Archive for October, 2008

Shades of Hemingway / Deja` Voodoo – Part 8, When in Rome… make lemonade

October 28, 2008

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

      Immediately I find myself back at the Hemingway Estate.  I am standing in the carriage house with the rider`s crop shoehorn in my hand.  Hem has just appeared out of the small bathroom in the corner wearing his robe and slippers, grinning broadly.

     “What does it all mean?”  I ask, looking at the object in my hand in disbelief.

     “It all connects, Sport, every little bit of it.”

     “The shoehorn originates from the Serengeti?”

     “That`s right, start from the beginning and connect the dots.”

     “Hem, which beginning?  Yours, mine or ours?   It`s too damn confusing!”

     Hem leans towards the entrance of the carriage house study and stands in the doorway.  After a moment he turns and beckons me to approach.  I walk over, stand beside him and look down.  There I am on the lawn.  I had just run out from the study and down the stairs, turned then realized that I still had the shoehorn clutched in my grasp.

     “Wish ya could have that time back?”  Hem looks me square in the face.  His usual grin has turned somber, his tone sensitive, almost kind.  “Do you wanna drop the whole thing on the lawn and just walk away with no one bein`the wiser?”

     I wondered if this was my chance to get out of it.  I felt myself on the verge of relenting, of saying I just wanted to go home and forget everything that had happened from that first meeting on.  But I didn`t.  Through it all I knew that even with my fretting and discomfort, I was doing something that no one else had done before.  In fact, I could easily distinguish my life and summarize it as having accomplished nothing prior to the incident before me.  I looked down at myself frozen in time, standing like a yard ornament holding up a trophy.  I turn and eye the famous face of America`s Nobel Prize winner.

     “Not on your life!”

     Hem nods approvingly and claps his hand on my shoulder, that trademark grin of his returning broader than ever.

     “Good!  Then quitcher goddamn bellyachin`and get serious on this, would ya?”

      I was convinced that with each passing hour Rachel was being raped, tortured and brainwashed with ancient chants of a wild voodoo variety by a myriad of half crazed followers of Lord Cristobal.  I had envisioned myself arriving with nick-of-time, Indiana Jones style heroics in the beginning.  But now I was bedridden and unable to charge in to the rescue.  No matter my insistence to the contrary, Naty and her family said I was in no condition to travel and kept me in bed.  At first I struggled against them but then finally resigned myself to the assumption that I was probably too late anyway based on what Sgt. Garcia had told me back at the hotel.  48 hours had nearly passed and I was no closer to finding Rachel.  Feeling lost and hopeless, I fell into a state of depression and troubled sleep.  I managed to rest and recuperate which slowly allowed me to regain my composure and bearings.  As the 3rd day since I set foot on Cuban soil dawned I felt better, not only physically but emotionally as well.  If Rachel was still alive, I am determined to find her and attempt to return us to the States.

     Naty Revuelta is a woman who appears resigned to her fate, living near her parents and helping to raise her dead sister`s children.  I could not imagine Naty living in Miami, having the freedom of being in the United States and yet forsaking it all to return to her native land under these circumstances.  I knew I could not change all the injustice in the world as did she.  But here was one thing, one small thing that she could make a  difference in and her accomplishment polarized me.  I felt torn between my rescue of Rachel and the deepening relationship I had begun with Naty.  Call it the Florence Nightingale effect, but through her efforts of caring for me, her cause started to become mine.

     Back in the 80`s the Freedom Flotilla brought thousands of Cuban refugees to the United States.  11 year old Naty was one of those that, with the help of her uncle and cousins, made the 90 mile effort to a new life in America.  Naty`s parents and younger sister would take another craft and follow them, or so they thought.  After Castro emptied his prisons and allowed criminals to depart declaring, “If America wants scum, we`ll give them scum!” he shut down Port Mariel.  Those who were not fortunate enough to grab the opportunity fast were forced to remain behind.  Talk about a cruel dictator…

     Naty did well in Miami with her relatives, adjusting to life in her new world but always maintaining contact with her family back in Cuba.  She worked and saved her money with the hope that one day she could buy transportation for them so they could join her in the land of the free.

