dump Frenchy because he was difficult to control and a politician couldn't stand having him around. And a week after, somehow the unit had been ambushed and so many other young men killed. All for nothing, as it turned out. It was as sorry a thing as Earl had ever been involved with. And Frenchy? What of Frenchy? What had he known, who had he talked to, what was he capable of? To look at him, you'd never think he was capable of a thing. He looked, if anything, younger today than that first day in Hot Springs. Like Roger, he was blond and had a square, almost pretty face. He was dressed just like Roger too, in khakis, a white shirt, some kind of striped tie and a blue blazer with an insignia on the pocket. It was like the duty uniform with these guys. You'd look at him and you'd think, gee, this kid, he's probably a big man on some leafy campus somewhere. His eyes were guileless; he hardly shaved; he had freckles. "Really, Earl," Roger was saying, "it seems so sleepy and tropical down here, but there's a war going on. It's the same war that's going on everywhere. The Reds sneak in and call it 'liberation' and get the brown people all heated up thinking they can have Cadillacs and freezers and televisions if only they overthrow the governments and take over, under communist supervision. That's the new war, Earl. Korea is an anomaly, because it's direct and involves actual combat. But we've studied the phenomenon and we know the wars of the future will be guerilla things, low-key dramas of assassination, subversion, sabotage and propaganda. Getting a congressman's dick in a wringer is exactly their kind of operation." Maybe Roger meant it as a joke, but still, Earl had not laughed. "They have to make us look ridiculous and weak. So along comes an idiot like Harry Etheridge and with his appetites and lack of judgment, he's an incident waiting to happen. And it happens." They were driving an embassy car back from the Centro Havana jail after a stop at the emergency room, where Earl's wounds were tended, he was given shots and painkillers, and his knife cut was stitched. He was back in his suit even if it was a little bloodied; the Colt Super.38 had been restored to the Lawrence holster held by leather halter under his left shoulder. It was early. The old city was coming awake. Gray dawn splashed across the white streets and a cool wind ruffled the trees. They seemed to have found the Malecon, that great Havana roadway that girded the waterfront, and a gray sheet of as yet unlit Caribbean spread off to one side, while a row of bricky-bracky pink and pale-blue colonnaded buildings dominated the other. Frenchy, who was driving, had rolled down the windows. All the smells of Havana-the sea, the fish, the fruit, the meat, the poultry, the tobacco, all of it rawly ripped from where it had been the day before-rode in on breezes, propelled by the smell of very hot, strong, sweet coffee. "But, Earl," continued this talky Roger, "Earl, you stopped them, you stopped them cold. Walter said you were the sort of man for this kind of work and he was right." "Who's Walter?" said Earl, then realized Roger was talking about the boy in the front seat. "Frenchy," he said, leaning forward, "what the hell is going on here?" "Earl, we needed a good man. The best. I knew you. Whoever's been in Arkansas knows Earl Swagger. So I made a suggestion. That's all." "It was a good suggestion," said Roger. "Walter, or should I say Frenchy, made a good suggestion. You handled the knuckleball they threw us, so Congressman Harry isn't on the cover of Life magazine beating up a whore in a blow job dispute and making the United States look like two cents worth of garbage." "So is that why I'm here? I wondered." "Earl, this is nothing formal. Just think about things. You have several futures ahead of you. You can stay in Arkansas and be a state cop and probably, given your skill and integrity, end up in command. But again, some wiseguy politician or newspaper joe may cut you off at the knees if it earns him three extra votes or some kind of prize." Earl said nothing. "Or...well, you just think about the or. The or could be something you never dreamed of. Someone has noticed your talent, your skill, and there's no reason you should waste it in Arkansas. Nobody ever made it in Arkansas. Look at Boss Harry and Fred C. Becker: they're the best Arkansas has managed. No need for you to be a big fish in a microscopic pond like Arkansas." "I like Arkansas." "Buy a summer house there." They turned up the Prado and navigated its leafy broadness, sliding by the mock-Paris cafes, the heavily ornamental central strip with its stone benches, palms and statues, passed the Sevilla-Biltmore where the gangsters lived, then turned left to the Plaza. "Just think about it," said Roger. "What was your name again, son?" Earl said to Roger. Roger let out a long sigh of exasperation. "All right, show the Ivy League hotshot how little you think of him because he never fought on Iwo Jima. Let me tell you, though, I seem harmless and silly because I'm supposed to seem harmless and silly. It's called cover. It's what we do. For the record, my name is Roger St. John Evans. Roger Evans. I told you I was in codes? That was cover, too. I'm a senior case officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, head of Havana station, reporting directly to the Caribbean Desk in Langley, Virginia, directly to Plans, directly to the Director of Central Intelligence. That makes me important. I am important, take it from me. Walter-Frenchy-is my no. 2." "Well, I'm sure you're very important, sonny. Now I want you to take a hike, because I have to have a talk with young Walter here and what he says and how he explains some things between us has a lot to do with whether I'm staying or whether I'm on the next plane home." "Sure," said Roger. He leaned forward to Walter and said, "Don't blow it!" Time ticked away as the two men sat in the car next to the pie-shaped, fivestory building that was the Plaza. Across from them the Parque Central began to fill up; Havana was an exceptionally busy town and today would be no different. Cubans in straw hats and white suits came and went along the street and on to jobs in Old Havana, in the buildings along the Prado, here, there everywhere. Old ladies set up their tables and began the day's worth of rolling cigars for the touristas. It was a little early yet for pimps and touts, but they would be there, you could be sure. Finally Frenchy said, "Well, Earl, I'm up front, but you're in the driver's seat. They want you. It's something, let me tell you." Between Earl and the young man lay a whole gulf of mistrust. Frenchy had been a member of Earl's raid team in Hot Springs some years earlier, in an ugly little war against mobsters, supposedly for the moral betterment of mankind. But Frenchy was wild then, and made mistakes, some innocent people were killed, and it was decreed by frightened higher authorities that he should be let go. Off he went, spewing fury and screaming betrayal. A week later, the team was mysteriously ambushed in a rail yard, after being set up by someone with an unusual sense of its weaknesses and vanities. Seven good men died that night and only Earl and one other made it out. Within six months, the tables and wheels of Hot Springs were up and running, so it had all been for nothing. It still left a dark, rancid taste on Earl's tongue. He hated to think on it; it got him riled in ways unnecessary for a calm life. "You don't tell me nothing. You understand? Was a time when I thought I might come looking for you so's we'd have a little talk, get some things straightened out." "Earl, there's nothing to be straightened out." Earl looked at him and Frenchy held the gaze square and hard. There was no evasion, no furtiveness of the eyes, none of the things you saw when you had a crook before you, as Earl had had before him now a thousand or so times. Earl watched: the boy didn't breathe hard and shallow, his eyes didn't flutter left to recall or right to make something up, his throat didn't dry or crank up a quart or two of liar's phlegm. He held steady, maybe even a little too steady. That was the thing about Frenchy, damn his skills, he could look anybody square in the eye and tell him anything and say it with such passion he made you believe it. "Does this Roger kid know what a little snake he has working for him?" "Earl, I never did you or any of them any harm. I heard about it when I got back from China. I looked for you, because I wanted to know what happened, too. When I heard that Bugsy Siegel got pasted, I figured Mr. Earl paid him a call." "Like as if I'd waste my time on city trash like that. No, he wasn't part of what happened in Hot Springs." "Neither was I. Ask me any question. I'll go over it with you day by day, I'll cite time, date, location. I'll account for it all. You try your hardest to trip me up, but you won't be able to do it, because there's nothing for me to trip up on." "What I know is you got canned, and both the old man and I fought as hard as we could against that. Some fights with some assholes you just don't win. Next, you disappear. A week later we are turned inside out by someone who knew us so well he played it straight to our weaknesses, to that old man's silly vanity, to his memories. Only two of us walked away." "You and Carlo Henderson." "That left seven good men and one great one to die in a rail-yard." "I'd bet he didn't go unavenged." "There was justice paid out, and I'd do it again in a second, even if it was evil killing work. But that ain't got nothing to do with you. We were talking about the great D. A. Henderson and seven good men." "I remember D.A. He was a good hand. Earl, I had not a thing to do with it. I left town, I drifted to Washington, I went to work in a small unimportant department of the government, I had a lucky break and met some people-through a girl, actually-and got a small, unimportant job in the Agency. A nothing job. In there, I worked hard and met some more people and got some training and got the China assignment. I saw some things, but you know we lost China, and some men were stained by it. Their careers are finished. I just barely survived and I'm still at it. Going nowhere except fetching coffee for this Harvard asshole Roger who thinks he's the next Director. Anyhow, that's the story, the whole story." Earl just studied him. "Truth is, you could be spinning a lie or saying the word of God and I wouldn't know. Some-very damned few-criminals have that gift. But most don't. Not hardly nobody does. I never saw it in fifteen years in the Marine Corps. But it exists, I have learned that as a cop." "Earl, I'll take a polygraph." "You could beat that." "Earl, you just watch and wait and make up your own mind. You belong in the major leagues, not out on some lousy Arkansas state route, handing out tickets. You'll see." Earl shook his head. "I need some sleep," he finally said. "Earl, tonight there's the big party. You'll see it's the world you belong in. I know you, Earl. I know where you belong." Chapter 14 "I must say, Speshnev, you've quite a queer notion of doing business," said Pashin. "How so?" asked Speshnev. They sat at a disagreeable cafe in Centro, just off Zanja Street, just down from the Barrio Chino, for their weekly. The coffee was strong and sweet, the smell of tobacco stronger. All about them throbbed the Cuban working classes, in whose cause they so energetically labored. "You were assigned to shadow a man who could be an opponent. And, if necessary, kill him. You