The Cuban Affair - Chapter Three
We took our beers to a back table and sat.
I can’t imagine how many shady deals have gone down in this place
over the last hundred and twenty-five years, but if the Green Parrot
could talk, it would say, “Show me the money.”
“Two million,” I said.
“For a fishing tournament.”
“No. That’s thirty thousand. Certified check up front. The two million is cash, payable on completion of a job in Cuba.”
“Sounds like a tough job.” I asked, “With whom would I be doing business?”
Carlos took a business card out of his pocket and slid it across the table.
I looked at it. Carlos Macia, Attorney. He had a good South Beach address, but there was no name of a law firm.
He said, “I’m well-known in Miami.”
“For being heavily involved with anti-Castro groups.”
I left the card on the table and looked at Carlos Macia. Odd as it sounds, I was happy to be dealing with a lawyer. Some of these anti-Castro guys were cowboys, sometimes hare-brained, and often dangerous to themselves and others. I looked at him. “Who recommended me?”
“Explain what you need, Counselor.”
He looked around the crowded room. “The walls have ears.”
“Actually, they have termites. And no one here cares what we’re talking about. Look, Mr. Macia, you have offered me two million dollars and it will not surprise you that I could use the money, but—”
“You can pay off your bank loan on The Maine.”
“But I will not do anything illegal for the money.”
“I would not ask you to. I am an attorney.”
“And your amigos? Are they attorneys?”
“No. But I can assure you, the only laws you’ll be breaking are 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.”
On the subject of death, taxes, and getting caught, I asked Carlos, “How dangerous?”
“That’s for you to determine when you hear about the job.”
“How dangerous, Carlos?”
“Cuba is dangerous.”
“You expect me to risk my life for a measly two million taxable dollars?”
He looked at my bare arms. The shrapnel and burn scars didn’t tan well. “You risked your life for far less in Afghanistan.”
“It was a government job. Free medical.”
“You were awarded the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. So you’re no stranger to danger.”
I didn’t reply.
“This is why we thought of you.”
Again, I didn’t reply.
“And you have a good boat.” He smiled. “And I like the name. The Maine. Very symbolic. Part of our shared history.”
“I named it after my home state. Not the battleship.”
“Yes, you’re from Portland. And you have no family responsibilities here, and no one to answer to except yourself. Also, we know that as a former Army officer you are a man we can trust.”
“Sometimes I drink too much.”
“As long as you don’t talk too much. Also, you have no ties to the anti-Castro groups, and I assume you have no positive feelings toward the Communist regime. Correct?”
“Between you and me, Carlos, I don’t give a damn one way or the other.”
“So you say. But if I had to bet money—and I do—I’d say you’d like to see those Communist bastards gone.” He smiled again. “You could run charters to Havana.”
“I can do that when relations improve.”
“Don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile, I have two million dollars on the table.”
I looked at the table. There was nothing there except his card and an ashtray. You can still smoke in this joint. I said, “The thirty thousand for the tournament sounds good.”
“Captain, I don’t really care about the tournament. That’s just the cover, as you know. In fact, you will not be sailing to Cuba on The Maine. Your first mate, Jack Colby, will. We will supply another crew member along with three avid fishermen. You will be flying to Havana on an authorized charter with one of my clients, and at some point after your job is done you will meet up with your boat and sail it out of Cuba.”
“With what onboard?”
He leaned toward me. “About sixty million dollars of American currency. Two of which are yours to keep.”
Carlos looked at me. “You’ll have to negotiate that with my clients.”
“Okay. And how’s my first mate compensated?”
“That’s up to you.” He informed me, “Mister Colby does not need to risk his life, and therefore does not need to know many of the details.”
“Who else is risking their lives?”
“A few others.”
“No. I am persona non grata in Cuba.”
“Right.” Well, I’d promised myself in the hospital that I’d be more careful in the future. But . . .
Carlos glanced at his Rolex. “I think I’ve given you enough information for you to decide if you’d like to hear more from my clients, who are available now.”
I thought about that. The mission briefing. I’d volunteered for dangerous missions because it was for my country. This was for money. A lot of it. And maybe it wasn’t as dangerous as Carlos thought. For Carlos, a Miami lawyer, driving back to Miami after dark was dangerous. But for me, the danger bar was so high that even now, four years after Afghanistan, I felt there wasn’t much I couldn’t handle. But maybe that’s how I wound up in the hospital.
Carlos said, “My client, who will fly with you to Havana, can speak to you tonight. She will be very honest with you.”
“Also, to be honest, we are interviewing others for this job.”
“Take the lowest bidder.” I stood. “And please take care of the bill.”
Carlos stood. “I can have my two clients at your boat in fifteen minutes. You should hear what they have to say.”
“I’ve heard enough.”
He looked very disappointed. “All right. I’ll let my clients know. Or . . .
I have an idea. You can let them know yourself. Can we charter your boat for a sunset cruise tonight? What do you charge for that?”
Carlos was slick. Or thought he was. I should have said, “Adios,” but I said, “Make me an offer.”
“How many people?”
“Three, including me.”
“Meet me at my boat in half an hour. What do you drink?”
“Cuba Libre.” He smiled.
“See you later. Give the barmaid a good tip.”
I walked through the noisy barroom, waved to Amber, and went out to Whitehead. Close by was the Zero Mile Marker for U.S. Highway One, the literal end of the road that started in Maine. I’ve had a lot of profound thoughts about that, usually fueled by a few beers. And I just had another thought: A journey of a hundred miles to Havana begins with a single misstep.