A week after the Cubans arrived, Benny was on his usual rounds, picking up odd jobs, running errands, arranging for girls. Luis Uribe tailed him to the elevator.
“I must speak to you.”
“Come down to my room in ten minutes.”
Benny locked the door behind him and the tattered window shades were drawn, darkening the dank little apartment. Luis Uribe wore the mask of a man deep in confrontation, on the verge of a terrible decision.
“I must get my family out of Cuba,” he sputtered at last. “The country is destroyed. For myself, I do not care. I’ll stay and take prison. But I have three sons and they must have a chance for life.”
Benny thought it was paternal as hell, but his battle-scarred face showed no further sympathy.
“I’ve scraped together everything I have. I can arrange a boat, but I need another two thousand dollars.”
“Man, that’s a lot of bread,” Benny said, “a lot of bread.”
Luis Uribe shook visibly. His mouth dried, and he asked for water and drew a glass from the leaky faucet. “I’ve got something worth that much.”
“Maybe I can find you a buyer. What you got?”
Uribe could not bring the words out.
“As you know, I am personal secretary to Rico Parra and I have access to his suite.”
“What I have to sell are the documents in Rico Parra’s attaché case.”
OTS OF TIMES
García did odd jobs if the contacts and the price were right. Maybe a jealous husband wanted the boyfriend worked over. Maybe a guy wanted his business partner roughed up. Odd jobs like that.
He was good pals with Detective Leeman, who was in charge of the territory that included the San Martín Hotel. Sometimes a hood came into Leeman’s territory and they didn’t have anything exactly legal to move him out of town. So Leeman would clue Benny and he would arrange that the guy cut out, quick.
A year earlier, Detective Leeman had talked to Benny about some strange business. A hit was needed on someone, but not a hood. Someone on the expensive East Side. A foreigner with a lot of respectability. Detective Leeman was his pal so he didn’t ask questions, just took the job and did his work.
The job had something to do with “detaining” an Algerian United Nations delegate while some other guys rifled his apartment.
The final instruction had been given by a Frenchman. Benny knew that the Algerians and French didn’t like each other so he put two and two together. Orders for the job must have come from some high-placed Frenchman. They paid good, too.
Benny mulled over Luis Uribe’s proposition. He figured that the French already knew of his good work; maybe they’d deal with him. Chances were they’d be interested in those papers in Rico Parra’s briefcase.
He dropped around to the station to see Detective Leeman.
“Leeman, how do I see someone in French Intelligence?”
“What you up to, Benny?”
“Got a tip that may interest them. Swear, it’s got nothing to do with your action. You got my promise on that.”
“French Intelligence officer is called Special Labor Representative. Go to their labor office on Madison Avenue. Guy’s name is Prévost, Gustave Prévost. Now you sure you’re not making a mess for me?”
“You got my word, Leeman, my absolute word.”
“I’ll call Prévost for you and set up an appointment.”
Gustave Prévost rocked back and forth in his chair, tapped his fingertips together, and otherwise appeared to be sniffing constantly in short, darted breaths.
Benny García related the story of Luis Uribe and his offer.
“You say he has complete access to Parra’s papers?”
“How about getting other people in and out of the Cuban’s rooms?”
“Well, they’ve been disarmed and them people is always creating such a rumpus ... hell, I just come and go like I please.”
“What is Mr. Uribe asking for the papers?”
“Twenty-five hundred,” he answered, tacking his own commission of five C-notes onto the price-Hell, wasn’t much for that kind of work.
“Where can you be reached?”
“San Martín Hotel. I got an apartment there. I’m always around.”
“I’ll pass the information along to someone who may be interested. You’ll be contacted.”
ITHIN A FEW HOURS
of his meeting with Benny García, Gustave Prévost was aboard the Eastern shuttle flight to Washington and went directly to his boss, André Devereaux at the French Chancellery on Belmont Road.
André Devereaux detested this man. He was of that breed of locusts which had swarmed into and infested the French Secret Service, who took the job for its money, for an easy life, for the parties and ceremonies that went with it, and with none of the deep conviction and love of country of the dedicated intelligence agent.