establish surveillance, you penetrate the target, you even manage to enter the zone with an automatic. Then, astonishingly, you save his life when fate is about to give you exactly what we needed and expected of you. I wonder what the meaning of that decision is?" "Oh, that. Yes, well, he seemed rather too impressive a man to end up with his gizzard cut in a Havana drunk tank. The theater of the moment demanded that I intercede. One has to have a feel for such things." "His records have been found. We have sources in Washington, you know. Here, take a look." Pashin slid the documents over. They were photoed copies of the Marine service record of Earl Lee Swagger. They told of many wars, much battle experience, many wounds, many lost friends, and a few moments of insane heroism. The list of medals was impressive. "As you see," said Pashin, "a man of great talent. A formidable opponent, one they could not easily replace. And so...you save him?" "I thought he had a salty look to him. Like one of the old zeks sent to the camps to perish who instead flourish. Zeks are one thing I know all about." "Yes, well, if you fail, it's a zek you'll know about again, 4715." "Ah, yes, the magic number, 4715. Why, how sweet to hear its rhythms again." "If he determines to move in a certain way, how will we stop him? It would have been so much better to deal with this now." "He doesn't know Cuba well enough to do us any harm yet. And the men with him, they are idiots. So I will watch him, while I become an intimate of this Castro, and all things will develop as we hope. I will perform magnificently." "You know, Speshnev," said the younger man, leaning forward, his face empty of humor or irony but filled simply with aggression, "I grow tired with your whimsy, your poetics. I'm sure all your Comintern colleagues at the Hotel Luxe in Moscow found them amusing, but out here, we've no room for romantic gestures. This is a war, and we must win it." "Little Pashin, I do believe I know more about wars than you do. After all, I have fought in all the ones you only read about." Chapter 15 "Cigar, Marine?" It was the fifth one he'd been offered tonight, a huge, dense thing, expertly woven into the perfect tube. The offer came from a little man in a dinner jacket, his tanned face alight with pleasure. He had to be Somebody Important. Everybody here was Somebody Important. "Damn fine," he continued. "These people know their goddamned tobacco, I'll say." "No, thank you, sir," said Earl. "I'm pretty much a Camel man." "Fine smoke, a Camel. But these Cubano torpedoes, they're sweet and dense, like a great whiskey." "All the same-" "Well, no matter. Hell of a job, I hear. These politicians, children in my experience. Glad a fellow like you was along to handle things. That's my line of work too, by the way. Son, if you're ever looking for a job, I'm always in the market for a certain kind of talent. Here, take my card, and think about it. We pay top dollar for the right man." The card gave a name and said underneath "Director of Security, United Fruit, Caribbean Division." Earl was a star as he stood there in a new dinner jacket himself, courtesy of Congressman Etheridge; it fit tight and beautifully, the black striped trousers perfect, the shoes a marine-bright shine. He sipped a rumless Coca-Cola, now and then lighting a Camel. He could hardly move, because people kept coming by to see him and say nice things. He wasn't sure how this had happened, but happened it had: in the American community, the word had gotten round. It was the most fabulous party ever thrown at the embassy in Havana. It had been less smokey on Iwo, an island made of ash. The vapors rose but didn't dissipate; they hung in the vault over the merriment, seething, dense, caught in the light. It was a party in a dramatic fog, men in white dinner jackets, tan women with sleek white breasts peeking out of tight-cut dresses, the tinkle of glass and ice, the pulsations of a mambo combo beating Desi at his own game, the closeness of the tropical night and whatever it concealed just beyond the swimming pool. Even the congressman seemed to get it. "Well, I must say, Earl, I am used to being the center of attention but it does my heart good to see that I'm just a footnote tonight. You done me a good turn and saved me a bad one, and so I am in your debt, now and forever. That's a card you can cash in on, and when I'm gone, my boy Hollis'll pay off on it too, that I swear. You have a son, don't you, Earl?" "Yes, sir." "What's his name?" "Bob Lee." "Well, I'd be happy to see Bob Lee and Hollis grow up together and go to fine private schools in Washington, D.C., and have lives of significance together. That's something for you to think on, Earl, you hear me?" "Yes, sir." "Good, Earl. You have been discovered. Not many are, and it's a sometime thing, but a smart fellow takes advantage. You be smart now, Earl. Don't you be stupid and bullheaded. Look, enjoy, partake, and you can move up." With that, the distinguished southern gentleman was gone, off pressing flesh, bumping into women's plush butts, hugging and charming his way across the room. That everyone knew he'd been whoring and almost gotten in a hell of a mess didn't seem to plague him in the least. He was who he was and that was that for Boss Harry Etheridge. "You know, Earl," someone whispered to him, "you belong here." It was Frenchy Short, of course. Earl merely grunted. "Earl, look around. These are people who matter. These are the cream of the cream. A lot of 'em got here by luck. Roger, for example. Son of wealth going back five generations. All the advantages. Best schools, people looking out for him all the way, connections, mentors, teachers. On top of that, he's handsome as a movie star and a hell of a tennis player. Some guys get all the breaks, huh? But you and me, Earl, we got here on our talent alone. We've earned it." Earl looked over at Frenchy, so neat and shiny in his dinner jacket, his crew cut glistening with butch wax so that the hairs all stood up straight, like a platoon at attention. "You're talking about yourself," said Earl. "I never wanted this shit. I just wanted to make an honest living and go to bed tired and honest, on nobody's take. That's enough for me." "Earl, don't throw this away. Think of what it could mean to your family." Earl had a laugh at that one. He imagined poor Junie trying to fit into this crowd, or Bob Lee hitting a tennis ball around in short white pants with Roger the Big Noise from Winnetka. "Earl, you-" "Excuse me, sonny." Earl pulled away from the grasping young man, and somehow negotiated his way across the crowded room. He needed some air. This was getting him down. He stopped at the bar for another Coca-Cola, spied an opening to a porch, and slipped out. The night was cool. There was no moon. Even with the back-wash of light, he could see a spray of stars across the dark. He tried to breathe cool air and relax. He checked his Bulova, saw that it was after eleven, and felt that by midnight he could be in bed to catch some sleep for whatever else this trip had in store for him. He reconstituted a bit, then figured he ought not to lose contact with his employers for much longer and turned to head back inside. There was a man standing there. "I know you," he said. "Beg pardon?" said Earl, stepping forward. He looked at the fellow. His face was bunched in a dog's feral aggression. His hair was slicked back and the dinner jacket looked alien on a body so bursting with physical vitality. He needed a shave but he'd be the type that somehow always needed a shave. There wasn't a single thing tropical about him, and nothing smooth, nothing slick, nothing disciplined. His eyes were tiny and dark and fierce, his nose a vertical blade beneath them, his mouth a horizontal blade beneath it. Eyetie in spades, city in aces, tough in queens and kings. He was pure-D mob, down to the bone level, exactly the kind of gangster gun boy so prominent in Hot Springs. "They're saying you were in Hot Springs," the man demanded, and Earl was not surprised. "What's it to you?" The man smiled, but it wasn't a smile of love or friendship. It was a smile of release as a man tries to relax his face just before the shit begins. "I heard about a guy there. They're still talking about him. He supposedly punched out a big famous mob gun down there and got free lunches for years on the story. Yeah, I don't believe it for a second. Ben Siegel was tough as they come, and if anybody laid him out, he must have sucker-punched him, that's what I think. You know anything about that, bud?" Earl said, "You know what? I don't explain things. That ain't my job around here." "You don't know me, but I know you. I been watching you eating all this shit up. Some kind of hero. Yeah, well, heroes go down too, mac, just in case-" "Hey, let me tell you, bud. If someone takes a whack at me, I put him flat faster than a ghost's boo. If some hooligan face-boy thinks he's tough and wants to take a cold shot, I'm the man who shows him he ain't much but average. And I don't like it when some bunny rabbit in a dancing-lesson jacket sticks his nose in mine and tells me some business. You got that?" "Oh, well, say, ain't we got us a hero here, but ever notice how outside the movies heroes end up cold and still? Why-" But then another man was on the porch, slicker, older, comforting, smoother. "Frankie, Frankie, there you are. Oh, sorry, sir, Frankie's been drinking too much and he gets cranky. He doesn't mean a thing by it, don't pay any attention to him." He pulled Frankie away but Frankie broke free, not to assault Earl but to whisper. "Somebody killed Ben Siegel on his own sofa. Shot down while reading a newspaper. If I get my hands on that guy..." But the older man reigned him in with surprising force, and sent him on his way. It was as if the younger suddenly realized the power of the old, and slumped and dejected, he exited. Earl looked at the old man: he saw sadness, wisdom, smart eyes, a nose both huge and beautiful at once. He saw something he recognized, if not by name, by instinct. "Mr. Swagger, please don't pay any attention to my associate. He's in his cups, he has dreams of glory, he spent too much time at lousy tables in New York nightclubs. He plays the gangster when he's the assistant to the assistant. Sober and free of his fantasies, he means you no harm at all, believe me." "He's way out of line." "He gets that way when he drinks. I'll have words with him. By the way, I run a casino. It's called Montmartre. Come on by and spend a night gambling on my tab, just to show there's no hard feelings. You can't lose and what you win is yours to take. It's owed you. You're quite a hero. My name is Meyer Lansky." A king gangster! A big gangster! The biggest of the big! "I'm not a gambler, but thanks anyhow." "Whatever makes you happy, my friend. The house will always be open to you and I think you'll find the cards run your direction." He smiled, and slid back, and with that smooth way of his seemed to vaporize into invisibility. Chapter 16 The young man studied the board. Now this was interesting. It seemed that the force was setting itself up to the left, where the queen commanded doughty pawns, clever rooks, heroic knights and even the bishop, while the king languished, as was his wont, far away, shielded by a few disengaged pieces. The old lady did the work. But the more he studied, the more he concluded that his opponent was lulling him. He was engineering what seemed to be an aggression on the right, but the real action would come suddenly from