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Live-aboard sailor Jake Cousins has no choice: his daughter is in Havana as an agent for a South Florida Cuban exile gro
Chino pretended to study the plate of pork and bananas and the bowl of black beans that had arrived, but over Pilar’s shoulder he could see the man from outside peer around the doorway of the dining room. He was checking their table to make sure everyone was still here. He withdrew. Chino waited a moment and then casually rose.
“What’s up, Chino,” Jake asked.
“Somebody’s watching us. Get ready to go out the back door…it’s straight down the hallway and to the left. Don’t wait for me, just watch for my signal.” Chino went back to the dining room and saw the man was across the street again. A car pulled up and the man began an animated conversation with the person in the passenger seat. When the man got out of the car, Chino noticed there was something strange about one of his ears. The ear lobe was gone. “Oh, oh.” Chino hurried back to the table. “Get going. Felix is here, and a couple of his guys, and I don’t think they just dropped in for lunch.”
Pilar was already on her feet, but Jake hesitated.
“You don’t have time to think about it. Just go. I know where to find you,” Chino said.
Jake and Pilar hurried for the back door, but Chino sat down at the table and began to eat his lunch as if nothing had happened. If he could stall these bozos for a while, Jake and Pilar might have a chance.
The three came into the dining room looking ready for action. Not very professional, Chino thought. They haven’t covered the back door. The trio marched up to the table and towered over Chino. He ignored them and continued to eat.
“Where are the people who were with you?” Felix asked in Spanish.
Working in Miami, Chino had acquired enough Spanish to be able to navigate the Spanish-speaking community. He could even shout “Stop or I’ll shoot your balls off” with enough credibility to stop someone who was sprinting out the back door during a raid. “No hablo Espanol,” he replied.
Felix switched to his halting English. “Where are the people who were with you?”
In Spanish he told the two agents to search the building and see if there was a back door. They headed toward the kitchen and bathrooms. He turned back to Chino.
“Who are you?” Chino asked.
Felix produced a laminated card bearing his photo under a title: Seguridad del Estado. “State security.”
“How can I help you?”
Felix was growing impatient. “Where are the people who were with you?”
“They left. They went shopping.”
“Tell me their names.”
“Ted and Joan.”
“What’s your name?”
Chino had to think for a moment. What name was he using? Oh, yes. “Roger Duke.”
“I’d like to see your passport.”
Chino produced his passport and handed it over.
“You’re an American. From South Florida.” It sounded like an accusation.
“Why are you in Cuba?”
“I work with an organization called Reef Relief. I came to meet the Cubans who are working on protection of the coral reefs.”
“Where are you staying?”
Chino recalled a name out of the guidebook he had been reading. “Hotel Nacional.”
“I think you are lying to me. You will come with us.”
“I’m an American citizen. I have done nothing.”
“You are in Cuba now. And we’ll see about what you’ve done and who you know.”
Chino considered his options. These goons would probably try to intimidate him, but they really had nothing…except his little fib about the Hotel Nacional. He would stick with a story that they were wrong, a case of mistaken identity. He really didn’t know more about the people than their first names. They had met at the Hotel Nacional and were simply exploring Havana and stopped for lunch.
“You are making a mistake. I met Ted and Joan at the hotel. We were just exploring old Havana and stopped for lunch.”
“No. She’s Dominican. Here on vacation with her father. He’s German, I think.”
The two agents returned shaking their heads. No sign of them.
“Are you sure it was Pilar?” Felix asked Ruben.
“As sure as I can be from a picture.”
“Find her. I’ll send more men to help.” Ruben headed for the back door.
Felix and the ugly agent allowed Chino a moment to pay the restaurant bill, then ushered him outside into the Mitsubishi. Four minutes after they drove off, Ricardo arrived at the restaurant on his motorbike. Nothing was happening. He talked to the man in the guayabera at the door of the restaurant and learned someone had been taken away. He radioed Felix and asked if he should come to headquarters.
“No. Search the area around the restaurant. The girl and an older man, probably an American, got out the back door.”
Ricardo found the back door of the restaurant and tried to put himself into Pilar’s situation. She would have to assume the police were only a minute or so behind her, so if she came out she would try to duck in somewhere for cover as soon as possible. Where would that be? Who was the older man? Who was the man they brought in for questioning? He studied the street, looking into doorways as he walked.
When Jake and Pilar hit the street behind the restaurant, they began to jog for the first corner, heading in the direction of the capitol dome. Around the corner, they blundered into a Mercedes taxi that had just dropped off two tourists. They jumped into the back seat and stared at each other for an instant. Where could they go?
Jake started to say, “Marina Hemingway,” but then thought of the guards at the gate, the guards under the umbrella at the head of each channel, the guards patrolling the docks. That was a night maneuver. “We’d like to just drive around and see Havana,” Jake said. “Show us the city.” He whispered to Pilar. “We need a plan to get you into the marina.”
“All right,” Pilar agreed reluctantly. Her eyes filled with tears. “I can’t run anymore. I just can’t run anymore.”
“Who can we trust to smuggle you in, maybe in the trunk of a car after dark?”
“No one.” She thought a moment. “Wait. My contact at the Brigade. I’ll connect at six o’clock.”
“One of the guys who works on boats said there are ways to get Cubanas into the marina. I didn’t trust him enough to ask about it. Maybe your people will know.”
“How will I find you? I don’t know what time it will be.”
“There are guards everywhere. You need to get as close to the boat as you can in a car. Go in the road to channel two. Once you are past the swimming pool, there is a hotel and restaurant on the left and some condominiums next to the channel to the right. They’re yellow. I’ve never seen anyone in them, I don’t think they’re occupied, but the guards might be around. Renata is docked just ahead of the first condo. I’ll watch for you.”
Staying in the cab and on the move seemed to be the safest thing to do. Jake and Pilar had the driver take them out of Havana to the little seaside village of Cojimar, where a stone fort perched near the edge of the sea. They had the driver wait while they walked and talked in private. “Maybe I should go with you when you meet your contact,” Jake suggested. Now that Pilar was in arms’ reach, he did not want her to slip away and vanish into Cuba’s security system.
“I don’t think so. They are very secretive. They don’t even let other Brigade members know who they are. The fewer who know, the less the risk.”
“I don’t want you to slip away and vanish. If something happens, call Eva.”
“I need a phone card.”
Jake dug out his card. “This one is new, never used. I can get another at the marina.”
Pilar was silent for a long time as they walked along a littered beach. “Dad, I had to do this. It was not just for la causa, it was for me. I don’t want to go back, but now I can’t think of any alternative.”
“If you stay, sooner or later they will catch up with you. You could just vanish. That would break my heart. And it would kill Eva. You two are so much alike…”
Dave Schaefer is the author of two previous books: Sailing to Hemingway’s Cuba and Surefire Strategies for Growing Your Home-Based Business as well as being a contributor to several sailing magazines. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and began his career as an award-winning journalist in Wisconsin and Vermont before working in corporate communications for IBM and launching his own public relations business. In the 1980s he was the on-camera host for the nationally syndicated “Joy of Gardening” television series. He sailed his 32-foot boat Dream Weaver from Lake Champlain to Havana and the Bahamas while freelance writing. He was SCUBA certified in Roatan, Honduras, and his interests include gardening, travel, photography and exploring the natural world. He lives in Shelburne, Vermont.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 244
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