Parable of the Persistent Widow

Parable of the Persistent Widow

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“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to
show them that they should always
pray and not give up.”
Luke 18:1-5

When Carlito’s son suffocated to death in the back seat of his father’s brand-new Mercedes SUV, Caridad García felt all her suspicions had been confirmed. Maybe her son’s sudden fame and fortune were not a blessing but a curse. Everything had happened so quickly since the release of Carlito’s single “Love a la Cubana,” a song sung in English to a salsa beat. The song had made it to the top of all the Billboard charts, not just for Latin music but for popular music overall and had stayed there for months. In fact, the song was a Billboard 200 number one for almost six weeks and was even popular in Europe and Japan. In the United Kingdom, “Love a la Cubana” also topped the UK Singles Chart. That had been quickly followed by Carlito’s record, eponymously named “Carlito,” which had sold in the millions and was the most popular salsa record in American history, surpassing the sales of mainstays like Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades. Then he received Grammy awards for Record of the Year and Best New Artist, in addition to a Latin Grammy award for best salsa song. In a word, Carlito had become an overnight sensation. Soon he was surrounded by all kinds of sycophants wishing to profit from his success, not the least of which was his producer Cuco Vargas, who brought the women to him, plied him with cocaine, and ultimately led Carlito to the worst day of his life.

It was while visiting Cuco Vargas that the twenty-year-old Carlito had forgotten his son Anthony and his daughter Sophie in the back seat of his SUV on a day of sweltering Miami heat. His mother, the widow Caridad, knew all about it, for in his despair Carlito had admitted everything. His visit was not supposed to take more than fifteen minutes – Carlito’s purpose was just to drop off some lyrics for a song he had been writing – but ultimately, he stayed in Cuco’s apartment for several hours. Cuco had received him with two blonde beauties – high-end prostitutes, no doubt – and enough blow to last for the remainder of the afternoon. Eventually one of the women – a shapely Russian named Tatianna – had absconded into the bedroom with Carlito, and he delighted in her body for hours, giving no thought to the two children he had left behind in his Mercedes. When he left Cuco’s apartment and went back to his vehicle, Carlito was still high and euphoric. But that quickly changed when he realized what had happened to his children. Anthony was unquestionably dead, and Sophie was barely breathing. He realized that if he called 911 he could be in a heap of trouble, but he had no time to lose and called for emergency services anyway.

Before the paramedics arrived, he made a desperate call to his mother.

“I want you to come,” he said, still in a stupor. “Something horrible has happened.”

“What’s wrong, Carlito?”

“The kids! The kids!” he started bawling. “The sun, the heat, the SUV! I need you to come, my vieja. I can’t face this alone.”

“I don’t understand,” responded the widow, Caridad. “What about the kids? What does the sun have to do with anything?”

“I forgot my kids in the SUV for hours, vieja. I was getting high with Cuco Vargas. Oh, my God! And there was a blonde woman. I forgot all about them.”

“Are they dehydrated?”

“Anthony is gone, my vieja. Do you understand what that means? And Sophie may soon be dead as well. I am waiting for the paramedics to arrive, but she doesn’t look good. Pray with all your heart, viejita. Pray like you’ve never prayed before. I know I’m far from God but you’re so close to Him.”

“I shall certainly do so,” replied the widow Caridad in a tone of voice that was stern and reassuring at the same time. “Where are you? How can I find you?”

“I’m in the parking lot of 1267 Ponce de Leon. Please come as soon as possible. It should take you no more than fifteen minutes.”

By the time the widow Caridad arrived, the paramedics were already there, having arrived in a big red truck, sirens screeching. One was a Cuban like Caridad. The other was a blond man with a thick red beard.

“She’s clearly suffering from heatstroke,” said the Cuban paramedic as he put his hand on Sophie’s forehead. “You’re the famous singer, aren’t you? The one who sings ‘Love a la Cubana.’”

“That’s right,” responded Carlito. “Do you think you can save her?”

“It’s hard to tell,” responded the paramedic. “We’re going to inject her with fluids intravenously right now.  Her core body temperature is 108 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very high. How long has she been in the hot vehicle?”

“For about six hours,” Carlito confessed.

“We’re going to have to call the police. I’m sorry to tell you this – on top of everything else – but the boy is dead, and the cops are going to want to interview you right away. Leaving a child in a parking lot for hours until he’s dead is considered manslaughter in many cases. The police are going to want to conduct an autopsy of the boy. As paramedics, we’re bound by law to immediately report all motor vehicle-related hyperthermia fatalities. A child can experience hyperthermia as soon as an hour has passed. For this little girl to still be alive after six hours in the Miami heat is nothing short of a miracle.”

“A miracle,” Carlito echoed. “But not for the boy.”

Soon thereafter, Sophie was taken to a nearby hospital by the paramedics and the police appeared in a black-and-white sedan. They were Cuban too and instantly recognized Carlito as the famous singer. Unfortunately, they administered a blood test as soon as they arrived and detected the cocaine in Carlito’s system. Under the circumstances, they immediately arrested him and took him to a local jail. Before he left, Carlito told his mother to contact Cuco Vargas and tell him to pay the money to bail him out and immediately hire a lawyer. The widow Caridad gritted her teeth in silent anger. It was Cuco Vargas who had brought her son to this moment, and she wanted nothing to do with him.

At that time, Caridad began her persistent prayer to Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s own virgin and patron saint, and began to weep every night for her lost son. She prayed nightly for his conversion, knowing he was straying far from God.

“Save this son of mine,” the widow pleaded. “Don’t let him be destroyed by his fame and fortune.”

***

The headlines were devastating. Famed Latin crooner accused of murdering his own son. Pop star lets boy die in a hot car while at cocaine party. Jury to weigh whether Carlito is guilty for the death of his one-year-old infant. On the day of opening arguments, the paparazzi were everywhere and almost made it impossible for Carlito to get into the courthouse. His lawyer Jerome Cienfuegos made a few comments from the courthouse steps.

“The State is trying to make a spurious murder case over a horrible accident which has devastated my client, Carlos Ramón García. Much has been made of the claim that my client used a small amount of cocaine while his child was in the back seat of my client’s SUV. But what they don’t tell you is that by the time Mr. García started using the drug, his son was already dead. We shall introduce expert witness testimony from various physicians stating that the child died within two hours of being left alone in the car. At that time, Mr. García wasn’t using cocaine. Mr. García was spending time with his manager going over the lyrics for a new song. He innocently forgot about the children as has happened to thousands of loving parents who leave their kids in cars during an errand only to find that the sun has killed them.”

When Carlito testified at trial – his lawyer figured Carlito would be the best witness in his own defense – the crooner did not disappoint. It was not only because he was young and handsome, articulate and well spoken. It was because he had a quality which can only be called charisma. With his luminous face – swarthy skin with green and sparkling eyes, a disarming smile at the appropriate moment – Carlito could attract any woman and make children love him. He could seduce a jury and his lawyer knew it. His taut athletic body, his mellifluous voice, the way he answered even the toughest question with a childlike sincerity – everything conspired to make him a great witness before the jury.  And when he wept, it never seemed inauthentic or rehearsed. Here was a father grieving for his son, not a vile cokehead who thought of no one but himself.

