Chapter 8-Havana, 18 July 1922
Havana, Cuba-18 July 1922
Raymond Cuevas and John Martin stood in the waiting area of TransGulf's Havana office. Though unlabeled the door on the left of the front desk led to the hallway with the Legal, Distribution and Sales Offices, and the now enormous file room. To the right were the stairs that led to the all-important Purchasing, Transportation, Political Corruption, and Charles Taylor's Offices. The new offices made the old Bahamian office look like TransGulf had been broke at the time they had run things from there.
The receptionist signaled that Cuevas and Martin could see Taylor now. Cuevas led the way. Even the staircase in this office showed the success of TransGulf. At the top of the stairs was another receptionist; who walked the men to Taylor's door.
The secretary announced the men, and left as they stood in what was by far the largest office, and the most extravagant.
"What can I help you with today, Captain Cuevas?"
Cuevas cleared his throat. He seemed out of his element and not as confidently in charge as he normally was. "Well, Charles, time has come for me to find a safer line of work. I'd like to make one last run, and then turn the ship over to the next man."
"Is Martin the man you feel would make the best next Captain for the Sea Glen?" "Yes sir. That's why I brought him, to get your approval."
Taylor had files for both men on his desk. He scanned Martin's file for a minute. "Everything seems to be in order. Martin, are you ready to command a ship as big as the Sea Glen?"
Martin eagerly stepped forward, "Yes, Mister Taylor, I am. Captain Cuevas has had me oversee every technical and tactical aspect of the last two runs. I am prepared."
Taylor began writing on a notepad, "Bring this to Transportation next door." He handed the note to Martin. "When they finish with you, wait outside for Captain Cuevas. Congratulations, Captain Martin." Taylor rose and extended his hand to Martin.
Martin shook his hand, and then left the room.
"Now Raymond, what is it that you really want?" Taylor sat again.
"Well," started Cuevas as he sat, "I want to take the biggest load ever for my last run."
Leaning back in his chair Taylor said, "You always decide on your load size, why are you asking me this time?"
Cuevas pulled a chair up to front of the desk and sat on the front of it while leaning on the desk. ”I’m talking about the load to end all loads. Profits to exceed all profits ever thought of for a single run. To be even more assured of huge profits, I want to cease temporarily all shipments to the Biloxi area. Send the prices skyrocketing. If it works like it should, it might just give old man Desporte the new shipping tactic he's been trying to employ."
Pausing, Taylor put his hands together, fingers separated, in front of his mouth to think. ”It's not just us shipping to Biloxi, Raymond; other companies send ships out, too."
“But Desporte has control of the Mississippi Sound.” Cuevas said with a smile, “No one ships there unless he is in on it, or else he makes sure the Coast Guard finds the boat. We can do this one, Charles."
After another moment of reflection Taylor said, "I'll have to get the old man's approval. That may take awhile. When are you going to start loading?"
"As soon as I can finish the paperwork here. Maybe two hours,” said Cuevas
"I tell you what;” Taylor sat forward, “I’ll meet you at the docks." Closing the files on his desk he reached for the telephone.
"I'll show myself out." said Cuevas as he stood and turned to leave.
The Sea Glen had been filled with her regular load by the time Taylor arrived the next morning. However, there was still a steady stream of workers carrying aboard hams. Cuevas was on deck barking orders at the dockworkers as well as his crew.
"Throw those hams to the crew, quit coming on deck! And I'd better not find another sailor off this ship until we've finished loading!" Cuevas noticed Taylor, and walked over to the port side of the boat, furthest from the cargo loaders. "Sorry I can't ask you on board, but . . . "
"What in the world are you trying to do, Cuevas? Sink the ship?" Taylor glanced down the dock at the stacks of crates waiting to be loaded.
"I'm going to carry every drop of alcohol I can. My last run will be one no one forgets,” said
Cuevas with a a smile. “The waterline is going to be just under the gunwales." Taylor looked back at the Captain, ”What happens if you run into rough seas?"
Cuevas smiled, ”Between here and Biloxi? Nothing short of a hurricane is going to deter me. You gave me approval to do this."
“This risk in on you, you know. That’s the only way the Old Man would approve it. As long as the consequences of a failure are on your head, he’s in. He'll clear out all traffic in the Sound. When I tell him how much you'll be carrying, he'll wish he'd done it sooner to up the price that much more. Hell, he'll probably cease traffic on the whole Gulf Coast, not just Mississippi."
Looking back at the loading Cuevas said, “Everything will be fine. My crew is ready for a shipment this large. I've been training them well."
Taylor surveyed the rest of the ship. It was already getting lower in the water. Dockhands were throwing hams, deckhands were catching them, and Martin was supervising where other deckhands put them. "When are you planning on leaving?"
"Tomorrow night at sunset. That way the men will have a little bit of time for shore leave. Martin will give them a week when we return. In the meantime, if any decide to jump ship, then we'll just add his body weight in hams and sail on." Cuevas remarked without looking back at Taylor preferring to monitor progress of the crew.