     But Naty`s younger sister grew to up to be a beautiful woman, sought after and admired by men of every walk of life.  She started a relationship with a foreigner that was an import/exporter and bore his children, knowing he was a married man.  This man was a loose disciple of the Santeria faith and closely involved with Lord Cristobal.  When the sporadic relationship soured because her sister wanted more of a commitment along with the refinements of life that the man could provide, she was dismissed and another mistress was chosen.  Hurt, alone and unable to be consoled; she took her own life, leaving the little boy and girl behind to the care of her elderly parents.

     Despair is a large part of the lifestyle in Cuba, even after 40 years of Castro rule, little has changed as far as the progress of her people for a better life.  For example, each month bread rations and commodities are doled out to the poor by the government that boasts, “See how we are taking care of you!”  But these items come sparingly and must be stretched out in order to last the entire month.  This means the food supplies usually must be supplemented by the open markets that line the streets.  Electricity is a luxury in the rural areas which makes refrigeration hard and rare.  And with the majority of the populance living near poverty much of the ambiance of Cuba harkens back to Third world standards.

     As the morning progresses it is agreed that I can safely move about and Naty offers to take me to her home in Vinales, a small town back towards Havana.  Naty works as a housekeeper in a hotel nearby there.  She manages to have modern facilities, such as running water and electricity in her humble abode.  It is where her niece, nephew and usually her mother also reside.  Regrettably the house of Juan Revuelta does not have the luxuries I take for granted and I am well past needing a shower.  I readily accept her offer to travel with her mother and the children, leaving her father to his Spartan existence.

     Apparently Juan Revuelta was fairly well off before the revolution, working at a nearby villa as a grounds keeper for a tobacco plantation tycoon.  Later, the plantation owner was declared an enemy of the Revolution, removed and abruptly executed.  Stubbornly, Juan Revuelta squatted in a field house on the opposite side of the vast tobacco crop and the former owner`s villa.  He remained there as a permanent fixture to the plantation`s history that no one questioned.  Now the villa can be admired from afar as part of a tourist`s road trip of the fertile Vinales Valley. 

     A villa now occupied by none other than Lord Cristobal.

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 7, In the House of Juan Revuelta

October 8, 2008

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

     I must have been out for several hours because I could see the sun was setting outside through the windows.  The bed was not much more than a cot stuck in the corner of a barren room.  There is a crucifix hanging on an exterior wall framed with rough hewn studs.  The rafters above have been left exposed; there is no insulation, electrical wiring or drywall anywhere.  The house rests on an elevated foundation with a wooden floor. 

     My head has a dull ache which accentuates every time I try to roll myself around or sit up.  In fact, it throbs with each heartbeat, but I am grateful to be alive.  The old man has left the room.  The woman with the cloth returns to kneeling beside me, dabbing my wound and forehead with a cool, wet cloth that she continues to refresh in a basin of water.  The daughter of Juan Revuelta is nowhere to be seen.

     “Do you speak English?”

     “Yes.”

     “Are you Mrs Revuelta?”

     “Yes, I am Miriam.”

     “Hello, Miriam, my name is Christian… that was your daughter, yes?”

     “Yes.”

     “She is very lovely, what is her name?”

     “Naty.”

     “Naty?  Yes?  That is a good name, Miriam.  Your daughter is very lovely.  Thank you.  Thank all of you for helping me.”

     I don’t know why but I find myself feigning a Spanish accent, thinking it may make my English easier to understand.  Miriam smiles and continues to sooth my head with the damp cloth.  I can smell cooking in the next room and hear the laughter of children.  Soon Naty appears with a plate and Miriam rises, moving towards the head of the bed and out of my sight.  Naty sits down on the cot next to me, produces a fork and then dips from the plate.  I realize I am hungry, having not eaten since the fruit Sgt. Garcia’s men provided earlier at my hotel room.  I am not familiar with the aroma but my stomach growls with eager anticipation.

