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Note: This story is the second half of the novel The Cuba Stories. It is a sequel to the first part, “Havana Club”.
I leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath, and looked around at the eager faces watching me. I love telling stories as well as listening to them, but tonight the faces were especially eager. It was obvious from their posture that they were enjoying this story. I reached for the short glass on the table. As I lifted it to my mouth, the ice tinkled. Hearing the ice made me acutely aware of how the room had emptied. Our table seemed to be the only one still occupied. I smelled the aroma of the rum as I took a sip, the sweet taste of the molasses lingering on my tongue as I swallowed the Havana Club. I heard a soft gasp and turned to my left. My lovely wife of three days was looking excitedly past the couples seated across from us to the window behind them. Outside, in the dark, a streetlight was illuminating a flutter of white particles. It was starting – the first snowfall of the season. It was the first week of December and the weather was overdue. I knew we’d be walking back up the hill tonight instead of calling for a van. She came here for this. Well, that was one of the reasons at least.
Her hand was on my leg. I put my hand on hers and her face turned to me. Her pretty face was aglow, excited and happy. “Do you want to go?” I asked her quietly.
“No. Stay and finish the story. I can wait,” she answered. She was nothing if not patient.
“Yes, finish,” urged the blonde from New Jersey. Patience was not one of her virtues. We had all learned that quickly, two days ago.
I nodded, tasted the rum again, and put the glass down. I opened my mouth to continue, but stopped when I saw George, our waiter, walking up. George was patient. You had to be to work in a place like this. The bad waiters didn’t stay long. The good ones stayed as long as they wanted.
“George, I assume you are coming to ask us, exceedingly politely, if we wouldn’t mind continuing this conversation in the bar so you can finish with our table and be done for the night?”
“Actually, sir, I was going to ask,” George answered me in a quiet voice, just above a whisper, “if you would let me listen in. I’m done everywhere else, and I’d really like to hear how the story ends. That is, if none of you mind.”
His request was unusual. The staff was forbidden from mixing with the guests. They were here to serve. The staff was one of the many things that made the resort so special.
I looked around. The dining room was just about deserted, except for us. Dessert dishes were almost empty, the coffee cups and after dinner drinks still present. I looked around the table. We all liked George. I knew no one would mind.
“Sure, George, pull up a chair. I would have thought a story like this would be something you hear all the time,” I offered.
“I hear stories like this a lot, but none as intriguing as yours. I’d love to hear how it ends,” he said, speaking to me but loud enough now to address the entire table.
“Then get yourself a drink from the bar, on me, and join us. I’ll wait.”
“It’s an all-inclusive resort,” Harold, from New York, said with a grin. “The drinks are free.”
I nodded. “In that case, get everyone another round on me.” That brought a ripple of laughter as George left for the bar. While we waited for him, a few of the ladies took the opportunity to visit the restroom. George returned a few minutes later with a tray and passed out fresh glasses all around. I noticed that he also had a glass for himself, and he took a chair at the next table. He was sitting outside our circle, but close enough not to miss a word.
“Now, where was I?” I asked, rhetorically.
“The lonely sands of Key West,” the curly redhead from Georgia reminded me.
I smiled. “Yes, the lonely sands of Key West.”
I stayed there for two days before returning home. Each day, I spent most of my time looking out over the water. Finally, though, I headed for home. Alone.
After that trip, I concentrated on my work. Oh, everyone tried to draw me out, to distract me. There were football games in the fall, concerts, even dinners with Ellen. I slept with her again a few times, but it was not the same. Before Cuba, I’d had sex with her. After Cuba, I knew – really knew – what it meant to make love. Sex wasn’t like that with anyone else – it couldn’t be like that with anyone else. Felicita had taught me how to love and how to be loved. She had taught me that making love with someone you were in love with was the best thing in the world. Mere sex with a friend couldn’t begin to compare. I made an effort, but my heart was still in Havana. I drifted away from Ellen, and even a little from my friends. Work was the only thing that kept me going.
Nothing much happened otherwise for about nine months after I returned from Cuba. The travel restrictions had been increased, pretty much eliminating the chance for me to return, even for a visit. I spent a lot of time listening to those CD’s I had bought in Pan.Com. I listened to them and remembered how we had danced the night away, our sweaty bodies grinding together to the beat. I looked at the pictures and remembered what we did after. I don’t mean just the naked ones. I looked at all the pictures of her, of us. My sex life at that time mostly consisted of thinking about Felicita and masturbating.
I slept particularly well one night, so well that I overslept the next morning. I usually checked the news in the morning, but that morning I didn’t have time. I rushed to get ready and dashed out to my car. I wasn’t late because I had gotten ready really quickly. On the drive, I was listening again to one of the CD’s from Havana. When it got repetitive I was too lazy to change the disc, so I hit the button for the radio.
The announcer’s voice burst forth in mid sentence. “-eating our top story, there are unconfirmed reports coming out of Cuba this morning that Fidel Castro, the longest serving non-monarch head of state in the world, has died.” The announcer now had my full attention. Unfortunately, the rest of the story didn’t contain much more information. The story must have just broken because details were still very sketchy. I frantically searched for any other station that had news. There wasn’t much. One station, in an attempt at being profound, was playing The Scorpions’ Wind of Change. Finally, I got to the all news AM station in town. They were talking about what the news (if it was true) would mean. I already knew that. I had thought it through thousands of times in my head. When I remembered that Ross had a television in his office I pushed the speed limit. Arriving in the garage, I parked and ran upstairs. I didn’t even head to my office first; I ran straight to Ross’s office. It was still a little early. Agnes wasn’t there yet, but the light was on in Ross’s office. I could hear a reporter speaking.