the left, and it would be blinding and clever and swift. He knew a possibility lurked here. In his mind, he struggled to unlock it, but no epiphany arrived for assistance. Yet his faith was deep: he was convinced the right was a ruse, the left a trap. He knew he had to decide, to countermove, to show aggression and tenacity. So he- "No, no, no!" the older man screamed at him. "Have you learned nothing these days? Have you been sleeping? Have you been daydreaming! Ach, such an idiot you are!" "But, sir," said the twenty-six-year-old Castro, "it appeared to me that-" "Go ahead, make your move, this is becoming boring." Castro moved, the older man countermoved insolently, a performance of abject contempt, and in the countermove Castro saw a seam open, an unexpected thrust of aggression rupture his defenses, and felt the steam go out of him. "Damn!" he said. "Again." "Play it out, idiot." It was quick: three moves and for the sixth straight time and the ninth time in ten days, he was checkmated. He had but a solitary, lucky draw to show for his efforts. "You have to have a feel for these things," said the chess master. "Maybe chess is not the game for you. There's no opportunity to give speeches or go on the radio. Perhaps that is what you are really good at. It's a tawdry talent, but I suppose it is what one has, and one must make the best of it. Let the smarter fellows make the decisions and figure things out." "No, no," whined the young man, "I am smart. You will see that-" But then he stopped. He said, "That was last year. How did you know I was on the radio? You are not from Cuba." "I know some things. One thing I know: You need a better head for chess. That would be a wiser place to start than speeches, where you get paid in plaudits and end up the day with nothing tangible. What have I been telling you? Don't be so hasty. It gets you massacred every time." "At least it's a glorious massacre," said the young man. "Have you ever seen a massacre?" the older fellow asked. "No," Castro admitted. "Well, I have. Not pretty. Certainly not glorious. Ugly, bloody, pitiful, pathetic, squalid. So all great crusades end up, if they are not carefully managed." "Who are you?" Castro asked. "You show up and suddenly we are playing chess every day. You speak our language too well, and with a European accent. You learned your Spanish in Spain." "Spain, it's true." "Thirty-six to thirty-nine? Where also you saw the massacre?" "I have, alas, seen many massacres. Too many. I hope not to see another." The two sat in the park called San Francisco under palm trees in Old Havana, not far from a coffee stand, a shoeshine man, a fleet of bolita salesmen, two whores taking a time off from a busy morning, a woman rolling cigars, and many relaxing seagulls. The sun was hot, but a fresh sea breeze from the nearby harbor made the palms dance and kept the sweat from collecting. "I think you've come a long way to see me," said Castro. "You were interested in me from the start, that I could tell. I understood that." "I have some practical experience. Possibly you'd listen to my advice now and then. Sometime in the future, when you are wiser, you might even take it." "Where are you from?" "What does it matter? What matters is that you and I believe in the same things and possibly the same methods." The boy began a hoary recitation of what he believed in. Meanwhile, Speshnev looked hard at him and, try as he could, only saw a familiar type, thrown up by revolutions and wars the world over. An opportunist with a lazy streak, and also a violent one. Not smart, but clever enough to get himself in real trouble. A minor gift for gab, but no real character or integrity. No vision beyond the self, but a willingness to use the vernacular of the struggle for his own private careerism. Speshnev had of course read the documents. The boy Castro was only a thirdgeneration Cuban, his father being the son of a Spanish soldier who, when Spain left in 1899, had decided to stay in the new country rather than move back to the old. The father's family was Galician, from that severe province in the north of Spain whence hailed conquistadors and other men of cruel disposition and rapacious appetite. But there was no evidence the boy was comprised of such fortitude. So far, beside the speeches, there'd only been mischief: he played at organizing demonstrations against the American secretary of state in 1948 and had gone on some mad pretend campaign to liberate the Dominicans from the strongman Trujillo, abandoning the quest when things got tough. No questions had been answered. This was the sort of boy who-like dozens of others-ended up hanging on a meathook in Secret Police headquarters, or turned, compromised, made a parody of himself, trafficking in betrayal for a few dollars, a few more days of limited freedom. Did he have the steel will? Was he able to kill and not die of guilt? Could he spy, torture, intimidate, betray to advance the greater cause? Who knew? Could he yield on the shabby bourgeois "morality" of his father, a petty landowner in Oriente province who had done well by groveling before American interests? So the boy bobbed before him, a weird blend of gifts, ambition and vagueness, too romantic for anybody's good, particularly his own. He might have what it took, and Speshnev might be able to help him. But as for now: who could tell? "Allow me to point out," Speshnev lectured harshly, delineating another flaw, "that you lack curiosity. Day in, day out, I beat you. You don't wonder why, you don't try new tactics, you don't do research or make intelligent sacrifices. You attack, attack, attack. You find romance in the attack. That is a way to die young and bitter." "I am following my heart." "Ach, you're giving me a headache. So much passion, so little accomplished. Work steadily toward a goal that is immediately attainable. A seat in the legislature, a column in the newspaper, an endorsement from an older fellow. Reach out to them, so that they may reach out to you. In the arms of others shall you rise. The great revolutionaries all knew that. Thus far you have demonstrated that you know nothing." Castro now took the insults easily. Another man he would have killed for such an insult, but this dry old buzzard knew a thing or two. "So, think. Think of a man who can help you." "Hmmm," said Castro. "I know of such a man. Perhaps I should go to see him and make a strategic alliance." "An excellent start." "His name is Leon Lemus." "And should I know Senor Lemus?" "He is a leader in the movement. He led the Socialist Revolutionary Movement in the forties, and worked hard to change things. He is still a power." "He has retired?" "Not so much retired as changed paths." "And where does his new path take him?" "Well, many places. But he has power and influence, he pays much in protection money, so the police look with favor upon him. He has gunmen, so they fear him." "He is a gangster, I take it. A killer, a robber, a whoremonger." "I suppose. He is known as El Colorado. I will go to him; is that a good idea? I will make an alliance and good things will come of it, you shall see." "El Colorado," said Speshnev. "It sounds ridiculous, but you may have to learn that the hard way." Chapter 17 There were things Frankie accepted. Being yelled at by a screaming old man who told him he was shit, he was nothing, he was so stupid his mother should be ashamed to have opened her legs for his father. That had happened enough times so that Frankie knew how to deal with it, which was just to close down, issue the aspects of contrition that would ultimately bore his punisher, and wait for it to blow over and go away. But this was new. The little Jew man simply closed him out for the next few days. He, Frankie, ceased to exist. The world went on as if he were a ghost, an invisible man; nobody spoke, nobody acknowledged, nobody even let his shadow touch Frankie's, that's how deep the freeze was. And the funny part: it hurt Frankie. It hurt him badly, in ways he still didn't know he could be hurt. And so he prayed. Not that he was a religious man, but he did have some notion of something Up There that he would have to answer to, and that cared little for the venal sins he had committed and would burn willingly for. But he wanted to face St. Peter unblemished by treachery. He wanted St. Peter to say, "Frankie, you've been a bad boy, but you always done what you were told and you never ratted nobody out, so by your lights you were a good man, a good gangster. All else is forgiven; only disloyalty may not be forgiven." He prayed for another chance, and possibly not much went on in the world that day, for God found time enough for Frankie, and allowed the little Jewish man with the sad face to forgive him. "I am so sorry, sir." "Don't call me sir, Frankie. I am no boss. I am a counselor and a friend and bent under responsibilities. Just call me Meyer." "Yes, Meyer." "You did so wrong. You were not supposed to drink or speak. You were not supposed to act out." "Yes, Meyer." "Frankie, these instructions were not pointless, arbitrary. I did not give them to amuse myself, do you realize that?" "Yes, Meyer." "When you say Meyer you are thinking sir. I can hear it in your voice. Say Meyer as if you mean Meyer." "Yes, Meyer. Yes, Meyer." "Better, by far. Now listen to me and think. Think!" "Yes, Meyer." "We cannot lose Cuba. We cannot. Absolutely. So much depends on Cuba. But Cuba is a strained balancing act. Our partners, though it is unsaid and unvouched for by document, are certain American corporations that also depend upon Cuba for rivers of money in the form of cheap sugar, labor and fruit, as well as real estate ventures and eventually offshore manufacturing. But these men are not our kind. They don't like our ways. The force we use to settle our problems scares them. Yet we need them." "Yes, Meyer." "They must be comfortable around us. They must see us as slightly comical versions of themselves, as capitalism gone raffish and exotic. We're from Damon Runyon, or out of the movies and played by Georgie Raft or Eddie Robinson or Humphrey Bogart. We're not squalid, violent, profane, quick-tempered. No, no, we're colorful, vivid, amusing rogues. We're stars and crime is our screen, do you see?" "Yes, Meyer." "Ben Siegel, of them all, he understood this. They loved him out there, and had he lived, he would have become a star, I'm convinced. He would have been on the television. Big, handsome, lovable, a lady's man. He would have been such an emissary from us to them. It's a crime he was killed so young." Frankie knew God was being merciful today. He blinked back tears of thanks. "Meyer, I know of Ben. Ben, Ben, Ben, he was my hero," he said. "How I loved him. Others loved DiMaggio, or Ted Williams, me, I loved Bennie. I wanted to meet him but he was taken from us before that could happen. I just want to be like him. That's always been my ambition." "That pleases me. I loved that boy like a son and lit candles for him for a month in the Catholic church, though both of us are Jews. That's how much I loved him, and I had a need to show it. Someone shot him in the face while he read the papers, and some even say it was me who gave the order." "I never believed it. It couldn't have been the great Meyer." "It was not one of mine, or one of ours. It was from the outside, do you understand?" "Meyer?" "Yes." "Not an excuse. But an explanation. Please, just this once." Meyer considered. Then he said, "So explain a little." "The man I was yelling at?" "Yes, the congressman's bodyguard." "Don't you know who