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09TH April 2020

Creative problem Solving - Havana Culture - Timeless - Timely - Uncategorized

Shelter(ed) Day 8 – Back to Havana


Chapter 8 – Nicola’s Humidor

Illustration- Jorge, the Humidor and the smoking room above the car garage

Jorge had slipped back to his garage on Calle 21 without much trouble. He hadn’t seen the mobsters all day, and the agent from the Trop had been in the Riviera lobby — but so what: Havana was full of prying eyes.

Sunset would be soon, so if he wanted to get back to “1957” by dark, he would have to hustle. He’d left enough clues for the Americans to pique their interest, should they want to team up in the future (or what constitutes the future).  Still, he didn’t want to move too fast, since they’d just “landed.” Most people took days to orient themselves to this new “time”, then they’d decide on the big question: stay with it or get back to their own era?

Jorge, on the other hand, was already pushing the limits of Time Travel. He’d made the trip so many times that his organs were beginning to feel the strain from the constant switching, and his belly bled from it. Too many more “jumps,” and he’d disintegrate from the inside. That was ample reason to stay put in 2017 for awhile: to get medical treatment, preferably in the States, not in 1957 Havana. And to teach a protege’ who could continue the work.

So he prepared to jump back to 2017 in the only way he knew how.

He pulled Nicola’s Humidor down from it’s spot, took out one of the fuses and fit it into the timer on the top of the carved wooden box.  Then he set the “destination” time. He took out a Churchill Cohiba, removed a paper wrapper similar to the one he’d slipped into Finn’s pocket at Table Five, snipped the end with his grandfather’s cutter, and then lit a match. This was another reason to “travel” with another person: two people could fill a room with cigar smoke a lot faster than one could. He added that detail to his tiny notebook, poured from the other bottle of Carta Rum and began to puff. 

As cigar smoke filled the room, and sunlight streamed through the western window in his mezzanine salon, he gazed down at the shop floor below, bumper to bumper with classic cars, and thought of his grandfather Michaele…

The man loved his cars. The faster, the better. And women. The faster, the better as well. It’s where Jorge and Michaele had bonded, on lazy Saturday afternoons, fixing and tuning everything from Chevy Corvettes to a Ferrari 860s in his garage. Sundays were for racing, and Jorge would sit and watch his grandfather, his dad and his buddies on the track for hours. 

After the races, everyone would adjourn to the shop, the “Man Cave” for that era. Jorge would sit and listen to Michaele regale his friends with tales of conquest, from the hard-to-find Ferarri in his sights, to the next crazy science experiment he had planned in his little lab. If his grandfather had loved cars and women, he was even more fascinated with experiments. Before he died back in the ‘40s (out of money, but full of ideas), his friend Nicola had stoked his interest in science. Jorge always wondered, why did Michaele lend money to a “mad scientist” who couldn’t pay his hotel bills? As a tinkerer himself, maybe his grandfather was intrigued by the labs and lighting and coils and generators and X-Rays. 

But the one thing that truly worked were the fuses and the Humidor, which Nicola had given Michaele on his deathbed, and which Michaele passed on to Jorge. It was worth more than every invention under the “Tesla” name, past or future. 

The room was filling with smoke now, floor to ceiling, like a steambath of tobacco, with sunbeams occasionally piercing the blue-grey haze. 

Jorge put his head back on the leather Churchill chair, closed his eyes and let the Humidor do its work.

When the smoke finally cleared, he was back in 2017. No doubt about it. 

All Jorge had to do was look out the window at the park and see scores of young Cubans huddled around their iPhones, using the WiFi of LaRampa to make Facetimes to family back in the States. He grabbed his current passport and Ghurka Cavalier overnight bag and headed for the US Embassy to get a visa. The lines were insufferable, unlike what he remembered when he was last in 2016, when relations had thawed and Cubans and Americans were moving freely back and forth. Instead, this was a giant headache with reduced staff handling increased applications.

“They’re closing the Embassy soon,” said the next man in line. Something about the new President cancelling the one-sided deal that Obama had struck. 

“We’d better get out now, or this escape route to the US may be closed awhile.”

“Hey, Bedo!”, shouted Jorge, recognizing one of his poker buddies entering from the side. “You working today?”

“Sure thing, step right this way.”

“Gracias amigo. I’ll bring you back something.”

Bedo (aka the Embassy Fixer) stamped the visa in his office with nary a question asked. Jorge then rushed to Marti Terminal 2 to catch the evening flight to Miami, barely making the plane. Twenty minutes in and he was in Miami. An hour later, he was in South Beach. 

His first stop: the doctor for an X-ray and to examine his stomach. Then to CVS for the prescription. A stop at the discount electronics store and then, a short walk to the garage. It was much like his own in Havana, bumper to bumper with classic ‘50s-era cars, mostly Chevys and Ferraris which he rented to tourists at exorbitant prices. 

“Thought you’d split on me,” said Ralph, pulling himself out from the undercarriage of a powder blue ‘55 Vette. “You know how tough the super-charger kit is for a Ferrari from the 50s? They don’t make ‘em like this any more, friend. Matter of fact, they don’t make them at all.  My guy had the mod and recast it with modern alloys. Should boost performance another 10%.”

“Well, that’s why they pay you the big money?” Jorge joked, pulling an envelope from his Ghurka and handing it to him.

“Who do you have to install this thing?,” Ralph asked, sensing there was more money to be made.

“I was thinking I could pay you again, friend. Another envelope this size to come to my garage with me, and a third, once it’s installed and running. But I need it done tonight.”

Ralph stole a glance at the first envelope: fifties stacked a few inches high… at least three grand in there, without stopping to count. 

“Ten grand for a custom performance forced induction super-charger install? Sure, I can do that. Where’s the car?”

“Havana. “

“What the f*ck? Havana?” 

“Sure, let’s go.”

Jorge hit Uber while Ralph locked up for the night. They were at the airport by nine and on the last flight for Havana by ten. Jorge flagged the [57 Chevy] with the one headlight coming into the Havana airport, and they packed in. Before they pulled out, Jorge offered to fix the headlight with a simple fuse replacement, and they were off to Vedado as the moon rose over Havana. 

“Love the music here, don’t you?” 

“Yeah, Jorge suggested. “How about 57.0 AM, my favorite station? They play Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Damaso Perez Prado and Benny More… what a mix.”

Ralph thought for a moment. He fixed cars for rich guys in South Beach whom he sometimes slept with. He had a months of rent money in his pocket. He was sitting next to a mysteriously handsome Latino with lots of class and loads of cash, in Havana, in the moonlight, cruising in a classic ‘57 Chevy BelAir along the Malecon. With Perez Prado playing on the radio.

What more could a young gay man in a crisp white zippered Ferrari mechanic jumpsuit want?

He never saw the wave hit the Malecon seawall. 

“What the f*ck?”

~~

Prefer the whole Book One? Here is the Table of Contents, with links.

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