The e-book experiment

(To buy this novel as an e-book in the pdf for­mat for only $5, scroll to the bot­tom of the page.)

Dear read­ers:

I have made avail­able exclu­sively here “The Fool,” a novel that I wrote 16 years ago and was pub­lished in Japan and Italy.

To read on screen (or print) its pref­ace and first four chap­ters for free (a total of 34 pages) all you have to do is scroll below.

Once you reach the last com­pli­men­tary page, you might want to read the rest. If so, you will find instruc­tions on how to pur­chase it as a dig­i­tal book to read on screen or to print. You would get the full novel, includ­ing what you’ve already read.

Based on the results of a sur­vey  that I recently con­ducted among fer­vent read­ers, I have set a middle-of-the-road price: 5.00. You can­not pay one cent more or less because the trans­ac­tion won’t go through, it has to be exactly 5 Cana­dian or US dol­lars, British pounds or euros.

There are two ways to pay, using your credit card or  your Pay Pal account. It is impor­tant to know that once you pay you have just 24 hours to down­load it to your com­puter, so I strongly rec­om­mend down­load­ing it as soon as you pay.

You may have to pro­vide a ship­ping address, but of course noth­ing will be shipped to you. That is another pay­ment pro­cess­ing requirement.

Word of mouth is fan­tas­tic, so should you inform your friends about the com­pli­men­tary chap­ters I will appre­ci­ate it.  If you rec­om­mend buy­ing the whole novel I will be much obliged.

Thanks.

José

THE FOOL


Copy­right ©2010 José Latour. All rights reserved. The use of any part of this elec­tronic pub­li­ca­tion repro­duced, trans­mit­ted in any form or by any means, elec­tronic, mechan­i­cal, pho­to­copy­ing, record­ing, or oth­er­wise, or stored in a retrieval sys­tem, with­out the prior writ­ten con­sent of the author—or, in case of pho­to­copy­ing or other repro­graphic copy­ing, a licence from the Cana­dian Copy­right Licens­ing Agency—is an infringe­ment of the copy­right law.

PREFACE

Real-life events lie at the root of the book you are about to start reading.

In the spring of 1989, the Cuban Com­mu­nist media reported that some high– and mid-ranking offi­cers from the Min­istry of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces and the Min­istry of the Inte­rior would be tried for “grave crimes.” The ensu­ing trial, Cause Num­ber One/1989 was video­taped in its entirety, but Cuban tele­vi­sion broad­cast only select frag­ments dur­ing sev­eral evenings. News­pa­pers pub­lished exactly what had been said in the pub­lic broadcast.

That was and still is the only source avail­able to Cubans con­cern­ing the crimes com­mit­ted and the alleged per­pe­tra­tors. The com­plete judi­cial process remains secret.

The defen­dants were charged with embez­zle­ment of funds, cor­rup­tion, abuse of power, pos­ses­sion of for­eign cur­ren­cies and other, less impor­tant accu­sa­tions. The most seri­ous indict­ment, how­ever, was that they had autho­rized Colom­bian drug lord Pablo Esco­bar to use Varadero, a beach resort on the north­ern­most point of Cuba, as a trans­ship­ment place to smug­gle cocaine into the United States.

Three-star Army Gen­eral Arnaldo Ochoa and Cap­tain Jorge Martínez Valdés from the Army, as well as Colonel Anto­nio de la Guardia and Major Amado Padrón Tru­jillo, from the Min­istry of the Inte­rior, were sen­tenced to death and exe­cuted by fir­ing squad on July 13, 1989. Around a dozen oth­ers were given prison terms. At Inte­rior, min­is­ter José Abra­hantes Fer­nán­dez, was sen­tenced to twenty years’ impris­on­ment; he died from a heart attack while still incar­cer­ated. All the vice min­is­ters were sacked and scores of offi­cers sent into retirement.

For thirty years the offi­cial dis­course in Cuba had been that the offi­cers from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces and the Min­istry of the Inte­rior were the most devoted and self-sacrificing among all rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. The man and woman in the street knew that mil­i­tary offi­cers enjoyed priv­i­leges such as spe­cial dis­count stores for acquir­ing prod­ucts unavail­able to the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, well-equipped hos­pi­tals and exclu­sive health and beach resorts. Most gen­er­als and colonels lived in well-appointed res­i­dences, spent their vaca­tions abroad, hunted at pri­vate game pre­serves and went yacht­ing in the Gulf Stream. They also had mis­tresses, two or three chauffer-driven offi­cial vehi­cles and pri­vate cars for fam­ily mem­bers. Cause Num­ber 1 con­tended that worse things had been going on too.

Soon after the exe­cu­tions, the Party’s pro­pa­ganda machine started work­ing full time to restore con­fi­dence in “the purity of the Revolution.”

A cou­ple of years later, moti­vated by that affair, I started writ­ing “The Fool.” I deliv­ered the man­u­script to pub­lish­ing house Edi­to­r­ial Letras Cubanas in 1994 and waited patiently for two years. In 1996, after I had argued in favor of the novel on sev­eral occa­sions with bureau­crats from the pub­lish­ing house, the Union of Writ­ers and Artists, and the Min­istry of Cul­ture, a per­son speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity told me that the man­u­script had been sent, of all places and first of all, to the Min­istry of the Inte­rior. The deci­sion made was that The Fool would not be pub­lished in Cuba as long as the Com­mu­nist Party called the shots.

The same per­son said that I had reached a cross­roads. Either I started writ­ing crime nov­els in which offi­cers from the Min­istry of the Inte­rior behaved exem­plar­ily or I would have to apply for a job sweep­ing streets or dig­ging graves if I wanted to feed my family.

Six years ear­lier, in 1990, I had resigned to my posi­tion as global ana­lyst at the Min­istry of Finance to become a full-time author and writ­ing was my sole source of income, so I trans­lated and inter­preted to make some money. In my spare time I decided to try writ­ing crime nov­els in Eng­lish where the pro­tag­o­nists were not paragons of virtue from the Min­istry of the Inte­rior. Out­cast, pub­lished in the U.S. in 1999, was nom­i­nated for an Edgar and soon after trans­lated and pub­lished in eight coun­tries. After­ward I trans­lated The Fool into Eng­lish, which was pub­lished in Italy and Japan.

All of a sud­den diplo­mats from demo­c­ra­tic nations sta­tioned in Havana invited me to cock­tail par­ties at their embassies and vis­ited my home. Some­how a few Amer­i­can tourists got my phone num­ber and called to ask if they could drop by to get their copies signed; most of the time I acqui­esced. Such noto­ri­ety was not to the lik­ing of some peo­ple and even­tu­ally I dis­cov­ered that I was being fol­lowed. I got some threat­en­ing calls as well. Fear­ing for my safety and the future of my son and daugh­ter, in 2001 I applied for immi­grat­ing to Canada.

In 2002 I was invited by the pub­lisher Plan­eta to launch Out­cast in Spain. I said I would go if they sent let­ters of invi­ta­tion to my fam­ily so they could accom­pany me (this is a req­ui­site demanded by Cuban author­i­ties of nation­als who wish to travel abroad.) I made clear I would cover all their expenses. Con­sulates in Havana rarely grant tourist visas to a whole fam­ily out of fear that they won’t return to Cuba, but in our case the Span­ish Con­sulate made an exception.

On August 6, 2002, we arrived to Havana’s inter­na­tional air­port with one suit­case each, like ordi­nary tourists. We’ve never returned to Cuba. After two years in Spain, the Cana­dian immi­gra­tion process con­cluded and we arrived to Toronto on Sep­tem­ber 1, 2004. Now I live in a free country.

José Latour

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Paco Igna­cio Taibo II made the trip to Yucatán pos­si­ble. The staff at the library of Casa Ben­ito Juárez in Havana went out of their way to allow me to research the Mayan cul­ture in Yucatán. Staff at the Ref­er­ence Sec­tion of my country’s National Library pro­vided valu­able assis­tance. To all, my sin­cere gratitude.

PART ONE


CHAPTER ONE


Lying on a steel fold­ing bed, wear­ing box­ers and a T-shirt, par­tially cov­ered by a bed­spread, Ariel Landa read a paper­back about white sol­diers of for­tune in Africa.

The large bed­room was over­crowded. Mis­matched night tables flanked a dou­ble bed; across the room from an enor­mous mahogany wardrobe, an uncomely chest of draw­ers, an impres­sive nineteenth-century desk and two straight-backed chairs.  A sin­gle light bulb hung from the high ceil­ing. The walls, cov­ered with flakes of light-green vinyl paint, gave the place an air of neglect. The benign chill of a dis­si­pat­ing cold front seeped in through the shut­tered win­dows. The stale odor of cig­a­rette butts per­vaded the room.

Landa shared the bed­room with his nephew, Caris, who slept soundly on the dou­ble bed, imper­vi­ous to the occa­sional creak­ing of his uncle’s bed­springs and to the bulb’s glare.  The teenager’s brown hair con­trasted with a spot­lessly white pil­low­case; his exposed left leg revealed the sharp angu­lar­ity of rapidly-growing bones.

The man yawned, read a few more lines from the novel, then glanced at the Con­cord Cen­tu­rion strapped to his wrist.   He laid the book on the floor, pulled away the bed­spread. Thrust­ing his bare feet into old brown loafers, he smiled at the squeak­ing springs.

