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Authors: Stephen Hunter

Havana (39 page)

BOOK: Havana
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This novel didn't exist until a certain moment in time. I met my editor, the legendary Michael Korda, at a famous New York restaurant. In my pocket were sixteen index cards with sixteen ideas for The Next Book. I knew they pretty much sucked; I wasn't a happy traveler. Most writers will know what I am talking about.

Michael showed up in typical full-Korda fashion: ebullient, cosmopolitan, wickedly amused by the world's folly and full of peppery energy. He declared, “Steve, I have an idea for you.”

I should tell you, I don't like other people's ideas. I can never seem to make them work; they never feel quite right. But he was paying, for both the lunch and the book, and so I smiled and said, okay, let's hear it, while thinking,
How soon before he forgets this one?

He said three words: “Earl in Havana.”

I knew instantly: that was the rest of my life, at least for a year or so.

I don't know if the rest is history, but it certainly was fun. So the first thanks go to Michael Korda for the best other-people idea I ever heard in my life and for a great year in the brothels and casinos of Old Havana and the killing fields of Santiago.

In Cuba, I have to thank my friend and translator Jorge Gonzalez, who trundled me all about the capital city in his thirteen-year-old Lada, explaining things and showing things. He got me to Hemingway's and to the Sevilla-Biltmore and the Nacionale and helped me locate what was once the Teatro Shanghai on Zanja Street and is now an empty field with a sign that says something absurd in that blowy commie rhetoric that is the Fidel style: “Cubans United for the Revolution.” As if they had a choice.

Jorge was a gentleman and a scholar and I had a great time with him.

In Santiago I stayed atop San Juan Hill and hired two drivers; one, improbably, was named Bryce. I'm sure he went home to his wife Muffy and their two kids, Skip and Holly, where they followed the Harvard crew results. He was a decent man; the find, however, came the next day in the form of a bright green 1956 Chrysler Imperial with those little satellite taillights on the fins. Really a cool car. But the owner of this automobile was a young man named Wenkle as I understood it, and he was a terrific guy. We did Santiago together. The next day, when I flew back to Havana, he drove me to the airport and felt he had to introduce me to his wife and son. I rode in back with the kid, four, shy and beautiful, who finally called me “Inglis,” just like I was Robert Jordan. How cool is that? I'm hoping for the best for Wenkle and his family; that car alone should be worth seventy-five grand when the thaw finally comes.

Here, the usual merry band helped out. The fabulous Jean Marbella actually hooked me up with Jorge, whom she had met on one of her several trips to the island for
The Baltimore Sun.
At the
Washington Post,
my two immediate supervisors—good old John Pancake and Peter Kaufman—were unperturbably supportive. Gene Robinson, the assistant managing editor for
is an old Cuba hand (he's writing a book about Cuban music) and he gave me excellent advice. Paul Richard pitched in with reading suggestions and enthusiasm. Retired from the
Bill Smart, who actually logged time in Cuba in the fifties, helped me recreate the Plaza de Armas in Santiago as it was then, as opposed to the New Socialist Concrete-Gothic monstrosity it's become. Henry Allen made a great, late catch.

My friends Weyman Swagger (also my portraitist), Lenne Miller and Bob Lopez pitched in with keen early readings. Weyman, as I've said before, is a superb natural editor. Mike Clark, the film critic of
USA Today,
loaned me his video copies of three Cuban-set films, most important
Our Man in Havana,
which, among other delights, is the best photographic record of Havana in the fifties available. From Marc Dozal at I got another batch of film noirs with Cuban settings or occasional Cuban motifs, including
Miami Expose
Affair in Havana.
Marc also found me a copy of
Our Man in Havana
that I didn't have to give back and could study at my leisure. So in some sense my roman noir is set in a film noir. My good friend and hunting partner John Bainbridge gave me a superb proofreading job. And thanks again to Bob Beers, who voluntarily maintains a website at Why he does this I have no idea, but he seems to enjoy it.

A few confessions: I am aware that the Earl of
doesn't connect in perfect joinery with the first Earl, of
Black Light
so many years ago. I trust readers will understand that he's grown in complexity and experience as I've stayed with him over the past few books. Possibly in some better future I'll have a chance to do another pass on
Black Light
—I suppose when Harvard brings out the
Collected Novels of Stephen Hunter
—and reconcile the two Earls into one figure.

I should also say that the pistol I refer to consistently as the Super .38 is now called a .38 Super. I'm not sure when the Super migrated to the rear of the construction, but all the original Colt period documents of the gun call it a Super .38 through the fifties at least. Mine, built in 1949, is stamped “Colt Super .38” on the slide. I decided to go with Colt. If they don't know, who does?

Finally, as to historicity. The CIA was clearly aware of Castro as early as 1953; the rest I've jiggered to suit my dramatic needs, and had a hell of a good time doing so. For the record, everything is where I say it is in the book and it looks like I say it looks. I make certain adjustments for the sake of simplicity and because I am a novelist, not a historian: other rebel initiatives on the night of July 26, 1953, meant to coincide with the attack on the barracks, I chose to ignore. (By the way, a really good historical narrative on Moncada in English has yet to be written; some brilliant young nonfiction writer out there, get busy.) Fidel was captured a few miles north of where I place him, not on a beach but in a farmhouse while he slept, though his capturer was indeed Lieutenant Sarria; there was an infamous torturer in Santiago named Ojos Bellos, though what became of him I don't know. I hope it wasn't pretty.

Finally, we have no idea when Soviet contact with Castro began. I've enjoyed imagining that it began in 1953. Whatever, History will absolve me.

BOOK: Havana
9.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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