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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Print Excerpt

The animal was hit across the chest, and, opened up in the process of the slaughter, it reared back in pain and panic, flipping its tiny rider to the pavement with a shudder. Then, huge and whinnying piteously, it fell to its forelegs, awash in blood from the sundered chest, and from its mouth and nose where blood from its lungs had overwhelmed its throat and nasal tubes. It thrashed, tried to rise because it had no clear concept of the death that now stalked through its body, and then its great head slid forward and it was still.

"Fungola!" cursed Frankie, tossing the empty gun. He looked and prayed for Lenny but Lenny had long since quit the field. Sirens arose and it seemed that several brave citizens were pointing at him.

"You killed a horse!" a lady spat.

Frankie did not think it the right time to offer explanations, and turned toward an alley and began to run like holy hell.

Chapter 2

In the early spring of 1953, a big noise from Winnetka dominated the diplomatic tennis circuit in Havana. That was what they called him, after the famous hit tune from the '30s. It summed him up: big, powerful, American, unbeatable. And it didn't matter that he actually came from Kenilworth, a whole swank town down the North Shore from Winnetka. He was close enough to Winnetka. His name was Roger St. John Evans, and to make him all the more glamorous, it was rumored he was a spy.

He was in demand that season. He played at least three or four times a week, on his own courts or at some other embassy out in leafy Vedado or, even more frequently, at the Havana Country Club, or even occasionally on the private courts of the big Miramar houses out La Quinta owned by Domino Sugar executives or United Fruit Company bigwigs. In all those venues, the embassies, the big northward-facing houses in Miramar and Buena Vista, the courts behind the Vedado embassies, out as far as La Playa and the Yacht Club, the country club, his beauty, power and smoothness made him many a wealthy young lady's dreamboat, a sought-after dinner guest, a real catch.

So on a certain late spring day -- the sky was so blue, the summer heat had yet not attacked the Pearl of the Antilles, a breeze floated across Havana, just enough to lift flags and palms and young girls' hearts -- Roger tossed the ball upward for service, felt his long body coil as pure instinct took over, and the strength traveled like a wave up and through his body and the complex computations of hand/eye circuitry functioned at a rate far more efficient than most men's. As the ball was released he tightened, then unleashed and his arm ripped through an arc, bringing the racket loosely with it in the backhand grip for a bit of English. He caught the ball full swat at its apogee -- the nearly musical pong! signifying solid contact was so satisfying! -- hit through it at a slight cant, and nailed a bending screamer that seemed to spiral toward the chalked line on the other side of the net. It hit that target square, blasting up a sheet of white mist, and spun away, far beyond his poor opponent's lunge.

Game, set, match.

His two opponents, a Bill and a Ted, executives for United Fruit, accepted the inevitable.

"That's it, boys," sang Roger, allowing himself a taste of raptor's glee.

"Well done, old man," said Bill, who though not an Ivy had picked up certain Eastern affectations from the many who dominated the island's American business culture.

Roger's doubles partner, his eager young assistant Walter, who played a spunky if uninspired game of tennis and always seemed a bit behind, gave a little leap and clapped a hand against the base of his racket face, in salute to his partner's brilliance and victory.

"Way to go, Big Winnetka! Boola-boola!" he chanted, in a voice clotted with affection and admiration.

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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