ROLANDO FUENTES EXITED THE SIDE door of his mansion, his mind consumed with an eerie sense of foreboding, an unmistakable impression that future events might take an uncontrollable spin into the deep, dark recesses of hell.
The walk to the horse barn and stables was just over a half a mile. It was a leisurely walk, which on most days he enjoyed. Th e dirt path from the mansion to the stables bisected a large, rolling meadow with knee-high grass and heather lazily blowing in the breeze, and was surrounded on both sides by beautiful wildfl owers and colorful lilies that would make the finest horticulturalist proud. Th e most enjoyable aspect of this oftentraveled path was that it led to the ultimate pleasures of his life, his beloved son and his beautiful horses.
Today, however, was an exception. His mind was consumed with so many thoughts that he barely paid attention to the beautiful things of nature that he dearly admired and often took for granted.
So deeply engrossed in his thoughts was he, he didn't realize he had reached the end of the path. He was startled by the loud voice of Carlos, his son's personal horse trainer. It took him a moment to realize that he had abruptly stumbled onto the wrought iron railing fence which surrounded his own private horse track and training grounds. The track and training area were situated on the inside of the property, with the horse barns and the stables dotting the perimeter. Between the two was a beautifully constructed white wrought iron fence. There were three rails, parallel to the ground, between each post, and it was an imposing six feet high. It was almost the perfect height to climb and mount a large horse from. Th e height and rails were constructed with a specific purpose in mind. His son could saddle the horse, walk it over to one of the posts, tether it, climb the rails, and mount the horse without anyone's assistance. On the inside grass of the riding area was several fences and jumps set up for equestrian training.
At the sound of his trainer's voice, Fuentes glanced up, his eyes barely able to see over the six-foot-high rail. Being six feet three inches tall was a detail he had not considered when contemplating the height of the fence. He couldn't think of everything, however, and it was a small inconvenience compared to the overall splendor and beauty of the entire estate.
"Carlos, how's that fine son of mine doing today?" he yelled to the longtime horse trainer and personal friend.
"He's getting better all the time, Señor Fuentes, but I've already told you that a dozen times before. I'm such a good trainer that someday he may even compete in the Olympics!" chuckled Carlos with a hearty laugh. Fuentes detected a touch of sarcasm in Carlos's voice, but he there was a lot of truth in it as well. Carlos was debatably one of the fi nest horse and rider trainers in all of Central and South America. His price tag was not cheap, but where his son was concerned, he would spare no expense.
For the past twelve months, Carlos had been training horse and rider in the difficult and challenging sport of the equestrian event. One not only had to teach the rider, but manage and teach the horse as well, the latter usually being the more difficult task. Teaching equestrian was a fine art which required tremendous skills in order for the horse and rider to perform in the precise unison to compete at the championship level.
Miguel was Carlos's youngest student he had ever tried to teach, but his wealthy father was a very persistent man indeed. After much consternation and considerable thought, Carlos finally consented and agreed to come and see the young boy. His father repeatedly bragged that he was a natural, and had been riding solo since he was six years old.
Upon arriving and seeing the boy ride, Carlos was immediately impressed. His agility and grace in the saddle were that of someone much older and more experienced. Th e boy and horse were in perfect unison with each other, a symmetry of human and horse in precise harmony. Each anticipated the other's moves with a grace and splendor that left an indelible impression on anyone who happened to be watching. The boy just plain loved to ride, as if in an elevated, euphoric state of consciousness. Nothing else in the world could interfere with the aura surrounding him and his horse as they gallantly rode the wind into the bright afternoon sun. Yes, thought Carlos to himself. This young lad may indeed be the real thing.
As Rolando Fuentes peered over the top of the fence railing and saw his son atop the magnificent horse, tiny drops began to well up in the corners of his eyes. Tears of joy and immense pride made his heart burst with a love for his son that was indescribable and infinite in nature. He had read in the Bible once that God had sent his one and only begotten Son. Now with a beloved son of his own, he realized just how big of a sacrifice this must have been. He was convinced with absolute certainty that without a moment's doubt, he would gladly sacrifice his own life for his son's.
Whatever tragic twist of fate the future might bring, he was absolutely sure of one thing: his son would be safe and secure for the rest of his life. Recent events had forcibly wrested away the precious time he was able to spend with his son; but if circumstances turned out favorably, that too would change. A man could only amass so much fortune, and Lord knows he had made his. Spending time with his son would be his utmost priority.
Carlos walked over to the railing and faced Rolando Fuentes.
"Is something bothering you, Rolando? You look like you're off in another world."
