Aedan enjoys the last sunset before he leaves Cuba.

All Things Must End

Aedan enjoys the last sunset before he leaves Cuba.
Aedan enjoys the last sunset before he leaves Cuba.
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The ride to the airport seemed to take forever. Thankfully, the driver wasn’t particularly talkative which was fine by Aedan because his mind was busy considering why Noel might have left without saying a word when she seemed full of excitement about going out sailing with him and the Carlson’s the evening before. Never letting his guard down, he had been holding some internal reservations about their chance meetings among all the extraordinary events since leaving Seattle for this trip. However, those concerns were washed away in the many hours they had spent together yesterday. Now he found himself wondering if she had possibly become a target because of the secondary reason he was in Havana – to collect information about the case he was trying.

It seemed the taxi every red light during the 15 minute trip to the airport but each time the driver looked into the rear view mirror to check on his passenger, Aedan was looking out the window, deep in thought. When the taxi pulled up to the curb, before the driver could say a word, Aedan had already stuck his hand over the seat back to hand him the money for the fare while simultaneously opening the door.

Aedan jumped out of the car and headed immediately through the glass doors. Once inside he stopped and scanned left to right looking for a flight information board. He quickly spotted one down the hallway in front of him. He was looking for flights that had departed early in the morning since Noel had checked out so early. He saw nothing. Nothing on the boards went back that far.

On his way to read the board, he had passed a counter for the airline that he had arrived by earlier that week. Knowing that the attendants there spoke english very well, he approached the counter and asked the young attendant if she could tell him any flights that left between 5 and 8am. The attendant looked curious but without going into details he told her enough that she typed onto her keyboard and within seconds had a list of five flights that had departed during that window. Four were to various locations in Central and South America. One was to Miami.

Aedan stopped the attendant when she mentioned Miami. “Which airline was the flight to Miami on?”

“Oh, that was our flight, Senor” she quickly responded. “It left at 5:25 this morning and was right on time.”

“Can you tell me if there was a Noel Jensen on that flight?” Aedan took a long shot. He figured he knew the answer but had to ask, anyway.

“No Senor, I’m not allowed to give that information to you.”

Aedan was putting together his angle of attack, family…emergency…call for a manager. There must be a way to find out if she was on that flight. As he sifted through the possibilities his phone rang.

He pulled the phone from his pocket and saw Noel’s number. Thanking the attendant, he stepped away from the counter even as he was pushing the button to accept the call.

“Noel, where are you?” The concern was evident in his voice.

“Aedan, I’m sorry. I tried to call but…”

“Are you OK? Where are you?” He didn’t realize he didn’t let her finish her sentence.

“I’m at the airport in Phoenix, waiting for my mother to pick me up.”

Knowing she was safe, Aedan felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He made his way to the door to find a quieter spot to continue the conversation.

Noel had tried to call several times after she got a call from her mother telling her that her sister wasn’t expected to make it through the day, but the calls went straight to voicemail which told her his inbox was full. She hadn’t considered texting. Even while she waited to transfer planes in Miami there was no answer.

Aedan nodded as he listened to her. He was probably just waking by the time she reached Miami. He would look into his inbox being full after they talked. He hadn’t received any calls at all today.

Noel didn’t know the full extent of her sister’s condition yet. She had been ill for several months now but everyone thought she was doing well with the treatment. Noel promised that once she knew more she would call again.

The next two days were full of relaxation and exploration. Aedan enjoyed another relaxing evening with Ms. Romero, her family and others that came to relax and play games. The following day, he made it out sailing with the Carlson’s. The relative silence and power of using the wind to propel a sailing vessel through the water is mesmerizing and once again whetted his appetite for finding his own boat

On his last day in Cuba, Aedan found himself on the beach taking inventory of all that had happened since he left on vacation which felt like months ago. He had all but forgotten the huge change in his physical appearance. Or perhaps he hadn’t. Somewhere along the way he had decided to let his beard grow out as a possible way to distract attention from looking 20 years longer than when he left. He knew it wouldn’t be that easy but it was all he could do for now. Then there was the matter of the key and cryptic message from the theater and what that could possibly mean for the case he was trying.

He had come to Cuba to get an answer. Whether he found that answer or not he couldn’t know yet but he knew that he was possibly returning with more questions than answers.

 

Sail Away

Aedan tries yet again to call Noel before the boat leaves
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The sun hadn’t been up long when Aedan first opened his eyes. He laid flat on his back and thought about the coming day. He hadn’t been sailing for a while so there was a bit of excitement along with good memories that found their way to the surface. The couple he met two evenings ago, the Carlsons seemed competent and friendly. Since he was always keeping his eye out for his next boat he was anxious to see theirs. He was familiar with the model but had never been aboard one.