“Don’t think for a moment that I don’t feel remorseful,” he said as his youthful face was suddenly transfixed by grief. A single, thick tear fell from his left eye. “I have gone over that terrible day a thousand times. I loved my Anthony dearly. I loved him from the moment he was in his mother’s womb. I shall regret what happened for the rest of my days. But I am not a criminal, just a father who made a horrible mistake. Put yourself in my shoes. This could happen to anyone.”

When it was time for the prosecutor to cross-examine him, Carlito maintained his aplomb. As expected, the State emphasized the fact that Carlito had been using cocaine on the day of his son’s death. The singer did not react defensively but calmly explained that the cocaine had nothing to do with what happened to his children. The fact he did not remember his kids were in his vehicle on the parking lot had nothing to do with cocaine. That was not the purpose of his visit to his producer’s apartment.

“I had written the lyrics for a new song, ‘La Guaracha Borracha,’ and Cuco and I spent the afternoon trying to figure out the music for it. I had some idea about that, but I’m still learning how to write down the notes, so I needed Cuco to help me out. It was my excitement about the new song – not the influence of cocaine – that led me to forget I had left my two kids in the SUV.”

At that point, Carlito began to sob loudly. The prosecutor backed off a bit, since she didn’t want the jury to think she was badgering a grieving father. But near the end of Carlito’s testimony, she returned to the subject with unbridled fierceness.

“You argue that by the time you started using the cocaine Anthony was already dead, don’t you?”

“I’m not the one who said it,” responded Carlito in an even voice as he sat ramrod straight on a swivel chair. “Three forensic examiners have testified that it is unlikely Anthony would have survived more than two hours in the sweltering heat.”

“And yet Sophie survived, didn’t she?” the prosecutor shot back in a derisive voice. “She survived even though she had been in the vehicle for about six hours. What leads you to think Anthony would have perished two hours after you forgot he was in the SUV when his sister did not die after six hours? Isn’t it true that but for the cocaine you would have left your manager’s apartment after two hours and found Anthony in the vehicle, still alive?”

For the first time in his testimony, Carlito got flustered.

“You can argue about hypotheticals all day long,” he objected. “Cocaine doesn’t make you forget things. This tragedy would have happened whether or not I used a small amount of coke in my manager’s apartment.”

“That is all,” said the prosecutor. “We rest our case.”

***

Caridad firmly believed that God doesn’t allow bad things to happen without a salvific purpose. Even tragedies can somehow redound to the benefit of one’s soul and thus lead to salvation. So, she tried to make the best of the fact that her son had been given a six-month prison sentence for child endangerment. At least, the jury had been deadlocked with respect to the weightier charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter. Perhaps six months behind bars would lead Carlito to re-examine his misguided conduct after he became a superstar. At any event, that is what she prayed for every night to Our Lady of Charity. “Please let this be an opportunity for Carlito to turn his life around,” she pleaded, “to avoid the women and the cocaine, to once again return to his family and God.”

One Sunday morning Caridad visited her son at the South Florida Reception Center, the largest state prison in Florida, bringing ropa vieja and papas rellenas, her son’s favorite Cuban dishes. Caridad was accompanied by Father Ramón Farré, a Spanish priest with a reputation for speaking bluntly to his parishioners. Prior to becoming a priest, he had been a professor of Spanish literature at the University of Miami, and he often used literary allusions in his homilies. Father Farré immediately told Carlito he had brought the Eucharist for him – the body and blood of Christ – but advised him that he had to confess his sins before he was able to partake.

“I’m sorry, Father, but I’m no longer a practicing Catholic,” confessed Carlito. “Whatever faith I still had left disappeared with the passing of my son. And how could God ever forgive me anyway, having caused the death of my little Anthony because I was getting high and consorting with prostitutes? If you only knew the pain I feel, you would understand why I no longer pray.”

“God’s Mercy can forgive every sin,” announced the grizzled Spanish priest. “I’m sure the death of your son must have been devastating, but if you offer your pain to Jesus, he will get you through it.”

“I’m never going to get through my grief, not if a hundred angels were sent to comfort me.”

“Things will get better, son. They always do. I’m not going to force you to confess your sins right now, but I will tell you that you are perilously close to the edge – the easy money, the loose women, the cocaine. Your priorities are off. Don’t ever forget the enemy of mankind is seeking your perdition.”

“Do you think celebrity and riches are enemies of the soul?” asked Carlito in a pensive voice.

“There is nothing wrong with money and fame, success or fortune – they are blessings given to you by God – but they can be fierce temptations toward pride. Don’t be deceived by thinking fame and money will somehow replace Jesus. At the inner core of your being, there’s a place belonging exclusively to God. I forget who said that, but it might be Thomas Merton.”

“I for one will keep on praying for Carlito’s conversion,” expressed Caridad. “I shall do so to my dying day.”

“Yes, you must!” exclaimed the priest. “Saint Monica prayed for her wayward son Augustine for over twenty years, and finally he turned to God. He is now one of the greatest saints of the Catholic faith. And don’t forget the parable of the persistent widow.”

“I remember that vaguely,” admitted Caridad.

“What is a parable?” asked Carlito.

“It’s like a short story,” the priest replied, “except that it’s usually very concise and always imparts a divine message. The parable of the persistent widow has to do with a woman who constantly visited an unjust judge seeking a decision against an unnamed adversary. Although he feared neither God nor man, her persistence ultimately prodded the judge to rule in her favor.”

“What is the message of the parable?” asked Carlito.

“Jesus told this parable to convey the importance of relentless prayer, encouraging believers to keep on praying no matter how long it takes for God to answer. Never lose heart and never give up.”

“What about when you desperately want something, let’s say you pray for it night and day, and then you get it and it’s not enough? I wanted to be an entertainer ever since I sang at church on Sundays as a kid, and now that I am the most popular singer in the world, it’s meaningless to me. Just look where I’ve ended up. I think I’d gladly trade places with an ordinary family man. I lost my partner Mayte, I will be barred from seeing my daughter more than twice a month, and I lost my son in the worst possible way.”

“Maybe what you wanted wasn’t what you needed,” the priest replied. “Maybe what you needed was what you had all along. When did you break up with Mayte? Was it before ‘Love a la Cubana’ or afterward?”

“I abandoned my family after the song went platinum, that is, when I sold more than a million copies of ‘Love a la Cubana.’”

“Did that make you happier?”

“I don’t know, Father, I simply don’t know. On the one hand I loved my family – at least I think I did – but the women are so enticing as is my lust for fame and money. I have a deep-seated craving for celebrity and don’t want to give that up. I guess I’m no Saint Joseph who put his family above all. I’m so messed up. After I became famous, I have never been happy.”

