Friday, February 27, 2009

GRISTLE SPRINGS (new installment)

“Well, Peter? How’s Havana agreeing with the old John Henry thusfar?”
I’d seen precious little of Weymouth Smith since we moored the Far Frummit, none the worse for its negotiation of the flat sea between the Bermuda Triangle and Cuba, in Ernest Hemingway Marina: he was, I quickly surmised, quite the cooze hound, and had headed for La Rampa almost before we motored into our anchorage.
“I found an exceptional paladar in Verdado,” I offered, preferring to talk food than libido. I kept remembering Myra and the casual way Smith had shot her, like someone trimming his fingernails. Surely Smith wouldn’t open fire on any lays in Havana, it would run counter to all reason—yet I confess I preferred not to persue any threesomes in the kingdom of Raoul Castro!
“A real museum of 1940s memorabilia,” I enthused circumspectly, “ and scrumptious pescado.”
We were drinking mojitos at a puce-varnished picnic table under a flaking, dessicated thatch circumflex. The Caribbean lapped listlessly in the middle distance, the horizon misted with a slatelike chiaroscuro, giving the motionless oil tankers and fishing trawlers a spectral not-really-thereness.
“You’re starting to tan,” Smith observed. His mirrored sunglasses confirmed this rare example of solicitude, or perhaps envy. His own epidermis had remained the same ecru-freckled chalkwhite throughout our journey; presumably his UV sensitivity had returned to its normal state in the months since his exposure to Fu Manchu’s Death Ray, or whatever it was. “I worried, with fair skin like yours, you’d be red as a betel nut by now.”
“It’s odd,” I said, “but once, when State sent me down to Gainsboro F.L.A. to witness an execution—part of the training, you know—I got burnt to a crisp, just smoking a joint in the prison parking lot.”
“I continue to think capital punishment’s a barbarity. Even that legal injection method. What number sun block are you using? Whatever it is, it’s certainly doing the trick.”
Truth to tell, during the hours of peak radiation, a fair number of mademoiselles de la promenade had been doing the trick with me in the two-bedroom apartment Smith had rented for us, in a neighborhood off the Malecon near a Fiat dealership.
“I popped in at your Interest Section this a.m.,” Smith informed me. “Seems they’ve had a little dust-up at Gizmo.”
I nodded.
“It’s the talk of the town,” I said. “By the way, did you know most policemen in Havana are natives of Santiago de Chile and the Ciudad of Trinidad, and not from Havana at all?”
“Caught on to that muy rapido, I see. Yes, Peter, Raoul Castro knows perfectly well that a flourishing skin trade depends on an oblivious police force in a nominally Communist dictatorship. They’re yokels, those coppers. They can’t tell a transvestite from a geniune seniorita.”
Nor had I been able to, our first night in town, or my second either, though I wasn’t about to let Smith make merry at my expense by revealing it.
It had been quite a comedy. Three in a row, actually. Damned convincing, these Cuban drags. Great sense of humor they had. Sex muy spectacular, even though it wasn’t what I’d had in mind. Perhaps it’s my mongrel bloodlines, but I’ve never experienced erotic embarassment—albeit the girth of one of those pseudoladies’s catzos rather astonished me when she slapped my face with it.
Smith lit a ganja weed and H combo, sucked it to life, passed it with an expression of straining constipation.
“Seems—” he managed to wheeze before a coughing spell preempted his power of speech, “—a number of deranged Islamofascist rabble blew up a shopping mall. Escaped by speedboat.”
“Huh,” I huh’d.
“They’ve got two duped accomplices in custody, right here in the city,” Smith went on. “Enlisted boys no older than yourself. Younger, in fact.”
Not what I’d heard, but I nodded anyway. When you’re young, you like to think everyone else is older.
“Seems everybody on the island knows about it.”
“Yes,” Smith said, without surprise. “Bad news travels fast. Of course, it wasn’t bad news for everyone. I’m sure Raoul Castro’s tossing his hair up in sequins in unmitigated frauleinisch glee, but…happily for our side, this isn’t a case of American Taliban or what not. Seems they were mesmerized—not responsible for their actions. Funny names. Huck and Tom. Not Tom, I mean, there’s T.S. Eliot and so forth, but Huck—what’s Huck short for, or is it short for anything?”
“Hucklebrotten. Not so uncommon if you’re American,” I said, but Smith really wasn’t listening. He seldom was, if I haven’t mentioned it before. “I’ve wondered—” I began, pointlessly. Smith’s ever-dexterous, ganja-saturated mind was already elsewhere. Mine was going elsewhere fast. Ever since our adventure began, Smith had seemed a strange and paradoxical figure—a brilliant detective, of course, but one whose agile insights and cryptic behavior left me feeling ever more the neophyte in a world gone mad, a world where friend was foe and foe friend, if that makes any sense…
“Popped into the British Counsel office as I was gadding about,” Smith informed me, quite belatedly.
“Oh yes?”
“Naturally, MI5 has a mole here, as it does virtually everywhere. And,” Smith said, casual as you please, “I’m afraid our idyll will need to be abbreviated. According to reports, something troublesome’s afoot with our arch-enemy—ever wonder about that word, ‘arch’? Couldn’t suit him better, however.”
“Not the insidious Fu Manchu?”
“The very same. Seems he controls a drug company that’s running a very public shindig over on Martinique. This could be our chance to put paid to his fiendish diabolism once and for all. Catch him in the act. Sever his windpipe for him.”
“Gosh,” I said feebly.
“We’ve no time to waste, Peter. Well, I suppose we could both get laid first, but best do it in a hurry.”

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