It’s Money Side Up this time. This is the Carina Quintana Murder Mystery that preceded Havana Homicide, and while the prime locale is still South Florida and Carina is, as in HH, chief of the Fort Lauderdale PD, it’s a very different story–and the adversaries she faces are in a way even scarier (at least overtly)–than in HH. So when you finish Havana Homicide, here’s what to read next. Or feel free to read Money Side Up first. And while reading the series out of order works, if you insist on starting at the beginning, here’s the full list of Carina books:
Roomer Has It
White Tie & Tales
Dead On a Rival
All the Rage
Money Side Up
So, without further ado, here’s the opening of Money Side Up. Let’s hope it makes you want to devour the rest!
MONEY SIDE UP
David M Benson
Fire and brimstone were the order of the day and it came in two forms. More prosaic and far less life-threatening were the powerful cracks of thunder and flashes of white-hot lightning that illuminated the pre-dawn gloom. Of more immediate concern were the blasts of heavy artillery and ugly rattle of automatic weapons fire and the accompanying blinding muzzle flashes. Carina had been through a few gunfights in her time but this was her first true firefight, and it seemed for all the world like a trip through hell.
She lay prone on her belly on the wet, sandy ground, isolated, in a small, oasis-like grove of gnarly trees and scrub grass, just yards from the beach. Firing her weapon would do little more than give away her position and so she remained powerless, as she had been since the ambush that had greeted their arrival at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. All she could do was watch as a line of nasty-looking, mostly bearded and mostly young men arrayed in a daisy chain that stretched from a powerboat a handful of yards from the shoreline to a dark blue van parked at the edge of the scrub, passed bricks of cocaine and boxes of prescription drugs from the boat into the back of the van. The altogether too effective hail of cover was being provided by the rest of their brethren, along with help from a couple of wiry-looking devils in the boat.
The few other gunfights Carina had endured had been a great deal more one-sided, in favor of the good guys, and had ended soon after the first few clips of bullets had been fired. This reign of mostly large caliber rounds had gone on at a more or less steady pace for ten minutes and showed no sign of abating. The din had been punctuated by a brief silence and then by the almost unbelievable landing of a half dozen mortar shells, one of which killed an FDLE sergeant who had used the lull to change positions, another slicing into the lone DEA agent who had accompanied them. The source appeared to be the drug delivery vessel, a sleek, fifty-odd-foot craft positioned in the shallows just off the beach. There was no reason to believe that additional mortar rounds were not coming.
Later, heads would surely roll at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state’s equivalent of the FBI, as well as at Lauderdale PD, but not until long after the fighting ended, the casualties were counted and the reasons for the intelligence failure analyzed. At the moment that reckoning seemed a very long way off and not especially relevant. The whole failed operation had been hastily organized and Carina had expressed her doubts about the quality of the planning, the implementation of which she was given very little control. Her Criminal Investigation Division’s everyday responsibilities included homicide, special victims, violent crime, and crime scene investigation. Narcotics, on the other hand, came under the purview of the Special Investigation Division, their sister organization within Fort Lauderdale PD’s Investigative Bureau. And, of course, she had no say at all in FDLE matters. It had been the police chief, at the behest of the SID and with FDLE input, who had planned and organized this fiasco. Carina’s people were only along for the ride, against her wishes, on the police chief’s direct orders.
While the intense racket continued Carina wondered how many more lay dead or wounded in this very lopsided and decidedly analog battle. For despite the considerable expense that had been lavished on weaponry by their adversaries, it appeared that not a dollar of it had gone to anything high tech, which was not what the narcotics guys had expected. There were no drones mapping the area, let alone shooting, no laser-guided munitions, nothing remotely fancy. Carina had not even noticed any telltale red dots from laser-aimed firearms. It was old-school point-and-shoot that confronted them, but what their enemy was pointing and shooting far surpassed the power of anything deployed by the Florida cops, and there was clearly more of it, much more.