“Pray about it,” said the priest. “Pray about it without cease.”

***

When Carlito got out of prison, he didn’t pray. Instead, he doubled down on his vices: hard alcohol, easy women and unlimited coke. The truth was that the suffocation of his son had hit him hard. He thought about the boy night and day, his ashen face, his closed eyes, his burning forehead. Caridad quickly understood that Carlito was in the midst of a spiraling depression and urged him to seek the help of a psychiatrist or a priest, but he declined. Then his life quickly unraveled – two DUIs in a month and an arrest for possession of cocaine – and Caridad redoubled her prayers. Carlito somehow managed to get the sentences reduced to just probation, but his mother was nonetheless deeply worried. She knew her son never got up before noon – he could do so because he lived off royalties – and sometimes he spent all day in bed in a sleepless funk. He preferred to live at night going to coke parties that ended at dawn where he was feted as if he were royalty and surrounded by young available women offering him their deadly white powder.

The only reason Caridad knew all this was that she had visited his seaside villa many times at four o’clock in the afternoon and found him still in bed. As far as the parties and the coke, it was all over the yellow press. And then there was the incident with the paparazzo, who was punched so hard by Carlito that the poor man’s face was fractured in multiple places. The photographer decided not to press charges only after the crooner agreed to pay him a hefty sum of money. Citing undisclosed sources, the Miami Alert announced that the paparazzo had been paid a million dollars. The price was worth it, for another conviction would certainly have landed Carlito in prison, and he had more money than he knew what to do with. He earned two million dollars in less than a month. What did half that sum mean when the alternative meant losing his liberty?

Everything came to a head when the woman from Child Welfare Services arrived at Carlito’s mansion with little Sophie in tow. Carlito delighted to see the child – she was now his only source of joy – and he cradled her in his arms, then gave her a bottle of milk as he chitchatted with the social worker, trying to use all his charm in order to convince her to increase Carlito’s visitation rights. Ever since the death of Anthony, he had been allowed two supervised visits with Sophie each month, but he wanted to change the arrangement to allow her to stay with him, unsupervised, for a continuous week. That is when the social worker made an announcement that cut him like a knife. There was no chance to allow Sophie to stay with him unsupervised given not only Anthony’s death but also Carlito’s recent erratic behavior, the three arrests and the incident with the photographer. In fact, she told him, Mayte had appeared ex parte before the family court judge and had obtained an order to restrict his visitation rights to once a month for an hour. That is when Carlito took a sharp knife from the kitchen and locked himself up in a bathroom with little Sophie in his arms and threatened to kill himself if he wasn’t allowed more time with his daughter.

The social worker knocked at the bathroom door and pleaded with him to come out. She told him he was only making matters worse with his behavior. Perhaps with time, as he got his life back in order, he would be allowed greater visitation rights with Sophie. But Carlito responded with a voice full of anguish that he meant it when he said he would slit his wrists unless the social worker immediately agreed to allow him to spend more time with Sophie. Unless she agreed to a week of unsupervised visitation, he would end it all right then and there. In vain she told him that she had no right to alter the visitation schedule; in vain she explained that he would have to seek relief from the family court judge.

“You can do it if you want to,” he remonstrated in anger and pain. “I mean it when I say I shall kill myself if you don’t.”

The social worker decided not to argue with him anymore. It could only make matters worse. At some point she would have to call the police, but she decided to call Mayte first. When Carlito’s former girlfriend learned what was happening, her first instinct was to call Caridad. If Carlito was having some sort of nervous breakdown, only his mother would know what to say. So, Mayte and Caridad arrived at the seaside villa at roughly the same time. Caridad gently argued with her son, telling him she was praying for him and told him to do the same. She told him that instead of taking his life, he should redouble his efforts to return to normality and place his trust in God. Once he overcame his drinking and cocaine habits, she assured him, the judge would grant him more time with Sophie. All he had to do was prove to the court that he was no longer a slave to alcohol and drugs. But Carlito was not persuaded, not even by his mother. He told Caridad that he knew that if he left the bathroom without obtaining permission to see Sophie more often, he would never see his daughter again. And Caridad knew that in some sense he was right, at least for the short term. After this incident, the court would bar him from any further visitation rights with his daughter for an indefinite period.

Soon the police arrived. One of them quickly took control of the situation. He was in no rush, since he knew from experience that he had to be patient with a suicidal man. The key was to give Carlito the time to realize there were alternatives to killing himself. By then, Carlito was loudly sobbing and repeating he no longer had a purpose in life, after his son had died due to his negligence and his daughter was being ripped away from him for his “accursed vices.” The policeman repeated the mantra that time heals all wounds. With time, his daughter herself would be the one to decide whether or not to see him. With time, she would blossom into a beautiful adolescent and Carlito didn’t want to miss that experience. And as an entertainer, he certainly had a purpose. His music brought joy to millions. Everyone danced to the beat of “Love a la Cubana.” There was certainly meaning in the life of an artist. His fans would be devastated if anything happened to him.

By then, the media had filled the streets next to Carlito’s mansion and there was a great hullabaloo. As soon as the police vehicles arrived, the paparazzi began to congregate about his house among the frenzied crowds. It did not take the Miami-Dade Police Department long to convene a press conference to announce that the famous Latin singer, Carlito, was threatening suicide, locked up in a bathroom with his infant daughter and a knife in his hand. A reporter with CNN asked if there was any danger the crooner would kill his daughter, and the policeman reported that they did not have such a fear at this time. If they ever feared for Sophie’s life, they would certainly break through the bathroom door immediately. But for now, they were trying to reason with the man. He was upset because the court had cut his visitation rights. It was a matter of convincing him he still had a reason for living.

At some point, Carlito quit talking altogether. He did not respond to the policeman’s voice and the policeman expressed his worry to Caridad. They were going to have to go in with guns drawn and given that Carlito was armed, they would probably have to shoot him on sight.

“He may already have stabbed himself,” the police officer opined. “Hopefully, the small girl is in a good condition.”

“He may just have gone to the other side of the bathroom where he can’t hear you,” replied Caridad. “It’s a very large bathroom, the size of a bedroom. I urge you to call him on his cellphone.”

“I’m going in,” responded the policeman. “He’s been in there for hours. In my experience with suicidal persons, there comes a point of no return. I have to go in, if only for the little girl.”

