Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Last Missile Out of Havana: Chapter 3

The sun was setting as Anna drove through the ancient, dingy streets of Havana. She caught herself thinking about how many yanquis dollars her heap would reap when the norteamericanos see it. Anna’s loyalty was wavering in the last days like the shimmering images rising up from the heated road beyond the dusty windshield. She knew it was impossible to look the other way and pretend there was a future in Cuba with or without Castro. The writing was literally on the wall. The country’s buildings were decaying, falling into the earth in large chunks of mortar and small flakes of paint like the languid sweat rolling down the faces and backs of the people in the streets. Havana had become a Daliesque painting, dripping slowly toward nothingness. She smiled at the absurdity of going to a party in the middle of the meltdown.

But Anna knew she would always party until the end and then welcome back the gusanos and norteamericanos with open arms. She knew she could live anywhere under any system because she was willing to do whatever it took to survive.

Her hand shook when she handed her ID to the guard at the gate. She smiled to hide her fear. He thought she was being friendly and smiled back. He was thinking about flirting with her until he saw her name and that the invitation was personally signed by the Maximum Leader. He snapped to attention and returned her papers with a sharp salute. Anna knew what he was thinking. She could see it in his eyes as he stared straight ahead. “Girl Friday.” Fidel’s favorite party girl on his favorite party night. And now she was ready to toss it all aside. For love. For Orestes.

Anna drove past the barbed wire fence toward La Vivienda. The ten story building was bathed in light. Huge diesel powered military search lights had been driven in and placed around the building. La Vivienda was so white and clean. It reminded her of the other buildings surrounding it, buildings that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint since 1962 when Lider Maximo angered the yanquis with the missiles and they began an economic quarantine that cut the revolution off at its knees. She was glad she had met a Sherwin-Williams franchisee in Hialeah. She knew that contact would want to go into business with her after the fall.

Anna drove up to the heavily guarded entrance. One of the soldiers, dressed entirely in black, pulled at the Caddy’s door until it opened and offered his hand. She took it and stepped out. She knew she was something else, that all eyes were on her. The Versace dress she bought in Europe. The diamond necklace was a gift from Fidel. She thought she heard a soldier groan with pleasure. No one knew this would be the last time any of them would ever see her again.

A colonel took Anna by the arm and ushered her through the main entrance. Anna wondered where the other women were as she was led past a buffet table and a group of officers and government bureaucrats. A salsa band was playing in the background but nobody was dancing. And then she saw why.

It was as Orestes said it would be. In the center of the building was the last Soviet ICBM in Cuba. And it wasn’t on display, either. La Vivienda wasn’t a restricted apartment complex for Cuba’s elite. Neither was it a museum. It was a goddamn missile silo stuck in the middle of Havana. The building was nothing more than a hollow facade, a ten-story atrium of death.

And the fuse is lit, Anna thought. She could see smoke seeping out from the bottom. Her stomach tightened and she grew faint. Her escort caught her and struggled to hold her up.

“Anna, darling!” El Comandante called out across the cavernous room. Thanks to a microphone his feeble voice bounced off the concrete walls. “I’m so glad you could make it to the Party's last party.”

Anna thought she was going to throw up. The room was spinning. Orestes, Cuba’s youngest lieutenant colonel, had told her it was there, but she couldn't bring herself to believe it. And now, there it was, an imposing monument to insanity. She saw Fidel waving her over with a cigar in his hand. His aide de camp, a young soldier, was standing next to him holding an oxygen tank and mask.

Where was Orestes? She could feel Fidel’s arms around her body. She shuddered. She could feel his bones poking through his weathered and splotched skin. She could smell his old man’s death breath.

“What’s wrong? Are you alright?” he asked.

She tried to smile but the cigar smoke only made her sicker. Orestes was right. The old man was crazy. Loco.

“It’s only a missile, my dear. Albeit an old one, but, like me, it’s still got a lotta fight left in it.”

Anna tried to speak. “I..I didn’t know we had any left.”

“Just this one. But it’s enough. Let’s dance.” He turned to the band. They were chained to their chairs, soldiers guarding them. "A merengue, if you please."

He escorted Anna out onto the floor next to the missile’s smoking rocket engines. The man with the oxygen accompanied them. The Old Man tried to lead Anna in the dance but she kept slipping toward the floor and tripping over her feet. But that didn’t stop Fidel from trying to dance. And sing. Despite his shortness of breath, he made a gallant attempt at singing along with the music.

Anna thought she had stepped into a nightmare as the old man feebly tried to dance and sing beside the huge missile. She saw the band whirl by. When he spun her around, she instinctively held on tighter lest she be thrown into the madness rushing by.

The old man struggled to hold her up and stopped dancing. “So, what do you think?” he wheezed. “We’re a nuclear power and you didn’t even know it.”

Anna tried to look up at the tip of the rocket so far above her head and lost her equalibrium. The missile looked like it was falling but it was only her. Fidel's air man caught her and held her up. She tried to focus on the old man and the cigar in his mouth.

