Verita hurried home over wet rocks, past puddles, trying to keep her breath even. The sun struggled, piercing the clouds, turning air to steam. Her breaths labored. The rains were more oppressive this year, or was it just her mood? A flash, her mind panicked. Would Luis get his asthma medication wherever they had taken him? The bag in her arms felt heavier than it should, for good reason. Inside was information that could topple a regime.
She passed the goons that hung nearby, ever present, since they took Luis away, skulking. Recent rebellion explosions, bombings, and burnings, they grew edgier each day.
“Come Mama.” Justice opened the door.
He helped her up crumbling stairs, closing the heavy wooden door behind them. Feeling entombed in the shadowy house, Verita longed for the day they could keep the door open. Patterns created by light filtered through shuttered windows reflected on the back wall, transferring to Verita as she walked through the dingy living space. In the kitchen, she set the bag down. Her eyes met her son’s over the cracked tile counter.
“Did you get word?”
Verita nodded. She pulled rice from the bag, and grabbed a wooden bowl. She poured the rice. It fell into the worn dish looking like tiny maggots falling endlessly over each other. Working her fingers through white pellets she discovered the note.
“1:00 / Basement,” she read aloud.
“Let me do it.” Justice said.
“No, I will not hear of it.”
Justice knew not to argue.
Verita went to her son, kissed his cheeks. They would not get Justice. First, Castro’s goons came to tell them their business was nationalized, in the interest of the state. Everything her husband, Luis, had worked for, gone, with a stroke of a pen, while they sat in the untenable position at the business end of a rifle. A few days later, they took him.
She and Luis were extra careful. The thugs still knew. Luis didn’t return after a meeting with the rebellion. Her eyes were puffy from bitter tears. That man had fought alongside Castro, placed himself at the service of the Castro regime. Too soon, they recognized the wickedness. Matos’ resignation confirmed, the battle for Cuba Libre was not complete. Now, because of their activities against the communist usurpers of the Revolution, Luis was imprisoned, without a trial, without a word.
How foolish, all of them had been. Hanging on the rhetoric of a dictator pretending not to be. Their naive minds celebrated every word. So ready to be a part of something new, better, different. All they managed was to trade the name of the leader, once Batista, now Castro.
“This trash!” Justice threw down the newspaper.
Verita looked up, the shirt she was patching crumpled in her lap. “The truth will be known.”
“I don’t know how.”
Verita looked at Justice. At fifteen, he was too wise to the ways of wicked men.
“The people cannot know the truth,” he began. “All the press, The Bohemian, Alerta, the journal El Camagueyano, all of them, gone. All we get is this tripe.”
Verita set her sewing aside and rose from her chair. At the desk, she slipped her hand under a slide out panel, and pulled out an envelope. She handed it to her son.
“Written by Augustin Souchy, he has just in time fled the country to avoid arrest. A copy now makes its way to Buenos Aires. This will be published.” Verita watched him devour the words. Pride welled within her. She sat close to him.
Justice’s eyes opened wide.
“Finish.” Verita went to prepare lunch.
The shadows grew short. She collected the manuscript that discussed the famed School City. A place where 22,000 children would be sent, separated from their parents, to be educated, while living on their own labor. Veteran teachers called the project disgraceful. Souchy also reported outcomes of Agrarian Reform, exposing the failure of the collectives, citing the motto: “The Emancipation of the Working Class is the Task of the Workers Themselves”.
“Go eat,” she directed.
“You’re not eating?”
“Not now.” She sat across from him. “If I don’t come back, promise me, you will leave Cuba.”
“Not come back?”
His lips so red, skin so perfect, intelligent, coal-dark eyes glimmered. She studied his face, storing every detail. Her stomach churned. “Go see Rosa if I’m not back by morning. She knows what to do.”
Tears welled in his eyes. “I promise.”
She took him in her arms, squashing the emotion burning inside her. She stroked his face, hugged him, then left him.
She crossed the streets of Havana without incident. At the alley door of a defunct store, she squeezed through, and went to a false wall. A secret knock, the door opened.
The dank basement smelled of rotten potatoes. The small fire in the stove did little to heat or dry the putrid air. Pools of light beamed from bare bulbs. Alejandro stood amongst a group of men, map open, directing. When he saw her, he handed the map to the man standing next to him.
“Verita,” he greeted her. “We have news of Luis.”
A tear slipped down her face. She pawed it away.
“Presidio Modelo Prison,” Alejandro said. He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. “For that price, they will stage his death, and free him.”
Verita gasped. She didn’t have half that amount.
“My plan will liberate not just Luis, but us all.”
“I will do anything.”
“Go to the docks. A comrade wearing the symbol is waiting. He will transport you.” He got the attention of a man, who picked up a bag, and brought it to them.
Verita examined the contents, a maid uniform, a folder, and cigars tied with red string.
“You will replace one of Castro’s maids, gain access to his private study. Next to his chair, in the chest, are cigars. Replace them, these are tainted with Botulinum.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“The less you know the better. Any detail you need is in that folder. Castro is due back this evening. Keep your head down. I know you can do this Verita.”
The information was coming fast. She crushed her apprehension putting Luis’ and Justice’s faces in her mind’s eye.
“I will do it.”
Alejandro held her shoulders. “Stay safe. Get word to me after.”
Verita changed, and memorized the details in the folder. She nodded to Alejandro, slid the folder into the stove, and slipped out. She poked her head out the back door, eyes darting, then moved into the daylight. No longer Verita, she was Renee, a maid going to work.
She met her contact at the docks. He escorted her to Castro’s home. She exited the vehicle, and used the staff entrance.
“Where’s Renee?” A portly woman eyed her.
Verita’s mind raced. “I am Renee.”
“You most certainly are not.” Verita heard the woman mutter as she passed through a door into the kitchen. Her heart lurched.
She worked to stay calm. Unable to fool that woman, panic rose in her throat. She had to move fast. The kitchen was bustling. At a sink where cleaning supplies were, she tried to look busy.
As she left the kitchen, she saw the woman from the entry whispering to a man. Verita quickened her step, and continued through the swinging door. In the dining area, she knew the study was down the hall on her right. Her gut told her not to go there, not yet. She slinked through a closed door, it was a bathroom. She stepped into the shower, bracing her feet on either side of the tub. She heard voices echo on the other side of the door.
“She isn’t here,” said the man.
“She can’t be far.”
The bathroom door opened. Verita held her breath. A hand tugged the curtain back. She shrunk to the rear of the tub. A frustrated grunt, and the door closed.
“Check all the rooms.”
Verita’s heart burst. The blood rushing past her ears made sounds muffled and distant. When she heard footsteps climb the stairs, she made her move across the dining room, third door on the left. Opening it she found herself in the mahogany paneled study of Fidel Castro.
She knelt next to the chest, and removed the cigars from the hidden pocket in her dress. The lid of the chest creaked open. There was the cigar box. Her heart skipped a beat.
She heard shouting outside the door. Unable to find her, the man enlisted the help of the other staff, and bellowed orders. With shaking hands she untied the red string. She grasped the box and placed it on the floor. The voices grew louder. She lifted the top. Her eyes flew wide. Alongside the cigars, glittering diamonds, enough to free Luis and flee Cuba. She scooped them up, grabbed the tainted cigars, and fled through the window. Her family would be free.