She had no clue where the boat had come from or who manned it, but the unsavory fellows on shore were members of a notorious motorcycle gang called the Devil Kings whose charters extended from South Carolina to Florida. A tip had come in to Fort Lauderdale PD very late the previous night, Sunday, that the gang was planning to meet their regular drug supplier for a shipment that would be brought in by boat to this very spot on Fort Lauderdale beach just before dawn on Monday. Their normally level-headed chief had been under enormous pressure to stem the tide of drugs entering the city, which had reached levels not seen since the eighties. He had immediately called for all hands on deck from his detective squads, along with as many uniforms as they could get in touch with on such short notice so late on a Sunday night. But in Carina’s opinion at least, he had not pushed back hard enough for more information on the tipster, who had identified herself only as the old lady of one of the local club members. Instead, he had assumed that the woman was probably providing payback for some sort of recent abuse at the hands of her old man and perhaps other club members. That, in turn, led him to believe that the deal was, in fact, a regular drug shipment that involved only the Kings’ local charter. It was only at Carina’s insistence that he had summoned the FDLE and notified DEA, and then only after Carina had convinced him that such a move was likely to reflect favorably on him. Not only would it show that he was a team player, willing to share at least some of the limelight, but more importantly it would also improve their odds of there being any limelight to share. Those agencies had not had the time, however, to further check out the tip and had instead relied on the chief’s view of it, which they felt was at least reasonable.
Carina had not agreed and had taken one more step, this one behind the chief’s back. She had called one of her contacts at the Coast Guard and alerted her as well, to the deal and to the possibility that more firepower might be needed. It was the Devil Kings, who would distribute the drugs in the Lauderdale area, that the Florida cops were primarily after, so once that bust was made, the Coast Guard was welcome to go after the delivery vessel, she told her contact, but she had insisted that they not to attempt an interdiction of that vessel until the drugs were off-loaded. If the Fort Lauderdale police department lost the bust because the Coast Guard got overanxious, Carina made it clear that it would be the last time she would alert them to a possible seizure.
“Feel free to surveil the area, record the thing, whatever, while the deal is going down,” Carina had said before ending the call, “but make sure the bad guys don’t see you. Once we make the bust on shore, the boat’s all yours, although don’t tell my boss I said so. Oh, and if things are really going south on the ground, forget everything I’ve said about hanging back.”
And things had gone south almost immediately and as soon as Carina realized what her group had actually walked into, she hastily texted a MAYDAY to her contact and pleaded for immediate help.
No worries about credit/blame—life or death now! she added to the message.
She was sure they already had choppers in the air and she had sent the message nearly five minutes ago.
“So where the fuck are they?” she said, biting her lip to the point of drawing blood as automatic weapons fire and the shriek of an incoming mortar shell filled the air.
The last of the drugs had been passed along the daisy chain and Carina expected the delivery vessel to head out to sea at full power any second. But when it did not, it struck her that the firepower emanating from the boat had very likely come from weapons that were meant to be part of the deal and were not merely the vessel’s own defenses. This was no ordinary drug deal and given the profits to be made on the kinds of arms the boat apparently carried, especially the mortars, she was sure that its commander wanted to make certain that the weapons portion of the deal was also completed, despite the unexpected presence of law enforcement. And perhaps, too, she thought, he had been unable to resist the opportunity of using his impressive arsenal to inflict additional casualties on those police.
Sure enough, the daisy chain began passing along wooden crates and there was another hail of mortar and heavy machine gun fire from the weapons that remained on the boat, at least for now. Seconds after the barrage began two more officers lay dead, and judging by the screams coming from around her, there were more wounded. And the blood dripping down her left cheek suggested that one of them was her, even though she could barely recall the high-pitched roar of the high-caliber bullet as it had whizzed past her head. The greater concern was the pain in her left shoulder, which seemed to grow as she thought about it. And her breathing began to feel labored.
