Excerpt from Havana by Stephen Hunter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Havana

An Earl Swagger Novel

By Stephen Hunter

Havana
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2003,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2005,
    480 pages.

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The players gathered at the net, to shake hands, exchange respects and towel off.

"A drink, I think," said Ted. "Pedro, mojitos please. At the pool. And tell Manuelo not to spare the rum. I think we can afford it." He winked at Roger. "I have an in at Bacardi."

"Si, señor," said Ted's senior servant, who trotted off to fetch.

"Walter, help him, will you," said Roger.

"Sure," said Walter cheerily.

"No, no," said Ted, "it seems compassionate, but you spoil them and there's problems later. Let's go to the pool."

They walked through the garden to the shimmering blue reservoir behind the great house. The men sat at a table under an ancient pruned palm, close to flowers, hedges, tropical bouquets and recently turned earth, in the shade of a vast umbrella, and Pedro brought the drinks. They were expertly made, the rum soaked in dense sugar, the mint sprigs crushed to loosen that herb's magic, the gassy water aboil with bubbles, all mixed to swirl and the ice cubes giving the whole an intense chill. The pleasing ritual of men drinking: the booze took the sting from the losers' loss and spread the glow of the winners' win. Cigars, Havana Perfectos in fact, came out, were lit and sucked and a warm fog settled upon the four.

Blah blah blah and more blah blah blah, all pleasant if pointless: a little embassy gossip, a little business climate analysis, a little on current politics and what a good job the new president Batista was doing, he was really on the team, and on and on --

But then it seemed a shadow passed over the sun. No, it was Pedro. He whispered something to Ted, who nodded.

"Well," he said, "this is so pleasant I wish it would never end. But now it must. There's someone you have to see. Will you follow me please? He's just arrived."

Roger shot Walter a look. What's this? it seemed to say. Who are these boys to be playing so mysterioso? Being mysterioso: that was Roger and Walter's profession. And the locution was so strange: someone you have to see, as if it were a professional situation, not a post-match social obligation.

But, of course, they both rose with their host and followed him into the big house with its gleaming floors and up marble stairs. United Fruit knew how to impress. Not even El Presidente, as Batista was mocked by the Americans behind his back, lived quite so grandly as United Fruit's most important executive.

"That way. The library. I'd hurry. He's expecting you."

Roger led the way through French doors and into a vast room, lined with books that had never been opened, and furniture from somebody's empire, and silk and damask and the usual gewgaws of conquest, a bronze telescope on a tripod, a Brown Bess hung on the wall, lancers pennants tripoded in the corner. Both men blinked, for the doors to the balcony were open and the light of day blazed in unrepentant and powerful.

"Well hello, boys. My, aren't you a sight? Sweaty but unbowed, athletes of the moment."

Roger recognized the voice, thought no, no, it can't be, and squinted as from a dark corner a man came into the light. He was not remarkable in any way and wore a simple khaki suit and a white shirt and black tie. He wore black plastic-framed glasses, was quite bald, if a little tall and rangy. No charisma, no attraction, no drama. The face so regular as to instantly vanish from memory. He looked like a salesman or possibly a minor attorney. His name was known but to a few, though to those few it had acquired legendary status. Roger was one of the few. That name, however, was not spoken, and had never appeared in print. Instead he was called Plans, for he ran the Directorate of Plans, on the Agency's clandestine side. He didn't fight the Cold War, he was the Cold War. To his face he was called...well, nothing. It was awkward, but nothing could be done about it. Sir, uttered by the subjects of his attention, clumsily facilitated his face-to-face transactions.

Copyright © 2003 by Stephan Hunter. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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