Danger In Havana – Episode 22

CARLOS turned out to be an excellent cook, proud of his dish of steaming white fish chunks and prawns served in a delectable sauce of tomatoes, garlic, cumin, cilantro, capers and sofrito which was a Cuban speciality, a delicious onion sauce.

“I add just a tiny few flakes of chilli. It is big flavour, not big heat, which defines Cuban food. I hope you like it, and the accompaniment, Moros y Cristianos, traditional rice and black beans. Enjoy.”

It turned out to be the best meal Bryony had had since she arrived in Cuba. Full of zingy spice but not too hot.

As they ate, the net curtains at the French window billowed in the welcome breeze.

The sound of horses’ hooves gently clip-clopped below, mixed with the calls and greetings of one Cuban to another, enjoying the arrival of evening with its chance to relax after the labours of the day.

After the meal, Mark invited Carlos to drink coffee with them.

“We need to pick your brains, Carlos.”

Mark explained how Anna had gone missing.

Carlos’s face was lined with concern.

“This is very bad. If someone has been a part of kidnapping your daughter, I will do everything I can to help. This is not the Cuban way: we are a law-abiding country. You are safer here than anywhere in the world.”

“Tomorrow,” Mark said, “we need to find this house. We are going to ask Norelvis to drive us there, but it does look as if it is way up in the hills.

“Do you think the Oldsmobile will make it? The last thing we want is for him to get into trouble with his brother for pushing the car too much.”

Mark handed Carlos the piece of paper with the address.

“Oh, no.” Carlos frowned as he read the address. “You will not get an Oldsmobile up there. Not even a truck is good. This is miles up into the hills. An old sugar plantation, now a very grand residence but well off the beaten track. The only way to get to the Pedro Plantation is on horseback.”

“Horseback? Seriously?”

“Yes, it is about three hours’ ride.”

“Three hours! But I’ve hardly ever been on a horse.” Bryony was aghast. “And certainly not for hours on end.”

“But it is no problem.”

Carlos laughed at her dismay.

“We ride the horses all the time, they are quiet, calm beasts. The horses of Trinidad know the way. There are very few tracks through the hills and they just follow them until you tell them to stop. It is not difficult – easier than driving a car.”

Bryony wasn’t in the least bit convinced. Didn’t horses bolt and rear up, throwing people off?

And didn’t hours in the saddle make you ache until you felt you would never walk again?

Besides, she had only brought skirts with her. Surely she would need a pair of jodhpurs, or at least a pair of jeans? If she didn’t have those, wouldn’t she be chafed to the point of agony? After all, not only would it be three hours there, it would be three hours back, too!

The prospect of six hours non-stop in a hard leather saddle, not knowing how to do that bobbing up and down thing which people recommend, filled Bryony with horror.

Nevertheless, if they were going to find and save Anna, this seemed to be the only way.

“Do you know anyone who has horses we can hire?” Mark asked.

“Yes, I have a friend who owns a small farm; it is the first one at the end of this road, in the foothills. I can telephone when I go downstairs and see what he can do for us.”

“Does he have a guide who could go with us?”

Bryony was pleased that Mark was thinking this all through. The scariness of it was stopping her mind from functioning properly.

“You could not have a better guide than Norelvis. He used to spend many school holidays here. The boy has been up in those hills countless times to go swimming in the cool mountain streams in the height of summer. That boy loves horses almost as much as he loves cars.”

“Then that’s a done deal,” Mark said.

He looked over at Bryony and for the first time, touched her, putting a gentle hand on her arm.

“Do you have any rum, Carlos? I think Bryony could do with a little bit of Dutch courage to get her used to the idea.”

Carlos chortled.

“You ask a Cuban if he has rum? I have the finest.”

Carlos went over to a polished sideboard in the corner and poured them all a large shot.

“Cheers,” he said as he raised his glass.

“To adventure, my friends, and to finding your Anna.”

Bryony finished her glass in one, realising that her heart had been beating twenty to the dozen at the news they were going pony trekking in a strange country without any warning.

As soon as the fiery liquid hit her bloodstream, she could feel its calming effect.

She decided to forget her troubles for the time being and try to enjoy the evening for what it was, a chance to relax before their big journey tomorrow.

When Mark suggested that they go for an evening walk around Trinidad, she decided that would be a lot better than sitting worrying about Anna and about tomorrow’s journey.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!