Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finding the Right Time to Write

Balancing the needs of the day job with writing continues to be a challenge. I am grateful for any progress I am able to make toward completion. This past weekend we took the dogs up to Lake Tahoe. I had a meeting at a home on the shore of the lake, so Sammi and Scruffy had an opportunity to go for a dip. Only Sammi ventured in. Scruffy used the opportunity to go beach combing and found a sandwich abandoned on a swimmer's chair. He had a picnic. Here's Sammi cavorting:

I've continued layering the story, which at this point has three distinct story lines and filling holes that have appeared over time. In some respects, fixing a narrative is like repairing a street. I no sooner repair one gap in the pavement when another pothole appears somewhere else.

To further whet your appetite, here's a draft of chapter 2:

Chapter 2

The Sierra Maestra

            Two weeks after meeting Pedro at the club, Vilma Espin labored up a trail rutted with car tracks. It was just wide enough to allow a small four-wheel vehicle to go by, typical of what passed for a road in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. They are located in eastern Cuba and, except for the major cities of Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba, are sparsely inhabited. Dressed in military fatigues and a black beret, Vilma climbed alone, carrying only a rucksack on her back. In the high humidity, the 90 degree heat felt like someone had wrapped her body with a hot wet towel. Up ahead, she heard the sound of a diesel motor, but the jungle was thick, and the road that cut through it, full of switch-backs that blocked her view. She leaped into the brush at the side of the road and hid in the dense growth.

In a few minutes, a Cuban army jeep rumbled down the trail, followed by a half dozen regular troops, armed with rifles. The men’s shirts were drenched in sweat. From the shadows, Vilma waited for them to pass. When the jeep’s motor had faded to a whisper, Vilma climbed out of the jungle and resumed her trek. She climbed up and down the snake-like trail for another three hours. Just after 3 p.m., she spotted a tree to her left, whose bark was scarred with cuts, flayed in the shape of “M.” The wounded tree marked the entrance to the small trail. This was a path just wide enough for a hiker. No vehicle could possibly drive it.

            She walked down the trail for another hour until she came to yet another “M”, marking another branch. She followed the new path about 300 yards and came to an encampment, under a dense canopy of trees. It was filled with canvas tents. As she was about to exit the jungle and come into the clear, she was immediately confronted by a rebel sentry in jungle fatigues that matched he own. He was bearded and stank like week-old meat.

            “Halt,” the sentry said.

            “Halt yourself,” said Vilma. “I am here to see Raul.” Vilma spoke in loud simple words, her voice commanding obedience.

            The flap of one of the tents opened, and a mustached rebel stumbled out. He looked at Vilma, then opened his arms.

“Raul,” she cried. “Mi querida chiquita,” he called racing to Vilma. He reached her in seconds and threw his arms around her. Then, still in an embrace, he kissed her passionately in front of the very confused sentry.

“Put your gun down, comrade,” said Raul, “this wonderful woman is a friend.” Vilma shot a glance at Raul.

“Friend, eh?” she asked.

“You came alone?” Raul asked, ignoring her question. “Where is everyone else?”

“The army has been very active in Santiago and we are short of supplies to bring here. Ever since Frank was killed last July, it has been difficult getting all the medicines we need.”

“Yes, he always knew how to get things done. When those Batista bastards killed him, they killed the conscience of our movement in Santiago. If I ever find out who informed, there will be no place on earth that scum will be able to hide.”

Vilma pushed herself away from Raul. “Look, Frank was great, perhaps too great. In the long run, perhaps we are better off without him, no? I went to Havana with my father two weeks ago to coordinate some groups there, to get more supplies. They’ll be here, but not too soon, I am afraid.”

“Fidel is not going to be happy,” Raul said. He reached his arm around Vilma’s waist and guided her to the tent. As they got to its entrance, he squeezed her, causing her to giggle. “But right now I have other things than revolution on my mind, no?”

Vilma ducked under the tent flap and Raul came in behind her, closing the flap. He approached her smiling face and reached to unbutton her blouse. Vilma reached up and let her hair fall loosely to her shoulders. “Comandante, is this how you treat all your friends? The sentry…” Vilma was interrupted by Raul’s lips covering her own. He drew her close and she returned his kiss, grabbing to open his shirt. “I missed you so very much,” Vilma said, as she lay back on the bed, pulling Raul atop of her. For the better part of an hour, the revolution took a break in the Sierra Maestra.

Vilma and Raul fell asleep in each other’s arms, but were awakened by a voice calling from the tent’s entrance, “Comandante!”

Raul stumbled into his fatigues, leaving Vilma in the warmth of their blanket covered mat, and came out of the tent. The sun had set and a few campfires were lit upon which men were cooking dinner. “What is it Gonzalo?” Raul asked the rebel who had awakened him from his idyl.

“A messenger just arrived. Fidel needs re-enforcements to flank a column coming from Santiago. We need to be there at dawn.”

“Get everyone going,” Raul commanded. “We leave in 30 minutes!” Raul returned to the tent and told Vilma that he was leaving.

“Not without me,” she said. “I’m going to the party.”

“Party? This isn’t going to be a fucking party. Those are real soldiers with real guns heading our way.”

“Then every gun counts,” Vilma said. “I am a better shot than you.”

“You’ve been climbing through the mountains all day and now you want to go all night too? You’re nuts.”

“Only nuts about you, my comandante.”

“Well, if you’re coming along, I suggest you put some pants on.”

The rebel forces made their way to the position by quietly passing along narrow trails into valleys and then back into hills by the light of the moon. Numbering about a hundred, the rebels met up with Fidel’s column and spread out and hid in the jungle opposite Fidel’s along a wide portion of a mountain road that traversed the Sierra Maestra. Some tried to sleep, but the anticipation of the coming fight made sleep elusive.

As the sun came up over the trees, the distant sound of motors and grinding gears could be heard. Vilma, Raul and the others peered through the jungle at the road’s edge and watched as the government troops approached, led by armored vehicles and followed by infantry—in all about a thousand men. When the entire column was in range, Raul gave the order to fire. Shots rang out from both sides of the road as Fidel’s forces joined in the slaughter. A young man, no more than 18 ran toward Vilma’s and Raul’s hidden position in the jungle. Raul fired and missed. Vilma raised a rifle and blew the side of the soldier’s head away. “I told you I was a better shot!” she said.

The battle lasted twenty minutes. More than a hundred of the soldiers were killed. The rebels had one slight casualty. Some of the soldiers had retreated down the road toward Santiago, but the vast majority threw up their hands in a sign of surrender and was quickly surrounded by rebels.

“It’s only a matter of time now, my darling,” Vilma said. “We’ll be marching into Santiago soon.”

“I hope so, but we have to plan as though the war will go on forever. We still need more supplies.”

“I’m working on it. I should be back here in just a few weeks.”

“I wish Frank were still alive.”

“Enough about Frank,” Vilma said. “We can get along quite nicely without Frank.”


“Listen Frank is not here anymore. I am here and I will get you your fucking supplies.”

Raul was puzzled by Vilma’s dismissal of his regrets over Frank Pais’s death. Frank had been a critical part of the supply chain to the Sierra Maestra.

“I am sure you will, chiquita.”

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