I burst in. Ross was standing in front of the small television, watching. He heard the sound of me entering. He never turned around. “You heard,” he said without expression.
I didn’t want to miss anything the announcer was saying so I nodded. Then I realized that Ross couldn’t see me so I added, “Uh-huh.” He moved aside so I could join him in front of the screen.
Very little was coming out of Cuba. The city was strangely quiet this morning. A rumor had leaked that Fidel had died during the night and the government wasn’t confirming or denying it. I wondered who was in control. The military? Raul? The Communist Party? Dissidents? I thought of Felicita. I wondered if she was scared – or excited. It had been nine months since I had left. Was she thinking of me? I couldn’t get her out of my mind, but nine months was a long time. Had she met someone else? I knew I’d have to be prepared for that, even if it hurt. It did hurt.
CNN paused for a commercial. The wait was agonizing. Ross finally spoke. “If it’s over, if it’s really over, you know what this means.” It was a statement more than a question.
“Damn right. I’m going in.”
“Not so fast. We don’t know if it has really happened yet. Even if it has, we don’t know which way the government is going to go. It might turn out worse. It might –“
“It might turn out for the best,” I interrupted. I was interrupted, in turn, by the return of the announcer. In spite of the confusion, there was a phone connection with a reporter in Havana. It was one of those bad ones with the webcam quality picture coming in over a satellite phone. Apparently there was a power failure in Havana and a shortage of gasoline for the truck’s generator so the regular satellite uplink wasn’t working. I leaned forward, trying to get every bit of information.
The reporter was repeating what I had already heard. There was a rumor running through Havana that Fidel had died during the night. The people were reacting with disbelief. Some workers were not going in to work, just wandering the streets. As a result, some services (like electricity) were faltering. When I had gotten all the new information and it became repetitious, I started speaking again. Through it all, we faced the television instead of each other, in case something new came on.
“I’m going in.”
“Chris, let’s not jump the gun. We’ll do it when it’s safe.”
“I’ll take the chance. I’ve done it before.”
“When Bill gets in, I’ll have him talk to his contact at the State Department. I want you to go back, but legally this time.”
I wanted to continue the argument, but I realized it was pointless.
“You’ll go back and find her, Chris. Just try to be patient.”
I nodded in response.
I heard the voice of Agnes behind us. She had popped her head in when she heard the TV. “I’m here if you need anything, Ross.” Then, to me, “It looks like you’ll be seeing her again soon.”
I turned around at that. “How did you know?” I asked, shocked. I glanced at Ross. He looked surprised as well and shook his head.
Agnes continued with, “Well, I knew about your trip from taking notes. Don’t you think I noticed how you have been moping around since you got back? I’m a woman - and a mother of teenagers. I know when someone is lovesick.” I grinned sheepishly and she smiled back. “Coffee?” Ross nodded but I shook my head. Agnes left and I turned back to the TV.
The station was filling time with “experts” discussing the possible transfer of power. Where did they come up with experts at this time of the morning?
Agnes returned with coffee for Ross and orange juice for me.
“Where did you find this?” I asked about the juice. Agnes just smiled as she turned and left.
Ross motioned to the sofa and we sat. It was going to be a long morning and we weren’t going to get any work done until the big question was resolved. We were still sitting there, watching CNN repeat what little they knew when Bill arrived, cell phone in hand.
“I heard. I already called my friend at State. They’re in a panic, trying to figure out what is going on. He was called in to the office early this morning. They don’t know anything more than CNN, he said.”
“Then they know nothing,” I answered. I sounded rather morose. Ross nodded in agreement.
Bill looked directly at me and, before I could ask, said, “I already asked. He said they aren’t giving out any licenses for travel until they know more. It has to come from the White House.” I deflated. “I’m not done yet, Christopher. I’ll keep at it.”
“Thanks.” I wanted to sound more grateful but couldn’t. Bill’s expression told me he understood.
It was another two hours before confirmation of Fidel’s death came in. When the announcement came, I spoke up. “I’m going to pull the folder.”
“Aren’t you jumping the gun? It’s a little early for the crash file.” Ross was just saying that to stall. We all knew this was our chance, what we had waited for.
I walked down the hall to my office and opened the wall safe. I removed the file that I had prepared months before. I don’t think a week had gone by when I hadn’t looked it over. I had wasted a lot of time daydreaming of this day. I put the thick file under my arm and headed back to the TV.
On the way, I saw my friend, Brian.
“Chris, did you hear the news about Castro?”
“Yeah, I saw it on the news.” I didn’t stick around to chat.
Minutes later, I was back on the sofa in Ross’s office. The scene was still the same. The ringing of Bill’s phone startled me. He answered it and began talking excitedly. He turned to me. “If you could go, how many people do you want to take?” I knew what he was referring to. “Two,” I answered. “No, three – one from the Cancun office.”
Ross turned around to face me. “Cancun?” he asked.
“I need a native Spanish speaker, for subtleties like reading contracts and cultural issues.” Ross nodded at my explanation. “Three American citizens, including me, and one Mexican,” I clarified for Bill. He nodded and repeated my sentence into his phone.