"Sounds like you have had this planned for some time. Look, the Old Man said that if you need another job once you get tired of land, let him know." Taylor looked at Cuevas.
Returning the look Cuevas said, ”I’m ready to explore other places now. My wife has been nagging me for quite some time now to see the rest of the world with me."
"Good luck to you."
Cuevas looked Taylor dead in the eye. "Just one more thing," he said with a gleam in his eyes. "I wonder if I might be paid not just the usual transportation fees, but also the commission fees up front."
"Commission fees?” Taylor leaned back slightly. “We almost never pay those up front; besides, there is really no way of knowing how much a trip like this will make. Especially since Desporte shut so much down. If he shuts down the whole Coast it could be higher still.”
“A parital payment, base it on the last trip's prices.” He glanced quickly at the crew then returned his gaze to Taylor, “The extra I can get later. Jenny needs some money now to buy her dream house, as we speak someone else is trying to buy it from under her."
Taylor put his hands in his pockets, “Dream house, huh? Well, it's highly irregular, but if you think it'll be enough, and promise not to tell anyone I did it . . . "
"No one will ever know, not even Martin."
The pause before Taylor spoke said a lot. “Very well, I'll arrange for the transfer to your Biloxi account. But if something happens, I'll have to retrieve the commissions."
"Nothing will happen. I assure you." Cuevas smiled.
"It's against my better judgment, but I'll do it. I'll be by tomorrow evening before you sail to tell you the figures."
"Very well, I'll see you then then." Cuevas winked as Taylor turned away.
The next day passed uneventfully until Taylor returned too the dock. “Captain Cuevas!" he yelled as he neared the ship. Behind it the sun was setting and made the horizon appear to be on fire. The old saying flashed through Taylor's mind, "Red at morning, sailors take warning, red at night sailors’ delight.” The thought seemed to quell some of his fears about the upcoming last voyage of Captain Cuevas and the Sea Glen.
Cuevas turned and headed for the bow near where Taylor stood. This morning's sunrise had nothing on tonight's sunset. The sunset was a much more symbolic and appropriate note to leave on anyway. "Mister Taylor. I trust you have what I've been waiting for."
"That I do." Taylor held up an envelope, "Itemized even. I think you'll be pleased with what's written inside. Desporte shut down almost the entire Coast from Galveston to Tampa. The price has already jumped around Biloxi to nearly seventeen dollars a quart, and they're still getting alcohol. Just wait until the shutdown has had some time."
Both men glanced toward the sunset. Taylor continued, "I know I speak for the Old Man when I say this, you're going to be missed. No one can run like you."
"Ah, well, don't you worry too much; Martin knows all the tricks I do. I taught him well." Leaning over the rail and down to the dock, Cuevas reached for the envelope. He transferred it to his left hand and extended his right to Taylor. "Goodbye old friend."
"Goodbye, and be careful." Taylor shook Cuevas' hand.
"This is a business for risks, not caution. I'll get the shipment there if I have to swim it one ham at a time." Cuevas turned and headed astern.
"I sure as hell hope you do, Captain,” mumbled Taylor as he headed back to the office.
Cuevas headed below decks and into his personal quarters. The only room on the ship with a view, although it was a view of where the ship had been, and even this space was packed. A table full of maps and papers stood in the middle of the room. To either side were bunks hanging from the walls of the room. With the exception of a path around the table to the bunks, the room was packed with hams.
He sat on his bunk and pushed away the maps on the end of the table. He opened the envelope and began to read the contents.
As per your request, the commission fees, based on the value in Biloxi at the time you left, were deposited into your account. This statement reflects the amount of all fees paid to you.
No. of cases-16,900 Price per case-$53.83 Total Value of Run-$909,727
Cost of Liquor-$98,527
No. of cases-27,040 Price per case-$98.40 Total Value of Run-$2,660,736
Cost of Liquor-$176,030
Grand Total: $696,181
Transportation Fee: $15,500
I threw the bonus in at the last minute. Des would want it. You have been a remarkable Captain, and all of our Cuban staff will miss you. I hate to have to mention it here, but the Old Man required me to remind you that if you are unsuccessful in your final run, he will need to withdraw the Commission funds for this trip.
Good luck, Captain.
"Six hundred thousand,” Cuevas mumbled. “Not bad for a run that will never be finished. This will definitely be the run to remember for all times. There’ll never be another like it."
His mumbling turned to musings, what if he had turned in Desporte's son instead of cooperating with him. Could he have made more? What would the old man think about Junior playing by Senior's set of rules? Six figures. A payment no one else will ever make or get. That is not even including what I get paid by the soon to be new owners of TransGulf. Now all I have to do is hope for the weather to hold.
Was it right to be so greedy? Cuevas looked around his crowded cabin. At last, his eyes fell on the letter and the grand total. Of course it was.