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Authors: Margaret Truman

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BOOK: Murder in Havana
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“Dig up? What’s the archaeology to find?”

“Whether they’re playing cozy with a German pharmaceutical firm, Strauss-Lochner Resources. Whether what the Germans are doing is for their own benefit—alone. Here.” He pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket and handed it to Pauling.

“What’s this?”

“Your contract with Cali Forwarding to transport shipments for them. Just to make it official. The initial payment was forwarded yesterday to your bank in Albuquerque.”

Pauling slowly and carefully read the one-page letteragreement. Gosling answered questions to his satisfaction, so Pauling signed and handed it back to Gosling.

“I convinced my superiors to include a bonus for you, Max, if you get what we’re looking for in less than a month.”

Pauling finished his beer and pushed back from the table. “And all I have to do is dig up proof that McCullough’s company, BTK Industries, is using this German firm, Strauss-Lochner, as a front for trying to buy into Cuba’s cancer research?”

“There you go, Max. You’ve got it.”

There had been times in the past when Gosling’s condescending manner grated on Pauling. This was one of those.

“Where’s the plane?” Max asked.

“At the airport here. We’ll stop by when we leave.”

“Who’s my contact in Cuba?”

“Someone who’ll help with your Spanish.”

“I didn’t ask about

“And I didn’t answer your question. All in good time,
Max. Arrangements are being made as we speak. You’ll be contacted at your hotel on the night you arrive in Havana.”

“I don’t like being contacted by strangers, Vic. This unnamed contact will pave the way for me to meet with people who might have information about what you’re looking for?”

“Yes. Proof. You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced we’re overpaying you. This will be simpler than I imagined.”

“Very funny. I’d like to see the plane. When am I supposed to leave for Colombia?”

“Tomorrow, after you meet with my superior. The meeting is just a formality, Max. You know, shake hands, let him see what he’s paying for. You’ll have everything you need for Colombia and Cuba: papers, flight charts, phone numbers, that sort of thing.” He paused to look Pauling over like a headmaster. “Any chance of buying a suit before then?”


Gosling winced. “Come on,” he said, tossing money on the table. “Let’s go see your airplane. Maybe that will put a smile on your face.” As they left the area, he added, “God, Max, lighten up. We have a free night in Miami, and I mean

Pauling had specified the type of twin-engine aircraft he wanted for the assignment, a vintage Piper Aztec B, the same model in which he’d received his multiengine rating back in New Mexico. It was parked in an isolated corner of Miami International along with other private aircraft. Gosling followed him around the plane as he checked it over.

“It’s rented, Max, at great expense,” Gosling said. “Handle with care.”

Pauling ignored him, opened the left-hand door, and
peered inside. All seats had been removed except for the pilot’s to make use of every available inch of space for cargo. He scanned the instrument panel; it was nicely packed with navigation equipment. “How about a spin?”

“I don’t think so, Max, although I know you’re itching to try it out. No, you go ahead. We’ll meet up later at my hotel.”

“You’re not staying where I’m staying?”

“No. I’m at the Delano, on Collins Avenue. I would have put you there, too, except I had a feeling you’d prefer to be near the airport. You know, the smell of aviation fuel, the screeching of landing jets, that sort of thing. Meet me at the Delano tonight at eight. We’ll do up the town.”

“Don’t wait for me.”

“Fly safe, Max.” Gosling started to walk away. He stopped, turned, and said, “Eight o’clock. Be there!”

Pauling arrived at the Delano Hotel precisely at eight. He’d substituted a blue blazer for his vest, tan slacks for his jeans, a blue button-down shirt for the T-shirt, and brown loafers for sneakers. He called Gosling’s room and was told to wait in the Rose Bar, a luxe, dimly lit watering hole with hushed conversations. No rose grew there. Gosling arrived moments after Pauling had ordered.

“You look positively corporate,” Gosling said as he took a bar stool next to Max. “Well, not quite, but it’s certainly an improvement.”

“I’m glad you approve. Fancy place.”

“As I said, I work for a generous employer. Was the plane to your satisfaction?”

“It’s got lots of hours on it. I hope you got a discount.”

“Nice hotel, isn’t it? One of those Ian Schrager creations. You know him, of Studio 54 fame. Low light
everywhere. You need a cigarette lighter to read the buttons in the elevators. The singer Madonna owns the restaurant.”

“I knew I wasn’t hungry.” Pauling had been facing the back bar. He turned to look at Gosling. “This is all very nice, Vic, but I’m not in the mood for sight-seeing. What time does your guy arrive tomorrow?”

“Same flight I took, Virgin Air, gets in about three.”

“I’d like to leave before that. I’ve got a two-day flight to Colombia. I can’t overfly Cuba. I’ll refuel in Guatemala. In other words, I want to leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow.”

“I understand, and I suppose Craig will, too. It’s not as though he’s coming here just to meet you. Other business.”


“Ironic that you can’t overfly Cuba. You’ll be landing there in a few days.”

“Yeah. You were going to give me everything I need. I’d like it now.”

“I can do that. Does your early departure rule out a bit of fun tonight?”

“I’m up for dinner. Not at Madonna’s place. Nothing after that.”

Gosling’s sigh was deep. “Where has our fun-loving Max Pauling gone?” he asked.

“There never was a fun-loving Max Pauling, Vic. Fun-loving guys in our business—what
to be my business—don’t last long. In fact, mind if I skip dinner? I need an early night.”

“Not at all. Stay here. I’ll get your paperwork from the room.”

Gosling returned ten minutes later and handed Pauling a thick manila envelope. “I think you’ll find everything
you need in here,” he said. “I trust we’ve supplied the right aeronautical charts.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll get my own from flight ops at the airport.”

Pauling prepared to leave the bar. “This contact,” he said, “who’ll be coming to my hotel—?”

