Chapter 18- Before the Music Stops
Illustration – view from the house above of tanks in a tobacco field, rebels streaming out of barns, the Batista surrender. Ermitas Blanco. Havana.
The roar of a half dozen Harleys turning off the Malecon and into the Riviera porte cochère was unmistakable.
Esteban tossed his keys to the attendant and strode over the terrazo entry into the main lobby. Marlon was just behind him. The others hung back, being just mechanics from the garage hired to bring the [hogs to the party].
Since losing his bet on the Malecon race, Esteban had been hankering to get even. Actually, it was nearly a necessity: his acting career in New York wasn’t all that lucrative. He was caught up in the macho moment, and now needed to earn it back. The man with most of the money from that night was Jorge’s partner Finn, who camped out at the Riviera.
They made their way back to the pool. Marlon spotted Finn at Table One and introduced the two formally as waiters served lunch and cervezas to everyone.
“Get my note?”
“What do you think?”
“Not that into a motorcycle race today…But I tell you what. I need to go to Vinales to see my sugar plantation. I’ll cover your bet if you and your crew escort me out there, and get me back safe.”
“Sounds too easy. What’s the catch?”
“Well, it’s rebel country. Despite the local newspapers, once you pass Havana city limits, the J26 crew have more power than anyone here will admit.”
“So, we head to Vinales on [Harleys], check the place out, and get you back to the Riviera in one piece and we’re even?”
The four of them mapped out their journey. Nina and Brech soon joined them. They decided to go after lunch, which would allow them to make Vinales by dinner and avoid any after-dark-in-the-mountains riding. Finn went light on the cerveza at lunch, considering the night he was just coming off. Marlon, not so much.
By mid-afternoon, the adventure was set to begin with Steven, Marlon, Finn and Brech in the riding group. Everyone tried on a Harley for size; each had a firearm tucked somewhere. Nina opted to stay behind to tend to a few things Jorge had asked of her. Genetta did not belong on the back of a Harley.
They all said their goodbyes from the Riviera portico and that unmistakable Harley roar banked out from behind the [xx statue] and onto the Malecon. Genetta and Nina stole a quick glance at each other that said simply, “Boys will be boys” and retreated to the Riviera spa because well, “Girls will be Girls.”
The Harley pack rolled westward on the Malecon and over the bridge to Avenida Cinque in Playa, past the grand homes of Miramar, the beach club in Marianao as well as Orient Park and the Tropicana. The hill rose gradually, leaving a panorama behind them that included the sun drenched skyline of Havana, the Nacionale and even El Morro in the distance. Once over the [name] hill, Cuba changed quickly.
They were no longer in Havana.
The next two hours of riding to Vinales were uneventful, aside from the abjectly poor condition of the people they passed at each crossroad. They also began to see some checkpoints that definitely were not controlled by the Generalissimo‘s forces. By the time they got to [street name] to turn up the ravine to Finn’s new casa, it was dubious who was actually in control of the countryside.
Finn’s Vinales mansion was not as grand as his home in Vedado. Perched upon a promontory overlooking [–] hectares of flat fields, the ten-room main house was book-ended by sugarloaf rock outcroppings jutting 1,000 feet into the tropical sky. The far side of the cane and tobacco fields were bordered by the same unique formations, making a sort of green tropical stadium below.
The home’s most distinctive feature was the wraparound porch overlooking this unique and fertile valley. Plantation chairs with slide-out mahogany leg rests were available should the Lord of the Manor wish to recline with his mojito after a long day of whipping slaves in some by-gone era. Finn, Brech, Marlon and Steve put those chairs to good use as drinks were prepared in time to enjoy the sunset over the quiet valley.
The rum got ahead of Finn and he began recounting his improbable week to the rest of the group. Even Marlon and Steve, adrenaline junkies to the core, could hardly believe his story of time travel, card sharking, woman swapping, club hopping, Grand Prix racing, mob gaming, horse picking, all surrounded by beautiful women, ample booze and delightful music. All that could be heard above the evening crickets were the ribald laughs of four increasingly intoxicated men.
Then the evening festivities were rudely interrupted.