He approached the desk, extracted a cig­a­rette from a pack of Aro­mas, lit it. On his way to the win­dow he pulled the blan­ket over his nephew’s bare leg. By the shut­ters he peered at a short sec­tion of Lam­par­illa Street fif­teen feet below. It had the post mid­night still­ness that lasted no more than three-and-a-half hours. Landa watched bugs crash­ing against the street­light, saw a stray dog on the side­walk across the street, its claws scrap­ing the cement. Prob­a­bly a few Old Havana rats were scur­ry­ing along the curb, he thought.

Blow­ing smoke into the dark­ness, he recalled his African expe­ri­ence. The out­skirts of Luanda back in ’75—with impro­vised logis­tics, sus­pi­cious locals, and a fear­less enemy—had been devoid of the paperback’s hook­ers, whiskey, flashy cars, mod­ern hotels, and air-conditioned assault vehi­cles from whose cozy cab­ins ter­ror­ized tribes­men could be safely machine-gunned. He had had night­mares of snakes and alli­ga­tors while sleep­ing in fox­holes, eaten so much canned food that he feared bot­u­lism, show­ered and relieved his hurt­ing tes­ti­cles once a month, been deprived of basic neces­si­ties for weeks at a time.

He won­dered whether the life­long friend and Army buddy he would be meet­ing the next morn­ing had read the book, then chuck­led at his naïveté; Maxi was too impor­tant now. No longer were they Lizard and Snot ston­ing spar­rows in their neigh­bor­hood; nor were they the seventeen-year-old Army recruits that trained rig­or­ously in a Spe­cial Forces unit.  Their for­ma­tive years con­cluded the day medals were pinned to their chests, and to the chests of eleven other troop­ers, at a mil­i­tary parade broad­cast nation­wide on Chan­nel 6.

At present, the posi­tion his friend held demanded that Landa treated him with some def­er­ence. Max­imino was assis­tant man­ager in an impor­tant cor­po­ra­tion; Landa was merely in charge of pay­roll, accounts receiv­able and accounts payable at an insti­tute of sci­en­tific research. Like hold­ing up together a Russ­ian Moskvish and a Porsche.  It could be worse, he told him­self.  Min­is­ter ver­sus street cleaner.

The fin­ger­tips of Maximino’s sec­re­tary were prob­a­bly still sore from the rotary dial, reflected Landa: Find­ing a has-been through the inef­fi­cient Havana tele­phone sys­tem was not an easy chore.  On Tues­day after­noon, when he picked up the phone and con­firmed that, yes, he was Ariel Landa, her sigh of relief had been audi­ble. She had iden­ti­fied her­self, said Maxi wanted to meet with him at Agile head­quar­ters and, would Thurs­day at 9:30 be okay? He had agreed on impulse, just to see how his buddy was doing, but after hang­ing up he had searched for an expla­na­tion. Max­imino wanted some­thing. A favor? No, up-and-comers don’t ask favors of nobod­ies. Some­one he could trust for the corporation’s account­ing depart­ment?  That seemed more plau­si­ble. Per­haps Max­imino was fol­low­ing the time-honored code of choos­ing friends.

Ariel Landa dragged on his cig­a­rette and con­sid­ered the sit­u­a­tion for a few moments. Almost any posi­tion would entail new chal­lenges, a change of set­ting, bet­ter prospects.  If  his guess­work turned out to be cor­rect, he should hear out Max­imino, ask for  a cou­ple of days to think it over and then hit the bricks —mod­er­a­tion, pru­dence, tact. He snuffed out the butt, turned off the light and crawled back into bed.

Landa laid still, hands clasped under his head, admit­ting to him­self that he was sick and tired of being treated like a non-belonger in almost every realm of his life. His casual encounter with Max­imino three years ear­lier came to mind. They had bumped into each other in the hall of the Min­istry of For­eign Trade. He had recently returned from Lon­don on a brief vaca­tion; his friend was headed to the air­port to catch a plane to Mex­ico City, en route to Tokyo. Bear hugs, back­slaps, laugh­ter, quick updates, the exchange of home phone num­bers —all in less than a minute.

“Hey, we gotta pol­ish off a bot­tle of hooch.”

“Any­time, man. Call me when you get back.”

“Ten days, tops. See you.”

He had sub­se­quently lost the num­ber scrib­bled on the back of a busi­ness card. Per­haps Max­imino had lost his num­ber as well.

Then the floor had fallen under his feet. But he had held firm to one of his deep-seated con­vic­tions: A true rev­o­lu­tion­ary never resorts to the old boy’s network.

Well, maybe Max­imino called him after Carla divorced him and she hadn’t passed along the mes­sage, string­ing one more bead onto her neck­lace of retal­i­a­tions. Landa yawned, dropped his eye­lids, and fell promptly to sleep.

—0—

Ariel Landa got off the bus at Thirty-first Avenue and Sixth Street, then leisurely strolled two blocks north to Fifth Avenue. He was early — a mea­sure of inter­est or eager­ness he didn’t want Max­imino to per­ceive. But bus ser­vice in Havana was in such state of dis­ar­ray that punc­tual peo­ple, to avoid being late, nearly always arrived too early and had to loaf around for a while.

With thirty-five min­utes to kill, he strolled along the boulevard’s cen­tral walk­way glanc­ing at the well-tended flower beds. Dwarf, date, and betel palms sur­rounded by glad­i­oli, ole­an­der, Bul­gar­ian roses and jas­mine. The styl­ized gar­den­ing also included well-pruned lau­rels and pines. His per­fec­tion­ist streak made him take note of the cracks in the pave­ment and won­der if the man­i­cured lawn hadn’t been mowed too close for the dry sea­son. The rum­ble and honk­ing of cars, panel trucks and motor­cy­cles flow­ing east and west along the thoroughfare’s four lanes drowned out the war­bling of birds and the mur­mur of foliage lov­ingly caressed by a nice breeze. The sun glowed benignly in the cloud­less sky. Nine strokes from a tower clock two blocks ahead rounded out the pleas­ant cir­cum­stances that Landa wanted to inter­pret as a good omen.

Sit­ting on a pine-shaded mar­ble bench, he unfolded the news­pa­per that he’d bought half an hour ear­lier.  Hav­ing exhausted his inter­est in the news within ten min­utes, he lit a cig­a­rette and allowed five more min­utes to slip by before resum­ing his walk. The few pedes­tri­ans in this highly res­i­den­tial sec­tion of the city mis­took him for a for­eigner because of his for­mal cloth­ing: black sports jacket with golden pin­stripes over a dove-gray dress shirt, dated beige bell-bottoms and pol­ished black loafers. One last glance at his watch made him hurry. Per­spi­ra­tion vapor­ized the traces of after-shave slapped on at dawn.

He turned right at Eigh­teenth and jay­walked across the west­bound black­top. On the next cor­ner stood a restored, two-story res­i­dence built in the early ‘20s that con­formed to the descrip­tion given by his pal’s sec­re­tary. Its cream-colored exte­rior had cor­nices, brack­ets and imposts in white match­ing the enamel of the wide, lou­vered doors and tall win­dows. A veran­dah along the top floor was roofed with large, green plas­tic tiles sup­ported by a galvanized-pipe frame. The early-century aris­to­cratic ambiance was marred by a TV dish and two radio anten­nas atop the flat roof and by air con­di­tion­ers pro­trud­ing from sev­eral walls.

A majes­tic porch had been closed in with green-tinted plate glass stretch­ing from floor to ceil­ing. Inad­e­quate land­scap­ing framed the ele­gant man­sion. The top floor of a three-car garage, orig­i­nally intended as ser­vants’ quar­ters, had been ren­o­vated too. Ten-foot arrow-tipped iron bars spaced six inches apart fenced in the entire lot. At the main gate, a light-skinned black man in a private-guard uni­form rested his fore­arm over his gun­stock and cast a glance at the approach­ing stranger.

“Good morn­ing. Is this Agile Cor­po­ra­tion?” Landa asked.

“Yeah.”

“I got an appoint­ment with Max­i­m­il­iano Arenas.”

“Come in, sir.”

The petite sec­re­tary appeared to be in her late twen­ties and exuded a slight fra­grance of Estée Lauder. Brunette, close-cropped hair, green eyes, too thin calves. Landa quickly dis­carded the con­cern of hav­ing over­dressed; she and every­one in the office wore cloth­ing unavail­able to the aver­age Cuban con­sumer, com­pelled since the mid 60s to tol­er­ate poorly designed and clum­sily sewn garments.

When the young woman slid away from her IBM desk­top to knock on her boss’s door it was pre­cisely 9:30 a.m. on Jan­u­ary 14th, 1988 a Thursday.

Smil­ing broadly, Max­i­m­il­iano Are­nas rose from an exec­u­tive swivel chair and rounded a huge cedar writ­ing desk. He wore a starched linen guayabera, Levi’s, and black calf­skin boots. Six feet one, he combed his black hair straight back to allow full dis­play of a hand­some, wide and almost totally unlined fore­head. His brown eyes sparkled amus­edly over dim­pled cheeks; per­fect white teeth flashed behind well-formed lips under an aquiline nose. His limbs were dis­pro­por­tion­ately large for a torso whose flabby pec­torals betrayed the seden­tary lifestyle of a bureau­crat. He offered Landa sober greet­ings and a firm hand­shake as the sec­re­tary withdrew.

Are­nas motioned his friend to a club chair uphol­stered in ivory-colored leather and eased him­self into an iden­ti­cal piece fac­ing his old friend. They chat­ted casu­ally while the vis­i­tor took in the maroon couch, glass-topped cof­fee table, mahogany cre­denza, two metal fil­ing cab­i­nets and a small book­case. What may have been a remod­eled din­ing room also had a VCR, a TV set and a portable tape recorder. Beneath a closed win­dow, fac­ing out to the gar­den, an air con­di­tioner hummed quietly.

