CUBAN QUEEN - - - - PART 1
by Blackie Noir
Esmeralda was a queen. Of course, she hadn’t always been. Certainly not on the island. Not in the cane fields. Not when, at the tender age of fourteen, she stood sweating, shoulder to shoulder, with her brothers, swinging her machete, hacking at the ever resistant stalks.
Tireless and strong, the muscles of her arms already as hard and ropey as those of the men she labored with, Esmeralda probably would have given up the best years of her life battling the steel-like stalks of sugar-cane. One errant blow from a co-workers machete changed her destiny and sent her on a perilous journey, across 90 miles of treacherous ocean, to
When Marco Napoles saw what remained of his daughters’ hand, thanks to God her thumb hadn’t been lost, he was devastated. She had been the perfect jewel of his life, now; her pinkie and ring fingers lay in the mud and the blood, food for insects. Well, she still had three functioning fingers on her right hand, and an undamaged left hand. Marco meant for them to stay that way.
In those days, before the coming of Castro, leaving the island had been easy, if you had the money. Marco had no money, but he had a cousin, and this cousin had a boat. Three months after the maiming of her hand, Esmeralda had waded in through battering surf to land, sprawling, on American soil. After vomiting in the sand, she rose, pulled her hair back, and setting her gaze on some tall buildings, began walking inland.
Esmeralda’s lips curled around her cigarro in a grin, no, she hadn’t been born to her throne. Bringing the flaming match to the tip of her small cigar, she briefly eyed her hand. True, the cane had taken her fingers, but in return it had given her tenacity, an iron will, and an ambition that would prevent her from ever returning to the fields.
The miles, there had been thousands, between
and Florida , and the years, 33 of
them, had not been kind. But, they had been generous. That, generosity,
Esmeralda had demanded of them. She had paid many a high price throughout her
life, but always made certain she was well compensated in return. Arizona
After blowing out her match, Esmeralda was barely visible in the dim red glow of the cantina’s lights, lights that matched the ones burning over the doors of the Spartan cribs, lining a long, narrow, hall, where her girls made their money. Half of what they made belonged to Esmeralda, tribute to the Queen.
How many years had she sat at this very table, at the head of the hall, sipping from her mug of rum, collecting from the tricks? At this table she had dispensed her sometimes harsh, sometimes tempered, but always fair justice. Disputes? The Queen handled them all, between trick and girl, girl and girl, it mattered not, her word was law. Her decisions final.
Smoking, slouched low in her chair, wide brim of her straw
hiding her features, it was difficult to determine her gender. All doubt was
erased once she stood, her damp undershirt clinging to her still perfect
pear-shaped breasts. Dropping her cigarro on the floor, she picks up her empty
mug, and a large white envelope. Panama
Striding, on long, still powerful legs, she reaches the bar and places her mug on its top. Her bartender, Nando, looks at her with his gentle doe-eyes, their beauty marred by thick ridges of scar tissue in his heavy brows, and smiles. “Que, Bonita?”
Tapping her mug, she says, “Please, no stupid questions, not today.”
Still smiling, Nando fills the mug with Myers, “Forgive me, but since I became stupid I can ask no other kind.”
Esmeralda knows the jest is at least half true. Once one of the finest welterweights to ever lace on a glove, Nando Chacon had had the misfortune of fighting both Henry Armstrong and Fritzie Zivic in the same year. Armstrong had broken Nando into pieces; Zivic had stomped on those pieces.
Nando’s thought process had remained intact; it had just slowed down a step. Now, Esmeralda needs him focused. Waving her envelope in front of him, she says, “Nando! Take this, and listen to me. I need you to pay very close attention to my words.”
“Put this envelope in the safe. Do not open it for six hours, then, open it in your room. Mr. Douglas has a copy, he can help you if need be. Do not open the cantina today. I have sent the girls to
for the day. You can keep occupied by cleaning up, polish the mirrors,
Nando frowns, and says, “What is this? What are you doing Bonita?”
“I thought we said no stupid questions.”
“Yes. Yes we did, but these are not stupid questions. Your behavior is strange. These are serious questions, questions that call for answers.”
“Have you forgotten our pact?”
“Our pact? A pact made twenty years ago? Is such a pact still valid? I think not.”
“Am I still valid Nando?”
“Now who asks stupid questions?”
“Our pact remains as valid as I do.”
Back at her table, Esmeralda sips at her rum and, slipping her fingers into the cleft between her breasts, fondles a small silver vile hanging from a silver chain. Watching Nando, she remembers. Long ago years, the good years.
She had been young, and working in the cribs of the house she now owned. Nando had been a mere boy. A boy who could fight. He had fought his way up from the slums of
to the barrios of Mexicali , then
out of the barrio and on to the marquees of the nation’s top arenas. Los Angeles
Nando had swept into Jerome like the hot dessert wind. When he blew back out of town, Esmeralda occupied the passenger seat of his Duesenburg roadster, and the center of his heart. He didn’t care that she was a negrita and a puta as well, he was ‘Kid Cuchillo’ and she was his mujer, that was all.
Things went well for them. Nando fought often, and always won. The money poured in, and they went through it quickly, for the bright lights of the big cities had mesmerized the unsophisticated young couple. Soon, Nando had run out of viable, big money, opponents. But, by doing so he had earned a title shot. Armstrong loomed.
Esmeralda was as shocked, as was Nando; by the way Armstrong was able to dominate the fight. The fact that Nando was able to go the distance only made his degree of punishment that much higher. Nando bled, Esmeralda wept.
Prior to the Armstrong fight Esmeralda knew nothing of boxing, and she couldn’t comprehend how another man could beat her mighty warrior so soundly. When Nando announced that he had no plans to retire, she made it her business to find out all she could about her man’s brutal occupation.
Armed with her new knowledge, she protested vehemently when Nando’s East Coast promoter and managers, realizing that the broken fighter probably had only one high paying fight left in him, matched him with the brutal Fritzie Zivic.
She knew her man had already been damaged by Armstrong, and Zivic was a fighter who took pleasure in the destruction of his opponents. Although she argued strongly against the fight, she was just the “kid’s nigger whore from
When, after the Zivic fight, Nando was discharged from the hospital even he acknowledged that his career was over. He promised Esmeralda as soon as he collected the money he was due they would head back West. When Nando returned from his meeting with his managers, he had less than 500 dollars and two train tickets. Esmeralda went to confront his ex-handlers.
After enduring vulgar insults, and crude jokes made at hers and Nando’s expense, Esmeralda was told to see the ‘Sicilian’ if she had a problem. Esmeralda didn’t know the extent of the Sciliano’s power, but she knew he controlled the men who had mis-managed Nando’s career, and his money.
Instead of sympathy from the gangster, Esmeralda was told that if she and Nando didn’t leave the city, he would be killed outright, and she would be delivered to one of the many cargo vessels that visited the harbor. Once at sea, Esmeralda would be used in ways even her days as a boom-town whore hadn’t prepared her for, and then, after the crew had tired of her, dumped overboard.
Still fingering the silver vial, Esmeralda sneers as she remembers her first visit to the Siciliano. Smoking, drinking more rum, she begins to smile when she thinks of her final visit to the man. Yes, she had ignored his threat and returned a day later, but she had made other visits beforehand. First, a visit to a bruja. The witch told Esmeralda that, no, she couldn’t help her. Such things, dark things, were beyond her powers. Esmeralda must seek out an obeah-man.
CUBAN QUEEN is presented in three parts. Part Two will be up on Friday Feb 1st.