Beyond all of that though, what he was most excited about was having Noel along. Assuming the weather cooperated, sailing with another couple would be a great time to relax and have fun with no pressure and for sheer pleasure it is difficult to beat a beautiful sunset at sea. The thought of the long day ahead reminded Aedan that he needed to gather a few things to take along to eat while they were out. He built a list in his head of what he would take along,

Curious of the time, Aedan reached for his phone in the charging cradle but it was empty. He rolled over and found the phone beside his pillow. He must have fallen to sleep while catching up on the news. He muttered to himself and pressed the button on the side but nothing happened. Again he pressed but the screen remained blank. With words reserved only for himself when he does foolish things, Aedan set the phone on the cradle and immediately it began charging…from 0%.

Fully awake now, he glanced across the room to the clock radio and saw that it was nearly 8am. He had woken 30 minutes later than intended but there was plenty of time for a shower. He would call Noel after the phone had recharged to make sure she was up and getting ready.

 

With anticipation of the day ahead and the shower behind him, Aedan went through his normal morning routines. Shaving, brushing teeth, crunches and push-ups were all routine though truth be told, he did extra today. Noel would be there.

Once he was ready to hit the road and dressed, he grabbed the now partially charged phone, went to his call history and called the last number – Noel’s. After three rings, it went to voicemail. He would try again later.

The homeowner, Ms. Fernandez was busy in the kitchen when Aedan came down the stairs. Always pleasant, she offered Aedan coffee and breakfast. He took her up on the coffee and a couple pieces of fruit. They talked about his plans and other things to do in the same area of Havana. Aedan was anticipating spending some time with Noel after they returned to port.

An hour had passed with no response from Noel so he called again and again ended up in her voicemail.

“Noel, it’s Aedan. I just wanted to be sure you’re up and will meet us at the marina at 11. I’ll grab some things to eat while we’re out. Just bring yourself and plenty of suntan lotion. It looks like a beautiful day. Oh..and call me when you get a chance.”

Ms. Fernandez was smiling when Aedan put the phone down. “Please take some of this fruit with you! It will go bad tomorrow and I need to get more.”

Aedan suddenly felt a little embarrassed.

“Thank you but I can’t do that!” He responded.

“Nonsense“ was her reply. “It will go bad soon.”

Sensing this was a losing argument, Aedan agreed to take a few pieces and she nearly emptied the fruit bowl into a bag as he watched.

For thirty minutes more, the two of them sipped coffee and talked until Aedan decided he needed to get moving. He was concerned that he had not yet heard back from Noel but knew she was excited about going out. Perhaps she too had forgotten to charge her phone.

As they neared the bottom of the coffee cup, Ms. Fernandez called for a taxi for Aedan. He noted that she truly did bend over backwards to make him feel comfortable. Ten minutes later, a horn sounded from outside. Aedan grabbed his own bag in addition to the one that Ms. Fernandez had prepared for him, wished her a good day and headed out the door to the waiting taxi.

Along the way, Aedan asked the taxi driver to stop at a grocery store where he grabbed a few more things to take along. The Carlsons had already volunteered that they had plenty to drink so he grabbed more water before returning to the taxi and completing the trip to the marina.

He was an hour early but that was by design. Walking the docks to look at the assortment of boats has been something he has done frequently in the last few years. It is said that the best days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it. He had experienced both and though he often tells himself it is foolish, he still looks for ‘the boat’ that will draw him back.

While walking the piers, Aedan tried again to call Noel but once again got her voicemail. He was now starting to worry a bit. He hadn’t known her long enough to know if being late was a habit. Of course, she wasn’t late yet but why hadn’t she acknowledged his calls?

As he neared dock “D”, Aedan saw the Carlsons toward the end unloading their cart that sat at the end of the finger pier. Mr. Carlson noticed him and waved.

“Oh, great! You’re early so you can help me load the boat!” His laugh was unmistakable. Aedan assured him he was eager to help.

Together, the two of them pulled grocery bags, beach bags, a coolers and a plastic gas can from the trunk of the car. The walk from the car to the boat was over a quarter of a mile which gave them plenty of time to talk about the day’s plans. The weather forecast was near perfect. It would be a bit warm but there would be enough breeze to keep them moving well and cooling the cockpit. They would anchor for a bit to eat and swim and be back to the mouth of the port to see the sun set before returning to the slip before it got too late. It had been several years since Aedan had been out and he was eager to experience the power of the wind that could simultaneously bring a calmness encapsulated by silence yet create moments of excitement if one let their guard down too far.