The sec­re­tary reen­tered, served two cups of espresso, then left. Landa and Are­nas sipped cof­fee and lit cig­a­rettes while pon­der­ing the where­abouts of a mutual acquain­tance. Instants later Are­nas judged the moment ripe for pre­sent­ing his pro­posal. He took a last drag on his Marl­boro, crushed it on a blue Bohemian glass ash­tray rest­ing on the cof­fee table, reclined in the club chair and stared at Landa.

“Why were you given the sack in Cubazú­car, Ariel?”

Landa grinned mirth­lessly, dragged on his Aro­mas and killed it along­side the Amer­i­can butt. “If you didn’t know what hap­pened I wouldn’t be here.”

Are­nas smiled enig­mat­i­cally before press­ing on. “I was hop­ing to hear your side of the story.”

“I trust your sources. Any­way, what hap­pened isn’t impor­tant. The pun­ish­ment is. Was it fair? Should I’ve been pun­ished? Oh, let it go.”

“Times change,” Are­nas said as he rested his ankle on his knee. “Now there’s a dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment. In this com­pany we care about results, not per­sonal problems.”

“Glad to hear that,” a touch of irony in Landa’s voice.

“No, really,” Are­nas insisted. “We choose peo­ple based on their mer­its. Tal­ent, ini­tia­tive, ded­i­ca­tion, those are our main con­sid­er­a­tions. We’re state-owned and never hire dis­af­fected peo­ple, but among the mil­lions that believe in social­ism, we pick out the best.”

“Do I detect a slight inter­est, or am I imag­in­ing it?” a smil­ing Landa asked.

“There might be an inter­est in your skills.”

“Which exact skills?”

“Sugar futures.“A switch tripped. For an instant, Landa visu­al­ized his Lon­don cubi­cle at dawn, price curves criss­cross­ing the com­puter screen, a steam­ing mug of cof­fee close to his right hand. The switch tripped again.

“Well…, I’m no longer pro­fi­cient in that area,” he said with slight nostalgia.

“Why, buddy?”

“Futures are… how can I put this?  An expe­ri­ence that requires daily nour­ish­ment, if anything.”

“So does life,” responded Arenas.

“Yeah, but I’ve been hiber­nat­ing for over two years. I’ve missed tons of information―facts and fig­ures. I’ve lost my sources; don’t know which alliances have fallen apart, nor the new ones forged. I’ve missed the flap jaw too. I’d have to process an incred­i­ble amount of data just to reach square one. And the truly impor­tant rumors, the cru­cial, rarely get printed.”

Are­nas uncrossed his legs and moved to the edge of his seat, then winked.

“Lis­ten. I know that before you were… declared redun­dant, Cubazú­car was mak­ing some pretty good dough in London’s futures. Rumor has it you were one of the bright boys on the fast lane. Any­how, prof­its slipped notice­ably after they sacked you.”

“You got a snitch there.”

“No way. But peo­ple I know think it’s stu­pid to lay off a guy who can pump a lot of greens into this coun­try just because he’s… well, screw­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, literally.”

Landa remained silent, gaz­ing at a poster of Varadero in which a sun­tanned blonde in a skimpy two-piece bathing suit posed provoca­tively beneath a cap­tion that read “Par­adise under the sun.”

“I need a sugar futures ana­lyst,” Are­nas pushed on. “A guy that I, and the Rev­o­lu­tion, can trust. If the Sovi­ets make half the eco­nomic reforms fore­cast by Moscow News, we’re gonna need every cop­per penny we can grab. With­out turn­ing our backs on mat­ters of prin­ci­ple, of course. A pri­vate for­eign com­pany inex­pe­ri­enced in com­mod­ity mar­kets is inter­ested in diver­si­fy­ing into sugar speculation…”

“Inex­pe­ri­enced?”

“That’s right.”

“And they want to speculate?”

“Buy and sell futures. All com­mod­ity mar­kets are spec­u­la­tive, aren’t they?”

“Per­haps you know more about this than I do.”

“I don’t know the first fuck­ing thing about com­mod­ity trad­ing! I’m just try­ing to close a deal that could net two or three hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars a year for this cor­po­ra­tion… for Cuba.”

“That much?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you give me thirty min­utes?” Landa asked, steal­ing a glance at his watch.

“All morn­ing if necessary.”

“Okay. Hand me one of those. I can’t remem­ber when I smoked my last. Com­mod­ity mar­kets were not invented to speculate…”

For the next eleven min­utes Landa tried to make him­self under­stood. Are­nas nod­ded occa­sional encouragement.

“Hedg­ing is the name of the game and all the pros—Man, Czarnikow, Sucres ET Den­rées, Wood­house, Mit­sui, and some others—speculate only mar­gin­ally. Proces­sors and mer­chants invented futures four cen­turies ago as insur­ance against price fluc­tu­a­tions, that’s the pur­pose. Are you fol­low­ing me?”

“I sup­pose so.”

“The loner who enters the mar­ket to spec­u­late sits in the bleach­ers and bets, just like a sports fan. He’s not a bro­ker, he’s not a com­mis­sion house, and should one of the play­ers drop the ball, he can’t do a damn thing about it. Well, not exactly, but he has few options.  He’s not in the know, has no access to inside infor­ma­tion. Yes, in Lon­don I played the mar­ket, but the big guys respect Cubazú­car because it can swing the mar­ket and they passed on facts dis­guised as rumors hop­ing for a reward in kind. I had incred­i­ble sources. Once in a while I would lis­ten to what a dude said, and think ‘March will drop twenty-five points today’ and a cou­ple of times I was right. You remem­ber Waldo?”

“The dab­bler in philosophy?”

“That’s the guy. Once we had a heated argu­ment. He said his­tory books are fine ’cause they deal with the past, but books on fore­cast­ing are horse manure. Imag­ine. Back then I was a devout believer in eco­nomic plan­ning. For hours I tried to con­vince Waldo he was wrong. He was right. Now, specif­i­cally in futures, to turn a profit you have to accu­rately fore­cast a month ahead, six months, a year. The longer the span, the riskier the bet. And you know the say­ing: He who lives by the crys­tal ball ends up eat­ing glass. Which is why, Max­imino, if some­one who knows noth­ing about the sugar mar­ket requests my advice on deal­ing in futures, I’d rec­om­mend him to hire a top-class bro­ker, or else that he just keep his dough in a long-term  bank account with a five or six per­cent annual yield.”

“But, Ariel, there are stop-loss orders, com­puter pro­grams with a lot of vari­ables that project trends…”

Doggedly, Landa listed addi­tional fac­tors: Changes in the agri­cul­tural poli­cies of sugar-producing coun­tries, esti­mates of pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion, inven­to­ries, weather devel­op­ments, inter­na­tional con­flicts, money exchange rates, gold and oil prices, infla­tion, consumer-price indexes. Then he rose, ripped a sheet of paper from a notepad on the desk and returned to his seat. Scrib­bling on the cof­fee table, he illus­trated his mis­giv­ings with a hypo­thet­i­cal con­tract turned sour fol­low­ing a hurricane.

Are­nas, shak­ing his head, col­lapsed in his seat. “I can’t believe this! An incur­able opti­mist meta­mor­phosed. You talk war, climb­ing oil prices, prime-rate increases. Can the oppo­site happen?”

“Of course. Any­thing can hap­pen, Max­imino. And the mar­ket will keep work­ing smoothly what­ever hap­pens. Sup­pose a pes­simist believes that all those fac­tors will take a turn for the worse and that the June price will drop. He sells. If he’s mis­taken, and the price goes up, he loses money.”

“He’d deserve it too, for not believ­ing that good things can hap­pen,” Are­nas said.

“In this field, terms like good and bad are mud­dled. You aim for the best pos­si­ble fore­cast, regard­less of what’s good or bad for the world, its pop­u­la­tion, or the eco­nomic environment.”

A knock on the door inter­rupted them. The sec­re­tary slipped in and told her boss Drago was on line five. Are­nas rushed to his desk; Landa sur­mised the caller wouldn’t accept delays from an assis­tant man­ager. He over­heard half of a two-minute exchange con­cern­ing a ship­ment of tor­toise shells to Seville, Spain. When Are­nas hung up and returned to his seat, Landa lit a fresh Aromas.

“Ariel, you’re wast­ing your time in your present job.”

“You check up on me?”

“I did. Your poten­tial is under­rated and…”

“You still with Intel­li­gence?” inter­rupted Landa again.

“Hell, no. I quit two years ago. Agile is strictly civilian.”

The vis­i­tor chuck­led and Are­nas gri­maced, reluc­tant to insult his friend’s insight. “Well, you know how it is,” the exec­u­tive added cryp­ti­cally. “But I’m not pulling wool over your eyes. This is on the level; just busi­ness. Shit, man, you must feel lousy in bookkeeping.”

“Alter­nately bored and pissed off,” Landa agreed.

“This is my pitch,” Are­nas said. “Resign and start work­ing for me. There’s a lit­tle office back there, atop the garage. The first two months, update your­self. I can get you all the mag­a­zines, newslet­ters and news­pa­pers you need.  Read, digest, assim­i­late for eight to ten hours a day. Once you’re back in shape, we’ll care­fully debate the ven­ture. You per­suade me it’s crazy, I’ll find some other posi­tion for you. There’s plenty of work around here.”

“Thou shalt not tempt thy buddy, Lucifer.”

“Today’s Thurs­day. You could quit tomor­row, make a list of what you need over the week­end and start here Mon­day morning.”

“Did you sound out the wire-pullers?”

