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Cuba Libre

Cover of Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

War in Cuba isn't Ben Tyler's concern. Still, sailing mares and guns into Havana harbor in 1898--right past the submerged wreckage of the U.S. battleship Maine--may not be the smartest thing the recently prison-sprung horse wrangler ever did. Neither is shooting one of the local Guardia, though the pompous peacock deserved it. Now Tyler's sitting tight in a vermin-infested Cuban stockade waiting to face a firing squad. But he's not dying until he gets the money he's owed from a two-timing American sugar baron. And there's one smart, pistol-hot lady at the rich man's side who could help Ben get everything he's got rightfully coming...even when the whole damn island's going straight to hell.

War in Cuba isn't Ben Tyler's concern. Still, sailing mares and guns into Havana harbor in 1898--right past the submerged wreckage of the U.S. battleship Maine--may not be the smartest thing the recently prison-sprung horse wrangler ever did. Neither is shooting one of the local Guardia, though the pompous peacock deserved it. Now Tyler's sitting tight in a vermin-infested Cuban stockade waiting to face a firing squad. But he's not dying until he gets the money he's owed from a two-timing American sugar baron. And there's one smart, pistol-hot lady at the rich man's side who could help Ben get everything he's got rightfully coming...even when the whole damn island's going straight to hell.

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Excerpts-
  • 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.

About the Author-
  • Elmore Leonard wrote more than forty books during his long career, including the bestsellers Raylan, Tishomingo Blues, Be Cool, Get Shorty, and Rum Punch, as well as the acclaimed collection When the Women Come Out to Dance, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Many of his books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight. The short story "Fire in the Hole," and three books, including Raylan, were the basis for the FX hit show Justified. Leonard received the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He died in 2013.

Reviews-
  • The New York Times Book Review

    "The greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever!"

  • The Detroit News

    "An absolute master."

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Elmore Leonard
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