Sept. 1: The following is a chapter from Night Watch, our second suspense novel, set in the Bahamas. The history of drug trafficking through Normans Cay plays a pivotal role in the book. The research for this chapter came from several sources, one being our contact with George Jung who was there when all of this happened. George, like Carlos Lehder, is serving time in a federal prison, but unlike Carlos, George will be released next year after serving 26 years. We have drawn heavily on George’s biography Blow by Bruce Porter, and the movie of the same name starring Johnnie Depp, Richard Novak’s story in Turning the Tide by Sidney Kirkpatrick, the news archives from Vanderbilt University which contain the reports from Brian Ross on NBC and various websites including Impact Future Media. To get a feeling for this place, we visited Normans Cay last winter while sailing the Bahamas. The photos are from that visit.
The following is fiction. Carlos Lehder, George Jung, Richard Novak, Brian Ross, and Sean Connery are all real people depicted fictionally in our story. Graycliff is a very famous restaurant in Nassau. Manny and Ilsa are fictional but represent people who might have been there. This manuscript is not yet published, so meanwhile you can order our first novel, The Long Road to Paris, on-line from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or from your local independent bookstore.
by Ed and Janet Howle
From 1978 to 1982, Normans Cay was a dangerous place, but to a young Bahamian like Manny, Carlos Lehder offered everything; money, wild parties, and a house on the beach for starters. Then there was an abundant supply of liquor, marijuana, and cocaine. But most important of all were the women. White women, if that was your preference, and that’s what Manny wanted. The girls weren’t brought in just to keep the men happy; they were on Carlos’s payroll and were his eyes and ears. If a man wavered in his loyalty and revealed too much in the middle of the night, that information went directly to Carlos, the girl would get a bonus on top of her already generous pay, and the man might pay with his life through an untimely accident.
The girlfriend that Carlos offered to Manny was a tall blond German named Ilsa. She spoke English with an accent that Manny found utterly charming. When Carlos introduced them at one of his many all-night parties, she held out the back of her hand to be kissed, which Manny flubbed totally. He had only seen such a thing in a foreign film.
Manny was totally, madly, and instantaneously infatuated. The way she stood close and gazed directly into his eyes. Bahamian women didn’t do that and he wasn’t used to such direct sexual attention. And then there was the way she asked his advice, as if he were older and smarter than she was. She listened attentively when he described, at her insistence, his life growing up in Clarence Town on Long Island.
Manny did not understand at first that Carlos was giving Ilsa to him. The very notion of having her was beyond Manny’s wildest imagination. Although the Bahamas were predominantly black, in the out-islands there were unwritten rules of race relations. A black man could dance with a white woman, just not to slow music that meant holding her close. When a slow melody played, he had to return the woman to her man. That’s the way Manny found out.
Carlos loved John Lennon, and the night Manny and Ilsa were introduced, they danced all night. At nearly 3:00 a.m., the band played Imagine. Ilsa wrapped herself around Manny and started moving her hips in a sensual way that aroused and frightened him. Carlos was not to be toyed with, not when it came to business or women. “I don’t want to, but I’ve got to take you back to Carlos,” Manny whispered into her hair.
Ilsa pulled herself closer. She spoke in a soft seductive voice. “You don’t. You’re my man.”
Manny felt Ilsa’s body heat against him as he listened to the lyrics, “Imagine all the people, living for today.” He looked around the room. That’s just what everyone here was doing and he couldn’t imagine life better than this. Perhaps he should have listened to the line, “People think I’m a dreamer”. The next day Ilsa moved into his villa on the beach, or rather the villa Carlos owned and Manny occupied.
Now, at fifty-six, Manny knew for him there never was, and never could be, anyone like her. The short time they shared was a continual honeymoon and his longing for her, and their time together, had only grown over the years.
Three languages were spoken on Normans and Carlos was fluent in all three. His father had been German, his mother, Colombian, and Carlos had spent much of his childhood in the U.S. The residents of Normans were a mixture; Colombian, German, Bahamian, and a few Americans. One of the Americans projected the image that Carlos wanted for all his island residents. He was a professor of German whose passion was marine science. Carlos liked having a professor on the island; he thought it added credibility and sophistication, particularly since the two of them conversed in German.
