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Authors: Stephen Hunter

Havana

BOOK: Havana
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By Stephen Hunter

Havana

Pale Horse Coming

Hot Springs

Time to Hunt

Black Light

Dirty White Boys

Point of Impact

Violent Screen: A Critic's 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem

Target

The Day Before Midnight

The Spanish Gambit (Tapestry of Spies)

The Second Saladin

The Master Sniper

SIMON & SCHUSTER
Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2003 by Stephen Hunter
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

SIMON & SCHUSTER
and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Designed by Amy Hill

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hunter, Stephen, date.

Havana : an Earl Swagger novel / Stephen Hunter.

   p. cm.

1. Americans—Cuba—Fiction. 2. Cuba—History—1933–1959—Fiction. 3. Castro, Fidel, 1927—Fiction. 4. Organized crime—Fiction. 5. Havana (Cuba)—Fiction. 6. Casinos—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3558.U494H38 2003

813'.54—dc22           2003054461

ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-6102-9
ISBN-10: 0-7432-6102-X

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

For Hannah Mark and Wenkel's little boy
in hopes that they meet as friends

R
ICKY
: Oh, Lucy!

L
UCY
: Oh, Ricky!

—Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz
   I Love Lucy,
CBS, 1953

Chapter 1

It was a perfect O.

It floated from the smoker's mouth, an amazing confabulation, and then caught a small charge of wind and began to drift, widening, bending a little, until at last, high among the buildings, it atomized to wisps, and then nothing.

“How the fug they do that, Lenny?” Frankie Carbine asked.

“It's a machine, Frankie. They have machines for everything now'days.
You
got a machine there too, Frankie.”

It was true. Inside his overcoat was a machine from across the seas, Denmark, a place so far away Frankie couldn't begin to imagine it. Not that he would have tried. Frankie didn't care much for stuff like that.

Anyway, this machine was a gun, just an assortment of tubes and housings and plastic handles and prongs and things that slid in and out. It was a Danish Model 46 9mm submachine gun with a thirty-two-round magazine, though Frankie, not interested either in the technical, didn't know that. Someone who knew guns somewhere in the thing said this was the best gun made for the kind of work the thing did. Frankie had no imagination for the theoretical: he just knew that it was much lighter and more concealable than the old-fashioned tommy guns because its stock was a bent metal shape on hinges—which meant it could be folded and made smaller—and that it fired faster, kicked less and was easier to use. You pointed it, you sprayed, you walked away. That was his job.

Frankie—born Franco Caribinieri forty-three years earlier in Salerno, moved to Brooklyn when four, a common enough trajectory for a midlevel soldier—idly watched as another vaporous O was manufactured and dispatched into the loud air near Times Square, courtesy of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. C
AMELS
, said the launching platform, a billboard that sheathed the entire front of the building between 44th and 45th right on Broadway,
NO
. 1
FOR SMOKING PLEASURE
. The hole that belched the ring was cleverly situated at the mouth of the painted face of a movie-star handsome fellow, while over his shoulder some classy blonde dame with lips like roses looked seductively out upon the anonymous masses who hastened by foot, automobile, bus and cab through the great metropolitan space. The air was almost blue with smoke, the people were gray with exhaustion, worry or hurry, the cars were still mostly black except for the cabs which were yellow, and everybody was in a hurry. It was also loud. Honks, squeals, yells, the roar of engines, all of it pounding away. It gave you a headache. Frankie loved it.

He sat in the back seat of a freshly stolen '47 DeSoto, black; he shared the cushion with a teddy bear, a doll and a Lone Ranger comic book. He wore a blue serge pinstriped suit, a black wool overcoat (to keep the gun hidden, not to keep him warm; it was spring and in the sixties) and, because everyone he knew and respected did, a black fedora pulled low over his eyes.

“I wonder, I got time for an Orange Julius?” asked Lenny.

It was an easy reach; the OJ stand was just across the sidewalk from the parked car, sandwiched between two theaters (
Roman Holiday
at one and
Target Zero
at the other), a souvenir shop, an entrance to the commercial floors above, and then a shabby bookstore with
FRENCH BOOKS
in big letters above it.

“No,” said Frankie. “You can get an OJ another fuggin' time. I don't want to come out of that place and find you wit' an OJ in your hand and the car turned off.”