Gustave Prévost had none of these qualities, nor did the school of sharks he swam with. His talents lay in the sly games necessary to safeguard his mediocrity. André would have fired him long before, but all the Gustave Prévosts secured their flanks by a series of alliances in their mutual survival society. André was faced with the fact of an SDECE riddled with them.
Gustave lit a cigar with his solid-gold lighter, revealing a pair of solid-gold cuff links. Ostentatious for a man of his position. “It smells bad,” he said sniffing at the air with blatant cynicism. “A setup. The Cubans are out to feed us a mouthful of false information.”
“No matter if the contents of Rico Parra’s attaché case are real or fake. They are being offered. We must take them. We will make a determination of their value later,” André said.
This, of course, was what Prévost wanted to hear, for now the decision was Devereaux’s, not his. He had no further responsibility in the matter. If it all succeeded, he could take credit. If it failed, he could tell Paris later that he had warned Devereaux of a trick.
For a bastard who wants my job, André thought, what is poor Gustave going to do when he can’t pass the buck and must make his own decisions?
“This will be a costly business, Monsieur Devereaux. Can our budget stand it?”
“Good intelligence cannot be run at cut-rate prices. So don’t spend so much on foolishness for the next couple of months, Prévost. Perhaps one less present for one less lady.”
“Sir, do you accuse ...”
“Certainly I do. Your accounts at various jewelry stores are getting a bit outrageous.”
Gustave Prévost flushed and sputtered.
“Get back up to New York,” André said contemptuously. “I’ll arrange the entire operation from here. And, Prévost, damn you, don’t bungle things at your end.”
AMUS KNOCKED AND
entered André’s office in a single motion, and she knew the instant she saw him. André’s forehead was beady with sweat. He was having another of his attacks.
He fired a warning glance that she was to say nothing.
Brigitte Camus, his secretary of a decade, understood but deplored the situation. She advanced slowly toward his desk, ready to defy him and call the doctor.
“Well?” André said between labored breaths.
She set rolls of quarters, dimes, and nickels on the desk top. “Pepe’s ticket is at the National counter,” she said.
André forced his left hand out, grabbed the desk pen and scrawled that unreadable chicken track that represented his signature, and affixed it to a dozen letters, cables, and coded messages. She lifted the papers dutifully and made for the door, then turned. “Monsieur Devereaux!”
“That’s all, Madame Camus.”
“Perhaps you’d care for a glass of sherry,” she blurted, fishing for a reason to remain.
“Make it a bourbon. A stiff one.”
The first sip warmed him and the attack waned. His eyes followed her as she moved papers about to consume time in the office. Dear Brigitte. Still a very attractive and desirable woman in her late forties. A widow with a son in college, yet she still had her admirers. Like the good Frenchwoman, she made the most of what she had. It was comforting to watch her come and go and be around him these days. She was concerned and devoted.
“Call Madame Devereaux and tell her I’ll be late.”
“I already have.”
“What’s on the damn calendar tonight?”
“Early cocktails, Ghana Embassy. Late cocktails, Sierra Leone Embassy. Tomorrow a dinner for the outgoing Nigerian Ambassador.”
“African week,” André grunted. The French were bad enough with protocol and wasted far too much valuable time on it, but the Africans were something else. The Africans imposed their new-found acceptance with an overpowering vigor. Their game of diplomatic musical chairs never ended. André held second rank in the Embassy under René d’Arcy and was in heavy demand to attend the functions, and the functions had increased fivefold in a decade, thanks to the Africans, who were easily offended by an absence.
“Perhaps you could get someone to attend for you,” Brigitte said.
“The honor of France requires my presence,” André mocked. “You may go, Madame Camus.”
“It’s quite all right. I’m fine now.”
She started for the code room. “Monsieur Devereaux, when will you take a rest?”
“In heaven. I’m looking forward to my first good night’s sleep there in twenty-five years.”
She was about to sob.
“Don’t, please don’t,” he said.