“Yep.”

“They approve?”

“The say you’ve drunk your cas­tor oil like a stand-up guy. You’re finally out of the dark tun­nel, Ariel.”

“All right. I’ll start on Monday.”

They got up and shook hands. After an instant’s hes­i­ta­tion, Are­nas gave his new employee a quick hug before approach­ing his desk. He slid a drawer open, pulled out a car­ton of Marl­boros, slipped it inside a Manila envelope.

“Nurse your lungs on the weekend.”

“Thanks, boss.”

A slightly bewil­dered Landa was retrac­ing his steps toward Fifth Avenue when a piece of his past sud­denly engulfed him. From the inner­most recesses of his mind, sweet mem­o­ries of Gwen Warner mounted an offen­sive in the unstop­pable way they always did. Landa’s imme­di­ate sur­rounds van­ished into misty images of the places she had taken him dur­ing the unfor­get­table first stage of all hope­less love affairs. He could see her chest­nut hair hang­ing loosely below her shoul­ders, her rosy cheeks turned almost pink by the cold as they walked, hold­ing gloved hands, laugh­ing their heads off. Her Bar­bi­can Street flat: Crack­ling logs in the fire­place, both lying naked on the Axmin­ster rug, her eye­lids closed in sleep, her per­fect lips form­ing a child­ish half-grin quite dif­fer­ent from the no-nonsense smirk she car­ried dur­ing busi­ness hours at Wood­house Drake and Carey.

He felt cer­tain he’d never love a woman as he had loved Gwen. They had existed solely to inter­act and fuse: flower and stem, planet and atmos­phere, time and space, ovum and sperm. Con­ti­nents apart, he felt that not a day went by with­out some sort of spir­i­tual com­mu­nion between them, per­haps remem­ber­ing a shared expe­ri­ence, or hum­ming the same song at exactly the same moment. After Gwen, sex with other women paled by comparison.

At the inter­sec­tion with Sec­ond Street the wail­ing siren of a speed­ing ambu­lance brought Landa back to the present.  His watch—her watch—said 10:56 a.m. He remem­bered that in four min­utes the 1830 Bar-Restaurant would open to the pub­lic. He crossed below the miasma of the Almen­dares River through the hand-railed walk­ways flank­ing the under­ground car lanes of the tunnel.While pac­ing it off, he recalled Are­nas’ pecu­liar expres­sion: out of the dark tunnel.

The first cus­tomer of the day to land on a bar stool silently sipped dark-rum high­balls and smoked, pon­der­ing his future. Around 1:30, he wolfed down two plates of chicken salad and con­tin­ued drink­ing and rem­i­nisc­ing until 3:14. Then, with the dizzy hap­pi­ness of a res­cued sur­vivor, he left the restau­rant and caught a taxi to his brother’s home.

CHAPTER 2


Carla, his ex-wife, phoned him on Sat­ur­day morn­ing with the news she would be mar­ry­ing an angi­ol­o­gist on Jan­u­ary 23, exactly one week later. That after­noon she and her fiancé had a shop­ping appoint­ment at The New­ly­weds and, since the boys hadn’t seen their father in two weeks, would he take them out and make her life a lit­tle bit eas­ier?  He acceded and nego­ti­ated the pick-up time. Landa hung up and sat in a rock­ing chair con­tem­plat­ing his non­cha­lance. One of the two women he had loved, the mother of his two sons, yet news of her immi­nent sec­ond mar­riage left him impas­sive, nei­ther happy nor sad, as if she were a next-door neighbor.

He’d told Carla about his dis­missal from Cubazú­car the same day he was fired. She had wanted to know why. Choos­ing the hard alter­na­tive, he recounted when and how he had met Gwen and men­tioned the unfore­see­able inten­sity of the ensu­ing rela­tion­ship. This was deemed totally unac­cept­able behav­ior for a Cuban work­ing abroad for a state-owned firm under the Cuban Min­istry of For­eign Trade, he explained to his wife.

Carla’s response removed the guilt from his con­science and the remains of his love for her. The fol­low­ing morn­ing she hired a lawyer to file for divorce and gave him a week to find a new place to live. Nine days later she took a stage man­ager with a drink­ing prob­lem to her bed. A Navy offi­cer in his for­ties fol­lowed the alco­holic; next came a fifty-eight-year-old taxi dri­ver, then an elec­tron­ics engi­neer eight years her junior. It looked as if she wanted to make up for the orgasms she had missed dur­ing her ex-husband’s tryst abroad, or as if she was quench­ing her thirst for vengeance. Dur­ing the last twelve or fif­teen months, how­ever, she had been less antag­o­nis­tic when he vis­ited to col­lect the kids. It seemed as if Carla had finally over­come the trauma and was now—just a few weeks short of her thirty-second birthday—planning a future dif­fer­ent from the one she had been envi­sion­ing ever since she met Ariel, at age sixteen.

Landa’s invol­un­tary host­ess for the last two years, his sister-in-law Isabel, was hang­ing out laun­dry on a clothes­line sus­pended from the ban­is­ter that encir­cled a second-story land­ing above a ground-floor patio. Isabel had hoped for her brother-in-law’s mar­i­tal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion for the usual noble rea­sons, but also to free her­self from the guest. She had obse­quiously greeted Carla on the phone, had called Ariel with a syrupy tone, gin­gerly try­ing to fig­ure out what they were dis­cussing. Isabel was par­tic­u­larly curi­ous when Landa moved qui­etly to the rock­ing chair and gazed dis­tract­edly at the old, glass-fronted china cabinet.

“Is one of the boys sick, Ariel?”

Landa emerged from his med­i­ta­tion. “No; Carla wants me to take them out this after­noon so she can go to The New­ly­weds with her boyfriend. She’s get­ting mar­ried next Saturday.”

“Get­ting married?”

“That’s what she said.”

“What a shame,” Isabel said, her day ruined.

Landa left his brother’s home at 11 and walked to a nearby pizza par­lor. A fifty-minute wait for his order made him late pick­ing up the kids. His pre­vi­ous home, a two-bedroom apart­ment, was on the third floor of a build­ing on Infanta Street. Carla didn’t quite suc­ceed at hid­ing her impa­tience. Landa thought that her fiancé’s dis­play of affec­tion for the kids, as he saw them off, seemed a bit forced.

Nine-year-old Ariel hoped to become a deep-sea diver and wanted to visit the Aquar­ium yet again. His seven-year-old brother, Daniel, dreamed of becom­ing a famous base­ball player and asked to be taken to the Sat­ur­day night game at Latin Amer­i­can Stadium.

Landa repressed yawns as he watched the sharks, eels and tur­tles he had seen eight or nine times before. By 6 they were munch­ing piz­zas at the cor­ner of First Avenue and Forty-second. Two pay phones failed to pro­duce a dial tone, so they left for the sta­dium with­out being able to warn Carla they would be late. Landa again tried to call her dur­ing the game, but three pay phones were jammed and two oth­ers had been vandalized.

Mak­ing the most of the guilt com­plex com­mon among divorced fathers, Daniel refused to leave before the end of the game. Dur­ing the bus trip back, he care­fully spelled out to his old man that when Daddy Gustavo—his mother’s husband-to-be and state-designated owner of a Russ­ian car—took them out, they never had to wait an hour for a pub­lic bus. So why didn’t his real daddy buy a car too? When they rang the apartment’s door­bell at 1:19 a.m. Carla gave vent to her wrath while the doc­tor made a vain attempt to calm her down.

At noon on Sun­day, sev­eral min­utes before com­plet­ing the list of pub­li­ca­tions he would need to prop­erly rein­sert him­self in the world of sweet­en­ers, Landa’s nephew called him to the phone. He strode past his brother, Car­los, who sat on the tiles of the liv­ing room floor clean­ing his shoes and hum­ming along with the tunes ema­nat­ing from a portable radio. To Car­los’ right, its sur­face smudged brown and black, a half-full glass of rum con­tributed to the shoe shiner’s merriment.

“Hello.”

“A lit­tle bird told me the Lit­tle Rab­bit serves very tasty snacks,” whis­pered a sug­ges­tive female voice.

Landa’s sex­u­al­ity awoke imme­di­ately. A plea­sur­able sen­sa­tion spread through his organs and cat­alyzed their com­plex reactions.

“Oh, yeah? Well, to tell you the truth, I’m so hun­gry I feel like a huge meal.”

“Maybe a juicy warm brunch will make you agree to just a snack for supper.”

“Maybe.”

They sat at her kitchen table at 5:35 p.m., after exhaust­ing sex and a restora­tive nap. She wore his beige parka over her panties; Landa wore only his box­ers. A roasted chicken, a loaf of bread and a stick of but­ter were washed down with four ice-cold beers.

Cristina Tor­ri­celli, a thirty-three-year-old den­tist, hoped to become the Amer­i­can continent’s fore­most peri­odon­tal expert by the first decade of the twenty-first cen­tury. From dawn to late evening she divided her time between patients, meet­ings and classes that she taught at Uni­ver­sity of Havana’s Depart­ment of Odon­tol­ogy. She also attended every sci­en­tific con­fer­ence she could.

In 1982 Cristina had mar­ried a gov­ern­ment bureau­crat with plenty of spare time and a taste for extra­mar­i­tal sex. She was so much the pro­fes­sional that it took her a year and a half to find out that her hus­band was cuck­old­ing her. Acknowl­edg­ing that she was partly to blame, pride pre­vented her from for­giv­ing and for­get­ting. An only child, she had never felt the sting of jeal­ousy; but from then on the feel­ing marked her. Divorced and child­less, Cristina con­cluded that no hus­band could tol­er­ate the life she wanted to live.