“Frankie, it's an easy one. You get close, you squeeze, you see brains, you turn, we drive away.”

“It's always easy, until it's hard,” said Frankie.

Someone tapped on the farside window. It was a kid, Dominic's boy, fifteen, and he'd spotted the mark coming down the street. He made brief eye contact with Frankie, who repaid the gesture with a wink and a smile—the boy loved Frankie, seeing him as one of the coolest guys in New York—and departed.

“Yeah, I got him too,” said Lenny. “You see him, Frankie?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got him.”

The mark was a tall sprig of a guy in a raincoat. He had two salesman's bags under his arms and two black bags of approximately the same size under his eyes. His name was unimportant, his background meaningless, his identity unworthy of attention. He was hawking California wares in New York territory and he'd found a clown dumb enough to consider buying at quite a discount for being first, only he didn't know that someone in his own little fiefdom had already ratted him out.

It was nothing a great one would be involved in. All that was finished now. Those had been great days, but somehow Frankie never got close to the action; he was just a mechanic on the outskirts, a gun toter for a crew that was affiliated to a mob that was affiliated to a bigger mob. He went, he did, he managed. But once at a club he'd seen them: the great Bennie Siegel, now dead, the great Meyer Lansky, now exiled, the great Lucky Luciano, with the one dead eye, now deported, such movie-star men, men of charisma and grace and beauty, the center of the universe.

There was the romance of the life he loved: the power, the women, the way men made room, the respect, the way people acknowledged your importance. He loved that. He'd never had a fuggin' taste of it, not even a smell; he was just a cheap fug with a gun. So he was waiting outside a dirty-pix store to do a quickie, and get out. Five hundred bucks in the till, a yard for Lenny the driver, that's all.

They watched as the mark slipped into the door beneath the
FRENCH BOOKS
sign and disappeared.

“I'll smoke a ciggie, Lenny. Let 'em get comfy, get set up, get cool. Then Frankie Carbine transacts his business and we're home by noon.”

“A great plan, Frankie.”

So Frankie lit another cigarette, and tried to blow smoke rings for a few minutes, and his never quite cohered like the giant masterpieces floating above: another frustration, and the perfect illustration of the life he had as opposed to the life he wanted.

“Okay,” he finally said.

“Good luck, killer,” said Lenny.

Frankie left the car and walked swiftly to the store, making eye contact with no one. No one noticed him, which was not a bad thing, for he was, he knew, an odd customer: a fellow in a heavy overcoat on a warm day, with one hand deep in his pocket, where it actually slid through the slash in his coat so it could grasp the grip of the Danish submachine gun. His coat hung too straight, because in the other pocket were two more thirty-two-round magazines, each weighing a pound and a half. His hat was too low, like Georgie Raft's in a picture. His suit was dark, he was a glowering death figure, a movie gangster, come to call. But no one noticed. It was New York, after all; who notices such things, when there is so much else to notice?

Frankie evaded a popcorn cart, slipped behind a nigger working a three-card-monte con on stiffs, smelled hot dogs from another vendor on the street, wished he had time for a chocolate Yoo-Hoo, a favorite of his, and turned into the store.

He had been in such places before and so nothing shocked him, except that every week it seemed they were getting more and more bold in what they sold. The windows had been painted black for privacy, and the interior lit by fluorescent glow, which cast a dead-bone color on everything and dazzled off the cellophane. There was a lot of cellophane, and behind it, flesh, everywhere, saggy and pale and raw, things you could see nowhere else. This broad had oval-shaped nipples, that one bad teeth and stretch marks, this one was a hot piece, the next your mother's mother's sister. Packets of cards lay on tables, sealed but promising whores showing off butts or coochies. The nudist camp stuff occupied its own tables, most of it from Germany, where dumpy blonde dames stood with towels covering their hair-pies, smiling as if photographed at a church picnic. Over on that wall men's magazines sold war atrocity laced with sex, where Japs were torturing busty American nurses behind screaming red headlines like
BUNA BLOOD BATH
! Behind the counter, reels of 16mm stag movies in boxes blank but for numbers had been filed, and maybe they gave you a glimpse of something you never saw anyplace except Havana, but you had to pay big for it. The smell of disinfectant hung in the air, and a bruiser cruised the aisles looking for dirty boys who were jigging themselves under their clothes; that was never permitted. They had to be tossed.