André departed immediately from the Chancellery and drove down Massachusetts Avenue lined with the embassies, legations, and consulates that made it a political artery of the world.
He parked in the lot near Union Station, entered its cavernous confines, and made for a random phone booth, closed the door behind him, unwrapped the rolls of coins, stacked them like poker chips, and opened shop by depositing a dime and dialing the operator.
“Operator. May I help you?”
“Thank you. I want Miami. Area 305. Person to person with Mr. Pepe Vimont at number 374-1299.”
He repeated his instructions indulgently to her questions. She thanked him. A rain of quarters clanged into the coin box with the sound of a muted church bell.
“I have a long distance call for a Mr. Pepe Vimont.”
“This is Pepe Vimont.”
“Here is your party, sir.”
“Hello, Pepe. This is Joseph. I called to wish you a happy birthday.”
Pepe Vimont’s pulse quickened upon hearing the voice of the man he knew only as Joseph. “I think we have a bad connection,” Pepe said quickly, answering the code. “Can you call me back in ten minutes at Eva’s number?”
“Yes, very well.”
Pepe set the receiver down, untied his apron and tapped the other bartender on the shoulder.
“I’ve got to go out for half an hour.”
Always when the rush is on, the bartender thought, but said nothing. He wasn’t really too unhappy about it because it would give him a chance to pocket a few bucks.
Pepe left his bar on Southwest Eighth Street in the heart of Miami’s Cuban refugee district and walked a block and a half up the Tamiami Trail, then crossed to where a violent neon display shouted out “Tropicburger” in four colors. At the outdoor stand of the drive-in, Cubans in gleaming white shirts nipped down
and talked in their loud, quick voices.
Over the parking lot stood the phone booth coded as Eva. Pepe entered and waited.
During this time, in Washington André Devereaux left Union Station, crossed the avenue to the Commodore Hotel, where he took up position in a new phone booth and watched the lobby clock tick off. He placed a call to Eva’s number.
“Hello. Is this Pepe?”
“Joseph. You will go to the National ticket counter at the airport tomorrow. There will be round-trip tickets to New York in your name. It will be a short trip. No more than overnight at most.”
Thank God, Pepe thought.
“Bring your Tessina camera and several rolls of film.”
“Yes, go on.”
André carefully detailed the movements that Pepe was to make in New York and how his contact would link up with him.
He repeated the instructions to perfection.
“Good luck,” André said and hung up. He left the Commodore Hotel and plunged into the endless round of African cocktail parties.
Lefebvre, was the son of the foreman of the Vimont plantation on Guadeloupe in the French Antilles.
When his parents passed away, the elder Vimont, who was without a son, took young Pepe as his own and gave him his name.
He was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris when the Second World War fell upon France. Choosing to ignore the safe route and return to Guadeloupe, he retreated first into Vichy France, where he joined the fledgling Resistance. The paths of war took him to North Africa, where remnants of defeated France were reuniting under the directorship of Pierre La Croix into the semblance of a combat force and a quasi government.
Pepe, a light-skinned Negro with sharp features, was able to pass the line easily as a Muslim. He learned Arabic and was soon plunged into the cesspools of Casablanca, the Casbah of Algiers, Cairo, and Dakar as an intelligence agent for the Free French.
As the war progressed and Pierre La Croix reclaimed Vichy French possessions in the Caribbean, Pepe was tranferred as an operator in that arena.
The end of the war found the elder Vimont passed away and the plantation in a hopeless state of financial ruin.
Pepe returned to France and was further trained at an SDECE school at Étampes near Orléans. After a brief mission in Cuba, he resigned from the service and decided to remain in that country and obtained citizenship.
Pepe Vimont was among the first to flee Castro, emigrating to Miami, where he purchased a small bar in the southwest section among the refugees.
When his record and whereabouts came to the attention of French Intelligence, André Devereaux sent an agent down to contact him. Pepe agreed to take on special missions for the French to augment his income.
Pepe liked Miami. It was the first time he had been able to settle long enough to marry and begin a family. His wife was a lovely Cuban girl, and they had a son and another child on the way.