Then a group of six officers knocked down the door and entered the bathroom, ready to shoot Carlito as soon as they saw him. But Caridad had been right. The crooner was sitting at the opposite end of the bathroom, unarmed and sobbing, with Sophie cradled in his arms. The knife was on the floor, six feet away from him, and he looked at the policemen with a vacant stare, as if he were in a trance and he didn’t realize what was happening. A female officer easily took the child away from him, and he surrendered to the other men without resistance. He was allowed to hug Caridad briefly before they put him in handcuffs and took him to an ambulance, surrounded by a throng of paparazzi, with cameras everywhere. Soon Carlito was sent to Jackson Memorial Hospital as news helicopters flew overhead, following his every move. As soon as they arrived, Carlito was placed under an involuntary psychiatric hold and had his mental health evaluated. The physicians initially diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder, compounded by his addiction to cocaine. During the weeklong hold, Mayte appeared before the family court again and Carlito lost all visitation rights. After the hospital staff decided that Carlito was no longer a danger to himself, they released him to his mother Caridad, suggesting she immediately take action to become his conservator – to control not only his use of money but also his overall behavior. Soon Caridad contacted an attorney, Belkis Paz Soldán, a young Cuban woman she knew from church who was an expert in such matters. But what Caridad did not anticipate was that her petition for conservatorship would be fiercely opposed by Cuco Vargas, who had been given a power of attorney by her son ever since he had been incarcerated and who had become used to controlling all his money and giving him his daily yeyo.

***

Cuco Vargas was a man in his mid-sixties, with gray hair which he held in a ponytail and a diamond stud on his left earlobe. During dry times – when he did not have a client in the music business – Cuco made his living as an accountant to wealthy Cuban families. He had been tried for fraud twice and was once accused of coercing an old woman to name him as the beneficiary of her trust in order to swindle her. But Cuco had always come out on top, and the charges never stuck. When he had a successful musician to handle, he lived high on the hog, engaging in every possible form of entertainment: young women, young men, cocaine, ecstasy, weed, you name it. Over the years, the ambitious producer had managed the careers of a number of successful singers, but never anyone even close to having Carlito’s celebrity and immense earnings. And Cuco felt entitled to a substantial portion of that money because Carlito was a nobody when Cuco found him. At the time, the eventually fabled crooner performed at a gay club in Hialeah named The Esperanza Bar, an anonymous nightclub singer like so many others. But Cuco had heard very positive reviews about him and decided to check him out for himself. Carlito was everything people said about him and more. He was cruelly handsome, danced with an aggressive eroticism and had a singular voice. “I can make you a superstar,” Cuco told him confidentially, the first time he talked to him. “You won’t have to sing at gay clubs or Cuban weddings anymore.” And Cuco meant it. Carlito had a quality which could not be easily described but which Cuco recognized as a portent of wild success. A short time later, Cuco spared no expense in hiring the best production team available to prepare for the launching of Carlito’s first single, “Love a la Cubana,” and the song quickly skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Carlito’s income soon soared to the millions once his album came out, and he was on the cover of every music magazine in the world. Cuco Vargas had struck oil like the wildcatter he was and felt delighted to share in those earnings.

Caridad García’s petition to be appointed as Carlito’s conservator hit Cuco like a ton of bricks. If she succeeded, she would not only have the final say about any matter related to his finances but would also have complete control over his person. Cuco had been thinking of putting out a new album, “Havana Lovers,” and of a worldwide comeback tour for Carlitos to promote his new work. With Caridad as his conservator, she would be the one to negotiate Cuco’s producer fees as well as decide whether or not Carlito went on the promotional tour. At a minimum, Cuco would receive a lot less money if Caridad hired lawyers and accountants to review the contract for “Havana Lovers.” At worst, Caridad could simply replace him with another producer. The contract for “Love a la cubana” had provided that Cuco receive a fee of ten percent of sales – rather high by industry standards, but Carlito hadn’t hired a lawyer to review the deal. Given the sale of twenty million records over two years at fifteen dollars each, that had entitled Cuco to receive a clean thirty million dollars, to say nothing of sundry expenses for which he was reimbursed. “Havana Lovers” could bring even more money, but it would all evaporate if Caridad chose another producer. And with her as conservator, the worldwide tour couldn’t even happen without her consent, and Cuco suspected that Caridad would feel it was not the right time for so much work given Carlito’s frayed and troubled nerves.

Cuco decided to act quickly. Given that Carlito had given him power of attorney, he hired the best conservatorship lawyer in all Miami to represent Carlito in the proceedings and oppose the widow’s petition, even without consulting Carlito first. If Carlito tried to terminate the power of attorney, his new lawyer, a man named Richardson, would argue that it could not be terminated because of Carlito’s nervous condition and because he was being improperly coerced to do so by his mother. Then Cuco hired his own counsel, a Cuban named Rodriguez, with instructions to ask the court that Cuco be named Carlito’s conservator instead of his mother. But Cuco knew that all his plans would probably come to naught unless he got Carlito on board. So, he arranged for a meeting with Carlito at the Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho in order to persuade him to oppose his mother’s petition. Cuco knew that a fortune hung in the balance.

When Carlito arrived at the restaurant, he asked for ropa vieja while Cuco asked for lechon asado. Cuco did not begin the conversation by referring to the conservatorship but by telling Carlito that the sales of the single “Havana Lovers” was skyrocketing on all the charts. In a strange way, said Cuco, Carlito’s recent troubles had made him even more popular as a singer. “There is a fine line between notoriety and fame,” Cuco opined. “Your face was on the front page of every newspaper in the country, even those that have nothing to do with music. I think it is high time to release another album and follow that with a worldwide comeback tour. That will increase your sales by the millions, but we have to do it right. Most of the record will consist of your own work – I really like ‘Caliente’ – but I’ve been in touch with a songwriter to provide you with a few new songs.”

“That sounds great,” said Carlito. “As usual, I put it all in your hands. You know how to produce a record, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with your work. Just let me know what I have to sign.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” responded Cuco. “That’s why I’ve called you to this meeting. As you know, your mother has filed a petition with the court seeking to be appointed as your conservator. If we want to proceed with a new album, and go on tour around the world, you’ll have to oppose your mother’s petition. She knows nothing about the music business, and her interference would wreck everything.”

“I don’t think the petition is a big deal,” responded Carlito. “I think my mother’s purpose is simply to make sure I don’t spend any more money on cocaine.”

“The petition asks for much more than that, Carlito. Don’t be fooled. If you become her legal ward, she will have full control over your musical career, could even replace me with another producer and ruin the launch of your new album. And she could forbid you from going on tour to promote sales of your music worldwide. She’s really seeking vast powers – to control your life completely – and it’s in your best interests to prevent such a massive power grab.”

“I think you’re exaggerating,” replied Carlito. “My mother just wants to make sure I don’t spend my money extravagantly on naughty women and blow. She doesn’t want to meddle in my business at all. As you know, my mind is sort of fucked up right now. All my mother wants to do is get me back on track so I can get visitation rights with my Sophie again.”

“And that is probably a good idea. But you don’t need to have your mother as conservator in order to accomplish it. You can choose your own psychiatrist and accept or reject his advice. But don’t put your choice in your mother’s hands. Do you realize that as your conservator she can have you locked up in a psychiatric hospital whenever she so decides? Don’t let her take full control of your life. You will regret it. Your mother is a religious fanatic and thinks wealth and fame are bad. Didn’t she once say your incarceration was a good thing because it taught you humility?”

“Well, I’ll have to think about it. I really don’t want to cross her. If it’s as bad as you say, I think I’ll oppose the petition.”

