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Revolution Cuba ’58.
a novel by kent barker
Part 1 Winter Page 5
Part 2 New Year Page 36
Part 3 Spring Page 73
Part 4 Late Spring Page 113
Part 5 Early Summer Page 154
Bart 6 Mid-Summer Page 201
Part 7 Late Summer Page 241
Part 8 Autumn and Winter Page 285
Part 9 Closing – New Year Page 342
Fact, Fiction and Sources Page 353
Ok, ok so it’s not actually 1958 yet . We’ve still got another month until the start of that extraordinary year. But the thing is that Joe has to be in Havana on 10th December 1957 because that’s when the Hotel Riviera has its grandiose opening. And Joe needs to be there for that. Partly because much else of what happens to him stems from it and partly because it’s such a bizarre event. I mean here we are in a poverty stricken Caribbean country with Castro and Guevara running around in the hills beating up Batista’s troops … while El Presidente himself is doling out huge spondulics to the Mafia to build him a new Casino. Not that Havana is actually short of casinos. There are dozens of them. And since Meyer Lansky and his mob – well the mob actually – started running them about five years ago they are actually honest. I mean really, who except Batista would think of bringing in America’s most notorious gangster to clean up his corrupt gambling dens? The thing is that once the punters start to realise a casino is bent they stop going there. And once they realise all Cuba’s casinos are bent they stop going there at all. And if your only other exports are sugar and cigars then you’re in trouble.
Now the thing about Meyer Lansky is that he understood this. He understood that you can make quite a nice little profit from a casino that is absolutely above board, honest, decent and legal. In fact you will make more money in the long run from an honest table than a dishonest one.
And apart from the odd rubbing out of opponents and, during prohibition, running a mass bootleg import business, most of what Meyer Lansky has done has been legal. Well, nearly legal anyway. Legal but not overly respectable. And to Lansky the Hotel Riviera represents respectability. It also represents good business. After all a sizable chunk of the $14 million the project cost has been bankrolled by Batista’s government. (Good business, incidentally, for Batista who finds $3 million in a Swiss bank account in his name and reputedly receives 50% of Havana’s gambling profits thereafter.)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. All we need to know for now that Joe Lyons has just arrived in Havana. He travelled on a freighter out of Miami. Full of bright new American cars. Caddys and Olds and Packards and Chevvies. All with tail fins that would grace a space ship. Then I promise we’ll move right along to ’58 just as soon as we can.
REVOLUTION - CUBA ’58.
It’s the smell of the city that assaults him. Yes, Havana attacks the other senses. It’s noisy, it’s colourful, it’s hot. But the smell is different. Different to Miami. Different to New York. And certainly different to Deptford. It’s hibiscus and jasmine and lemon, mixed with sea salt and exhaust fumes. But there’s another odour on the mid-evening breeze that’s not so pleasant. Joe sniffs twice trying to place it. He’s walking down a narrow side street looking up at the elegant colonial buildings with their ornate wrought iron balconies and carved wooden doors. The smell is getting stronger and, as he turns the corner, it blasts him full in the face. At first he can’t make sense of the scene he’s witnessing … and then can’t believe it. The road he’s turned into is wide and lined with trees and lampposts. Traffic moves down it at a sedate pace. There are few pedestrians, and none on his side. There’s something wrong. Something incongruous. Something mal-odorous. And then he looks up and his gaze is transfixed. It’s swaying gently in the soft wind. A body. On the end of a rope. Hanging from a lamppost. A ghastly gallows. As he’s staring at this sight, made all the more extraordinary by the normality of its surroundings and its proximity to the centre of a major city, he registers the sound of a siren in the distance. And beneath the lamppost bearing its strange fruit, a pick-up tuck screeches to a stop. Two men hurriedly extend a ladder from the back of the truck, resting its top rung against the arm of the makeshift gibbet. One climbs up and, with a single swipe of a long knife, cuts the rope. The body falls neatly into the back of the pick-up. But as the man scrambles down the ladder the siren, whose wail has been steadily increasing, reveals itself as belonging to a large black and white Oldsmobile tearing down the road. The driver guns the pick-up’s engine. The ladder is retracted and stowed. A fist bangs on the roof of the driver’s cab, tyres scream and the vehicle shoots off. But the Olds with the wailing siren is upon them. One of the men in the back of the truck raises an arm. Joe sees a pistol in his hand and instinctively moves backwards towards cover. One, two, then a volley of shots ring out as the pick-up vanishes in cloud of dust and smoke, closely pursued by the black and white saloon. Within seconds all is normal again. The traffic resumes its leisurely homeward journey, pedestrians walk on by. Only the smell is left. The lingering smell of a decaying corpse, now partly masked by the stench of burned tyre rubber.
It’s heading for one of those dreamy Caribbean sunsets with a few fluffy white clouds hanging around waiting for the right moment to turn flamingo-pink. The sun is just low enough to be glinting on the water and reflecting a strange luminosity onto the distant crescent of buildings across the Havana Bay to Joe’s right.
Straight ahead stands the white lighthouse on the low cliffs guarding the entrance to the harbour. At its base the severe stone walls of the Moro fortress descend to the water.
Joe is leaning over the forward rail of the grubby Miami freighter, grabbing his first sight of Cuba. Later he’ll remember it as being one of those rare moments in life when you know you’ve touched, just fleetingly, some higher plane of contentment. It’s the potent mixture of the excitement of adventure and trepidation of the unknown, set against the sublime beauty of a tropical sunset. It sends a thrill almost sexual in intensity down the spine.
Is that what Joe is after, adventure? Perhaps. Though he probably wouldn’t see it that way himself. He’s just restless. Testosterone-fuelled, young-man-will-travel restless. And what better a destination than Cuba. Current capital of world sleaze. Throbbing with rum, rumba and sex. The playground of rich Americans who hop down from New York or Washington or Miami pouring their dollars into an impoverished peasant economy and buying just about anything or anybody they want.
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