With Havana World Series, one of Latin America's premier crime writers offers a blend of baseball, American mobsters, and corrupt cops. It is the fall of 1958 and all of Cuba is riveted to the World Series-the New York Yankees are playing the Milwaukee Braves and the infamous Meyer Lansky's gambling empire is raking in millions in bets. With a team of Cuba's boldest and most ingenious criminals, rival mob boss Joe Bonnano plans to hijack Lanksy's fortune. The heist goes off brilliantly until Bonnano's point man is double-crossed and shot dead. As Lansky's man in the police department investigates the murder, he suspects the involvement of career criminal Mariano Contreras-and to get Bonnano out of the Cuban racket once and for all, Lansky will stop at nothing to track Contreras down. Alive with vibrant detail and a fantastic cast of misfit characters, Havana World Series is an entertaining and suspenseful story.
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Havana World Series
By Jose LaTour
Grove PressCopyright © 2005 Jose LaTour
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe last day that Angelo Dick spent in Havana, Cuba-October 1, 1958-began in a most auspicious way around 2 a.m., in the ascending elevator cage of the plush, twenty-two-story apartment building where he lived. Angelo appreciatively eyed the smiling, pretty brunette holding a blue plastic ring a yard in diameter. He was wont to flirt with regal dames from the Havana nightlife, but this hustler was a sight for sore eyes. Five foot six in three-inch heels, mid-twenties, green eyes, coal-black hair that tumbled down her back, full lips, creamy skin, and a tawdry but perfectly fitted dress which insinuated a great body. "What's that for?" he had just asked on the ground floor, pointing to the weird contraption, as they waited for the elevator. "You'll see," had been her enigmatic answer. Angelo had spotted her for the first time that same evening, a little after 10 p.m., when she'd set foot in Casino de Capri on the arm of a middle-aged Norwegian salesman. As the couple traversed the gambling hall, headed for the nightclub, Angelo and several patrons had peered at the object. Why did the babe bring that to a casino and nightclub? What purpose did it serve? The damn thing was eclipsing a flesh-and-blood goddess, the gaming executive had thought. Suddenly he had realizedit was a fabulous sales gimmick. Three hours later he had seen her again, calmly sashaying among casino tables, hoping to be picked up. But as Angelo very well knew, compulsive gamblers won't leave a table for a dame, not even for an Ava Gardner look-alike carrying an intriguing plastic ring. The Norwegian was nowhere to be seen. Nick Di Constanzo, Casino de Capri's general manager, had repeatedly warned all those under him never to mix business with pleasure. You want to have a drink, sweet-talk a broad, engage in conversation with a friend, you do it after hours. But Angelo was only human. Tired of call girls, he felt like a ring girl. So, he had approached the young woman with a jaunty step and his most engaging smile, accompanied her to the bar, ordered the bartender to serve the lady whatever she pleased, and said he would be free in less than an hour. During the short walk from Casino de Capri to the building where he had rented apartment 15-A almost a year earlier, a mere three blocks, Angelo had learned that her name was Gloria, "glory" in Spanish. He had felt sure it was going to be a glorious night indeed. The only thing that Angelo didn't approve of in this particular broad was her perfume: Chanel No. 5. Ever since Marilyn Monroe went public on what she wore to bed, he hadn't found a high-priced chippie who smelled different. And finally, sitting on his living room couch, sipping his first drink of the night, Angelo discovered what purpose the ring served. Gloria took a moment to change the position of a floor lamp and the coffee table, placed the sound track of The Eddie Duchin Story on the record player, and stripped as she danced. Once buck naked, she started rotating the hula hoop with such a slow, sensual swaying of her hips that it looked as though gravity had been conquered. As a man of the world, Angelo had seen a lot. He knew that certain moments in life merit special appreciation, and on this particular night, for some reason he couldn't define, he suspected that he was watching a unique performance he'd never see again. Angelo wanted to prolong this very private show as long as possible, memorize everything, including its concomitants: the music, the soft lighting, the flavor of the Black Label highball. But Gloria slithered languorously across the room, getting nearer every few seconds. After three minutes, Angelo succumbed to the erotic flexibility radiating from her superb body. They rolled over the carpet kissing and touching in blind sexual frenzy as he pulled his clothes off. Angelo Dick kissed Gloria good-bye next to the front door at 6:30 a.m., when the rising sun was purifying the greenish tint of his living room's picture window and the charcoal gray of the nearby sea. Amazing what twenty bucks buys in this town, Casino de Capri's hall supervisor concluded five minutes later as he flopped onto his bed. He signed off smelling Gloria's