|Dancing with Fidel
Things were not
working out the way Mary had thought they would. The weather was fine, warm with the
tradewinds to keep the temperature bearable, about what she had expected to experience in
Miami Beachsultry, Marys best friend Donna back in Dorchester had
called it after her honeymoon there the year before. Mary loved the sound of that word,
sultry; it was a real sexy word, she thought. The hotel was nice, too, clean and elegant
without being ostentatious like some of the others shed seen strung along the beach,
false pearls whose gaudy facades faded day by day under pressure from the relentless sun
and salty sea air. No, the tropical setting was satisfactory, it was Walter Turner, her
husband of three days, who was not.
Mary Keaton Turner sat in a
beach chair next to the Spearfish Hotel swimming pool wearing a yellow two-piece swimsuit
and cats-eye sunglasses. She was smoking a cigarette, watching Walter breaststroke
his way the length of the pool. He was a good swimmer, Mary realized. She, on the other
hand, could not swim a stroke. That she could do no better than dog paddle had not
bothered her until now; seeing even small children splash their way from one end of the
gigantic pool to the other made her feel suddenly inadequate, embarrassed to be so
natatorily inept at the age of twenty-three. Walter, who was twenty-eight, had learned the
Australian crawl, he said, when he was seven years old.
Walter was a good person,
Mary knew, kind and generous, better than average-looking, and he already earned more than
most men in middle management positions. Mary had examined the statistics on salaries for
the previous year, 1959, in Fortune magazine, when she was having her hair
lightened the day before the wedding, and she felt confident that Walter had a bright
financial future. Everyone, friends and family, agreed that he was an excellent catch.
Perhaps he was, but Mary found him, in a word, dull. He had made love to her only once in
their three-day-old union and he insisted on going to sleep no later than ten or
ten-thirty at night. Swimming, sunning and shopping for trinkets tired him out, Walter
told Mary. If she wanted to stay up, that was all right with him, but he was a man who
knewand was not discomforted byhis limitations. So far, Mary had gone to bed
when Walter had, but tonight, she decided, would be different.
After dinner on the hotel
verandah, Mary and Walter went with another newlywed couple they had met poolside that
afternoon to the Spearfish cocktail bar and lounge. Eddie and Diana Rogers were from
Cincinnati; he was thirty-one, she twenty-five. They seemed to Mary an amiable but
unremarkable pairEddie was a certified public accountant, Diana a secretary at a law
officebut Mary craved company other than Walter, so when she spotted them dining on
the verandah as well, she went over and suggested they rendezvous in the bar afterwards.
As they sat at a table and
talked, all four having ordered strawberry Daiquiris at Dianas
insistence"You wont believe how divine they make you
feel!"Mary contemplated her dilemma. Walter was simply the wrong guy for her,
she decided. A nice guy, but not the man with whom she could now envision herself spending
the remainder of her life. Why she had not realized this before was not really so
difficult to understand: While technically not a virgin due to a lone episode when she was
seventeen, Mary had not slept with Walter until their wedding night; unsurprisingly, it
had not been a rousing (she almost giggled at her thought of the word) success, though she
believed that was bound to improve. There were so many details to attend to before the
wedding, so many distractions, that any doubts about the wisdom of her decision to wed
Walter were relegated to a far remove of Marys mind; she simply could not get to
them in time, much to her regret. What to do? Mary pondered, as Walter, Eddie and Diana
made small talk. Tomorrow, Mary decided, she would call her mother in Dorchester and feel
her out about it, though her mother, Mary knew, would almost certainly advise her to give
Walter a chance; after all, he was new at this, too.
At precisely nine forty-five,
Marys husband told the others that he was bushed and was going upstairs to bed.
"All of that swimming
took a lot out of me today," he said.
Walter stood up and looked at
Mary, a relaxed smile on his face.
"But you havent
finished your Daiquiri," said Diana Rogers.
it," Mary said. "Mines kaput. You wont mind if I stay a little while
longer with Eddie and Diana, would you, Walter?"
"Of course not," he
answered. "Stay as long as you like."
After Walter left, Diana
began talking about show dogs, about which Mary knew nothing. Diana and Eddie had a prize
border collie that in the past two years had won four blue ribbons.
"Were thinking of
taking Clipper to the national competition at Madison Square Garden next year," Diana
"May I join you?"
Mary and the Rogers couple
looked up to see a well-groomed man of about forty standing next to their table. His thick
black hair was slicked straight back; he was wearing what appeared to be a diamond
stickpin in the lapel of his double-breasted blue suit, as well as a diamond pinky ring on
his left hand.
"Im by myself
here, and Ill be happy to buy you a new round of fresh drinks."
Eddie gestured to the chair
vacated by Walter.
