DIRE STRAITS, Chapter 7A
September 12, 2011
Derek drove by the U.S. Embassy Office, but kept on going. The Cuban police presence in the area was large and obvious. They’d been alerted and were looking for him. He wasn’t even sure if it would be safe to get near the Swiss or Canadian embassies, but he decided to try.
If the U.S. Embassy Office was clearly being watched by the Cubans, it was nothing compared to what was going on at the Swiss Embassy. The Swiss Embassy was a seven-story concrete building with all the charm of a city jail, surrounded by a wrought-iron face. Driving by, he noted Cuban military vehicles outside the gate. Six of them.
It was obvious that at least one of the Company’s networks has been totally obliterated. Derek had a few backups, but he wasn’t entirely sure he trusted them any longer.
If he headed for the airport, it was possible they’d let him go. He had his wallet with credit cards and cash. He had his passport. He had his utility tool. He had the clothes on his back.
It was also entirely possible they would arrest him, find a dark cell to leave him in, and start to barter with the U.S. government over him. And they might torture him for any information he might be able to provide them.
Execution was not out of the question.
He’d take a pass on that option.
He continued to drive, giving himself time to think. Driving around Havana in a stolen car with the police and the government actively searching for him probably wasn’t a great idea.
Working his way back to the safe house might be the best tactic. He wasn’t sure if he trusted it any more, though. He would need to check it out for a while, put it under surveillance. If he could get in there, somebody with the Company would check in with him. But how badly blown were the CIA’s networks in Cuba?
He had driven into an older neighborhood in Old Havana, narrow streets, alleyways, signs in a variety of languages, only a few Spanish. Many of them were African.
Derek could say “one more beer, please,” and “where is the bathroom?” in a dozen languages. Otherwise he was only fluent in one language other than English: Krio.
Krio was a strange mix of English and a dozen African dialects that was spoken by about ten percent of the people in Sierra Leone, but understood by almost everybody. Out of all the countries he had lived in as a kid, Sierra Leone was closest to being home, the one he had spent the most time in.
He saw a sign scrawled across a storefront bar: plɛzhɔ.
It was the Krio word for pleasure.
Derek drove the car away from the African area and abandoned it in an alley, and began to make his way back to the bar. He stood out a bit in the neighborhood, but not as badly as he had thought. It was filled with all sorts of shops – groceries and bakeries and bars, bookstores and shops that sold religious items for Santeria, Yoruba, Vodou, Abakua, Palo Monte. It was predominantly black, but there were enough whites and Cubanos that he didn’t stand out. He heard a lot of different languages spoken – Spanish, of course, and some English, but Krio and Swahili, some Haitian Creole that sounded similar to Krio.
He approached the bar. It was closed, but he pounded on the wooden door. Next door to the bar was a small grocery. A heavy black woman out front loaded plantains onto a hook. She looked at him and in heavily-accented Spanish said something to him. The only word he recognized sounded something like borracho, which probably meant she was accusing him of being drunk.
He smiled at her and in Krio said, “I haven’t had a drop to drink.”
Her eyes grew wide. She responded in Krio, “Are you from Salone?” Salone was the Krio word for Sierra Leone.
“I grew up there. I could use some help.”
She studied him for a moment. “Are you in trouble?”
He smiled and raised his hands to his shoulders in a helpless gesture. “Plenty yagba don fal down pan we.” It was a Krio expression that was hard to directly translate, but was generally understood to mean: I’m in seriously deep shit.
The woman seemed worried, looked up and down the street for a moment, then invited him into the back of the grocery. Derek pointed at a mango as he walked by and asked her if he could buy some breakfast. He was hungry.
She nodded and pushed through a rickety door in the back. It was a small office. She pointed at a chair and told him to sit.
“Ah de wit u,” she said. Literally: I am with you. It meant, in this case, Derek figured, that she was staying open-minded and listening. But what to tell her?
He took a bite of the mango and started to talk.