John Francis Kinsella
LONDON - PARIS - BERLIN
Copyright © 2018 John Francis Kinsella
all rights reserved
Published by Banksterbooks
Cover designed by Banksterbooks
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the work of the author.
For Tilla, Selma, Eléonore, Noé, Xaver, Elyias, Adèle, Camille and Antoine
Money is a singular thing. It ranks with love as man's greatest source of joy. And with death as his greatest source of anxiety. Over all history it has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce.
John Kenneth Galbraith
Islands, whether they are separated from the world at large by seas, mountains or deserts, have never ceased to impose their geographical limits on those who live on them. Those, whose aspirations exceed the limits imposed by their islands, have always been pushed to fulfil their dreams and hopes in lands beyond their shores.
This is a story that tells of the ambitions of men, both great and small, seeking to realise their brief dreams by whatever means fortune had given them.
Economic forces, driven by a market frenzy caused by the explosion of the Internet and information technologies, created phenomenal gains in virtual money. At the same time inconceivably sums of money derived from crime and drugs were generated by criminal organisations, and then processed and legalised through the world’s banking and financial institutions.
For those who controlled that vast flood of money, virtual reality was never so real, close to dreams of empires and palaces on far away beaches, where the winners could profit from their gains, virtual or real, but in any case ephemeral.
Depending on how one looked at it, it may or may not have been a good augur. For John Ennis it was nothing more than an amusing anecdote that the baggage porter told to each new arrival. Their rooms were located on the sixth floor, the whole of which they were told had been rented year round by Al Capone at the height of his infamous career. Capone had been just one of the many figures of organised crime of his time who had been drawn to Cuba by the lawlessness that then reigned.
That period was known as Cuba’s age of decadence. It was presided by Fulgencia Batista. Until his election in 1940, as President of Cuba, he had been an important figure in Cuban politics behind a series of puppet presidents. He stepped down four years later, then, after a period in Florida, he returned to Cuba, where he was again elected as president in 1952 and 54, presiding over a brutally oppressive regime. After provoking the Castro revolt, Batista fled the island to the Dominican Republic December 31, 1958. The following day Castro took over Cuba.
Mobsters such as ‘Lucky’ Luciano and his partner the Jewish godfather, Meyer Lansky were also amongst the Mafiosi who had controlled hotels and casinos in Havana, and what was to become, half a century, later the modern tourist resort of Varedero.
Batista and Lansky were said to have been so close that they were almost like brothers. In 1953, Batista appointed Lansky as his personal advisor on gambling reform. The American gangster then proceeded to transform Havana into a tropical Las Vegas.
The reign of corruption, gambling and prostitution ended with the flight of Batista and the arrival of the young revolutionary Fidel Castro. Castro installed forty years of fruitless revolution that bled dry a country that was already in a calamitous situation.
With the new millennium, impoverished and in a state of advanced decay, Cuba was ready for the next infernal swing of fortune’s pendulum. From the nearby mainland and islands, patiently watching and salivating, a new deadlier version of organised crime prepared itself for the feast, aided and abetted by the international banking system equipped with the most modern technology and condoned by serious government.
he Hotel Sevilla was a splendid edifice built in 1908, near the historical centre of Old Havana, just off the Prado. John Ennis browsed through the hotel brochure as he sat on the toilet; it described the recently renovated hotel in grand style. He had to agree, both from the external appearance and that of the spacious lobby with its elegant Spanish colonial style furnishings, where fine classic blue and yellow ceramic floor tiles brilliantly reflected the light cast by the crystal chandeliers. It was certainly grand, although his initial encounter with the plumbing seemed to indicate that it was not only the architecture that was turn of the century Moorish style.
Their Air France flight from Paris had been uneventful. On arrival they had been met by a smiling Havanatour representative, who had them transferred efficiently to their hotel in a modern air-conditioned taxi.
He together with Paul Carvin formed a team of no-longer very young freelance journalists, who, with nothing better on hand, had accepted a reportage for the Banque de Credit National, a leading Parisian bank, to garner the pages of its quarterly magazine. John Ennis handled the journalistic content and Paul Carvin the photography. They had worked as a team for more years than they cared to remember, scrambling from one story to another with a light to cynical vein to their reports, which had won them a modest reputation.
They were delighted, two weeks all paid in advance in the Caribbean sun, after a bitterly cold Parisian winter and a miserably damp start to the spring, it could not have been more welcome. Business had not been exactly booming since the end of the last Middle East war and the Indonesian elections. They had no desire to get involved in another war zone - much too dangerous. They preferred good hotels and bars, and specialised in crisis development or redevelopment after the crisis. The shooting part was for heroes and they had no desire to be the subject of a first page tribute to a bloody and quickly forgotten end.
