Monday, January 25, 2010

Excerpt -- Havana: Killing Castro


Pepe didn’t arrive in an hour, as promised. It was nearly two hours later that Raymond answered the knock on the door. This left him ample time to unpack, shower, change into fresh clothes, and get organized.

“Raymond!” Pepe cried effusively and gave him a bear hug. “Long time no see!”

Pepe’s cancer was definitely in remission, Raymond decided. His cheeks had a healthy pinkish color, and his eyes projected an intensity that wasn’t there the last time they saw each other.

“Fidel, how nice to see you.” Raymond returned the hug, speaking loudly and carefully for the benefit of the two muscular black bodyguards behind Pepe. He noted they had physiques and facial expressions similar to Marcela’s. He wondered what had happened to the old bodyguards. Maybe it’s a matter of security, he thought. The old bodyguards knew Fidel too well. “It has been a long time indeed. You’re looking good.”

“I feel good. You don’t look so bad yourself, Raymond. Still run every day?”

“Every morning.”

“You look healthy and fit.”

“Gracias, Fidel—so do you.”

“I brought good Cuban rum and hierba buena so we can drink some mojitos while we talk.” Pepe laughed loudly, showing a brown paper bag to Raymond. “You like?”

“I like.” Raymond smiled back and stepped aside to let him enter.

“Por favor, come in.”

“You stay outside,” Fidel instructed the two bodyguards. “Watch the door, and don’t let anyone interrupt us.”

“Sí, mi Comandante!” the two men shouted as one, clicking their heels and saluting smartly. “You will be undisturbed.”

“What’s with your new security personnel?” Raymond asked as soon as the door was closed and he was certain he couldn’t be overheard. “You seem to have changed everybody.”

He slumped on the living room sofa. Pepe sat on a chair across from him.

“It’s Raul’s idea. He and Fidel are great believers in Santeria. All the people in charge of my security now are Abakuas.”



“What’s that?”

“It’s a secret organization that believes in African gods, very tight. It’s very difficult to become an Abakua. And they’re very loyal.”

“Is it safe for you?”

“The religion?”

“The security.”

Pepe nodded. “Security is tighter than ever. These people take their job very seriously. It’s a matter of honor with them.”


Pepe made a face, pursing his lips as if he had bitten into a lemon, and Raymond stared curiously at him.

“Something wrong?” Pepe was smiling at him. “Hey, I’m talking to you, Raymond!”

“No, nothing’s wrong. Why do you ask?”

“I was talking to you, and you were in limbo.”

“Disculpa, Pepe. What were you saying?”

“The code of honor of the Abakuas is well known and feared in Cuba. An offense to one of them can lead to a knife duel to the death.”

“Sounds like a pretty bloody group,” Raymond said, watching Pepe’s hands, which seemed smaller and less gnarled than he remembered.

“And you feel safe with them?”

“They are very honorable.” Pepe threw his head back and laughed. It was obvious that the years of impersonating Fidel Castro had changed his friend. “Well, Raymond, are you going to help me fix some mojitos, or are we going to sit here and talk all afternoon?”

“Both, I hope.” Raymond grinned. “I didn’t know you could make good mojitos.”

“Not good, Raymond—great. I had to learn to make great mojitos to impersonate Fidel. Remember, it was his favorite drink.”

“I remember.” Raymond rose from the sofa. “Well, let’s go make a batch of mojitos so we can continue our conversation. We have much to talk about. What are we waiting for?”

“Let’s go.”

Pepe stood, and Raymond followed him to the small bar in the corner. As kids, he used to be nearly a head taller than Raymond was, and now he seemed to be almost the same size. Something was different.

Maybe it was the aging process. Maybe his own memory was failing him.


“So what did you want to talk to me about, Raymond?” Pepe stretched on his chair to clink glasses and then took a long pull of his mojito, drinking with his pinkie finger straight up. Raymond shook his head in disbelief as he sipped from his own glass. He put his glass on the table as Pepe gazed at him. “You said it was important.”

“It is.”

“You know who killed Fidel?”

“You mean the fisherman shot dead in Mexico?”

“Yes.” Pepe drained the rest of his drink in one mighty gulp and stared at his empty glass. “Ready for another, Raymond?”

“Not yet.”

“Mind if I have another?”

“Go right ahead.”

“Keep talking.” Pepe leaned forward to refill his glass from the pitcher on the table, settled back in his chair, and took another pull of his drink. “I can drink and listen at the same time. You know who killed the fisherman?”

“I think so.”

“And that’s the reason you’re here?”

“Not really, Pepe. I came to confirm information—and to talk to you in person. As you always say, you never know who’s listening on the phone. By the way, where is Raul?”

“He’s going to join us for dinner tonight. Drink up, Raymond. I’m already finishing my second, and you haven’t really started on your first.”

Raymond sipped his drink thoughtfully. “Remember what you said to me a couple of years ago in Miami?”

“I said many things to you in Miami, Raymond.”

Pepe drained his glass and served himself another. This time he didn’t ask for permission.

“True. I mean, do you remember how you convinced me to come to Cuba with you? You told me that story about us as kids and how you had saved my life?”

“Of course I remember.” Pepe gulped greedily from his third drink.

“Do you? Tell it to me again.”

Raymond laughed amiably. “The same old Pepe, testing me out.”

Pepe laughed too.

“Okay, I’ll tell you—so you’ll know I still remember that story. We were in the park, and I got in a fight with Marcelino. He pulled a knife on me and tripped me. He was about to plunge the knife into me when you knocked him out with a punch. I’d never seen someone hit with such force. Marcelino’s head hit the grass so hard he was out cold several minutes. We were so scared you had killed him, remember?”

“Of course I remember,” Pepe said.

Raymond rose slowly, glowering at Pepe.

“That’s not the story. In the real story, you saved me from drowning in the Almendares River—remember? You’re not Pepe Orozco. And you sure as hell are not Fidel Castro either.” He leaned forward and said in a sharp voice, watching the man’s face blanch, “Who are you?”

Havana: Killing Castro is a 2009 Readers Favorite Awards winner, and is now available as an eBook from Eternal Press, and also in print and eBook format from and selected booksellers.

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