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A wind from the north brought a damp, bone-biting chill to Havana. The sun was a pale disk behind high, thin clouds. Waves crashed into the seawall and exploded upward, then over, engulfing the cars and flooding the street. When night closed in, the temperature dropped. Fingers of cold air slid through the buildings fronting the sea, sent paper flying, and shook the treetops even a mile inland, where Mario Cabrera hurried along Tulipán Street.
At the corner of Estancia he paused and pretended to adjust the strap of his flute case. The handle was gone; he had tied a woven cord to the metal rings. He looked around and saw the people one usually saw on a street like this: workers heading home, some girls going out for the evening, a woman with grocery sacks weighing her hands. A car went by, a decrepit Volvo with one headlight and a smoking exhaust. The apartment building was farther on, an eight-story gray box of poured concrete. Lights shone through glass louvers. From the patio railings, white plastic shopping bags, rinsed and hung up to dry, fluttered like ghosts.
Walking up the hill among others going in the same direction, Mario reached the front steps of the building. In a patch of street light, a group of boys in jackets too big or too small for them squatted on the ground shooting marbles. The fat blond woman from the neighborhood watch sat in a folding chair with her knees pressed together and her arms crossed, holding onto the warmth in her sweater.
Mario stopped when she called out, "Young man! We've had some complaints about the noise! Tell Tomasito. You boys have to stop playing the music by eleven o'clock."
He turned his smile on her. "Sure, I'll tell him. We're sorry to bother anyone. Hey, are you busy later, beautiful? We could go dancing."
She laughed and waved him on. "Be careful, the lights in the stairs are out again."
Mario went up the steps cursing silently. Only his third time coming here, and this woman knew him: a friend of Tomás, who lived on the top floor. Next time she might ask his name, want to see his papers. He wondered if she knew the others too. It would be better, he thought, not to come back.
In the lobby, fluorescent tubes buzzed in the low ceiling. He moved around a group of middle-aged women whose laughter echoed against the tiles, then took the steps two at a time. The elevator was still broken. Luckily the stairs went along the side of the building, and light from the city filtered into the stairwell. He held his flute case steady as he bounded upward. The wind rushed through the aluminum grid on the landings, whirled his hair across his face, and fluttered his jacket. He had left the zipper open; his fast walk from the apartment in Centro had made him sweat.
Crossing the landings he could see into the halls, hear the televisions through open doors, the same news on all channels. Tourism improving. A new resort with major investment from the government of Spain. Mario caught the smell of roast pork, and his stomach reminded him that he had eaten nothing all day but a pizza slice and a soda from a sidewalk lunch counter.
He swung around the turn in the stairs and bumped into a white-beard hanging onto the railing, pulling himself along slowly, painfully, one step at a time.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir." This earned him only a hard stare from the old man.
On the next landing Mario heard the clatter of high heels. He saw bare brown legs, a tight yellow skirt, then a short coat made to look like fur. The woman came into view, a morena with orange lipstick. Her teeth flashed white when she spoke to the man just behind her. Mario moved aside. The man had light hair, could be German. He stank of old sweat. Why had she brought him here? Couldn't he afford a hotel? Mario murmured to the woman to go out the back; there were eyes on the front steps. She glanced at him and nodded. "Thanks, love."
On the sixth-floor landing three young guys were drinking beer and listening to American hip-hop. A cord ran from their CD player through the door of an apartment down the hall. They held up their fists as Mario went by, and he tapped them with his own. They didn't know him, but he was dressed as they were: ripped jeans, earrings, T-shirts from somewhere else. Mario's had a map of the Paris Metro.
Finally reaching the top floor, he stopped to catch his breath. He faced the city and held his jacket open to cool off. He saw the uneven pattern of dim streetlamps, red taillights, the blue letters of the Habana Libre hotel. Spreading his arms, he curled his fingers through the aluminum grid of the security screen. He could see cars moving along the Malecón, the white dome of the Capitol, ships docked in the harbor. Across the harbor, the statue of Christ. The lights of El Morro, the stone fortress on the point. Past that, only darkness. No stars, no boats. Nothing.
He entered the corridor and knocked at the third door. Tomás's voice asked who it was.
The lock was pulled back and the door swung open. Tomás was a small man with neatly combed brown hair and wire-framed glasses. If he ever laughed, Mario had never heard it. He lifted the strap of his flute case over his head. "Where is everyone?"
"Nico and Chachi are in the back. Raul's on his way."
They maneuvered around a black vinyl lounge chair with lace on its arms. That and the matching sofa took up most of the space in the small living area. A plastic Christmas tree sat on top of the television, its blue lights blinking on and off, reflected in a mirror over some shelves that sagged with the weight of Tomás's books. Tomás was fond of pulling quotations out of his memory: The blood of martyrs is the fuel of freedom.
The apartment belonged to Tomás's girlfriend, Lisette, who lived here with her twin daughters. The girls' father had gone to Miami five years ago on the visa lottery, and Lisette hadn't heard from him since then. On nights of the meetings, she would take the kids over to her mother's house and come back around midnight.
Mario tossed his jacket to the sofa. "Do you have anything to eat? I'm starving."
