Prologue


PROLOGUE – THE PERSIAN GULF

    Hot and humid. Midsummer - Maggie’s face was rigid with fear and tension. She was trying to be brave to protect her precious little girl.

    With the speedboat on plane, they headed for their rendezvous at sea. The decisive action made their pulses race. After the long period of frustrating inactivity, it was exciting to be masters of their own fate again. The rush of air cooled them.

    Impulsively, head back and lungs full, Lee flung up his arms and screamed a victory cheer, “Yeaaaah!!!!”

    “Lee! For God’s sake!” Maggie’s look told Lee that this was half a jesting rebuke and half an agreement that she’d always remember this moment of her life.

    Maggie struggled. There were no seats in the back of the little runabout, so they balanced by kneeling to absorb the shocks as the boat sped through the light chop. She had to hold on to tiny Ali, balance herself and manage her own drink, all at the same time.

    The low lying land soon dropped out of view. No other vessels were in sight as the sky became darker. There were distant dots of light on the sea each time the boat rose on a wave. Out to sea blazing fires could be seen far away atop of the many oil rigs.

    Ali didn’t really need to be held. Her five-year old body adjusted to the motion better than the adults. Lee reached over and pulled Ali to him to give Maggie some relief; her little body wedged between his chest and arms.

    The Scotsman rode in front, sitting next to the driver. He had given them the cold beer to toast their freedom. To them it was as good as champagne.

    The wind tore through Lee’s clothing, blowing away the stink of sweat and fear. His beer dribbled down his chin whiskers. He shook the can in the air and some foam bubbled out blew in Maggie’s hair.

    “Don’t do that.” She grinned. Maggie really didn’t care. He sensed her excitement. The soaring moment of escape was on them and they laughed at her words.

    Their celebration spread to the front of the boat. Even the boy at the wheel was whooping it up. Their emotional responses were heightened by the escape after so many defeats. They had been like animals in a trap, gnawing their own bones. Now they felt free.

    The western sky was a sailor’s-delight, draining the color from the departed sun. The waves were bigger now that the boat was away from land’s shelter. Abdul slowed the boat to ease the pounding. Without warning he cut the motor. When the boat stopped he stood up, legs spread wide, one hand on the windscreen. He began to scan the horizon, looking for their ship.

    Their moods changed as the boat slowed. The roar of the outboard motor and the speed had shut out the possibility of thought or conversation. The boat quietly lifted and fell with the rhythm of the sea. The air became oppressive now; hot again and full of moisture wrung from the salty sea.

    “Oh God Lee,” said Maggie nervously, “What if we can’t find our boat?” Her face was twisted, revealing dark thoughts. “It would be awful if...”

    “Ah come on. We’ll find it.” Lee steadied her by putting his hand on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.

    “Abdul. How soon should we see them?” Lee asked their young driver. His voice was normal, but he shared Maggie’s concern. He thought, “She’s right. It’d be awful to go back. If Joe catches up to us he’ll have the police force with him and we wouldn’t have a chance.” His mind drifted back over the events that had elapsed over the course of their marriage. The stealing of Ali....

    LEE ELRES - Maggie’s husband. A Brooklyn, boy was transplanted to steamy South Florida in 1956. Miami’s Cuban migration had not yet begun in earnest. Sleepy South Florida, along with its newly acquired college sophomore, never dreamed of the human wealth that was about to reach its shores.

    Lee was a quiet guy. He was strong and fit but not quite sure that he was in the right time or place. Miami seemed small time to him compared to fabulous New York; he thought of himself as a dreamer. Passive. He thought his life was like swimming at an ocean beach at the breaker line, with waves breaking all around.

    He liked the feel of the wave surge when it pulled, lifted and then swept toward the sandy beach. Lee usually went with the flow, floating over the waves, enjoying the sunshine, the breezes and the palm lined beach.

    There was one one exception. Wooing and wedding Maggie was like catching a big wave just right. He swept along famously, reaching for the shore as fast as he could go.