But Frankie knew the big kid wouldn't stand in his way, not once the fun started. That was the point of a subgun, even a Danish one: it spoke so loud and powerfully, Joes just melted into puddles of nothingness in its presence.

Quickly, Frankie checked the place out, seeing only furtive men locked on what they were considering buying and sneaking home in lunch buckets or briefcases. Nobody would ever admit to being in such a place so no witnesses would come forth and no statements would be signed. That was what was so great.

Frankie edged through the throng, bumping into a guy gazing yearningly at
Black Garters
magazine, and another, a homo, in the homo section where
Male Call
seemed to be the big item. At the cash register a surly creep reigned supreme and guarded access to the stag movies; behind that was the window of the office. Frankie might have to pop the creep first before he had a clear shot at the two in the office. He could see them, bent over the new product line from the sample cases. Shit, color! These California pricks had gotten so well established they could print out in color. Frankie's understanding of the business—any business—was limited, but he understood that color was the next big thing in nudie books and pix.

No wonder the big boys were so interested in sending a message to California: deal through us or stay off our turf.

“Hey,” said the clerk. “You here to buy or just to poke your pud? Get your goddamned mitts out of your pockets, pally, or take a hike.”

Frankie decided the man's fate in a second. It pissed him off to be dismissed so roughly. This fug thinks he's
tough?

“Yeah, here's your hike,” said Frankie.

He shrugged to spread his coat and raised the muzzle of the gun, his left hand coming around to grab the magazine, clamping down a safety lever behind the magazine housing. The clerk's face went numb and he just froze up, like a guy who sees the car coming and knows there's no point. There wasn't one, either.

Frankie fired. Three shots, but they ripped out in a millionth of a second or so it seemed, that's how fast the fuggin' gun fired. The light—not much was there to begin with, but there was maybe a little—left the clerk's eyes as the bullets speared him, and he said “Thelma!” to Frankie as he slid down.

The moment froze. It was dead silent. Nobody moved, nobody looked, nobody even farted. The echo of the three shots seemed to clang through the smoke and the only noise was the light metallic grind of the spent casings rolling on the floor. The acrid smell of the burned powder overpowered and dissolved the disinfectant stench. The two men at the desk through the window looked at Frankie, who now transacted his day's labor.

He fired through the glass, and watched it fracture into sleet, like the glinty spray of a Flatbush trolley through new snow on a winter afternoon in a long-lost childhood, all chaos and sparkle; and the bullets were like the arrival of a tornado, for as they dissolved the glass, they dissolved what lay behind the glass. The desk erupted in a riot of splinters and dust and smoke and nudie books flew into the air as if seized by a whirlwind.

You couldn't say the two stiffs didn't know what hit them, because Frankie knew they did, in that split second when they'd looked over to him and seen their deaths in his eye. But in another second they were gone, for the bullets bullied them relentlessly, causing them to jerk and twist and lurch. One fell back into his chair and went limp, the other rose, twisted as if on fire, and beat with his hands at the things that tore him up, but then he slid to the ground, his skull hitting the linoleum with a thud.

Again, silence. Each man lay still. Then not still: as if dams had been burst, a sudden torrent of blood began to empty from each penetrated man, from a dozen new orifices. So much, so fast; it soaked them, running from broken face to burned shirt to twisted arm to splayed fingers to hard floor, spreading in a satiny pool. Frankie squirted them again, to make sure.

He turned, realizing the gun was empty, and hit a little lever to drop the one mag. Neatly he fitted another one in, felt it snap in place. Then he looked up.

This was not working out.

There before him, with a stunned look on his face and a copy of
Gal Leg
in his hand, a uniformed New York City policeman stood in stupefaction equal to Frankie's. The two armed men faced each other.

“NO!” Frankie screamed, imploring the cop to cooperate as he knew clipping cops led to career difficulties, but the cop refused to cooperate, and his hand went inside his double-breasted coat and tugged the cop Colt out, and Frankie watched, as it seemed to be taking forever. He should have smacked him hard in the head with the gun barrel, but he didn't think fast enough, and about an hour later the cop got the revolver unlimbered, actually paused to cock the hammer with his thumb, and raised it onto Frankie, who again screamed “NO!” except that the word was lost in the thunder of the gun. It fired so fast, it slithered and twitched like a snake in his hands, desperate to escape.

BOOK: Havana
8.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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