he is?" For once, Meyer had no real answer. "Some thug," he said, "with a badge. That's all." "Meyer, I heard it from one of the coupiers at Sans Souci, who recognized him. That's what's eating me. That's why I went all hot and cuckoo. He's the man in Hot Springs. Who punched Ben. Who became famous by punching Ben without warning. Ben swears to get him. Yet it's Ben who is shot, in the face, on his sofa. This big guy: he's the one, I tell you." This struck Lansky in a curious way. He saw how well it fit together, what perfect sense it made, the Arkansas connection, the political connections, the size and apparent toughness of the bodyguard. A little flare of some passion he had never felt before suddenly coursed in shades of red through his mind. "Think about it, Meyer. Please. Think about it. I won't mention it again. But the man who killed Ben Siegel... God has put him here, under our noses. What would you do with him?" But in another second, Meyer was wise again. Something had changed, but he was wise. "Never follow your feelings. That way is damnation. The business first. Always, the business first, and there's much to do here, and it must be done discreetly, yes, to solidify and indemnify our position." "And then?" "If it's him, if we know it's him." "Yes." "Then we kill the schmata. But always, business first. Then vengeance. Or, rather, justice. I could kill for that." Chapter 18 "Oh, the young crusader!" said El Colorado. "What a fine specimen he is. Come in, boy, let's have a look at you!" El Colorado was vast and brown, the mahogany of his skin set off by the whiteness of his teeth and his hair and his suit as he sat on the patio at his house, no. 352, on the corner of 23rd Avenue in 15th Street in Vedado. The old man was enjoying a perfectly hard-boiled egg in a cup. A sea breeze blew in, as the Caribbean was but a few blocks away, yet what Castro could see, as he was brought in to the old man, was flowers: a cascade of them, in the gardens below the patio, invisible from 23rd Avenue. "The great El Colorado," he said. "I come at last to show my respects!" " At last is certainly right, boy. You young ones, you have no respect for those who came before and did the hard work. You think we lived merely as midwives to the birth of your generation." This bitter truth, nevertheless, was delivered with a great deal of zest and humor. Whatever had passed before, this day found El Colorado in fabulous humor. And why not? He lived in one of Havana's most beautiful houses, he had six of the most beautiful mistresses in the city-Castro had eyed them longingly as he was escorted through the house by a factotum, but he could see their tastes were too evolved for a ragamuffin speechifier, as he was-and he ruled the city's vice network, with the exception of the women who worked the big Americano hotels and gambling houses. He was rich. Not bad for a socialist. "It is true," Castro said humbly. "In my generation, we think we have invented everything ourselves. That is our shortsightedness. We forget the great Marti, we forget the great El Colorado. Now, with a view toward what is possible in the future, I have come to make introductions, amends, and to seek the advice of the greatest revolutionary fighter of the thirties." "Sit, then. Julian, bring the boy some coffee. I see in your face, in its ovals and whiteness, you are not long separated from the motherland." "I am only a third generation. My father is a petty caudillo in Oriente, and his father a humble soldier who stayed after the debacle of '98." "Otherwise, you would have more cocoa in you. I see only lily-white. That is good for your ambitions, I know. It will be yet a time before anyone of chocolate persuasion makes a difference in our homeland." "That is one of the things I hope to change." The old man laughed hilariously. He found young Castro truly amazing. "See, Julian, how well he plays. He knows which keys to hit, and exactly when to hit them. This boy has talent." "Yes, senor," said the servant. "Fetch him more coffee. You, young man, are a pleasure to have around." "Thank you, senor." "But what exactly do you seek? A favor? A source of income? A strategic consultation?" "Advice, I suppose. And, I hope, friendship. That you would say good things about me, if asked. And if I am in a position to repay this kindness ever, then I shall do so. We in the struggle must concentrate on our opponents, not each other." "Possibly I am too old and used-up for good advice." "Yet still I hear of your heroism in the '36 strike against United Fruit, and leading the dockworkers in '42. Those were great days." "My best, my favorite, the source still of pride and manhood. But I'll tell you my miscalculation. I believed too much in the strike as a weapon. Now, especially, with all this American money invested and the people getting used to soft living, I doubt the power of them to sustain a strike and of a strike to topple Batista and drive the Americans out." "Then it's terror?" "Terror is messy. The wrong people die, always. The hunger for blood becomes difficult to manage. Killing begets killing. A nightmare of betrayal and recrimination. I am thinking of something new: symbolic terror." Castro leaned forward. "I don't follow you." "Suppose something happened that was grand," El Colorado said, leaning forward, his eyes lit with inspiration. "Big! Something that had never happened before. Something that gave the people hope and heart and dreams of the future. And yet nobody died. And now I see a greater possibility. What if, furthermore, they ascribed that thing to you. You, young Castro, you had done this wondrous thing. Your name was on everybody's lips. Moreover, upon this occasion, you gave a grand speech. Your words were heard the country over. History, you say, will absolve me! And this speech puts you on the map so powerfully that no force on earth could take you off." "'History will absolve me.' Hmmm," said the young man, "yes. Yes, I do like that. I am for that, I agree to that." "Excellent. What wondrous instincts you have. Amazing in one so young." "And what is this thing?" "Imagine...an American casino. Bandits attack it. But they kill no one. They abscond with millions, yes? They abscond with millions, and before the police can intercede, they have passed it out in the slums. All that American money, gone straight to the poor. And if the agent for this deliverance were seen to be young Castro, can you imagine the impact? Ah..." He paused. The American gangsters who ran the casinos were by repute men not to be trifled with, Castro thought. Yet the gain would in fact be so enormous it stunned him. And if the connection between himself and the crime were more associational than exact, no charges could be brought, no prison sentence would ensue. He turned it over in his mind. "Such a thing is going to happen?" "Exactly as I have described it. It is a thing I have contemplated for many a year, and the planning is immaculate. Come with me." The old man stood up. He led young Castro through what seemed countless rooms jammed with treasures both of artistic and fleshly perfection. In most, servants bowed and scraped unctuously, and the grand socialist El Colorado sailed through as though it were beneath him to notice. But from this heaven on earth, they departed quickly enough by way of stairs to the cellar, and in its darkness discovered a hell on earth-or more precisely, the capacity to bring hell to earth by virtue of violence. In the deep underground, men labored, shirtless, on machine guns. So many machine guns! Many were broken down, and their parts lay greasy and sparkling under bare bulbs. But some of the guns were being assembled with a surgeon's care, by black men with soldier's graces who knew what they were doing. "They have just arrived. From friends in Chicago, of all places. Come, look." He seized one of the finished guns, held it, admiring its weight and density, its gleaming beauty, the glow of its wood and metal parts, the sleekness of its design, the efficiency of its workings. "Do you know this weapon, young Castro?" "You see them everywhere. The police carry them. The Thompson gun, I believe. And now we have them." "Yes. To even the odds. If you fight mobsters, you must have a mobster's gun. He respects the gun. These guns will make my enterprise work smoothly and without damage." "I had no idea you had machine guns," said Castro, deeply impressed. "These will carry the day," said El Colorado. "You may be sure of it! They won't even have to be fired! Now go, young man. You have a speech to write. You have to tell people that the day after tomorrow, big things are coming and that they come owing to your strength and vision. You should profit from this venture in power; I will profit merely in satisfaction." "History will absolve us," said Castro. Chapter 19 Earl wondered where the marines were. According to the schedule, the congressman would drive to Guantanamo today for a two-day inspection tour, under escort from armed marines. But when he arrived at the embassy that morning, he could see no marines except for the two young men standing at parade rest at the gate. He walked inside to find the duty NCO in his embassy security office just down the main hall from the visa section. "Sergeant," he asked, "where're the jeeps? They ain't here yet?" "Gunny, the escort was canceled. I don't know why. We were alerted when we came on at 0600 there wasn't going to be any escort." "Christ. Any idea what smart guy thought that one up?" "No, Gunny." "Tell me, what do y'all keep in the embassy strong room?" "Mostly shotguns. Them old short-barreled 97 Winchester pumps." "Maybe Teddy Roosevelt brought 'em over. Could I check one out?" "Well, Gunny, there's paperwork. You have to get the ambassador's written permission. Arms are only allowed out of the strong room on his authority. But I guess if the congressman wants something, all he has to do is ask, that's the way it works." "You know what? I think you're right about that." He went back to the motor pool, where Cuban workers were just finishing a nice wash and wax job on the congressman's black Cadillac, while an American supervisor watched from a chair. "You check it?" he asked the man, a senior motor pool mechanic. "I checked it yesterday," said the man. "Well, check it again. I don't want no hoses pulling loose or fan belts popping in some goddamned jungle, you hear me?" "Hey, I don't work for you. I work for the State Department." "You must be from the navy at one time." "Twenty years. Retired a bosun's mate, as a matter of fact. Say, what's it to you?" "Figured. Anyhow, check the goddamned car," said Earl, leaning forward and fixing his own NCO glare on the man, "or I'll have the congressman ship you off to the North Pole. Check the tires too, and the oil. I want that car shipshape." Bitterly, the man set about to do the work, and Earl watched as he ran over the car, digging through the hood, pulling the dipstick, tugging the fan belts, doing a fair once-over, even if his attitude was all nasty and dark. "Good work, son," Earl finally said, checking his watch. At last, he saw Lane approaching. "Mr. Brodgins?" "Yeah, Earl, what is it?" "Sir, what happened to the marine escort? The plan I saw, we were going to have two jeeps of marines with us the whole way." "The congressman changed his mind on that. He thought it was better to keep a low profile and not associate Americans with a military occupational force." "Mr. Brodgins, I-" "Earl, I swear you are a load every single day, aren't you? One thing or another, every