     “What is it?”  I ask as the food is inserted in my mouth.

     “Steamed yucca and rice… shush now and eat.”

     I do as I am told and chew carefully, trying not to force my throbbing temples any more than necessary.  Naty watches me swallow then dips into the plate and offers more food.

     “Who are you and why are you helping me?  How do you know about Lord Cristobal?”

     “No more talking!”  She has a warm but stern face, concealing a smile that lies just below the surface.  I could draw that smile out if I tried, I thought.

     “Okay, I’ll be quiet.  But tell me who you are, Naty.  It is Naty, isn’t it?”

     “Yes, that is my name…”  Her eyes are dazzling, she is flattered that I must have inquired her name of her mother, otherwise how would I have now known to ask her.  “And you are?”  Her conversational manner is one of polite respect and curiosity.

     “Christian…  Christian Fiore.  Are you in the habit of rescuing strangers left along the road to die?”

     “You are not going to die!”  She smiles, rewarding my persistence.  “You’ll just have a slight headache for a while, Mr. Fiore.”

     “Please… call me Chris, and you are not answering my question.”

     “And you are not lying quietly!”

     “Yes, you’re right… I’m sorry.  But please, tell me about yourself and where I am… there is so little I know about Cuba…”

     “There will be enough time for questions after you rest.”

     “Tell me about Lord Cristobal, how is it that you know of him?”

     She stops feeding me for a moment, looking at me intently.  I try to smile at her but it hurts my head.  With a sigh she eventually relinquishes.

     “Everyone in Cuba knows or has heard of Lord Cristobal, he is babalaos.”

     “Babalaos?”

     “A supreme priest of Santeria, a form of religion amongst my people.”

     I nod towards the crucifix.

     “And yet, your family is Catholic?”

     “Yes, we are.  But Cuban ancestry goes further than the Spanish who came here.  Many of us have distant relatives from Africa.  In Cuba, the man who doesn’t have an ancestor from the Congo has one from the Carabali.”

     “And because of this ancestry  Lord Cristobal is Santeria?  I don’t get the connection, what does it all mean?”

     “Because of this ancestry Lord Cristobal moves freely amongst the people of Cuba.  There are those that believe Castro was placed into power by the Santeria, that he has maintained his power and longevity by means of the Santeria.  Because of this, our government allows Lord Cristobal to roam freely and conduct himself as he wishes.  For Castro, Santeria means power and influence over my people.  In Cuba, Santeria means voodoo and the hold this has on our faith strangles us.”

     Naty falls silent, slightly stirring the vegetable and rice mixture on the plate.  In my mind thoughts of voodoo conjure up chicken claws dripping in blood and ancient rituals being danced to in the pale moonlight.  After a few moments Naty scoops up more food and offers it to me.

     “You do not approve of Castro?”  I ask, accepting what she has placed before my mouth.  She then sets the plate down on my stomach and firmly thrusts the fork into my hand. Then she rises to leave, pauses and glares back down at me.

     “I despise him.”

     “And what of Lord Cristobal?”  I ask, but she has stepped away from the bed.  Naty exits the room and strides out of my sight.  But the voice of Miriam comes from above and behind me.

     “Lord Cristobal is a murderer.”

     Miriam moves to the side of the bed, picks up the plate Naty left behind and gently takes the fork from my hand.  She thoughtfully pools the scattered food fragments into a mound and then scoops some up with the fork.  But she pauses in mid-air, as if it took all of her energy to address me further.

     “Naty returned to us from Miami to help bury her sister.  Lord Cristobal sacrificed her on his altar of deceit.”

     Now my imagination stirs up images of a satanic cult and half naked savages whooping it up as a man with a demonic mask makes ready to carve up a beautiful, naked virgin with a meat cleaver.  Satisfied with food and troubled by conversation, Miriam presses my hand as I fall off to sleep again.