perfume on his pillow. Nearly five and a half hours later, the ringing phone on the bedside table awoke him. The Breitling strapped to Angelo's left wrist read 11:58. Who can it be at this hour, for Chrissake? Angelo registered the discomfort of a full bladder and a slight hangover as he propped himself on his elbow and picked up the receiver. "Hello." "Hold the line, Angelo," a baritone voice said. A few seconds went by as a handset changed hands somewhere. The hall supervisor frowned in confusion. "Angelo?" "Yeah." "Did I wake you?" Angelo swiftly swung his legs out and sat up as soon as he identified the voice on the other end. "No, sir." "Good. Your place is in a high building by the sea, right?" "Sure." "Is your antenna on the roof?" Angelo didn't get it. There had to be an agreed-upon code he had forgotten. He massaged his forehead in exasperation, trying to remember. "Excuse me, Mr. Lansky. My antenna?" "Your TV antenna, Angelo," Lansky repeated in a patient tone, as though talking to a kid. Angelo's embarrassment grew. "My TV antenna," the hall supervisor said, groping for understanding. "You sure I didn't wake you up?" Lansky asked, sounding suspicious. "Oh, no. Sure." "Well?" "I ... uh ... believe it's a multiple antenna for all residents. You plug it into a socket. And, yeah, I believe it's on the roof." "Channel 6 will broadcast the first game," Lansky said following what sounded to Angelo's ear like a repressed chuckle. "But a friend told me the picture ain't too sharp, 'cause the signal comes from a plane flying over the Keys that fields it from Miami, then relays it. People in high buildings close to the coast will get a clearer picture. That's why I wonder if I could watch the game at your place." "Of course you can, Mr. Lansky, it'll be a real pleasure to have you." "Okay. Thanks. I'll be there around two. See you." "Bye, sir." Angelo Dick hung up and mulled over the conversation. He knew that Meyer Lansky lived at a rented two-story mansion in Miramar, but he also had a suite for his exclusive use at the Riviera and the new hotel was ... well, not as high as his own building, but high enough. Angelo never had heard that Number One was such a devoted baseball fan and suspected that something else was brewing. What could it be? Discussing last-quarter results? Estimates for the coming winter season? Angelo got up and shuffled in his slippers to the bathroom. A fat lifesaver vibrated over the elastic band of his boxer shorts. Angelo Dick was a swarthy, thirty-three-year-old man so sure of himself that he considered his performance as gambling-hall supervisor at Casino de Capri impeccable. Income forecasts were consistently surpassed and the expansion into sports bets was registering amazing results. Would shacking at the Someillan bestow on him the privilege of entertaining the boss? Angelo shook his head in disbelief and flushed the toilet. Probably Lansky would have lunch before coming, he reasoned next, but if Number One felt like having a snack during the game or once it was over, he should be able to oblige. Returning to his bedroom extension, Angelo dialed the Capri's switchboard and ordered from the cafeteria two pounds of sliced ham, one of cheese, twelve bottles of Miller beer, a small flask of pickled cucumbers, two quarts of milk, and two packs of Pall Mall. He hung up, remembered the prevailing disorder, sighed, and went back to the bathroom. Within fifteen minutes Angelo had taken a shower, shaved, and brushed his teeth. Back in the bedroom, he donned fresh underwear, tan slacks, a short-sleeved black shirt, brown moccasins. Next he picked up and rinsed glasses and plates, returned the floor lamp, the coffee table, and two cushions to their proper places, emptied ashtrays, checked his liquor reserves. By the time the two humming air conditioners and an air freshener had cooled and purified the living room, a busboy arrived with the order. Angelo watched as the man placed in the refrigerator two plates covered with aluminum foil, the milk, and the beer; the cigarettes and the flask of cucumbers were left on the auxiliary kitchen table. The hall supervisor signed the check, walked the attendant to the service elevator, and tipped him a dollar. Angelo made himself two sandwiches, poured a glass of milk, and had brunch standing up while recalling what little he knew about his visitor. The man had conceived and carried through the Cuban expansion. He had brought in Santos Trafficante, Nick Di Constanzo, Wilbur Clark, Fat Butch, and several other lesser-known wise guys. Even though he'd personally secured the fourteen million of Las Vegas dough required to build the Havana Riviera casino and hotel, now Lansky had the nerve to turn up on the payroll as kitchen manager. In fact, he was the Commission's ambassador to Cuba and a close friend of President Batista. According to underworld rumble, he had always been cunning, crafty, mysterious; a repository of cool and wisdom. Having cut the mustard for over thirty years in a very tough environment, Meyer Lansky had become one of the living legends hatched by the American press after being pronounced by all-including J. Edgar Hoover-the best criminal mind in the U.S. Allegedly he had convinced mobsters that crime was just business. He also made