WILL SEE – THE PARTY
Coast of Florida, USA
November 29, 1999 – Late evening
‘It’s so cold’, uttered twenty three year old Xavier Quintana to himself, as he huddled shivering against the hull of the 21 foot boat. In front of him, approximately forty other mainly young men were huddled together, talking amongst themselves apprehensively as the lights of the distant Florida coastline came into view.
‘I thought America was going to be warm.’, quipped Xavier to the older man to his left side.
‘It is during the day, but remember what they told us in Cuba, Florida nights are cool, it is only warm during the day. You should have wrapped up yourself, instead of your precious cigars!’, he gestured towards a blanked wrapped package that Xavier was resting his left arm on.
‘It will be worth it, replied Xavier. These are for someone high up in American politics, maybe the President.’, he laughed, while still shivering.
‘How much will you get for them?’, asked the other man.
‘Whatever I want! If it’s enough for me to pay my own way for a few weeks, then I will be able to convince the authorities to let me stay. They don’t want people who live off the system. This isn’t Cuba!’
‘Maybe I can help you. Here, let me have them, I’ll keep them under my coat, and you can cover yourself with the blanket and keep warm.’ Before Xavier could reply, the man leaned over and grabbed the box from under his arm.
‘I’m all right Mr…’, Xavier got up and tried to pull the box back from the older taller man. The blanket came unwrapped in the struggle.
‘Hey, leave him alone, came the voice of another man sitting nearby.’ As the tall man lost his concentration and slightly released his grip, Xavier managed to pull the box away, screaming in the process as he caught his thumb on a splinter. The box fell to the bottom of the boat with a loud crack. About twelve inches square, the box was nailed together from plywood. A familiar logo belonging to one of the more well known Cuban cigar producers could clearly be seen across the side and top of the box. Xavier raced to pick it up, and with blood running from his thumb, quickly wrapped his valuable cargo in the blanket and sat back down against the side of the boat, with the package firmly gripped in both his hands on his lap.
‘Heavy cigars.’, said the tall man.
‘Probably wet.’, replied Xavier, agreeing with the man. They did seem heavy.
‘I need the money, OK!’, shouted Xavier. ‘At least it’s not drugs, or something more harmful.’
‘The police will take them away from you.’
‘Maybe, but I can try.’
An hour later, just a quarter mile from the coast, a coast guard cutter pulled up alongside the boat. In broken Spanish, an officer used a bull horn to speak to the tatty and cold refugees in the creaking hull below.
‘You are entering United States waters. You have no right to be here, and if you do not turn around immediately, you will be arrested and imprisoned before being deported back to Cuba.’
‘We want to live in the USA! We stay!’, shouted a young lady near the front of the boat. Xavier smiled. That was the indication he was waiting for, that they were going to make a run for it. He was pleased, but terrified something would go wrong. He never wanted to return to Cuba. Seconds later, some of the men in the boat grabbed their oars and began to row as hard as they could towards the shore. Once again, the man on the deck of the Coast Guard cutter shouted ‘This is another warning, if you do not turn around, you will be deported.’ Engines revving up, the cutter moved closer to the steadily accelerating refugee boat.
Xavier looked at the lights on the horizon. He nervously scanned until he could see the pattern he had been told to head towards. Learning towards the helmsman, he offered some advice, ‘Head towards those lights, there! In the shape of a triangle, with the orange one on the left. I have a friend who lives near the beach and he can help us if we can run fast, just you and I OK?’
‘OK, but what if the American shoots at us?’
‘He won’t, they don’t care. We’ll end up cleaning their dishes, so they won’t have to.’
After a ferocious last spurt of energy from the nearly exhausted Cubans, the boat slid onto a dark only slightly moonlit beach. The lights Xavier had been told to head towards were no longer visible, but the lights of houses near the beach provided a limited sense of security. Grasping his package tightly under one arm, he jumped out of the boat into the surprisingly warm water and ran as fast as he could up the beach.
‘Hey, wait for me!’ Came a voice from the man who had been at the helm. Xavier stumbled on some low lying bushes of grass, but regained his footing. He could hear the helmsman running behind him.
‘Hello?’, replied Xavier.
‘Here, to your right.’ came the voice again, in broken Spanish. Xavier headed towards a beachfront house, still unsure where he was supposed to be headed. ‘That’s good, now look up.’ Xavier glanced upward to see a man standing on the balcony of a house a few feet away.
