Alicia is a smart, confident, and gorgeous prostitute in Havana. She is not a streetwalker. Rather, she displays her wares on bicycle, seducing men through the irresistible pull of her fine derrière.
John King, her new client, is a Canadian businessman with a striking resemblance to movie star Alain Delon. This is no ordinary john, and as Alicia’s feelings for him grow, she sees in their relationship the possibility of escape from her dead-end life in a city plagued with scarcity. So when King’s wealthy and sexually deviant boss is suddenly killed, Alicia and John hatch a get-rich-quick scheme.
A web of deception is woven—but it will be quickly and disastrously unraveled, and only one person will be able to say adiós to the dilapidated island of Cuba . . .
“Fun, fast, and intelligent . . . A madcap caper full of twisted sex, devious schemes and high-rolling hijinks . . . Will leave readers clamoring for more.” —Publishers Weekly
“The book’s cynical take on ambition and greed is tempered by humor and humanity.” —The New York Times
“Impossible to put down. This is a great read.” —Library Journal
|Publisher:||Akashic Books (Ignition)|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When Alicia decided to become a bicycle hooker, her mother agreed to sell a ring that had been in the family for five generations. She got $350 for it, and for $280 they bought an English mountain-bike, one with wide tires and lots of speeds, on which Alicia launched her hunt for moneyed foreigners.
It was not until two months later, however, that Alicia perfected her technique. She got rid of the English bike, for which she received $120 and a heavy old Chinese bike on which she developed her "lost pedal" routine. That was when her real success began.
The hoax was conceived and executed in the inner courtyard of an old building on Amargura Street. The author was Pepone, a bicycle genius who specialized in "Substitutive Cyclomechanics," according to the sheet of aluminum lettered in red lead that hung at the entrance to his tenement.
For two bottles of aguardiente rum, Pepone fixed the locknut on the pedal with a linchpin that Alicia could easily remove. All she had to do was lean over a little, without stopping her pedaling, and with a slight tug bring about, whenever she felt like it, the spectacular loss of a pedal.
The next step in her routine was to clamp on the brakes, which sent her flying into a face-down (ass-up) landing on the pavement. With a good pair of gloves and a lot of practice, Alicia had the fall down to a science and was ultimately able to get through it without a scratch.
The accident would always take place about sixty feet in front of some expensive car whose foreign driver had already been entranced by the rhythmic gyrations of that — oh, so maximus! — gluteus churning on the seat she had purposely set much too high on the frame.
It was simple. Whenever a car that should have passed her actually reduced speed and fell in behind, it was a sure sign that the fish was on the hook.CHAPTER 2
In a spacious meeting room at the Ministry of Tourism, ten people were chatting around a large table that could have easily accommodated many more. The staff had set out napkins, ashtrays, and bottles of mineral water, and two elegant executive assistants were distributing documents, while a waiter worked his way around the room serving coffee.
An extremely well-dressed and good-looking man ("Mr. Victor King," according to the acrylic nameplate set before him) rose from his seat, walked over to the stand displaying a large map of Cuba, and, picking up a collapsible pointer, began to draw attention to a number of spots on the northern coast of the island. Then he reached out with his other hand and pointed to some crosses on the lower part. Like an aureole surrounding the map, the different hues of light green, yellow, and white signaled the varying depths of the island shelf.
Speaking perfect Spanish with a slight Mexican accent, King addressed his audience: "As I've already explained, all of these blue points around the island are places where galleons were lost in the century and a half between 1596 and 1760. There is a wealth of information about them in the Archivos de Indias in Spain, and we are convinced that Cuba has the unique privilege of being in a position to develop a kind of hands-on nautical tourism, tied in with the search for the treasures lost on the ocean floor."
Behind a wall of frosted glass panels, the two secretaries had their own agenda:
"The guy is a hunk!"
"Just like Mel Gibson."
"Yeeees! I knew he reminded me of someone."
Having finished his presentation, Victor returned to his seat and addressed one of the men on the other side of the table: "As you can see, Mr. Minister, the possibilities are infinite."
The minister's gaze panned right by Victor and stopped on the man sitting beside him, a blond European, around five-foot-nine, fortyish, with a ruddy complexion and a pleasant demeanor. "Mr. Hendryck Groote" was balding, and the hair he had left around the temples and the back of his head was long enough to tie into a samurai ponytail. His guayabera was at least a size too big on him.
"Yes," the minister said, "I've read the report and, frankly, I find it very attractive. But I've talked it over with a few of our specialists and they feel that, if we want to set out to find sunken ships without endangering the future of submarine archeology in our territorial waters, we would have to purchase some very expensive equipment, somewhere in the vicinity of $20 million. Would you be in a position to put up that kind of investment?"
The minister stared at the others, quite certain that he had made an impression.
A man with a colossal nose finished lighting a Cohiba cigar for Groote and addressed the minister, continuing the conversation in English: "Mr. Minister, $20 million would hardly be enough for the project we have in mind."
