Shades of Hemingway / Deja`Voodoo – Part 9, Connecting the Dots…

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

.

“Lately I`ve been runnin`on faith,

what else can a poor boy do?”

                        – Eric Clapton

     Of course by now I have figured out that I am in the middle of a kidnapping ring that grabs it`s victims from the southern parts of Florida.  Once that is accomplished, the abducted are held in Cuba free from the investigative powers of the U.S. government awaiting their ransom to be paid.  Enrique assumed that I was a courier about to settle accounts with Lord Cristobal and en route to the villa must have figured he could make a quick score.

     “Why does Lord Cristobal live in a villa here in the Western Province?”  I ask as we travel the narrow road way from the house of Juan Revuelta, thrilled that I could make the distinction between the areas.  “Wouldn`t it make more sense for him to be in Havana where all the industry and government influences is at it`s strongest?”

     I am in the front passenger seat as Naty drives her Volkswagon “Thing.”  I imagine this rough and tumble vehicle is a throwback from her days in Miami, Florida where having a convertible may not be a prerequisite, but it certainly helps.

     “His hand is long, Chris… his influence is not limited to locale.  Besides, he believes the history of the island.  The Santeria origins amongst the early cave dwellers in Vinales holds much power over the superstitions of my people.”

     “You don`t believe in the Santeria like your countrymen do?”

     Her hair is blown back by the wind, her dark sunglasses are the remnants of her past life in the States.  She is a chamaeleon, comfortable here in her homeland but obviously bolstered by the blend of cultures across the Florida Straits.  Naty could be a revolutionary figure in her own right.

     “Our faith has been held hostage by the corruption of this government.  My people are enslaved by traditions and ignorance.”

     Naty has tasted the sweet, forbidden fruit of freedom and it has left her bitter.  As we drive through the countryside towards Vinales I am wondering what part she will continue to play in my quest to find the sister of a dead rookie cop from Key West.

     One of the ironies of Cuba is the fact that they rely heavily on tourism as a means of income.  That the socialistic nation emulates the West in such a glaring contradiction must really eat at the Castro brothers who have continued to deny any link to our influences.  Capitalism seems to have it’s good points after all.  But I keep this opinion to myself.

     The scenery in the lush Vinales Valley is breathtakingly beautiful.  Unlike the gradual slopes of hills and mountains in Cuba and every other part of the world, the macotes are limestone formations that appear to have been gigantic bowling ball cases dropped randomly from the sky and then covered with vegetation.  I am taken by the simpleness of life here; where an automobile, even a battered vehicle some thirty years old like ours, still garnishes attention from the people we pass by as if it were an alien craft from another galaxy.  Looking out into fields and seeing oxen pulling crude farm equipment recalls turn of the century technology that denies the viewer the mentality of the new millennium.  It is a rugged life here.

     “The tourists must view you as fairly quaint.”  I observe to no one in particular.  But Naty picks up on the slight right away.

     “Oh?  How so?”

     “Well, what I mean to say is that it seems a little backward here, like you have not caught up with the rest of the world.”

     “It wasn’t until recently that we were allowed to have something as simple as microwave ovens.  Can you imagine?”  Naty shakes her head in disgust.  “The government keeps close tabs on what Cubans are allowed to be exposed to.”

     “That seems absurd to me.  What is the big deal?”

     “Control, Chris…  keeping people ignorant in the ways of the world keeps them in line.”

     “But surely your people see stuff with the arrival of tourists, things like cell  phones and video recorders.  Doesn’t all this just make èm curious as to what else is out there?”

     “When I first arrived to Miami I was overwhelmed with all the neon and glitter!  Every building looked new and clean.  Automobiles filled the streets and highways.  There were people and fashion everywhere!  Of course my people want for these things, Chris!  But we have no one to come to our rescue, we are shackled by a federal government that controls our every move.”

     I ponder this briefly then ask, “Are you sorry you left Miami, Naty?”

     She looks intently at the road for a moment.  “No,” she eventually replied, “I`m sorry I ever left Cuba.”

     And in that moment I felt ashamed because of the freedoms I took for granted.  Naty had a longing for the morsels she might never enjoy again while I feasted on a banquet I had acquired no taste for, at least… not until recently.  I had been nourished to the point of excess, I had never known a hunger for freedom.  Naty and people like her were starving and would be satisfied with the crumbs falling from our table of democracy.

     “Why not make arrangements to return?  You`ve saved money, you are established in America.”

     “It is much easier to enter Cuba than to leave.”  She drops her head and looks over the rim of her glasses.  “As you may well find out.”

     I am feeling a bit disconcerted by that remark but then she quickly adds,  “Besides, I have some business to attend to that concerns your friend.”

     “My friend?  Hey, I don’t know the guy.  Not only that, I’m beginning to feel like I’m on a wild goose chase.”

     “You’ll have to explain to me how you got on this chase in the first place.”  She smiles, amused at her rhyme.

     “You’d never believe me.”

     “And why not?”

     “Because I hardly believe it myself.”

     Naty’s smile continues.  She is having a good time with me and despite the fact that I seem to be complaining about my lot in life a little too much, I am enjoying her company as well.

     Vinales is a sleepy, quaint little town, a village that has not seen the tides of change or progress since it`s inception, or so I imagine.  The main street we travel down is crowded with houses that have been painted in colorful pastels.  I see signs of the revolution painted on billboards and the sides of buildings as we are passing through.  Naty’s home is tucked in between the others on this quiet main artery.  With the job she has at the resort hotel, Naty has a financial status that enables her the luxury of a house with two bedrooms and a small garden in front with a flower draped trellis off to one side.

     It is a modest but clean structure and a world of difference compared to her father’s digs.  So I am grateful for the cool running water of her shower.  Naty’s mother offers to wash the clothes that have been supplied to me by Sgt. Garcia in an old wringer washer just off the back door.  While the tropical sun dries them on the clothes line, Naty has taken her mother and the children to the open market.  I am left to lounge around the small living room with a thin bedspread serving as a toga to cover my nakedness.

     There is no television or radio, only some books on a small bookcase and a few photographs set out on a mantle.  I scan the books for a familiar title and then gaze at the pictures into the faces of people I do not know.  The larger of the two bedrooms has a set of bunk beds along with a single bed.  The other room, which I presume to be Naty’s, has a solitary bed and a dresser with more pictures.  I wander a bit around the house then allow myself the boldness of entering her room to get a closer look at the photographs on display.  I reasoned that if they were not meant to be examined they would not have been placed in full view so prominently.

     One picture is of Naty bathing on a sunny beach with someone’s abandoned beach towel stretched out beside her, possibly the person taking the picture.  Another picture has a much younger Naty standing with a group of people, possibly her relatives.  A third photograph was of a young, attractive woman poised with a drink in her hand and laughing at the camera, the setting being at some night club.  The picture (taken with a flash) had her sitting at the outside of a booth, one of those that formed a semi-circle.  The place was crowded and had several people crammed into the seating and the picture showed body parts cut off by the frame sitting around, beside and across from her.  But from the inside of the booth a face was peering out; the face of a man who was not smiling but looking anxious, annoyed that the picture was being taken.  He was frozen in that moment during the striking beauty’s carefree revelry.

     A chill sprints up my spine and I find myself beginning to shake.  It was a face that I recognized…

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