Shelter(ed) Day 6 -Back to Havana

Shelter(ed) Day 6 -Back to Havana

Chapter 6 – Information is Power


Illustration- Sal at the phone in the Riviera Lobby- Ermitas Blanco

Everyone talked about how “hot” Havana was in the 50’s. The Music. The Cars. The Booze. The Clubs. The Casinos. The Girls. The Celebs. The Money!

But no one ever talked about the most saleable thing in town. The Mob wanted it. The Generalissimo wanted it. The Gossip Columns wanted it. The FBI wanted it. Even the Revolutionaries wanted it. And getting it just took a little bit of hustle, and some decent connections…


By 1957, Batista’ had formed a secret police ( Buró para Represión de las Actividades Comunistas, or BRAC) to keep tabs on Revolutionaries that threatened to upset his racket. Having endured years of tumult, The General had actually retired to Florida at one point, only to return to run the country into the ground one more time. To stem the tide, he employed thousands of secret —  and not-so-secret police — to investigate anything that threatened the regime. Usually, they didn’t pay for information, but would trade in kind which was helpful if managed properly. 

The Mob had it’s network of snitches as well, eager to protect the massive skim they had: from casinos to horse races to numbers to parking meters. Between the Nacionale, San Souci, Riviera, Tropicana, The Havana Racetrack and the Hilton,  Havana was the largest gaming city in the world, dwarfing Vegas at the time. They ran bolitos, the numbers lottery popular with the poor, for the benefit of the infirm (skim, notwithstanding). They even collected the parking meters and split the profits with the General’s brother. If Batista escaped to Dominica with a billion, the mob must have pocketed four times that much – and that was in 1950 dollars!

And the tabloids were just as hungry for information, albeit of a different kind. Celebrities, businessmen, diplomats and other pillars of America would escape to Havana to party —  and worse. It didn’t take long for sleuths to follow them into this Eden, snapping pictures and selling headlines to the highest bidder. 

At the center of this maelstrom of whispers was Sal, a trained expert not only in gathering information, but dribbling it out crumb by crumb to the highest bidder(s). He confirmed that Vin was good for the regular fee before he started in.

“Vin, I’ve got something for your boss,” he said into the phone in the Riviera lobby, as Vin sat in his boss’ Suite at the Capri. “The three are still here. The American guy is a card shark. He pulled [10G’s] from Table Five last night. The girl seems to be hitting it off with the driver, and they’re headed to Bacardi headquarters. They must know one of the bigs there, ‘cause nobody gets their hands on the Carta Blanca private stock outside of the direct family…Yeah, there was a bottle of it sitting right outside their cabana at the Riviera.”

“Go on, I have the boss listening in.” 

“I can’t tell if the driver is from ‘now’ or ‘then’- he knows the cars and knows the town, that’s nothing special. But he says things like ‘mid century’ and shit. He’s sure as hell resourceful though- got that car re-started within minutes yesterday on the Malecon.”

“But the American buck, he’s the wild card. I’ve never see anyone play cards like that! He wins at will.  Hell, he even ties at will when he wants to keep celebs at the table. Thing is, the bottle of Bacardi that ended up at his table – it wasn’t from a waiter. It was the same guy from the Trop last night, and I suspect the one you were chasing from the Nacionale. If he was in the back gardens, he would have overlooked the wave and seen them coming up to the hotel. He knew they’d be at the Nacionale, he knew they’d be at the Trop, and somehow he knew they’d at the Riviera pool today. They must be passing messages, but I haven’t figured out how.”

“But, if the young Latino knows they’re time travellers, and he’s passing them messages, he must know the key to the puzzle. The Latino scooted out first, but the American got a suite at The Riv big enough for everyone. The girl and the driver are headed towards you and the Old Town.”

“Great work, Sal; I’ll leave an envelope at the regular drop.”

Sal dialed the next number, repeated a similar version of the same story and a similar payoff from his handler with BRAC. After a few  seconds of pleasantries, he was cut short… “We got that already…”


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I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.