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The caller had hoped to hate Tony Bryant, hoped to ambush him with the telephonic vehemence that makes talk radio tick. "I sat here listening to you and I was really trying to find something to attack you on, because many of us in the black community feel you've betrayed us. But I've got to say I was honestly humbled. You have your reasons."
Seated in the studio at WMBM-AM (1490), Bryant bows slightly toward the microphone. His eloquent exposition on black/Cuban relations has clearly won over this skeptic. "Thank you," he says, smooth as silk. "As I've always said, I'll focus on the community here as soon as blacks in Cuba have the same rights as we do. What African-Americans have to realize is that now is the time to forge bonds with Cubans, to embrace the economic opportunity offered by a free Cuba, to pool our money so we can maybe buy a hotel down there."
Interviewer Mike Thompson moves on to the next topic (the evils of the welfare state) and Bryant, a born radio personality, matches the arch-conservative host point for point. Talk turns to Malcolm X, and the ex-hijacker recites a poem dedicated to the slain leader from the thin volume of verse he self-published in 1983. Thompson throws in a plug for Hijack, but with half the show left, Bryant indicates it's time to leave.
This is the way it's gone since the court victory. Bryant's days are hectic, his beeper constantly sounding off. Comandos L duty has him working overtime, not counting a three-hour round-trip commute from Delray to Miami. "Since Tony Cuesta passed, and we were such good friends, it was sort of assumed I'd take over most of his responsibilities," explains Bryant, who officially shares central command leadership with four other commandos.
On the Monday after his Friday appearance on WMBM, Bryant's schedule begins with a noon meeting at Davis Restaurant in Liberty City. He is here, amid the sizzle of pork chops and the howl of Sly Stone, to discuss an unspecified "fundraising opportunity" with an unspecified "black leader." As he awaits the rendezvous, Bryant sips edgily at an Orange Crush and mulls his ongoing media campaign against tourism. "Like I said the other day on radio, this is going to be a revolution of matches. I've given word to those on the inside: just take a match and set a place on fire. If he loses tourism, Castro falls within 30 days." Bryant proudly notes a strike this past October in which fellow commandos dusted a hotel 60 miles east of Havana with gunfire. "The next day all but ten of the guests left," he beams. "Which is exactly what we wanted."
Bryant ducks off to a pay phone. He returns lambasting his legal antagonists. "Our nation bases its own freedom on the right to bear arms and depose tyranny," he declares. "How can they deny that right when it's a known fact that Castro is a tryant, a dictator, a murderer?"
He leaves to make a second phone call. When it becomes apparent he has been stood up, Bryant heads outside to the faded Plymouth Horizon Cuesta bequeathed him.
Next stop: Mandy's Auto Sales, a North Dade garage that has agreed to donate a truck to Comandos L. Greeted with a round of hugs and machine-gun Spanish, Bryant is led like royalty to the four-wheel-drive Cherokee. Mandy, a jolly nine-volt battery of a man with skin the shade of a coffee stain, pops open the hood. "Needs a little tinkering," he offers, rooting around with a wrench. "But it should be ready by tomorrow."
Inside the shop, Bryant spots a picture of himself in full military regalia, clipped from a recent news story and taped to Mandy's wall. The headline reads: "Nobody can tell the exile when, how, or from where to attack Castro." "Ay Fidel," laments an elderly secretary. "What's to be done?" The departing Bryant wheels around and answers her in pantomime, drawing a furious index finger across his neck.
Half an hour later he pulls into the parking lot of a Coral Way office building. "Hey Tony!" Two men in a blue luxury car call him over to crack a grim joke. "They told me I'm gonna get shot walking around alone," Bryant reports. "They're right. But that's the life I've chosen. Last week I had my car tampered with. The brakes."
He heads upstairs to a small, unmarked suite. "Oh Tony! You have so many calls," cries a matronly receptionist. "All the ladies have been calling you." Bryant grins sheepishly, makes a bit of small talk, and heads to his desk with a stack of messages.
As Bryant speed-dials half a dozen numbers, it becomes readily apparent that Comandos L is not the only organization using this space. Across from Bryant's desk, a walker and a set of leg braces stand against fake wood paneling. Behind Bryant looms a large office with certificates dotting the walls. Gradually it emerges that the office houses two businesses, a medical equipment rental outfit, and a private investigative agency. Bryant is borrowing his headquarters from the president of both firms, Willy Chavez, Comandos L's head of intelligence and a candidate for county commission.