She had short, light-brown hair, high cheek­bones, lips bent slightly down­wards at the cor­ners and dark eyes where intel­li­gence glit­tered. Five foot three, her breasts were small and her hips nar­row. Her love-making was inno­v­a­tive, unhur­ried, silent and multi-postured.

Cristina had checked her cur­rent lover’s bleed­ing gums for the first time four­teen months ear­lier, while on night duty at the clinic. When the patient shut his brown eyes before the lamp’s blind­ing glare, she had allowed her­self a head-to-toes appraisal. Long eye­lashes, bushy eye­brows, full lips, coffee-colored hair parted on the left; maybe six feet tall, thirty-seven or thirty-eight, mildly sun­tanned, per­mis­si­ble roll of fat around his waist, no wed­ding ring. Cristina liked what she saw, except for the gum dis­ease. She hadn’t had sex for months, so she set up an appoint­ment for the fol­low­ing week.

On his sec­ond visit the patient was intrigued by var­i­ous sub­tle sig­nals. Was his doctor’s smile slightly seduc­tive? He asked her out on a date when he rose from her chair fol­low­ing his third appoint­ment, cer­tain that he was not imag­in­ing things.

Cristina delayed the first date until lab results ver­i­fied that Ariel Landa was HIV-negative. She decided to play her hand as best she could: sex­u­ally close, emo­tion­ally remote. On their third date she put her cards on the table.

“Yeah, let’s go to my place. I live alone. My par­ents have been work­ing in Nicaro for the last seven years; they come home on vaca­tion. But let me be very can­did: No oblig­a­tions. I can’t make—or take—three phone calls a day, nor can I go out every night, even if I wanted to. I get home late, dead tired, and then have to start prepar­ing din­ner for myself, grad­ing exams, get­ting ready for the next day. We’ll go out when both have a free evening. You live your life, I live mine. Are you okay with that?”

She delib­er­ately post­poned their fourth date twenty-one days, the fifth nine­teen, the sixth six­teen and then asked him out twelve days after their fourth sex­ca­pade. Just to see what would hap­pen, Landa turned down her invi­ta­tion pre­tend­ing to have a cold. The fol­low­ing week he was thirty min­utes late for his den­tal appoint­ment. Cristina was a top-class spe­cial­ist, not an actress, and couldn’t prop­erly mask her annoy­ance. She sug­gested din­ner at The Emperor next Sat­ur­day; Landa coun­tered that he lacked the con­nec­tions nec­es­sary to secure a reser­va­tion, which was true. The den­tist said she could arrange it; the restaurant’s chef was a patient of her.

With har­mony restored, sub­se­quent dates began mov­ing closer together. Even­tu­ally, an agree­ment was reached. They would get together on Sat­ur­days; if for some rea­son one had to can­cel, they would spend Sun­day together instead. Ariel felt like a suc­cess­ful horse-breaker. Cristina admit­ted to her­self Ariel was not a tame dove. Nei­ther was aware that their increas­ingly plea­sur­able love­mak­ing was the con­se­quence of feel­ings in bloom.

Oddly enough, they wouldn’t go out before exhaust­ing them­selves in bed. Her apart­ment, on the fifth floor of a build­ing erected in 1958 on the cor­ner of Sev­en­teenth and K Streets, was fairly close to sev­eral night­clubs, restau­rants, movie houses and the­aters. On the evening of Sun­day, Jan­u­ary 17, they found an open table in the Lit­tle Rabbit’s dimly lit lounge. Over moji­tos Landa told Cristina of his trans­fer to a cor­po­ra­tion in the same detached man­ner he had used with col­leagues at the Insti­tute. Over­joyed, she wanted to hear every sin­gle detail. His elu­sive­ness annoyed her. In the ensu­ing silence, she gulped down her first drink.

Landa ordered a sec­ond round and, hold­ing her hand, shared amus­ing boy­hood sto­ries until she cracked a smile. He reserved the fun­ni­est anec­dote for the end and she roared with laugh­ter; other patrons stared.

Her third mojito brought a small dose of melan­choly to the sur­face. She com­plained about her par­ents’ forth­com­ing retire­ment, their return to Havana and the inevitable loss of per­sonal free­dom she would have to endure.

“Didn’t you say there’s one more year to go?” he asked.

“Time flies.”

“A year from now you won’t remem­ber my name,” Ariel said, wish­ing to be pro­claimed irreplaceable.

Cristina lifted her gaze from the glass and fixed it on the man’s smil­ing, expec­tant face. Her sin­cer­ity was replaced by the hard sheen of sup­pressed annoy­ance. “How very true. Well, there’ll be a sub­sti­tute, right? Or sev­eral, just like in the Army: First Sub­sti­tute, Sec­ond Sub­sti­tute… Where shall I fuck your sub­sti­tutes if, like you, they don’t even own a room?”

Try­ing to recover from the shock, Landa forced a smile. His gaze roved around the lounge before he took a sip of his rum. “Choose them well. You should move ahead in life.”

“Let’s go. I start oper­at­ing at 8 in the morning.”

A frigid wall of silence stood between them on the way back, two blocks cov­ered in haste with long strides. She said good-night at the entrance to her build­ing, but he had left his parka inside and they took the ele­va­tor together. Landa grabbed his coat and headed for the door­way, hop­ing she would stop him. His hand had closed around the door knob when she spoke.

“Ariel.”

They embraced gen­tly. Cristina reclined her head on his chest, watery eyes closed, hands on his back. His chin rested on her head and he stared at a Mar­i­ano paint­ing hang­ing on the oppo­site wall, above a black couch. Their bond was silently acknowl­edged in ten mag­i­cal sec­onds. Then Landa let her go, passed through the door, and closed it softly behind him. Cristina Tor­ri­celli asked her­self if she was falling in love with a fool.

CHAPTER 3


In the small servant’s bed­room remod­eled as an office stood a three-drawer desk, a reclin­ing typist’s chair on wheels and a low table with folded-down leaves, all in dif­fer­ent shades of gray. An Olivetti man­ual type­writer rested on the table. Two cheap red-plastic arm­chairs were intended to serve the occa­sional vis­i­tors; the only other objects in the room were an oscil­lat­ing elec­tric fan and a green waste­bas­ket. The walls had been recently painted light blue; on the ceil­ing, a cir­cu­lar, 32-watt flu­o­res­cent lamp mounted on an alu­minum base. A small win­dow looked out over the huge back patio of an adja­cent man­sion; any­one reach­ing out could touch the leaves of a lux­u­ri­ant mango tree.

“You like it?” Are­nas asked. The assis­tant man­ager, recently shaved and sport­ing a charcoal-gray safari suit, left a trail of per­fume behind him.

“It’s per­fect, Maximino.”

“You think you need any­thing else?” Are­nas insisted while dan­gling a key ring with the keys to the door and desk.

“Well…,” hes­i­tat­ingly, as he took the ring. “I brought twenty floppy disks back from Eng­land, with Lon­don, New York and Paris price sta­tis­tics, fore­cast­ing pro­grams and charts, plus an exper­i­men­tal pro­gram of my own. I need to update the sta­tis­tics, and if there’s a com­puter avail­able I’d like to spend a cou­ple of hours on it each day.”

“You want one?”

“You mean…?”

“What’s your favorite Japan­ese brand?”

Two hours and ten min­utes after Are­nas had left Landa with a per­son­nel form to com­plete; two men labo­ri­ously ascended the nar­row stair­case car­ry­ing six card­board boxes con­tain­ing a state-of-the art NEC APC IV desk­top, its high-resolution mon­i­tor, a twenty Megabyte hard drive, a printer, a key­board and sixty five-and-a-quarter-inch Max­ell floppy disks. The type­writer dis­ap­peared down­stairs to an uncer­tain future in the arms of the guy that Landa thought of as The Mus­cle. The Brains, a younger man, arranged the new system’s com­po­nents on the desk and aux­il­iary table before mak­ing the required hookups. He then plugged into twin power out­lets and pressed the start-up but­ton. With quiet buzzing and occa­sional crack­ling, the mon­ster awoke.

The ana­lyst reflected on his new sit­u­a­tion while star­ing fixedly at a mango tree.  In devel­op­ing coun­tries, what he had just wit­nessed only hap­pened in pow­er­ful, effi­cient, sol­vent organizations—usually sub­sidiaries of multi­na­tion­als. His rec­ol­lec­tion of Are­nas as a wild kid and dar­ing sol­dier was reced­ing quickly as the new, prominent-executive image gained ground. Lack of resources did not appear to be a lim­i­ta­tion at Agile.

Feel­ing hun­gry, he took the stairs down and knocked on the door of Are­nas’ secretary.

“Come in.”

“Hi. What’s your name?” Landa inquired from the door frame.

“Every­body calls me Tinti. What can I do for you?”

“Where I can get some com­puter print­ing forms? Also, where can I grab a bite?”

“I’ll send up the forms with the mes­sen­ger. You can have a snack in the pantry.  Through the hall­way, door to the left, next to the con­fer­ence room. Tell Enri­queta you’re the new man I told her about.”

“Thanks, Tinti.”