"Thank you," said
the man, and sat down.
He signalled to a waiter, who
came over immediately.
"Fresh drinks, all
around, Sidney," he said. "What are you having?" he asked the others.
Daiquiris," said Diana.
"Beautiful. Three fresh
Daiquiris, Sidney, and my usual. A double."
Sidney nodded and went away.
"What is your
usual, Mr...." asked Eddie.
Eddie and Diana introduced
"Where you from?"
Vic Victor asked.
"New York," said
"Where in New
York?" Vic Victor asked her.
Dorchester," Vic said.
"Here and there,"
said Vic. "Here now."
Diana laughed and said,
" There later."
"No," said Vic,
" there before, where later." He laughed, punctuating it with a
throaty sound that Mary could identify only as "Mm-mm-ff."
Sidney returned and placed
three Daiquiris and a double Scotch on the rocks on the table.
said Vic, and handed a folded bill to Sidney, who took it and went away again. Vic lifted
his glass. "Bombs away," he said.
After they had all taken a
sip of their drinks, Mary said, "May I ask, Mr. Victor, what it is that youre
doing here? I dont mean to be rude."
"Rude? A pretty girl
like you?" said Vic. "New York girl? Not a chance. Here I dont do
The four of them chatted and
drank for about an hour, then Vic said, "Eddie, do you like to gamble? Cards, dice,
"I was in Vegas
once," Eddie said.
"Did you like it?"
"I did," said
Eddie. "I liked playing craps."
"Listen," Vic said,
"I got a private plane chartered to go to Havana tonight, in"he looked at
his gold-banded watch"forty minutes. It takes a half-hour to get there, thirty
minutes. Come with me, why doncha? You ever been to Cuba? Great casinos. I pay the pilot.
Well be back here in a few hours."
Diana laughed. "Fly to
"Yeah, sure," said
Vic. "Why not?"
Eddie looked at his wife.
"What do you think, hon?" he asked.
"Ill go if Mary
They looked at Mary. She took
a sip of her fresh Daiquiri. She thought of Walter, asleep upstairs in their room.
"Why not?" she
In the taxi on the way to the
airport Mary was seized by a sudden fear that what she was doing was crazy. She
didnt really know any of these people, especially Vic Victor. He might be a
gangster, she thought, not merely a gambler. Cuba was another country, one whose
government had recently been overthrown. She had heard Cuba referred to as the whorehouse
of the Caribbean. The new regime had vowed to change that, to properly educate, house and
feed everyone on the island. Mary had no idea what to expect. Eddie and Diana were giddy
At Vics direction, the
taxi took them right onto the runway of a small airport where an eight-passenger plane
awaited their arrival. Mary and the Rogers couple followed Vic Victor onto the plane,
which started up immediately and began taxiing down the runway as soon as Vic secured the
door. He went forward and spoke briefly to the pilot, then sat down in a seat across the
aisle from Mary.
folks," he said. The pilot waved one of his hands at them without turning around.
"Were old pals," Vic told them. Then he shouted at Hal, "Were
old friends, arent we, Hal?"
Hal signalled a thumb up,
keeping his eyes straight ahead. The passengers buckled up and the plane took off.
Once they were airborne, Vic
opened an ice chest and offered the others a cold beer. Mary, Eddie and Diana each took
one. Vic did not, however, and Eddie said to him, "Youre not drinking?"
Vic shook his head.
"Cant," he said. "If something happened to Halheart attack,
brain aneurysmId have to take over. Gotta keep my mind clear, just in
"You can fly?"
"Eighty-one missions in
Korea," he said. "Two confirmed kills, one disputed. I know I nailed that third
Russki, though. But dont worry, Hal has the constitution of a lizard. Dont
you, Hal?" Vic shouted at him. "I told these people youve got the
constitution of a lizard."
Hal nodded, then again gave a
thumb up without turning around.
"Only problem with
Hal," said Vic, "is that one of his eyes got poked out in a bar fight six years
ago. Seminole Indian used a pool cue on him. Cant tell the glass eye from the real
one. He flies a plane good as ever, though. Just once in a while he miscalculates slightly
on the landing. Almost skidded us into a lake full of alligators last May. Hey, Hal,"
Vic shouted, "which one of your eyes is the glass one?"
Hal shot Vic a middle finger,
and Vic cracked up.
"Just a joke,
folks," he said. "My old pal Hal has the eyesight of an eagle. Drink up,
were almost there."
Hal landed the plane
expertly, with hardly a bounce, at the Havana airport, taxiied for a few minutes and
stopped in front of a terminal. After landing, he began writing on a piece of paper
attached to a clipboard. Vic opened the door, lowered the boarding steps and exited first.