     There is a clearing that is spread with several tents and a couple of vehicles, I realize I am back on the Serengeti.  A fire burns in the middle of the camp, seated nearby is Hem.  He stares into the fire and puffs absentmindedly on his pipe.  There are tribesmen working on hoisting up an impala on a sling.  Off to one side I see Tenete’ squatted on the ground, whittling away on something.

     “Hem, what am I doing here?  I’m no closer to finding Rachel than when I started!”

     Hem stirs from his trance and looks over at me, a bottle dangling from one hand.

     “How’re ya doin’ there, Sport?  How ’bout that ride in the Fairlane?  Damn, those were some classy cars!”

     “I’m doing awful, Hem!  I can’t seem to get my bearings here!”

     Hem rises from his seat and comes towards me.  He reaches out and clasps a hand on my shoulder.

     “Naw… come on, now… you’re doin’ great!”

     “Great?  I could’ve been killed!  Why didn’t you warn me?”

     “Out of bounds, Sport, ya know the rules!  Besides, had I done that you’d’ve never met Naty!”  and Hem gives me a sly wink.

     “What does Naty have to do with anything?  I thought I was to find Lord Cristobal?”

     “Naty has to do with everythin’!  What’re ya goin’ to do once you’ve found your sweet lil’ Rachel… swim back to the States?”

     I’m moving around the fire pit towards where Tenete’ has been working.  I look into his hands at what he has been whittling on.  The object is bone in color, it appears to be ivory.  Tenete’ offers the same toothy grin I had witnessed earlier.  He raises the piece up to me and I take hold of it. 

     It is ivory, fashioned into the shape of a shoehorn…

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo -Part 6, Still Alive and… well

October 5, 2008

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

    

     “Hey Mac!”

     I lay there looking up at a high open ceiling uncertain of where I am.

     “Hey Mac, gotta smoke?”

     I turn on my side and look at a man virtually bandaged from head to toe.  Past him are several more beds with patients in different stages of hospital care.  This man has one good eye bulging out through the gauze and I realize he is talking to me.

     “No… I’m sorry, I don’t smoke.”

     “Shit fire and save matches!  Goddamn hospital ain’t got shit!”

     I look about at the men, the beds and the hospital accessories being used in their care.

     “Where am I?”

     “Milan.”

     “Milan, Cuba?”

     “Cuba?  You’re in Italy, Mac!  What happened to you, get knocked in the head?”

     “Italy? Huh? Yes… well, I guess so.  What happened to you?”

     “Flammenwerfer, dirty Huns burned me!”

     “What’s a flammen… what ever you said?”

     “A German flamethrower…”

     “A flamethrower?  Jesus, where am I?”

     “Put me next to a looney, did they?  some amnesiac!  At least the guy over there has some fags… used ’em to plug up his wounds, or so I hear.”  Then past me to the man on my opposite side he yells, “Hey Mac… Mac!  You got any smokes?”  But there is no answer.  The man pushes his head back into his pillow in disgust.  I am just about to mention that they probably would not allow him to smoke in the hospital anyway as I roll over to look at the man “smoker” had been yelling at.

     Ring Lardner, Jr. is in the hospital bed next to me.  We are in a military hospital ward of wounded solders and he lies bandaged about his mid-section and legs.  An attractive nurse has taken a tray away having just given him a shot.  Ring looks over at me.  His eyes seem vacant and lost.  He is a young man far from home who as just witnessed first hand the spectacle and barbarian tactics of war.  But his voice is strong.  Ring speaks softly to me.

     “Wake up, Chris.”

     “What?  I am awake!”

     “No, Chris… you’re not.  Wake up this instant.”

     “I’m awake!  Ring; I see you, I can hear you… my eyes are wide open!  The guy next to me needs a cigarette!”

     I look back over my shoulder at “smoker” but he is flat on his back now and completely out of it.

