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

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An Earl Swagger Novel

by Stephen Hunter

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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 416 pages
    Apr 2005, 480 pages

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"Yeah, I got him too," said Lenny. "You see him, Frankie?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got him."

The mark was a tall sprig of a guy in a raincoat. He had two salesman's bags under his arms and two black bags of approximately the same size under his eyes. His name was unimportant, his background meaningless, his identity unworthy of attention. He was hawking California wares in New York territory and he'd found a clown dumb enough to consider buying at quite a discount for being first, only he didn't know that someone in his own little fiefdom had already ratted him out.

It was nothing a great one would be involved in. All that was finished now. Those had been great days, but somehow Frankie never got close to the action; he was just a mechanic on the outskirts, a gun toter for a crew that was affiliated to a mob that was affiliated to a bigger mob. He went, he did, he managed. But once at a club he'd seen them: the great Bennie Siegel, now dead, the great Meyer Lansky, now exiled, the great Lucky Luciano, with the one dead eye, now deported, such movie-star men, men of charisma and grace and beauty, the center of the universe.

There was the romance of the life he loved: the power, the women, the way men made room, the respect, the way people acknowledged your importance. He loved that. He'd never had a fuggin' taste of it, not even a smell; he was just a cheap fug with a gun. So he was waiting outside a dirty-pix store to do a quickie, and get out. Five hundred bucks in the till, a yard for Lenny the driver, that's all.

They watched as the mark slipped into the door beneath the FRENCH BOOKS sign and disappeared.

"I'll smoke a ciggie, Lenny. Let 'em get comfy, get set up, get cool. Then Frankie Carbine transacts his business and we're home by noon."

"A great plan, Frankie."

So Frankie lit another cigarette, and tried to blow smoke rings for a few minutes, and his never quite cohered like the giant masterpieces floating above: another frustration, and the perfect illustration of the life he had as opposed to the life he wanted.

"Okay," he finally said.

"Good luck, killer," said Lenny.

Frankie left the car and walked swiftly to the store, making eye contact with no one. No one noticed him, which was not a bad thing, for he was, he knew, an odd customer: a fellow in a heavy overcoat on a warm day, with one hand deep in his pocket, where it actually slid through the slash in his coat so it could grasp the grip of the Danish submachine gun. His coat hung too straight, because in the other pocket were two more thirty-two-round magazines, each weighing a pound and a half. His hat was too low, like Georgie Raft's in a picture. His suit was dark, he was a glowering death figure, a movie gangster, come to call. But no one noticed. It was New York, after all; who notices such things, when there is so much else to notice?

Frankie evaded a popcorn cart, slipped behind a nigger working a three-card-monte con on stiffs, smelled hot dogs from another vendor on the street, wished he had time for a chocolate Yoo-Hoo, a favorite of his, and turned into the store.

He had been in such places before and so nothing shocked him, except that every week it seemed they were getting more and more bold in what they sold. The windows had been painted black for privacy, and the interior lit by fluorescent glow, which cast a dead-bone color on everything and dazzled off the cellophane. There was a lot of cellophane, and behind it, flesh, everywhere, saggy and pale and raw, things you could see nowhere else. This broad had oval-shaped nipples, that one bad teeth and stretch marks, this one was a hot piece, the next your mother's mother's sister. Packets of cards lay on tables, sealed but promising whores showing off butts or coochies. The nudist camp stuff occupied its own tables, most of it from Germany, where dumpy blonde dames stood with towels covering their hair-pies, smiling as if photographed at a church picnic. Over on that wall men's magazines sold war atrocity laced with sex, where Japs were torturing busty American nurses behind screaming red headlines like BUNA BLOOD BATH! Behind the counter, reels of 16mm stag movies in boxes blank but for numbers had been filed, and maybe they gave you a glimpse of something you never saw anyplace except Havana, but you had to pay big for it. The smell of disinfectant hung in the air, and a bruiser cruised the aisles looking for dirty boys who were jigging themselves under their clothes; that was never permitted. They had to be tossed.

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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