Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Eight

Connected Columbians

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            Noble had lots of time to think when he sat on the patios drinking coffee under the glare of the sun. The unfiltered, uncensored sunlight in Quito was the most extreme on earth with the exception of any mountaintop higher than 9000 feet along the equator. South America was a land of extremes and thus the people reflected this extremism in their emotional body. With the advent of the cocoa plant, the peaks to which a personality would climb were high and unreachable in the sober light of day.

           Withholding judgment of local prejudices was another thing Noble practiced, but after thoroughly experiencing the Mariscal party life for more than one moon cycle, he could not argue that the blacks loitering on the street corners were not honest and productive citizens. Rather they were scavengers and drug pushers and muggers, homeless hungry and dangerous that the police had every right to watch with suspicion. The Dane had been right: this was a hard town outside the mainstream hours when large groups of women dressed won for a quick tan walked the sidewalks, enjoying the eyes feasting on their figures. Politically correct North American sensibilities will get you stabbed down here. Reality can be dark and haunted and rattle you through, shaking your belief system in the process.

            The weekends in Quito were a type of real estate of time so a Friday night was an event that stretched into Saturday. It was the continental coming together of nationalities and the product was always a new mix. And when the mixture produced a chemical reaction it was best not to remove yourself. The results were the memories that will stay with you forever. The wise realize that the moment will never come again. This was when the bottle was finished and the after-hours bars were sought. And following this, there were many stories of people deciding to stay in Quito without the original plan to live in Quito long term, realizing how special and unique it was. People were quick to see that the Andean city is truly in the middle of the world. I had become the home base of many expatriates. Noble wondered if many of them knew it was the seat of power in the Inca Empire for seven years.

            He told himself to accept the road that opened. Take each day as it was without the worries of tomorrow. Know that the road you were on was the right road for the moment. One must respect timing and opportunities and choose the path of righteousness. One must never be afraid of ones fate. He was learning that taking chances was the only way to grow.

            But Quito's lure could also steal a man's soul and cripple him for life. It was a guerilla warfare on the streets between the young Ecuadorian gangs testosterene-fueled rebellion ignited by the plethora of base, cheap, effective and tasty, but always screaming for more attention no matter what you did. Then there were the older connected Ecuadorian mobsters who ran Mariscal, intimate with select policia who were gentlemenly when kicking people out after an illegal after-hours party, boots polished, never looking at any customers in the eye, there but heads turned, the manager doing the shewing. This was the backbone, the criminal element who made the money, insitgated crime for profit but rarely engaged in violence for the sake of petty theft. If violence was necessary, it would be swift and efficient. New on the scene and gaining power were the Nigerians, immigrants who exported powers for enormous profits, who were gaining a foothold in competition with the Cubans. The Columbians had their power base but were old school, up there in the hierarchy, inter-connected mainly with military officers, who were now running the drug trade in Columbia. They had pointmen here in Quito who were protected and established, but to grow in power within the family first you needed to prove yourself on the streets, which was how he met Carlos.

            He had movie star looks but the look of death in his eyes, part stoned part on guard for his Ecuadorian equivalent, knowing the watchful eye of his powerful uncle was keeping tabs. Proud independent, Carlos had left Columbia because it was too easy for him, a known entity, competition rife between old families vying for a piece of the pie with the military, an intense soup of intrigue and deadly game for those with too much ambition and good looks. He told Noble he was an outcast, someone who knew of and was proud of his roots and family business but sho didn't take orders well, a commander in his genes, too strong to adhere to bosses and putting in his time at the bottom. It was the intensity in his eyes that caught Noble's attention, dangerous and on edge, a coke man who fortified his streamlined speed buzz with vodka, unpredictable but a damn good friend to have if in a pinch. Noble kept his cool when he removed the knife from a holster ander his arm, Reno being respectful and in awe when he poked and slashed the air mimicking what he would do if he were ever crossed.