‘Come around the back, quickly now!’ Xavier looked behind him to see his crewmate stumbling in the dark towards the houses. Xavier ducked behind a wall and walked fast with his knees bent around to what he assumed to be the back of the house. A door opened, and a white, slightly pudgy man gestured to Xavier.
‘Hey you, only Xavier, this is our business.’, shouted the man to the crewmate.
‘It’s OK, he my friend.’, whispered Xavier, urgently.
‘Sorry, Xavier.’ The man drew a gun with a silencer and pointed it at the puzzled young man behind Xavier.
‘Go, or I shoot. This is business between Xavier and I.’ Xavier, turned around and stared in guilt as the man who had steered him to the coast so accurately ran back down the beach to certain deportation.
‘He helped me get to you. Why you not let him come in?’, shouted Xavier in broken English.
‘Because you never know who other people are. I don’t want things to get complicated. These are expensive Cigars you know?!’
‘Sit here Xavier, I will be back in a few minutes.’ He grabbed the blanket-covered box and took it into his study next to the kitchen. The man opened a drawer in his desk and lifted out a small electronic device with a needle meter at one end. He moved it over the blanket – a slight crackling noise could be heard. As he moved it closer to the blanket, the crackling got louder and faster. ‘Yes!’, uttered the man, raising both hands in jubilation. He put down the device and walked back into the kitchen, trying to remain calm.
Just as Xavier was beginning to get excited about the prospects of being offered a hot bath, some food and then his payoff, the man strode back into the kitchen, pulled out his gun again and shot Xavier in the forehead at point blank range. Xavier’s instantly lifeless body slid to the floor head first. His face became relaxed in direct contrast to the enthusiastic persona of seconds ago. ‘Quickly, get the body in the basement!’ the man whispered assertively to a well-built man who rushed into the kitchen. ‘I’ll clean the mess from the kitchen floor. When they find him, we’ll be long gone.’
Mike McFarlane was shaking. This was the first time he had shot anyone since the late 1970s, when he had become involved in drug running. He didn’t like the fact the young man he had just shot had no idea why he had been killed. After taking a deep breath, McFarlane called out, ‘OK, let’s pack and go my friend.’
He and his assistant grabbed any evidence of their trade from the house, packed it into two suitcases and a backpack, and casually got into a car in the garage. McFarlane pressed the door release on the remote above the rear view mirror, and as the door opened, they cruised out up the quiet street.
A sign in the messy garden read ‘DANGER UNSAFE PROPERTY – KEEP OUT!’. No one would be disturbing that hurricane ravaged home in a long while.
‘Where are we going Mike? What’s this job worth anyway?’
‘New York, and a lot,’ replied McFarlane.
After less than one hour of careful driving to avoid alerting the highway patrol, and little talk, McFarlane shook his now nearly sleeping passenger. ‘Lou, hey, Lou, this is our last job together. In a few miles, I will be getting out.’
‘What do you mean Mike? Those Cigars must be special.’
‘They are not Cigars Lou, something with a little more umph.’
‘Yeh, coke, but this is good stuff, so I have been told. The best of the best. Once I complete the deal, I am going to go away and retire on my own somewhere abroad. I want to start again Lou, I am sorry.’
‘Wow. Well, sure boss. It’s been good working with you. I guess I’ll have to go wash dishes somewhere, like I started back in ’67.’
‘Hey, don’t you worry Lou, I’ll make sure you do OK believe me.’
McFarlane pulled over to the side of the road, about a quarter of a mile from a small town where he could see a distant Motel sign. He got out. Lou followed and helped unload McFarlane’s suitcase and backpack from the trunk.
‘Lou, we can’t wait around. Thank you for everything. I can’t pay you cash this time, but the car is yours. Don’t sell it for a few weeks, OK buddy?’
‘Thanks Mike, I appreciate it. Are you really sure? This is a nice car, worth more than you normally pay me.’
‘Lou, it is yours, and I have to go. Please stay with your relatives or something, lie low for a while, and then start afresh. And Lou, drive carefully. You don’t want to get pulled over. There will be residue in the trunk. Look innocent!’
‘I’ll try boss.’
With that, they exchanged hugs, and Lou drove off.
McFarlane walked the few hundred yards to the Motel up the road, dragging the suitcase behind him on its small overworked wheels. He went to a pay phone outside the motel and called a cab. Fifteen minutes later, one arrived and whisked Mike McFarlane north to the next hard to trace node on his long journey to New York City.
Continue to Chapter 4
CHAPTER 3 OF 4 – WET, BUT NO CIGAR