When Manny first came to Normans he worked in the dive shop run by the professor. Dr. Richard Novak was particularly attracted to Normans when he learned it was the breeding ground for hammerhead sharks. He planned to be the first to thoroughly study and record their migratory and mating habits. He was convinced his real life work wasn’t teaching German at some small college but to chart the coral reefs and underwater caves, and to tally the species of fish and sharks that shared the unexplored world below the surface. For this end, he was willing to overlook Carlos’s real business on Normans.
Novak was the dive instructor and led expeditions for marine biology students and reef divers who came to explore this unique underwater ecosystem. This suited Manny just fine, he had no intention of getting in the water with sharks or even out in a boat when, during the mating season, their large numbers turned the normally tranquil lagoon into a frenzied black mass. Manny had a knack for numbers and record keeping so he managed the inventory, scheduled the dive groups, and kept the gear in working order. But Novak always seemed to be angry at someone or something, so when Carlos approached Manny to become his personal bookkeeper, Manny accepted. Carlos’s many enterprises were growing, both the legal and the illegal ones. He flew in and out of the island frequently, and needed a full time bookkeeper just to keep up with the work on Normans. Manny was proud to be selected and didn’t ask questions.
The cay was in a constant state of improvement, with large shipments of building materials, heavy equipment, and construction crews coming and going. Luxurious villas were built, the marina entrance was broadened, and the docks expanded to accommodate big ships. The runway was lengthened for larger planes from Colombia, and lights and radar were installed which made it possible for around-the-clock work. The planes from South America flew in at night, off-loaded into an unused custom-house converted for this purpose, and refueled. Their tail numbers were repainted and they flew back for another shipment of cocaine. Smaller planes then took the cocaine into out-of-the-way landing strips in the U.S. During the years that Manny lived and worked on Normans, the bright runway lights and the drone of airplane engines became the rhythm of the night.
Carlos kept a notebook with all his plans and dreams for the island, which he shared with Manny. One drawing was of a control tower for the air strip with a Colombian flag flying over it. “This will be my own island nation,” he once told Manny.
Since Manny was the bookkeeper, he was aware that the supply of cash coming in from the U.S. seemed endless. Large sums of money went to Nassau for various reasons, but Manny knew what it was; bribes to keep the Bahamian government happy and out of Carlos’s hair. The police made occasional raids, but Carlos was always given plenty of warning and nothing came of any of them. Carlos divided his surplus cash among many off-shore accounts, off-shore to the Bahamas and to the U.S. Someone told Manny that Carlos’s net worth was around 2.5 billion dollars. From what Manny saw, that seemed about right.
There was only one person on Normans that Manny liked better than Carlos. George Jung, Carlos’s partner, an adventurous, gregarious American who seemed to enjoy the thrill of the challenge as much as the money. George was rarely on Normans since he managed the transportation of the cocaine from Colombia and distribution to dealers in the U.S. The demand for cocaine had exploded since he and Carlos had hooked up with the product processed by the Medellin Cartel. Finding reliable pilots, airplanes, and ever-changing airstrips, required creative thinking and was nearly a full-time job which kept George hopping across the States and dodging the law. However, when George was on Normans he always sought out Manny to ask him questions about the developing enterprise but more importantly, to ask Manny to go fishing or crabbing with him. George liked Manny’s company. George was witty and well-read and eager to share his breath of opinions with an appreciative audience, which wasn’t Carlos. Carlos was obsessed with building an island empire to expand the cocaine business and achieve the ultimate market potential. Manny, on the other hand, wished he could be half as well-informed as George and listened attentively to his meandering philosophical monologues, trying to grasp how this fit into his life. Their friendship grew as the one between Carlos and George deteriorated.
There was plenty for everyone in the business, but jealously, paranoia and greed finally ended it. George discovered that Carlos had betrayed him, hiring his own pilots and supplying the dealers behind his back. These were people George had brought onboard and introduced to Carlos as their enterprise grew. Carlos had decided that Normans would be the point of transfer in the main supply route between Colombia and the U.S. and claimed George was getting cocky, bragging as though he was the link to the supply in Colombia. After a night of arguing, drinking, and white-lining coke, the hostility came to a head; guns were drawn. The island could not have two rulers and Normans was Carlos’s domain. Before daylight, high on cocaine, George burst in on Manny and Ilsa in their cottage, and in a state of nervous agitation, plopped down on the edge of their bed, and asked Manny to go with him to California. George was persuasive, outlining opportunities and offering money. It was a moment of real conflict for Manny. As much as he liked George and admired his style, Manny wanted Ilsa and she couldn’t be included. He knew he couldn’t have both and begged off making a decision on that early morning. A decision he would always regret.