A Marmon Herrington CTMS-1TBI Dutch Three Man Light Tank came screaming from the south and across the tobacco field, coming to rest behind the massive drying shack on the northernmost side of the plain. Finn was pissed, having watched 10% of his tobacco crop trampled by a f*cking tank… from where? And what were tanks doing in Vinales?
Within moments, a [company] of olive-fatigued, long bearded regulars emerged from the tobacco barns and reconnoitered with the tank commander. Then most returned to the cover of the shed.
Finn, Brech and the near-drunk crew in the plantation house dimmed the lights, just in case the gathering of J26 rebels were to spot them. Marlon asked for field glasses; four were produced to watch as the pending show emerged.
There was an animated conversation going on between the tank commander and what appeared to be the commander of the “infantry”, if that rag-tag bunch of bearded revolutionaries qualified as such.
“I’m betting from the body language, that tank was just stolen” began Finn.
“But if the stolen tank was followed, I think they’re now pinned with their backs to these huge sugarloaf outcroppings.”
“And to make matters worse, they’ve just exposed the infantry’s hiding place.If anyone is in hot pursuit, another 10% of my tobacco will be destroyed by dark!”
nd right on cue, another swath of tobacco was plowed under by three M3A1 General Stuart Light Tanks, much more formidable pieces of equipment than what was just stolen.
“Oh, f*ck. There goes the [sugar] crop…”
The M3A’s quickly surrounded the Dutch 3 Man in a semi-circle; the rebels inside surrendered using a white hanky on a stick. The rebels made their way out of the tank with hands up and asked to speak to the man in charge.
A few of the General’s troops got out of their tank. The commander emerged, standing atop his rig, a bit comical in high leather jack boots, riding pants and crop, a bespoke uniform, and Ray Bans.
“What’s this joker going to say? You’re worth more dead than alive?”
The commander was about to speak when his military hat, encrusted with an [eagle] on the brow, suddenly blew off his head. He teetered briefly atop the tank.
When Marlon adjusted his glasses, he realized that the top of the commander’s scalp had come off as well, the victim of a rebel sniper firing from the top of the barn. Within seconds, the other men outside their tanks were taken out. The troops remaining inside the tanks were stormed by the garrison from the tobacco barns. The tracks were jammed, the hatches soaked with kerosene, and they were given ten seconds to either surrender or burn alive. No one in the tank loved the General that much; they were all escorted to the barn, their fate yet to be determined.
The stolen Three Man tank was not a helpless pawn. It was bait, and it had led the General’s tanks into a compromised position. Then it had sprung the trap without losing a man, and delivered four tanks right into rebel hands. The rebel leaders conferred in a patch of cleared sugarcane, then began walking.
“Oh shit, now they’re heading up to the house. What’s our plan?”
“Cigar and Dinner, I imagine” answered Stephen.
“And more rum,” deadpanned Marlon.
The next three hours were filled with the orations of a burly, bearded storyteller who was charming, menacing, and sly. He laid it on, in no uncertain terms, how Cuba’s natural state had been “revolution” for generations: the Spanish, the English, the British, the Americans.
Organized crime had been sucking at the Cuban teat for 100 years. Cuba was now a murderous kleptocracy in cahoots with the mob, marked by the disparity of wretched poverty and glittering wealth. The general’s troops were a push-over outside of Havana, where they had no core beliefs in any worthy cause. In Havana, the only cause was money, but that was being quickly siphoned off by the mob and the General. Soon, that would end as well, and no one would fight for them.
Finn, Marlon, Brech and Steven were moved by their guest’s dedication, and his [near looney] demeanor. They looked for a pause in the speech… which didn’t come for an hour… they offered the [estancia] to the Comandante, and apologized that they were expected back in Havana by dark. As they walked out he long marble hallway to the bikes, the Comandante was still wailing away on his monologue:
…The revolution was of the people, and by the people. We will out fox, out maneuver, and out fight anything the General could throw at us. And we will stop at nothing less than to depose [Batista], ruin the mob, and reclaim Cuba on behalf of the Cuban people. We won’t, they can’t, be bought.
“Well,” thought Finn, “ that’s going to be a problem back at the Riviera!” He kick started his Harley and led the other riders down the long estancia drive.
“Guys, let’s get back to Havana before the music stops!”
~~~~END OF BOOK ONE~~
Prefer to read the whole Book One? Here is the Table of Contents, with links.