"Fish and potatoes. It's good. I'll fix you some. Go see what the guys are doing."
At twenty-nine, Tomás was the oldest among them. Mario had brought him into the movement two years ago. They had met at a dance club in Varadero, where Tomás had played trumpet.
In Lisette's room, Chachi and Nicolás sat cross-legged on the bed with an old towel spread between them to protect the sheets. They had brought tools, metal pipe, a box of powder, a roll of wire. They nodded at Mario when he came in. Chachi and Nico were students at the university, classmates of Mario's before he'd been kicked out. The Movement had been Nico's idea in their first year at the University of Havana. He had brought in Chachi, then Mario, then more people they trusted. Some stayed, others left. Now there were five at the top level and a dozen others who could be counted on.
They had named themselves the Twenty-eighth of January Movement, for the birth date of José Martí, and at first they had been boys with paintbrushes or chalk, attacking the system with words. The police had arrived quickly to paint over the slogans. Liberty for the people or Socialism = death, followed by the signature, M28E. It had all been juvenile and useless. Then Raúl had taught them how to make bombs. Nico had casually slipped one under a parked police car. The gasoline tank exploded, and the car had burned beautifully with a lot of black smoke. Three other bombs had been set off in trash bins in the last month. The Party newspaper, Granma, called the perpetrators terrorists, traitors, delinquents, the criminal element. The targets had been inconsequential, more noise than effect. The Movement was about to change its tactics.
Mario propped a pillow against the headboard. He watched Chachi's pale, slender hands roll paper into a funnel and fill the pipe with powder. Tomás came in with food and a beer, and Mario ate with the plate balanced on his knees. The air conditioner fan was on for the noise. No one was likely to hear them, but they were careful.
A little while later Raúl arrived, a muscular man, very dark, age twenty-six. Raúl had a bad knee, thanks to the police. They'd shoved him down some stairs during an arrest for selling lobster on the black market. He held up a shopping bag from the Carlos III mall and said he'd brought them a little present. He lifted out some clothing—a cheap pair of men's pants and a knit shirt. He laid the clothes on the bed and unfolded them, revealing a small black pistol.
"Beautiful!" Nico pounded him on the back. "You did it, man."
"Trust Uncle Raúl, my boy." Raúl extended his arm and aimed at himself in the dresser mirror. "What a beautiful little bitch she is. You barely have to touch her, and she goes off."
Mario asked, "What kind of gun is that?"
"It's a pistol. Makarov. The magazine holds eight rounds. Small, light, easily concealed, reliable as your grandmother's cooking. I used one just like this in the army." Raúl held the pistol on the flat of his palm, showing it off. "Sexy, don't you think? You want to kiss it?"
Chachi said, "This won't work. To get rid of one man ... it won't do any good. We can't get away with it. We'll die for nothing."
"You are wrong," Tomás said. "This act represents the beginning of freedom for Cuba. Such a small thing, but believe what I tell you: It will start another revolution—or better to say, to finish the revolution they have abandoned. They get fat while we starve. They grind their boots into our backs and keep us in chains. They're worse than the Americans they pretend to hate, much worse. They have betrayed the revolution, betrayed the people—"
Nico said, "Shut up, will you? If I want to hear a speech, I can turn on the television. What do we do next?"
"You and the others will set the trap." Raúl aimed the pistol at the lamp on the nightstand. "I'm going to take care of Vega."
Nico laughed. "You? With that leg of yours?"
"I'm the only one with military experience. You boys are amateurs."
"Let me do it," Chachi said. "I could dress like a woman and get right up to his window. They'd never suspect."
Raúl whooped. "Ha! Show him your ass, sweetheart. Vega will pull you into his car. Oooooh, what is this little thing you have here?" Raúl held Chachi down and pretended to lift the hem of a skirt.
"Stop it," Tomás ordered. "This is serious. First we decide how to get to Vega, and then we'll talk about which of us is best suited to carry out the operation."
Nico said, "I am. I was on the track team in high school. I can kill him and get away before he hits the ground."
The target was General Ramiro Vega. He was moving up fast, a hard-liner. His sort would take power when the older ones died off. If the Movement could eliminate a man like Vega, the moderates would lose their fear. Still better, the entire structure could collapse.
Raúl set the pistol on the nightstand, and they talked about the best way to do it. As usual, Tomás led the discussion. Mario didn't think of him as a friend, but he would follow him. Tomás was right: The nonviolence of the dissidents had accomplished nothing. The state allowed the dissidents to exist because it served their interests: See how lenient we are, how we are changing. But there would be no change without blood. It would not happen in Cuba. It had never happened in Cuba.
Mario imagined Vega's face, which he had seen on television. His bald, shiny brown head, his clean white shark's teeth behind smiling lips. His green uniform fit smoothly across his chest. His campaign ribbons were over his heart. Mario reached over and picked up the gun.
"Put that down, it's loaded," Raúl said.