            "Don't use a pistol," he said, trying to give him some wisdom he had acquired in books if that were at all possible. Carlos studied him for a moment, wondering if this Texan was playing with him. Still they had not crossed that bridge to full friendship but being friends with the Dane put Noble in a rare position of having passed some past test, being accepted by the one-man Danish mob.

            "I have."

            "You use it you must kill. You kill then you are a target, even if the clip is just."

            "Clip?" He liked the word when it was explained.

            "I use this." He revered the weapon like a biker would his Harley, Reno taking the time to admire it to. When he offered it he looked closely at the serated edge, the heavy grip and then balanced it on his index finger showing its quality and craftsmanship. From his reaction, he had never seen how a well-made knife balances perfectly at the neck of the grip. He tried it and a rare smile replaced the young man's old face. Twenty-four but forty street years. But Reno knew it was through his brother he could establish a binding friendship. Javier was shorter and hadn't any of his brother's looks, looking more like a teacher than a dealer. English was crisp, but he looked right through you, an eye who could see deceit like a hyena smelling blood.

            Reno was careful to load the pipe and hand it to Javier before himself taking a hit. Little things of note between youngmen learning and discerning and testing and verifying often take on great importance. Javier kept the pipe in his hand, despsite the the female cries of Majeera demanding a hit, held out his hand and shook Reno's hand with import, eyeglasses reflecting the dimmed streetlight behind them, the security guard standing watch for the policia on this dead-end one-way street.

            "Americano?"

            "Si, pero south Texas, muy circa Mexico." Carlos said something in rapid Spanish but Reno heard the word Denmarkia. Reno pulled up his collar, nodded and kept quiet.

            Javier lived in Columbia and sold weed on the streets for fun, to establish the brothers' presence but flew back often where he was getting married. These brothers didn't need money but refused it out of principle, grooming themselves for a piece, making friends along the way, wary of foreigners and addicts, but like all men who sought power and greatness, always kept the door ajar for a man who could help them. In Reno's case the philosopher was who they saw, one who eschewed window dressing and conventions that nine-out-of-ten others couldn't keep their hands off of, like a cookie jar packed with gold coins. Reno made every world count.

            The pipe was passed around, Majeera addicted and selfish, Reno nonchalant, keeping close to Carlos in whom he saw part of himself. He passed the bottle to Reno who swigged but not without a word.

            "Tu respecto the botella, si? Alcohol will siempre beat you. Entiendo? Mucho respecto. Too mas is not cool. Barracho, non, pero con your amigos it's okay. Use it. But with repect." His buzz was such that he wanted to hear those words.

            "I like," he said, looking at Javier.

            "Me too, but to use it good you respect it primero." They drank again and he put the half-full boittle away. "Here. Medicino." Marlborough cigarettes went to both brothers. The crazed South African who squatted looked on with envy. Thin, addicted, poor, ratty, scarred face, he spoke too much, a minion who worshipped the connected brothers. Reno had to treat them like students, not mixing his meanings, not talking bullshit, telling them what he could see they wanted from him.

            "You be loyal and never forget your honor and you will become a powerful man. You know this I know, but I'm telling you because I see you have it, you have respect from Ecuadorians here already and you're alone. And young. So stay cool. Build slowly. Never go back on your word. And God will open doors for you." Both nodded when God was brought up. An exchange in Spanish, nods and more pipes. Reno had no idea how this friendship would play out later during his time in the second most dangerous city in South America.

 

 

Chapter Nine

Stuntmen and Dakar Rally Groupies

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            An ex-Special Forces Belgique ran the Corner Pub, a massive man who had quit the military after seven years in Africa to become a flower expert in order "to see the world." So it had become the de facto hang out for horticulturalists, most of whom were Dutchmen. Not everyone was allowed to make it there regular watering hole, vets, lily and rose and orchid experts, retired bankers and oilmen, many who still wore their crusty exterior brashness easily triggered by immaturity or drunkeness. Noble kept quiet but Reno had found his classroom, staying cool and listening and adapting to the quality of word exchanged in a myriad of languages. It didn't take him long to notice the music was the best in town, which bespoke class and taste, but also a toughness that perhaps served to deflect or obscure being called a flower expert. But it were the Dutchmen he was most impressed with, soon discovering that it was difficult to meet a bad-hearted Dutchman. This, he found, created an atmosphere where the cool attracted the cool so that what was created was something special, something powerful and profound. In the month Noble had been in Ecuador, he had been introduced to the regulars at the Corner Pub by the American bookseller down the street. Sometimes the combination of people made for a memorable time.