single day. Earl, it's the congressman's decision. He makes the decisions, don't you understand?" "I do understand that. I'd feel safer with some nice young privates in khakis or class A's, all trim and proper looking. It's a deterrent-" "Earl, you know the boss. He may want to have a stop somewhere. For a rum drink. You know his proclivities, too. You do know them." "Yes, sir. Then can you ask the ambassador to sign the paperwork so I can take a shotgun out of the strong room? I'll keep it down low, but that's some firepower it'd be nice to have along, just in case." "Earl, I don't think so." Earl got all heated up. His temper flared, his breath grew sharp, his eyes went narrow and hard. "Goddammit, I am not asking, Brodgins. If you want security on this little trip, you let me make the security decisions, you hear? If something happens, I'm stuck with a goddamned handgun and that's it." "Earl, what on earth are you expecting? This is a vacationland paradise for god's sake." "We're going to be miles inland on dusty little roads where no Americans don't hardly go. Why don't we fly?" "He doesn't want to spend a lot of taxpayers' money on an air trip. The trains here are terrible. A boat would take too long." He left Earl standing there. Earl spat in the dust. He looked up and saw the ex-bosun's mate eyeing him, and expected a smirk. But instead the man came over, as if a new page had been turned. "Okay, I got her squared away, Gunny. Sorry about your runin. These political guys can be a tear in the rigging." "They sure can." "Look, I was at Guantanamo for a few years before the war. I'll tell you what's going on here. If this congressman has a hard-on big as everybody says he does, he's going to Gitmo City first. There's more whorehouses there in two blocks than in any two square miles of Havana. It's a navy town, after all." "Yeah, I can see that." "So you may have to bang some more boss pimp skulls before you're done. I'd be on my toes." "I get all the number-one jobs, don't I? Have you traveled the roads down there?" "Yeah. The roads are okay. No problem. And you should be all right all the way down the island. I'd watch out as you get close to Santiago. It's very mountainous down there. And be careful in Ciego de Avila province. It's mostly empty marshlands. They don't see Americans very often. Dark, jungly, you know. Sort of like the Pacific jungles." "I was there for a little while." "Then you know what I'm talking about." "I got some idea. Thanks, pal. Sorry for the harsh words earlier." "Forget it, Sarge. Hey, I know you were in the Pacific. I know what medal you won. But I can tell, it ain't gone to your head." "It ain't my way." He winked at his new pal and headed back into the main building, to get familiar with the route via maps. Chapter 20 Speshnev first began to hear of it in the barber's chair, his face swaddled in towels full of steam heat. He'd come to this place on the morning of every dayone in four, usually-when he'd had to slide by a casino at night, to pick up some of his improvised operational budget at the blackjack tables. So he wasn't thinking of much except numbers. The numbers had to stick like glue, never falling out, always in place, as if on a big board which he could scan instantaneously if necessary. But it was beyond thought, as most games were to him. He had a game mind; his imagination thrilled at the boundaries, the rules, the strategies, as he sought to know, always, how to crack it. So he was dillydallying with that so-necessary state when, seemingly from nowhere, he heard a single phrase in Spanish. "They say it will be big." Sometimes he missed these things, as the Spanish he'd learned was pure Castillian, and the Cubans spoke more briskly than anyone in that motherland. They also pronounced their Z's and C's without the Castillian lisp, hard and brisk, like Andalusians. Worse still, their diction was frequently lazy and unclear, as if they had picked up the jangled rhythms of the Americans, particularly in the way they dropped their S's and sometimes even the entire last syllables of words. But he heard it clearly: "They say it will be big." "What?" "I don't know." "They always say that." "No, this time it is real. It is said that young man is associated with it." He whispered the name to his companion, and Speshnev could not make it out, but he could tell it was a two-syllable name with the emphasis on the first syllable. It could be. Possibly, yes, it might be. But then the conversation stopped, and when the towels came away, the shop was empty. The two had left already. "Sir," he asked the barber, as that man lathered him up, then stropped the razor, "I am provoked. Those two men? Their conversation? Did it have some meaning?" The barber eyed him suspiciously, even though he came in so often. "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't listen to what idle gossipers say." "Ah, I understand," Speshnev said, and then endured torture as the man shaved him over the next ten or twelve hours. Well, of course, it was but ten or twelve minutes, but it dragged so for the Russian he began to shudder with anticipation toward the end. "Sir, if you don't relax, I will cut you badly." "Sorry, sorry," he muttered. At last finished, he rose, paid, and exited quickly. Where to now? Possibly the open-air market at Plaza de la Catedral, a gathering spot for other idlers, as well as self-styled radicals and reformers. As he rushed down the crowded narrow crinkle that was the Emperado, he had the ridiculous impression that everywhere people were muttering the same thing. Finally, he could stand it no longer, and headed into a large cafe, well short of the Catedral. It was crowded and as he bumped along, trying to reach the espresso behind the bar, he heard snippets. Finding a man who also appeared to be alone and listening, he said to him, "Have you heard?" "Heard what?" "You know...about it. They say tomorrow." "Tomorrow. I heard this afternoon late, if not early in the evening." "Possibly such things cannot be planned with precision." "I wouldn't know anything about that. But if it doesn't happen today, then the rumors, you know, about the speaker tonight, they will be ridiculous, no?" "I suppose. I just heard that fellow talks but does nothing." "But if he is involved, then maybe it has moved beyond nothing." "He is a good speaker." "His radio speech when Chiba died"- Castro!-"it was good, but nothing ever came of it. Possibly this time it will be different." But Speshnev was already gone. Where was the young bastard? Of course, not in any of his usual haunts. He wasn't in the park of San Francisco, where the chess players gathered, indulging in his pastime. He wasn't in any of the coffeehouses around the hill that was crowned by the university, or on its glorious splurge of steps, or among the yakkers in the law school cafeteria. He wasn't anywhere except...it was hard to believe, hard to understand, but could he actually be... working? So Speshnev rose in the rotten old apartment building, entering through a dark corridor, wending up a dark stairway, following his way around the balcony engulfing the narrow courtyard, reading the numbers on the battered pastel doors, until at last he came to his destination. He knocked. After a time, there came rustling noises, the sounds of a baby stirring, and finally, the door cracked but a bit. An exceptionally pretty face glared at him suspiciously. What a beautiful young girl! "Ah, is he here?" "Who are you?" she demanded. "A friend. He knows me. We talk in the park." "He is writing his speech." "For tomorrow?" "For tonight, he says. Can you come back?" "It's important that I see him." "And why?" "Young lady-Maria, isn't that it?" "Mirta. But how could you know? He never takes me anywhere." "He talks of you often." "Ha! He never talks of me. I do not exist for him, except when he is in a certain mood. He-" Before she sailed off on the seas of inconsolable bitterness, Speshnev reseized the momentum. "Mirta, you do not want policemen visiting, do you? That would be even worse. Arrests, beatings, the scandal. Think of the parents, the family honor. Therefore it is important that I see him." Mirta continued to eye him. "Where are you from? You speak like a Spaniard." "I am of Spanish experience, yes, extensive. That is where I learned the language. I am not one of these excitable Cubans." "All right. But if he yells at me, I'll be so mad." "He will kiss you." "That I doubt." He walked through the apartment, not that it was far to go, and heard the baby stirring restively, saw the fight between the woman's tidiness and the man's contempt for tidiness-that is, books in piles and gewgaws in rows, in continual battle. He arrived at a back bedroom where, in his flaccid, shirtless condition, his eyes shielded by thick glasses, Castro scribbled away furiously by the bald light of a lamp whose shade was somewhere else. He looked up, saw Speshnev, and did not pause even a second to remark on the incongruity of that man's presence in his home, a phenomenon which had not occurred before and was not remotely conceivable to him. "Listen to this, and tell me what you think," he said. He cleared his throat. "'History will absolve us. Our cause is that just. We seek not profit but freedom, not mastery but equality. Freedom, however, cannot be won without sacrifice.'" "Idiotic," said Speshnev. "You are a young fool who will get yourself killed." "No, no," Castro said. "I think not. This is a very fine opportunity and I must seize it. It will win me followers on a grand scale. In grand scale is power. And so it is that-" "What are you talking about?" But the weirdness of the situation suddenly made itself known to the young man. "What are you doing here? How did you find me? I never told you where I lived. It's supposed to be a secret. I don't even know who you are. I don't know your name." "You know perfectly well who I am. You know why I am here, so names are not important. What is important is to get you to the next stage. Now, everywhere I go, I hear big things are coming and that they involve you. I insist that you tell me what all this is about." "Opportunity. An alliance-your idea, incidentally-has produced a wondrous chance. Listen to this, and tell me I am not wise to grab this with everything I have." He then proceeded to narrate the previous day's adventures, the shrewd council of El Colorado, the raid on the casino, the democracy of giving the people all the money, his own ability to stand forth in the moment and take command and- "Oh, you fool! You blind, stupid young fool! God, you are so lucky. There might even still be time." Speshnev looked at his watch, saw that it was nearly eleven. "I don't... Why are you angry? This is a wonderful opportunity to embarrass the Americans and the regime, without any harm being done. It redounds with honor and glory. It speaks to a glorious future. It-" "Stop with your pap. How many men did you see in Colorado's cellar." "Why, four or five. I wasn't really paying attention." "Of course you weren't. Lesson number one: always pay attention. How many, idiot? Four or five?" "Does it matter?" "No, but you don't understand why, do you?" The young man looked at him. Speshnev could see confusion on his face. "Well, I-" "Well you nothing. You could not possibly rob a big American casino with five men. There are too many hidden guns. It would be a slaughter. The American gangsters do not yield on such things easily, and they always have their revenge. Their whole culture depends upon revenge. No, El Colorado could