“Your whole life hangs in the balance,” said Cuco in his parting words.

He couldn’t have been more right.

***

That evening, Carlito went to his mother’s house on Little Havana – Carlito had given it to her as a birthday present as soon as his sales began to boom – and told her with a certain urgency that he needed to speak to her.

“Yes, my son?” she queried.

“I want to discuss – what’s the word? – this matter of the petition for conservatorship. What does it mean?”

“It gives me certain powers to make decisions on your behalf. Mostly I want the conservatorship to make health care choices for you. I want to send you to rehab to fight off your cocaine habit. I don’t want to see you succumb to cocaine-related dementia. Maybe also send you to a Jesuit retreat so that you can become more attuned with God.”

“And how long would that take? How long will I be in rehab?”

“It’s hard to tell,” answered Caridad. “We’ll just have to see what the doctors say.”

“Can’t I just visit the doctors once a week? Or something like that? I don’t need round-the-clock care.”

“I’m afraid we’re past that stage, Carlito. Your cocaine habit is taking over your life. The incident last week with little Sophie wouldn’t have happened if you were in full control of your faculties. You were threatening suicide, after all. You need to wean yourself from your drug habit completely and won’t be able to do it through will power alone.”

“What about my career? We’ve already released the lead single for ‘Havana Lovers,’ and it’s instantly at the top of the charts, played on radio stations from Los Angeles to New York City, from Mexico City to Tokyo. Cuco aims to finish the album by the end of the year. How would we manage that if I were stuck in rehab?”

“The album can wait,” responded Caridad peremptorily. “Your health comes first. There’s no reason not to wait a little time – say a year – before releasing the new album. Your fans will still be there, and you certainly don’t need the money. Royalties keep coming in from your last record.”

“If you’re appointed my conservator, does that mean you can prevent me from working on the new album? What about the worldwide tour Cuco has planned to begin next February? Will you interfere with that as well? Does a conservator have so much power?”

“I will make all decisions in close consultation with you. Of that you can be assured. But yes, a conservator has all those powers. As far as the worldwide tour, I don’t want you to spend eight or ten months with Cuco at all times. I think he’s a horrible influence on you.”

“Tell me, mother, will you be replacing Cuco with another producer if you become my conservator?”

“I’ll certainly give it some thought. Now that you are world famous, it should be easy to enlist the help of another producer. Maybe even Emilio Estefan will agree to manage your career. And I bet another producer will charge you less than whatever Cuco is making off you. I don’t mind telling you that I have my suspicions that Cuco is skimming off the top anyway.”

“That would be a supreme act of betrayal, mother. Cuco made me, after all. He invested his own money in producing the ‘Love a la cubana’ record when no one had even heard my name, paying for the studio, the band and everything else. And now that we’ve achieved success, you want me to throw him under the bus.”

“He’s made millions from the sales of ‘Love a la cubana,’” responded Caridad. “You owe him nothing more.”

“Well, I won’t have it. If having you as my conservator means losing my producer and business partner, then I shall instruct my lawyer to oppose your petition. I’m not a madman that needs to be locked up in the psychiatric ward.”

“Your lawyer?” queried Caridad.

“Yes, Cuco has already hired a lawyer for me. I mean to make Cuco my conservator instead of you. After all, he’s been managing my finances all this time. You know nothing about money.”

“You’re not in your right mind, Carlito. Just a few days ago you were threatening suicide because of a custody decision regarding Sophie.”

“What happened last week was just a temporary emotional disturbance. I had no true intention to kill myself anyway. And it won’t happen again.”

“I’ve discussed this possibility with my attorney, Belkis Paz Soldán. We shall file a motion with the court stating you are mentally unfit to hire an attorney. We shall ask that the court appoint a lawyer for you and then proceed with the petition.”

On the day of the proceedings, there were innumerable paparazzi outside the courthouse. Never in history had a petition for conservatorship garnered so much media attention. Carlito’s attorney had not spared any expense in preparing his opposition to Caridad’s petition and had even hired three psychiatrists to state that Carlitos was unquestionably fit to hire his own counsel and was not a danger to himself or others. The judge, a buxom black woman in her mid-fifties, had dismissed the motion to deny Carlito the right to hire his own attorney out of hand. There was no reason why his voice could not be heard on a matter that could affect his entire life. So Carlito’s attorney quickly put his case before the court, strongly suggesting that Caridad’s petition was motivated by greed and nothing more. He argued that Carlito’s business manager had been handling the crooner’s finances for a while to Carlito’s satisfaction and should continue to do the same. As far as Caridad’s intention to have Carlito institutionalized against his will for an indefinite period, all three psychiatrists agreed that such an action was unnecessary as Carlito’s condition could be managed with medication. Finally, Carlito himself was called to the stand. Thanks to his undeniable stage presence, his appearance would prove to be the linchpin of the case. Caridad had asked her attorney not to blame Carlito’s condition for the suffocation of her son, for she knew for Carlito it was still an open wound. Perhaps if Belkis had brought that up, the outcome would have been different.

Carlito was the calm, well-spoken and smiling youth who had appeared in dozens of venues, appeared on television’s late night shows regularly and had given multiple press conferences while promoting his songs. Nothing in his testimony would lead anyone to believe he was not in control of his faculties or that he was the vulnerable youth described by his mother in her papers before the court. Even while facing withering cross-examination by Belkis Paz Soldán, Carlito maintained his composure. He had not succumbed to insanity when he locked himself up with his daughter in his bedroom. He was merely a distraught father who was hurt beyond repair by the knowledge that he would lose his daughter after he had already lost his son. And he was not addicted to cocaine. He had used it sporadically like so many others in the music industry, but not a trace of cocaine had been found in his blood stream on the day of the incident involving his daughter. There was no reason to appoint a conservator, especially a woman like his mother who had worked as a cook and knew nothing about business. If the court felt a conservator should be appointed, Cuco Vargas, a well-regarded accountant and music producer, was available to do the job. The judge herself cross-examined Cuco before rendering her decision. In the end, though she noted that her decision was not set in stone, and Caridad could renew her petition if and when the circumstances warranted it, the judge agreed to appoint Cuco as Carlito’s conservator.

Caridad bowed her head and prayed that the court’s ruling did not result in the ruin and destruction of her son.

