Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 3, Arriving in Havana

Author’s note:  This is a continuation of a series.  For more information see Shades of Hemingway and Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure

     All I know about the area we are heading into is the Copacabana is the hottest spot north of Havana ala Barry Manilow.  All the hustle surrounding the Port of Entry to this foreign and extremely private land catches me a little off guard.

     It is large in its expanse, and while I expected cranes and cargo containers, I did not foresee the simple manner that the workers carried out their duties.  We tied off at the dock and one of the first sights I engaged was an old Chevy pickup truck from the early 50’s.  It would have been considered a collector’s item back in the States, even though it was painted a putrid green with dark blue fenders.  A couple of stevedores were taking a break in the shade of a tarp that was lifted across the back end in military fashion.  They were enjoying a mid-morning siesta with portions of the boxes they had been loading now offering support to their backs.  I have been in ports before, the Port of Tampa comes to mind, which is huge.  The Port of Havana seemed less hectic, less mechanical and more human.  Though I did notice workers dressed in t-shirts and short sleeves, there were no logos in sight.  No football jerseys boasting a favorite player, no t-shirts making a political statement or sexual reference, no glamorous celebrities’ faces or rock stars.  I was in another country.  For the first time in my life I felt like a foreigner and a long way from Ft. Myers, Florida, U.S.A.  Sargent Garcia was at my side and resting his hand on my shoulder again.

     “Welcome to Cuba, my friend… welcome to Havana!”

     We made our way to the end of the dock and were greeted by two men which I presumed were part of the police force.  They smartly saluted Garcia as we approached them.  One spoke excitedly in Spanish while the other casually nodded in my direction.  Garcia took in the information, asked a couple of questions and then turned to me.

     “These men will provide us an escort, Mr. Fiore.  I do not mean to rush you along, but  you can rest at our facility where we also have some refreshments prepared.  I will also see about getting you some proper footwear.  Follow me, please.”

     The car that awaited us was an older style European sedan.  As I climbed into the back seat I figured that because I was with Sgt. Garcia and his fellow police officers that I would be taken to the local precinct.  But instead I found myself buzzing down the weaving Avenue de Maceo and turning back the hands of time.  The buildings we passed were weathered and worn, clamored together so tightly they seemed to prop each other up.  Traffic consisted of cars, trucks, bicycles and even a horse-drawn cart.  We briskly maneuvered the pavement with a large seawall on one side of us concealing the view of the gulf waters but spotted with pedestrians and loiterers.

     “The Malecon'” pointed out Sgt. Garcia.  “The wall stretches the outer rim for several miles and attracts many tourists.”

     “Wow!  It’s incredible!”  I say, though I have a hard time seeing over it.

     Eventually we rounded a corner and came to a stop in front of the 14-story Hotel Deauville which stands out from the rest of the surrounding buildings because of its red color.  My perplexity must have been obvious because Sgt. Garcia was grinning sitting next to me.

     “You are a guest of the Republic, Mr. Fiore.  We intend to make your stay here as comfortable as possible.”

     We entered and one of the policemen approached the front desk perched between two pinkish columns and began speaking in Spanish to the clerk while I looked around the lobby.  The furnishings of wooden veneer could have come from a fashionable fifties shop at the Patio deLeon in downtown Ft. Myers.  I looked out a large glass window at the traffic shooting by and saw a tractor trailer pulled city bus heading towards the east with multiple arms dangling from its open windows.  Coming from the opposite direction a bicycle cab peddled past.  I was impressed how older American vehicles from the 50’s blended in with newer European models from the 70’s and 80’s.  Cuba is a nation that recycles, nothing is wasted or thrown away that can be rebuilt, refurbished, reclaimed or reincarnated.

     “It’s like stepping back in time,”  I finally volunteered to no one in particular.

     The two policemen waited in the lobby as Sgt. Garcia and I rode a tired, rickety elevator up to the 11th floor of the hotel.  The elevator car groaned to a stop and paused for a moment, as if it were trying to decide whether to let us exit or not.

     “State of the art,”  I mused aloud.  Sgt. Garcia chuckled, “The stairs are not so crowded.”

     “Perhaps I’ll try them…  going down.”  The elevator door finally opens and we step out into the corridor.

     “We Cubans are never in a hurry, Mr. Fiore.  You’ll find our people much calmer than those of your country, our approach to life is simpler… unrushed.”

