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Kevin BaxterThe story reads like a fairy tale. On Christmas morning, the winningest pitcher in modern Cuban history, banned by the government from playing, flees by sea. After four days on an island with virtually no food or water, he and his shipmates are rescued and taken to the Bahamas. Hours before he's to be deported, a fairy godfather a sports agent known simply as The Fat Man spirits him off to the United States, where he signs a $6.6 million contract with the New York Yankees. Before the year is out, he wins a World Series game and leads a ticker-tape parade through Manhattan. There has always been as much fable as fact in the story of Orlando "Duque" Hernandez. But little of the mystery was unknown to Washington Post writer Steve Fainaru and Newsday columnist Ray Sanchez, who witnessed even participated in much of it. What they didn't see, they pieced together through interviews with government officials, Hernandez's family and friends, and others. The result is The Duke of Havana, a fast-moving book that provides the most definitive recounting of one of the decade's most intriguing sports stories. Hernandez is just one of more than five dozen Cuban ballplayers who have defected since Rene Arocha abandoned the island's national team at a Miami hotel in 1991. And in telling the story, Fainaru and Sanchez shed a great deal of light on the hidden, seedy and frequently illegal flesh trade. This story-within-a-story really drives the book. At its center is Joe Cubas, a college dropout with a penchant for deal-making who entered the sports-agent business. A tireless self-promoter, Cubas took time out from negotiating Hernandez's contract to pitch Hollywood a movie about himself. He also enlisted Fainaru to write a book about himself and El Duque. With access to Cubas and El Duque, dogged reporting and the clarity that develops with the passage of time, Fainaru and Sanchez turn an interesting story into a compelling one.