A Jog to Key West 

Excerpt Eleven of "Brothers from Time to Time"

io-ft- pelén_emi_their moms

Havana, late 1950s, from left: Dr. S., Pelén, Emi, and la vieja.

Brand had already gone “black.” He had no identity, no documents. He had to smuggle himself out of the country. How could he manage it? Who might help him?

He thought of a youngster he slightly knew: Alfredo Izaguirre, hardly 20, the scion of a family prominent in journalism and politics. When the regime broke up the non-revolutionary press, Alfredo lost his position as a newspaper editor and joined the underground opposition. Brand got his American friends to set up a meeting with him.

“I have an immediate need to make a trip to the States,” Brand told the other man. “I cannot leave by legal means. Can you provide me the means to do so?”

“I’m in an awkward position, Brand. I’m not sure who you really are.”

“What do you mean?”

“Only this: in my efforts to verify that you are not a government agent, I have mentioned you to several people who should know you, and they do not know you.”

“Mentioned me how?”

“By the name of Pancho.”

In an earlier encounter, Brand had told Alfredo that he was known to some of Alfredo’s friends as “Pancho.” Now, with a patience rare for him, Brand started an explanation of how aliases work in the underground.

Alfredo however had no patience for it and burst out: “If I were sure you were a government agent, I would kill you where you stand – but I am not sure.”

Brand took leave while wondering: Does this fellow understand that if I were a government agent, those words would doom him?

The matter was growing desperate. Brand sent a note to his mother-in-law Dr. S., directing her to a rendezvous with him.

Pelén’s mother was not going to miss this meeting. The headstrong woman had filled up with rage at the treatment her daughter was receiving. While Dr. S. had no notion of what her son-in-law might need, her nature told her she must be the one to deal with him.

Brand was ready to talk with Dr. S. but didn’t quite trust her. For all he knew, she might bring police.

When Dr. S. appeared for the rendezvous, she felt more than one gun pointing in her direction. Her perceptions were accurate; the place was indeed ‘covered.’

Brand told her: “I must get out of the country by private means. I’m looking for somebody who can take me in a yacht or boat. Do you know anyone who can help me?”

The lady thought fast: “Perhaps my psychiatrist.”

“Your psychiatrist!”

“He knows a lot of people with boats. Give me a day or two and call his clinic. I’ll tell him to expect your call.”

“How’s my wife?”

“Settled in Miami.”

“Everything went well at the embassy?”

“No problems. But my husband and I are also preparing to leave and we’re having some problems. Maybe you can help.”

“How?”

“We need dollars, and the exchange rate for pesos is very bad. Perhaps you can get us a better rate.”

“How much do you need?”

“Four thousand dollars.”

“Let me see what I can do.”

In a few days the four thousand dollars, changed by US officials at the now-vanished rate of one for one, were in Dr. S.’s hands.

Things began to move. The psychiatrist received him warmly.

“I’ve set up a meeting with a colleague of mine, Dr. Prado. He can take you in his yacht. In the meantime, why don’t you stay here in my clinic? It’s quite safe.”

Brand installed himself in a basement room and quickly found his mood being affected by strange noises around him. The noises, it became clear, were the screams of insane people whom the doctor was keeping under his care in padded cells. The peculiar, misshapen, unremitting sounds of human misery twisted Brand’s insides.

“On second thought,” Brand told the doctor, “I should be elsewhere.”

A short while later he was standing on a street-corner in the fancy neighborhood of El Vedado. On the dot of time a mulatto in his early twenties approached him.

“You are Carlos?” the mulatto said.

“Yes,” Brand said. “Who are you?”

“I come from Dr. Prado. He’s waiting for us.”

They drove into a modest quarter on the outskirts of the city, definitely not the doctor’s neighborhood. Brand, fearing a trap, put his hand on his pistol.

At the home of the mulatto boy, Prado was waiting – a shrewd move on the doctor’s part.

Prado said: “I’m leaving for Florida in a couple of days and I’ll be returning a few days after that. I’ll be happy to bring you back if you want.”

The man was saying all the right things. Indeed, it was almost too convenient. Castro’s intelligence police were expert in ploys of this kind. Prado might be a double agent.

“A return trip could work out very conveniently.” Brand said. “My mission is to get Tony Varona and bring him back to Cuba. Could you provide passage for both of us?”

“Definitely.”

It was a flat-out lie. Brand had no interest in the former prime minister, who had recently fled to the US. But Varona would be a big catch for Castro. If Prado were a police agent, and if he thought Brand could lead him to Tony Varona, then Prado and his superiors would allow Brand to reach Florida. If Prado was not a double agent, the lie was harmless.

Prado: “I’m going to take you out by hiding you in the yacht.”

“I don’t like it,” Brand said. “Before you leave, the yacht will probably be given a thorough search. I would prefer to meet you offshore. Can we arrange that?”

“A friend of mine has a beach house in Santa María del Mar. You could stay with him the night of the 4th and swim out the following morning. I can meet you a mile from the beach. Would that be all right?”

“Yes, that’s much better.”

Saturday, November 5, 1960. The unusually beautiful baby girl had slept soundly, giving Brand a needed night of rest. At about 5:15 a.m. Brand finished his yoga exercises and joined his hosts, a young couple, who were scanning the horizon in the direction of Havana. At about 5:45 they saw a white speck on the water, perhaps three miles away.

“I think that’s it,” the man said. “Let’s go!”

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Havana: view of the sea from El Malecón

The shore was less than two blocks away. At that hour Santa María del Mar was especially beautiful. No one else was outside. The wind was blowing and the sea choppy. Looking at those heavy waters, Brand’s hosts got concerned about his making the rendezvous on time. They gave him a pair of flippers to speed his swim.

They went out to the beach and into the water, as if for a group swim in case anyone should be watching. Brand headed north. It was rough going. He had no time to pace himself. His only way to meet the boat was to do the whole swim at full speed.

When he saw the yacht passing parallel to the coast, he realized he wasn’t going to make it. He pumped as hard as he could but it was no use; the boat was going to miss him by hundreds of meters. He began to swallow water and thought: “What a stupid way to die!”

Images from his life went rushing through his consciousness. Then came two especially vivid ones: his older son at six, balancing himself on a bicycle for the first time; and his youngsters, three and two, pushing dining-room chairs to sit beside him at lunch.

Brand felt a violent upsurge of strength. Looking to the open sea, he saw the yacht turn around. It was going to pass in front of him a hundred meters away.

“Prado! Prado! Prado!” he screamed.

The yacht gave a lurch and made directly for him. Prado lowered a ladder on the port side and pulled Brand onto the deck. “North! Full engine!” he cried to the skipper.

When Brand could focus again, he saw Prado’s wife lounging on deck. Big with child, she was looking him over.

By the time they docked, Brand was already in the clothes he had given Prado in Havana. He borrowed some dollars from his host, took a taxi to the airport and bought a ticket to Miami under an alias. Three hours later he was kissing his two younger kids whose remembrance, along with that of their older brother, had brought him back to life.

The complete book is being published by Pureplay Press. The book, including all material therein, is copyright © 2020 by David Landau.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from now through early October, the Impunity Observer will publish excerpts from Landau’s book. All in all, more than one-third of Brothers will be presented. Stay tuned.

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David Landau

David Landau

David Landau, the Impunity Observer's contributing editor, is the author of Brothers from Time to Time, a history of the Cuban revolution.

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