They had two objectives in Cuba, first and most important, as it paid the bills, was a glossy reportage for the bank’s magazine, the BCN Quarterly Review, published for its well heeled gold and platinum credit card holders, seeking adventure in the comfort of five star hotels, cocktails and cigars. Then, secondly, there was the somewhat remote possibility of a pre-crisis story on the imminent downfall of the Castrist Revolution.
A couple of days collecting information from the Agence France Press and Reuters databases in Paris had given them a good starting point. They had heard all the usual stories of an exotic Cuba that had become a fashionable destination not only for tourists, but also writers and political observers as the end of Castro’s reign inevitably approached. Fashionable it was. Its music, cocktails, cigars, sunshine and easy sex. What was behind all that? What had become of the revolution and its heroes? Was there something brooding behind the Wim Wenders smiling images of indestructible old men, improvising their wonderful Afro-Cuban rhythms in the smooth style of the Buena Vista Social Club? That would really be of interest to the national and international press. Maybe there was a good story to be told!
Of course the Cuban community of Miami, the gusanos, or worms as Castro liked to call them, was informed daily of every event of political or economic consequence that occurred back home in Cuba, the smallest or even most secret piece of information filtered out, in spite of the fact that practically all overseas contacts and communications had been virtually impossible for ordinary Cubans.
Regular and detailed information on the political situation reached Miami via the privileged overseas Cubans, who travelled without restriction regularly to and from the island, or, from the tragic boat-people known as balseros, defectors from the revolutionaries paradise, who came from every level of Cuban society, groups of individuals and families, risking their lives in make-shift boats and rafts trying to reach the promised land of the mighty dollar.
Paul was French and liked to add the qualification ‘Pied-noir’. His family had been French immigrants or colonists who after generations in Algeria had been forced to quit after that country’s independence, first to Morocco and then finally back to France, a country he new little about when he arrived at the age of eleven years. He spoke not only French, but also fluent Spanish, which had been one of the imported languages of Europe’s North African colonies.
John Ennis, a journalist, had long accepted Paris as his base from where he led a nomadic life, the bane of his profession. He was a Dubliner who had learnt to appreciate France and call it his home.
Although both men were professionals with long careers behind them, travelling to almost every corner of the world where news was in the making, they had never made the kind of noteworthy scoop required to bring them into the big league of star reporters. They were part of the innumerable faceless men and women who made their precarious living filling the pages of the myriads of newspapers and magazine that lined the shelves of new-stands in shops, stations and airports around the world.
In short, except for a miracle - which was not about to happen - they were not candidates for a Pulitzer, or any other prize for that matter. Life had become for them an endless search for new experiences, new horizons, and an incessant paper chase, which no longer had any real sense, another country, another hotel, another bar, and another story.
Before leaving Paris, they had set out a rough plan for their trip, which consisted of visiting typical tourist sites and resorts, restaurants and bars, not forgetting sampling the country’s celebrated cigars or listening to its music.
As Ennis showered, he remembered the rocambolesque adventures of Jim Wormold, the vacuum cleaner salesman in Graham Green’s ‘Our Man in Havana’. The story had started in the very same hotel, named the Biltmore-Seville, where Wormold met the spy Hawthorne in room 501. Cuba had been the inspiration of more than one strange story, both in the past and the present.
The water temperature was uneven and as he attempted to adjust it, struggling with the worn mixer, he heard phone ringing.
Fuck! he thought, it’s Paul, who was in the next room, 619. He’s probably got his fuckin camera in his hand and ready to go.
“Amigo, you’re ready!”
“I’ve just got in the putain shower!”
Paul laughed. “Bon, in two minutes, I’ll knock at your door.”
Paul never missed the least occasion to record on film for posterity an unforgettable place or face. Photography was not just a job for him, it was a passion, which came before almost all other things, except as he insisted – friendship - and even that had to wait from time to time.
They studied the city map in the vast cool lobby, where they admired from a distance the patio bar with its fountain, resisting the temptation of a quick drink before leaving the hotel. Once out of the hotel they turned right and following the map headed in the direction of the cathedral.
In other circumstances Paul Carvin could have been confused with a member of an expedition, about to embark on a voyage of discovery, dressed in khaki and wearing safari boots. The worn tunic, which fitted snugly over his ample torso, was covered with pockets that bulged and bristled with all the accessories of a photographer, it was a uniform chosen to inform the casual observer that he was dealing with a professional.
