FOUR MONTHS IN CUBA: An Excerpt

Posted: November 2, 2017 in Chapter Comment, Four Months in Cuba
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Chapter 1

Monday, July 13
My flight from Port‑au‑Prince, Haiti to Maceo International Airport in Santiago de Cuba lasted less than an hour.

It felt like an eternity.

For some reason, the passenger seated next to me thought I might enjoy hearing how he’d spent the previous evening sampling the nightlife of Port‑au‑Prince.

He was wrong about that.

When we’d boarded the aircraft, Antonio Guillermo had introduced himself as a travel agent from Havana, with a branch office in Santiago de Cuba, and I’d politely recited the legend I’d been given in my operational briefing at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia two days ago.

“I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Nacio Bandera.”

He pointed at my briefcase.

“I’m guessing your trip to Santiago is business.”

I nodded. “I’m an archivist at the Haitian National Museum. The assistant curator and I are touring Cuban museums to evaluate their collections and discuss exchanging artifacts.”

The man’s eyes glazed over as soon as I mentioned museums, and his reaction led me to believe my dull job description would cut off any further communication between the two of us.

Not so.

He asked, “Male or female?”

“Pardon?”

“Is the assistant curator male or female?”

“Juliana De Santos is definitely a female.”

“Nice. Is she on this flight?” he asked, looking around the cabin.

“No, she arrived in Santiago a few days ago.”

“I hope the two of you plan to have a little fun together while you’re in the city, take in some of the hot spots around the harbor, that sort of thing.”

“We’ll check everything out. You can be sure of that.”

After making some additional suggestions about what to see in Santiago, he spent the next forty‑five minutes telling me all about the nightclubs he’d visited, the company he’d entertained, and the women he’d met on his visit to Port‑au‑Prince.

Now, as our plane taxied into the terminal, Guillermo once again recommended the nightlife of Santiago de Cuba, and I decided there was a possibility the man could actually provide me with some much‑needed intel about one location.

“What do you know about Club Nocturno?” I asked.

He looked surprised.

“That place? It’s mainly a neighborhood bar; local talent on the weekend. When you go clubbing, you’d do better to stick to the downtown area or the harbor district. There aren’t many people in Santiago who’ve ever heard of Club Nocturno. How’d you hear about it?”

I wasn’t about to tell Guillermo the first time I’d heard about Club Nocturno had been eleven days ago during an operational briefing in Damascus, Syria. The briefing had taken place during a video conference call with the Ops Center back at Langley. That was the moment I’d learned my partner, Ben Mitchell, had disappeared after visiting the club.

Mitchell had been in Santiago de Cuba running a surveillance op on a shipment of chemical weapons the Syrian government had recently handed over to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization run by Iran. Mitchell had been working Component Two of Operation Citadel Protection, a mission tasked with preventing a sarin gas attack on Washington, D.C., and I’d been in Damascus working Component One, trying to ascertain the date of the scheduled attack.

Mitchell’s last communication with his operations officer, C. J. Salazar, had been a text message, along with a photograph. After sending the message, his Agency sat phone had flatlined, and his signal had disappeared off the Grid, leaving the Ops Center with only his GPS coordinates.

Those coordinates had pinpointed Club Nocturno as his last known location.

I repeated Guillermo’s question. “How did I hear about Club Nocturno?” I scratched my head. “I must have seen some pictures of the nightclub when I was looking up information about Santiago on the internet. I always do a little research on a city before I visit it.”

“Like I said before, you and your lady friend should probably stick to the downtown area for your entertainment. Nocturno doesn’t attract the best clientele.”

“Rough crowd?”

He nodded. “The Los Zetas drug cartel owns most of the businesses in that area, including Club Nocturno. If there’s trouble, la policía are paid to look the other way.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Guillermo opened up his wallet and removed a business card. “Call me if you and Señorita De Santos would like to see some of the Cuban countryside. We have several daylong excursions into the backcountry, including a sugar mill tour. If you’d be interested in an overnight train ride to one of the region’s oldest coffee plantation, I could arrange that as well.”

I pocketed his card. “I might give you a call.”

When our plane arrived at the gate, Guillermo stood to his feet and said, “Let me be the first to welcome you to Santiago de Cuba, home of poets and revolutionaries. As the saying goes, ‘Ignore them both.’”

I always ignored poets.

Revolutionaries—not so much.

END of First Scene in Chapter One of Four Months in Cuba. Download from Amazon here.

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