Martín, a Puerto Rican anthropologist who travels to Cuba with his economist friend Doria where he meets charming hustler Alexei. Alexei's not a rent boy, but a hustler in the classic sense, a mover and shaker in Cuba's post-Soviet days of shortages and privations. Martín and Alexei have a fling, and that should have been the end of it, until one day Martín looks at a newspaper photo of Cuban refugees at Guantanamo Bay awaiting resettlement and sees his holiday trick there, front and center! What's a good-boy anthropologist to do? 

This story was inspired by actual events that occurred during two research trips I made to Cuba in the mid-1990s. I was struck at the time by how creative ordinary Cubans were when it came to the necessities of everyday life -- it was so much more complex and interesting (and heartbreaking) than the stereotype of government rationing and repression we yanquis are used to!  One of my Cuban friends undertook a dangerous defection (as so many did in 1994), and this story was one of many consequences.  
Looking through photos from that trip, I found a shot of a group of young men (my acquaintance not among them) cavorting on the crumbling jetties of Havana's Malecon.  After dark was when less carefree folks, still mostly young men, would sneak away on rafts or inflatable boats - some even swam!  The lucky ones (drips irony) were picked up by the US Coasties and taken to Guantanamo Bay, from where many (including my friend) eventually were granted amnesty in the US or elsewhere.


mojito pic

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This follow-up to THE HUSTLER PRINCE appeared as part of a Torquere Press anniversary event.

In it, Alexei's scene-stealing little brother Vladímir teaches mentor Abdelrazek how to make a mojito.

Read an excerpt below
THE HUSTLER PRINCE was my first published story, and Elisa Rolle wrote its first review. I will be forever grateful for her description of the story as "... a very little jewel."

More recently, xbmbgrl of Rainbow Reviews said, "This is a short story that was filled with cultural differences and revelations that I thought were very interesting." Read more.

Here's how THE HUSTLER PRINCE begins:

The coffee perked just as Doria tapped on the windowpane with one blunt fingernail. She never stood on ceremony (or the stoop), never waited for an invitation to coffee, and never wasted time on superficial greetings. A buss on the cheek and she was through the door, bringing a gust of smoky autumn air with her; a gurgle of coffee into the mug Martín had set out for himself and she was perched on a tall stool at the counter, rummaging in her backpack for the cream she must have stopped for on the way.

“Damn you and your lactose intolerance, Tino,” she grumbled equably, pulling out a slightly dented cardboard carton. “And put on a shirt before I start getting ideas.”

Groggily, Martín turned to leave the kitchen and comply but Doria called him back. “Would you look at this?” Frisbee-style, she pitched a folded newspaper at him, which he caught against his bare stomach. He unfolded it on the counter as he reached for a mug to replace the one Doria had hijacked. Martín glanced at the big photo on the front page above the fold and dropped the mug onto the scarred linoleum countertop with a dull thud. The sudden knot in his chest made it hard to breathe. He spun around to face his friend.

“It’s him, isn’t it?”

“Sure looks like him.”

“Oh, my. Oh, Doria. He really did it!”

Doria retrieved Martín’s mug and filled it with coffee. She put her arm around his waist and looked up into his startled green eyes. “I thought the little bastard was joking.” Doria always swore in crisis situations. Martín never did.

The picture in the newspaper was of a crowd of men at a detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, a cross section of the desperadoes and fringe dwellers who’d risked everything – not that most had much to lose – to leave Cuba during that crazy summer and fall. Fidel, taking the path of least resistance while publicly insisting he was thumbing his nose at yanqui hegemony, had simply failed to stanch the off-island flow of the undesirable, the redundant, the – not to put too fine a point on it – the poor, the dark, the queer. The irony of this glimpse into certain perversities of Cuba’s great egalitarian experiment seemed lost upon the redoubtable jefe.

Martín took a gulp of coffee. It was much too hot and burned his mouth. He put one hand over Doria’s to keep her close, set down the coffee, and took up the paper again. Left of center, a young man aimed a dazzling grin at the camera, bright brown eyes squinted closed with mirth. His hand rested flat over his heart, two fingers extended, in a salute Martín recognized. Martín made a conscious effort to force a breath deep into his lungs. The face, its dark eyes and white smile, the deliberately placed hand, the compact body, all belonged to Alexei. Martín had been trying to forget Alexei for four months. “Ay, nene,” he whispered raggedly to the youth’s image. “You followed me! You tried to come to me.”

Doria wriggled out of Martín’s grip to pace around the tiny kitchen. “We have to get him here. You can’t let him languish in that prison. You know what it’s like. Think what could happen to him!” She knew, though not as well as Martín did, what had happened to Alexei before.

Doria’s emphatic inflection brought him out of his reverie. He chuckled. “Such a drama queen.” Doria swatted his flannel-clad ass. “He’ll be all right. He’s pretty savvy, remember?” Martín wished he believed his own confident tone.

Doria cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh, I remember. You’re right,” she conceded. "But you still have to get him here.”

Martín thought about that. “Alexei was a fling, Doria, a trick, a holiday romance.” Bring him here? He couldn’t possibly.

“That’s not what he thinks.” Doria jabbed her thumb at the smiling face in the newspaper.

And just like that, Martín admitted it wasn’t what he thought, either.

© Lee Benoit