CNN was forgotten for the moment. All our attention was focused on Bill; he was on to something. I strained to make out what the person on the other end of the phone was saying, but I couldn’t quite hear it. I could hear a voice but it was just too low to make out the words. Waiting for Bill to finish the conversation and explain was torture.
At last, Bill hung up. The look on his face filled me with hope. I held my breath as he spoke.
“OK, they’ve gotten confirmation. He’s dead. They are giving our request for travel consideration.” He held up his hand to stop the outburst I was prepared to make. “It still has to be approved, and no one knows where the government’s going to go next. I think you’re first in line, though.”
“Thanks.” I only spoke one word, but the emotion behind it conveyed volumes. Bill nodded.
We watched the news some more and waited. I passed time by reviewing the file. I knew the contents by heart. I wrote it. After maybe half an hour, Ross turned to me.
“Who do you want to bring?” he asked.
“Brian. Stacy, too. They can handle this, and don’t have family ties so they might be willing to relocate for a few months. They work well together, too.”
Ross nodded in agreement. “I like the idea of a native Spanish speaker. Good idea.”
“I just hope I can find someone willing to go in with me.”
“It won’t be that hard. A Mexican can blend into the crowd a lot easier if things go bad.” He thought for a moment. “This time, we’ll be able to give you even more support. You’ll be legal. If things turn sour, we can call in the troops.”
The reports coming out of Cuba were talking about Raul trying to seize power. It wasn’t clear yet if the military was still backing him, or deserting. Raul was the head of the Cuban military, but only if the military stayed loyal. A lot could happen in the next few hours or days. I wasn’t sure I wanted to wait that long.
“How about if I go in now and the others follow when it’s safe?” I knew Ross wasn’t going to buy that, but I tried anyway.
He shook his head, but softened the inevitable blow with, “You’ll get to see her soon, Chris. Be patient a little longer.” His tone was soft, his voice a soothing salve on my aching heart.
We watched the repetitive reports, hoping for new information. The reporter in Havana said military units were seen moving around the city. Bill’s cell phone rang, making us all jump. Bill answered it. After a few words were exchanged, he looked at me and smiled, really big. Bill hardly ever smiled at me. Something was up. Something big. My heart leapt. My stomach lurched. Bill talked excitedly for a few minutes, then thanked the person on the line and hung up.
“He says the White House is interested in a show of good faith towards any new free government that might be trying to form. They made inquiries about a sign that trade restrictions would be relaxed if a democratic government came to power. Your case came up.”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. I was exuberant, and everyone nearby knew it.
Bill continued, looking a little more serious now. “I had to admit to him that you had been there before.” My stomach churned. “It’s OK. They were concerned about sending in someone who couldn’t take care of himself on the street. They are very interested in letting you go back.” I took a deep breath, but my stomach was still clenched. This might be the day I had been waiting for. “He’s going to need to know who we’re sending in. Get your team together and see if they are willing to go. I need to be able to give him names when he calls back.”
I nodded, too emotional to answer out loud yet. My eyes were tearing. I was nervous, excited and joyful. As anxious as I was, I still managed to give thought to the people I would be asking to accompany me. I was willing to take any risk, but it wasn’t right to subject them to risk. I was going there to find Felicita. To them, it would be a job. I picked up the phone on the table next to the sofa and called Brian. My heart thudded as the phone rang. Once. Twice. He answered. I struggled to maintain calm in my voice.
“Brian, I need to see you right away. Drop whatever you’re doing and meet me in my office in five minutes. Find Stacy and bring her along.”
“I think she’s in the middle of a proposal, Chris,” Brian told me.
“I don’t care. Tell her to drop it. My authority. This is important. I need to see both of you now.”
“OK, man. Is everything OK?”
“I’ll explain in my office. Oh, this is confidential. Don’t talk about it to anyone else, alright?”
“Sure. We’ll be there.” The sound of his voice indicated he was confused by my behavior.
I hung up the phone and picked up the crash file on Havana. “I’ll be in my office,” I told the others. “I’ll have your answer shortly. Call me there if you need me sooner.” Ross and Bill both nodded.
I walked out of the office and started towards my own. Realization hit me as I went down the hall. I was going back. Soon. Maybe even today. My knees felt weak as the thought crossed my mind that I would find out if she had waited for me. I had pined away for nine months for this moment. Now, I would soon face the reality of it. What if she hadn’t waited? I knew I needed to push that thought out of my mind. I had work to do so that I could get there.
When I got to my office, Brian and Stacy were already waiting, sitting on the sofa. They were talking, wondering what was up. I closed the door. I reached over my desk, pressed the Do Not Disturb button on my phone and made sure the microphone button was off, in case someone tried to buzz in. I sat down in the chair next to the sofa.
“Chris, what’s up? You look – I don’t know, scared or something.” Stacy’s face showed her concern for me. “You’re sweating, aren’t you?”
I held up my hand to silence her. “I have a story to tell you. It’s kind of long. It’s very confidential. What I’m about to say must not leave this office. If this gets out, the company can be in for trouble. I could be in for trouble. I could be prosecuted.” Their faces showed the shock my words induced. To their credit, they listened quietly.