Having left the hotel block, the two reporters were surprised by the crumbling decay of what had been once elegant buildings, which at first glance looked picturesque. In the streets, ancient, but gaily painted American cars graciously glided past, rolling unevenly over a maze of potholes, they were no less than wrecks, which by some miracle were still in running order.
Smiling black girls dressed in fluorescent Lycra shorts and body suits passed by, their ample backsides swayed as they walked on ungainly platform shoes. Most of the locals seemed to be particularly relaxed, some tending to the repair of their cars, others lounging in their doorways watching the world go by. They were much poorer, and considerably less European than the two newly arrived visitors would have expected.
It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon in Havana and in Europe 10 o’clock in the evening.
At that same moment, John Ryan was checking into the Sheraton Hotel at Frankfurt International Airport. He hauled a regulation size carry-on bag on wheels. He paid cash in advance, mumbling that he had misplaced his credit card. The stiff blonde receptionist checked his passport and gave him a cold once over as he signed the registration card. He shrugged and decided not to waste his breath on any unlikely explanations. He knew only too well that it was unusual for international travellers not to use plastic in that class of hotel, but Frankfurt he reasoned was accustomed to strange travellers. It would have been unwise to use one of the several cards contained in an inside flap of his wallet.
The next morning he took breakfast early, checked out and headed across the foot bridge into the passenger terminal. After a seemingly endless series of check-in zones and shopping areas he found the desk he was looking for.
‘Sonnen Reisen’, Sun Travels, an airport travel agent specialised in cheap last minute flights for tourists not particularly concerned about their holiday destination. There was no crowd; the Easter holiday rush was another few days away. He stood in line behind the only two other travellers, a couple of young back-packers who were discussing a flight to India with the sales girl. His eyes ran down the list of destinations available that day, hand written in large black letters with a marker pen on a white plastic notice board.
Singapore…no, that reminded him too much of the Barings scandal, Mike Leeson had ended up with a three or four year trip to Changi Prison. New York…not that either, the Yanks had put a lot of money into ‘Swap’. Mexico…didn’t sound bad, he mused thinking of Mariachis, on second thoughts he remembered having heard stories about it being dangerous for tourists and foreigners.
Cuba…hmm, he vaguely recalled being told that it had a certain run down charm from Tony Arrowsmith back in Dublin, a business friend, more of an acquaintance. He mentally rephrased ‘friend’ in the conditional, at least he had been a friend. Arrowsmith was involved in the hotel business in the Caribbean. Kavanagh recalled him talking of beaches, cigars, rum and exotic women, but also and not least he had mentioned it as being not far from those very useful offshore banking havens.
“Cuba?” he said aloud without thinking.
“Ya! It is possible,” replied the sales girl with an encouraging smile, “One thousand two hundred marks for the round trip - ten days, with two nights and breakfast included in Santiago de Cuba.”
“Sounds good,” he replied without consciously distinguishing the difference between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. After all why not, he thought to himself, it can’t be more than just a hop from there to meet Martin Wender in person.
“You’ll need a tourist card.”
“A tourist card!” he replied snapping out of his reverie.
“Don’t worry, you can get it on arrival, a few dollars will see to everything.”
“What passport do you have?”
“No problem. It’s a Lufthansa charter flight with Condor, leaving at 11.30 from terminal B, check-in starts in half-an-hour. You’ll take it?”
“Okay,” he nodded thinking it’s as good as anything I’ll find today.
She made out the ticket and hotel voucher, then Kavanagh paid in cash and headed towards terminal B to the check-in.
As he tried to decipher the signs to his boarding gate, he suddenly had a misgiving, remembering Arrowsmith’s link with Cuba. He was involved in a tourist complex called the ‘Cayo’ something, near a place called Holguin, or a name like that, financed by the BCN with Castlemain, perhaps that could make a problem he thought. I’ll just have to keep my wits about me, whatever happens I’d better avoid that place, wherever it is - just in case.
Cuba was in a strange state of limbo. From appearances, a casual observer could not be blamed for thinking that the country looked as though it had just emerged from a ruinous period of war and privation.
The enigmatic revolutionary, El Lider Maximo, had brought his country to economic collapse and disaster. He was no hero, just another idealist who had backed the wrong horse. He was not the only one to have believed in revolution, equality, communism and the Soviets and he was not the only one to suffer its consequences.
He was born a wealthy sugar plantation owner’s son. At first he became a lawyer and then a revolutionary, overthrowing the corrupt, but typical Latin American dictatorship of the fifties.
Fidel Castro had not been a communist when he arrived in Havana in January 1959 as a young barbudo hot on the heels of the ousted Batista regime, and perhaps he had never been a communist; that would remain a question for future political analysts and historians. As events developed in those e