Leonardo Padura

Havana Blue

The third book in the Mario Conde Mystery series, 2007

© Leonardo Padura Fuentes, 2000

English translation © Peter Bush, 2007

For Lucia, with love and squalor

Author’s Note

The events narrated in this novel are not real, although they could have been, as reality itself has shown.

Any resemblance to real people and events is then merely that plus cussedness on the part of reality.

Consequently, nobody should feel alluded to in the novel. Equally, nobody should feel excluded if they do see some pertinent reference or other.


He whirled about. “Shut up, you!” he cried. We didn’t say anything, said the mountains. We didn’t say anything, said the sky. We didn’t say anything, said the wreckage. “All right, then,” he said, swaying. “See that you don’t.” Everything was normal.

Ray Bradbury, Perchance To Dream

possessing only

between heaven and earth

my memory, this time…

Eliseo Diego, Testament

I don’t have to think to know the most difficult step would be opening my eyes. If the morning sun, glinting brightly on the windowpanes, bathing the whole room in glorious light, struck them and sparked off the vital act of raising my eyelids, the slippery dough settling in my skull would be set to start a painful dance at the least movement of my body. To sleep, perchance to dream, he told himself, revisiting a phrase that had buzzed in his brain five hours earlier, when he had fallen on his bed and breathed in the deep dark aroma of solitude. In distant shadows he saw himself as a guilty penitent, kneeling before the pan, unloading wave after wave of apparently endless bitter amber vomit. But the telephone persisted, its machine-gun ring-rings drilling his eardrums and lashing a brain tortured by its exquisitely cyclical, clinical brutality. He dared to. Slightly raised his eyelids, which he then shut immediately: the pain entered via his pupils and he simply felt like dying, although grimly aware such a desire would go unfulfilled. He felt very weak, with no strength to lift his arms, support his forehead and exorcize the explosion each malign ring-ring made imminent, until he finally decided to confront the pain, raised an arm, opened a hand and grabbed the receiver, slipping it from its cradle in order to regain the state of grace that is silence.

That victory made him want to laugh, but he couldn’t. He tried to persuade himself he was awake, but he wasn’t at all convinced. His arm dangled down one side of the bed like a severed branch, and he knew the dynamite lodged in his brain was fizzing furiously, threatening to explode at any moment. He was afraid, an all too familiar fear, although one he always quickly forgot. He also tried to complain, but his tongue had dissolved down the back of his mouth by the time the telephone mounted its second offensive. Go away, fuck you! All right, all right, he groaned, forcing his hand to grip the receiver, and lurching like a rusty crane, his arm lifted it to his ear and lodged it there.

First there was silence: oh, blessed silence. Then came the voice, a thick resonant voice he found awesome.

“Hey, hey, you hearing me?” it seemed to say. “Mario, hello, Mario, can you hear me?” And he hadn’t the courage to say no, no, he couldn’t or didn’t want to hear or, simply, that it was a wrong number.

“Yes, Chief,” he finally whispered, but only after he’d taken a breath, filled his lungs with air, set his arms to work around his head, his hands spread, pressing down on his temples trying to curb the dizzy merry-goround unleashed in his brain.

“Hey, what’s up with you? What the hell is up with you?” retorted not a voice but an unholy bellow.

He took one more deep breath and tried to spit. Then felt his tongue had swollen or no longer belonged to him.

“Nothing really, Chief, a spot of migraine. Or high blood pressure, I’m…”

“Hey, Mario, don’t try that line again. I’m the one with the high blood pressure, and don’t keep calling me Chief. What’s up?”

“What I said, Chief, a spot of headache.”

“So you’ve woken up after the party, I suppose? Well, get this: your holidays are over.”

Not even daring to contemplate such a thing, he opened his eyes. As he’d imagined, the sunlight was flooding in through the big windows, and everything around him was bright and warm. Perhaps the cold had retreated outside and it might be a beautiful morning, but he felt like crying or something of that nature.

“No, Boss, hell, don’t do that to me. It’s my weekend. That’s what you said. You forgotten?”

“It was your weekend, my boy, it was. No one pressganged you into the police.”

“But, Boss, why does it have to be me? You’ve got loads of people,” he protested as he tried to sit up. The errant weight of his brain crashed against his forehead, and he had to close his eyes again. The nausea in his gut surged up; his bladder felt about to burst. He gritted his teeth and groped after the cigarettes on his bedside table.

“Hey, Mario, I don’t intend putting it to a vote. Do you know why it’s your turn? Because that’s what I damn well want. So shake a leg: get out of bed.”

“You’re not joking, are you?”

“Mario, that’s enough… I’m already at work, get me?” the voice warned, and Mario understood he was really at work. “Listen: on Thursday they informed us that a chief executive in the Ministry for Industry had disappeared, you hearing me?”

“I want to. I swear I do.”

“Well, want on and don’t swear in vain. His wife made a statement at nine that night, but the guy’s still not put in an appearance: we’ve alerted the whole country. I reckon it stinks. You know that chief executives at vice- ministerial rank don’t go missing like that in Cuba,” continued the Boss, making sure his voice communicated his

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