     “She is still alive, Chris.  She is still alive and needs your help.  Wake up, Chris… rescue her.  You’re not too late.”

     I turn away from Ring Lardner, Jr. and look up and down at the rows of hospital beds.  Now they are all empty, even “smoker’s” bed is vacant.  My mind is racing.  I can sense my body detaching, a booster rocket falling away into space… am I dying?

     “Help me, Ring, help me wake up!  Help me find her!”

     “Find who?  Who is she, Chris?  Who is the one you are searching for?”

     I drop my head back down and try to concentrate.  This one is lovely but not the cover girl type which is 13 and playing dress up like some pampered prima donna.  She has never owned a mirror.  A comely servant girl at the well, deep and cool… like the Song of Solomon.  I draw her up to my lips and quench a re-occurring, never ending thirst.  My love is shade on a day made weary by the relentless sun.  She is rain on my parched, dry skin… an angel that is a revelation unto my soul.  A portrait in a gallery; she is the frame, the artist’s name obscured but made most recognizable by the work she displays.  This woman is distance overcome, a flock of geese in flight.  She is the dawn, the dusk and the day in between.  My lady is of the night; the twilight, the moon, the stars, the very heavens above.  Aphrodite is my dream of beauty.  I roll her over in my mind, may I never awaken… there is peace.  Let it go… that is the celebration of being fearless.

     “Chris!  What is her name?”

     I find myself swelling inside; fighting to release, clawing at unseen walls, pulling my body to the surface, grabbing for a lifeline.  Who is she?  What is her name?  I know it.  I must say it.  I must scream it out loud.  I feel myself panicking and losing my form… balancing between substance and fading away into sweet nothingness where there is no conflict or pain.  I begin to slip…

     I want to… surrender.

     “Chris!”

     Am I dying?  It is not so bad…  I tell myself, I hear my voice saying, “It is not so bad…”

     “Wake up, Chris… tell me her name!”

     With everything I can conjure up from within I am kicking towards the surface, reaching for the light, gasping for air… then I erupt.

     “Rachel!”

     Quite frankly the past 24 hours or so had not been very kind to me.  I had  1) been kidnapped, drugged then abandoned on highway A1A in the middle of the Florida Keys,  2)  been interrogated by a KWPD detective that wanted to pulverize me for sleeping with his ex,  3) run like a scalded dog from an apartment that I couldn’t find my way back to if my life depended on it without my money, I.D. or shoes,  4) shuttled across the Florida Straits as a stowaway in an outdated Cuban yacht with a man that I thought wanted to kill me and then  5) been El Ka-bonged by a scrawny thug looking for loose change in the back seat of his car.  And through all of this I am trying to rescue a woman I had only known ever so briefly and yet felt a spiritual connection to (and shared earth moving sex with) that made me willing to go wherever and do just about anything for.  I lay thinking of all this in that place where you have been awakened but have not fully opened your eyes to yet.

     Apparently when Enrique drew his pistol back then brought it crashing down on my skull he had inadvertently placed his finger on the trigger which clenched at the point of impact and fired the gun, causing him to panic.  Leaving me for dead at the side of the road, Enrique had hauled ass back to Havana.

     I lay there in my semi-conscience state for a while, wondering where I was and how I had gotten there.  I was not where I had been left on the road but placed upon a bed.  I could hear activity, children in the background while something like cooking utensils clamored in a sink.  I blinked my eyes open and caught a leathery faced old man with the bristle of a beard peering down at me.  He said nothing but eased back and motioned to someone out of my range of vision.  An older woman appeared with a concerned look and a cool, damp wash cloth and began dabbing my forehead.  The old man said something to her and she shushed him then smiled down at me.

     “Rela’jese ahora, ” she tells me, “usted sera’ fino.”

     “No comprehenda Espanole.”

     “shh… shhh” she whispers, “rela’jese… rela’jese.”  as I fade off.

     My eyes open to the woman again and I try to move my head but it hurts, throbs…

     “Lie still.  Who was it that tried to kill you?”

