Chapter One

Tyler arrived with the horses February eighteenth, three days after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. He saw buzzards floating in the sky the way they do but couldn’t make out what they were after. This was off Morro Castle, the cattle boat streaming black smoke as it came through the narrows.

But then pretty soon he saw a ship’s mast and a tangle of metal sticking out of the water, gulls resting on it. one of the Mexican deckhands called to the pilot tug bringing them in, wanting to know what the wreckage was. The pilot yelled back it was the Maine .

Yeah? The main what? Tyler’s border Spanish failed to serve, trying to make out voices raised against the wind. The deckhand told him it was a buque de guerra , a warship.

Earlier that month he had left Sweetmary in the Arizona Territory by rail: loaded thirty-one mares aboard Southern Pacific stock cars and rode them all the way to Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico. Here he was met by his partner in this deal, Charlie Burke, Tyler’s foreman at one time, years ago. Charlie Burke introduced him to a little Cuban mulatto—“Ben Tyler, Victor Fuentes”—the man appearing to be a good sixty years old, though it was hard to tell, his skin the color of mahogany.

Fuentes inspected the mares, none more than six years old or bigger than fifteen hands, checked each one’s conformation and teeth, Fuentes wiping his hands on the pants of his white suit, picked twenty five out of the bunch, all bays, browns and sorrels, and said he was sure they could sell the rest for the same money, one hundred fifty dollars each. He said Mr. Boudreaux was going to like these girls and would give them a check for tbirty-seven hundred fifty dollars drawn on the Banco de Comercio before they left Havana. Fuentes said he would expect only five hundred of it for his services.

Tyler said to Charlie Burke, later, the deal sounded different than the way he’d originally explained it.

Charlie Burke said the way you did business in Cuba was the same as it worked in Mexico, everybody getting their cut. Tyler said, what he meant, he thought they were going directly from here to Matanzas, where Boudreaux’s sugar estate was located. Charlie Burke said he thought so too; but Boudreaux happened to be in Havana this week and next. It meant they’d take the string off the boat, put the horses in stock pens for the man to look at, reload them and go on to Matanzas. What Tyler wanted to know, and Charlie Burke didn’t have the answer: “Who pays for stopping in Havana?”

That evening Charlie Burke and Mr. Fuentes left on a Ward Line steamer bound for Havana.

It was late the next day Tyler watched his mares brought aboard the cattle boat, the name Vamoose barely readable on its rusted hull. Next came bales of hay and some oats, one of the stock handlers saying you didn’t want a horse to eat much out at sea. Tyler stepped aboard with his saddle and gear to mind the animals himself. That was fine with the stock handlers; they had the cattle to tend. They said the trip would take five days.

It was back toward the end of December Charlie Burke had wired: Found way to get rich with horses.

He came out on the train from East Texas and was waiting for Tyler the first day of the new year, 1898, on the porch of the Congress Hotel in Sweetmary, a town named for a copper mine, LaSalle Street empty going on 10:00 A.M., the mine shut down and the town sleeping off last night.

Charlie Burke came out of the rocking chair to watch Tyler walking his dun mare this way past the Gold Dollar, past I.S. Weiss Mercantile, past the Maricopa Bank—Charlie Burke watching him looking hard at the bank as he came along. Tyler brought the dun up to the porch railing and said, “You know what horses are going for in Kansas city?”

“Tell me,” Charlie Burke said.

“Twenty-five cents a head.”

They hadn’t seen each other in almost four years.

Charlie Burke said, “Then we don’t want to go to Kansas City, do we?”

He watched Tyler chew on that as he stepped down from the dun and came up on the porch. They took time now to hug each other, Charlie Burke’s mind going back to the boy who’d come out here dying to work for a cattle outfit and ride horses for pay. Ben Tyler, sixteen years old and done with school, St. Simeon something or other for Boys, in New Orleans, this one quicker than the farm kids who wandered out from Missouri and Tennessee. Charlie Burke, foreman of the Circle-Eye at the time, as many as thirty riders under him spring through fall, put the boy to work chasing mustangs and company stock that had quit the bunch, and watched this kid gentle the green ones with a patience you didn’t find in most hands. Watched him trail-boss herds they brought down in Old Mexico and drove to graze. Watched him quit the big spread after seven years to work for a mustanger named Dana Moon, supplying horses to mine companies and stage lines and remounts to the U.S. cavalry. Watched him take over the business after Moon was made Indian agent at White Tanks, a Mimbreno Apache subagency north of town. The next thing he saw of Ben Tyler was his face on a wanted poster above the notice:



Cuba Libre

Publisher: New York : Delacorte Press, 1998
Edition: First Edition
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 343 Pages
Original Price: $
ISBN: 0440225590
Genre: Crime/Period/Tropical Western
Special Notes:

Charles Waring - Crime-Time

[N]ot so much a stylistic departure as a return to old pastures for Elmore Leonard….[T]his new novel sees him coming full-circle, but now bringing with him an experience and consummate assurance that was lacking in his earliest work….Like a vintage wine, Elmore Leonard just seems to get better with time.

Just three days after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor, Ben Tyler arrives with a string of horses to sell—cover for a boatload of guns he’s running to Cuban insurgents, risking a firing squad if he’s caught. This cowboy’s first day ashore sets the pace for a wild ride to come. He sells the horses to an American planter, Roland Boudreaux, who’s making a killing in Cuba…meets the man’s sparkly New Orleans-born mistress, Amelia Brown, and falls in love…makes an enemy of a terrorizing Guardia Civil officer named Tavalera, and a friend of a mysterious old Cuban, Victor Fuentes…is forced into a gunfight and thrown in prison, Tavalera determined to nail him as a spy. Tyler has done time in the past for robbing banks, but never in a place like Morro Castle. America is about to declare war on Spain, and if Tyler doesn’t manage to get out very soon, he’s a dead man. How his escape comes about, with surprising help, is the high point from which the plot takes off on a train ride across Cuba, with Tyler and Amelia looking for more than love, a lot more—a chance to snatch a bundle of Boudreaux’s cash, if they can pull it off. But who can you trust?