Once everything had been loaded onto the boat and put into it’s place Aedan offered to help with rigging the mainsail but to no surprise, Mr. Carlson thanked him and suggested he relax while he and Mrs. Carlson completed their preparations. This was not unlike Aedan himself – there is a connection between a boat and it’s captain. Some things the captain wants to know are done a certain way while others just fall into part of a routine and upsetting the routine during preparations inflicts a bit of uncertainty. To be fair, Mr. Carlson did offer a few small errands for him to take care of while he watched.

With little else to do and it now less than thirty minutes from the time that they intended to get underway, Aedan called Noel’s number once more but again his call went directly to voicemail. He was growing more concerned by the moment.

“Have you heard from your friend, Noel yet, Aedan?” Mrs. Carlson may have seen Aedan looking at his phone or perhaps she was simply noting the time also.

Aedan signed and shook his head. “No, I haven’t. The hotel is just around the corner – well, maybe two corners but in any event it’s only about ten minutes away. I’m going to go check on her. They all agreed that at this point he should. Perhaps she had just gotten lost and was walking the docks.

Aedan looked in every direction as he made his way out of the marina hoping to see her on the wrong pier. There was quite a bit of activity this morning as people were taking advantage of the beautiful forecast and getting out on the water or simply spending time on their boats doing maintenance and socializing. In all the activity though, Noel was nowhere to be seen.

Arriving at the hotel, Aedan scanned the lobby both for platinum blonde hair and the check-in desk. It was a small hotel that was decorated comfortably but not lavishly. The desk he found easily but still no trace of Noel. At the desk, he made his best effort in Spanish to ask for Noel’s room number. The look of frustration and confusion on his face prompted her to repeat her answer in English.

“I’m sorry sir but I can not give you that information.”

Aedan explained that she was supposed to meet him, that she was late and that he hasn’t been able to reach her by phone.

The clerk shook her head and was about to say more when Aedan pulled his wallet out.

Please sir, I can not tell you her room number but“. she hesitated and looked to either side of her. Only she and Aedan were in the room. “Ms. Jensen checked out very early this morning.”

Only confusion remained on Aedan’s face.

“Checked out? Are you sure?”

“Yes sir.” She looked back at the book behind the counter “At 4:30 this morning she turned her key in.”

“Did she say why? Was everything OK?” Aedan was grasping for an explanation.

“It was before my shift, sir but I think Maria is still here, she would have been working the desk then. I’ll be right back.”

A couple minutes passed that seemed much longer to Aedan. The clerk returned alone.

“She had to catch a flight and seemed a little rushed but that’s all I know.”

Aedan still couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Did she say where she was going? Was she alone?” He asked.

“No, I don’t believe she did and there was nobody with her.” she replied

The front door opened and both looked to see a couple loaded with suitcases coming in.

“I wish you luck sir. Please excuse me.” Her attention shifted to the newly arrived guests “Bienvenido!”

Aedan thanked the clerk and stepped away from the counter. He pulled his phone out and tried to Noel again. This time he received a voicemail box full message.

Still confused and wondering what he should do next, he called the Carlsons and told them that he wasn’t going to make it out with them today. Perhaps they could go out another day but he was going to to see what else he could find out and didn’t want to keep them waiting. Mr. Carlson expressed his understanding and that the offer still stood when he was ready. Since the boat was ready, they were still going out.

Outside the hotel, Aedan flagged down the first taxi and headed for the airport.

Sunset

Havana Sunset

Sunset
Sunset at Morro Castle
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Even the creeping sun that had found its way across the floor, up the side of the bed and slowly to Aedan’s closed eyes struggled to get him to move this morning. If there was to be a match of wills and patience though, Aedan would surely lose. He rolled over to get out of the glaring beam but the damage was done and he had no intention of wasting the day away…though at the moment it was quite tempting. He was out much later than he had intended the previous night.

Before he finished his second and intended to be last drink the previous night, the waitress set another before him. He began to protest but she only smiled and pointed to an older couple sitting at a table overlooking the deck. Aedan turned to thank them and tried to determine if he knew them or if they had ever met. He didn’t recognize them. The man appeared to be in his 60s, bald, tall and lanky with a mess of a beard that was mostly white. The woman, with strawberry blonde hair pulled into a ponytail flashed him a cheerful smile. Aedan guessed she was more than ten years younger than the man. Both were dressed casually in shorts and t-shirts. Both were quite tanned. Both sported sunglasses pushed back on their heads.

Aedan thanked them for the drink and they immediately invited him to come sit with him. With two drinks already behind him, he accepted the invitation. It would be nice to have an extended conversation where he wasn’t feeling guilt for not knowing more Spanish and to take his mind off of other things he couldn’t do anything about right then.

