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First Chapter of Havana Homicide

January 8, 2017

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.

Enjoy!

HAVANA HOMICIDE

by

 David M Benson

  A Carina Quintana Murder Mystery

 

Prologue

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.”

Eloy nodded.

“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.

Eloy shrugged.

“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.

 

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