They talked some more, trying to decide where precisely to do it. Not at his office, too much security. On the street near his house in Miramar. They would have to stop the car somehow, perhaps stage an accident. Otherwise, they couldn't get close enough to fire directly through the window. How would they determine when Vega left his house? Was his routine the same every morning? Vega had no bodyguards, only a driver who took him back and forth to the Ministry. Nico suggested the intersection at Fifth Avenue, where the driver would turn. After that, the car would pick up speed. Tomás said no, they should wait for Vega as his car came out of his driveway.
"It's hopeless," Chachi said. "We don't have automatic weapons, we have one damned pistol"
Raúl acknowledged this with a shrug. "It's a challenge."
Still leaning against the pillow with one knee raised, Mario spoke. "What we have to do," he said, "is to get close enough to put the barrel against his head."
"Oh! Yes, yes, of course, perfect." Raúl laughed.
"There's a way."
Raúl motioned for him to go on. "Well?"
"I know his wife. Her name is Marta Quintana. I can use her to get inside the house; then I'll kill him."
"Inside the house? Well, you're pretty enough. Are you going to seduce her?"
Chachi said, "Mario, have you ever fired a gun?"
Nico pushed Chachi's shoulder. "Do we keep blowing up trash cans?"
"Be quiet, all of you, and listen." Mario rolled off the bed and stood up. "My mother works at a veterans' home in Vedado. There's an old man who lives there, Luis Quintana. I've met him. He's Vega's father-in-law—and he's blind. Several times a week Vega's wife comes to take her father to her house for dinner. She's a busy woman, and it must be a bother. I could help her. I could offer to drive Señor Quintana, and naturally I'd take him inside. I would do it once or twice to establish some trust, and then I bring the gun and kill Vega. All I need is a car."
A gust of wind rattled the air conditioner fan, and a draft of cold air slid through the glass louvers.
"We can find you a car," Tomás said.
Raúl nodded. "The idea has some juice."
"It wouldn't matter," Chachi said. "They would know who he was. They would find all of us."
"He'd be trapped," Nico said.
"Not if he was fast enough."
"But they would know who he was."
"They would track him down. They would make him talk."
"Not if we got him out of Cuba." "Could it be done?"
"Yes," said Tomás. "Yes. It could be done."
Nico said, "Mario, what do you think?"
Mario touched the dark, gleaming barrel of the pistol, moving his fingers over the hammer and down the black plastic grip. "No. I won't leave. I will kill him, and then I will stay here and continue the fight."
"Exactly!" Tomás cast a fierce glance at the others. "We will not fail. Even if we pay with our blood, we will not fail." He made a fist. "When the people awaken, the nomenclatura will run for their lives. A new revolution, my friends."
"We go underground," Raúl said. "There are people who would hide us. What about you, Nico, Chachi? No more parties."
They nodded. Nico said, "We're with you."
Mario picked up the pistol. Makarov. Tiny letters were stamped into the metal. His hand fit nicely around the grip, and his thumb lay along a ridge on the left side. He moved a lever and saw a red painted dot.
"That's the safety, you idiot. Give me that." Raúl took it away.
"When do we do it?" Mario said.
"Be patient," Tomás said. "We need to plan for every contingency. Raúl, how long do we need?"
"We could be ready within a month." Raúl rolled the pistol into the clothing. "Mario, take a ride with me out to the country tomorrow. I'll let you shoot at my brother's chickens."
"First Vega, next Fidel." Chachi swooped imaginary letters across the bedroom wall. "I want to see that on the monument to Marti."
Mario's mind went to the view from the top of the stairs. The lights of the city below him, the movement and color, the empty black ocean beyond. He could be dead in ten days, probably would be dead. How strange, then, to feel so content.
Excerpted from Suspicion of Rage by Barbara Parker. Copyright © 2005 Barbara Parker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 18, 2005
I found this book disappointing as compared to Ms. Parker's other books. The book dwells on Cuban politics to the degree that the murder/suicide is lost and the investigation is non-existent. The attempt to assassinate Anthony's brother-in-law was anti-climactic after the build-up through the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
After a quickie marriage, Miami lawyers Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana plan to travel to Havana via Mexico so she can meet the Cuban branch of her new husband¿s family. They plan to stay at his sister Marta¿s house; she is married to General Ramirez Vega, a rising star in Castro¿s government. Anthony is also friends with political dissidents so he tries not to talk politics while he is there.--- This trip proves impossible because before he leaves a government investigator wants Anthony to persuade his brother-in-law to defect; they want him to verify what Major Omar Cespedes Ruzi, a Cuban defector, told them when he arrived in the United States. Gail and Anthony find that General Garcia, Romero¿s boss, wants Anthony to find out what Cespedes told government officials and he won¿t let them return home until he gets some answers. While these events are transpiring, dissidents in an underground cell plans to assassinate General Vega and one of these rebels has a very special relationship to Anthony.--- Unlike the previous books in this series, this novel takes place on Cuban soil and readers see how life is like for those who support the government and those who oppose it. Much against his will, Anthony is forced into the role of spy in order to keep America from invading Cuba. There is plenty of action in this romantic thriller but the heart of the story lies in Anthony¿s love for a Cuba that he was forced to leave when he was thirteen years old. SUSPICION OF RAGE is a fantastic thriller that will grab and keep reader interest.--- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.