“Almost a year ago, I went on a trip to Cancun. Well, that was the cover story anyway. I went to investigate a new location for the company. It wasn’t legal for me to do it. I took a big chance, at Ross’ request. That’s how I earned my partnership.” It was as if their faces had big question marks painted on them. I could feel their curiosity and their concern at what I was telling them. “I really went into Cuba. Covertly.” Stacy made a light gasp. Brian whistled. They both leaned towards me a little closer. If it wasn’t so serious, it might have been comical. I obviously had their full attention. “I spent a week there, looking into the business prospects of opening an office in Havana. I even scouted out personnel and locations. All this in case trade with Cuba opened up.”
“A crash file,” Brian said, his voice barely above a whisper.
I nodded. “A crash file,” I repeated as I held out the brown expandable wallet. I handled it almost reverently as I set it on the table in front of the sofa. “I had to break U.S. and Mexican laws to do it, but I did. The opportunities are excellent, especially if we’re first. Today, the game changed. Fidel is dead. William is in touch with the State Department right now trying to arrange a license to enter Cuba legally. They’re considering our request. When they call back, they will need to know who I’m bringing with me. Who’s up for a road trip?” I smiled when I said that last part. As serious as this was, I was trying to lighten the mood, for them.
They didn’t smile, at least at first. They were probably still in shock. They were trying to digest what I had just said. It wasn’t at all what they were expecting me to say when I arrived. I don’t think it dawned on them yet that I was asking them to come with me. Then, Stacy’s expression changed.
“You mean us, don’t you? You want us to go there with you,” she said. Her tone was almost dreamlike. The whole situation was surreal.
“Yes. If you want to. There is no pressure. There is a considerable element of danger in this. I hate having to ask you, but I need a staff. I trust the two of you more than anyone else in this company. I’ll also take someone from the Cancun office. We need a native Spanish speaker. It will be the four of us. It’s the chance to open a new branch, from the ground up. It’s a new world starting up over there, and whoever goes in first will help shape it.”
“Fuck.” That was all Brian said. He was thinking over my offer, considering the possibilities, weighing the risks.
“You’ll get big promotions, be major players in Cuban Operations. The company will make it worth your while, worth the risk. Think it over, but I need an answer soon. Any questions?”
“About a million,” Brian replied.
I laughed. “I know how you’re feeling right now. I really do. I went through this last year, when I was asked to go. You have something I didn’t. You have the benefit of talking to someone who has been there. You also have the problem that the game is changing over there. If Fidel’s brother, Raul, seizes power, all bets are off and the country remains Communist. If we’re in luck, we’ll just get kicked out of the country. If a democracy forms, we’re in on the ground floor. Cigars and Cuban rum for everyone.”
Brian’s face indicated he had reached a decision. “I’m in.” He sat all the way back against the cushion after he announced that.
“Are you sure? It’s still confusion over there. We don’t even know all the risks yet.”
“You know me. I’m always willing to try something new. When do we leave?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m still trying to get our government to give us permission to go. Maybe real soon. Maybe today or tomorrow.” That shocked them both. Again.
Stacy still hadn’t said anything. She was working out the possibilities – and risks – in her mind. She was like that. She thought things through first, where Brian preferred to jump in feet first. Together, they were a good team. They kept each other in check. I really wanted both of them.
When she spoke, her voice was so soft that I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly. “I’ll do it.”
Brian and I both turned to her. She, in turn, nodded to confirm what we thought she said.
“If anyone wants to back out, it’s alright. No questions asked. I really mean it. This is a big decision and we don’t know all the facts. No one does. There are few guarantees. The political situation over there could go either way.”
Brian’s next words reassured me that they were sure. “What do we do now? Pack a bag?” He smiled a little as he said that. It was a good sign. His normal personality was to joke a little when things got tense. He was working in his normal mode again. The shock was passing.
“Do you both have your passports here now? We may need a copy of the first page on short notice.”
“Mine is at home,” Brian replied.
“Mine, too,” Stacy added.
“Go get them, and pack a carry-on bag. Enough things for three days. Tropical clothes. It gets warm and humid down there. Keep the bag here at the office. I hope we have more notice when the time comes to go. Just in case we don’t, we have to be ready to leave quickly. When you get back, whatever you’re working on, dump it on someone else. Tell them it’s on my authority. You’re working on something else, just don’t tell them what it is yet. Clear out your schedules for the next month. We’ll talk more when you get back here. Look for me in Ross’ office.”
They both stood up. Brian looked at me. “Cuba, huh?”
“Yep,” I confirmed.
“Man, it’s always an adventure with you,” he said as he opened the door.
“It’s not just a job,” I retorted as they left.
Then, suddenly, I was alone in my office. I went around and sat at my desk, intending to check my own schedule, to clear it for the next month. Maybe permanently. Maybe. As I sat in the chair, my eyes rested on the only picture on my desk. The one that I had placed there nine months ago. The one of Felicita, driving her scooter through the streets of Havana. I looked at the picture. In my mind, I heard the putt-putt of the scooter motor, felt the tropical breeze in my face, saw the bright sun sparkling in her light brown hair. I felt my heart pound and I felt that funny tightness in my stomach again. Then I felt my cock stir. I thought of the feel of her body against mine. I remembered the way she undressed me slowly, ritualistically. I remembered how she wore thong panties our last night together. I relived that entire week in a few minutes. “I’m coming back, Felicita,” I said to no one, to the girl in the photograph. “I’m coming back. After Fidel.”
I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Was it a tear of happiness, fear, uncertainty? I would know, probably in a few days. I took a deep breath; only, it was a shuddering breath. I was awash in the emotions. I was going back! It was really happening. I got up and opened the wall safe. In the back of the dark interior was a small square box, covered in black velvet. I had placed it there months ago, to wait. I reached in and touched it, as I did often. Maybe I did it to prove to myself that it was real, that I had really bought it. This time, I knew I would be taking it out of there soon, bringing it with me.