Enri­queta turned out to be a pre­ma­turely aged fifty­ish woman who, like most cooks, loved their patrons’ flat­tery. Landa had a cheese sand­wich, two scram­bled eggs and a demi­tasse of espresso. He praised the eggs and the cof­fee, then returned to his office. In the after­noon he stud­ied the man­u­als for the new equip­ment. His Eng­lish needed upgrad­ing but was still functional.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing he brought his own floppy disks and fed them to the hard drive. He was work­ing on a two-hour refresher on Turbo Pas­cal when an assis­tant came in with two new card­board boxes; one con­tained bond paper, the other was full of daily, weekly, biweekly and monthly printed mat­ter deal­ing with sugar news in Novem­ber 1985. All bore the MINCEX library’s rubber-stamping seal. Are­nas had to have called in some favors to secure the loan, Landa sus­pected as he sorted them out method­i­cally, pon­der­ing which pub­li­ca­tion he should start work­ing with. He chose Cubazúcar’s daily report, a hectograph-duplicated sin­gle sheet on cheap paper with the clos­ing price of raw and white sugar con­tracts in New York, Lon­don, and Paris. He pulled the Clover file up on his New York sub­di­rec­tory and started feed­ing num­bers to the computer.

At half past two, Enriqueta’s unan­nounced entrance brought him back to the present. She said some­thing about the dan­gers of skip­ping meals and handed him a tray with a mortadella-and-cheese sand­wich and a glass of milk. Some­what embar­rassed at hav­ing made the woman climb the stairs, Landa apol­o­gized before wolf­ing down the snack and return­ing to an inter­est­ing arti­cle in Sugar y Azú­car. He left at 7, feel­ing hap­pier than he had since return­ing to Cuba.

Wednes­day and Thurs­day were tire­some twelve-hour work­days spent scal­ing the paper moun­tain. Landa gleaned mar­ket trends with an expert’s famil­iar­ity, imag­in­ing the expec­ta­tions and reac­tions of peo­ple and firms he had known, includ­ing Gwen. The events reported were sig­nif­i­cant, fig­ures made sense most of the time. Occa­sion­ally he reflected on the prob­a­ble impact of a Reuters dis­patch in London’s sugar cir­cles, always cau­tious to react fear­ing that New York—the dom­i­nant market—might respond differently.

On Fri­day after­noon Landa was given a card­board box with infor­ma­tion from Decem­ber 1985. He was fully engrossed in an encour­ag­ing devel­op­ment when some­body knocked on his door. Landa’s watch read 7:46 p.m. Enri­queta? No, she usu­ally left around 4. It was prob­a­bly the night watch­man, always eager to exchange a few words with workaholics.

“Come in.”

“Hi, Lizard,” said Are­nas upon enter­ing the room. He wore a light-blue shirt, Navy-blue trousers and a pair of hand-made Flor­sheim loafers. His right held a white wind­breaker with plas­tic zip­pers; his left clutched a Manila envelope.

“Hi, pal,” Landa said, uncoil­ing him­self from the chair.

“Haven’t seen you since Monday.”

“‘Been work­ing my ass off. Here,” pre­sent­ing the enve­lope to Landa.

“I’ve still got four packs left,” after tak­ing a peek inside.

“Keep it. Shit, I’m dead tired.” Are­nas hitched up his crotch and plopped down on a red arm­chair. He stretched point­edly, fists up and around his ears, elbows jut­ting straight out. Then he crossed his legs and rubbed his eye­lids. Dark cres­cents under his eyes reflected a mea­sure of exhaus­tion. Landa returned to his seat.

“How are things, Ariel?”

With some self-satisfaction Landa brought up columns of fig­ures and charts on the screen, explained their mean­ing, then guessed he might be caught up and ready to roll in ten weeks. Are­nas lis­tened atten­tively for nine min­utes, look­ing pleased, before toss­ing his sec­ond question.

“How the hell did you get into this?”

Sur­prised, Landa blinked. “Well…, you remem­ber Cap­tain Martínez? Used to scold us for being block­heads who’d never fin­ish college?”

“I took law, you chose economics.”

“Just to get him off my back. By the time I com­pleted my tour I was in my senior year and got sent to Cubazú­car. Imag­ine. I was an expert in social­ist eco­nomic the­ory; they never taught us a damn thing about stock exchanges, bonds, mort­gages, insur­ance, money mar­kets, noth­ing. How could they? Even our pro­fes­sors didn’t know the first thing about mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist economics.”

Are­nas nod­ded and smiled. “And now the Sovi­ets are con­sid­er­ing a Moscow stock exchange.”

“It’s why fore­cast­ers need all the com­pas­sion they can get. I knew noth­ing about com­mod­ity mar­kets. Luck­ily, I bumped into a well of expe­ri­ence. He’d been side­lined on account he’d worked at Gal­bán Lobo before the Rev­o­lu­tion and joined the mili­tia late, in ’65: Ger­mán Piloto was his name. He retired in 1980; died in ’86. We kinda liked each other and even­tu­ally became friends, close friends, you know? Drink­ing on pay day, swap­ping funny sto­ries and shit­ting on the same sons of bitches—which was pretty strange, con­sid­er­ing the age dif­fer­ence. Man didn’t keep aces up his sleeve. It was more fun than work. I stayed after hours, asked a lot of ques­tions, did what I was told. I liked the uncer­tainty of the whole thing. I was doing okay and they trans­ferred me to fore­cast­ing. Six out of ten times, prices actu­ally fell within the ranges I had predicted.”

“Then you were sent to Lon­don, right?”

“Right.”

“Why didn’t you take Carla with you?”

“She was expect­ing Daniel, didn’t feel well. Arielito was eigh­teen months old and caught a cold every cou­pla weeks. She thought London’s cli­mate would make it worse.”

“Well, nobody knows what’s best. Where you live now?”

“At my brother’s. Lam­par­illa between Cuba and San Ignacio.”

Are­nas yawned and closed his eyes. “Let’s call it a day. C’mon. I’ll give you a lift.”

The car, a light-gray Lada 2107 had some cus­tomized fea­tures: Tinted win­dows, tele­phone, cas­sette player, genuine-leather seats, two anten­nas. A Marl­boro dan­gling from his lips, Are­nas turned left onto Fifth Avenue, crossed the tun­nel under the river, then sped along the six-lane black­top bor­der­ing the sea­wall pro­tect­ing Havana’s coast­line. A red light at Malecón and the base of Twenty-Third Street made him stop. He flipped the butt out his win­dow, stuck a cas­sette into the tape deck. The con­trolled voice of Roberto Car­los intoned a Brazil­ian love song. To their left, flashes from Morro Castle’s light­house skid­ded over the dark, calm sea. Stars twin­kled in a cloud­less sky.

“I’m fly­ing to Panamá City next Tues­day. Would you do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Take care of the car for me.”

Landa hes­i­tated, lines of worry on his fore­head. “Lis­ten, if I have an acci­dent, I got no pull at body shops.”

“Drive care­fully then. It’s insured. Besides, cars are like whores, they keep in bet­ter shape work­ing reg­u­larly. C’mon, buddy. Take me to the air­port and pick me up when I get back, okay?”

“Okay.”

The green light turned on and Are­nas stepped on the gas. A cou­ple of min­utes later the Lada took Avenida del Puerto and turned right on Lamparilla.

“Pull over here. Thanks for the lift,” Landa said after a few blocks.

“Don’t men­tion it. See you on Monday.”

“Sure. Take care.

—0—

So that the bride and groom could enjoy their hon­ey­moon in the pic­turesque town of Trinidad, both boys would be spend­ing an entire week at Carla’s brother’s home. Feel­ing it his duty to lend a hand to his ex-brother-in-law, Landa devoted the week­end fol­low­ing the wed­ding to his sons. He phoned Cristina to let her know the change of plans, but she was out. After the wed­ding father and sons headed out to the zoo and an amuse­ment park. On Sun­day he took them to the Palace of the Cap­tain Gen­er­als, the cathe­dral square, and a children’s movie the­ater. On Mon­day morn­ing, as he approached Agile with long strides, Landa won­dered why he was feel­ing more like a good actor than a good father.

Cristina had called on Sat­ur­day and Sun­day, only to hear Isabel brusquely say­ing that Ariel was out. The den­tist left no mes­sage because Isabel didn’t know when he would be back. On Mon­day night, Cristina’s phone had no dial tone. By Tues­day she was in a ter­ri­ble mood. Ariel hadn’t called, thereby giv­ing her a taste of her own med­i­cine. In the after­math of the squab­ble, she had for­got­ten to ask him for Agile’s number—Havana’s nine-year-old phone direc­tory had been printed long before the cor­po­ra­tion came into exis­tence. Too proud to wait for him out­side his work­place, she feared he was hav­ing a new affair. Adding insult to injury, she had been tem­porar­ily forced to endure a lazy, incom­pe­tent nurse because her reg­u­lar assis­tant was on vacation.

Cristina left the clinic at dusk feel­ing tired and annoyed. As she walked to the bus stop, a car crept by Eigh­teenth Street, its dri­ver emit­ting lust­ful hiss­ing sounds. She adopted a solemn expres­sion, clung tightly to her purse and hur­ried along. One of her favorite songs, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, came from the vehi­cle. When she crossed Sev­en­teenth, an unrec­og­niz­able voice called after her: “Dr.Torriceeeelli.” Cristina turned her head, ready to tongue-lash the Don Juan, if nec­es­sary. She split her sides for the first time in sev­eral days.

“Did you steal that, Ariel?” she was finally able to say.

Three hours later, after show­ers and love­mak­ing at her place, they dined at Los Siboneyes, a remote road­house restau­rant inac­ces­si­ble to car-bereft peo­ple, where they feasted on enough fried pork to shrink their wider arter­ies by a mil­lime­ter. They moved to the bar and sipped dark rum and chat­ted ignor­ing the reper­toire of a congenial—though slightly off-key—trio. Soft light­ing, the night’s cool still­ness and the scent of dew­drops on grass and nearby fruit trees con­spired toward can­did inti­macy. It was a long exchange and no topic lasted more than ten min­utes, as if they had a mil­lion things to tell each other.