“Shit!” she hissed. “Where the fuck’s the cavalry?”
As Carina peered over a small rise in the grassy sand, one of the gang members reached into a pocket of his dirty leather cut, removed a phone and answered a call. He said nothing but looked south and gazed up at the sky. Then he nodded his head, ended the call and made a rapid circular motion in the air with his hand.
As the last of the crates were loaded into the van, cigarettes were tossed away or stomped out with heavy boots and one by one the men moved to their bikes as the boat powered up and headed out to sea. As the bikers started their engines, most fired off what they must have thought were parting barrages from their AKs or Uzis in the general direction of the police. With the added bellow of Harley engines coming to life and the boat engines accelerating, Carina had to close her eyes and concentrate to figure out whether what sounded like the ponderous slapping of helicopter blades against the dense, humid air was real or merely wishful thinking on her part. But as the searing pain in her cheek grew and the throb in her shoulder and the left side of her chest intensified, the blue van was suddenly and catastrophically ripped apart by what could only have been rocket powered grenades launched from the sky. Chunks of burning debris were hurled high into the air, along with body parts, some still clothed, others not. As scorched metal, severed limbs and other detritus rained down over the area, they were accompanied by a snowy backdrop of luminous white powder, cocaine that had not been incinerated by the blasts.
An eerie silence briefly enveloped the beach and Carina could hear the boat’s powerful engines go to full power. But seconds later, as its ferocious clatter began to recede, that sound, too, was replaced by the concussive roar of another series of explosions and two bright orange Coast Guard helicopters came into view above the canopy of palm trees. Another brief silence was quickly replaced by heavy machine gun fire. But this time the source was the airmen in the choppers and the targets were the men on Harleys or those rushing to them, not the cops.
When finally the only sound was the pounding rotor blades, Carina tried to stand. But she made it only to her knees. Still, she could finally act and aimed her pistol at the few remaining bikers as they attempted to flee the area. Several of her companions had also survived the onslaught and carefully came out of hiding, joining in with pistols or assault rifles. With the help of a few more blasts of machine gun fire from the Coast Guard choppers, within minutes the remaining bikers lay dead or wounded, or had surrendered.
“You all right, Quintana?” someone shouted, and through the haze Carina thought it might have been Manny Solano.
She smiled, but all she could do was mumble Thank you, Jesus, as she dropped to the ground.
For those of you who’ve yet to read the latest Carina Quintana Murder Mystery, Havana Homicide, here’s a bit of a teaser to (hopefully) encourage you to get the book and read more. It’s the first chapter, actually, the prologue to the story.
David M Benson
A Carina Quintana Murder Mystery
Friday, October 17, 1969, Red Hook, Brooklyn
The young man held a thirty-eight revolver steady against the underside of the table, pointed at his older companion’s gut, content for the moment to know that he controlled the timing of the older man’s death and savoring the short delay in its delivery.
“War is hell!” the older man bellowed, slamming his fist down on the table, jostling the gun.
Eloy Quintana’s outburst quieted the boisterous crowd around them in the shabby bar, more likely because it had been made in English than because it had been made at all. The younger man sitting across from Eloy merely smiled.
“It was the American Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, who said that,” he added, calmly, in Spanish.
The young man grunted and took a swig of beer, holding the can in his free hand, tightening his grip on the revolver with his other.
“And remember, my friend,” the young man said, “that was spoken by a man who had no doubt as to the integrity of his cause. He was a winner reflecting on the suffering that had been brought upon himself and his brethren even with an outcome of victory.”
“Can you imagine, then,” he snarled, “how much worse it must be for the other side, those who lose not only the war but everything else they have and begin to doubt the integrity of their cause?”
“Like you,” the young man said.
“Dark times, my friend,” Eloy Quintana concluded, his Spanish rustic and his voice as rough as the unfiltered cigarettes he smoked and the rum he drank.