I picked up my passport and closed the safe, then went back to Ross’ office. Bill was on the phone.
“I was just about to call you,” Ross said. “The State Department is issuing the license. You’re going.” He didn’t say it with excitement or joy. He just stated it. It was a fact. I felt the world spinning around me. I remembered a day, many months ago, when I sat in this very office and heard Ross say, “Cuba,” for the first time.
“When?” I asked.
“They want copies of the passports faxed over right away. You’ll probably be flying tomorrow. I have Agnes looking into reservations.”
“I sent Brian and Stacy home to get their passports and pack a bag. They should be back in an hour.”
“Good. It would be faster if you don’t wait for a charter flight. Can you make arrangements? You know, from Cancun?” Ross asked.
I was still carrying the crash file. I plopped it down on his desk. I pulled it open and searched for a particular folder. I pulled it out and found the telephone number. I picked up the phone and dialed 011, then 52, the international code for Mexico. The number for the travel agent came next. The phone rang a few times before a young woman answered. I asked for the man who had helped me so many months ago. I had to wait for the call to be transferred, and then I heard that voice again. It was the man who had gotten me into Cuba before. He remembered me. I told him about the trip. He tried to talk me out of it, to wait until things were settled over there. I explained what we were doing and why. I also told him we were going to have our government’s permission this time. He agreed to make the arrangements. This time the trip would be legal so we couldn’t use Cubana Air. I would fax the passports later so he could prepare the visas. I pulled out my company VISA card and read off the number to pay for the trip.
Next, I called the Cancun office and spoke to the manager there. I explained what I needed. He said he would speak to his staff and find someone to go with me. I thanked him and told him I would call back in the afternoon.
It was about that time when Brian returned. He handed me his passport. I checked that it was current and asked Agnes to copy the identification page. We discussed what had come out in the news while he was gone (almost nothing). While we were talking, Stacy came in. I asked her if she had second thoughts but she assured me she still wanted to go. I checked her passport and had it copied as well. When the copies of all three were ready, I handed them to William so he could fax them to the State Department, then I faxed them to the travel agent in Puerto Morelos. The process had begun. Again.
It was lunchtime now. Ross sent out for food so we could stay near the phones and the television. The power was still spotty in Havana. A short video segment had been shown. All I could discern was that the streets were kind of deserted. The airport was reportedly still in service. That was good news.
After we had eaten, I took Brian and Stacy back to my office. I decided to tell them about Felicita. If they were going to take the chance and go in with me, they deserved to know all my motives for making the trip. I explained how I met her, how she had helped me do the research, and how I had fallen in love with her.
“So that’s what’s been going on,” Stacy said when I was finished, in a pensive kind of way.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“When you got back, you were changed. Really different. It nearly drove Ellen crazy. She thought you two had something going before you left. It was never the same when you came back. She ended up in analysis.”
“I’m sorry it was hard on her. I tried. With Felicita, I realized what love was all about. I had never really had that before. Once I had learned the difference, sex without love just wasn’t the same – wasn’t worth the effort. I had met who I wanted to be with. My life partner.”
Brian spoke up next. “When was the last time you heard from her?”
It felt like a weight was dropped on me. “At the airport. We haven’t had any contact since I left.”
“What?” Brian exclaimed. “Nine months ago?”
“We couldn’t communicate. There had to be no trails connecting me to Cuba. I had hoped to go back for a visit, but the restrictions were raised. I also didn’t want to draw any attention to her; it might cause problems with her government.”
There was silence in the room for a few minutes.
It was Stacy’s voice that broke the silence. “So you don’t know if she is waiting for you.” The statement hung in the air like a bad smell. There was nothing anyone could do to clear it.
“No,” I finally answered, after thinking about what she said.
“Well, thanks for telling us this. It’s best we know the whole story ahead of time.” Brian’s tone was reassuring. I knew I needed to share this with them. I wasn’t sure if it would make them change their minds about going. I felt like he was still in. I wasn’t sure about Stacy. She was friends with Ellen and had seemed a little concerned about going at first.
“So the first thing we have to do when we get there is to make contact with her, right?” Stacy asked.
“Yes, after we get settled in the hotel. Not just for me. She is our local contact.”
“I know, but you’ll function better once you find her,” Stacy reasoned. “Where are we going to stay?”
“On the Malecon, at the Hotel Nacional. It’s a central location on the harbor, and close to the U. S. Interests Section.”
“Huh? What’s that?” Brian asked.
“It’s like the embassy, only we don’t have one there because we don’t have diplomatic relations. It operates under the auspices of the Swiss Embassy, and it is in the old U. S. Embassy building.” That seemed to satisfy Brian’s concerns.
“So, what’s Cuba really like?” Stacy asked.
“A lot like the movies. Tropical, but kind of run down. If it goes democratic and establishes relations with us, the influx of cash will rebuild the country. It’s beautiful, a great tourist destination. The agricultural possibilities are tremendous. The soil is so fertile.”
“Yeah, tobacco,” Brian added.
“More than that. Sugar, and just about anything else that grows in the tropics. The fruit grows bigger and tastier there. Tourism and agriculture are their biggest draws. They need to import almost everything else.”
“And the old cars?” It was Brian again.