“…like an uncle. I pick them up, take them places, but there’s no daily life; I never scold them if they misbehave…”

“…and the Direc­tor said: ‘I can’t fire her, Cristina. Labor laws pro­tect her; she’s never late, attends polit­i­cal meet­ings and does vol­un­teer work.’  So, just in case he didn’t get it right the first time, I insisted. ‘But, doc­tor, she’s incompetent…’”

“…what wor­ries me is how close it is to the South African bor­der. Logis­tics must be child’s play for them, a night­mare for us. The war in Angola will be decided at Cuito Cuanavale…”

“…thirty-five pesos. As if they were pen­nies! I have to spend two full morn­ings at the clinic, see maybe forty patients, to make that much, god­dammit! Thirty-five for a bot­tle of sham­poo, two hun­dred fifty for a pair of Levi’s, twenty-eight for a pound of coffee…”

“…place is a lit­tle osten­ta­tious. The whole atmos­phere is for­eign. There’s every­thing, from top-of-the-line tele­phones to expen­sive car­pets. Peo­ple dress fash­ion­ably, smoke these. I don’t know. There’s an air of superiority…”

“…no one, Ariel, absolutely no one who out of the blue has been handed a two-story, twelve-room house, three cars, and five air con­di­tion­ers, can expect me to accept that my own per­sonal sac­ri­fice for the Rev­o­lu­tion con­sists in lack­ing that which he enjoys…”

They coasted along on the way back as Marco Anto­nio Muñiz adorned the mid­night with sooth­ing boleros. Full sen­sual sat­is­fac­tion drew them both into deep slumber.

The week was per­fect because mutual yearn­ing fused with oppor­tu­nity. Landa left work around 7 or 7:30 in the evening, then drove to his brother’s apart­ment, show­ered, shaved, changed into fresh cloth­ing and picked up Cristina. Movies, plays, a visit to the Fine Arts museum, drinks at the Floridita, din­ner at The Tower. And even though a cold front kept them out of the beach, they vis­ited Gua­n­abo on Sun­day to eat mar­i­nated saw­fish on saltines downed with cold beer. That same evening, on their way back to Havana, Cristina pressed the stop but­ton to cut Julio Igle­sias short in mid-song.

“I felt nice this week,” she said.

“So did I.”

“We won’t be able to see each other on a daily basis when your boss comes back.”

“Nope.”

“I won­der if you’d like to… extend this awhile. You could come to my place after work. We could grab a bite, watch a lit­tle TV… If you feel like it, stay the night. If you don’t, go back to Carlos.”

Landa kept his eyes on the road. The offer took him by sur­prise, simul­ta­ne­ously pleas­ing him and mak­ing him feel uneasy.

“Well?”

“I don’t want to inter­fere in your life.”

“Really? That’s funny. Exclud­ing Dad and my ex-husband, you’re the guy who has most inter­fered with my life. Lucky me you don’t want to.”

“You remain free, live alone, have no oblig­a­tions. It appears to me you need to pro­tect your inde­pen­dence. Vis­it­ing every night—”

“Let’s give it a try, my love, please,” Cristina interrupted.

It was the first time she used “my love” out­side a purely sex­ual con­text. Landa felt com­fort­able in the net. “If you want to,” he agreed.

The dark-green ’52 Chevro­let that had been fol­low­ing them every­where for the last five days chugged behind, unnoticed.

CHAPTER 4


The cool, cloudy  Tues­day after­noon was fad­ing into dark-bluish hues when Max­i­m­il­iano Are­nas, in a well-tailored three-piece suit, descended from a Cubana TU-134 tur­bo­jet and crossed the tar­mac headed for the ter­mi­nal. Tinti had warned Landa that their boss was invari­ably one of the first pas­sen­gers to clear Cus­toms and the ana­lyst waited patiently by the exit gate for inter­na­tional pas­sen­gers. At 7:15 the assis­tant man­ager came out push­ing a cart with two new suit­cases, the old one and his attaché case. They shook hands, then marched to the park­ing lot; the bag­gage was dis­trib­uted between the trunk and back seat. Are­nas snatched the car keys from Landa and slid behind the wheel. The ana­lyst plopped on the pas­sen­ger seat.

“How did it go?” Landa asked politely once they left the park­ing lot.

“No prob­lem.”

“How’re things in Panamá?”

“Hot. There’s a tremen­dous smear cam­paign against Noriega.”

“Granma says he’s being accused of drug-trafficking.”

Are­nas shook his head in res­ig­na­tion. “Impe­ri­al­ists, they never give up, do they? Nor­iega is Tor­ri­jos’ heir, a nation­al­ist, anti-imperialist leader they want to dis­credit at all cost. I know a few Pana­man­ian army offi­cers; all are seething. They say this pro­pa­ganda offen­sive is the same as if some­body in the nine­teenth cen­tury charged Bolí­var with being a His­panophile, or accused Juárez of sup­port­ing the French.”

“Rea­gan isn’t Carter,” Landa com­mented. “If he can roll back the Canal treaties, he will.”

“They’re the worst kind of bas­tards. Now we are being accused of deal­ing with Colom­bian drug lords.”

“Us?”

“Yeah. They bribed a Pana­man­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cial, Blandón. The bas­tard swears on his mother’s grave that he came to Cuba to fix the cross­ing of cocaine shipments.”

“Son­afabitch! I haven’t read that in the paper.”

Back in the city, Are­nas turned right on Ayestarán Street, headed to Car­los’ apart­ment. Out of a deeply ingrained habit of pro­tect­ing his pri­vacy, the ana­lyst didn’t  dis­close that he had moved to Cristina’s the day before; in any event, the detour pro­vided a good oppor­tu­nity to pick up a few  remain­ing per­sonal belong­ings. The con­ver­sa­tion moved to base­ball, but as the car took Amar­gura Street, Are­nas changed the sub­ject once again.

“I had a meet­ing with the guy inter­ested in sugar futures. Wants to talk fea­si­bil­ity on April first. Step on it—your updat­ing I mean—see if we can have the full project ready by mid-March, then take it up to the gen­eral manager.”

“Mid-March knocks two weeks off my schedule.”

“We’ll brain­storm prior to mak­ing any deci­sion. I gotta phone the guy on the twen­ti­eth to find out if he’s com­ing over here or if we’ll be going there.”

“I’ll do every­thing I can. Maybe we can even touch base before com­plet­ing the update.”

“Fine. I brought a cou­ple of sweat­shirts for your kids. How are they?”

“All right. Carla got mar­ried ten days ago.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah. To an MD, an angi­ol­o­gist. Thanks for every­thing, Snot. The car loan and all the rest.”

“Thank you for look­ing after my mount.”

—0—

Soon after Landa moved in with Cristina their lifestyles started chang­ing for the better.

For him it meant break­ing away from a fam­ily unit in which he had tried to pass unno­ticed and pair­ing up with a human being who needed him a lot more than she was will­ing to admit to her­self. He evolved from pas­sive to active agent, from receiv­ing to trans­mit­ting hope and warmth, from absorb­ing kind­ness to bestow­ing it.

The light bur­den of spon­ta­neously cho­sen respon­si­bil­i­ties didn’t bother Cristina. Instead of mum­bling to her­self fear­ing that she was going crazy, she could now com­plain loudly about every incon­ve­nience, frus­tra­tion or set­back in her daily life. For all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, cook­ing for two added lit­tle to her usual chores. Clean­ing and laun­der­ing were eased a bit by Ariel’s ama­teur­ish, and not quite thor­ough, attempts at col­lab­o­ra­tion. She secretly felt relieved when at the end of her day she took the two-career-woman armor off, sprawled on the couch fac­ing the TV and curled up on the man’s lap like a help­less, for­lorn teenager.

As days slipped by, they sus­pected that the quiet, mature evo­lu­tion of their rela­tion­ship would loose momen­tum at cer­tain stage before giv­ing way to reg­u­lar life in all of its crude­ness. Both were used to keep­ing their inter­nal processes to them­selves and never dis­cussed the rela­tion­ship. Some­times one dis­cov­ered a per­plexed stare in the other; then con­fused smiles sur­faced before each turned back to the chores in progress.

Their already out­stand­ing job per­for­mances improved notice­ably. Landa made much more head­way with the update, but as he crunched num­bers and absorbed news, it dawned on him that he had over­stated his case to Max­imino. Per­haps a well-informed lone wolf could get by.

Cristina rearranged her sched­ule and fit the paper­work she used to take home into reg­u­lar work­ing hours. On Sat­ur­day morn­ings they went out together to buy off-ration prod­ucts at stores and mar­kets; in the after­noons he picked up his quota of rationed food­stuffs at Carlos’s, while Cristina cleaned and did laun­dry. On Sun­day morn­ings he took the boys out while she slept in. At noon she pre­pared brunch and they spent the evening at the movies, danc­ing and sip­ping drinks at night­clubs or din­ing out.

The man in charge of Sur­veil­lance in her apart­ment building’s Com­mit­tee for the Defense of the Rev­o­lu­tion was wait­ing for Cristina when she entered the lobby on the evening of Feb­ru­ary 22, a Monday.“Cristina, excuse me, I need a word with you.”

“Sure, go ahead, Martin.”

The thin bald elec­tri­cal engi­neer worked at the Zap­ata Street power sub­sta­tion. In his early fifties, he had an obese wife and two daugh­ters in their late teens. Mar­tin looked a lit­tle ner­vous, as if com­pelled to do some­thing he wouldn’t enjoy in the least.