    Maggie became a Goddess for him, but her history was very human.

    They met at work in 1967 when he started at the large weight- reduction clinic where Maggie was a medical assistant. He acted as the general manager but given the title of Administrator.

    The owner, Dr. Burt Arnold, had a major weight reduction practice with a staff of physicians to help him. In addition to fourteen clinics in South Florida cities, there were six clinics in Colombia and Mexico. Lee was very involved in the creation of this little empire and the latin American expansion.

    Lee had a banking background and a B.B.A. He had lots of management and leadership training and experience courtesy of the U.S. Army. He was an Army Reserve first lieutenant when he began working for Dr. Arnold.

    MAGGIE AL V AREZ - Maggie was a pistol! Boisterous. Flighty. Sensuous. Loving. Beautiful. Enthusiastic. Scary. Fun to be with.

    At five foot-four inches, Maggie was a sight to behold. She had a voluptuous figure and an angel’s face with dark hair, a narrow nose and a clear light Mediterranean complexion. She was a hottie.

    When Lee first noticed Maggie, she was making fun of him. He was making a speech at his first staff meeting at the main clinic in Hialeah, Florida. It was his first day at work.

    What he noticed first was her impish grin. Then her long, sleek black hair that cascaded below her waist. She made funny gestures and faces behind his back. A quick glance over his shoulder and he caught her in the act.

    Her whole package was a little incongruous. She wore a demure white nurse’s uniform with a very short skirt. “How in hell can that gal sit down?” he wondered as he smiled at her joke. Later on, after a little study, he came to appreciate her great figure and boldly rounded derriere.

    Stylish and feminine, she had no need to compete with men. Males tended to worship her. She was lightning in a bottle. Maggie’s extreme side was cunningly hidden most of the time. But it could pop out when least expected. Sometimes as anger, sometimes as humor, and sometimes as deep sadness.

    She often acted on impulse and thought things over later.

    Quick to love and quick to loathe. Maggie was not always easy to really know. Her hidden thoughts require a long relationship to decipher.

    She communicated well whether using words or not. Maggie could let people know exactly how things stood with a glance or a simple gesture.

    Her hands, face, arms and body were always in motion when she talked. She spoke her mind. When an idea came to her the thoughts seemed to blaze out of her brown eyes. She was passionate about life.

    Maggie was fully bilingual, at ease in her native Spanish or in the English she had to use since she was nine. This was just one aspect of her unique personality. She had an adolescent confusion about whether she was a Cuban or an American.

    She spoke perfect, colloquial, unaccented, American English. Hardly anyone ever suspected that she was not U.S.A. to the core.

    As she graduated from high school, she was in rebellion and desperate to escape her father’s overzealous supervision. Her family was just one source of her distress. Her dad, Alfredo, and her mom, Caridad, moved to the U.S. in 1948. Maggie remained in Cuba with her grandparents for school and spent her summer vacations in Miami.

    At age five, Maggie was a handful for her grandparents in Cuba. At eight she went to a boarding school where her grandparents hoped the nuns could deal with her better. She felt abandoned by her parents.

    Her time in boarding school was a disaster. Her anger and rebellion escalated against the excessive number of rules. She felt isolated from friends and family.

    One of the rules at the American Dominican Academy allowed the girls an opportunity to go home for weekends if they did their homework, made their beds, were on time for meals and said their prayers. Margarita, as the nuns called her, didn’t make that trip to Havana very often.

    Her parents split and divorced. Maggie moved to Miami Beach to live with her dad. When Caridad moved back to Cuba Maggie felt abandoned by her mother again. Alfredo, convincingly, placed the blame on Caridad and Maggie bought into the story.

    Then the shit hit the fan! Alfredo showed up one day married to Elizabeth. Maggie, at thirteen, suddenly had a step-mom and a blond stepsister to share her room. She was mad at everyone!

    Her father had betrayed her. This betrayal combined with her screaming teen hormones kicked her further out of the frying pan.