     It is a woman’s voice, but not the one who has been taking care of me.  She is out of my sight, but nearby at the head of the bed.  I can sense her.  I try to turn my head to look at her but again the throbbing starts.

     “Lie still.  You have a mild concussion.”

     “Mild?”  I replied to the woman I could not see.  “Man, I’d hate to have had a spicy one…  and I don’t know who he was, we’d only just met… and then he tried to rob me.”

     I hear her moving, rising… standing up beside me, her voice traveling towards the ceiling.

     “Good!  You have a sense of humor.  Rest easy, you’ll be fine in a few days.”

     “I haven’t got a few days, I haven’t got a few hours.  Don’t you have some aspirin or something?”

     The voice moves in front of me.  She looks down.  An attractive but plain faced Cuban woman in her mid-30’s dressed in a t-shirt and khakis lifts my arm up checking my pulse.  The woman beside her whispers something but I can not make it out.

     “You need not worry, the Lord will wait for you.”

     “I’m hoping He’ll wait a few more decades for me.”

     She laughs openly.  Her teeth are even and white, when she smiles her entire face radiates, transforming her from plain to gorgeous.  She shakes her head.

     “Not thee Lord!  Lord Cristobal.  He knows you are coming and he will wait for you.”

     “How do you know I am looking for him?”

     “You come to pay a ransom, I presume.  Why else would they go to all the trouble of trying to rob you… an American in our country.”

     “A mistaken identity, he thought I was a guy with money.  What makes you think I am American?”

     “Only an American would be so trusting as to accept a ride with a stranger.”

     “That’s what I get for having faith in Cuban hospitality, I guess.”

     “Oh?  And what are you enjoying now?”

     I tilt my head up a little to see the other woman and the old man nearby, watching me and listening carefully.

     “Yes, you’re quite right… I’m sorry, thank you for helping me.”

     She smiles.  Her face changes dramatically when she smiles, a jack-in-the-box waiting to pop out at any moment and when it does… surprise!  beautiful…

     “Where am I?”

     “In the house of my father, Juan Revuelta, just outside the city of Pinar del Rio.”

     “How did you happen to find me?”

     “The road your driver turned off on leads to our home.  My niece and nephew were outside playing and heard a gunshot.  Papa found you alongside of the road.”

     I presumed the old man who was hovering nearby was Juan Revuelta.  I looked up at him and tried to smile.

     “Muchos gracias, senior.”

     He does not smile, only stares down at me briefly then speaks softly to the woman who has the damp cloth.  The younger woman smiles again.  I am trying to sit myself up but she presses down on me with her hands until I relax again. 

     “What did he say?”

     “You speak poor Spanish.”

     “Poor?  That’s nothing.  My understanding of it is near the poverty level.”

     She laughs again.  It is as though she has been storing up all this glowing personality for me to unlock and release out into the world.

     “And yet you come all the way here to find Lord Cristobal?  You must be a very brave man.”

     “Or very stupid, I’m not sure which.”

     “Perhaps we will know soon enough.”

Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 5, The Royal Treatment

October 1, 2008

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

     I followed the bartender around the bar and into a hallway leading to the back of the building.  Another man was seated and smoking a cigar, his chair leaned back and propped against the wall near the exit.  The bartender bent low and uttered a few words, the man peered over his shoulder at me and nods.  He rights his chair and stands up.  The bartender turned to me.

     “This is Enrique.  He will help you find the Lord.”

     Enrique is about 20 years old and slightly built.  The cigar he was holding is round and fat, almost comical looking for one so young.  He smiles and bobs his head once as a greeting.

     “American?”  He asks with a slight sneer.

     “Si.”  I reply.