***

As soon as Cuco Vargas became Carlito’s conservator, Cuco became his tyrant. From the outset, this manifested itself with Cuco organizing every moment of Carlito’s life, from the time he awoke in the morning to the time he went to bed at night. No longer was Carlito allowed to sleep into the afternoon, for Cuco always had a project to keep him busy. At first, it was the production of “Havana Lovers.” Cuco set up a recording studio in Carlito’s seaside villa and forced him to work all day, every day, into the night, until the record was finished. Cuco was never satisfied with a song unless it was recorded multiple times. If Carlito ever protested, Cuco would deny him his daily cocaine until Carlito agreed to do whatever Cuco ordered. Cuco also kept Carlito busy with endorsement deals which brought in millions in addition to the money from the record sales. Cuco secured deals for Carlito with a large beverage concern, a huge pizza delivery business, and even a Japanese camera company. He even managed to have Carlito sing at the half-time show for the Super Bowl, which attracted more viewers than the game itself. Cuco gave Carlito a monthly stipend of fifteen thousand dollars a month, much of which was used to buy drugs or entertain women, but aside from that Cuco used the rest of the money as if it were his own. All the while, Cuco repeatedly insinuated himself to Carlito, for Cuco was partial to handsome boys and none was as handsome as Carlito. A gay friend from Carlito’s days at the Esperanza Nightclub warned Carlito that Cuco was a sexual predator and that Carlito should be wary of  him once they went on their projected worldwide tour, but Carlito made short shrift of his advice. “He’s just joking,” Carlito responded. “Cuco is as straight as anyone can be. Don’t forget he’s always surrounded by beautiful women, and he’s been married three times, once to a famous film actress who died by her own hand.” Carlito’s friend thought that his naivete was astounding. He was but a twenty-year-old, after all, despite his riches. He hadn’t yet learned that virtually every human has a secret and that many men are heteroflexible.

From the beginning of the worldwide tour, Cuco drove Carlito hard. The largest burger business on the planet had agreed to provide publicity for the tour and pay Carlito a hefty sum of money depending on ticket sales. Soon Cuco realized that there was even more demand to attend Carlito’s concerts than he had ever anticipated. In Los Angeles, for example, his six concerts at the Universal Amphitheater had been sold out within a week, and Cuco scrambled to fit in three more shows into Carlito’s schedule. This happened again and again throughout the United States, and Cuco anticipated that it would happen in foreign venues too. His contacts in Japan advised him that even ten shows wouldn’t be enough to satisfy demand and encouraged him to double the number of concerts. All this meant that Carlito would have to be performing every night, which would certainly tax his nerves, but Cuco didn’t care. He had found his golden calf, and he would suck it dry. After all, Carlito was young and vigorous, and the coke allowed him to perform beyond normal human capacity.

It was at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, filled to capacity with eighteen thousand spectators, that everything first began to unravel. In the middle of his dance routine, Carlito became disoriented and started muttering nonsensical phrases until he simply collapsed on the stage. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where the doctors diagnosed that he was a victim of heat exhaustion. All remaining shows in Puerto Rico had to be cancelled as Carlito recuperated. Cuco appeared before the cameras and made short shrift of questions suggesting he had been driving Carlito too hard and blamed it all on Puerto Rico’s hot, tropical weather. The Hiram Bithorn Stadium was an outside amphitheater after all, and dancing in the heat had caused Carlito to faint. Cuco assured the press that the rest of the worldwide tour was still on track. The next venue would be Caracas, Venezuela, and Cuco promised that within a week Carlito would be performing as planned at the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex, the second largest theater in South America.

As soon as Caridad heard about the incident on the news, she contacted her attorney Belkis Paz Soldán and asked her if they could appear in court in Puerto Rico to renew Caridad’s petition for conservatorship. In light of the way Cuco had been exploiting Carlito during the huge music tour, it should be easy to persuade a court that Cuco was not acting for Carlito’s benefit but for his own. Belkis advised her that she wasn’t sure if a conservatorship obtained in Puerto Rico would be enforceable in California given that the California court had already made Cuco Vargas the conservator. And she wasn’t sure if a conservatorship granted by a California court could be dissolved by a tribunal in Puerto Rico. But they could try. At a minimum, a conservatorship obtained in Puerto Rico would be enforceable in Puerto Rico. If the petition was granted in San Juan, it would allow Caridad to prevent Carlito from leaving the island. Given how much money Carlito had, he could live comfortably anywhere on the planet. But as always, Belkis said, it would all ultimately turn on Carlito’s position. If he sided with Cuco Vargas, it was likely that the court would as well. As usual, Caridad’s decision was to persist. Hadn’t the Lord said in the parable of the persistent widow to always pray and never give up?

As soon as Cuco heard about Caridad’s petition before the Probate Court of San Juan, he flew into a rage. Now the demented woman wanted to interfere with the worldwide tour to promote “Havana Lovers.” Not only would he and Carlito be prevented from receiving massive revenues from ticket sales but they would also be sued for millions by their corporate sponsors as well as by the multiple theaters throughout the world where Carlito had entered contractual obligations to perform and millions of tickets had already been sold. When Cuco visited Carlito at the hospital, Cuco complained that his mother’s plans would lead to a fiasco. Did Carlito want to live in poverty as he had before Cuco discovered him? Did he want to lose his regal estate on Star Island? The stateside tour had been a resounding success. Why throw a monkey wrench into the process now? Carlito had to oppose his mother’s insane petition unless he wanted to live in penury for the rest of his life. Cuco was exaggerating, but there was some truth in what he said. It was certain that if Carlito stopped the tour at this point, he would be the subject of multiple multimillion-dollar lawsuits. And corporate sponsors would be reluctant to invest in him again.

By the time of the hearing in San Juan’s Probate Court, Cuco had retained Puerto Rican counsel on Carlito’s behalf, and Belkis Paz Soldán had been granted permission to appear in pro hac vice. Caridad knew what the verdict would be even before the judge arrived, for Carlito had appeared at Cuco’s side and only gave his mother a furtive glance, too embarrassed to lock his eyes with hers. Judge Manuel Rosales said he had read the briefs and was inclined to deny Caridad’s petition. Why would suffering from heat exhaustion prove the negligence of his producer and conservator? As far as Paz Soldán’s argument that Cuco was feeding Carlito’s cocaine habit, no evidence had been presented to support such a claim. Heat exhaustion has nothing to do with cocaine use, said the judge. And Carlito had established that interrupting the worldwide “Havana Lovers” tour would cause him immediate and long-lasting economic harm. Although the judge allowed Paz Soldán to cross-examine Carlito, the die had already been cast. Once again, Caridad’s pleas went unheard by an unjust judge. As everyone was leaving, the well-dressed Cuco briefly smiled at the disenchanted Caridad with a malicious satisfaction.

And Caridad persisted in her ongoing prayer for the mental, physical and spiritual health of her only son.

“Let the damage not be irreversible,” she pleaded once she had returned to her small home in Little Havana as she lit a candle before Our Lady of Charity and silently wept.

***

The concerts in the Tokyo Dome had been a resounding success, with the stadium filled to capacity – forty thousand people – for a run of ten consecutive nights. Once again Carlito was exhausted, but he knew not to complain. At least he could rest for a while, as the next events, scheduled to take place in Hong Kong, would only happen in ten days. The night after the last Japanese concert, Cuco, Carlito and the members of their salsa band all got together at the hotel lobby to celebrate the Japanese tour. Cuco got fairly drunk as was his wont. As the evening wore on, he made a motion of the head toward Carlito suggesting that they ditch the band and continue their drinking elsewhere. The two men walked out into the streets of Tokyo and found themselves in the Ni-Chome district, known for its gay bars, saunas and discotheques and which reminded Carlito of Las Vegas with its ubiquitous neon signs. Soon they were sitting in a gay bar called Xenon’s  – there were no establishments for heterosexuals in the Ni-Chome district – and some of the patrons looked at the lovely Carlito with desire. But Carlito was not disturbed, at least at first. After all, he had once earned his living by performing at a gay nightclub in Miami and was used to the company of queers.