not conceive of such a thing." "I hadn't thought of that." "'I hadn't thought of that.' Idiot! Fool! Is your brain a raisin?" He clenched his brow, then hit himself in the head with his fist. "Think! Think!" he ordered himself. "Five, you say. With machine guns." "Thompsons. Like the police." "The same. Hmmm. A bank? But he doesn't need money, he has money? What? What?" "I don't-" "Four or five men, machine guns. What else?" "Negroes. Possibly foreign." "Foreign?" "Darker than our negroes. Almost black. You never see that here, especially five times over. A dark one, yes, once in a while, but not five of them in one-" "Did you speak to them?" "I saluted them. They didn't respond. I thought it odd." "They didn't understand you. Of course, now I see. You are right, at last. They are foreigners, and can't stay with the quickness of the Cuban tongue and its lazy ways of working. Foreigners. Poor, desperate, dark men, brought in to...well, to what?" "Rob?" "No." "Kill?" "Yes, you would use such men to handle killing chores. They would be expendable, courageous, nameless. Perfect. But who? El Presidente? No, don't be absurd. He's too well protected. What about some ambassador? But for what reason-" It suddenly dawned on him. "Of course. Of course!" But if his wisdom illuminated him, it did not animate him. Instead, a terrible weariness set over him. He had so much to do, so little time, so few weapons. Melancholy seeped through him. "What are you talking about?" "The American congressman. They'll kill him and his party for violating the inviolate rules of the brothel. Of course; it's pimp's honor at stake. And from his point of view, there's no negative attached. It'll make the government look bad, it'll terrify the American government, but it won't enrage and engage the American crime syndicate." "Perhaps it will send a message." "Fool. You have no instincts at all. More likely it'll produce invasion." "Mother of God," said Castro. "And I-" "And you have gone all over town affiliating yourself with it. Your mission is now to disaffiliate yourself. These stories you have spread must now be denounced as lies and slander. Go even to the police and tell them that El Colorado is the one." "I-" "Meanwhile, I must stop this. Do you have a machine gun?" "No, of course not." "Hmmm, I need a machine gun fast. Now where does one get a machine gun?" Chapter 21 The sergeant laid his ambush well. He was not without experience, having fought in Argentina, Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic at different times in his career, in some cases escaping just ahead of the firing squad. But that was another story. He did not select the first, or even the second, bend in the road that ran down Ciego de Avila province, about five miles inland from the sea, in the sudden burst of mangrove swamps. He knew that if his target had any security, security would be at its highest at that first bend, and again at the second bend. By the third bend, they would have settled down and grown used to the closeness of the trees, the sudden sense of impinging jungle after so long on sparse scrublands where cattle fed randomly. He also needed two trees, unusually tall for the vegetation. One tree was not enough. It was a question of timing. The car had to slow to round the bend, and as it cleared the turn, but before it began to accelerate, the first tree had to be downed. It would take any driver three seconds to respond. By the time he had braked, and begun to turn around, or back up if he were clever, the second tree would come down, trapping the vehicle. That's when his gunners would fire. He had three Thompsons, each with a fiftyround drum, and it was important that all three fire at once and that they lay down continuous fire. The car had to be still. He did not think these men were well enough trained to efficiently engage a moving target, even with the fastfiring Thompsons. He wanted the guns blazing for a good three to five seconds. He wanted the Cadillac ripped by three machine guns. Then he himself, on the other side of the road where the car would almost certainly stop, would raise up and quickly close the distance from the other side. He would pull his Star 9mm from his holster, advance to the automobile, and quickly fire a head shot into each of the four men, living or dead. Then it was only a matter of pulling their own automobile out and heading toward Cabanas Los Pinos, where a boat awaited them with their money aboard and orders to sail to Florida. The sergeant was pleased. He had five good men besides himself. The innards of the two chickens he had slain last night had revealed by the sacred laws of Santeria that prospects were excellent. He had prayed hard to Odudua, mistress of the darkness of that blend of Bantu religion and Catholicism, and knew that she favored him, for she favored all killers. Her mission was to harvest their bounty and take it with her across the river to her dark land. The blood of the chickens, their squawking as their guts were pulled living from them, merely excited her. The sergeant found his two trees without difficulty, an exceedingly good omen. He had examined the cuts his men had made in the trees and saw that the trunks had been expertly brought to the brink of collapse and one or two more ax strokes would deposit them exactly where he wanted them. The men with the Thompson guns knew how to shoot them well enough. He knew his Star intimately, and knew it would not fail him. He checked his watch. It was nearly six; he knew the time was close but that he had a good hour before sundown. "Sergeanto," came an excited cry from the man who'd just come sprinting around the bend, "I can see the big black car with the American flags on its fenders." "Be ready, my boys. It is time and then we will be gone from this godforsaken country." The men scattered to find their positions. "My, my, my, my," said the congressman, "at last we git to look at something different. Not better, mind you, but different. Trees, or what they might call trees in some primitive place like Mississippi or Alabama." "Yes, sir, Harry," agreed Lane Brodgins. "That flat land was damned boring. Like Kansas, only no damned cowboys or Indians to make it interesting." "Lane, I ever tell you 'bout the time Joe Phillips of Montana's 13th and I got in a hell of a row over a navy typewriter reconditioning installation I had all sewn up for Fort Smith, but he had his heart set on setting up somewhere way the Sam Hill out there?" "No, sir, don't believe you did," said poor Lane, whose capacity for eating Boss Harry's shit was beyond legendary and near to entering mythical. "Well, I don't know how that fella got it in his mind the United States Navy needed to fix up its old typewriters way out yonder in the purple west. But I decided..." Earl tried to close it out and concentrate. He saw the low dark trees suddenly rising up to swallow the Cadillac and nudged his elbow into Pepe's subtly, then with his hand pressing flatly downward signaled the driver to slow down. "We slowing down, Pepe?" asked Boss Harry. "Senor, I think is a curve coming up." "Let's just take it easy through here," said Earl. He knew that nothing would happen on a road so straight and open that you could see a man three-hundred yards ahead and there wasn't a stick of cover anywhere. He supposed a sniper could take a long shot but doubted if anybody down here had that skill. He also worried about a mine or a command-detonated bomb of some sort, but again, nothing in Cuba had communicated the possibility of that kind of sophistication. Darkness didn't swallow them, but it did grip them, as suddenly the trees, though rarely higher than a man, clustered close to the road, and through them, he could see pools of standing water, knotty clusters of tropical vegetation, the occasional bright flare of jungle blossom, the flutter and slither of pink shapes indicating the presence, here as elsewhere close to the sea, of pelicans. The car slowed as Pepe negotiated the first bend, got around it, and saw a mile of straight road ahead before the road disappeared in blackness. "You can speed up now, Pepe," said Lane. "We want to git there before dark. This here has been a long damned sit." "Didn't know your goddamned island was so big," said Boss Harry. "I had the idea it was a little old place, and there wouldn't be so many miles between bars and women." "In Guantanamo City, senor, is plenty bars and women, I tell you that." "Now that's the kind of spirit I like!" said Harry. "I'm going to need a refresher pretty damned soon, and I don't mean no Coca-Cola!" Speshnev had a car and a machine gun. The former he stole, the latter he rented. It took the last of his casino earnings, but he managed, rather quickly, to bribe an NKVD security goon assigned to a Russian freighter moored in the harbor to sneak into the strong room and remove one PPsH submachine gun, and one drum-seventy-one rounds-of 7.63mm ammunition. It was to be returned within twenty-four hours or the goon would come looking for Speshnev. The goon was a former Black Sea Marine, reportedly the toughest of the tough, so Speshnev had no desire to disappoint him. Now the gun lay across the seat awkwardly, its drum precluding easy stowage and causing it to roll about as he accelerated through the gears. Speshnev also had a direction and a route. A source in the American embassy had told the unctuous Pashin that the schedule had the congressman heading north to Guantanamo today, leaving at 9 A.M. With stops for lunch, they should pull in by eight in the evening, time enough for a night of carousing in the low dives of Guantanamo City. He drove madly, following the big road through Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Villa Clara provinces, honking rudely at lorries, careening around buses, fighting the traffic desperately. Around Sancti Spiritus, the traffic lessened, with the majority of it siphoning off toward the south, toward Santiago. But he knew the Americans would cling to the upper road along the Caribbean coast, through Ciego de Avila and Camaguey, then on to Las Tunas and Holguin, that way avoiding the mess around Santiago. Effectively bypassing it-a faster way, though longer-they would then head south, and veer directly toward Guantanamo. He hoped that the Americans would stop for a nice lunch, would poke about here and there, and wouldn't press on. Americans are lazy, he told himself. They are addicted to comfort. They're stupid. They're-- But he realized that Swagger wouldn't be stupid. He roared ahead. The damned gun rolled to the left as the car accelerated, down empty roads, surrounded by arid meadows where here and there a cow grazed. "Why are we slowing down?" "I need to check some things," said Earl. "What, Earl," said Brodgins. "We've still got a far piece to travel. The congressman is hot and tired." Earl didn't say a word. He had commanded Pepe to stop and ahead he saw that the road took an aggressive left-hand crank, which mandated another slowdown, almost to a crawl. Something about it bothered him. So now he climbed from the front seat, hung himself over the open door, and just looked. What he was looking for was-well, he couldn't put a name to it. They had eased through two natural ambush sites without a problem, and according to the map would soon enough be beyond the swamps, and then could take their southern turn and head down to Gitmo. But he was looking for something: some anomaly, some clue that things weren't as they should be. His eyes scanned, and what he saw was only dusty road disappearing