“Is that what you have done, begun to doubt the integrity of your cause?” the young man asked.
“If by my cause, you mean the defeat of that devil Castro, then yes, perhaps I have,” he replied. “But if instead you mean the broader cause of freedom for the people of Cuba, then no, not at all. And now, here in America–”
“Where you have become a student of American history, quoting Sherman?” the young man asked, smiling.
Eloy raised his middle finger.
“I have always been a student of American history,” Eloy said, “and you should be, as well, now that you are here. Believe me, it is nothing like what you have learned in school in Cuba. But here, for now, all is well, if you do not count the mess in Vietnam, and they have landed a man on the moon.”
“So they say,” the young man replied. “Speaking of history, tell me about the Invasión de Playa Girón. I was too young to recall very much and I have been told you were there.”
Eloy held up his empty glass.
“If you want me to talk about the Bay of Pigs,” he said, “first you must buy me another glass of rum, a double this time.”
The young man finished the last of his beer and signaled the barmaid for another one, and for Eloy’s rum.
“So, the Bay of Pigs invasion, as the Americans call it,” Eloy obliged, “was from the outset likely to result a loss for the invaders, for us, although this is easier to see in hindsight than from the perspective of the men who were there. You see, like Sherman we believed in the integrity of our cause. Still, when one brings together a group of hastily-trained volunteers more or less on the eve of battle and puts them up against a real army, one that has a good idea of the time and place of their foe’s arrival, a disaster should have been foreseeable, even at the time. Not that we saw it, of course, as I said.”
“But the leaders did, the planners?” the young man asked as the barmaid put their drinks down on the table.
Eloy scowled and took a sip of rum.
“Leaders?” he spat out. “They were Harvard boys and politicians who could not plan their way out of this bar if their lives depended on it. So it was not foreseen by the leaders that Castro would beat us back so quickly. Men died, hundreds of us, on beaches and dusty roads and in World War Two surplus bombers and in all manner of boats and in front of Castro’s firing squads.”
“It was a major embarrassment for the United States,” the young man said.
“I am sure they teach you that very well in Cuba,” Eloy said, pausing to light another cigarette. “Kennedy had to admit it was the U.S. that had supported us, this rag-tag paramilitary force of Cuban exiles that had tried and failed to oust Castro. So, instead of killing the scoundrel and his revolution it strengthened his resolve, that bastard Fidel, and his fucking revolution, maybe even legitimized it, at least to some, perhaps to many.”
“As you know I have only recently left Cuba,” the young man said, “and I can tell you that you are right, it did, to many.”
Again Eloy scowled and took a sip of rum.
“And what came next was even worse,” he continued. “The Soviets saw an opportunity too good to be true, ninety miles from Miami, and so we got the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
“I remember,” the young man said.
“American school children, my son included, hid under their desks, but no shots were fired, no buttons were pushed,” Eloy went on. “The Soviets blinked, and left, but that was the end of any U.S. threats against Castro.”
They were quiet for a while, Eloy drinking and smoking and the young man watching him, his finger caressing the trigger.
“You tell it well, the invasion story,” the young man finally said. “And unlike many of the others, you made it back. As you said, not everyone did.”
Quintana shook his head slowly and shrugged as he brought his glass to his lips and drank the oily, dark rum.
“But I lost my best friends and my faith, at least some of it,” he said softly. “There were about 1,400 of us, to start at least. A hundred or so were killed fighting, a handful made it out alive, about 1,200 of us were captured. Some died in custody, a few dozen were executed. The rest of us were sentenced to 30 years in Castro’s prison.”
“And yet, here you are,” the young man said.
“Yes, here I am,” Quintana said, “not dead and no longer behind rusty iron bars in Cuba.”
“In the prisoner exchange?” the young man ventured.
This time Quintana smiled.