“First of all, I want you to under­stand this is an offi­cial, nation­wide pro­ce­dure, not some­thing personal.”

“Hey, hey, what’s the matter?”

“Noth­ing is the mat­ter. Noth­ing at all. It’s just that I’ve been told a com­rade is liv­ing in your apart­ment and he has not been enrolled in our Reg­is­ter of Addresses. When peo­ple move, they have to fill out a form and give it to the com­rade entrusted with Sur­veil­lance on the block they are mov­ing away from. Their names are crossed off the Reg­is­ter of Addresses there and added to the Reg­is­ter at the new place of res­i­dence. The CDR has to over­see this, so if this com­rade liv­ing with you plans to stay, I want you to tell him that―”

“I don’t know how long he’s gonna stay, Mar­tin,” Cristina erupted. “He doesn’t know either, and it’s nobody’s busi­ness who the fuck lives at my place.”

“Take it easy, Cristina. Don’t lose your tem­per. We’ve never had an argu­ment before and this―”

“He’s vis­it­ing, Mar­tin, get it? Vis­it­ing. For as long as we both want to, and I don’t have to ask anybody’s per­mis­sion to bring who­ever I please to my place.”

“It’s not a mat­ter of ask­ing per­mis­sion, it’s a mere formality.”

“Well, we won’t com­ply with that for­mal­ity, okay? Tell that to who­ever needs to know. Goodbye.”

Landa noticed her annoy­ance that evening but assumed that what­ever was both­er­ing her didn’t con­cern him; respect­ing her pri­vacy, he asked no ques­tions. The next morn­ing, her anger hav­ing fiz­zled, Cristina won­dered if per­haps the whole thing could be turned into some­thing pos­i­tive. For the last three weeks, watch­ing Ariel more as a human being than as a man, she had found that he embraced a few old-fashioned beliefs she might be able to turn to her advan­tage. Cristina decided to present the mat­ter to him as a shock­ing inva­sion of their pri­vacy. Should he agree to observe the for­mal­ity, she would sug­gest trans­fer­ring his ration card as well. Should he decide to go back to his brother’s, she would point out the absur­dity of dras­ti­cally alter­ing their way of life on account of a bureau­cratic regulation.

“Didn’t you know?” he asked her as they were get­ting ready to go to bed on Tues­day, once she fin­ished recount­ing the Mon­day evening exchange with Sur­veil­lance. Landa pulled back the bed­spread and began fold­ing it.

Cristina shook her head. “No. I mean, maybe I heard it men­tioned in a con­ver­sa­tion, a CDR meet­ing or a TV spot, but it didn’t reg­is­ter. I was four­teen when my par­ents moved here.”

“Your ex-husband must’ve com­pleted the appli­ca­tion when he moved out. Your par­ents too, when they relo­cated to Nicaro.”

“Never told me.”

“Well, I knew. I just thought they weren’t enforc­ing it any longer. Like with motor­cy­cle helmets.”

“Motor­cy­cles hel­mets? Never mind. I can’t believe this.”

“The ratio­nale is that if a coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary lands sur­rep­ti­tiously to plant a bomb, if a mur­derer gets away or a con­vict makes a break, they must find a place to stay. Usu­ally their first choice is the home of a rel­a­tive or a friend.”

“That’s child­ish!” Cristina inter­rupted. “A form isn’t going to stop a crim­i­nal. Besides, for each sob caught that way, there must be a hun­dred thou­sand out­raged peo­ple. You know what I think? I think this kind of decree or order or what­ever should take com­mon peo­ple into account.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

“What are we gonna do?”

Landa sat on the edge of the bed and reflected for a few moments. “Lis­ten. You’re a pro­fes­sional, also an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity. Defi­ance might harm your career. Best thing is for me to move back to Carlos.”

With two steps Cristina was at his side. Her hand cupped his chin and gen­tly forced him to look into her eyes. “Let’s nur­ture our rela­tion­ship, Ariel. Fill the damn form and let’s give it to that shit eater. Let’s make the bureau­crats happy.”

Landa shook his head. “You can’t make that deci­sion; your par­ents own this place. You’d have to take it up with them.”

Cristina sat by his side. “Just a moment. For the last seven years I’ve been liv­ing here on my own. I’ve paid the bills, painted the walls, over­seen repairs, taken care of the place. I feel enti­tled to decide who I can share it with. Besides, my folks wouldn’t object.”

“How can you know?”

The mat­ter was set­tled at 11:42 p.m., when Cristina’s par­ents, eight hun­dred kilo­me­ters east of Havana, in a state of per­plexed som­no­lence agreed to their daughter’s request and even exchanged a few words with the unknown intruder in a scene wor­thy of a sit­com. Cristina hung up with a glo­ri­ous smile, emo­tion­ally and sex­u­ally excited. Under her night­gown she felt famil­iar signs of arousal: nip­ples push­ing out, skin tin­gling, a tickly cli­toris. “Come, Ariel. I want you more than ever.”

—0—

Landa pulled the scuba mouth­piece out and slid his tongue over pained gums. He guessed that should any­one ask Cristina’s opin­ion, she would rec­om­mend an oral-nasal mask that didn’t tor­ture sen­si­tive tis­sues. Four yards ahead, on the coarse sand crossed by a band of sea­weed and algae, his wet, black-rubber div­ing suit shin­ing under the moon­light, Jorge Car­rasco removed his fins, lifted the heavy water­proof bag, then trot­ted up to the edge of the wild coastal veg­e­ta­tion. Landa raised his mask to his fore­head, took a few awk­ward steps for­ward, knelt behind Carrasco’s back and helped him unbuckle his steel tanks. It was 03:03 hours on Tues­day, March 8.

“Shit, I’m freez­ing,” whis­pered a trem­bling Car­rasco. “Our lips must be blue.”

Landa shushed him as he tore his own under­wa­ter breath­ing equip­ment away from his back and slid it to the sand. “Get your can­teen and two choco­late bars,” ordered the infil­tra­tion team’s leader as he removed fins from his feet.

After peer­ing closely at the imme­di­ate sur­rounds, Landa unzipped his bag and pro­duced a can of con­densed milk which he punc­tured on oppo­site sides with the knife fas­tened to his right leg. Kneel­ing on the sand, but­tocks over heels, each man ate a choco­late bar along with mouth­fuls of the thick, sug­ary milk and gulps of water. Next they pulled out from their bags weapons and dummy charges as well as cam­ou­flage fatigues, black berets and para­trooper boots, changed, and packed away the under­wa­ter gear. Using col­lapsi­ble com­bat shov­els they buried both bags and the debris in the sand before march­ing east-southeast amid ephedra, coco palms, man­grove trees, flee­ing crabs and scur­ry­ing rodents.

The oper­a­tion had started at 23:00 hours. Divers hit the water approx­i­mately two miles off­shore, at 02:07 hours. As the black power boat noise­lessly with­drew into the open sea, the com­bat divers swam to a land­ing site two hun­dred yards west of the des­ig­nated spot. In pre­vi­ous exer­cises Landa had been cap­tured as a result of infor­ma­tion sup­plied by “enemy” agents, so this time he warned the lieu­tenant of his plan and got an approv­ing wink.

He led the way with the embar­rass­ment shared by all those who must unwill­ingly play a role but lack the tini­est nat­ural call­ing for act­ing. Fif­teen years back he had felt like Car­rasco: moti­vated, expec­tant, tense. But since see­ing com­bat in Angola, maneu­vers failed to make his suprarenals work over­time or worry that he would never again see the peo­ple he loved. Age aside, gaze dis­tin­guished vet­er­ans from rook­ies dur­ing drills: cool and uncon­cerned among those who had gone through the real thing; ardent and high-strung among those who hadn’t. Land­ing Bat­tal­ion 7070 could, in fact, be split in two: 202 MININT Spe­cial Forces troop­ers still untested in the bat­tle­field, and 236 reservists that had engaged in bloody con­flicts in dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the world. Nearly all vet­er­ans were civil­ians called in for train­ing twice a year; the rook­ies were pro­fes­sional sol­diers in an admirable state of readiness.

After a few min­utes hik­ing, wild grass became the dom­i­nant veg­e­ta­tion. The two-man team paused, mixed mud and spread it over their faces. Landa con­sulted a watch on his left wrist, a com­pass on his right, and sur­veyed the dark­ness ahead through the infrared scope of his AKM-74. He ordered Car­rasco across the two-lane asphalt road twenty-five yards ahead, waited three full min­utes, then joined the rookie. They pro­gressed cau­tiously until just about bump­ing into a chain link fence topped with a barbed wire Y enclos­ing their destination—an Army com­pound on full mil­i­tary black­out where the “enemy” had a fuel depot and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions center.

Landa kept watch, Car­rasco dug below the fence. A few min­utes later they slipped under on their bel­lies and crawled to a nearby bar­rack. Locat­ing sen­tries with their scopes, glid­ing among shad­ows like elu­sive ghosts, they planted the dummy demo­li­tion charges and left unde­tected. At 04:54 hours, back at their land­ing point, they took a thirty-minute break before recov­er­ing the under­wa­ter gear. They waited three hours for the truck that picked them up.

Des­ig­nated the Out­stand­ing Team, they applauded them­selves in the Russ­ian tra­di­tion. The prize was a spe­cial meal: Suc­cu­lent chicken with rice, accom­pa­nied by fried plan­tains, lettuce-and-tomato salad, grated coconut meat for dessert, espresso on top. That same night the reservists were sent back home.

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