فصل 05

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فصل 05

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER FIVE

Cadillac cruising

Luis ordered coffee for himself and a refill for me, and then he sat and listened to my account of that morning’s activities. He didn’t seem as impressed as I’d expected him to be. In fact, by the time I’d finished, he wasn’t looking very happy at all.

‘What is it, Luis?’ I asked him, puzzled. ‘What’s wrong?’ Luis stirred several spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee then sighed, looking at me thoughtfully. ‘I know that it is hard for you to imagine what it is like for Cubans,’ he said ‘Cuba is our country, and we are proud to be Cuban. But at the same time we have no real hope for ourselves. No ambition. What is there to have ambition for? We are poor and we will be poor always. It is inevitable. A fact of our lives the way the sun coming up in the morning is a fact of our lives. Tourists, they come here to experience our country, but they leave without ever knowing what it is to be Cuban.’

‘You don’t want me to blackmail Gina, do you?’ I guessed, and Luis shook his head.

‘No, querida,’ he said. ‘You are right. I do not.’ He sighed and took my hand in both of his. Then he looked deep into my eyes, willing me to understand. ‘You see, it is probably true that Gina is… how do you say it? Exploiting. Yes, that is it. Gina is exploiting Alec Cartwright. Perhaps that is cruel, but I don’t think so. Because he is exploiting her too, is he not? She is a victim too. No, the real cruelty in this case is to her man. To Carlos. And to Gina herself of course, because it is not right that she feels she has to be the pet of Alec Cartwright when all that she truly wants is to live with Carlos and to have many babies with him.’

By now, passion and strength of feeling had increased the volume of Luis’s voice, and he was waving his hands in the air to emphasise his point. ‘Do you think that Gina is happy lying in that old man’s arms?’ he asked. ‘Do you think she smiles with affection as she lies in his bed and listens to him using his mouthwash? No, she does not! But I tell you, her mother will be happy about it.’ He nodded when I looked doubtful. ‘It is true, querida. Yes, I can assure you of this. Gina’s mother will be delighted that her daughter has the chance to have money and a good life. The chance to escape.’

Luis shook his head at the injustice of it, then looked at me appealingly. ‘No, Carla,’ he urged me, ‘do not blackmail Gina. Save her instead. Remove the man who stands in the way of her happiness with Carlos. Remove Alec Cartwright from her life.’

Remove Alec Cartwright from her life… Was that the moment, I wonder? The moment when my thoughts of revenge turned into thoughts of murder? I don’t know. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but, looking back, I realise now that there was a finality about the way Luis spoke that word: remove.

‘All right,’ I told him. ‘I won’t blackmail Gina. I didn’t really want to anyway. She looks like a nice person.’

‘She is a nice person,’ Luis declared with authority, and I looked at him, surprised.

‘Do you know her personally, then?’ I asked, and he smiled.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I know many, many people in Havana. And later today I will take you to meet Gina. We will have a little conversation with her about Alec Cartwright. But before that, finish your coffee. We will go for a drive.’ He paused, looking at me. ‘That is,’ he asked; ‘if you wish it?’

I glanced out of the window at the beautiful red car and then I turned back to grin at him. ‘Yes please,’ I said, and Luis laughed.

‘Come on then,’ he said, standing up: ‘Let’s go!’

The Cadillac was superb. So were the views. And so was Luis’s company. I hadn’t had so much fun for ages. I honestly don’t think I thought about you once for two whole hours. Luis and I laughed together the whole time, and we waved and called out to people when they stopped to admire the car. And whenever we had to stop at traffic lights, we kissed. It was impossible to believe that I had known Luis for less than twenty-four hours.

But then something happened to remind me that I didn’t really know him at all. He stopped the car by the Malecon sea wall and got out, glancing at me only briefly. ‘Wait here for me please, querida,’ he said. ‘I have a little business to attend to.’

So I sat obediently in the Cadillac and watched Luis as he approached a group of men sitting on the wall. I wasn’t close enough to see their expressions, but I was close enough to get the impression that they respected Luis. No, perhaps it was even more than that. Perhaps it was more that he dominated them. They smiled at him, and he shook hands with all of them, but somehow he seemed to be more powerful than any of them - almost as if he was their boss or something. Then, as I watched, I saw two of the men give him something, though I couldn’t see what it was. If I had to guess, I’d say that it was money changing hands. Why, I didn’t know. And perhaps I didn’t want to know. Perhaps I suspected that Luis’s business with the men was something illegal.

But anyway, when Luis returned, even though his smile was the same as ever, things seemed different between us somehow. He was the same Luis, and yet he was changed for me, perhaps because I now suspected he was some kind of criminal.

He seemed to guess something of what I was thinking, but he didn’t offer me any explanations. Instead, he just smiled that charming smile of his and patted my knee. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Let us find Gina and have our conversation with her.’

I nodded. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘let’s.’ It was time to remember my reason for being in Havana. Time to get down to business, Luis drove back into Habana Vieja, and I soon recognised the dark street where Gina had gone to meet Carlos. We didn’t need to knock on the door however, because as soon as the Cadillac pulled up outside the house, both Carlos and Gina looked down into the street from the rusty balcony.

‘Luis!’ Carlos called down, and I smiled at Luis for probably the first time since leaving the Malecon sea wall.

‘Is there anyone you don’t know in Havana?’ I asked him, and he grinned at me.

‘There are still one or two people who are strangers to me,’ he said, and then he directed his attention to the rusty balcony, speaking quickly in Spanish. There was no hope of me understanding, but it wasn’t important. What was important was that five minutes later Gina was at ground level, kissing Carlos goodbye. Then, she climbed into the back of the car and we drove away.

‘I have to start work at the hospital in one hour,’ she said in Spanish, and I looked at her reflection curiously in the mirror, trying to decide whether she was anxious or not. But her pretty features were expressionless, and I decide that either she had no idea as yet who I was and what this was about, or that she was simply resigned to her fate.

Luis stopped the car a few blocks away and looked at me. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘you have half an hour to convince her that she is making a mistake. You can speak in English. She will understand if you keep it simple. I will stand over there in case you need me to translate.’ And with that, he got out of the car and leant against a wall to smoke a cigar.

I got out of the car myself and climbed into the back with Gina. She moved over a little to give me space, staring down at her hands to avoid looking at me.

‘Gina,’ I asked, ‘do you know who I am?’

She looked up and spoke clearly. ‘Yes, I know,’ she said, meeting my eyes. ‘You are the friend of Alec’s ex-wife.’

I shook my head. ‘No,’ I said slowly, ‘I’m not. I’m the friend of his wife. Alec isn’t divorced, Gina. He’s still married.’

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