We arrived in Havana and got settled in our " casa particular" and set off to find Andrew. This is the second bit of background that you need to get the full import of this tale. Andrew is an x-pat who left North American life 10 years ago and set up life in Havana. How you find Andrew is to go to the "oficina" his normal haunt near the Floridita, Hemmingway's bar in central Havana.
You go to the oficina and order a beer and tell the waiters there that you are looking for Andrew and word goes out with your message. Holly, Sue and I headed off to Old Havana, the post apocalyptic buildings, friendly people and music that is like splashing water. We stopped by our casa for a change of clothes and I picked up my flashlight. This is the last piece of info you need because, it seems that Havana's streets are full with holes. They like to dig pot holes in the road and don't light or barricade them, so people are always falling in them. It happened to Sue's brother and, also, Andrew so I think this should be a reasonable prudent accounting precaution.
Back to the oficina to meet Andrew who is waiting. After much talk, beer, and rum Andrew suggested that we walk down to the Malecon because Fidel is putting on a fiesta. Off we go but. on the way we stop to buy a $5.00 bottle of Havana Club rum, which is normal practice in this land.
Arriving at the Malecon, about mid-night, Andrew gave us a warning about being careful in crowds and told the girls that they have to be super careful with their purses, which are a leather thong over the shoulder attached to a stylish bag at hip level. We walked through the crowd of dancing, lovely, Cubans and sit on the Malecon listening to the music, drinking rum and watching spectacular thunderstorms over Florida. Wonderful!
After a while, Andrew suggested that we walk down the Malecon to see if we can find a group of street musicians. The Malecon is stuffed with people all having fun, joking and talking with us, but, no street musicians at this hour. Sue said that we should go back to our casa because we've all had a big day and it was late, and we have to leave Havana early, and she is tired and it is one in the morning.
So off we went, the girls in front, Andrew and I, sipping rum and walking behind. When in a flash, Holly was fighting with a guy who has grabbed her purse. It all happened in, as they say, a flash of slow motion weirdness; Holly yelling, the bad guy scurrying up this ally that is as dark as the backdrop in your worst nightmare. I looked at Andrew
Do you ever wonder why you do things? Like, why do you take some actions and not others? I 've asked myself this and I still don't have an answer, but I took off up that dark alley after the bad guy right into the heart of the dark, pot hole ridden, Malecon barrio through a knot of twisted streets. Thoughts like " I shouldn't be doing this " and " Just try to remember the way you came, in case you have to somehow get back" raced through my head as I ran after the bad guy or "ladron" in Spanish.
After a while, I saw the ladron turn into a street and as I entered I saw that he didn't come out the far end. I walked down the street and came to this soot black, building and stopped. At this point a police car came around the corner and I had this feeling that I didn't want to be confused with the ladron, so, I pulled out my trusty flashlight and waved it around in some vane attempt to show the cops that I was "good".
The police stopped and asked me all number of questions which I didn't understand. They looked at each other and pulled their guns, took the safety off and charged into the building. They emerged a few minutes later with the ladron. They handcuffed him and flung him into the back seat of the Lada cop car.
"Well", I thought that was really something. Then they asked me what was stolen. What was the Spanish for a purse? I couldn't say, so, we stood around for a while and one of the cops asked if he could borrow my flashlight. " Sure", but, as I handed it to him, I noticed that in my other hand was the bottle of rum. Whoops! I come from a land where this is not a good thing, but the cops didn't seem to mind.
Off they went, again into the darkest building in creation, and a few minutes later they come out with Holly's purse! Surprise! Well, I had this dim idea that they would hand it back and I would somehow get back to the Malecon and my friends. No such luck! They asked me to open it and to identify what was in it. I opened it and, my God, HOLLY! There were several hundred dollars in there! Why was she carrying so much money? What makes people do what they do?
The cops opened the back door to the car and asked me to get in with the ladron. We took off on a pot hole, dodging drive through early morning Havana streets and stopped in this indefinable area of the barrio. I figured, this is the point where they take me and the ladron out and shoot us, pocket the cash and call it a night, but, Havana is always a surprise because this was just a sandwich stop. They got back in the car, offered me a sandwich and were off on another mad drive. However, the ladron got a chance to talk to me during the stop. I presume, he asked that I not finger him or whatever. I wanted to ask him, "Why do people do what they do ?" " What drives people to the choices they make?" "Are they driven or is it just a moment choice? " Can't do it.
The next stop was a metal gate in an alley where the cops leaned on the horn until some sleep drenched guard opened the gate and we sped into the back parking lot of the police station. Out we got and we were brought before some kind of a tribunal of two women magistrates operating at two in the morning.
The ladron and I sat at a bench and the woman magistrates started asking questions. I was told to place my bottle of rum on the table along with the flashlight and Holly's purse. Basically, they wanted to identify the ladron and at the end they turned to me and asked if he was the bad guy. I said "Si".
Off again to the front of the police station where the ladron got tossed into a Clint Eastwood, jail with a number of other bad guys. The cops talked to me but soon realized that they have to find someone who speaks English so, they tell me that I have to put my bottle of rum outside the front door. I compiled. Outside, I saw this police car come wheeling up and out pours Holly, Sue and Andrew the finest sight I have ever see in the whole length and breath of Cuba.
"You're alive," says my friend Holly. "Yes" it seem so.
Next, the cops wanted Holly to go to the hospital; not for any medical treatment reason but to get a Doctor to certify that this was a robbery with violence. At about 4 AM the external police arrived to take details of the crime because, they rightfully assume, that any tourist will not be at the trial which will take place in a few months. Finally, after hours we arrive back at our casa, in a police car, in time to see the Cuban sun rising over Havana the beautiful.
Footnotes: Sue and I killed the bottle of rum with the off duty cops. Holly is ok; she got her purse back plus a rope burn on her arm as a badge of courage. The story was told several times over the weeks of our holiday in Cuba and I attained some super human status. The only one who ever said that it was a stupid thing to do was Andrew and I have to agree with him. The cops, also attained super hero status for their work. Holly and I heard a story on the radio the next day about brave police of the malecon barrio who snagged the ladron. The ladron is staring into the face of 15 to 20 years in a Cuban, hard labour prison …rough justice! I don't want to leave you with the impression that Havana is a hot bed of crime, it is not. It is one of the safest places on the planet, but, no one should walk around, advertising, stupidly, anywhere. Why do people do things? I like to say that any accountant would have done this; we all are charged with protecting our clients' money.