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The dearest friend of Lupe Solana's beloved "Papi," Ramón Suarez was the owner of a prosperous sugar mill back in Cuba until Castro forced him into exile. Now an unnamed Spanish source wants to purchase the confiscated property at a fraction of its true value. Suarez wants the sexy, smart, hot-tempered South Florida P.I. to find out why, but Ramon's lazy, no-good nephew Alexander just wants to take the money and run. Then Alexander is found brutally slain in a sleazy Miami hotel -- his last known visitor, Tío ...
The dearest friend of Lupe Solana's beloved "Papi," Ramón Suarez was the owner of a prosperous sugar mill back in Cuba until Castro forced him into exile. Now an unnamed Spanish source wants to purchase the confiscated property at a fraction of its true value. Suarez wants the sexy, smart, hot-tempered South Florida P.I. to find out why, but Ramon's lazy, no-good nephew Alexander just wants to take the money and run. Then Alexander is found brutally slain in a sleazy Miami hotel -- his last known visitor, Tío Ramón, accused of murder. Lupe's routine journey down a paper trail now turns into something darker and more twisted, entangling her in a mysterious web of spun sugar and blood that will bring bullets smashing through her window and death to her door.
"Lupe, can I speak with you for a minute?"
I started at the sound of Papi's voice calling out to me. I was sitting alone at one of the tables on the terrace behind our house, enjoying a quiet breakfast and reading the newspaper. I had just closed my eyes to enjoy the early-morning breeze wafting over me from Biscayne Bay.
"Papi!" I called back to him in surprise. Papi usually left for his office at the crack of dawn, and I'd assumed he had gone before I got up. I folded the Miami Herald and rose to greet him.
"Buenos días, Lupe," Papi said.
"Care for some café con leche?" I tempted him. "Aida made it particularly strong this morning."
That was an understatement. I half expected the bottom of my cup to suddenly give out. I watched Papi struggle for a moment over whether or not he should accept my offer — his cardiologist had told him not to drink so much coffee. That advice might be fine for some, but as far as I was concerned, it didn't apply to Cubans. Coffee brings us so much pleasure that it was inconceivable to me that it could really do us any harm.
"Osvaldo," I called out. I figured I'd make it easy on Papi and take the decision out of his hands. "Would you please bring Papi a café con leche?"
"Gracias, Lupe," Papi said with a sly little smile.
"Here, sit, Papi." I patted the cushioned seat of the chair next to mine. "What a beautiful morning, no?"
"Sí, hija. It isvery nice." Papi took off his glasses, pulled a spotless handkerchief out of his pocket, and began wiping the lenses clean. As usual, he was wearing a white guayabera, the long-sleeved linen shirt favored by most Cuban men. I could almost hear it crinkle as Papi leaned back in his chair; Aida starched Papi's shirts so stiffly that they could stand up in the closet themselves, without the benefit of coat hangers.
Papi let his gaze wander off over the water, and for a second I had an impulse to ask him if there was something wrong. But then Osvaldo appeared carrying a silver tray with an oversized white porcelain saucer and cup filled to the brim with steaming café con leche. Osvaldo glared at me as he placed the tray gently in front of Papi.
"Gracias, Osvaldo," Papi said, looking at the cup of coffee with undisguised pleasure.
I looked up and caught another dagger from Osvaldo. I knew how much Osvaldo wanted to keep my father around as long as possible, and he felt that by openly encouraging Papi to have coffee, I was cutting short my father's life. Osvaldo had suffered an irreplaceable loss when Mami died, and I knew he didn't want to endure such an emotional blow again. I could understand his strong feelings on the matter — when you're more than eighty years old, you don't want to keep burying loved ones who are younger than you.
The thing was, I wanted Papi to live a long life as much as anyone, and I felt every bit as strongly as Osvaldo about it. But I also knew that Papi loved life's little pleasures the same way I did. A cup of good coffee, an occasional cigar, a glass of scotch — for Papi these things in moderation made life worth living. Being a total sensualist, I understood completely.
I gave Osvaldo my most charming smile. I saw his eyes soften a bit, not much, but enough for me to know that I had been temporarily forgiven until my next transgression. Osvaldo had been close to me for all of my twenty-eight years, so he knew about my basic disregard for most of life's rules.
Papi blew into his coffee cup before taking his first sip. His breath moved the salt-and-pepper of his mustache. I didn't like the preoccupied look on his face. I was sure now that something was troubling him. But I knew better than to pressure him when he was like this.
We sat together in comfortable silence, watching the sunlight brighten on the waters and refract into shining crescents. A few pelicans were perched on the channel markers, warming up and checking out the minnows skimming the water's surface.
My strategy proved to be the right one. After about a minute of quiet, Papi cleared his throat and shifted in his chair.
"Lupe, you know my friend Ramón," he said.
"Of course I know Tío Ramón." I referred to Papi's childhood schoolmate with the honorific conferred upon close friends who, although not related by blood, were considered as close as family.
"Well Ramón has become involved in a situation that has turned out to be quite complicated." Papi was choosing his words carefully and looking down into his folded hands as he spoke. And from his concerned tone of voice, I knew that in this case "complicated" did not mean good things for Tío Ramón.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Papi," I said. "What's the problem?"
Papi straightened up, took a sip of his café con leche, and looked away from me out to the bay. It was obvious that he was hesitant about bringing up the subject of his good friend to me, and I supposed his sudden interest in what was going on in Biscayne Bay wasn't entirely unexpected. I looked out there as well, just in time to see a pelican flying low. The bird flew gracefully and easily over the waves, and I watched him open his beak, drop down, and envelop one of the fish swimming dangerously close to the surface of the water.
"You know Ramón's family was in..."Bitter Sugar. Copyright © by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted August 10, 2014