“Yeah,” I said as I nodded and smiled. “Just like in the movies.”
“Cool,” Brian responded.
I answered a few more questions before we returned to Ross’ office. The State Department had acknowledged the receipt of our passports and the paperwork was underway. Havana was still in a state of confusion. The military seemed to be paralyzed. Everybody in the country seemed to be waiting to see what would happen.
About two o’clock, CNN reported that rumors indicated Raul was going to make a speech that afternoon. There was also a story going around that a group of dissidents were trying to contact top military officials. With so many people staying out of work that day, power and telephone exchanges were barely working. It was making it more difficult for either side to contact anyone. I was glad to see a democratic movement surfacing. I knew it was far from a sure thing, and the first attempt or two might fail. Still, Raul would get some opposition. There was also Ramon, but nothing I had ever heard made him seem like a force for any Cuban government to reckon with.
The rest of the day was like the morning, revolving about what was unfolding in Cuba. I called the manager in Cancun and he told me he had a translator for me. Gustavo was his name. He had been with the company for four years and was anxious for some travel and adventure. The only drawback was that he couldn’t travel for at least three days. I assured the manager that it wasn’t a problem because, even if we got to leave sooner than that, we wouldn’t need him the first few days anyway.
At the end of the day, Ross told us all to go home and get some rest. We needed to be alert tomorrow in case the opportunity opened up. I went home and lay down on the sofa. The stress must have really worn me out because I fell asleep right away. The ringing of the cell phone in my pocket woke me up. I had left the TV on, CNN droning away in the background.
“Hello?” I said into the phone.
“Chris? Chris, do you still want to go to Cuba, my boy?” It was Ross and he was excited.
“What? Cuba? When? What time is it? I think I fell asleep.” I was confused, the words tossing and tumbling through my brain.
“It’s eight o’clock. Bill’s friend called from the State Department. They want to use you as a ‘shining example of America’s commitment to the democratic future of Cuba’, or some crap like that. They’re issuing you a license. I caught Agnes at home. She’s finalizing flight arrangements for the three of you. You leave in the morning. Call the others and work it out. Agnes will call you directly when the arrangements are made.”
I wondered if I was dreaming. It would be a cruel joke to really wake up in a few minutes. I shook my head in an effort to clear it.
“OK, Ross. I’ll make sure we’re all ready.”
“Then get some sleep. You have a long day tomorrow. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Ross hung up.
I sat there in the living room, beginning to comprehend what had just transpired. I was going back tomorrow! I yelped for joy. Then I remembered something I had to do. I looked at my watch, my eyes finally cleared. It was 8:05 – still time to get to the mall before it closed. I ran out to my car.
On the way to the mall, I called Brian and told him the news. He was ready to go. I told him to get packed and be ready. I’d let him know the flight time as soon as Agnes called. Next I did the same with Stacy. She was also excited. When I go to the mall, I easily found a parking place near the entrance because it was getting close to closing time. I ran to the store I was looking for, hoping to get there before they closed. It was easy to spot Victoria’s Secret. Every man notices their window displays from a distance.
A young, trim salesgirl came over and politely offered to help. She probably thought I was a husband who had forgotten an anniversary. I explained what I needed and she took me to the right section of the store.
“What size is she?” the girl asked.
Shit! I had no idea. I looked her over, then the two other salesgirls. Anywhere else, it would have looked like I was being sleazy. Here, it probably happened all the time. “About her size,” I said, pointing.
The girl helping me smiled and started pulling out items for me to look at. “What color do you have in mind?”
“The colors don’t matter. An assortment would be fine. They just all have to be thong.”
“OK,” she said. “These are nice. I also have some in silk.”
I eyed the colorful array of panties and selected a dozen, some satin and some silk.
“I’ll take all of these,” I said. “Do you have matching bras?”
“Sure. Sized like her?” I nodded. “Would you like them gift-wrapped?” she asked, starting to fold my selections.
I thought about whether that would cause problems with getting through customs.
“Can you put them all in one pretty box, but without gift wrap? I have to fly with them, and go through customs.” She nodded at my request.
The store was closing as she rang up my purchase and I paid for it. I thanked her for her help at the last minute and left, the gate closing behind me.
I tried to think if there was anything else I needed. I couldn’t think of anything. The mall was closing but Wal-Mart would be open all night. I was going to miss stores open 24 hours a day. That’s all right. What I was going to get in return was much more than worth it. At least, I hoped that’s how it would go.
On the way home, my phone rang again. It was Agnes with the flight arrangements. We were flying out at 9 AM. I thanked her and she wished me good luck finding my ‘special someone’. I called Brian and updated him on our departure. I told him I was also going to call Stacy, but he told me she was with him and he’d pass the news on to her.
When I got home, I did the major packing. I had kept a small bag ready for months. Since I had time, I put together everything I thought I should need. I also packed a few books – some I had accumulated on Cuba and one of the Worst Case Scenario books. I had picked up one that covered wartime situations just in case. I might finally get a chance to use it. I also packed the box I had bought that night. On the way to the airport in the morning, I planned to stop by the office to pick up a few things I needed – files and other things in my safe. Whatever else I needed could be sent down later. I made a note to remind Ross that we would need credit cards drawn on Canadian banks. Whatever happens, the U. S. issued credit cards and travelers cheques won’t be usable there for some time.
