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20TH April 2020

Cuba - Havana Culture - Timeless - Timely

Shelter(ed) Day 17 – Back to Havana


Chapter 17- Boss, It works.

Illustration – Sal Explains iPhones to Meyer in Riviera Lobby- Ermitas Blanco

“It works. Whatever the f*ck it is, it works,” Sal began, hardly able to contain his amazement.

“How do you know for sure?,” asked Lansky.

“Well, here’s a picture of me, on one of those held-held phone computers, with a newspaper dated 2017, by the way. The headline has something about trouble at the American Embassy on the Malecon, which doesn’t exist now, but it sure as hell does in 2017.”

“Is the Riviera still there?”

“Yes, Meyer. I saw it from afar, but I didn’t have the chance to go in.”

Where was Jorge and the girl at the time?”

“We split up, so I could get my papers renewed, and they could get [what was it again, cross reference]. Anyways, I was back at the garage at the rendezvous time, and they were there waiting for me.”

So how did it all happen?,” Lansky probed.

What Sal was able to observe was that the three people – including himself-  were in a small room in the balcony of Jorge’s garage. They smoked cigars from a pretty nice humidor, and puffed away until the room was full of smoke. When the smoke cleared, a timer dinged, and it was clear Nina and Jorge knew where- or when- they were. They walked down to [xx park] and everyone was on these devices that worked like phones but they had no cords! They gave Sal one to use, but frankly all he was able to do was take a few pictures here, and make a few recordings. It looked like a spy’s dream toy, but everyone is using them… so they can’t all be spies. Or could they?

Sal continued. “Anyways, later that night, after I had my documents, we jumped in a ’57 Bel Aire and headed down the Malecon. But this time it was Nina, the girl and some new guy named ‘Brech.’ Jorge was sick, she said. Anyways, we drove along the Malecon until a wave hit the car and *poof* we’re back in 1957. “

So,” Lansky mused, “cigar smoke to go forward in time. And salt water to go back. That’s it?”

Far as I know,” said Sal. “I was only there for a few hours, and most of it was getting documents and a few pictures. The place looks strangely the same as 1957, with a few larger buildings, and an utter lack of maintenance. I didn’t see one casino operating. And you know what? My stomach hasn’t quit hurting since I got back.”

No casinos?”

“Not that I saw. I ducked into the Nacionale. The Capri. And the Havana Libre. Nothing doing.”

Lansky was confused. “Seems odd,” he said.

Yeah. Maybe operations moved elsewhere. I’d need more than a few hours in 2017 to figure it out.”

Alright, sounds like it’s time to hedge some bets, said Lansky.

The mob had been running wild in Havana since convening the commission in 1946. In the past two decades, working with the Generalissimo, they had taken control of Orient Park and all the wagers there, the tables at the Trop, Sans Souci, Capri, Nacional, and Riviera. Lansky owned the Riviera outright, gained control over the Cuba Travel Commission, and got rid of all the other operations in town in the name of “anti-corruption”. The mob also wrested control of the CuBank which finances all the new hotels under the Batista Tourism Law. 

All in all, the take was $5-10M a night in the high season, more or less for 20 years. That’s billions, and the general’s cut only averaged 15%, which is still a lot of duffel bags to deliver each week.

Lansky continued; My bet is that unrest is a little worse than the General lets anyone believe. The J-26 movement may be gathering support outside of Havana. If- if they get to Havana- they will cut a deal with us like 20%…hell they can take 30%. We hardly care, we just want them to leave us alone.

I’m going to tell the families to reserve in case Fidel ever rolls into town, so we’re ready to just buy him off and keep going. Once they see the money, they’ll get in line. Lansky was finished talking.

So what’s next, boss?” Sal asked.

Well, you’ve earned some combat pay. Take this chit to my cashier at the casino downstairs. And tell the Time Travelers you want to be on their next ‘jump.’ We’ve got to learn some more about the future. And if you get any whiff that it would fall into the hands of the general or the J-26’s, we have to stop it.”

Sal walked through the Riviera lobby and caught a glimpse of Nina, Brech and Genette heading upstairs in the Suite elevator. They were likely headed to Finn’s, but he didn’t pursue it. Meyer had told him to lay off the gang. And he had a stack of [blue] chips waiting for him at the cashier.

The reunion at Finn’s suite was considerably more informed about world history than what Sal and Meyer were still piecing together.

Nina downloaded Finn on their quick trip to Miami Beach, Jorge’s health condition, the addition of Brech, and the twists and turns that were about to rock the island nation. She had downloaded a bunch of Wiki pages on Cuban History, and Brech and Finn made quick work piecing it all together on the iPad minis Nina had squirreled into her backpack..