“That is what some might call it,” he replied, taking a long swallow of rum. “Kennedy wanted us back and Fidel needed cash. What he got was food and medicine, $53 million worth in all, private money, more or less. As I recall there were even tax breaks for the donors.”
“God bless capitalism, right?” the young man said.
Quintana did not smile.
“It came to nearly $47,000 for me and each of my brothers,” he said. “It will take you five years to make that much.”
The table between them was square and old and like the rest of the bar had not been well cared for in its long life. A pack of Lucky Strikes, a cheap, plastic lighter and three empty beer bottles were scattered across its blemished top, a folded five dollar bill stuck beneath one of them. There was no steel pedestal to hold the table steady, just four rickety legs at its corners. Not ideal, perhaps, but the arrangement left plenty of room for a clear shot straight across from a gun held just below its gnarled edge.
The two men were silent for a moment. Around them bottles and glasses clinked, Chucho Valdes’ Cuban jazz wafted from the jukebox, cue sticks struck yellowed cue balls on formerly green felt and men talked and argued and shouted, mostly in Spanish. In all, the racket would be more than enough to muffle the champagne cork pop of that the home-made silencer would provide when the young man fired.
“In your version of the story, old man, you are a hero,” the young man said. “But you conveniently forget what happened in the years before.”
“Please don’t tell me that things were worse before the so-called revolution, under Batista,” Eloy leaned forward and hissed. “For one thing, you were a child, and for–”
The young man cut him short.
“I was not referring to Batista, or to any of that,” he said. “I meant only the jobs you did when you were not strutting around the Regla d’Oro as if you owned it. Those are the times I mean.”
Quintana looked at him quizzically as he picked up his drink.
“I remember things different things,” the young man went on. “For example, I remember, a few days before Christmas in 1958, when you killed my father and my uncle.”
Quintana eyebrows rose slightly and he leaned back in his chair but he said nothing.
“So you see,” the young man went on, “in my version of history, Cuban history, you are not merely a traitor to the Revolution, you are also a murderer who was lucky to avoid being taken for what you really are while you were in Fidel’s prison. If you had been, believe me, you would not have left it alive. But luck runs out.”
He steadied the top of the gun against the bottom of the table and squeezed the trigger.
Quintana’s face showed an instant of confusion, which quickly gave way to pain, and then, as he looked down at his belly and the red mass soaking into his shirt, grief.
The young man stood, slipping the gun back into the hip pocket of his gray work pants as he did. He took another five dollar bill from his wallet and set it down on the table with the other. Then he leaned over, clapped Quintana twice on the shoulder, smiled at him and walked out of the bar.
…or, perhaps, a stocking stuffer for the avid reader(s) in your life?
A paperback copy of Dark Fire; Yesterday’s Tears would make a great gift (and the cover art alone will make them smile!).
While fans of science fiction will certainly be delighted with Dark Fire: Yesterday’s Tears, you don’t need to be a sci-fi addict to enjoy the story. As the back cover description says, DFTY is really “a love story for all time.”
So get yourself to Amazon.com. They’ll get as many copies as you need to you in plenty of time!
All right, I suppose it would be more accurate to announce that “Havana Homicide goes BROAD” but, hey, this is football season, right!
Anyway, in addition to its existing availability through Amazon, Havana Homicide is also now available from the Apple iBooks Store, as well as other e-book outlets.
So who needs Monday Night Football–especially when it’s the 5-6 Colts vs the 3-8 Jets–when there’s Havana Homicide to make your Monday night more interesting!
The setting for Havana Homicide seemed very timely when I sat down to begin work on the book last Spring, but with the recent death of Fidel Castro it has become even more topical. And while the book doesn’t attempt to double as a primer on Cuban history, much of it is set against a backdrop of mid-century Havana. Personal memories might well be jogged, at least among readers of a certain age, by scenes set in the 1950s vibrant pre-Castro city, as well as those taking place before, during and after the Bay of Pigs invasion.
