Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 4, At the la Floridita

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

     It was like deja’ vu all over again.  It had only been a scant 8 hours earlier that I was explaining to Detective Jake Barnes of the Key West Police Department the same thing; why I had come to Key West, who I had been traveling with and how I had met them.  I started talking about my first visit to Bone Island with Keith and Laura which seemed to spark a mild interest in Sgt. Garcia.  When I mentioned our visit to the Hemingway Estate, his face brightened up a little.  The fact that I had “accidentally” made off with an artifact and kept it for the duration of my visit then ended up going to jail over it brought a faint smirk to Sgt. Garcia’s lips.  I did not mention meeting the shades of Hemingway feeling that I might have been perceived as some sort of a lunatic.  My having been chosen and directed by the ghosts of a Nobel Prize winning author to find the killer of a Key West police officer on bicycle patrol was such a stretch of the imagination I had difficulty believing it myself.

     Yet I did mention to the bar maid at the Green Parrot that we had been recommended to the place by Robert Jordan, the rookie cop whose killer I was supposed to expose.  If Garcia had been told this then he did not let on to me that he knew of my indirect connection to the dead cop whom I had only met as a ghost.  Garcia seemed to be more interested in the shoehorn I had “lifted” from the carriage house study and Key West’s most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway.

     “Ernest Hemingway is highly respected and very much admired here amongst my people.”

     “Really?” I inquired, “Are his books still that widely read?”

     “He has been regarded as a great American ambassador and one of Cuba’s favorite sons.”

     I was taken aback by how little I did know about the man whose legend was still alive and well 40 years after his death.  Living in Key West for over 10 years, Hemingway had produced some of his most famous work.  Now I was learning there was a whole other country  who laid claim to him as one of their own.  I was a bit embarrassed over my lack of knowledge and made a mental note to make amends to Papa the next time I saw him.

     “Hemingway was a resident of Cuba?”  I struggled with the concept.  Everything I knew of Cuba was anti-American.  How was it possible one of our own had dual citizenry with a nation that despised us and yet was considered their friend?

     “Mr. Hemingway lived here over 20 years, Mr. Fiore, his hotel room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos is enshrined not too far from where we are now.”

     My head started to spin.  The fact that I was here trying to rescue Robert Jordan’s sister, Rachel, from kidnappers with no shoes or change of clothing was daunting enough but I had no source for information outside of Sgt. Garcia.  I doubted even the cops downstairs knew why I was there, for all they knew I could be a criminal.  I needed to contact the shades again because the clock was running.  If what Sgt. Garcia had told me was correct I didn’t have much time.  My mind picked up on Sloppy Joe’s Bar back in Key West and my first meeting with Hem there.  It was a shame, I thought; I had no such place here.

     As if on cue there was a knock on the door.  Sgt. Garcia rose to answer it and allowed one of the men from downstairs to enter, carrying several garment bags.

     “I am afraid we had to guess your size, Mr. Fiore, but I am sure you will find something suitable within these selections.”

     Suddenly I felt tired and grimy.

     “What I could really use is a shave, shower and a stiff drink!”

     Sgt. Garcia smiled.  “I know just the place, Mr. Fiore.  After your shower, of course.”

     “I’d love to see the shrine you spoke of at that hotel.”

     “The very place I had in mind.”

     La Habana Vieja is Old Havana, the area the Hotel Deauville is in.  After I have cleaned up and dressed in modest attire we left the hotel and headed inward, away from the gulf waters and towards the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  The traffic is brisk and I am content to look out at the pedestrian onslaught of vendors, locals and tourists.  We turn a corner after traveling a few blocks and Sgt. Garcia points to a building on our left.

     “That is the El Floridita, a place Ernest Hemingway used to frequent quite regularly for it’s now world famous daiquiri.”

     I look over at the tavern that has a giant sized bottle just off it’s doorway beckoning to passers by to come in and indulge themselves.  Immediately a light bulb clicked inside my head.

     “Wait!”  I shouted, “Stop the car!”

     The driver instinctively hit the brakes causing the tires to squeal and us to abruptly lurch forward.  I grabbed for the handle and pushed the door open.

     “What is it?” a startled Sgt. Garcia asks.

     “This is the place!” is all I can say. 

     I jumped out of the car and scampered across the street.  A car horn blared it’s disapproval and the sedan’s engine roared behind me taking off down the street before Sgt. Garcia had a chance to follow.  I could hear him shouting commands to the driver as I reached the side entrance to Hemingway’s alternative watering hole.

