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Authors: Stephen Hunter

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BOOK: Havana
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The cop fell sideways and back, the revolver clattering to the ground. He too immediately began to issue copious amounts of liquid from new openings.

This was the one that unlocked the frozen customers. Now, frantically, they broke for the door, fighting each other to escape the madman's bullets. Someone broke the black painted window and rolled out, admitting a sudden piercing blaze of fresh light, which in turn caught the smoke and dust heaving in the air, glinted off of tits and coochies. The panic was contagious, for now it struck Frankie, and he too lost control and ran, as if fleeing a mad gunman, utterly forgetting the fact that he was the mad gunman.

Again, it took a while. But eventually, the passage cleared and Frankie stepped out.

He saw two things immediately.

The first is that there was no Lenny and no car and the second was that there was a horse.

It wasn't a cowboy horse at all, though for just a second that's what he thought, because cowboys were all over the place on the television now. It was a police horse, and on its back was a policeman and it cantered through traffic down Broadway, right at him, amid a screech of horns, and the screams of people who dived this way and that.

Fug, thought Frankie.

The officer on horseback had possibly himself seen a lot of television, for he had his gun drawn and he leaned over the neck of the plunging horse and began to fire at Frankie. Of course on the television or in the movies, somebody always falls, usually shot in the arm or shoulder, when this one is pulled off, but in real life nothing at all happened as the bullets went wild, though Frankie had a impression in his peripheral vision of a window breaking.

Onward, onward rode the horseman, though nobody knew the reason why. Possibly it was stupidity, possibly heroic will, possibly an accident, he just rode right at Frankie through the traffic, cut between cars to the sidewalk and cantered on as if to crush Frankie to the pavement.

Frankie watched in horror, seeing the wide red eyes of the animal, filled with fear, the lather of foamy sweat, hearing the clatter of the iron-shod hooves against the pavement, and the heavy, labored breathing of the animal which was, he now saw, immense compared to him, and just about to squish him like a bug.

He never made the decision because there wasn't a decision to be made, but Frankie found himself the sole proprietor of a rather angry Danish machine gun, which in about two seconds flat emptied itself into the raging animal. He himself heard nothing, for shooters in battle conditions rarely do. He felt the gun, however, shivering as it devoured its magazine, and sensed the spray of spent cartridges as they were spat from the breech this way and that, hot like pieces of fresh popcorn.

The animal was hit across the chest, and, opened up in the process of the slaughter, it reared back in pain and panic, flipping its tiny rider to the pavement with a shudder. Then, huge and whinnying piteously, it fell to its forelegs, awash in blood from the sundered chest, and from its mouth and nose where blood from its lungs had overwhelmed its throat and nasal tubes. It thrashed, tried to rise because it had no clear concept of the death that now stalked through its body, and then its great head slid forward and it was still.

“Fungola!” cursed Frankie, tossing the empty gun. He looked and prayed for Lenny but Lenny had long since quit the field. Sirens arose and it seemed that several brave citizens were pointing at him.

“You killed a horse!” a lady spat.

Frankie did not think it the right time to offer explanations, and turned toward an alley and began to run like holy hell.

Chapter 2

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, señor,” 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 plastic-framed 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-to-face 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 self-interest 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—”

BOOK: Havana
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