The couple had sailed their boat to Havana from St. Petersburg in Florida. Several years prior, Aedan had missed his chance at such an opportunity but hadn’t given up entirely. Once they learned that he too was a sailor, the conversation and rum continued for two hours and ended with an invitation to go out with them later during the week.  Of course he couldn’t refuse the invitation.

This morning, Aedan was remembering why he hadn’t had rum for a long time – well not since his first night in Havana. He was scolding himself for his indulgence when his phone began ringing.  He reached for the phone with his eyes still closed. Finding the phone in the charging cradle, he opened his eyes and saw the number. He didn’t recognize the number but the area code he did from his time at UC Davis School of Law in California. Nobody had called him from Sacramento for a very long time. 

Still half asleep, Aedan debated about answering for two rings before giving in. The quiet was so nice.

“Hello?”  There was certainly a question mark to his greeting.

“Aedan?  It’s Noel.” 

The fly on the wall smirked at how quickly he sat up and opened his eyes.

“Noel! I’m glad you called. How are things?”

“Oh, everything is fine.  I’ll tell you later if you like. I’m back in Havana and was wondering if you’d like to meet me for lunch.” 

Aedan was on his feet and wiping the sleep from his eyes, for the first time noticing how high the sun was.

“Sure. Do you have a place in mind?”

“Actually, I noticed a place around the corner from my hotel that had veg options on the menu. We could try that if it’s not too far for you”.

They talked for another ten minutes and agreed to meet in a little over two hours.  The restaurant was across the way from Morro Castle which was on Aedan’s list of things to see. It was a date and Aedan had an hour to pull himself together.

Ten minutes ahead of time, Aedan hopped out of a taxi at the place that Noel had told him about. He was able to get there with only the name of the street and restaurant since Noel hadn’t noticed the address. She was already there and sitting at a table outside. They had agreed to dress casually for walking and exploring but as he looked at her from the distance, he wondered if it were possible for her to dress casually. As he got closer he assured himself that she would look great in whatever she wore.

They shared a pleasant lunch and filled in a lot of blanks that were left from their first meeting. She had divorced a few years earlier and now enjoying her life doing as she pleased after a long, tumultuous relationship.  There was much they had in common. No, she wasn’t vegan as Aedan had hoped but receptive to the idea which was enough to keep his interest.

“So, what do you think about the place you saw yesterday?”  Aedan was truly interested in learning what her plans were.

“Oh, it was nice but..” she paused “It’s really tough finding a place here with all the restrictions.  I’d be relying on the owner and that is concerning me. I need more time. Otherwise it would be perfect. I love the simplicity of things here.”

“Yeah, the people are friendly. “  Aedan replied without acknowledging his secondary purpose there – to gather evidence of a crime.  “But I’m sure you’ll find something that suits your needs. The first challenge is knowing what you want and you seem to have that in the box. There’s nothing wrong with perseverance.”

“Speaking of that.” Aedan nodded toward Morro Castle across the way but perfectly visible to them, “Are you ready for a walk?”

It was a good walk to Morro Castle but today was also a bit cooler than the day before and without realizing it, he had acclimated to the Havana climate. It was also a slow, relaxing walk with Noel. Aedan was feeling a good connection with Noel and thought for certain that she was also. Words flowed like wine.

Morro Castle has a long history. Actually, several structures share the name “Morro Castle” with refers to the rocky point that it is built on. The true name is Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro which refers to the three Magi of the bible.  It was first built in 1598 but has seen many changes and hostility since then. It once imprisoned the Cuban poet, Reinaldo Arenas. Today it primarily a historical structure and tourist attraction though the Harbor Master keeps a presence there.  The lighthouse was added in 1846.

Noel appeared to enjoy the tour self-guided tour and exhibitions as much as Aedan did. He gathered that it wasn’t the history that interested her but the art on display and watching her painstakingly noting every detail made him look a second time to see what he had missed.  It was one of the guides mentioning that the gates would close in fifteen minutes reminded them they would have to leave soon.

Aedan and Noel made their way back around the bay to where they met. Like a child, Noel was on and off of the stone wall along the walkway until they reached point across from the restaurant where they met. Her playfulness made him smile. That is where they sat and talked for another hour as the sun fell from the sky.

In that hour they shared more deep thoughts…more small talk. The similarities were many and for the most part, the differences were minor or things Aedan just hadn’t given much thought to. He has always seen the world from the big picture and was quite set on his ideology. Some things he felt were unimportant and yet when she talked about them he could see their value because he could see how she lit up.

As the sun set over the ocean Aedan remembered his invitation to go sailing the next day and told Noel of his chance encounter.


“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I brought you with me. 

There was no hesitation.

“Of course I’d like to go. My uncle had a sailboat and I used to love going out with him…and best of all, I have no plans for tomorrow.”

