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Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Cigar Maker

13 Jun 2011

[Editor’s Note: The Cigar Maker is the story of a Cuban cigar maker who battles labor strife and vigilante violence in 1900’s Tampa. It recently won the Bronze Medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards and has been named a Finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2010 Book of the Year Awards. Click here to learn more.]

The SS Olivette returned to busy Port Tampa the following evening. Freighters loaded with cigars set sail for Texas and Mexico while cargoes of fresh produce arrived from Honduras, and tobacco from Cuba. Mendez saw that the front page of Kincaid’s Daily News bore the headline “Cigar Workers Strike,” with a photograph of the Vasquez factory. Beside the picture was the smaller headline: “Decree to Workers: Return to Work Now or Face Employment Blacklist.”

Nearly a thousand had walked out of six factories but the paper claimed the strike was expected to end quickly once the workers had gone broke and hungry. The strike had clearly gained momentum during the past few days and he felt a sudden need to reacquaint himself with the rest of the workers.

He hustled into Ybor City and went straight to La Rubia. The tavern was filled to capacity and buzzing with talk of the work stoppage. Juan Carlos rushed to greet him almost instantly upon his arrival. They embraced briefly and Juan Carlos said, “The Vasquez workers voted unanimously to continue the strike.”

Mendez sat at the table with Juan Carlos and Salvador. “This news has caught me by surprise. Forgive me for being away but my fundraising trip was lucrative.”

“You are here now, my friend,” said Juan Carlos. “Some workers have walked out on principle! Their factories have introduced absolutely no new quotas or restrictions yet they strike in support of the greater cause.”

Mendez thought for a moment. “Have you considered what you hope to get out of this strike?”

Salvador answered. “We want them to remove the scales and do away with quotas of course. We want to protect the rights that cigar makers have enjoyed for decades.” Juan Carlos agreed with a nod.

“You can get more,” Mendez’s certainty was inspiring. “First, demand removal of the scales and the end of these output requirements. Then, you will demand higher wages for all and you will get them. Stop wasting the last of your money on bolita. Save every penny and gather as many donations as you can. And we will rally, this week. Tomorrow, if it can be organized.”

Juan Carlos smiled. “Perhaps you should put that in print. I will help you with this, my friend. We should get started tonight.”

“Come,” Mendez tugged at Carlito’s sleeve. “There is much to do!”
Salvador remained at La Rubia while Mendez and Juan Carlos headed back to the writer’s print shop. When they arrived at the front door, Mendez thrust the key towards the keyhole but it was deflected. He tried again but the hole had been sealed. He kicked the door. “Can you believe this? Someone put glue in my keyhole!”

“Maybe we can chisel it out.”

Mendez looked through the front window. “My shop has been trashed!” Inside, the printing press was on its side surrounded by a mess of papers and pools of ink. The bookshelf had been toppled and the library of books was spilled across the floor. Mendez frantically rattled the doorknob. “Someone will pay for this!”

“What about the back door?”

They ran around the corner to the alley. Mendez told Juan Carlos, “The manufacturers are playing dirty already. I’m almost frightened to consider how they plan to have us defeated.” They arrived at the rear exit to Mendez’s shop and were relieved to see the keyhole was untouched.

Behind Mendez a voice called out, “Welcome home!” A giant boot swept Mendez’s feet off the ground and brought him to his knees. Hands grabbed Juan Carlos at the neck then down came wooden clubs. Mendez was struck on the side of the head by a board that sent his glasses flying and knocked him to the ground and nearly unconscious. His ears rang and the sting was so bad that Mendez thought he tasted charcoal.

Juan Carlos struggled inside a blur of fists, boots, and splinters. The thugs were quick and precise; their bats cut flesh and bruised bones. They threw their weapons across their victims’ battered bodies and low voices faded as they escaped down the alley. Juan Carlos swore he heard laughter. The goons were easy to identify: a cop, the stocky twin frames of the Sanchez brothers, the black beard of Armando Renteria. Mendez was curled into a ball. Juan Carlos tasted a mouthful of blood.

He spat, cursed, and vowed revenge.

Mark M

photo credit: The Cigar Maker

3 Responses to “Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Cigar Maker”

  1. Stu Monday, June 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Awesome stuff. Mario Puzo's the godfather with cigars. Sounds like a great read.

  2. Guest Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Bruised bones????

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