Manny watched a small separate nation grow with Carlos Lehder as its dictator. Carlos had a fascination with Hitler and he soon began imitating him, wearing khaki clothing and black boots. Every nation needed children so Carlos built a school and imported a teacher from the States. Students, the children of staff and the new residents, who mostly worked for Carlos, wore tidy uniforms. Was it Carlos’s purpose to create a family environment or did he think women and children would be the best defense against an eventual armed raid from the DEA or the Bahamian police force? Manny was never sure, but it made him uncomfortable.
Manny worked with the ever-changing managers of the ten-room hotel which was open only to invited guests. It included a restaurant with a top-notch chef, a fresh-water pool supplied by an expensive reverse-osmosis system, and two bars; a tiki bar on the beach and another in the hotel.
At least one bar was always open, day and night. Carlos drove a bright red Excalibur. It was hardly necessary on a cay only four miles long, but he loved the car and would often be seen spinning up the dust, a woman at his side. Guards rode around in jeeps with automatic weapons and Doberman Pinschers patrolled the beach and the air stip. No plane was allowed to land and no boat could anchor without Carlos’s permission.
Most of the home owners, who had built before Carlos came to Normans, were happy to sell in response to his generous offers. If that didn’t work, sabotaging their power and phone lines, contaminating their cisterns with animal carcasses, and direct threats did. Even Moses Solomon, a white Bahamian and member of the first independent parliament, was threatened at gunpoint while walking the beach. Solomon went directly to the police but even he couldn’t get them to intervene. In the end, like so many others, he finally abandoned his vacation home. Manny never did know how Carlos managed that one. Finally, Carlos constructed his own Berlin wall to separate his property from the few remaining residents.
Even though he was married, Carlos’s home had plenty of space for his women. It was called The Volcano because of its huge stone fireplace, rising in the center of the vaulted-ceiling living room. It’s very presence was incongruous with the nearly tropical climate. The rooms were cluttered with a mix of antique and modern furniture from Europe and South America. Original paintings hung in every room and expensive silk and wool Persian carpets covered the highly varnished mahogany floors. The wood was imported from Andros, which had the finest mahogany forests in the Bahamas. And there were the perpetual parties that overflowed from the hotel onto the beach. In the hotel, the women were elegantly dressed, but by the time they hit the beach they were often naked. Attendance at the social events was mandated by Carlos, but Manny wouldn’t have missed one anyway.
At twenty-four, Manny’s annual income exceeded what his father made in ten years and he proudly sent money home to his family on Long Island. He also sent money to cousins in Nassau which later would prove essential for his own survival.
Carlos was charismatic and Manny, like so many others, now fell under his spell. He imagined himself wearing a fine silk suit exactly like the one Carlos wore. In his mind’s eye he would walk into the lounge at Graycliff, the best restaurant in Nassau. It was located in one of the huge two-story houses in a neighborhood where rich Bahamians lived, just up the hill from the elegant British Colonial Hotel and close to the Government House. It was a neighborhood that Manny had only walked by on his way to his cousin’s house west of town.
In his fantasy, the maitre d’ would bow slightly and say, “Welcome to your island home, sir.” His lovely blond girlfriend, Ilsa, would be at his side, or maybe she would be his wife. She hadn’t actually said no. They would sit side by side on a soft leather couch in the lounge and he would order champagne, Ilsa’s favorite drink, along with a cigar for himself. The cigars were handmade at Graycliff by an old Cuban who had escaped Batista’s repressive regime years before Castro. The waiter would bring the humidor for him to choose, cut the cigar, and light it by turning it slowly over two matches. As Manny was enjoying his cigar, Sean Connery, the island’s most famous resident, would walk in wearing a jet black tuxedo, a stunning woman on his arm. He would look approvingly at Ilsa in her tight, silver sequined dress, diamonds at her neck, raise his eyebrow, smile his famous crooked smile, and nod at Manny. After the cigar and champagne, Ilsa and Manny would move to the dining room where they would be served huge plates of steaks and Bahamian lobster tails along with more champagne and wine.