"Holy shit, what a nose! Who the hell is he?"
"His name is Jan van Dongen. They say he's Groote's pit bull ..."
"... because we would be working in several different locations at the same time."
"And if we go ahead with this project," Groote interrupted, "our investment in equipment will be over $120 million ..."
Hendr yck Groote spoke English with a strong accent — German or Dutch, the secretaries thought — and despite his delicate features, his gaze was sharp and his manner was clearly that of a man accustomed to wielding power. He smoked, puffing quickly on his cigar, with a grimace of displeasure and without inhaling. He never took his eyes off the minister.
"... which together with the $230 million for development of the three hotels would bring our investment up to $350 million."CHAPTER 3
Wishing to make the most of their breasts, their ample buttocks, and their strong thighs, the hookers of Havana usually dress in a manner that might graciously be described as "minimal." This blatant exhibit of their wares sometimes has a certain naïve charm. Then again, sometimes it is depressing. And sometimes it makes you want to laugh. And at other times — rarely — it makes you want to sample.
Alicia exhibited her gifts, too.
Of course! All commercial promotion is essentially brazen, and this is especially true when the merchandise happens to be what is called a person's privates.
But Alicia's exposure was only provocative when she rode her bicycle. On foot she was magnificent, beautiful, but never blatant. And that was thanks to a highly original technique that she had designed, with the help of her mother.
When she went out cruising for foreigners, Alicia wore a pair of white shorts, slightly loose and reaching almost down to the middle of her thigh. This was the kind of attire women used to wear when they played tennis — completely decent, but in this case, it allowed Alicia to show off her nimble ankles and the dimples on the backs of her knees without raising the suspicion of being a pro.
People did, of course, look at her ... a lot! It was really almost impossible for most men to resist the temptation to stare. And as she passed, those twin alabaster orbs crowning her perfect thighs inevitably brought the guys on the corner to life with typically sordid exclamations of "Oh, baby, what I could do with you ...!"
Some people took her for a tourist. When Her Serene Sexuality alit on the sidewalks of Havana, she inspired some to say and do odd things, but most of them descended into a dreamy melancholy as they realized that they were condemned to go through life without ever experiencing a woman like that. Yes, she excited them all, but she never looked obscene. In fact, she looked like an athlete ... an elegant athlete. Alicia had not hit the streets to make the quick buck that comes and goes like the wind, but to bag a rich foreigner who would make her his wife or his steady lover — a guy who would keep her in serious dollars that she could visit in a bank, preferably in Switzerland.
Alicia was out to create a future for herself, and obscenity did not have any role in her script.
Her shorts, however, were designed to make the most of her glorious glutei whenever she pedaled down the streets of Havana. All of Alicia's shorts had six strategic buttons, three on each side. She had sewn them on and made the buttonholes with infinite care, and when she rode her bicycle she would unbutton all six. The obvious pretext was that this gave her greater freedom of motion to work the pedals. Then she would fold the waistband over, tightening it up and lifting the hemline to reveal another two inches of her rounded thighs. Mounting the bicycle seat brought her liberated butt into action — swish, swish, one cheek up, the other cheek down, boom, bam — pressing on the shiny seat that was raised so high that merely pedaling made it swing and sway in a hallucination-inducing teeter-totter.
And just to make certain that no one would mistake her for a hooker, she carried a gunnysack across her back with a long T-square and two rolled-up pieces of drawing paper protruding from the top. Engineer? Architect?
Alicia was not a college student, but she had been one two years earlier. She had been enrolled in the School of Arts and Letters, majoring in French literature. Now she had a state permit to work as a freelance translator. In the neighborhood, she was believed to work on occasion as an interpreter. "I'd like to peek in on her interpretations," the old biddies would say. There was always someone who could smell something funny through even the best perfume, but Alicia never did anything that might put her in the spotlight of official revolutionary vigilance.
Aside from her impeccable French, Alicia also spoke English, which she had learned as a child; and lately, thanks to a couple of Italians who gave her an intense nineteen-day crash course (twelve with Enzo and seven with Guido), she even knew a smattering of the language of Dante. She had a gift for languages: an excellent ear for phonetics that benefited from a lot of hard studying. She was always asking, always repeating and insisting on having her pronunciation corrected. Guido was amazed that she had picked up so much vocabulary in so few lessons and could keep it engraved in her brain.
"Ecco! Ribadito sul cervello."
Breaking into guffaws that flopped his flaccid double chin, he stroked her ass like a crystal ball. He was convinced that he was her inspiration. Flattered? Naturally!
Before getting on the airplane that would take him back to Italy, Guido had made her promise that she would continue studying. When he returned in eight months, he was going to give her a test — if she passed, he would give her a prize.
And if Alicia really worked hard and learned a few Italian songs, the prize would be an invitation to visit Italy.
Alicia liked to sing and usually accompanied herself on the guitar. Her repertoire included some old Cuban "feeling" numbers, a bit of Serrat, la Piaff, Leo Ferré, Jacques Brel; but Guido wanted to hear that sleepy, sensual, husky voice doing the hits of Domenico Modugno, Rita Pavone, and others of his favoriti from the '60s.