Soon Cuco and Carlito got involved in some heavy barhopping, with Cuco downing cuba libres without respite and Carlito mostly kahlua with milk. At some point Cuco became upset after the bouncer at a nightclub told him he was too old to enter. He was a carroza, as they say in Spain, and given his age was presumably attractive to no one. Then they passed by the “Meat” sauna and Cuco suggested they enter. The sign at the door said that for the night older men and bears were not denied entrance – apparently on other days of the week only thin men under thirty were allowed – and that all men should be prepared to strip down to their underwear once they entered the sauna.

“What do you say?” the drunken Cuco inquired. “It could be fun. I’m sure you look good in your underwear. You’re thin and well-muscled, aren’t you? You have the body of an Olympic swimmer. Why not spend an evening with the danshis?”

“You’re drunk, Cuco. Come, let’s take the subway and find you a bar with some women. Or go to the bathhouse by yourself if you’re so inclined. I won’t be offended – I have absolutely no problem with gays – and will keep it a secret from the band if you request it.”

“Do you think I’m a fag?” Cuco asked. “Or do you think I’m too old for that?”

“I don’t think anything,” Carlito answered. “Your private life is your private life. But I think we should call it a night.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never dabbled. Don’t forget where I found you.”

“I never have. It’s not because of religion or anything. I just find myself attracted only to women. As far as dancing at the Esmeralda Bar, it was a job and nothing more.”

“Well, now you know. Know also that I want your companionship. If you don’t accompany me tonight, you won’t get your yeyo in the morning. Will you refuse me because of my age? Don’t I still have a youthful silhouette? Tell me the truth, Carlito. Don’t I attract you, at least a bit? I go to the gym on a daily basis as you well know.”

“I would refuse even if you were the youngest and most handsome man in the world. You know that as a celebrity I can have whomever I want whenever I want. But I’ve never ‘dabbled,’ as you say. It has nothing to do with your age. I’m sure many young people still find you attractive. Now please, let’s change the subject.”

“I mean it,” responded Cuco, thoroughly drunk. “No companionship, no cocaine. We’ll see how long you last. Is the repulsion you feel toward me stronger than your desire for your daily coke?”

“You’re full of shit, Cuco. Tokyo is as big as New York City. I’m sure there are neighborhoods where powdered cocaine can be found easily. I just have to ask around.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something, Carlito? You don’t have any money. That was part of the deal when I became your conservator. Under the rules, you would have very limited access to cash so that you could not use it to buy drugs. The same rule applied to credit and debit cards. And you need my signature to access any of your bank accounts. How on earth are you going to find money to buy the coke you need if I don’t provide it to you?”

On the next day, Cuco did exactly what he had promised and refused to give Carlito his daily yeyo. Carlito still wasn’t feeling any withdrawal symptoms and laughed at Cuco, telling him he had the patience of Job and would not consent to Cuco’s demands even if he had to wait ten days for a little coke. He reminded Cuco that the concerts in Hong Kong were scheduled to take place within a week and that he would refuse to perform if Cuco didn’t supply him with his daily blow. He told Cuco that he would lose a fortune if Carlito abandoned the “Havana Lovers” tour even before the concerts scheduled for Europe could take place. But Cuco made short shrift of Carlito’s threats. “You’ll never last ten days without satisfying your vice. Soon you’ll literally be begging me for a little coke, and you’ll be willing to do anything to obtain it, even to share a bed with an old man like me. After all, I’m sure you’ve ‘dabbled’ in the past. I don’t see it as a big deal. I have a stash of coke ready for you.”

On his second day without cocaine, Carlito began to feel an intense craving for the drug. On the third day, he began to feel a strange paranoia, a feeling that Cuco meant to destroy him by launching him into a dangerous withdrawal. And yet Carlito didn’t budge when it came to Cuco’s demands. “I won’t spend the night with you if I have to spend a hundred years without cocaine,” he exclaimed, “and you should know I might even kill you if you continue with your blackmail. You deserve death anyway because you were the one who killed my Anthony. You might be my conservator, but you don’t own me.” At that time, Cuco began to feel alarmed and started thinking that perhaps it was not a good idea to bar Carlito from cocaine for so many days. He knew that in certain cases, cocaine withdrawal could lead the addict to engage in homicidal and suicidal actions. He didn’t see Carlito’s threat to kill him as an empty threat, and he hadn’t brought his pistol with him to Japan so that he could protect himself. But before Cuco had the chance to offer Carlito the little coke he so desired, Carlito succumbed to a full-blown cocaine-induced psychosis.

Carlito arrived at the door of Cuco’s room at the hotel around noon, completely disheveled, his hair uncombed, his eyes reddened by tears. When Cuco let him in, he immediately told the trembling Carlito that he would give him the cocaine he wanted, with no demands. And in fact, Cuco handed Carlito a small plastic bag with the white powder, which Carlito avidly consumed, but contrary to Cuco’s intention it did nothing to return Carlito to his senses. He loudly proclaimed that the Japanese military were after him because of what had happened at Pearl Harbor and because he had just murdered his firstborn son Anthony by intentionally suffocating him in a Cadillac. He complained that the Japanese Mafia – the notorious Yakuza – were also after him and that he and Cuco should hide in the gay Ni-Chome district because the Yakuza detested the queers and would never venture into the zone. Finally, Carlito confided in a frantic voice that he intended to slit his wrists to avoid being tortured by the Yakuza and the Japanese military. At that point, Cuco decided to call reception and demanded that they summon an ambulance immediately, for his friend was suffering from a psychotic break and was in danger of taking his own life. He also called Minato Fukuda, the man in charge of organizing Carlito’s concerts in Tokyo, and explained the situation to him, asking him to make sure Carlito received all the care he needed in the Japanese capital. Within a day, the news was on every newspaper on the planet as if a great earthquake or cataclysm had happened somewhere: popular singer Carlito in lockdown at Japanese rehab center after suffering from psychotic episode and threatening suicide in Tokyo during “Havana Lovers” worldwide concert tour.

***

Caridad García had been working in her garden early in the morning when her attorney, Belkis Paz Soldán, appeared. When Carlito bought the home for her, he had made sure it had a large backyard, where she could have a garden for her flowers and a huerta for her vegetables. Caridad even grew corn in her backyard and had forty rabbit hutches. When Belkis arrived, Caridad was hunched over, pulling weeds, an old woman working assiduously in the blistering Miami sun.

“To what do I owe the honor of your presence?” asked Caridad as she rose to her feet to greet her lawyer.

“You haven’t read the papers?” Belkis responded with a question.