     I imagined the reason for the Cuban populace’s “calmness” and simple “unrushed” utopia had more to do with their being suppressed by the local government, but I bit my tongue and said nothing.  Each moment in the company of Sgt. Garcia was putting me further from returning to the U.S. and I did not care to risk any further stress on our fragile diplomatic relationship. 

     I was led to a room with a breathtaking view over the gulf waters.  The accommodations were much like what I had seen in the lobby; sparse, wood veneer furniture that sprung from an earlier Ozzy and Harriet time capsule.  True to his word, Sgt. Garcia had arranged for some fresh fruit to be waiting for me to eat.  A small pitcher of un-iced water with lemon was left to round out the offering and I immediately sat down to eat without being told to do so.  My last meal had been left-over lasagna and wine with Rachel the night before, which seemed like an eternity ago.

     Sgt. Garcia pulled the other chair from the small table and sat down, intently watching me gorge myself with the sweet taste of melons, bananas and citrus.  From where I was seated I could see an old fortress jutting out into the water, and further past it across the bay that leads to the port, another equally imposing stronghold appeared.  Sgt. Garcia followed my eyes to the view behind him.

    “The Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta is the first one nearest to us, the second is the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro… citadels guarding the entry to the Port of Havana for hundreds of years.”

     “They are magnificent!”  I volunteered, impressed with the centuries old architecture I missed from our arrival by boat but now was surveying from my perch 11 stories up.

     “Perhaps I can arrange a tour, Mr. Fiore, they are open to the general public and their guides are quite informative.”

     I recalled my last tour being that of the Hemingway House in Key West and the beginning of my wild adventure.  I looked at Sgt. Garcia, a man who seemed proud of his heritage and the country that for the most part had spent nearly half a century out of favor with the government I indirectly came to represent.

     “Normally I might take you up on that offer, but regrettably and as you well know I am not here as a tourist.”

     Sgt. Garcia nods, “Yes, regrettably this is so.”

     I pushed back from the table slightly to signal that my meal was completed and I meant to get down to business.  With that Sgt. Garcia rose and stood by the window looking out at the broad expanse of water that we had just crossed not more than an hour ago.

     “I’m here to find Rachel and try to get the two of us back to the United States… with your help, of course.”  I remind him but he is un-moved from his position of looking out at the chasm that separates our countries, cultures and beliefs.

     “What can you tell me about your relationship with Rachel, Mr. Fiore?”

     “I beg your pardon?”

     “When was the last time you saw her?”

     “Less than 12 hours ago.  But look, what does this have to do with anything?  This morning you said you knew where she was!  I presumed that meant here in Cuba since you virtually whisked me away with no explanation and brought me here.  If that is true then lead me to her so we can get the hell out of Dodge and get our ass’ home!”

     Sgt. Garcia puts his hands behind his back and gravely turns to face me, his pleasant demeanor replaced with a grim solemness.

     “She is in Cuba, Mr. Fiore… kidnapped and brought here against her will.  But in order for me to be able to help you I must know everything about your relationship with her.”

     “I don’t know anything about her, we met last night for the first time.”

     “Under what circumstances?”

     “Sgt. Garcia, aren’t we wasting time?”

     “Tell me everything.”

     “I don’t know where to begin.”

     “Start with your arrival to Key West that first time.”

     I looked at Sgt. Garcia, a little bit of fear welling up inside of me.  He had recognized me from the Green Parrot Bar!  Nervously I looked about the room trying to gather my thoughts on where to begin, but Sgt. Garcia followed my head and stepped closer to me.  I was trapped in a barren room 11 stories up in a country I had illegally entered with no viable ally.  My throat started to lump into a stranglehold.  My life in Ft. Myers seemed very far away.

     “Mr. Fiore, 12 hours have passed since you last saw Rachel, yes?”

     “Yes.”  I replied, nodding slightly and looking up into his face, a face that now seemed anything but friendly.

     “I can just about guarantee she will be dead in less than 48, unless…”  His voice trails off.

     “Unless?”  I’m trying to remain calm but my voice is coming out as a frightened squeak.

     “You must tell me everything that has happened, everything you know. Tell me now and leave nothing out, no matter how insignificant you think it is.”

     I have just about resigned myself to the notion that I may never see the United States again let alone find Rachel.  I start trying to imagine what Cuban prisons were like and how they treated captured Americans.  What had I gotten myself into and how was I ever going to get back home?

     I took a deep breath and began…


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