Authors: Paul Monette
In the spring of 1980, under intense pressure from the United States, Cuba opened its port at Mariel Harbor, and thousands set sail for America.
They came in search of the American Dream.
One of them found it.
Those who challenged him, he crushed.
Those who tried to stop him, he killed.
“What the hell we gonna do when we get there?”
“Get rich,” Tony said quietly. An astonished look was in his eyes, as if he’d never spoken such a thing out loud. Perhaps he didn’t know it till he said it.
“Hey, I’m with you,” cried Manolo, clapping his hands three times and thrusting a fist in the air in a gesture of triumph. “Hey, Cousin Tony, we gonna get us a yacht?”
“Everything, pal,” said Tony Montana, his eyes still fixed on the far horizon. The chaos around him had vanished. He smiled at the open sea like an admiral. He clapped a hand on Manolo’s shoulder. “We’re gonna get us everything there is.”
Also by Paul Monette
THE CARPENTER AT THE ASYLUM
TAKING CARE OF MRS. CARROLL
THE GOLD DIGGERS
(based on a screenplay by Werner Herzog)
THE LONG SHOT
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with
MCA Publishing, a Division of MCA Communications, Inc.
Berkley edition / August 1983
Copyright © 1983 by MCA Publishing,
a Division of MCA Communications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To my mother and father,
forty years together and still counting,
and to Ethel Cross,
who taught me more about books than Yale did.
T WAS ALL noise and chaos in the harbor. To the sailors on the rusted shrimp boats, it looked like the start of another revolution. They lay at anchor for three days running, unable to maneuver in the crowded waters. Two days’ catch rotted on the docks, ravaged by shrieking gulls, because the fish carts couldn’t get through the mass of officials and huddling families. Yet none of the fishermen dared complain, for this was a government operation. They prowled the decks and drank rum in the waterfront bars, waiting. Normal life would start up again. It always did. People had to have fish, no matter who was in power.
All across Mariel Harbor, the sleek American fleet nuzzled among the tugs and scows. These were all private craft, customized yachts and blue-hulled sailboats, gaudy with teak and chrome, manned by overfed weekend captains dressed in polyester whites. The customs officials veered among them in Soviet-made gunboats, barking orders and assigning numbers, but it was no use. The Americans pushed and clamored. Fistfuls of bribe money lobbed through the air. The rich men’s boats plowed through and hugged the docks. They were used to being served first.
The Cuban officials could not keep order. They had no army to back them up, because Castro didn’t want a military profile. The exiles themselves were no problem. They stayed with their families and their meager luggage, glazed from the long wait in the hot spring sun. They waved and called out to their cousins and friends in the waiting boats, who’d crossed from Miami to bear them away to freedom. But they didn’t surge forward, for fear they would rile the officials. The slightest false move, and they might be sent back to their desperate villages.
The problem was the demonstrators. Two hundred, three hundred strong, they swept back and forth along the pier, carrying placards and bawling. “Let them go!” they chanted. “Let the worms go!” They threw the exiles’ luggage into the harbor. They grabbed up the stinking shrimp from the fish troughs and pelted several families. They jeered till the children cried. They were students, mostly, and the placards they carried—“Death to the traitors!”—were the mirror of those their older brothers carried, back in the days of the revolution. They had no politics, to speak of. It was just an excuse for a holiday, a chance to throw stones at the boredom of it all.
Yet the immigration officers made no move to restrain them, any more than they tried to restrain the American journalists, clicking their cameras and shrilling their questions in bastard Spanish. For this was a propaganda event. It had nothing to do with the pitiful exiles, yearning to join their kinfolk on the solid gold streets of Miami. It had nothing to do with the students, who already had an autocrat in power and thus didn’t need to raise one up from the rabble. All of these were merely local color, immigrant and exile both. Only the officials, in their khakis and spit-shined shoes, badges gleaming in the noonday haze, dimly understood the larger purpose they all served. Because they were good bureaucrats, because they loved their government like a father, they knew they were doing their part to bring peace to the world.
For Castro was out to normalize relations with the Americans. In a gesture worthy of ancient kings, he had opened the harbor at Mariel and declared his people free to go. Some few, anyway. There were quotas, of course. Still, within seventy-two hours of his announcement, a flotilla of boats was on its way from the U.S. mainland. Three thousand boats in all, drunk on freedom and Carta Blanca.
Finally, after endless hours of triplicate forms and false alarms, a thin stream of refugees was permitted to gather at the end of the dock. The gleaming yachts jostled for position as the first was tied up to the piling. A couple of weeping refugee women reached out like beggars to the polished deck. The minicam unit from NBC-Lauderdale nearly trampled a child as it zoomed in for a close-up. All the hysterical energy of the last few days, the hope and terror and patriot zeal, was suddenly focused on that one spot where the first refugee would step off the dock into happy exile.
Nobody noticed the trucks. They came in a line between two warehouses, with armed police running ahead and behind. Five altogether, rumbling and grinding their gears, old trucks from the Second World War, probably Russian as well. It was a little late for the army. Most of the footage for the evening news was already in the can.
The police pressed the crowd back so the trucks could make the turn onto the pier. The guards who brought up the rear hurried forward as each truck braked. They released the chains on the tailgates, and the tailgates fell open with a grinding roar, striking the dock with a splinter of wood and sending the rats in the pilings below streaming into the water. Still the crowd didn’t understand. They strained to watch the immigration men check their final lists. They cavorted for the television crews. They spat at the boats from Florida.
Had anyone peered into the truckbeds, it would have taken several seconds to grow accustomed to the dark. The steaming sun beating on the water had made them all sea-blind. Perhaps they would have caught the stench before they saw a thing. If pain had a smell, if madness did, then this was how it stunk. Chains slithered and clinked in the darkness. Here and there a groan went up, but without any hope of mercy. Even the guards, as they prodded and cursed, winced with a kind of shame, as if they were horrified to bring what was in there out to the light of day.
Now you could see them. They lay there stacked together, their cheeks hollow, their eyes dead, manacled wrists held out in front of them, pleading like the damned. They were dressed in rags. Their heads were shaved. Now, as they slowly disentangled themselves and staggered forward, the sores stood out livid where the chains had rubbed. They hadn’t bathed in days. They whined at the glare of the sun. They stumbled down the ramp, dragging their chains. There must have been fifty or sixty in each truck, but somehow, only a couple had died of the heat. It wasn’t till they began to form lines, careful to do exactly what the guards said, that one saw how tough they were. They were dirty and vile, they had touched bottom—but they had no plans to die.