            One afternoon Noble read his Crazy Horse and Custer book on the patio sipping a rum and coke. The whole thing started with Crash, the cigar-smoking Californian who had reached 80 after decades of being an actor. One never knew how exactly a conversation starts between two strangers on a deck in Quito, but it could have had something to do with Noble's now drooping moustache. George Custer's Civil War record was certainly impressive but his attention was drawn to this man who looked like a retired stuntman who called himself Crash, a splitting image of Richard Farnsworth, complete with cigar. The topic of motorcycles came up so he asked him if he rode.

            "The last time I was on a motorcycle I was in the desert and was riding with Marlon Brando. I wiped and scraped up my leg pretty bad." He started to lift up his pants but stopped. "It was also the last time. I was almost killed on one of those damn things." His goatee was pure white.

            When Noble asked about Marlon Brando he said he was an active stage actor in the fifties and had worked with Brando and a few others.

            "I used to hang out with Dennis Hopper. Boy was he a lot of fun." Shook his head. "That was right around the time he was in Rebel Without a Cause. I met Jimmy Dean just the once, but Hopper sort of took off after that."

            "Easy Rider was really his first biggie wasn't it?"

            "Oh yeah. Huh. That was a big film. Funny thing about that film was. Oh shit, what's his name? You know I have such bad recall now. What was his name who was the other actor in that one?"

            "Peter Fonda?"

            "Yes, that's right. I was in Mexico doing a film with Henry Fonda and one day he brings this script to the set, hands it to me and says: ‘Tell me what you honestly think about the script. My son wants to make it.' So I take it back to the motel and few days later I tell him: ‘Who wants to watch a bunch of hippies ride motorcycles across America taking drugs?' So I tell him I didn't like it. Huh! So much for my opinion! But Henry agreed with me." Crash sipped his Coca-Cola and adjusted his hat.

            "I'm a big Henry Fonda fan," said Noble. "You know he was a real war hero? Him and Jimmy Stewart."

            "Yes that's right. Especially Jimmy Stewart."

            "But the Duke never went."

            "No, some were more valuable to the war effort staying home you know."

            "I like the Duke's early films in the thirties. But Fonda's best roles were the serious ones, like Fort Apache when he plays that colonels who's too brash and blunders into Apache land like Custer and is massacred."

            "Yep. Henry was a good actor."

            "I always thought it would've been hard being his son."

            "Maybe."

            Just then Richard walked onto the patio, swaying, disheveled and slurring.

            "Crash you're here. I'm so glad you're here." He put his hands on Crash's shoulder. "It's been a day. I'll tell you. Let me get a beer." Slow, drunken gait, unsure on his feet.

            "Been sober for fourteen years until two weeks ago."

            "He's got quite the platform."

            "Yes, platform. Yes." Happy to hear the word. "Had some recent tragedy." Noble's impression of Richard changed. He focused on him when he sat down with his beer. The drunken slur was laden with sadness. Maybe in his sixties, he looked like an American tourist with the hat but without the camera.

            "You have a good platform going today," said Crash, giving Noble a wink.

            "It's called drinking your breakfast. Not too many but you know, I can't help it." Tears well up but they all ignore it. "It's all too much you know. And I know tragedies happen in threes."

            As gentle as he could, Noble stepped into the conversation.

            "Threes, yes. From experience, but when the third comes you should be alright for a while." He studied Noble from behind his prescription sunglasses.

            "You can count on threes and Murphy's Law." Like a child, weak and vulnerable and unafraid to show it, the emotion so thick it overwhelmed him.

