Here is another excerpt from THE CIGAR MAKER (coming out summer 2010)….From Chapter 1…
Salvador was learning the farming trade, but his father quickly gave him an education in politics. “Spain is draining Cuba of its natural resources,” Ernesto told his son. “They are giving nothing back. All the wealth generated by Cubans is feeding the Spanish. They own our government and our property and leave us no opportunity for self-determination. Shouldn’t every man have the right to decide who enjoys the fruit of his own labor?”
One morning Ernesto’s lessons abruptly ended, and Salvador was forced into the world to find his own education. When shots rang out in the distance and the sound of approaching horses grew louder and louder, Ernesto frantically woke his only child and ordered him to run across the fields and hide in the forest. “Go now, boy! Step lively and don’t look back!”
Those were Ernesto’s last words to Salvador.
The boy ran until he was hidden by a giant Ceiba tree. Watching from afar as Spanish soldiers on horseback trampled through the village and set the modest bohio homes ablaze, Salvador saw the fragile shelters of wood and palm fronds collapse into flaming piles as many of the villagers, including Salvador’s mother and father, were captured by the soldiers and executed by their rifles.
The image of his mother and father on their knees before a gang of Spanish troops, with his sobbing mother begging God’s mercy before rifles exploded, became seared into his memory. Salvador fled into the forest carrying nothing but his father’s rusty dagger and a hatred and complete mistrust of anything Spanish.
When he finally made it to the city of Pinar del Rio, and met Juan Carlos on the streets begging for food, it became easy for them to steal from the aristocrats responsible for their plight. For Juan Carlos had also lost his father and a brother at the hands of Spanish soldiers. Young, vengeful Carlito carried a pistol and a machete in a canvas duffle bag and hoped to join a band of rebels but had little luck finding an army that would lead him into battle against the Spanish.
“I like you, Ortiz,” Juan Carlos told him the day the teenagers met on the street. “Your story is like mine. It seems as though we’re the last of a dying breed.” The truth was that Juan Carlos could use another man to help him rob a local Spanish bookkeeper he had been watching for over a week.
“You have a knife, I have a gun and this man is a Spaniard. Not only that but he has money. I have been watching him for many days now. Every night after he locks his office, he walks down the block to the Spanish bakery where he has a cup of coffee and a pastry before heading home. We go in right before he locks up and split our earnings right down the middle. If we’re successful, we rob the bakery tomorrow.”
Salvador, as if transfixed with the unending memory of his mother’s head being blown apart by a Spanish rifle, nodded and gripped the wooden handle of his knife. Normally he wouldn’t consider stealing, and would rather work for his daily meals, but he had been numbed by grief.
“Yes, we are stealing,” Juan Carlos said. “But we are stealing back little pieces of our own country. We are reclaiming what is ours.”
Salvador thought of his father’s blood, spilled on Cuban dirt. “Let’s go.”
On Carlito’s signal the boys entered the bookkeeper’s office and less than a minute later were running from the scene with enough pesos to eat for several days. It was easier than Salvador thought it would be. The bookkeeper was a man used to the confines of his office and did not compare to the menacing Spanish soldiers Salvador had eluded in the countryside. “You’ve got guts,” Juan Carlos seemed to admit later on, as they divided their money in a secluded alley. “If you were afraid, the bookkeeper couldn’t tell.” Juan Carlos was satisfied that he had found a partner and the duo spent the next weeks robbing aristocrats, begging for food and eluding the authorities. When he decided it was getting too hot for them in the city, he introduced Salvador to Victoriano Machín, the charismatic young ruffian who would eventually become the legendary bandit El Matón.
Click here for more snippets from THE CIGAR MAKER….
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