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10TH April 2020

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Shelter(ed) Day 11 – Back to Havana


Chapter 11- The Bet

 

Conceptart_Back to Havana v57_Steve & Fangio

Illustration – Fangio and Esteban seal the bet and shake hands amid the garage gang – Blanco.

This was no ordinary garage that Jorge and Ralph were pulling into: bays of McLaren, Lotus, Ferarri and Maserati were divided by immaculate tool sets, superb lighting, and staffs of jump-suited attendants cleaning up from the day’s work. It looked like the pit of any other race on the Grand Prix circuit, but all compressed into one spot.

Ralph still had not put it together that he was in late 1957, and as the Buick came to a halt he assumed he was in another classic garage of another rich patron who needed a special part for a tune up. Jorge had never seen a time-traveller be so oblivious for so long, but that was fine; they all figured it out sooner or later. Ralph was probably a one-timer anyway. Based on what Jorge knew about Havana’s immediate future, he wouldn’t be useful after the next Havana Grand Prix. But if Jorge’s plan worked,  tomorrow’s time-trial could be more lucrative than the race itself.

The Cuban Grand Prix was established the prior year, as the Batista Government envisioned creating an event to attract wealthy tourists, particularly from the nearby United States. A street circuit was established on Malecon Avenue on the beachfront of Havana. The first race was a great success, won by Fangio driving a Maserati 300S, leading home Carroll Shelby driving a Ferrari 410 and Alfonso de Portago in a Ferrari 860. By now, late ‘57, the teams were assembling for pre-race logistics and time-trials; the course was already laid out and the checkered banner of the Finish Line was being strung across the long straightaway of the Malecon.

The teams began to disperse except for the last Ferrari team, who kept a lewd Italian eye on Nina’s mouth and Pablo’s cigar. One man from Maserati slid out from under the [Maserati make model] and stood his 5’10” Mid-West American frame up in one fluid motion. His jumpsuit was that of a racer, not a mechanic, and his piercing blue eyes made the black grease on his face seem even darker. His hands were not the rough ones of a mechanic, either; they were more the supple folds of a gloved driver, or an actor with a crew of makeup artists to caress them.

Whenever he spoke, it was like the cameras were on him.

“So, Fangio, are you going to use that ‘I need a new carburetor’ excuse to avoid facing us in the time trial tomorrow? Just because you hold a free pass by winning the Grand Prix last year, are you going to avoid us embarassing you this time?”

Vafancullo, madre stonza… Esteban! I was not bullshitting. My man just pulled in with the part. And I’ll race you tonight instead of Sterling, if you like. For $1,000 to the winner.”

“Well, you little hot headed Latino… Since you involved my mother, let’s call it $10,000 and you’re on!”

Fangio knew McQueen had put him in quite a spot. He couldn’t back down now, for the honor of his team and the manhood that all Latinos had as birthright. But he would have to lay off his side of the bet quickly. Which is where Jorge fit in. Not only did he arrive just at the right moment with the supercharger, he had the resources to cover the bet Fangio was about to make. He glanced at Jorge, who had heard the entire exchange. Jorge nodded. 

Fangio looked back at the Maserati car and it’s driver for the night. 

“You’re on Esteban. One lap of the course, beginning at Midnight. For $10,000.”

The teams had heard the exchange and were wandering back into the center of the garage to hear how it ended. Jorge and Nina wandered in as well, as she snapped pictures of the leading man in the Maserati jumpsuit- Steve McQueen-  the Ferrari driver named Fangio – or El Maestro- who had won the prior Grand Prix, and the glorious cars. She missed Vinnie, who had followed them from the Floridita. But Vinnie missed the BRAC guy, who had followed them all. For his part, BRAC guy missed the July 26th informant who worked in the shop. Even the spies were being spied on; welcome to Havana, 1957.

McQueen and Fangio strode to the center of the garage, with a growing circle around them, as if a fistfight was about to begin. 

They shook hands, sealing the bet.

Nina got the shot.