    She couldn’t wait to slip away into adulthood. Her needs for love and support forced her into marriage three times.

    Maggie was 29 years old and in full bloom in 1973. She was a beautiful Cuban American woman with dark eyes and midnight- black hair.

    Trouble, however, seemed to follow her everywhere. Like a middle name. Always lurking. Seldom spoken.

    Maggie married big George Mathews, her high school sweetheart, in her eighteenth year. That adventure involved four years in the Air Force and a cross country relocation to Seattle, Washington where her first daughter Jackie came into the world.

    When George’s hitch in Air Force ended the little family returned to Miami. Maggie had her second baby. Scott.

    Things were not going well for Maggie and George. Times were hard as they lived from paycheck to paycheck.

    He was an office machine salesman and did not earn big money. He began to drink and soon became unreliable and resentful. Maggie fumed. The marriage became so difficult that Maggie had to leave.

    Separated from George, penniless, with two small children to feed and care for, Maggie went to work at Dr. Arnold’s clinic at minimum wages. She struggled to make ends meet with little support from George. She couldn't afford hair salons so her hair grew longer and longer. She could sit on it. It looked great.

    She lived in a one-bedroom Hialeah apartment with her children. It was close to work. She had to be within walking distance because she didn’t have a car.

    Maggie earned her rent and grocery money but not much more. Her folks tried to help but her pride pushed her to try to make it by herself.

    Motherhood had become Maggie’s central issue in life. Her two children were on her mind and in her heart when the sun came up and when the moon rose. Circumstances forced her to have a job but she would rather have stayed home to care for the kids.

    Then tragedy struck with an iron fist.

    Precious little Scott died in the care of his baby-sitter while Maggie was at work. She thought that he had bronchitis but it suddenly turned into pneumonia and he passed away while he was napping.

    The death of baby Scott was the final straw for the young couple. It pushed George into alcoholism and the couple into divorce court. Maggie hovered on the edge of a breakdown. At this point in her life she really went into a deep depression.

    This terrible event in Maggie’s life soured everything. She went into a depression. She couldn't cope in her emotional tailspin.

    That’s how things stood when Joe Zayyat came along a few months after her separation from George.

    Maggie was like a magnet and Joe like an iron bar. He had money and time to spend on winning the heartbroken girl. He paid for her to hide out from her life at a resort in the Bahamas. She went to recuperate there in the sunshine with little Jackie.

    Joe flew over on Chalk’s Ocean Airlines every weekend for a month. They bonded.

    Love happens. Divorce happens. Exit George. Fast forward. Joe and Maggie married.

    She had been struggling and Joe was her rescuer. Joe was a Lebanese immigrant to the U.S. and had traveled a lot. He seemed worldly and supremely self-confident. Joe spoke fluent French, Arabic, Italian and confident Spanish, He knew a smattering of phrases in several other languages.

    Their union started strong and well but, as always, lovers really begin to know each other after the ceremony.

    Joe wanted Maggie to stay home but she continued to work, partly out of a need for self-reliance, and partly because Joe let her fully share the financial burden of supporting the household.

    He was about to start a new business, providing hydraulic services to Miami’s burgeoning Cuban fishing fleet. He needed to use his funds to rent a shop on the Miami River. He said, “Maggie, I’m not gonna get rich on day one, but there’s a lot of money to be made there. I’m going to specialize in fixing the hydraulic systems on those commercial fishing boats.” Maggie’s job paid the bills.

    Maggie continued to work throughout her marriage to Joe except for maternity leave when Ali came along in 1969.

    JOSEPH ZAYYAT - One would call Joe a hardworking, smart, good looking guy. Even charming if you met him socially. His mild mid-eastern accent made him interesting. Think of young Omar Sharif. He was thirty years old when he spotted Maggie at a friend’s Halloween party.

    He had a complicated history of work and adventure on several continents after his departure from Lebanon.

    Stocky and dark-haired, Joe claimed to be a champion bodybuilder and told Maggie that he had once held the body building title of “Mr. Lebanon.” At various times he told Maggie that he had been a mercenary soldier in Africa, a ship’s captain and a trained engineer.