"No, I've just had a lot on my mind recently, Carlos. We've been terribly busy at work, trying to acquire new technology and further expand circulation."
"You know, Señor, a person can only make so much money. When you reach a certain level of wealth, it tends to consume you. It's like a person cannibalizing himself. It starts on the outside and finally works its way to the heart, devouring everything in sight like a rabid dog that hasn't eaten in weeks. Somewhere during this vicious process, you realize after its too late, that you've missed out on the really important things in life. Believe me, I've been around enough wealthy people to know."
Rolando Fuentes chuckled silently to himself. How could this famous trainer be so wise? "You must be a soothsayer, Carlos, I was just thinking the same thing to myself, except for the cannibalism, of course," he chuckled. Fuentes looked up as he heard his son yelling at him. "Hi, Father! How am I doing?"
"Very good, Son! You look like a seasoned veteran out there! I'm really proud of you. Maybe a little later, before sunset, we can enjoy a ride together."
"I'd love that, Father. We could go after supper, and I'll race you again. You know you can't beat me!"
Rolando Fuentes chuckled to himself. Th e competitive spirit of youth was like no other. Th at, coupled with the enthusiasm and the endless physical endurance that accompanied childhood, made Fuentes long for his own youth. His family had been impoverished, but he never lacked for the love, attention, and warmth of a large family. He enjoyed the simple games kids played, such as stickball, tag, and hide-and-seek. Stickball was played among his friends with a large, cut-off broom handle, a small plastic or rubber ball, and no mitts. It was at that young, impressionable age that Rolando Fuentes made a solemn promise to himself. He resolved that as an adult, he would never be poor. His family would have the finer luxuries of life that accompanied both fortune and wealth.
Maria Fuentes opened the large glass sliding doors from their master bedroom and stepped out onto the expansive balcony that faced the Atlantic Ocean. Th e blistering orange sun was slowly descending into the distant western sky. The temperature had dropped a few degrees, the early evening air still saturated with the dampening, sultry humidity that accompanied everyday life on the island. Maria had often wondered if God had made a small compromise with the devil pertaining to the Cuban weather. God would bless the island with warm tropical breezes, lush vegetation, crystal clear water, and plenty of white sandy beaches. Conversely, God permitted the devil to curse the island with a constant, insufferable humidity, that made it almost unbearable to perform any outdoor tasks or activities.
Maria Fuentes leaned over the balcony, her elbows propped on the railing, supporting her body weight. In her right hand, she monotonously clicked open and shut her exquisite, gold-plated cigarette lighter. It was a gift her husband had bought her several years ago on a business trip to New York. When she opened and shut the lighter this way, it usually signified the wandering of her mind, totally oblivious to any of the circumstances around her. Suddenly, there was a loud rapping at the bedroom door.
"Mrs. Fuentes, Mrs. Fuentes, are you in there?!" hollered Juanita Flores. Maria rose up, a little startled. Finally, she recognized Juanita's voice.
"Si, Juanita, I'm here. You can come in now." Juanita slowly opened the heavy wooden door just in time to see Maria turn around to face her.
"Señora, are you still sure you want to help me prepare dinner tonight?"
"Yes, Juanita, I'm sure. Rolando is finally home after being away for so long, and I need something to occupy my mind. I'll be down in a few minutes."
With that being said, she pivoted around, facing the railing of the balcony again. Juanita accepted this as her cue to leave, and exited the bedroom in the gracious manner that was befitting of a competent and experienced maid.
As she heard the door close, Maria Fuentes clicked open the top of her gold lighter and removed another one of her cigarettes from the gold cigarette case that was in her other hand. Th e case had the engraved letters MAF artfully etched on the front. It was another gift from her adoring, beautiful husband.
She placed the cigarette between her left forefinger and thumb, turning it upside down, slowly tamping it against the top of the railing to ensure all the tobacco remained inside the slender cigarette. As the lighter flickered to life, she sniff ed the unmistakable odor of butane deep within her nostrils. She loved the smell of butane from an expensive lighter. The first whiff provided an instant rush that was almost as satisfying as smoking the cigarette itself. She lit the cigarette slowly, inhaling the first puff of smoke as if she was trying to breathe the entire earth's atmosphere in one single inhalation. The sudden rush from the nicotine raced immediately to her brain, giving her an instant rush of adrenaline, yet at the same time, providing an certain stability and calmness to her already-frayed nerves. After a few puffs, she turned suddenly and extinguished the cigarette in the ashtray on the small glass table, unconsciously aware that it was only half-smoked. She hurriedly made her way through the bedroom door and downstairs to the kitchen to help Juanita prepare the wonderful dinner for her family.