At the end of the meal when they walked outside into the balmy night air, the valet would ask, “Taxi sir?” and wave to one of the black Lincoln Town Cars waiting. Manny would have given out large tips, just as Carlos would do, and they would be driven back to the Nassau Yacht Haven and to Manny’s cigarette boat, The Sun King, that would take them back to Normans in less than an hour. On this beautiful moonlit night, Isla would snuggle against him, the cooling wind blowing her long, blond hair behind her and Manny would look up into a sky full of stars, and listen to the roar of his powerful engines. To finish the night, they would swim naked in the surf before falling into bed and making mad, passionate love. Now sitting on the broken steps of his destroyed home and subjected to blackmail, he knew this was never a real possibility, and he let his memory return to the dreadful end.
It was all over in 1982 when the Bahamian government was finally forced to take action. Americans would only learn the details in 1985 when Brian Ross revealed the story on NBC news. But Manny remembered 1982 clearly. It was when all his dreams came tumbling down. On the night of July fourteenth, he was awakened by gunfire. Some were individual rounds, some bursts from automatic weapons. Manny knew Carlos kept a huge supply of weapons on the island but this was not the shooting into the air that accompanied the many drunken parties. This was different; this time the shooting came from two distinct directions like opposing armies. He instinctively turned to protect Ilsa, but she wasn’t in bed with him. Where was she? He ran through the house and in the hallway tripped on a board in the floor that had been pulled up. It was where he kept his money; all twelve thousand dollars were gone.
Then he heard engines sputtering to life and the planes taking off immediately. No pre-flight, no warm up. Carlos knew this day might come and there had been an escape plan all along. Ilsa had been included but not Manny. None of it had ever been his. Even Ilsa was paid by Carlos and belonged to him. Now she undoubtedly was on her way to Colombia with Manny’s money and with Carlos. Maybe even in the same plane.
Manny grabbed what remained of a loaf of bread, a bottle of water, and left his villa to hide in the dense undergrowth. Tears ran down his cheeks and he shook with silent rage and anguish. It wasn’t about the loss of his big income and future. Two people had betrayed him; people he loved; Carlos, and more importantly, Ilsa. He had been willing to believe her when she said she loved him. Now he knew that Ilsa, like all the others, was just doing a job that she had been paid very well to do. His life was worth nothing to Carlos. His life was worth nothing to Isla. He was worth nothing. Period. He was a chump. A young, stupid, black, naïve chump. And not even an ethical chump.
That raid had ended as Manny hid in the dense undergrowth on the most southern end of the island. Later, he quietly made his way to the concrete-block building that sat abandoned. This was to be the laboratory for the marine research center, but Novak had left the island the year before and it had sat empty ever since. The path to it was overgrown and Manny was one of the few left who even knew it existed. He would be safe here. Manny spent more than twenty-four hours in his damp hideout, sitting against a wall, his legs pulled up to his chest, his head on his knees, sometimes sleeping and sometimes crying, his shame and grief mixed together. If only he’d gone with George. When he cautiously walked out in the gray dawn, the island was jarringly silent, even the generator wasn’t running. He walked around dead guard dogs, burned cars and trucks, and trashed villas.
He slowed as he passed Carlos’s Volcano. It looked empty; the door stood open. He wanted to walk through all the rooms one last time, but he was intimidated even by the ghost of Carlos. When Carlos had first shown it to him, Manny thought it was the most beautiful house he had ever seen. He still did. It was his dream house. Depressed, Manny continued his way through the bush, staying off the road. He hadn’t seen a soul since leaving his hideout, but he wasn’t convinced he was alone on Normans. He needed to get off the island.
In 1987, Manny read that Carlos had been caught in the jungles of Colombia, extradited to the U.S., and he would spend the rest of his life in an undisclosed U.S. prison, with many wanting to kill him, if he were ever released. Manny wouldn’t mind doing it himself; to him betrayal seemed more of a crime than all the cocaine trafficking.
Please leave your questions about this dark period of Bahamain history. We will try to answer them.