She went on to tell  how her uncle later went on to be a Zen Monk and how she enjoyed spending time with him.  This peaked Aedan’s interest but it was beginning to get dark now and he wasn’t pushing his luck. He stood and offered his hand to her though she had been jumping on and off the wall with little though.  She smiled and took his hand.

“Yes, I nearly forgot that I need to call my sister.  She’s not doing well.” as she stepped down from the wall.  “What time tomorrow and oh! Where is the boat?” Noel asked.

“We’re heading out around eleven and should be back in time to watch the sun set again.  He said the Marina is right here in Old Havana. Now that I have your number, I’ll give you a call as soon as I know for certain.”

The walk back across the street to Noel’s hotel went faster than Aedan had expected. Had they not agreed to meet the next day it would have been more difficult to say goodnight but they had and so they did.

Big things in little packages

Show Time

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Aedan looked at the note passed to him along with the photo on the beach then looked back up to verify the address. He knew he was on the correct street. Now he stood in front of a movie theater. There was nothing on either side that looked like a better place to meet someone so he accepted this was the correct place but now what?

The bus ride back to Havana was without incident though he had stayed out in the sun a bit too long and his burned back refused to let him get comfortable during the entire trip. It was a 15 minute walk from the bus station to where he now found himself excluding a stop for a bite to eat along the way. Similarly, it was now fifteen minutes before 9pm when he was supposed to meet…somebody.

The theater looked as though it were pulled from the 1950s and stranded in that time. It was clean, well lit and according to the sign, showing only one movie which happened to start at 9pm. Operating under the assumption that whomever had asked to meet him here wasn’t planning on meeting on the street, Aedan joined the line to purchase a ticket.

Ten minutes later Aedan was handing his ticket to the smartly dressed young man controlling access to the single movie room. Once inside the room he was only slightly surprised to see the condition of the room. It was fresh and clean if a bit small compared to what he was used to but it also looked comfortable despite the smell of cigarette smoke. There was a decent crowd of people already inside but still plenty of seats available. He chose on that was in a more sparse area which happened to be near the back.

Aedan took his time sitting. He knew he was walking a fine line between being visible to the person he was meeting while attempting to not be too conspicuous to anybody else. He estimated that if their meeting wasn’t supposed to be quiet, it would have been in a different place but nor did he want to sit in the middle of a crowd of strangers. Once he was sitting and comfortable, there was little else to do but wait for the movie to begin. Wait to be contacted. He scanned the crowd around him but saw nobody that appeared to be paying any attention to him.

At 9pm the lights dimmed and the screen came to life. Aedan mused at the lack of commercials he was used to seeing for 15 minutes before a movie. He also mused that smoking was permitted here and hoped it didn’t get too heavy while he was there.

For the next 10 minutes Aedan focused on trying to keep up with the movie with his very limited grasp of Spanish while simultaneously maintaining an awareness of his surroundings. His attention switched back completely to his surroundings when there was movement and whispers in the aisle behind him. He turned slightly to see a young couple passing behind him and continuing to the center of the aisle.

As he contemplated his actions and how much longer he would wait, a masculine voice spoke quietly into his right ear “Don’t turn around, Mr. Charron. Don’t draw any attention to us.”

Aedan nodded slowly and whispered back “Of course, though maybe we could have met at a different..”

“No, this is fine. We’ll talk more later. Right now I just want to give you this. At 10pm tonight you will receive an email with more information about the contents.”

Aedan felt a tap on his upper right arm and without turning, reached to blindly accept what was being handed to him.  It was a small envelope. He took it and slipped it into his pocket. “I’d like to ask some questions after making the trip all the way down here.”

The man quickly responded. “Not here. Not until after you have read the email.”

The journey that brought Aedan to Cuba began with an email from a generic looking email address. After digesting the significance of that first email, he first wondered how anybody outside the legal system obtained his work address. That remained a mystery to him. That this person that he still hadn’t seen implied that he knew the address was now assuring to him that he wasn’t being lead on some wild goose hunt.

Still, there was some lingering doubt. “Can you at least tell me who I am speaking to?” 

“Good night Mr. Charron. Don’t forget to look for that email” 

The sound of the man standing and walking away before Aedan could get in another word was unmistakable. The temptation to turn and get a look at the man passed quickly. Obviously the man was concerned about being seen and with the envelope now in his pocket, whatever it might go to, Aedan too felt more pressure to be discreet.

For fifteen minutes he watched the screen but barely heard a word as his mind raced. He had hoped to have some answers after this meeting. He was promised something for the case he was trying and all he had now was a small envelope. It’s contents were as yet unknown to him.. What he did know that he had lost the plot of the movie but had thirty minutes to kill and this was as good a place as any to see it pass.

