Twenty miles off the north Cuban coast, you begin to make a right turn and aim the 54-foot Hatteras toward Isla Mujeres, your honeymoon destination. As your beautiful bride, wearing an iridescent bikini, serves you a cold beer, you see a flash of white at the corner of your vision. Minutes later you glide up to a severely injured man on a shot-up raft, sharks circling, tasting blood that drips into the sea. Laws flood your brain: the law of the sea, God’s law — you are your brother’s keeper, the foot wet law of Washington’s politicians, the unknown Mexican immigration laws…
What do you do?
The Story Behind the BookThe seed of the novel was planted on May 6, 2010 when Luis Ruiz spoke to our Bay Sages group at Bay de Noc Community College. Luis talked about his escape from Communist Cuba, he showed and talked to slides of the health, education and general living conditions he and his family had left. We were moved to tears and clapped with appreciation as Luis talked about his life as a slave and the blessings of freedom in the USA. He summed up his life as, “full of miracles.”
I had already outlined my third book, starting with a wedding. After talking with Luis and his family I could not resist incorporating the drama and soul lifting experiences I was hearing at Luis’s and Silena’s kitchen table into the new story.
My love and experience with Cuban escapees began with my Spanish instructor at Western Michigan University in 1965, Mercedes Cardenas. I was in her first class. As a graduate student I was older than most of her students, we became friends and I was honored to share a dinner with her family at her home. Her husband had been the publisher of a large Havana paper. He was imprisoned and later took his family to the freedom of the United States. She was a wonderful teacher and a very impressive person. She died at age 93 in 2007. I used her name in the story.
I interviewed several people who had experienced Cuban prisons — including the infamous Boniato. The internet is rich in descriptions of the despicable treatment by Castro’s minions of individuals imprisoned for the slightest criticism of his cruel communist dictatorship. I encourage you to read, Boniato Prison: Tale of a Massacre, by Armando Valladares. It makes you sick to read what humans can do to other humans. In my novel I couldn’t repeat these depths of cruelty because my research kept me awake at night, and I wanted to save my readers from such wrenching descriptions. But the truth is still the truth. Cuba should be freed and Castro’s grip severed from the necks of 11 million souls.
The story in Mexico is very accurate — gangs and corruption are rampant. The paper chase to bring in a yacht is no exaggeration.
I introduced two new weapons to the Reefer — the M16 instead of the Remington 700 hunting rifle. The “Hunter” shows the new rifle. Also, we introduced the FN Five-seven semiautomatic pistol. I’ve put in a good website for information on the piece.
I’ve been in all the ports used in the novel, except in Cuba. If you took a 10 day cruise through the Caribbean my novel would be a good companion.
The novel has a change in perspective. Both Matt and Tanya have views and voice in the actions. In previous books only Matt was the protagonist. I needed Tanya to have her descriptions and thoughts while in prison. Also, she is much more active and opinionated as Matt’s wife. The chapters still flow from one to another — no timeouts while some new action or scene is introduced — I hate it when the action is just getting good and the next chapter is about something else!
A long corridor,
with forty doors of terror
with welded sheets of iron
with enormous Russian locks.
Inside the long Communist night
in two meters length of anguish
by one of torture
Sometime warm diarrhea
runs down the length of thin thighs
and the excrement piles up
and over them a palpitating cloak
Taken from the poem “Boniato Prison: Tale of a Massacre,” from the collection From My Wheelchair, by Armando F. Valladares (Worldview Magazine, 1977). Reprinted by permission of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.