The Cuban Affair - Chapter Two
A well-dressed man came through the open double doors and I knew it was Carlos. He was good-looking, maybe late thirties, with a full head of well-styled brown hair and pale skin. He wore neatly pressed beige linen slacks, Gucci loafers, and an expensive-looking Polo shirt the color of my lime wedge. I had the impression of a man who had stood in his air-conditioned walk-in closet this morning trying to figure out what to wear to Key West to blend in. Unfortunately he failed. But no one here is judgmental, and in fact some of the gay clientele seemed intrigued.
I’d chosen to dress up a bit for the meeting and I wore clean jeans, boat shoes instead of flip flops, and a designer T-shirt that said: “Designer T-Shirt.”
I knew Carlos hadn’t picked me out of the Yellow Pages, so he knew something about me and he’d determined that Daniel Graham MacCormick might want to work for him. Well, maybe I did, but I damn sure wasn’t going to make a midnight run to Cuba.
Carlos spotted me at the bar and walked toward me. He put out his hand. “Carlos.”
“Mac.” We shook.
“Thank you for meeting me.”
When someone thanks me for meeting him, he has something to sell me. Or Carlos was just a polite gentleman. He was probably third generation and he had no Cuban accent, but you can tell that these people are bilingual by their well-modulated English and their slightly skewed syntax. Also, a lot of them used their Spanish first names, so he wasn’t Carl. I asked, “What are you drinking?”
He looked at my Corona. “The same.”
I caught Amber’s attention and ordered two Coronas.
Amber checked out Carlos, liking what she saw, but Carlos didn’t notice because he was checking out the Green Parrot, not sure of what he was seeing. I could have met Carlos on the boat, but something told me that I should meet him in a public place, and he had no objection to that, which was good for starters. Plus, he could pick up my bar tab.
Amber gave Carlos his Corona with a lime and a smile, and slid mine across the bar.
Carlos and I clinked and he said, “Cheers.”
I noticed he was wearing a Rolex. I asked him, “You been to Key West?”
“How’d you come?”
It’s about a four-hour drive from Miami, down U.S. One, known here as the Overseas Highway, which connects the hundred-mile-long archipelago of islands, bridge by bridge, until it reaches Key West, the last island, ninety miles from Cuba. Some people say it’s the most scenic drive in America; others find it a little nerve-wracking and take a boat or plane the next time. Or never come back. Which is fine with some of the full-time residents of independent means. I, however, depend on mainland customers. Like Carlos. Who drove four hours to see me. “So what can I do for you?”
“I’m interested in chartering your boat for a cruise to Cuba.”
I didn’t respond.
“There is a fishing tournament, sailing from here to Havana in a few weeks.”
“Does the Cuban Navy know about this?”
He smiled. “This is an authorized event, of course—the Pescando Por la Paz.” He reminded me, “We are normalizing relations. The Cuban Thaw.”
“Right.” I’d heard about the new fishing tournament with the double-entendre name—Pescando Por la Paz, Fishing for Peace— but I wasn’t involved in it. Back in the Nineties, before my time, there used to be regular fishing tournaments and sailing regattas between the U.S. and Cuba, including the seventy-year-old Hemingway Tournament, but George II put a stop to all that. Now it was opening up again. The Cuban Thaw. The Key West Chamber of Commerce even had a new slogan: “Two Nations, One Vacation.” Catchy. But not happening yet.
Carlos asked, “So, are you interested?”
I drank some beer. Well, maybe this was all legit, and Carlos didn’t want me to sail into Havana Harbor and blow up The Maine, or rescue some dissidents or something.
I had some questions for Carlos—like who was he—but questions mean you’re interested. And that means the price is open to negotiation. “I get twelve hundred for an eight-hour day. Tournament rates depend on variables.”
Carlos nodded. “This is a ten-day event, beginning on Saturday the twenty-fourth, and returning on Monday, November second—the Day of the Dead.”
“The . . . ?”
“What we call All Souls’ Day in the U.S.”
“Right. Sounds better.” A fishing tournament is usually four to six days, but Carlos explained, “The tournament fleet first makes an overnight goodwill stop in Havana, then the fleet sails to the tournament in Cayo Guillermo, a day’s cruise east of Havana. Do you know this place?”
“It was the favorite deep-sea fishing place of Ernesto.” He smiled. “Hemingway, not Guevara.”
That must be an old Cuban joke.
He continued, “It was the setting for his famous book, Islands in the Stream. Have you read it?”
“So you know the place already. Some of the best pelagic fishing in the world.”
I was impressed that he knew what “pelagic” meant. The price just went up.
“The tournament is for bill fish—sailfish, swordfish, and marlin. Are you available?”
“Maybe. That’s a lot of diesel. Let’s say three thousand a day.”
He seemed to be doing the math, and if he was good at it, that came to thirty thousand. Which I could use. I don’t usually do a pitch, but I told him, “The Maine sleeps four comfortably, or five close friends. My first mate and I give up our berths. Price includes fishing gear, fuel, bait, and whatever. I assume this is catch and release, because I can’t keep big fish on ice. You supply the food and drink, and I need to see your license and permits for Cuba.” I reminded him, “Florida does not impose a sales tax on charter fishing, so thirty thousand is the total with no extra charges except a tip for the first mate at let’s say ten percent. I don’t take tips.” I also told him, “I’d have to cancel some previous bookings.”
“Your website shows only one booking in that time period.”
“Really? I need to update that. So, that’s the price.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Mr. MacCormick.”
“Captain.” He glanced around. “Let’s get a table.”
“There are some other details you need to know.”
Well, I was afraid of that. “Look . . . Carlos, I do charter cruises. Fishing, sightseeing, sometimes a party cruise. I guess I can do a tournament— even to Cuba—but I don’t do other things. Understand?”
Carlos didn’t reply and his silence said it all.
“But thanks for thinking of me.” I asked Amber to give the bar tab to Carlos and I wished him a safe trip back to Miami.
He replied, “Two million.”
“You heard me.”
I said to Amber, “Hold that tab.” I said to Carlos, “Let’s get a table, amigo.”