While watching the movie, like a kid Aedan slipped his hand into his pocket and squeezed the envelope between his fingers looking for a clue to it’s contents.  It was unmistakable. Inside the envelope was a key but to what He didn’t know.

 

As Aedan left the theater, the key in his pocket seemed to gain weight. He scrutinized each face that he saw looking at him. He was looking for something familiar or for some hint that they were aware of what he now carried but to his relief he saw none.

He guessed that the walk back to his room would take more than twenty minutes which would have him knocking at the door just when he would be expecting the email about the key.  Not knowing what to expect when the door opened or from the email, Aedan stopped for a drink at a place along the beach.

Right on queue, the waitress brought his drink right when his phone beeped.  He pulled it from his pocket and checked the time. His phone read 10:01pm. He recognized the sending email address as the same that he had been communicating with and eagerly opened it.

The email left him with more questions than answers.  It contained a website address with instructions to click on the link. It went on to explain that clicking on the link would identify his phone and nothing more.  The website would not be accessible to him until he left the country and would now respond only to his phone and no other device.

With everything work related achieved that could be at this time, Aedan set the phone down in front of him and picked up his drink.  A quick inventory of the people around him returned happy faces. The live band was backed by the sound of crashing waves and the moon was just rising above the horizon to light the night sky. The rest of his time in Cuba would be the vacation he had been waiting for. The rest would wait for him.

Aedan walking the beaches of Havana

On The Beach

Aedan walking the beaches of Havana
Walking the beaches of Havana
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“May I take your dishes, senor?” 

Aedan looked up from the tourist guide he was reading to the friendly smile of the waitress.

“Yes….si!”  He corrected himself, leaned back and held the flyer against his chest as he endeavored to stay out of her way. She asked about refilling his glass of tea but he declined. He had finished his meal some time ago and then leisurely sipped his glass while looking for places to visit. The little ice she had scraped up to put in his glass had melted some time ago and he was now ready to start exploring again.

He gazed curiously at the woman in the booth adjacent to him.  She too had wrapped herself up reading while she ate and never looked at him again. A glance from here would have been enough for him to try to engage in small talk with her but it never came. Even as he gathered his tourist fliers and stood, she remained engrossed in what she was reading.

He observed the man sitting near the door looking his way a couple times. Each time Aedan caught him looking, the man looked away and turned back to the paper he held before him.

While paying his bill at a vintage cash register at the end of the bar, Aedan asked the waitress about things to see that might not be so popular for tourists. He was interested in getting off the beaten trail and seeing more of the authentic side of Havana, the less crowded beaches. She happily pointed out a few places and marked their location on the map that he was carrying. 

Closing the door behind him, Aedan quickly realized that though it wasn’t especially cool inside the diner, it was much more pleasant than the heat and humidity that pounced upon him now. He wasted no time in donning the straw hat he had purchased earlier that day, looked to his map then, with his goal in mind set out to find it. 

He planned to be in Havana for a week so there was no need to see everything today. What he really wanted today was to feel the sand between his toes, hear the crashing of waves on the beach and to feel the ocean breeze. The waitress had told him that the beach near where he was staying was indeed a popular place for tourists but it would also leave him but a few steps away from his room and the long day was catching up with him. 

Aedan stopped at a couple stores along his path. There were a few things that interested him but not enough to buy anything…nothing beyond a new shirt which seemed much more fitting for the weather.  The shirt also better matched the hat which he was quickly becoming fond of.

Thirty minutes later Aedan felt the caress of the warm carribean water on his feet. The breaking of waves drowned out the traffic noise on the street above the beach.  It mostly drowned out the yelling and laughing of children and teenagers. Aedan was again alone with his thoughts and it felt good.

He walked along the edge of the water for thirty minutes before turning around. The sun was well into its decline by now and the hottest part of the day was past making the return trip even more enjoyable.

Between watching the small birds staying ahead of him while simultaneously zig-zagging  and forth to stay at the edge of breaking waves and watching hermit crabs run for cover as he approached, Aedan found himself thinking about the events of the last couple days again.  He had now become quite comfortable in his younger body but he knew there would be explanations needed when he returned home.The notion that this was all a dream had faded away. It was much easier to not think about the return home for now and so he didn’t.  To take his mind off of that as he walked, he gave some time thinking about Louise and if he should follow up to learn more about her story and what he should do if he was right about his suspicions. Surely they were just coincidences but then he was certain about nothing anymore.

“Senor, senor!”  Aedan hadn’t even heard the voice until he felt someone tugging on his hand. Bringing himself back to the present, he looked down to see a young boy walking beside him.  The boy was holding in his other hand a photograph. Around his neck was an old polaroid instamatic camera. 