     Enrique exits the back door and leads me to the small parking lot.  There is a sea foam green two tone, mid-fifties Ford Fairlane 2 door hard top parked just outside with flames painted across it’s hood and front fenders that he points at then strides up to.  Enrique opens the passenger side door for me and pulls the front seat forward so I can stoop into the back; out of sight from prying eyes, I presume.  I feel like I am getting the royal treatment.  Enrique darts around to the driver’s side and jumps in.  He turns to see that I am situated while starting the car.  Then Enrique begins revving the engine several times and turns once again to grin at me, obviously pleased he has an audience.  After a moment he shifts the car into gear and pulls onto the street.

     We are heading south as I look about the vintage car one of my parents could have owned during their courtship.  We are passing monuments and buildings that are hundreds of years old but I am admiring the chrome handle that rolls the window up and down, the safety strap hanging above the door column and the cord that wraps around the worn vinyl seat cover.  My mind swirls with the events of the past 24 hours while Enrique maneuvers through traffic.

     It was about this time yesterday that I was accosted, thrown into the back of a van and drugged only to be left on the A1A just before the causeway between Boca Chica Key and Key West.  Someone didn’t want me to leave the Keys and return to Ft. Myers  Being abandoned there indirectly led me to meeting Rachel again after our brief encounter at the courthouse earlier yesterday afternoon.  I found myself drifting back to the previous night recalling when Rachel picked me up along the road, took me to her apartment and the evening I spent with the woman I was so desperately trying to rescue…

     She has set candles out, the scented kind placed in the little holders that remind me of shot glasses.  Their aroma calms and intoxicates me.  I am trembling with excitement and expectation.  I lay there on the bed watching Rachel elegantly move around her bedroom, a room that is far different from the Spartan arrangement inside the rest of the apartment.  Here everything has it’s place.  There are dainty ornaments, stuffed animals, cosmetics and photographs.  Her bedroom has the air of femininity that is in stark contrast to the no frills manner Rachel displayed upon entering her rather bleak domicile.  She picks an item up and examines it as though seeing it for the first time.  She is beautiful, but nervous.  Rachel eyes me coyly.

     Her earlier confidence has disappeared.  Now Rachel is childlike, casually put on display, giving me a shy smile as I pan her movements with my eyes.  I realize I do not know this woman but I find myself falling for her, wanting her more that the desire I have building up inside my loins.  I want to comfort Rachel, hold her, tell her everything is going to be all right.  I look at the print Rachel has of Kilmt’s ‘The Kiss’ and I know I want to be that man; kissing her passionately, loving and adoring her… making time stand still.

     I do not know what I did that brought me to this point in my life, but as she came to bed I realized I had acquired a reward though not anticipated it, I had found a treasure not sought.  Rachel was a miracle.  All the sins of my past had been atoned for, I had been redeemed.  Her face reflected in the candlelight shone like an angel’s, she is radiant… glowing.  I know I must move slowly but Rachel beckons to me with a beguiling smile as if to say, “Tonight we shall be glorious.”

     “I never really appreciated Led Zeppelin early on, do you like them?” and before I could answer the stereo came on playing the opening notes to one of their well known songs.

     “Why not?”  I replied.

     I knew my answer could have gone either way.  Why didn’t she like them earlier on, or… sure, why not enjoy them now?  I am reaching over to softly brush the hair from her face, her smile is wrought with approval but I remain patient.

     “They didn’t impress me all that much at first.”

     I am stroking her skin now, her shoulder and arm… fingering her ear with light butterfly touches.

     “What changed your mind?”

     She takes a breath; this is foreplay of an intriguing sort, we are measuring each other, readying our bodies for the crescendo only reached during lovemaking.

     “I was in an art gallery, looking at paintings… their music was playing in the background.  I was struck by how it all seemed to fit and blend into each piece on display.”

     “Hmmm…”  I am trying to sound like the modern intellectual but my primeval instincts are giving me away.  “And how do you feel about them now?”

     “Oh, I like them… especially during sex.”

     There are no pretensions, no barriers, and no doubts.  This evening we are on the verge of discovering our own Stairway to Heaven.