Then there was a mad rush to the payphones in the garage. It was not long before most of the biggest gamblers in Havana were aware of the huge stakes for the Midnight race between Fangio and McQueen. Sal got the call from his source. Esteban’s buddy called William Holden, and all the celebs at the Riviera and Orient Park were in the know. Vinnie phoned in to his boss, who called Mr. Lansky himself, who invited every high roller to watch the whole thing from the Sinatra Penthouse atop the Nacionale. He would make a killing making book, and the Penthouse would be packed with the best of Havana – again. Hopefully, Frank would stick around as well. 

As Jorge had nodded his ascent earlier to Fangio, he had $10,000 of exposure he had to lay off, making him the biggest early position in the

book. But his best bet at the moment was to get the specially-milled, forced-induction super-charger (aka, “the Monster”) installed. 

He introduced Ralph to Fangio and they made their way to the Ferarri [860]. Wearing a jumpsuit, and carrying a “classic” tool kit, Ralph fit right in, so everyone left him alone to his work, including Jorge who retreated to a corner chair to be alone with his thoughts.

He had never taken such big risks since first inheriting the Tesla fuses.

But with his worsening medical condition, he had to do something. That meant cutting down on the time travel until his 2017 doctors could stabilize his condition. He needed a protege (or two) willing to hop back and forth more often than he could, and this group seemed to have some candidates. But he also knew he was being watched by the Grade-B mobsters he was always evading, and the BRAC guys that were watching them. Then there was that guy Sal, who had a knack for always being around when something was going down. There were no secrets in Havana.

But the Tesla fuses were a huge secret. Knowing what little history he did, anyone with these fuses and the knowledge to use them could change Cuban history. And in the next five years, Cuban history was about to take some major twists and turns. For the Mob. For the Batista Government. For the Revolutionaries in the Mountains. For Americans. For Bacardi. For Pan Am. For Orient Park, the Riviera, the Tropicana, and every gambling establishment. Even the neon sign makers, the sugar barons, and dancing girls would see their lives change.

No Wonder BRAC, the Mob, and the Revolutionaries were always tailing him. And given the brutality that each of these would employ to get information, anyone seen in contact with Jorge was at risk of kidnap, torture, and interrogation until they told what they knew. How he desperately wanted to sit down with all of the “Jumpers” and share it all: how he got the fuses, how they work, how to get back via the humidor and the cigar smoke. How he was the main reason there are so many ‘57 Chevys on the Malecon, literally a one way street from the future! And, because of his health, how he needed volunteers to be Jumpers with him. 

But he couldn’t.

So instead, he wrote notes on tiny scraps of paper and used them to surreptitiously drop hints to Nina [maybe not Pablo] and Finn: he was testing their willingness to participate. By now, they knew they were the only ones he trusted with this information. They knew who was spying on them and why, and how they might return to the future if they chose to. 

Pablo had received the first note nearly by accident, as Jorge stumbled towards him at the Nacionale while being chased by the mobsters. It was about “Table Five.”  [Since then, Pablo had been essentially cut out of the information flow]. But he shared it with Nina and Finn. That made Jorge’s notes at the Tropicana and the Riviera Poolside make even more sense to them.

“Jorge, the car’s all set,” said Ralph. 

“I’m going to take it out on a low idle around the Malecon and bring it back without giving away what’s now under the hood. And then I’m going to take that gorgeous pit boy up on his offer for a shower, a clean jumpsuit and a drink at his place nearby. Take the rest of my repair fee and put it on Fangio please; we can’t lose if we’re within 100 yards in the final straightaway. Meet you back here at 11:30?”

“No, I’ll probably be down the block at the Nacionale, where I can watch the whole race and lay off these bets. You stay here and make sure Fangio gets a good start, and be sure to share the secret of the new repair so that he can pour it on at the finish.” 

As Jorge walked to his place for a change of clothes, he pondered his situation. He had backed up Fangio’s [Argentine] honor for $10,000, plus the $5,000 he still owed Ralph for the repair. The Grand Prix Champ would be driving a Ferrari souped up with next-century parts in a midnight side-bet race against Steve McQueen. The whole race would be watched by a crowd of mobsters, high rollers, celebs, and time travellers from a Penthouse atop the Nacionale Hotel, which Ol’ Blue Eyes occupied but Mob boss Lansky actually owned. Everyone Jorge wanted to tell about time travel would be there. If El Maestro won, Jorge would win a bundle; if he lost, he’d owe people who always collect their money.

What could possibly go wrong?

~~

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

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