them realize that businessmen don't resolve their differences shooting each other because ... it's bad for business. Angelo Dick reflected on the paradox that the guy who shunned applause, shared victories even with his enemies, and hid from notoriety had emerged as the brightest, most capable of them all. Angelo Dick had climbed the gaming ladder quickly, for several reasons. Although he was intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious, what really made him stand out in Vegas, his most highly regarded trait, was his amazing numerical memory. While munching the second sandwich, Dick mentally reviewed Casino de Capri's latest results. Income from roulette, craps, baccarat, blackjack, one-armed bandits, and the last quarter's grand total. He was also in charge of supervising the external collection network spread across private companies, government offices, stores, and any other place of work or student body where bookies could operate, so he racked his brains on net profits from bets laid on baseball games, boxing, horse and dog races. Angelo also checked expenditures, bribes, commissions paid, and his preliminary forecast for October, November, and December. He simultaneously finished picking his brain and the milk at 1:40 p.m., five minutes before the doorbell rang. Meyer Lansky and Jacob Shaifer nodded, removed their hats, and took in the place. Two Jews together, the gentile gets fucked, thought Angelo, but he smiled politely, accepted the hats, and led them to the living room. Decor, furniture, and temperature gave the room a nice ambience. The callers eased themselves down onto the couch, facing a 21-inch TV set. The host turned it on, then apologized for his hesitation on the phone; he thought "antenna" was a code. His visitors exchanged a swift glance and smiled-slightly forced smiles, Angelo fancied as the screen came alive with a flow of commercials. Five foot seven inches, 160 pounds, and sixty-two years old, Lansky looked like millions of other well-groomed elderly men all over the Western world. Gray hair, sober clothing, thirty-eight-inch waist, manicured nails, the unhurried movements of retired people. His brown eyes made all the difference: They possessed the vitality inherent in the very bright, sparkled with reflections of full mental faculties. Shaifer-bodyguard, confidant, driver, and Lansky's personal friend for twenty-five years-had just moved into his fifties with relative grace. His dull, gray irises looked across glasses in black plastic frames that leaned on a beaked nose. Few hairs survived at the top of his head and he was as talkative as a turtle. Both men wore sport jackets made of lightweight material over open-necked white dress shirts and slacks. "What are the odds for the Series, Angelo?" Lansky asked as he took off his jacket, folded it, and let it rest on the low coffee table. "Thirteen to ten for the Yanks." "And for this game?" the boss asked while crossing his ankles. "Eleven to ten. Whitey Ford is starting and ... you know, he's near forty." "Who's throwing for Milwaukee?" Lansky wanted to know as he lit a cigarette. "Haney said Warren Spahn." The exchange dried up. Angelo was mixing a whiskey and soda for Lansky when the first takes of County Stadium appeared on the screen. Cuco Conde, a Cuban sports commentator, told viewers that Gillette's Sports Cavalcade had the pleasure of presenting, live from Milwaukee and making use of CMQ's "Over the Horizon" technology, the first game of the 1958 World Series between the teams that had won the American and National League pennants, the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves. "Damn, they're speaking Spanish!" Shaifer fumed. He also had taken off his jacket, and Angelo guessed that the automatic in his shoulder holster was a .45 Colt Commando. "What did you expect?" Lansky asked. Having handed Lansky his drink, Angelo poured two beers in tall glasses for Shaifer and himself. They watched and listened in silence, only partially understanding the confirmation of the designated pitchers, that the weather was cooler than expected, and that 46,377 mad fans huzzahed the local players as they took the field. During the first two innings, Lansky and Angelo pooled their scant knowledge of Spanish and managed to understand most of Conde's comments. At the top of the third, Lansky asked what the Capri man had been waiting for: "How much did we collect for the outcome of the Series, Angelo?" Dick unfastened his gaze from the screen, placed his half-full glass on the table at a safe distance from Lansky's jacket, and cleared his throat. His guests kept watching the game. "In round numbers, 223,000 for the Yanks and 63,000 for the Braves." "How do we stand?" "Thirteen-to-ten odds mean a net loss of around 100 thousand if the Yankees win and a net profit of 125 thousand if they lose." "Bets for this game?" "Three sixteen for the Yanks and ninety-two for the Braves." Shaifer whistled low and cut a sideways look at Angelo Dick, who anticipated the next question. "We'd lose around 195 if the Mules win. If Milwaukee takes the lead, we'd make roughly 215."
Excerpted from Havana World Series by Jose LaTour Copyright © 2005 by Jose LaTour. Excerpted by permission.
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