FIDEL CASTRO GAVE THE ORDER at approximately one ten in the morning on the first day of January 1959. He personally accompanied the troops entering the front entrance of the Hotel Riviera Resort and Casino. They met no resistance as they made their way in. The two tuxedoed security guards had left their posts shortly after midnight.
Their pace was menacing, as they quickly forged their way into the grand ballroom. The remaining guests yelled in alarm at the sight of Castro and his armed comrades. One of his soldiers fired a short burst into the air from his semi-automatic rifl e. This brought the desired attention and silence of the distraught crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen! I now pronounce you the first subjects of the new communistic regime of the island of Cuba. Long may it last!" Fidel Castro felt a sense of pride and accomplishment as he stood victorious in front of the people who had thought he was nothing but a revolutionary thug. That would soon change, he thought. If he asked them to bow down at his feet, that's exactly what they'd do.
There was a small commotion at the back, as his brother Raul appeared at the rear of the room with the rest of his troops. He had evidently caught a few people trying to fl ee out the back entrance. Castro scanned the crowd, eagerly looking for his prime target, like a lion hunting in the morning mist for the gazelle whose fate was already predestined to a vicious, agonizing death.
"Raul, have you seen that scoundrel, Batista?" he shouted to his brother.
"No Fidel, he's not back here!"
"Are you sure? I don't see him up here."
"Si, I'm sure. He's not back here either."
A sudden rage bolted throughout his entire body at the prospect that Batista might have slipped his grasp. This he couldn't tolerate. Anger would remain deep inside his soul, only to be quenched by the physical torture and slow death of Fulgencio Batista. He would not be cheated out of his revenge. He couldn't be; it just wouldn't be fair.
"Your attention, ladies and gentlemen," he said as he faced the crowd again. "I demand to know where that cad Batista is. Is someone going to tell where he is? It will be easier on all of you if someone tells me. If anyone knows, and I find out they didn't tell me, none of you will live to see daybreak. Now, who's got something they want to say?"
Ironically, it was one of the ladies who summoned enough courage to speak.
"He's not here, Mr. Castro. Right at midnight, he announced to the crowd that he was leaving the country, as his position here had become untenable. He then left through the rear entrance and no one's seen him since." Castro's first emotions were shock and disbelief. This woman had to be mistaken. But she said that he announced this to the whole audience.
"Can anyone substantiate what this woman has said?" he asked the rest of the crowd.
Several people chimed in at once, reiterating the woman's story. With his blood vessels popping out of the front of his forehead, he shouted angrily at his brother, "Raul, arrest these people and bring them over to the detention center. I'll meet you there." Fidel Castro pitied the person who would incur his wrath in place of the missing Batista. He knew one thing for sure: hell was coming, and he was coming with it.
Corporal Alfredo Costa was already half-drunk. The bottle of whiskey that was being passed around by his men was almost empty. Not to fear, he thought, they had two more bottles in the back of the truck. He had bought the whiskey for a song on the black market, in anticipation of this very moment, the celebration of their ascension to power.
The corporal and his five men, all of whom were privates, had been given the assignment of retrieving Rolando Fuentes and his family and bringing them back to Havana. Their two-and-a-half-hour drive to the remote estate of Playa La Boca was becoming much more enjoyable with every swig from the whiskey bottle. They were becoming increasingly drunk, not just with the whiskey, but with their newfound power. Even as privates, they felt like kings now, eagerly awaiting their first chance to exercise their newly acquired control over the Fuentes family.
"Here's to the new Cuba!" slurred an inebriated private Cosa. "Si, man, viva el Cuba!" chimed in another.
The sound of gravel hitting metal on the side of the truck caught the corporal's attention.
"Hey! Keep this thing on the road, you idiot! Are you trying to get us killed?!" he shouted at the driver.
"Sorry, Corporal, I promise to keep it on the road. It won't happen again," answered the contrite private.
"Well see that it doesn't," he yelled back, taking another large gulp from the whiskey bottle.
"Hey, Cosa. Open up another bottle. I'm just getting started."
"Si, corporal," he answered, as he reached in the back and opened up another bottle of cheap whiskey.