Once I was packed, I tried to get some sleep. I lay there, unable to calm down enough to fall asleep. I remembered another night, about nine months ago, when I was too nervous to sleep. My thoughts drifted to Felicita, to how I might be sleeping with her in a few nights. That thought got me going. I lingered on it and found myself getting erect. I tried to think of other thoughts to get the erection to subside so I could sleep, but images of Felicita refused to disappear. I kept remembering our time together. Finally, I gave in to my libido. I reached into the nightstand for the KY Liquid and felt a box of condoms. I hadn’t had much need for them lately. Soon, I hoped to have a need for a lot of those. I would need to pick up a fresh box or two in the morning. I took out the lube and started stroking myself.
In my mind, I was in that room in the Nacional again, with her. I remembered the look of her naked body, her taste, her smell, her touch. I could hear her voice. I was slowly stroking myself. I wasn’t driving towards a climax; I was savoring the memories. My heart ached as I thought of my Felicita, of the time we had. In the darkness, my slick hand moved up and down my shaft, squeezing it and mimicking the feel of her pussy. I could hear the squick-squick sounds caused by the lubricant. I wondered what our first encounter would be like. I wondered if she would still want me. That thought caused my erection to wilt. A tear started down my cheek. I thought about trying to revitalize my erection but instead decided to get some sleep. I wiped the lube off my dick with a corner of the sheet and turned over. I fell asleep thinking of Felicita.
I don’t think I even dreamed. The alarm woke me up. For a moment, I wondered why I was getting up so early. Then I remembered. Today I was leaving for Cuba! I got up and jumped in the shower. I was ready to go in record time, even though I had hours before my flight. I still had a few things to do.
I took my car to the office. I decided to leave it in the garage there. Someone from the office would watch it, and run the engine from time to time. It also allowed me to stop at a drugstore along the way. From the office, I would take a taxi to the airport.
When I got to work, I went to my office. I picked up the crash file (there was a copy of most of it that would stay here for reference). The fax from the State Department was on my desk. Someone had put it there during the night. I also retrieved something from my office safe. I had bought it months ago, not knowing when I’d get to use it.
I walked over to Ross’ office to leave a note about the credit cards, but he was already there. I popped in and he greeted me with a smile.
“Today’s the big day,” he said cheerily.
“Yes. The big day,” I repeated happily.
“Find her, Chris. Whatever it takes, find her. If she waited for you, don’t let her get away.”
“Thanks. I know there is a chance she…”
“Don’t think like that. If you don’t look, you’ll never know. You’ll spend the rest of your life wondering.”
“I’ll look alright. It will be hard to do much else. Oh, don’t worry. I’ll get the work done as well.”
“Look first. I need you at your best and you need her. She can be a great help to us,” Ross reassured me.
“Thanks. I won’t let you down.”
Ross smiled broadly. He stood, walked over to me and clapped me on the back as he said, “Invite me to the wedding.”
I looked him in the eye. I didn’t know how to respond. Sometimes I think he knows me better than I know myself. I nodded, unwilling to trust my voice to answer.
I took a deep breath and got back to business. “We’ll need credit cards issued by a non-US bank. Can you get us some from Canada?”
“I’ll send them. What’s the best way?”
“DHL is a German company, so they can make deliveries there. I’m sure Fed Ex will setup an office once things are settled. In the meantime, I still have the Scotiabank debit card from last time,” I explained.
“I’ll see that funds are deposited into that account today. You’ll be getting new credit cards in a few days. Call me when you get checked in at the hotel so we have a phone number to call.”
“Thanks, Ross. For everything. For giving me this chance.”
“I know,” Ross told me. “Now go. You have to meet your team at the airport and catch a plane.”
He hugged me like a father would hug a son going off to college. I turned and left.
In the cab, I thought over what Ross had said. The wedding? Well, that’s what this could eventually lead to. That’s what I was planning for. It just sounded funny to hear it out loud.
When I got to the airport, I called Brian’s cell phone to find out where he was. I met up with him. Stacy was already there. We spent most of the wait (and the flight to Cancun) making further plans. I realized that we hadn’t had a lot of time to talk about this. That’s where the crash file came in handy. They looked through it and it jogged my memory as we talked. Whenever we paused, I thought of Felicita. I had brought along a notebook computer. On it were the photographs and notes I had taken the last time. The photographs of her, as well. I had each of them memorized. Every moment, I was moving closer to her now.
Before long, we landed in Cancun. The last time I came through Mexican customs was when I returned from Cuba. Now I was going back. I won the Mexican lottery this time. I got a green light, as did the other two. We didn’t have to stop for a baggage inspection. I hoped that was a good omen for the rest of the trip.
After entering the country, we picked up a rental car at Hertz and drove down to Puerto Morelos. I was terrified the last time I did this. This time, I couldn’t wait. We took care of business with the travel agent. He was from Cuba (something I didn’t learn last time), so we talked about what was happening over there. He knew a little more, but not much. He was concerned about his family and friends. The only way to get information was to be on the street – and that was just what we were going to do. He already had the paperwork ready, so he handed us tickets and the other documents for a flight on the next day. This time, it wasn’t so scary seeing my name and passport number on a document issued by the Republic of Cuba.