    As years passed Maggie had a hard time discerning Joe’s truth from fiction. She did know that he held a U.S. Coast Guard Masters License, valid, it said, for any vessel in any waters.

    When Joe met Maggie he was the chief engineer on the University of Miami’s tall, square-rigged oceanographic research ship. The highlight of his time on the ship was a transatlantic voyage to Italy. He had just returned from Italy when Scotty died.

    Joe had a cruel streak. On several occasions he brought cute puppies home as a gift to the family. This seemed fine on the surface but he would go into a rage when the dogs peed or pooped on the floor and beat them mercilessly. They never lasted long. He’d give them away complaining that the mutts didn’t live up to his standards.

    Six year old Jackie longed for Joe’s attention. She had no contact with George who was bitterly angry at Maggie. George stayed away because he regarded Maggie as the one who had abandoned him, never giving any weight to his own misdemeanors.

    Joe was tolerant of Jackie but never as warm as the little girl wanted. When Ali was born Joe became Ali’s doting daddy leaving Jackie out in the cold.

    To Maggie’s horror she had to step between Joe and Jackie when Joe wanted to beat her with his belt for minor infractions.

    He did hit Jackie on occasion and sometimes locked her in the bathroom when she was naughty, threatening to beat her if she dared to come out before he was ready.

    He was preoccupied by his new business and sometimes went missing without warning. Business was first with Joe.

    Joe was secretive about money matters and about his business activities. He looked down at his Cuban clients and was critical of everyone.

    His business prospered and he bought a house with the money he’d saved by letting Maggie pay the rent and buy the groceries for five years.

    He was cruel to the dogs and Maggie, too tough with Jackie and not attentive to his family’s emotional needs. Despite his promises to do better when Maggie complained, the nice new lakefront house became an arena for bitter fights.

    The marriage was too painful for her. Maggie moved out in January 1973 while Joe was at work. She took the furniture, pots, pans and clothing and, when Joe begged, refused to come back. She felt that her life had to change.

    Joe had several wealthy clients with big expensive yachts. Maggie found out that he was having an affair with an owner’s “arm-candy” wife. And Maggie knew them! The two couples sometimes had dinner together.

    Carol was tall and voluptuous. She showed off her assets with short shorts and revealing tops.

    When Maggie moved out, Carol moved in. Maggie heard some of the details when Carol telephoned her for help in the summer of 1974. Carol was stuck, without transportation or funds. Joe was abusive and she had to get away to the airport to pick up a ticket her husband in Oklahoma had bought for her.

    “Come now Maggie. Now!" she croaked. Carol's voice was urgent. "He’s at work and I don’t know when he's coming back. Just a ride to the airport. I don’t have cab fare and I don’t know anybody else to call. He’ll kill me if he catches me trying to get away. Hurry. Please!!!”

    When Maggie picked Carol up she looked a wreck. She was without makeup and wore a wrinkled tee shirt over Bermuda shorts. She was waiting in the driveway with two suitcases.

    Carol poured out her woes. Apparently Joe paid little attention to her except for sex and meals.

    “Joe never hit me but I was scared all the time. He gets so mad. When I ask for something he ignores me. He even goes to the grocery with me. He tells me what to buy and pays the bill. Right now I have just $3.00 in my purse.”

    “We had no social life. Never went to a movie or talked to the neighbors. He thinks everyone in the neighborhood is nosey and stupid.”

    “He was so nice at first. I can’t believe this has happened to me.”

    Maggie gave Carol the $45.00 she had in her purse and wished her well.

    In 1974 Joe was in shock and denial over the separation and subsequent divorce from Maggie. He wanted her back and was willing to pay a price. He couldn’t believe that Maggie would ever marry someone else. In his twisted head the demise of his marriage to Maggie was someone else’s fault. Never his own. Joe was mad as hell.


Copyright © Bill Serle 2011