In any case, Havana Homicide is now available from Amazon, although it will likely be a week or so until it also becomes available through the Apple Store and other e-book outlets.
As the Amazon teaser puts it:
Havana Homicide is the latest in the Carina Quintana Murder Mysteries series. Something as prosaic as a police chiefs convention brings Carina to Havana but she’s got way stronger Cuban connections than that. Her grandparents emigrated from Cuba just before Castro’s revolution, bringing Carina’s Cuban-born father to the the United States. And her family history, particularly that of her tough guy grandfather, who ran a casino in Havana for the mob before the revolution and who died before she was born, is woven into the plot. Murder abounds; it is, after all, a Carina Quintana Murder Mystery! Here, though, the killer does not seem to care how much evidence he leaves behind. Catch me if you can seems to be his mantra, or his dare. But the manner in which present day killings in Florida intersect with much earlier crimes in Havana drives the twists and turns of the complex story. And Carina is not the only present day figure with descendants that influence current events, nor, it turns out, is she the only one with connections to her grandfather. Carina’s wife Alice is along for the ride, of course, as is Carina’s team of Fort Lauderdale PD detectives. But for Havana Homicide the devil is in the antagonists, including a Steve Jobs-like fellow with more than a little fascinating history of his own and a Cuban secret policeman with a long memory and a few of his own surprises.
But on your seats belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride!
Hello everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve added a post, too long, in fact. But I’ve been busy working on a new book and didn’t want to do “the reveal” until it was nearly done. And now it is!
As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, the new book is called Havana Homicide and, yes, it is–or will be–the latest in the Carina Quintana Murder Mysteries series. But if you’re thinking that all the news about Cuba opening up to American visitors and such was the impetus for adopting it as a prime locale for the story, you’d only be partly right. All the talk and air play certainly elevated it to the front of my mind, but the fact is that Cuba’s been in my thoughts for many years. My parents spent their honeymoon in Havana in 1946 and my beautiful wife visited with her mom and grandmother when she was small. Oh, and the first short series of books I wrote (but did not publish) years ago, the Hunter novels, all took place there.
So what is it that brings Carina to Havana now? It’s something as prosaic as a police chiefs convention that takes place there but she’s got way stronger connections than that. Her grandparents emigrated from Cuba just before Castro’s revolution, bringing Carina’s Cuban-born father to the the United States. And her family history, particularly that of her tough guy abuelo, who ran a casino in Havana for the mob before the revolution and who died before she was born, is woven into the plot.
Murder abounds; it is, after all, a Carina murder mystery! But the manner in which present day killings in Florida intersect with much earlier crimes in Havana drives the twists and turns of the complex story. And Carina is not the only present day figure with descendants that influence current events–or, it turns out, with connections to her grandfather.
Carina’s wife Alice is along for the ride, of course, as is Carina’s team of Ft. Lauderdale PD detectives. But for Havana Homicide the devil is in the antagonists, including a Steve Jobs-like fellow with more than a little fascinating history of his own and a Cuban secret policeman with a long memory and a few of his own surprises.
Havana Homicide is nearing completion and I expect it to be published in time for holiday reading. That should give you time to catch up on any of the seven earlier Carina books you might have missed or, if you’re in a sci-fi state of mind, Dark Fire: Yesterday’s Tears.
…is coming to a close! So if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to go to Amazon or Apple iBooks and get yourself a copy of the latest Carina Quintana Murder Mystery–Money Side Up–to complete your summer reading.
Of course, if you missed the seven Carina books that preceded Money Side Up, those just happen to be available from the same sources! Those are:
Roomer Has It
White Tie & Tales
Dead On a Rival
All the Rage
And last but not at all least, if you’re more in the mood to finish your summer reading off with some great sci-fi/romance, pick up a copy of Dark Fire: Yesterday’s Tears from the same source, in either e-book or paperback.
And enjoy the rest of your summer!