The boy held the photo up for Aedan to see. It was of him walking the beach, alone. From his cursory glance, Aedan saw nothing special about the photograph and he attempted to wave the boy off. In previous trips, Aedan had experienced the onslaught of merchants attempting to sell their wares to tourists. He had a distinct memory of being surrounded by half a dozen boys of similar age trying to sell him something.  When he refused to buy it, the boys moved in and began reaching for his pockets and tugging at his clothes. Bewildered and outnumbered, he tried to defend himself by pushing them away but there were too many. Fortunately for him, Aedan spotted a policeman on a corner and moved directly toward him. The officer did nothing but watch but as Aedan got closer the boys did break up and leave.

Aedan looked around and saw no other kids paying attention. He saw no police. Giving in to the unavoidable with the hope that the boy would go his own way, Aedan took the picture from him and reaching into his pocket, retrieved a couple pesos that he handed to the boy who seemed more than please. With a huge smile and intense brown eyes the boy thanked Aedan and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

Aedan continued walking as he looked at the picture, trying to determine from where it was taken. While studying the photo, he felt something attached to the back. He flipped it over to find a white post-it note stuck to it.  In english, the note simply said “Tomorrow at 9pm “ and went on to provide an address. Nothing else.

Immediately, Aedan stopped and looked back for the boy. He was gone. He scanned in all directions around him but found nobody that grabbed his attention. Nobody was staring back at him.

The sun had just set when Aedan knocked on the door of the house that he was staying at. He heard several voices inside including that of the woman that had led him to his room earlier that day. She opened the door with a friendly smile. “Mr. Charron, please come in. There is still some food left if you’re hungry..”

Aedan politely turned down the offer but did accept the invitation to join them for a drink before heading to his room.  

Though the conversation was entirely in spanish and Aedan struggled to follow along, he was able to keep up enough to join the others in laughter. On the occasion that he was totally lost somebody would do their best to explain it to him. There is much to be said for the closeness and comradery displayed in cultures that are lacking in monetary wealth.  Of course, there are similar situations in the US but there is something unique about experiencing that in cultures other than our own.

An hour turned into two. When Aedan finally said goodnight and headed to his room, he was extremely relaxed. He hadn’t had a rum and coke for years…tonight he had two cubatas and he was feeling it.

The Diner

Aedan finally finds a place to eat.
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Aedan stepped out of the store and into the bright sunshine. Of course he had been there less than a day so the newness of it all still embraced him. There seemed to be nothing exceptional about the hat he had just purchased though. It was the typical ‘Cuban fedora’ that he had seen on so many while walking the streets.  The brim was rolled down in the front to better block the sun. He wondered to himself if it would block rain as well.

Around the hat ran a band of leatherette – at least he hoped it was leatherette since he would not normally purchase anything using real leather.  He had little choice in this matter though. The instructions were passed to him without a chance to question anything. Presently, he was more concerned about wearing the hat because it was certainly meant to identify him. It was the only way to meet the contact that he had come to Havana to meet.

He flipped that hat over and examined the inside band. One side of the band was the same material but it was sewn to a plastic backing. This pleased him that is was probably leatherette.  He looked closely for any sign of tampering…for anything that looked out of place but he found nothing. After several moments of analyzing the hat he was satisfied that there was no electronic device attached to it.

As he slid his head into the hat he was pleasantly surprised to find that it fit perfectly without adjusting the strap. He wondered if this was a lucky guess or if the person he was meeting actually knew his hat size and if so, what else was known?

The relief from the sun provided by the hat was nearly instantaneous. It didn’t take long to figure out why they are so popular here though he guessed that he had paid a premium as a tourist. Though he noticed plenty of people staring at him, often children and younger people, he reasoned that to his being a foreigner which was not something he could hide.  It wasn’t just his blondish hair or inability to speak coherent Spanish but even his clothes seemed out of place. He mused to himself that the hat might have been overkill if anybody were looking for him.

For two hours he walked the streets of Havana. He wandered through stores of all types but was turned away when trying to purchase a souvenier to take home. The merchant would not accept his American currency but did draw him a map to a bank to exchange his dollars for pesos. After a second merchant also refused to accept his cash, he pondered that the old man with the hat must have been expecting him…of course he was!

Along the path to the bank, Aedan remembered he hadn’t really eaten yet today and began paying more attention to the restaurants. He didn’t have much hope of seeing ‘Vegana’ pasted to any windows but still he could hope.  He spotted one advertising fish and BBQ attached to a fresh produce market and noted the location in case he needed to return. If they had could prepare nothing he would eat, he would just eat it raw. It’s something he had been considering anyway. Perhaps this would be the push he needed.

