“..don’t know why I needed to know that, but I told him I was Scotch-Irish-English American, in case he was wondering. My name is Daniel Graham MacCormick—Mac for short—age thirty-five, and I’ve been described as tall, tan, and ruggedly handsome. This comes from the gay clientele in the Parrot, but I’ll take it. I live here on the island of Key West, and I am the owner and skipper of a 42-foot deep-sea fishing charter boat called The Maine, named for my home state—not for the American battleship that blew up in Havana Harbor, though some people think that.”
“But when I’m out there on the sea, especially at night, I am free. I am captain of my own fate.”
“This is a ten-day event, beginning on Saturday the twenty-fourth, and returning on Monday, November second—the Day of the Dead.”
Cuban laws. Does that bother you?” “Only if I get caught.” “And that’s the point. If you don’t get caught you are two million dollars richer, and you have broken no American laws.” He smiled. “Unless you don’t pay your income tax on the money.”
“You were awarded the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. So you’re no stranger to danger.”
“Well, there were thousands of Cubans in South Florida and elsewhere in America who belonged to any one of several dozen anti-Castro groups. It was like a small industry in Miami, but getting smaller as the younger generation of Cuban Americans lost interest in the crusade. The third generation had no memory of old Cuba and no personal experience with the Communist regime to fully understand the hatred that their parents and grandparents clung to. Also, the CIA was not funding these groups like they used to, so maybe this was why Eduardo and his amigos needed sixty million dollars.”
“Everyone in Cuba works for the government, and everyone makes the same money—twenty dollars a month. Slave wages. There is no incentive. That is Communism.”
“My grandfather was a very brave man. He risked his life to protect his clients’ property and his bank’s property from falling into the hands of the Communists. So you can see why this is personal for me. I want to finish my grandfather’s work.”
I nodded. If I was my father, which I’m not, I’d ask Sara how these wealthy Cubans got their money. Batista’s government, as I understood it, was an extension of the American Mafia. Gambling, drugs, prostitution, and pornography. Also the factory owners and the landowners like Eduardo’s father were often not enlightened employers, which was why so many of them were arrested after the revolution. I also wondered if the American Mafia used grandpa’s bank and had some money in that cave. Behind every great fortune is a crime, but probably some of this money was earned honestly. And all of it had been kept out of Castro’s hands. I don’t make moral judgements—well, I do, but in this case, I’d withhold judgement. At least until I decided if I wanted to take a three-million-dollar cut of the cash.
“As you know, the State Department doesn’t allow American citizens to travel to Cuba for tourism. But they do issue licenses for group travel for cultural, educational, or artistic purposes, and that’s how I went to Cuba.”
“Sara Ortega, was impressive. Like the Army women I once dated, Sara was ready to put her life on the line for something she believed in. And she’d somehow talked me into putting myself in harm’s way again.”
“Now, forty minutes out of Miami, we were already beginning our descent into Havana—or hell, according to Eduardo and Carlos. I could imagine what this flight was like in the 1950s; high rollers, movie stars, mobsters, and thrill-seekers from New York and Miami, flying on luxurious airliners to sinful Havana—casinos, prostitutes, sex shows, pornography, and drugs, all of which were in short supply in 1950s America. Old Havana must have been a deliciously decadent town, and it was no wonder that the corrupt Batista government fell like a rotten mango. I recalled that Sara’s grandfather had gotten out on one of the last commercial flights from Havana to Miami. Now his granddaughter was back, and I hoped she shared his luck in getting out.”
“I looked for a sign saying WELCOME AMERICANS! but it must have been in the shop for repairs.”
“Carlos, in his briefing, had told me that the hotels used by Americans were under surveillance by undercover agents from the Orwellian Minis0try of the Interior. But because Cuban citizens were generally not allowed in the hotels for foreigners, these surveillance men tried to look like Latin American tourists or businessmen. I should be able to spot them, Carlos said, by their cheap clothing, bad manners, or by the fact that they never paid for their drinks. Sounded more like a scene from an Inspector Clouseau movie than Big Brother in Cuba. But maybe I should listen to Carlos.
As I was sitting there, it hit me—I was in Communist Cuba, where paranoia was a survival tool. And at some point in the next ten days, I was going to be either rich in America, or in jail here, or worse. Also, I was going to have sex with a woman I barely knew—not a first, but exciting nonetheless.”
“Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigía, was a handsome Spanish Colonial located about fifteen kilometers from Havana, and we got there in half an hour.
The house was well-maintained, according to Alison, because of a rare partnership between the U.S. and Cuban governments. Art and culture bring people together, said Alison, and that was why we were here; we were ambassadors of goodwill.”
“A cult of Hemingway in Cuba.” “Really?” “Yes. In the Hotel Ambos Mundos, which we see tomorrow, there is the room where he lived and wrote before he purchased Finca Vigía. The room is now a museum.” My beer came and Antonio continued his unpaid lecture. “Some of his novels are what we call his Cuban novels. Many of his books have a socialist theme.” “I missed that.” “But it is true. His books show people acting in a . . . a way that is for humanity . . . not for the individual.” “Most of his characters were selfish and self-centered, like me. That’s why I liked them.” Antonio continued, “Fidel said, ‘All the works of Hemingway are a defense of human rights.’” He added, without irony, “This is a socialist belief.”
“Lots of stuff happens on the high seas that wouldn’t or couldn’t happen on land. It was a different planet out here; a watery grave, waiting to receive the dead and the soon-to-be-dead.”
Hemingway home and study