“Last name is Sardiña. The code word is Chico.”

Pauling laughed and shook his head. “Code words,” he said. “Shadowy, nameless guys. Intrigue even if it’s not necessary.”

“Like old times, huh, Max?” Gosling said, slapping Pauling on the back. “Don’t try to contact me. Sardiña will keep me informed. And Max, do a good job, huh? Remember, there’s a bonus on the line, as well as my reputation with my superiors. I pushed hard for you on this assignment.”

Pauling just looked at him and left. The sound of jets landing and taking off kept him awake most of the night.

“… and so Castro was pitching in a sandlot baseball game. He walked a batter who promptly stole second base. Castro ordered him back to first and said something like, ‘In the revolution, no one can steal—even in baseball.’ ”

Mac Smith laughed. Their plane was on final approach. Smith had changed seats during the flight, ending up next to former senator Price McCullough, who told the story.

“Not apocryphal?” Smith asked.

“Absolutely not,” McCullough replied. “It was on Cuban television. Castro changes all the rules when it strikes him, micromanages everything. He decided that nurses should wear pants instead of skirts to avoid having them bend over a bed and cause heart attacks in patients behind them. His birthday’s coming up while we’re there.”

“Yes, I know.”

The approach was from the southeast, over the Caribbean Sea and the Peninsula de Zapata. As the plane descended for landing at José Martí International Airport, south of Havana, Smith looked down at the Cuban capital, home to more than two million of the island nation’s almost eleven million citizens. Smith put away the papers he’d been reviewing during the flight, including a
list of Fidel Castro’s official titles—first secretary of the Communist Party; president of the Republic; chairman of the State Council; chairman of the Council of Ministers; commander in chief of the armed forces—and probably a few more when it suited him, Smith mused with a smile.

It took what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time for the doors of the 727 to open after it had landed and taxied to a cordoned area. During the wait, the passengers peered through the windows at preparations taking place outside. A dozen men in suits scurried about the plane, coming and going from view, their chores undefined. Farthest back stood a cadre of armed uniformed officers (military or police?), their expressions also uniform. A truck with a telescoping antenna extending high above sat near the uniformed officers twenty feet from the aircraft’s exit door. A young woman got out, followed by two men, one holding a shoulder-supported camcorder, the other with a microphone mounted on a long metal pole and tethered to the camera by a cable. A sign on the side of the truck read

“The Cuban free press,” Smith commented to McCullough.

“There’s a second channel,” said McCullough. “The Cubans love their TV, especially soap operas from Brazil.”

“I heard CNN just opened a bureau here,” said Smith. “Speaking of CNN …” A mobile crew from CNN’s Havana bureau had arrived and quickly set up next to the Cuban crew.

The sudden opening of the door by a flight attendant allowed a rush of hot, steamy air into the cabin. Led by McCullough, the twenty members of his mission descended to the tarmac where they were greeted
individually by two representatives of the Foreign Investment Ministry, established in 1994 to foster foreign cash infusions for the country’s ailing economy. Mac Smith was surprised at their apparent youth, although he knew that Castro had initiated a program under which hundreds of bright young Cuban men and women were sent abroad to study Western marketing, advertising, and manufacturing techniques.

After handshakes, one of the greeters led McCullough to a podium where the Cuban spoke into a microphone. “It is my pleasure, on behalf of the Independent Socialist Republic of Cuba, to welcome members of this distinguished delegation to our country. I bring personal greetings from Prime Minister Castro, who wishes you a pleasant and fruitful stay in our country.”

McCullough spoke next: “On behalf of my colleagues, I thank you for your gracious greeting, and we look forward to meetings that are both informative and substantive.

The entourage was led to a fleet of black Mercedes limousines, engines running, drivers standing ready beside open doors. McCullough and the others entered the vehicles. Minutes later, sandwiched between an escort of marked military vehicles equipped with flashing lights, they headed for Havana and the hotel in which they would be housed during their stay, the venerable Nacional, on Calle O, off La Rampa.

“Looks like The Breakers in Palm Beach,” said one of the delegation as the limos turned into a long, palm-lined driveway. The neoclassical, twin-turreted building perched on a hill above the Malecón, Havana’s sweeping six-lane seaside boulevard, protected by a seawall. The entourage entered the hotel’s huge vaulted lobby with its wood-beamed ceilings, Moorish arches, and Arab-inspired
mosaic tile floor. The Nacional had been Cuba’s narcissistic centerpiece during the high-flying, extravagant Batista years, the playground of America’s rich, famous, and infamous, whose photographs still adorned the walls of the Bar of Fame.

“Of course it does,” a female advertising executive replied. “Same architect.”

“I didn’t know.”

Check-in had been previously arranged; a dozen bellhops stood ready to lead the newly arrived guests to their rooms. Before they dispersed, however, they were led to a public room where a woman billed as their official guide introduced herself and handed them a written itinerary covering the rest of that day. In excellent English, she assured them there had been ample time built into the schedule for sight-seeing. One of the men from the Foreign Investment Ministry then introduced a representative from the U.S. “Interests Section.”

“I’m sure many of you know that diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed long ago,” he said in a New England accent. “The Special Interests Section was established in 1977 to function as a quasi-embassy, sans ambassador. We’re limited as to assistance we can provide visitors—our mission is more political than consular. But we have registered each of you and urge you to contact us if any problems arise that indicate we might be of help. We’re housed in what used to be our embassy—the Swiss have taken it over.” He handed out a sheet of paper on which the Special Interests Section’s address and relevant phone numbers were listed. “Enjoy your stay,” he said. “And welcome to Cuba.”

“Annabel. Mac.”

“You’re there.”

“I think so. I just got to my room.”

“You sound so close.”

BOOK: Murder in Havana
9.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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