I drove us back up the coastal road to Cancun and we checked into a hotel for the night. When Brian and Stacy offered to share a room, I raised an eyebrow, but things started to make a lot of sense. I smiled at them, a warm smile. Their secret was safe with me, and they knew it. In the morning, we were taking a TACA flight to Havana. Traveling legally, we couldn’t use Cubana Air. We had dinner together at the hotel. We were going to make it an early night because we didn’t know what tomorrow would hold. We could potentially be going into a war zone. After dinner, Brian and Stacy headed off together. I walked out of the hotel and to the beach. The last time I had stood at the water’s edge was in Key West. This time, I was hours away from going back. I looked to the east where, a hundred miles away, lay an island and my destiny. Tomorrow I would be there. Would I find Felicita there? Would we be together tomorrow night? Those questions I couldn’t answer yet. I’d find the answers soon, though.
I walked back to my room and got into bed. As nervous as I was about finding the answers to those questions, it did thrill me to think that she could be in my bed tomorrow night. I drifted off to sleep with a smile, thinking of Felicita.
I had asked for an early wake up call. I wanted to see the latest news from Havana before breakfast. The ringing phone woke me from a restful sleep. I was hugging a pillow and dreaming of walking on the beach with Felicita. I answered and thanked the desk clerk for the call. I turned on the TV and found CNN. They got it, like most of the Caribbean (including Cuba), by satellite. The situation in Cuba was still a top news item. Raul had made his speech yesterday. He praised his dead brother and vowed to keep Cuba “free” in Fidel’s memory. It was funny how all Cuban governments praised the freedom of the country, regardless of their own brand of oppression. It was an emotional appeal designed to rally the country behind him. A grand state funeral was planned for Fidel, complete with his lying in state in the capitol. It was an irony, given the similarity in design to the U. S. capitol building and our practice of honoring deceased presidents the same way. Fidel’s casket would be placed in front of the giant bronze statue, about over where the big diamond used to be set in the floor.
Raul’s speech was not what I was looking for. I had hoped for something else. Finally, the reporter mentioned it, giving it only a little airtime. She spoke about a group of dissidents who were planning to protest the funeral. I could see in her expression that she was trying to be very careful with her words to not anger the Communist government in case they were successful. I realized that, before the end of the day, I’d probably be doing the same thing. The democratic movement was still alive. The military had not taken steps to crush it. That might mean the military was considering all its options and not falling in line obediently behind Raul. Just what I was hoping for.
The other thing I was looking for wasn’t mentioned on the news, about whether the airport was still open. No news might be good news. There were no reports of fighting. I called the airline to be sure and our flight was still on schedule. I got ready, repacked what I had taken out the night before, and went down to the dining room for breakfast. Right after I was seated, Brian and Stacy showed up.
“Did you sleep well last night?” I asked cheerily.
Stacy blushed and Brian averted his eyes.
“Sorry. Too much information. None of my business. Forget it. How about breakfast?” I hedged. I realized what kind of night they had really had, and didn’t want to pry. It really was none of my business. I was sorry I had embarrassed them.
“It’s alright,” Brian reassured me. “You just caught us off guard.” We had a laugh about it. “So, boss, what’s the game plan for today?”
“The airline says the flight is still on. There are no reports of fighting in the city, so we’re going in. I just don’t know how long we’ll be staying.”
The others nodded and thought that over as we ordered. I had a big breakfast, not knowing what lunch would be like. I encouraged the others to do the same, but Stacy still looked a little nervous and ate lightly.
We discussed what we might find in Cuba as we ate. The first plan was to get to the hotel and check in, and then contact the U. S. Interests Section. We were supposed to keep them apprised of our location. I supposed they wanted to be able to evacuate us if necessary. We tried to keep the conversation as cheery as possible, mostly for Stacy’s sake. Brian was an adventurer like me. This was all a grand expedition to him. I made a mental note to keep a close eye on Stacy.
We took a taxi to the airport and checked in at the TACA counter. I remembered how nervous I had been the last time I did this, and told the story to my companions.
“Were you really looking over your shoulder the whole time?” Brian asked.
“Yes, it was quite cloak and dagger. This is so much more relaxed. Ironic, with what’s going on over there.” We shared a nervous laugh.
Also contrary to my last journey, this time the plane was almost empty. There weren’t many people trying to get into Cuba today. I hadn’t heard if people were trying to take advantage of the confusion and get out of the country, but I wondered about it.
We boarded the plane and prepared for take-off. I had my usual window seat, Brian and Stacy next to me. As the plane was essentially deserted, they moved to the seat across from me on the other side of the plane. Brian held Stacy’s hand during take-off. She was really getting nervous.
The flight across the Yucatan channel was uneventful. I got up and pointed out the coast when we crossed it. Brian and Stacy looked eagerly at the countryside below, seeing the “forbidden land” for the first time. I had seen it all before. My interest was in looking for signs of troop movement, but I didn’t see any. No convoys on the highways, no troop deployments apparent from that altitude. Only the rich red soil and dark green crops.
Our landing in Havana looked pretty much like my first time there. There were other planes on the ground, mostly Cubana Air. We taxied to the international arrival terminal. This time, we were the only aircraft there. As we deplaned, I noticed the first difference. There were soldiers on the ground, but they seemed… confused. They weren’t as attentive at guarding the aircraft. It just looked like they weren’t sure what they should be doing. As before, we were herded into the white and blue building to await our turns in immigration. My thoughts were a flurry. What would I find outside the building? Would the democratic government succeed or be crushed? And the big one – was there a brown haired scooter driver waiting for me out there somewhere? I had returned to Cuba.
To Be Continued in
Chapter 2 –
This story is Copyright © 2004 by Strickland83. All rights reserved.
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