as it bent to the left, low trees on each side, no movement, no wind, nothing at all. It was ungodly hot, and mosquitoes hummed around him, as the sweat crested to his skin and broke free. "Aren't you being a little melodramatic here, Earl," Brodgins called from inside the car, where the air conditioning still pumped out cold, stale air. "Sir, can't you just tell him to get us there? This ain't easy on any of us." "Earl, do you see something?" the congressman called. "Is that it? Lane, old Earl, he does have pretty good instincts for this sort of thing, I think you'd agree." "Yes, sir, but sometimes these folks get an exaggerated sense of their importance." Earl ducked back inside the car. "All right," he said, bending forward. "Let's go. But Pepe, when you git around that corner, I want you to punch it. I don't like the fact that we'll be slowing down." "Earl," said Brodgins, "we are stopped now. So what is the big deal about slowing down a hundred yards ahead? You have to be consistent in this. It has to make some sense." "Well, Mr. Brodgins," said Earl, "we are stopped of our own volition. No one could anticipate us stopping here. But when we reach that curve, any idiot could see that's a place where we have to slow down. That's the difference." "Think Earl scored a point on you there, Lane," said Harry, merrily. "Earl, you take your time. Just let's get us through this, so we can head on." "Yes, sir," said Earl. He turned to Pepe. "You have to slow down, as I say, but once you're clear and you have open road, you punch it, do you understand?" "Yes, sir," said the driver. Speshnev saw before he heard. What he saw was dust, hanging above the trees, like a squall of smoke. Immediately as that perception dawned on him, he jammed his brakes on, stopping fast, skewing to one side. Then the gunfire broke out. He heard automatic weapons, a group of them, all ripping away simultaneously. They fired and they struck automobile, for in each percussion came the reverberant whang! of a high-speed missile hitting metal hard. Speshnev knew the action was all taking place just a few hundred yards ahead, right beyond the bend in the road. He prayed he wasn't too late. He leaned over, seized the PPsH machine gun with its absurdly swollen drum, pulled it out. They were still shooting as he began to move through the trees, toward the site of the ambush. The car slowly picked its way around the bend. Ahead lay nothing but straight road. "Is okay, senor," said Pepe. "Is fine, Pepe," said Lane Brodgins. "Let's get the hell out of here." Pepe's foot went to caress the gas pedal but exactly in that moment Earl jabbed his foot over and crushed the brake to the floor. "BACK!" he commanded and possibly there was a moment, even two, of ridiculous silence, as a sense of unreal confusion filled the automobile, the bodyguard ripping at the gear shift to find reverse, the driver stunned by his sudden action, trying to respond, the two men in back themselves stunned, aware that something unplanned and unwanted was happening, unsure entirely about the bodyguard's sudden speed of movement. Then the windshield shattered into a quicksilver smear of webbing and punctures as glass bits spewed at painful velocity into the car, and the interior was suddenly full of the presence of alien things among them, hard and cruel and without interest in them except as targets. The car shuddered as gunfire thudded against it, and the sound of metal banging loud arrived in the same second, to overload all senses and drive them toward stupefaction. A bullet struck Pepe in the head, like a fastball, and the sound of that-missile striking and tearing into bone-filled the car with horror, accompanied by the pink steam that blew outward from the horrible wound and the instant sense of destruction as the ruined head slid forward. But Earl had the car finally in reverse, and moved his foot to the gas, pushing Pepe's dead one-the man was by this time a sack of sloppy weight, his broken head pitched forward-aside. He hammered the pedal and the car shot backwards perhaps twenty-five yards, even as more gunfire came after it, tearing up hood, punching out more glass, ripping tires and engine to shreds. Riding the last gasp of engine power, Earl jacked the car's wheel left, depositing it at an angle in a gully. He slithered out, came up over the hood, pulled his Super.38 from the shoulder holster, thumbed the hammer back from half cock as he did so, and punched out six fast two-handed shots, at a line of gully across the road and fifty yards or so down, where the accumulation of gunsmoke and suspended dust announced the presence of the shooters. The pistol recovered fast with its lessened kick and when he was done shooting he knew he had four rounds left. But still, while he had the chance, he yanked a magazine from his pocket and reloaded another nine. With the round in the chamber, he had ten. Even as he did this, a tree fell lazily across the road. It was a tree meant to trap them, but it hadn't. They were behind the kill-zone. Earl swung around and saw the woodchopper bound forward from the tree for cover, but Earl got a shot off fast at the deflection, finding an instinctive lead, knowing to pin the trigger on the stroke, and heard the sound that can only be bullet on meat, knew that he had hit the man. He slid along the body of the twisted automobile, pulled open the back door. Inside, on the floor, Lane and the congressman lay in a terrified embrace. "Oh, Jesus, what is-" "God, why are they-" Earl grabbed the nearest, Boss Harry, and yanked him brutally out of the car, dumping him hard in the gully. He paused as another fusillade of fire tore into the car, but by the weird physics of the situation, the car was tilted up in such a way that most of it blocked the men from the shooters. Earl next reached in and pulled out the gibbering assistant. "You crouch here, goddammit. Behind the wheel well. That is where it is safer." "How many are there?" Harry was finally cogent enough to ask. "I have no fucking idea, but they do mean business, that I guarantee you." The sergeant cursed. No language has more pathways for blasphemy than Spanish and this was a construction of such horror it would have made even Odudua ashamed, and perhaps disappointed in him, even if he was one of her most favored facilitators, having seen and done so many terrible, evil things. Why had the car stopped short? What on earth impelled whoever was inside to make such a decision? Had the killers been betrayed? But now he watched in helpless rage as the car roared backwards. He prayed to Odudua that the car would not swing around the bend and disappear. And Odudua helped out her humble servant. In her magnificence, she guided the shots of his three machine-gunners and they did a great damage to the automobile, so that finally it jerked off the road and like a broken-backed bull wedged itself at a hideous angle, tilted, one ruined tire uplifted, in the gully. Its occupants could still be killed. He watched as fire lashed against it, tearing it, puncturing it, spewing liquids and shards of metal from it, turning what had been such a shiny emblem of power into shabby wreckage in just a few seconds. As theater it was fabulous; as action, it lacked finality, for from his position on this side of the road, he could see the guard emerge, bring fast fire on his shooters, pull the two very important norteamericanos from the vehicle and squish them down where it was safest, and then reload and fire again, with almost astonishing speed. What an hombre! Oh, this was somebody who knew a thing or two. For a daffy moment, the sergeant brought up his Star, took a good supported position, and considered firing as he saw the front sight cross the American's solid body. But then he thought better of it, as he was still seventy yards distant from his targets, such a long shot for a man with a pistol, and if he fired, he simply told them where he was. Instead he saw that he had some advantage still. If the gunners kept their heads, continued to bring fire, didn't lose their nerve, he himself could slither and close the distance and, suddenly, jump out from the rear and kill the guard. The two mewling men, who now crouched behind the wheel well, gripping each other like women, would be easy. He could even kill them with his knife and truly enjoy it, but then that might take too long. Gripping the pistol, he began to slither ahead through the gully. Earl dropped back to the rear of the car, behind the tail fin. It was the smart move, for in that second, two of the tommy-gunners opened up, trying to pin him where he wasn't, which was at the front wheel well. Meanwhile, their third member dashed heroically from cover, firing from the hip like a movie marine, and, feeling himself well protected by the oblique raking fire his friends brought to bear on the car, began to advance. He moved fast yet with courageous purpose, closing steadily, eyes on the move hunting for targets. Earl thought he was a brave man, even as he rose from behind the tail fin, put the front sight of the Super.38 on his throat, figuring the flat-shooting, fast-as-hell little bullet would drop only an inch or two at fifty yards, and p-r-e-s-s-e-d off a shot. The gun smacked crisply against his hand as it operated in super-time, flinging a spent shell off to the right, though in the rage of blood chemicals and dust and total sensory overload he did not notice it. What he saw in the split second before he dove for cover as the fire steered toward him was eminently satisfying: the man, stricken, stumbling drunkenly as the big weapon fell pitifully from his once strong hands. One hand flew to his mouth, which now drooled lakes of blood-that's what a lung shot does-and possibly he sealed some in, but by that time he was on his knees and a second later had toppled sacklike, devoid of dignity, forward into the dust. His tommy gun lay atilt in the road. Speshnev, at the end of his run, saw almost nothing. These things are never clear. It was all dust and confusion, the noise was terrifying, and no one unifying vision made any sense of it. A man lay ragamuffin-pitiful in the road, in a pool of blood, so bright in a world drained of color. The car, which had come to rest half in, half out of the gully, looked like the Titanic settling into the sea. It was badly torn up, and a puddle of gasoline collected under it from a gas tank so many times punctured. The slightest spark could send a flaming cloud high into the sky. But he could see no living men. One of those odd moments of gunfight silence prevailed. No one quite knew what to do, all parties were out of communication, blood had been spilled in copious amounts and the terrible thought occluded all minds: When will this be over? This followed close upon: Will I die here? Prayers and curses were mixed in, but the gist is always the same, and the results the same. Luck comes for or avoids bold and meek the same, but still a smart guy, if he's just a little bit lucky, has all the better chance of surviving. Therefore, Speshnev assumed that somewhere behind the tilted car, the American still breathed. Clearly that was his kill out there in the sun, with that splayed look of beyond-caring the dead always find a way to assume. Possibly men closed in upon him; possibly they were even now about to kill him. Speshnev didn't know; he only knew that he had to get closer still, and do what could be done. Someone had beshat himself, but Earl didn't know or particularly care which one. He crouched beside them. "When I rise up and