Graciela said, “It’s just coffee.”
“That’s like saying vodka is just potato juice.” He finished it and returned the cup to the saucer. “Do you miss it?”
She nodded. “Very much.”
“Then why are you here?”
She looked off at the street as if she could see Havana on the other side of it. “You don’t like the heat.”
“You,” she said. “You are always waving your hand at the air, your hat. I see you make faces and look up at the sun, as if you want to tell it to set faster.”
“I didn’t realize it was that obvious.”
“You’re doing it now.”
She was right. He’d been waving his hat by the side of his head. “This kinda heat? Some people would say it’s like living on the sun. I say it’s like living in the sun. Christ. How do you people function down here?”
She leaned back in her chair, lovely brown neck arching against the wrought iron. “It can never get too warm for me.”
“Then you’re insane.”
She laughed and he watched the laugh run up her throat. She closed her eyes. “So you hate the heat but you are here.”
She opened her eyes, tilted her head, looked at him. “Why?”
He suspected—no, he knew—that what he’d felt for Emma was love. It was love. So the feeling Graciela Corrales stirred in him had to be lust. But a lust unlike any he’d ever encountered. Had he ever seen eyes that dark? There was something so languid in everything she did—from walking, to smoking her cigars, to picking up a pencil—that it was easy to imagine that languid motion in play as her body draped over his, took him inside her while she exhaled a long breath into his ear. The languor in her didn’t resemble laziness but precision. Time didn’t bend it; it bent time to uncoil as she desired.
No wonder the nuns had railed so vehemently against the sins of lust and covetousness. They could possess you surer than a cancer. Kill you twice as quick.
“Why?” he said, not even sure where he was in the conversation for a moment.
She was looking at him curiously. “Yes, why?”
“A job,” he said.
“I come for the same reason.”
“To roll cigars?”
She straightened in her chair and nodded. “The pay is much better than anything in Havana. I send it home to family, most of it. When my husband is released, we will decide where to live.”
“Oh,” Joe said, “you’re married.”
He saw a flash of triumph in her eyes, or did he imagine it?
“But your husband’s in prison.”
Another nod. “But not for what you do.”
“What do I do?”
She waved at the air. “Little dirty crimes.”
“Oh, that’s what I do.” He nodded. “I’d been wondering.”
“Adan fights for something bigger than himself.”
“What kinda sentence they hand out for that?”
Her face darkened, the joking over. “He was tortured to tell them who his accomplices were—myself and Esteban. But he did not tell them. No matter what they did to him.” Her jaw was extended, her eyes flashing in a way that reminded Joe of the slim bolts of lightning they’d seen last night. “I don’t send money home to my family because I don’t have a family. I send it to Adan’s family so they can get him out of that shithole prison and home to me.”
Was it just lust he felt or something he hadn’t been able to define yet? Maybe it was his exhaustion and two years in prison and the heat. Maybe so. Probably so. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was drawn to a part of her he suspected was deeply broken, something frightened and angry and hopeful all at the same time. Something at her core that struck at something at his.
“He’s a lucky man,” Joe said.
Her mouth opened before she realized there was nothing to retort to.
“A very lucky man.” Joe stood and placed some coins on the table. “Time to make that phone call.”
They made the call from a phone in the back of a bankrupt cigar factory on the east side of Ybor. They sat on a dusty floor in the empty office and Joe dialed while Graciela took one last glance over the message he’d typed up last night around midnight.
“City desk,” the guy on the other end said, and Joe handed the phone to Graciela.
Graciela said, “I take responsibility for last night’s triumph over American imperialism. You know of the bombing of the USS Mercy?”
Joe could hear the guy’s voice. “Yes, yes, I do.”
“The United Peoples of Andalusia claim responsibility. We further pledge a direct attack on the sailors themselves and all American armed forces until Cuba is returned to its rightful owners, the people of España. Good-bye.”
“Wait, wait. The sailors. Tell me about the attack on the—”
“By the time I hang up this phone, they will already be dead.”
She hung up, looked at Joe.
“That should get things moving,” he said.
Joe got back there in time to see them run the convoy trucks down the pier. The crew came off in groups of about fifty, moving fast, eyes scanning the rooftops.
The convoy trucks barreled off the pier one after another and then immediately split up, each truck carrying about twenty sailors, the first one heading east, the next heading southwest, the next north, and so on.
“You see any sign of Manny?” Joe asked Dion.
Dion gave him a grim nod and pointed, and Joe looked through the crowd and past the crates of weapons. There, on the edge of the pier, lay a canvas body bag tied off at the legs, the chest, and the neck. After a while, a white van arrived and picked up the corpse and drove it off the pier with a Shore Patrol escort.
Not long after that, the last convoy truck on the pier rumbled to life. It made a U-turn, then stopped, its gears grinding with the high pitch of gulls, and then it backed up to the crates. A sailor hopped out and opened its rear gate. The few sailors left on the USS Mercy started filing off then, all carrying BARs and most wearing sidearms. A chief warrant officer waited on the pier for them as they mustered by the gangplank.
Sal Urso, who worked in the central office of the Pescatore sports book in South Tampa, sidled up and handed Dion some keys.
Dion introduced him to Joe, and they shook hands.