Havana Club

Despite the old and tired air conditioner noisily straining away in the corner, the interior of the bar was barely cooler than outside. Despite this, Patterson still breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped through the double doors. Just escaping the blazing sun was heaven enough.

Reaching up to remove his wide-brimmed woven hat from his head, he stood in the doorway for several seconds while his eyes adjusted to the relative gloom. The long counter ran the length of the bar across from him, populated by several rusting bar stools. Across from the counter, the booths were mostly empty. Only a few hardened day drinkers sat on the stained, cracked leather as they nursed their poisons.

Patterson glanced at the windows as he took a seat at the counter, carefully selecting a seat where he could see both the door and rear entrance. He could see the palm fronds flopping loosely in the breeze outside through the dirt and grime that caked the glass panes. Turning back to the bar, he rested one hand on the scarred wood, drumming his fingertips.

A few seconds later, a short, dark-haired man emerged from the back of the bar. “¿Sí, señor?” he asked.

“Un café, por favor,” Patterson responded, fishing a few bits of change out to clink on the uneven shellacked wood. The man nodded and bustled off, presumably to find a clean cup.  Patterson turned back to the entrance, waiting patiently.

For several minutes he listened to the seagulls outside. A soft chinking of porcelain announced the arrival of his coffee. “Gracias,” he said without turning around. The coins were quietly removed from the counter as the man scurried off, probably back to his siesta.

Patterson continued to sit and wait. He took a sip of coffee, grimaced, put the cup back down and pushed the saucer away slightly. Finally, he heard a soft tread from outside. He straightened up on his seat, one hand slipping inside his jacket to rest lightly on the butt of a .44 revolver. He wasn’t expecting trouble, but fortune always favors the prepared.

The double doors opened, and a portly man stumped in, huffing noisily through his neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. When he saw Patterson at the counter, he let out a snort of recognition.

“Ah, Frank, good to see you again,” the man said as he settled heavily onto a stool, which creaked in protest.  He glanced over at the cup near Patterson’s elbow.  “How’s the coffee here?”

“Swill,” Patterson replied.  “Do you have what I asked for?”

The stout man rolled his eyes.  “Never with the small talk,” he said theatrically.  “Yeah, I got it right here.”  He reached back behind his back, under the loose, oversized button-up shirt, and Patterson once again tensed in anticipation of an attack.  The other man withdrew a thick manilla envelope, slightly damp from perspiration.  He slid it across the counter of the bar.

Patterson picked up the envelope.  He knew that the heft of the package was right, and he wasn’t going to insult his business partner by opening it at the bar.  “Thank you,” he said stiffly.  He shifted slightly in his seat, indicating that the conversation was over.

The other man shrugged amicably enough.  “Nice doing business with you,” he replied, and slid heavily off the stool.  

Patterson watched him leave.  As the other man left through the main doors of the bar, a wave of hot, humid, muggy air washed over him, pouring in from outside.  Patterson slid the envelope into the inside pocket of his seersucker jacket, patting it once or twice to ensure that it was snug and secure.  

He took a few last breaths of blessedly cool, dry air before picking up his hat off the bar.  Squaring the brim in front of his forehead, he made his way back outside, into the Havana sun.

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