The bank was a grand building that took an entire city block. Upon entering the front door, the high ceilings and inornate classical decorations were beautiful to gaze upon. Some seemed to be in pristine condition while others showed signs of actively being restored or badly needing restoration. Like so much he had seen today,  the Cuban people are doing wonders with what little they have to work with. Throughout his day, he found them to be extremely hospitable and friendly. He nearly forgot he was wearing a target on his head.

The teller in the bank was no different. She began speaking english as soon as it was obvious that Aedan was struggling to speak spanish. She was also quite talkative so Aedan took advantage of this and asked about places to see….places to eat. She rattled off a few near by restaurants that she highly recommended.  Some he had seen during his walk today. Others he hadn’t but the names of most of them didn’t appeal to him. Finally, he asked about vegan or vegetarian places.

“Oh! “ she rolled her eyes “you and my daughter…”   She smirked then paused to think. “You won’t find much here.  There are a few downtown but you’ll need a taxi to get there. We don’t have all the opportunities you have where you come from.  We’re happy to eat whatever we can. My daughter doesn’t go out much for that reason but she has mentioned a place a few blocks away.  They’re not vegan but they have stuff you would eat on the menu and a great salad bar”.

Aedan got the directions from here and thanked her for being so helpful and friendly before departing. On his way out of the bank it occured to him that the architecture was very similar to that in the older section of the Court House in Seattle. He guessed they might have been built around the same time…a time when Cuba was flush in foreign investment. That single decisions can lead countries – people – to such different outcomes was never more obvious to him. He mused that he was finding the people he met on the street friendlier than a walk through Seattle for the most part. Perhaps it’s easier to be friendly to strangers when one has less to be taken from them.  Of course, this isn’t unique to Cuba, he had witnessed this many times in he traveled much more in what seems like a lifetime ago, now.

With the directions he was given, Aedan found the restaurant exactly where the bank teller said he would. When he opened the door he stepped back into time. It was a diner from the 1950s. Old Chevy and Ford bumpers hung on the back wall. There were a couple he couldn’t identify.

Even before the door had closed completely, a smiling young lady met and welcomed him. There were no other customers. An older man wearing an apron sat on one of the stools at the counter, eating. He merely glanced at Aedan then continued eating. It was the middle of the afternoon and likely between any rushes if they happened.

The young woman took Aedan to a booth along the sidewall and offered him a menu as he slid onto the bench seat. He removed his hat and set it on the seat beside him then managed to ask for a glass of iced tea with lemon and ice all in Spanish. She replied negatively so quickly that he wasn’t able to decipher. The puzzled look on his face was obvious but before he could say any more she explained in english that they had run out of ice at lunch but assured him that the tea is kept in the refrigerator. They established that he needed a few moments to look through the menu and she left him to his own.

As Aedan read through the menu, occasionally translating words on his phone, another man walked in. He was a large and rather serious looking man but seemed to know the hostess as they had a few lines of friendly chatter. She pointed to a booth near Aedan but he nodded to the one nearest the door and sat down with his back to the door.

Aedan watched the interaction from the corner of his eye while trying to translate spanish to english.  He was carrying a briefcase and newspaper. The briefcase went on the seat beside him. He asked only for coffee then opened the newspaper he had brought with him.  A few more friendly words were exchanged when she poured his coffee then she returned to Aedan.

There was nothing marked ‘vegan’ on the menu but most of the dishes could be easily made so. She seemed unphased by his questions. With minimal effort he placed his order. It had been so tempting to just go for the salad but not knowing where he would eat next, he went for broke..and got a salad too  He had put on a lot of miles and the day was young. As he waited for his order, he pulled out his map to identify his location and plan the rest of his day. Before he could finish, his salad sat before him.

He was quite engrossed in the map sill before him while he ate when the door opened again. He didn’t even bother to look up until he heard a woman’s voice struggling with her spanish as he had. He looked up to see the woman dressed casually with her platinum blonde hair pulled up on her head. She and the waitress quickly broke into english as she asked for a set next to the window. The waitress advised her that it might be a bit warmer there with the sun still pouring in but she was undeterred.

Aedan tried to not stare as he listened. She was quite attractive and he could detect no accent in her voice.  Certainly she was American too. She wasn’t the only blonde he had seen all day but of the small handful he had seen, she was the first he heard speaking english.

Returning to his map plotting, Aedan continued listening to the two speak. He really had no choice made all the more difficult because it wasn’t in spanish as most of his day had been. She was indeed from the US but what got Aedan’s attention was that she was asking about meatless dinners. With her order placed, the waitress turned to Aedan and let him know in english that she was coming with his dinner next. At that, the blonde customer turned her head just enough to look at him, half smiled and then turned back straight and pulled her phone from her purse.

The man near the door was also paying attention. His eyes met Aedan’s for an instant before he looked back down to the newspaper he was reading.

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