     The ceiling is tall but the rooms are narrow.  Pictures in black and white of celebrities from the golden age of Hollywood line the walls.  I can hear music being played somewhere in front of me as I make my way towards the bar.  It is fairly busy for being mid-afternoon.  I am searching around for something but I do not know for certain what it is.  A bartender dressed in a white shirt and matching slacks with a full red apron sees me but says nothing.  Looky loos must go with the territory in this establishment, to him I am just another tourist.  Finally I see it at the end of the bar.  An area is roped off and a solitary bar stool sits alone in the corner.  I glance up at the wall and a bust of Ernest Hemingway is placed on a mantle, below it is a black and white photo of Papa with a young Fidel Castro.  Looking back I see sitting on the stool is Hem, sipping a daiquiri and reading a newspaper.  He looks up at my approach and grins.

     “Hey Sport!  Long time, no see!  What brings you to this neck of the woods?”

     His lighthearted manner is frustrating to me but I try to remain calm.

     “Hem, what in the hell have you gotten me into?”

     “What on earth could you mean?”

     “Hem, someone’s taken Jordan’s sister, Rachel.  Her life is in danger.  I need to know who they are and where they’re holding her.”

     “Around her waist, no doubt…” Hem grins again and sips at the large drink.

     “This is serious!  I don’t know where I am or how I’m going to get out of here but her life is in danger!  I’m the only one that seems to be willing and able to do anything about it!  I need your help!”

     “You… willing and able?  My… we’ve come a long ways since that time in my carriage house haven, haven’t we, Sport?”

     “Hem, I’m in trouble.  I have no money, no I.D. and no passport.  I’ve come to a country that I have no business being in except for the fact that you put me on this wild goose chase that continues to befuddle me.  Help!  I need to get to Rachel and find us a way back to the States while there is still time.”

     “Do you remember a certain item you liberated from my study?” Hem says with a slight twinkle in his eye.

     “Hem, that was an accident and I did my best to return it.  Besides it was a long time ago.  Surely there are no grudges here…”

     “Ah… but there is a connection, Sport.  It all connects.”

     “Tell me the connection!  What should I do?”

     Hem sets his glass down, spins around to face me and leans back against the bar.

     “There is someone here in Cuba that I think you oughta meet.”

     “Okay, how?  I don’t know my way round, I don’t speak the language and I was brought here by a Cuban police Sargent that I just managed to ditch a moment ago.  The cops will probably be coming through that front door in about 30 seconds wondering what the hell is going on while I’m standing here seeking counsel from a friggin’ ghost!”

     Hem puts up his hand in order to calm me down.

     “Hear me out, Sport.  This fella goes by the name, Lord Cristobal.  He’s very influential in these parts, sort of a holy man… much revered by many of his people.  But be careful, he’s a colorful character that lives beyond the grasp of Cuban authorities, if ya know what I mean.  Find this man and you will no doubt find out who’s holdin’ Rachel.”

     “How do I meet him?”

     “Are you familiar with the song, ‘I Ain’t Gonna Grieve My Lord No More’ ?”  Then without waiting for my reply, Hem begins singing the song to me…

     ‘Oh, you can’t get to heaven…

     in Papa’s car,

     ’cause the gosh darn thing

     won’t go that far!’

     “Do you know that song, Sport?  Of course you do.  Do the chorus for me.  Sing… ‘I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more.'”

     My brain is garbled.  I can feel the heat rising up to my temples and I want to scream at him.  All I can grasp is this sense of panic and impending doom while Hem is flashing that famous grin at me.  But out of the blue… the lyric does come to me and I begin to sing softly.

     “Oh, I ain’t a gonna grieve my Lord no more,

     I ain’t a gonna grieve my Lord no more,

     no I ain’t a gonna grieve… my Lord no more!”

     “You are here to find the Lord?”  A voice comes from behind the bar causing me to lose my concentration and face it’s source.  It is the bartender that eyed me casually as I had walked in.  Nervously I shift towards the entrance, expecting Sgt. Garcia to come following me in but for some unknown reason I do not want to be found by him… not yet.  I take a few steps closer.

     “Yes,”  I replied, “can you take me to him?”

     “Where are you from?”  He suspiciously asks.  Without thinking I blurt out…

     “Key West.”

     The man looks at me for a moment.  I had just divulged that I was an American.  I felt nervous in my stomach but found myself staring back into his dark eyes unflinching and defiant.

     The man grunts,  “Follow me.”

     I have no choice, really.  Typically and without a word edgewise, Hem has vanished…

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