Eddie said, "see you on the way back to Miami."
Hal waved his pencil but did
not turn around.
Vic guided his charges toward
customs, and told them, "Dont say a word, just follow me."
At customs, Vic produced a
permit or document of some kind, neither Mary nor the Rogers couple could see what it was,
and he and the others were waved through without delay. The Cuban official merely nodded
at Vic as he passed by, and hardly seemed to notice Eddie, Diana or Mary. The four of them
climbed into a Cadillac taxi and sped away from the airport.
"Were going to El
Gallo," Vic announced, "the best casino and dance club in Cuba. Trust me."
"We dont have a
choice but to trust you, do we, Mr. Victor?" asked Mary.
"Of course, you do,
Mary," he said. "You always have a choice. Its just that sometimes
its better to let things happen."
In ten minutes they arrived
at El Gallo. In three minutes more they were inside the club and being led to a table.
There was a stage on which a twenty-piece orchestra was performing, and a dance floor
crowded with couples. Most of the tables in the club were occupied. The music was loud and
upbeat and the patrons were talking, laughing, drinking and dancing in as lively a manner
as Mary had ever seen.
"The casino is in
another room," Vic said to Eddie, as the four of them sat down.
Without ordering, tall rum
drinks with enormous pieces of fruit draped over the sides of the glasses were placed in
front of them. The music was so loud that Mary could barely hear a word anybody said, so
she sipped her drink, which was terribly sweet but strong, and watched the dancers. After
several minutes, Eddie said something to Diana and he and Vic left the table together.
Diana scooted her chair close to Marys and said, "Theyre going to gamble.
Do you want to go with them?"
Mary shook her head.
here," she said.
Diana and Mary sipped their
drinks and enjoyed the spectacle. After a few more minutes, Diana said to Mary, "Do
you see those men over there? The ones wearing battle fatigues."
She motioned toward them with
her head. Mary looked in the direction Diana indicated and saw four bearded men in
military uniforms smoking cigars.
"Yes," said Mary.
"Well," said Diana,
"the one on the left, wearing a hat, has been staring at you since we sat down. I
think he likes you."
At that moment, the man stood
up and walked over to their table. He took off his hat and looked directly at Mary.
"Would you do me the
honor of dancing with me?" he asked her.
The man was very tall and
lean, with a long, thin reddish-brown beard. Before Mary could say anything, he had taken
her by the hand and led her onto the dance floor. The tune was a mambo and Mary did her
best to keep up. Her partner, she quickly realized, was not a very much better dancer than
she, so they managed to accommodate each other without one of them being embarrassed by
their own lack of expertise. Halfway through the number, Mary began to relax and enjoy
dancing with this man, who smiled at her often, revealing severely tobacco-stained teeth.
She liked his dark brown eyes, which were soft and warm and very bright.
Out of the corner of her
right eye, Mary saw Vic Victor moving quickly toward her. When he was within ten feet, Vic
withdrew a revolver from one of his coat pockets, pointed it at her dance partner and
pulled the trigger. Just as he did so, before she could react, someone knocked his gun
hand up and deflected the bullet harmlessly into the ceiling. Chaos, of course, ensued,
and the next thing Mary knew, she was being half-carried out of the club and shoved into
the back seat of a car. Diana and Eddie Rogers soon joined her in the back seat, and as
soon as they were safely inside, the door closed and the car drove off. Mary did not know
who was driving or where they were going. Diana had collapsed in tears and Eddie was
trembling visibly. Mary looked into the front seat and saw that a black man wearing green
army fatigues was at the wheel. In the passenger seat was another of the bearded men who
had been seated at the table with her dance partner.
The car sped rapidly through
the night and soon Mary realized they were approaching the airfield where their plane had
landed. Then she saw the plane. The car drove up to it and stopped. The bearded man got
out and opened a rear door. Eddie disembarked first, followed by his wife and then Mary.
The bearded man led them to the plane and motioned for them to board, which they did. As
Mary took a seat, the engine turned over. She saw that Hal was at the controls. The door
slammed shut and the plane began taxiing down the runway. It took off. Nobody said a word
during the flight.
The plane landed in Miami
thirty minutes later. A black Chrysler sedan was waiting. Eddie, Diana and Mary got in and
were driven by a brown-skinned man to the Spearfish Hotel. Again, nobody spoke.
In the lobby of the hotel,
Eddie said to Mary, "I think it would be better if we didnt see each other
again." Then he and Diana walked quickly away.
Mary looked at the clock
above the registration desk. It was four-thirty in the morning.
She took the elevator to her
floor, got off and went to her room. Walter was asleep, snoring softly. Mary took her
suitcase from the closet, opened it and began to pack her clothes.