fire, y'all break into the jungle. But don't lose sight of the road. Don't get lost back there and drown in the swamp or something. I think they're all on the other side of the road. I will hold them here long as I have ammo." "I can't do it," said Lane Brodgins. "Yes you can, Mr. Brodgins. You are younger and stronger than Boss Harry and he needs you like he never needed you before. Ain't that right, sir?" "Actually, no, Earl. In fact, you're completely wrong. I really don't care if Lane comes or goes. I just don't want him holding me back. Plus, he smells. His pants are full of shit. That's how I see it and I always call it the way I see it." "Well, in cases like this, teamwork is the best thing." "Teaming up with Lane ain't going to do me no good whatsoever. Earl, you hold them here. I will run as you say. As for Lane, I have no idea. Lane, you're fired. You're on your own now." "Goddamn you, Harry Etheridge. If I get out of here, I will tell all that I know about your filthy doings and it will-" "Boys, boys, shut up, I can't think. I am low on ammo, and they're creeping around out there, possibly changing positions. I have killed two but there are at least two more and possibly a goddamned third I don't yet know about." "Well, can you kill them all, Earl?" "I don't think so, sir." "Well, what goddamned good are you then, boy? You were hired to do a job and now's a fine time to see you ain't up to it." "Sir, there's a goddamned bunch of them. Just shut up, old man. I will try and get your precious Arkansas ass out of here." "Did you hear how he talked to me, Lane? The nerve." "You fired me, Harry, so I don't give no two shits. Earl, shoot him. They came for him. If he's dead, they'll let us go." "Lane, you are showing me no loyalty at all, and I want you to know that I have noticed it." The two gunners opened up again, obviously having changed drums. Their fire ripped into the car, raising hell's own worst racket, and the vehicle shuddered as it took so many more hits. And then-poof!-something somehow lit, and a sudden feathery fountain of flame leaped upward, accompanied by a smeary fog of smoke, black and thick. " Go, go!" screamed Earl, rising not behind front fender or rear tail fin as before, but more or less in the center of the car, where he had not been, to shoot through the shattered windows. He pumped his nine rounds out fast, and saw a man with a heavy gun sit back and set his gun down. But immediately more bullets came speeding after Earl, and they kicked slivers of metal and glass into his face. He sat back, wincing, and saw that the two old friends had skedaddled, though in which direction he did not know. He dumped his mag, slammed in his last one-only nine left!-and drew back, to cover the retreat of his charges. The sergeant was very close now. He had seen the two fat ones depart, and thought to shoot at them. But they were not a problem. The problem was this hero here. If he wasn't killed and killed soon, the whole thing went down in defeat. But still he wasn't quite close enough. He wanted to be close enough to make sure. He wanted to be at muzzle distance and watch the blackness of cloth where the flash burned the clothes of the man he was killing, and burned his flesh, even as it sent bullets into him. So he paused. Across the way, he saw his last machine-gunner, crouching, moving ever so slowly, trying in his own way to get close to the American. The sergeant stared hard at him, commanding him mentally to turn and make eye contact for signals. Of course, not being a wizard, the sergeant was unable to influence his colleague in any way; no such thing happened. But then it did. The man looked directly to him. The sergeant raised a finger, to halt the man. Their eyes met passionately. The sergeant gave pantomime signals, pointing to the man, then to himself, then raising one, two and three fingers, hoping to communicate the following: on the count of three, we both rise and fire. He cannot cover two points and will retreat and that is when we will have him. The man nodded. The sergeant gave the signal. He nodded at the man, who steeled himself for the final rush. The sergeant rose, the man rose. The man rushed the car screaming and firing. The sergeant did not. He was no one's fool. He simply dropped down, and began to slither forward. The man ran at the car, and the American shooter dropped him with one shot to the head. The sergeant, creeping around, got close enough. He fired at the man, hitting him. He saw blood spurt, and the gun fly away. Ha! Amigo, I have you now! Earl saw a man come at him, wildly, and put an easy shot into him, thinking for just a second that this wasn't-- Then he was hit. He felt the whack of something crashing into his hip, another buzz as something flew by his face as he went down, and then by the crazy laws of these things, his gun hand went numb. He couldn't have pulled a trigger, even if there'd been a trigger to pull, for the simple reason that a wild shot smashed hard into the Colt right above the trigger guard, mashing the gun terribly and blowing it out of his hand in the same instant. Earl slid to earth, coming to rest next to the tilted Cadillac. Even now he was working. His hand flew to his hip and felt a black, hot welling of blood. But he didn't panic. He would fight to the end, and in a fast second or two, he spied the gun lying a few feet beyond him. He scuttled toward it, picked it up and saw that it had been ruined. The bullet had savaged the slide, bending it so grotesquely it could not operate on its rails. It was totally dead. He spun around, hunting another weapon, but saw his own slayer standing above him. So this is what the guy would look like. A black, wild negro in khakis, with dusty boots and a lined face that had seen several hundred battles. Dead eyes, no curiosity, no light. Gray shot through the wool of tightly knitted hair. Sweat circles under the arm. A uniform of no army on earth save the universal one of desperate men good with guns, for hire cheap for any work at all. "Choo fucked, man," the fellow said to him. "Fuck you, Jack," said Earl. "Yah, fuck choo, man, that's who eez fucked, no? I kill you then chase down those fat pigs and kill them. Ha! You so brave, but it comes to this, poor fucker." The man was too experienced to come close enough for Earl to kick him in the nuts. He had the gun, the advantage and all the time in the world. He would make no foolish mistakes. It wouldn't be like a bad movie, where the hero kicks dust in the bad guy's eyes. He'd just shoot Earl, reload, finish the job and move on. By tomorrow the memory would be vague and by Friday gone forever. He raised the pistol. Then he lowered it to study a curious phenomenon. His chest was spurting blood. Wasn't this an odd development? He couldn't believe it. Where had such a terrible atrocity come from? He went to his knees, finding the Star pistol immensely heavy, letting it drop to the ground. His ears were filled with pounding, so much so that he did not hear the second burst that cut into him either. A presence loomed suddenly before him. He reached out and touched the face of Odudua, who gathered him to her dark bosom, a former servant and now, alas, just another john. Earl watched him die. He lay babylike in the mud. His eyes were blank, his shirt red with new blood, lots of it. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air. Earl thought he'd heard the shots, especially the second burst. He thought they came from the right. He pulled himself up and looked over the car's trunk, then scanned left and right, hoping to spot the shooter. But there was no shooter. Dust hung in the air and a quiet breeze stirred the leaves of the low trees. "Hey!" Earl called, and there was no answer, no sound, no indication of another human being on the face of the earth. Chapter 22 They would not stop screaming. It wasn't that you could blame them. The secret police worked first on the fingernails, with a specialized device, then on the toes, with knives. But it wasn't until the specialist arrived that progress was made. His name was Captain Ramon Latavistada. He was called Ojos Bellos, "Beautiful Eyes." Not that his were beautiful, but that, as a high officer in SIM, the Sevicio de Inteligencia Militar, at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, he worked on the eyes. He knew that eyes were the key to a man's soul. His reputation was mighty. He worked quickly, with passion and skill; it was never pretty but it was always effective. The prisoners screamed and screamed and screamed. There were three: the man Earl had shot immediately at the tree; another tommy-gunner he'd wounded across the road; and a third, unwounded, who'd been positioned at the far tree, had never brought fire to bear in the fight, and had escaped only to be tracked down by a dog team. It was well after dark. A U.S. Navy generator had been unlimbered and lights strung to allow the crime scene to be examined and the dead to be toe-tagged and body-bagged. Pepe, with his queer, deflated head, rested with several of the men who'd killed him and were now in bags themselves. First the navy had shown up, then a detachment of security police from Guantanamo and some Cuban soldiers from Santiago, who brought the dogs that had tracked the one escapee. Now, a few hours later, the scene bustled with dark purpose and energy, as soldiers guarded, investigators investigated, detectives detected, Americans worked on their earnest looks, and the Cubans smoked and joked and tortured. Earl still lay on a gurney next to the ambulance, a bottle of plasma hung on a prong above his head. A corpsman had cut his pants away, and now a U.S. Navy doctor worked on him, and told him that he would not die. "You were lucky, sir," the young man said. "He hit you flush in the hipbone with a pistol bullet, but you must have bones like concrete. Or maybe it was the angle. The bullet didn't shatter the bone, it glanced off. It tore up some gluteus maximus but no arteries were hit, and you got the wound stanched right away, so you're going to be okay. I take it you've been shot before?" "Once or twice," was all Earl said. "Well, you are a tough old coot. You get to walk away from another one." "I am going to run out of luck sooner or later, though." They tried to load him into the navy ambulance, but Earl would not leave until finally the last of his charges was found. This was Lane Brodgins, who had taken off on a tangent from the congressman as they fled through the jungle and gotten himself completely lost, until a squad of marines uncovered him in a bog. Now he was back, wrapped in a blanket, drinking coffee, unseeing and uncaring, trying to fight the shock that warped his brain. As for Boss Harry, he didn't miss a beat. He'd already shaken hands with each of his rescuers, American naval or Cuban security personnel, glad-handed, backslapped, hee-hawed, guffawed, and managed to find the one PFC-there's one in every squad-with a pint of hooch aboard, and he'd had a few hard swallows and was mellow again. His hair wasn't even mussed. "Well, Earl," he said, "you done fought 'em off and saved my worthless old hide again, this time from killers." One of the prisoners screamed. "Woo," said the congressman, "bet he don't like that a bit." "No, sir, I don't expect he does." "You let them take you to Gitmo, son. You relax and the United States Congress will take care of this one, this one's on us. And I will call Governor Becker myself and demand that the State of Arkansas confer on you the highest damn medal it can. I know you've got