     Enrique’s driving has taken us outside of the city and the road has become rough, jostling me around in the back seat.  My attention abruptly returns to the here and now.  I look out the window at rolling fields being attended to by workers gathering strawberries or tomatoes… the back breaking work of reaching low to pick produce by hand in the sub-tropical afternoon sun.  I am aware that I had been daydreaming for quite a while without a word being spoken between Enrique and myself so I try to pleasantly break the silence.

     “How much further?”  I ask, trying not to sound impatient.

     Enrique turns to me as though surprised by my question then again faces the road and says nothing.

     “Enrique?  How much further, pour favor?”  It irritates me when I know people understand English but still they pretend to not understand plain English for leverage or simply to be rude.

     I know very little Spanish, actually none unless you count what happens in the movies that is really incidental to everything else concerning the plot.  The language I gleaned from that could easily fit in a chip stolen by the Frito Bandito.  Enrique smiles and nods saying “Soon, soon” as I am looking around the foreign land I have encroached upon.  We are traveling down a two lane blacktop full of potholes and patches upon patches but soon we reach a point where Enrique turns off onto a dirt side road with tobacco plants straddling both sides.

     I have no reason to fear, I tell myself.  Hem sent me in this direction and he would not have intentionally put me in harm’s way.  But after perhaps an eighth of a mile Enrique begins to slow down and comes to a stop, leaving the car idling.

     This time Enrique turns to me but he is not smiling, he has drawn a pistol and rested it on the back of the seat with his finger stroking the trigger guard.  I looked into the young man’s face and I knew he meant business.  I began thinking I was wrong about Hem allowing me to be placed in harm’s way.  Panic rose up in my throat but through the irony I could only feel myself giving him a nervous smile, which was a mistake.

     “Wait, Enrique… I know this sounds bad but… I have no money!”

     “Do you wish to die?  Shut up and give me your wallet!”

     “Enrique!  I have no wallet!  I have no money!  There was no time for me to get money when I left for Cuba!”

     He reached over to open the passenger side door and then motioned with the barrel of his gun for me to get out.  As I pushed the seat forward in order to comply he drew back the pistol and aimed it at my face.  I managed to crawl out alongside of the road as he opened his own door and stepped on the door frame,  pointing the gun at my head over the roof of the Ford.

     “Give me your money!  I will let you live just give me your money!”

     “I have no money!  If I had some I would give it to you but I don’t.  I want to live, I don’t want to be shot… but I am broke!”

    Enrique steps down from the car and walks around the front, still pointing the gun at me.  He begins jabbering something in Spanish, which I presume are obscenities.  There is not a soul in sight, all I can see up and down the road is tobacco fields.  Enrique approaches and motions for me to turn around, which I do.  I feel his free hand pat my pockets and grab my crotch, but there is not even the jingle of loose change.  Still not satisfied he orders me down on my knees with my hands up on my head.  Enrique goes through the back seat, presuming I must have stashed my cash somewhere but in a moment he pulls back out.

     “Why do you go to meet Lord Cristobal with no money?  He will kill you, American!  You have no money for him?  How will you pay a ransom without money?  Where is the money?”

     “Ransom?  I’m not paying any ransom…”

     But Enrique is furious.  He kicks me in the ribs and yanks my head back by the hair, pushing his pistol into my cheek.

     “Last chance!  Where is the money?”

     “Enrique!  I have no money!  I know nothing of a ransom!  If I had any money I’d give it to you!  I haven’t got a dime!  I swear it, Enrique… I don’t know anything about paying a ransom!”

     Enrique pulls back his gun and I hear the hammer cock into place, the muzzle forced into my ear.

     “Too bad for you!  I will save Lord Cristobal the trouble and kill you myself!”

     There is a slight breeze rustling through the tobacco leaves.  I can see a black bird flying overhead and I smell smoke, like a cook stove or a fireplace is nearby.  I try to twist my head to look up at Enrique but I cannot.  Moments later there is an explosion.  I see Rachel’s face smiling back at me lying on a pillow in the soft candlelight… 

then  feel myself falling into blackness…