“You’ve been humpin’ a man with an atomic bomb between his legs. Not too many whores can say that.”

He’d never spoken to her like that. He could see her confusion and pain.

“That’s right, comrade fucker. This is your last assignment.” He grabbed her arm and led her stumbling across the floor toward the missile. When he stumbled, his aide de camp grabbed him too. As they rounded the missile, Anna stopped short and screamed. Her wretched wail bounced off the walls and rose through the hollow building. Orestes, still in uniform, bleeding and bruised, was being tied by a group of soldiers to the missile like a man on a cross, duct taped and hog-tied around the missile’s girth.

“Anna.” Her name barely spilled from Orestes’ mouth.

“Shut up!” Fidel shouted. “This is what happens to traitors.” He turned to Anna. “Think twice about screwing with the Fatherland! When you betray me, you betray the people!” He whipped Anna around. “Did you really think you could screw around behind my back? C’mon, Anna, you’re one of my top spies. This is embarrassing. Just for that, I’m launching you First Class, with a One-Way ticket straight to Miami. It’s my way of giving you a chance to redeem yourself. Your final mission will be to take out every last one of the gusanos who’ve been a pain in my ass since day one. Take her!”

Anna shook loose and backed away. “Generalissimo, why are you doing this?” Anna cried as soldiers ran towards her.

Castro motioned for the oxygen. When he paused to take a hit, Anna lifted her skirt and pulled out a Walther PPK from a holster wrapped around her thigh. She aimed and shot one soldier in the shoulder which brought them all to a slip-sliding halt.

“Don’t make me shoot the Old Man!” She was walking toward the Maximum Leader with both hands holding the gun aimed at his head and before his old shriveled up brain cells could figure out what was going on, he had been whipped around and turned into a shield with the gun planted firmly just above his right ear.

Castro raised his hands to caution his men to keep their cool before whispering. “Anna, darling, it’s all over for me and the regime. Raúl hasn’t got what it takes to keep it going. It was a good run but it ends tonight with my fuck-you rocket. I’m tired of dying slowly like an old man. This is my last hurrah, my 9/11 inspiration. Armageddon is just around the corner. If I’m lucky, this baby will just make it to Miami. Ain’t no one gonna push ol’ Fidel around no more.”

“But they’ll retaliate! We’re no match for them! You’ve killed us all!”

“Fuck the people. Talk about a bunch of spineless losers.”

Anna was frantic as she looked for a way out. And a way to save Orestes. “Listen, old man,” she whispered, “if you don’t cut Orestes down I’ll shoot the rocket and we’re all dead and there’s no grand finale for a lunatic.”

“You’d shoot the rocket?” Fidel asked in a fragile, breathless whisper.

“In a heartbeat.”

Fidel paused for a moment. “And they say I'm nuts.”

The old man turned to his aide de camp. “Cut the bastard down and bring him here.”

The soldier ran off, shouting instructions to cut Orestes down.

“You know, sweet Anna, you’ll never get away with this.”

“Considering my options, it’s worth a try.” Anna began to back away towards the entrance.

“You are one calculating bitch. So what are you going to do with me? Kill me? Let me go?”

“I’ll let you go. You’ll be dead soon anyway.”

“That’s for sure. One way or the other. You know there’s nothing you can do to stop the launch. The countdown has already begun. My scientists are already in the air flying to Venezuela. Chávez wants some ICBMs too. So, what Che and I began so many years ago, la revolución, it will continue on without us.”

“Not if I can help it.”

“Spoken like a true traitor.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“I plan too. Royally. Anna, Orestes wasn’t flying alone. I was going with him.”

“What are you talking about, you crazy old coot?”

“I’m really going out in a blaze of glory. Nikita gave me an old cosmonaut suit and my scientists have been able to retrofit it for my last hurrah. See it over there?” He pointed at some skittish bureaucrats huddled around the suit. It looked like it was attached to a portable air-conditioning unit. "I'm going to be the world's first dictator spaceman!"

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“I never kid when I fuck.”

Orestes was brought up and held in front of them. He could barely stand.

“Now what?” Castro asked.

“Now they hand over Orestes or I put a bullet in your head.”

Castro sighed and shook his head. “Do as she says.”

Orestes is let go and pushed across the floor. He stumbles into the Old Man. Castro grabs him and struggles to hold him up. “You are one lucky peon. Anna’s got bigger cajones than all of us combined. Look at this sad excuse for a man, Anna. He’s not worthy of your sweet, sweet pussy.”

Orestes pushed Castro away and, holding his side, stood behind Anna.

“You need a real man, someone with an atomic bomb between his legs. Someone like me. Are you sure you don’t want to go for a ride on my rocket?”

Anna backed toward the entrance, taking Fidel with her. “You’re coming with us.”

“But we made a deal.”

“I’m not letting you kill millions of people, you crazy fuck.”

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