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Still, I was reasonably certain that he was gay. He was the only boy in a family of girls, the son and heir of a Cuban family, which meant that he simply wasn’t allowed to be gay. Sometimes I thought he smoked and drank because he was living a double life, having to remain closeted for our parents. Maybe it was because he had four crazy older sisters. I hoped the former was the reason, if only for my conscience. Our brother was breathtakingly handsome, tall and thin but well built. He had hazel eyes, and blond hair that he always wore a little too long.

It was the first time that La Estrella wasn’t run by a Montalvo. Papa modernized the business, cutting costs and increasing profits fivefold. The times in Cuba were very turbulent, with Fulgencio Batista at the head of a corrupt government and Fidel Castro in the hills of Oriente Province conducting raids into towns and cities. The situation was chaotic and lawless, with bombings, kidnappings, and state-sponsored imprisonment * 27 * CAROLINA GARCIA-AGUILERA and torture. Papa had to pay protection money both to Batista’s and Castro’s men in order to run his business; as a result, it was well known that La Estrella was the safest place to gamble in Havana.

Much of the jewelry had been handed over by customers who had run up gambling debts and been forced to be creative with their payment—more * 30 * L U C K O F T H E D R AW than one wife, or mistress, had left La Estrella a bit lighter than she had entered. La Estrella didn’t accept markers, a practice the family had established while operating the casino in Ciego de Ávila— they had been dealing with soldiers back then, who might leave a marker and then die in battle, leaving their debt unpaid. The Montalvos hadn’t thrived for so long by being sentimental.

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