“No, I haven’t. What’s in the papers?”

“I’m afraid I bring bad news,” answered Belkis. “Your son is in a rehab facility in Tokyo. Apparently, he had a very severe withdrawal when his producer cut him off from his cocaine. He had a psychotic break with hallucinations and delusions, threatened to take his life.”

“Cuco tried to make him stop taking cocaine? Well, that’s a surprise.”

“He didn’t do it the right way. The Miami Herald says that Cuco did it to punish Carlito for some reason. They speculate it was over the use of money.”

“That makes more sense. I know for a fact that it was Cuco who drove Carlito to become an addict. How’s my son doing? What is his condition now?”

“Well, he’s in rehab as I told you. At least that’s a good thing. But the newspaper says very little about his condition.”

“I guess I have to make my way to Japan now. I would go to the ends of the earth to help Carlito. I’m not going to leave my son at the mercy of that wretched man.”

“Yes, I was thinking that as well. I can go with you, but I can’t go immediately. We’ll have to travel in four days. I also have a friend called Michiko, a Cuban Japanese. If you can pay her airfare, I might convince her to go with us. How soon can you come up with the money?”

“I suppose I’ll have to mortgage the house. How long does that process take?”

“I’ll have my firm take care of that. You’ll just have to give us a power of attorney. In the meantime, I can loan you the money for the plane and the hotel in Tokyo. Are you ready to depart in four days?”

“I can go immediately,” replied Caridad. “Carlito needs me more than ever. It was madness to make Cuco his conservator. I can’t leave my son alone in a strange land given what has happened. Who knows what trick Cuco might have up his sleeve? But yes, we can leave next Monday if your schedule doesn’t allow us to go before that.”

That afternoon Caridad went to the Church of Our Lady of Charity to consult with Father Ramón Farré. Apparently, he had already read the day’s edition of the Miami Herald and was fully aware of Carlito’s condition.

“This might be the best thing that’s ever happened to your son in a long time. Don’t forget that God writes straight through crooked lines. Now that he’s hit rock-bottom, he has the opportunity to rearrange his life. Jesus often uses the worst conditions in a person’s life to impart His sanctifying grace. Pray hard and trust in God.”

“I’ve been praying for so long, Father, and things just keep getting worse.”

“Don’t give up. Remember the parable of the persistent widow. I was a literature professor before I became a priest as you well know. Creative writing instructors often deride the use of deus ex machina in a work of fiction. By that they mean when a character is seemingly doomed and has no way out of his suffering and suddenly the cure arrives at the last possible moment. But deus ex machina happens every day. Tolkien, a Catholic writer, describes it as a eucatastrophe, the opposite of a catastrophe. That’s a very big word to describe a miracle. Don’t be surprised if at the last moment God grants you your miracle. Miracles are commonplace. Your son could still be saved.”

Caridad García, Belkis Paz Soldán and Michiko Fujimori departed for Tokyo from Miami on a bright Monday afternoon. They arrived at the Japanese capital eighteen hours later when it was midnight in Japan. The very next morning, they visited the American embassy on Akasaka Street, and Caridad explained that she was the mother of Carlito García and wanted to take him back to the United States. The Ambassador himself, George Isaacson, decided to meet with them once he was informed of their arrival. He was quite familiar with the case and advised them that the worst was over. Carlito’s psychotic episode had ended, and he was back in his right mind. A man by the name of Cuco Vargas had appeared the previous day to seek permission to take the singer out of the country to meet an engagement in Hong Kong. He had provided documentation that he was Carlito’s conservator under United States law.

“What can we do to prevent that?” asked Belkis Paz Soldán.

“Well, the conservatorship isn’t binding on Japanese courts. But now that Carlito is of a sound mind again, he has the right to do as he chooses under Japan’s ordinances regarding mental illness. So, you’ll have to take it up with him. Under Japanese law, you can move to have a conservator appointed on an expedited basis, but it would probably fail if Carlito states that he wants to leave for Hong Kong. And Cuco Vargas informed me that Carlito was all for continuing with the worldwide tour.”

“I’ve seen it before,” lamented Belkis Paz Soldán. “It’s a clinical condition too. It’s something similar to Stockholm syndrome. Carlito has been under Cuco’s control for so long that he doesn’t see an alternative. Let’s say it’s a disease.”

“Well, I won’t have it. Michiko, please make an appointment for me to visit Carlito at the clinic. I’m a Cuban widow who fears nobody, certainly not that wretched Cuco Vargas. We’ll see who has the last word.”

The three women arrived at the Tokyo Psychiatric Clinic in Akasaka around noon. It was only a couple of blocks away from the American Embassy. Michiko spoke with a nurse who immediately took them to the room where Carlito was staying. When he saw his mother, he started sobbing without control. Caridad thought he was impossibly thin, with dark circles under his eyes. Then she wrapped her arms around him and gently told him everything would be all right.

“No, it won’t,” Carlito protested bitterly amid his sobs. “Cuco says we have to continue with the worldwide tour, or we’ll be financially ruined. And that I have to obey him because he is my conservator. I can’t deal with his pressure. Now he’s offering me a yacht to seduce me. He’s like an octopus with eight bloody tentacles, a bottom-dwelling shark always hunting down his prey.”

“Don’t worry about the money right now, Carlito. Just worry about your health. As far as his being your conservator, he’s not your conservator in Japan. When we go back to Florida, we’ll ask the court to terminate the conservatorship. In fact, Belkis tells me we have solid grounds to ask the prosecutors in Miami to charge him with criminal abuse of his conservatorship.”

“Can we really go back to Miami right away?” Carlito asked as he stopped weeping. “I want nothing more. I don’t want to spend the next six months in Europe living with Cuco. I shall end up killing him if he doesn’t kill me first. I never want to see that man again. ”

“You don’t have to, my child. Our Lady of Charity has listened to the widow’s persistent plea. Michiko will advise the attending nurse that you don’t want to accept any more visits from Cuco. I’ll ask the embassy for another passport. And we’ll have you back in Miami within a week. Your career is not over. After you rest for a while and continue with your rehab, there is no limit to what you can do.”

“I’ve been thinking of a Salsa Cristiana song, titled Viva Cristo Rey. I have all the lyrics down and the music too. Long live Christ the King. It’s a little different from my other work, but I think I can make it a hit.”

“Well, there you have it,” responded Caridad. “¡Viva Carlito! ¡Viva ‘Love a la cubana!’ ¡Viva Cristo Rey!”

About the Author

Sandro F. Piedrahita

Sandro Francisco Piedrahita is an American Catholic author of Peruvian and Ecuadorian descent, with a degree in Comparative Literature from Yale College. Most of his stories revolve around Latin American mythical or historic themes, told with a modern twist. Mr. Piedrahita's short stories have been accepted for publication in The Write Launch, The Acentos Review, Hive Avenue Literary Journal, Carmina Magazine, Synchronized Chaos, The Ganga Review, Limit Experience Journal and Foreshadow Magazine.