A week later, Alicia received a DHL package containing a dictionary, a manual, six cassettes, and a book of Italian love songs with amorous annotations written in Guido's careful script.
What a shame that Guido is so fat, damn it. Besides, he wasn't rich at all. He did make $150,000 a year, but aside from that, he did not have a single lire in the bank, or a portfolio, or property, or a good goddamn. There would be nothing to inherit. He defined himself as an "anarchist on the way toward socialism." Can you just imagine! And he was always going into romantic tirades about how money was only good if it served him, and that he would never be a slave to money, and stacks of nonsense along the same lines. Still, he was kind, witty, and generous ... and not a bad lay at all. But such a jerk! What a shame!CHAPTER 4
Havana's hookers, especially the debutantes, which are the majority, mostly want to be wined and dined in luxurious restaurants. Alicia preferred attending to her clients in her own home. As long as she had the right ingredients, her mother's cuisine was up to even the most demanding standards. Margarita made perfect breaded shrimp and an enviable lobster enchilada; and ever since her baby had begun to bring in the dollars, her larder was well stocked with the finest seafood, seasoning, and just the right canned goods to make sauces in a hurry. Nor was there any shortage of fine wines and good beer, chilled to perfection and dripping condensation. It was all part of the plan. Her mother never knew when Alicia was going to come home with a new friend, and it would not do to be caught unprepared.
Once the client was in Alicia's home, he paid nothing. He was a guest in her home and she was the hostess. It was merely a question of common courtesy. After all, the kind gentleman had helped Alicia when her bicycle broke down and had been kind enough to give her a lift home. To show her appreciation, she invited him in for a drink, maybe two, and why not try some of Mother's shrimp? Yes, please do; it's no trouble at all. She just made them, and she'll feel offended if you refuse.
"I think she likes you," Alicia would whisper to her new acquaintance, shifting the conversation into a more friendly mode.
When Alicia had first set up the standard operating procedure for initial visits, she had noted that Margarita could defrost, marinade, and bread a couple of dozen shrimp, and whip up a Tartar or Russian sauce in exactly twenty-seven minutes. That was the amount of time she had to move the new relationship from a formal gratitude to a warm complicity.
First there would be a couple of relaxing drinks to break the ice. When the visitor accidentally discovered the photos on one of the living room tables, among them an inspirational nude of Alicia that appeared to have been taken from an oil painting, she considered the S-1 phase complete (this was her code designation for "step number one" in her plan of seduction) and she moved into S-2.
The photograph was the pretext to lead the foreigner by hand into her bedroom to show him the original oil painting. And there it was: three feet high by two feet wide, a profile of Alicia with perfect breasts, sitting on a kitchen stool, chin on her knuckles, an expectant smile on her face.
"Who did it?"
"A friend I once had."
She explained that the boyfriend had taken a number of photos of her and had been finally captivated by that one. She would then open a drawer and take out the photograph, slightly different, but obviously the same person in the same pose.
If at that moment her John got started on some lip or hand maneuver, she would quell it in a friendly and elegant manner, without ever losing her smile. She would lead him through a side door to an adjoining room with a large bed, air conditioner, large mirrors, a private bath, and another oil painting: a close-up portrait with a certain stretched verticality reminiscent of El Greco and Modigliani ... not at all sexy, by the way.
"So what is this?"
The retort might have been chiseled in granite.
"Apparently you have a thing for painters."
In contrast to the hackneyed remark, Alicia's response was custom-tailored to the person and the occasion: If the client could pass (at least in his own eyes) for goodlooking, Alicia would answer with a timid, well-rehearsed smile, "Well, actually, my preference is handsome men"; if the John was fat: "Well, actually, my preference is portly men."
The client, stunned by the unexpected reply, would listen intently as she explained that the painters of both oils were somewhat beyond portly and, in fact, close to nine or ten on the fat scale. The painter of the nude, whom she confessed to have loved desperately, was, according to a snapshot she would casually present, so immensely fat that by comparison her current roly-poly friend could feel that he was in quite good shape. Alicia would caress his paunch and fondle his double chin to show him how much she adored fat men. She would go on about a certain fixation she had with a very obese uncle who was the epitome of tenderness and the object of her infantile adoration. And when she confessed that her ideal man was a certain Sumo Yokozuna, well, those fat boys would just melt away in unspoken gratitude.
If her fat man was uninhibited, she would let him give her a small superficial introductory kiss. If the guy had a complex, she would take the initiative and kiss him.
And so, depending on whether the client was skinny or short or old or ugly, it always turned out that both painters were just like him, but a little bit worse. Alicia had a whole collection of photographs conveniently prepared to prove it. During that delicate stage of the seduction process, Alicia did everything to show the client that his shortcomings were actually virtues.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Adios Muchachos"
Copyright © 2001 Daniel Chavarría.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
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