“So which is worse, guys? The mob, the general, or the J26 revolution?” Nina asked no one in particular.

“I don’t think it matters,” answered Finn, “and we shouldn’t mess with history anyway. Just plan to take a little margin along the edges and let events play out as they do. Look, my view is Cuba has always had a revolutionary culture…there have been revolts since the 1850’s, so much so that Marti is a hero here, just for having the taste for revolution. The Americans have been around since the last century and the CIA has been supporting the general on and off for twenty years. The people, outside Havana, must be sick of it. The party raging on in Havana is just one big distraction from reality.

Nina agreed. Genette just sat there. “The US probably wants change. So do the J26’s and perhaps their followers. The general wants status quo. And the Mob is probably indifferent if they can cut deals. 

Finn continued… “So, the general may get help and crush the revolutionaries once and for all. He has done it before, and then let them off the hook. He could do it again. The Americans may be looking for a change, but would want that to come from the people’s will, and through a free election. The J26’s are a fractious bunch who are just tired and tapped into the desperation of the populous outside of Havana.”

“So do we have a strategy to place a bet”, Brech interjected. 

Nina again showed her grasp of the situation, “It could go many different ways: the mob could oust the General. The general could throw out the mob. The J26 could roll in and cut a deal with the mob. Or be crushed by the General, the CIA, or both.”

So I see the mob as neutral: willing to deal with either the general or the J26 in order to keep the franchise going. The General has the money. The mob generates the profits. And the J26 may have the hearts of the people. Whoever has two out of three will probably prevail and bring change. But
that could mean a lot of people lose their sugar cane fields. Their homes in Vedado and Miramar. Their businesses and their bank accounts.

Brech shot Finn a look like “damn, how’d she get so smart”. Finn knew already.

He continued; “Hey, I have cane fields! A new home in Vedado! And a decent amount of dollars too!”

What you need to do is figure out a way to hedge that position, before it all melts like sugar in the rain.Hey, if his place is going to hell… don’t we deserve to hit the same party raging on in Havana… as one big distraction from the coming reality. How about it Brech?,” asked Nina.

“Thought you’d never ask!”

The girls adjourned to the gift shop and salon to get ready for the evening, while Finn and Brech exchanged notes over Havana Rum and cigars on the Riviera pool deck.

Jorge was at the Riviera Porte Cochere in a  Lincoln Premiere Mark IV at 7pm to take the gang out. They stopped for a drink at Finn’s new home in Vedado; it was his first time there as well. But the staff already knew his name and were prepared for his arrival. 

The homes in Vedado, especially on Calle A-B-C-D and E were the grandest in Havana. Designed by the best of the Colonial and Beaux arts Architects, they were worthy of any mansion in Monte Carlo, Cannes, Barcelona or Madrid. In fact, many of the designers had projects there as well. In Havana’s turn of the century boom years, wealthy Cubans, Americans, and other foreigners flocked to the Vedado to build their palatial homes, and some had survived the test of time and nature.

Finn’s new home on was one of them. Built by a sugar baron for his mistress, the 26-room house boasted 20-foot ceilings at the entry and 14-foot casement French doors. The walls were hung with avant-garde mid-century Cuban art. A grand staircase, with wrought iron detail and a polished brass railing, swept to the second floor bedroom and suites. A third floor for staff and visitors was more luxurious than 90% of the rest of the homes in town.

Finn decided to host his first cocktail party in the gardens, and mojitos were delivered in Havana time. Soon, [Alphonso] the butler was giving them all a tour of the grand residence. Genette nodded her approval as he slid his arm around her waist on the way up the stairs.

They then headed to dinner at La Guarida, a classic Cuban restaurant in Havana [Centrale] that hosted a chic crowd.  But it was the food at Guarida that had kept it in business for the past 100 years: plantain chips and tangy cerviche, followed by vieja ropa, arroz con gris, pollo rostado and washed down with RojaBy midnight, the four were on to the Cuban necessity- flan– together with port and a Cafe Americano for those whose energy was flagging. The sugar, caffeine and alcohol did its trick, and they were soon on the dance floor when the big Salsa Show began at [older dance floor in Havana] at 1am. By 3am they were ready for some jazz and hit [underground jazz bar in Vedado] just in time for [Charlie parker to come on for his last set- was he there]. 

Nina caught they eye of the bongo player, and they exchanged a smile- Brando loved his bongos but never forgot a pretty face. By 4am they were back at the Riviera pool for some pre-hangover eggs and waffles before passing out in the suite at dawn, curtains drawn.

On the master bed was an envelope. Finn left it for later. His hands were full. Scrawled on the face was one sentence. 

I want a Rematch.

~~

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





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