            "I had some tragedy recently and I can't." He stopped. They are all quiet for a moment. "My daughter. My only daughter. Jesus!" He shook his head as if trying to push out sadness from his person.

            "It's important to grieve," said Noble, trying to expel the knots of emotion crippling him. "Don't try and be manly with the stiff upper lip and keep it all in. It's healthy to let it out." Richard nodded frantically, squinted the tears out of the way and took a deep breath. Crash smoked his cigar and sipped his coke.

            "And my day! I loved my dog!" Noble nodded, knowing the pain of losing a dog. His sobbing, while good and healthy, marred his speech. So Noble, spurned on by Reno is thirsty for another beverage, went into the bar for another. Sitting at the bar was an overweight man, long hair with a moustache cut to the contours of his face. Unassuming and alone, hair still dark but in his sixties or so, he looked at Noble lightly. Instead of a polite nod he would usually give, Reno asserts himself.

            "Now that's a moustache," said Reno, pulling at his own. From his size he could be Dutch or Danish, but the moustache was international, and Noble was seeing that there was a brotherhood among men who had the cohunes to pull one off.

            A smile.

            "You-" he said, pointing. Heavy accent.

            "Aiming for the full waterfall." Reno showed bluster. The man's eyes wrinkled in smoker's lines. "You a regular here?"

            "Regular? Aso. I come here yes, usually, yes." German accent but different somehow. "Two years now. No! One and a half year." Not lonely but eager to talk. No one liked to sit alone at the bar. "I'm Swiss," he said, "from Switzerland." Reno never knew the word ‘Switzerland' could sound so melodic.

            "I came here with a business partner almost two years ago but my partner, the business." He shook his head. "Lost a lot of money. No good. So I work on my own here." For some reason it didn't feel right to ask him his occupation. Reno chatted with the Swiss because the raw emotion of Richard made Noble feel awkward. Besides he and Crash were in deep chat mode.

            "I smoke," said the Swiss. "We go outside."

            "Si," he said."

            Outside they enjoyed a cigarette, the Swiss sucking in the nicotine with a purpose. His name Kurt, when he spoke his entire focus was on him. Not lonely but perhaps wanting to practice his English.

            "Ach, these Marlborough blancas suck," said Reno.

            "I have these, many packs in my truck, over there." He pointed across the far intersection but Reno couldn't see any trucks. "Great truck. Would have been great when I lived in the Philippines. Ever been there?" Of course Noble told him he hadn't, which prompted him to describe a bit of his life there.

            "You know Angles City where the Clark Air Force Base was?" Noble awkward, thinking he should know where this base was. Kurt told him he married a Philippina and ran a bar for six years until he sold it soon after the US departure in 1991. Like most chance encounters in obscure cities in odd countries one was forthright with recounting chapters of their lives, Noble more fascinated with each new piece. Kurt told him he worked in Saudi Arabia for Faud, the son of King Saud, in his palace.

            "He has sixty palaces all over the country. I built the fountain system."

            "Did you meet him?"

            "Oh yes but I could not how do you say? No handshake. But I met him many times. After all I was helping his palace." The beer flowed and his English improved noticeably.

            "I worked in Libya fourteen years with Gaddafi. That was before when I was younger. Our Swiss company sis a lot in Tripoli. I used to drive to Tunisia, cross the border to buy a case of whiskey but was told to return over the border down south more because a guy I knew through Gaddafi had a brother working the customs there. Worked every time, the whiskey hidden in a hollow in the trunk covered with clothes and stuff."

            "So what was Gaddafi like?"

            "He was alright back then. Short. Always talked about ‘his people' and how he wanted to give them everything they wanted. No problems with him. Paid good and we worked hard."

            As he spoke it dawned on Noble how such an unassuming overweight man could have lived such a life, stories untold, waiting for an excuse to share them. Face almost expressionless, nonchalant, matter-of-fact, only lighting up like a light bulb when Reno cracked a joke.

            More drinks, Crash and Richard had left and the sun was beginning to set when another piece of his history came up.

            "I worked in Iraq too, years ago with Saddam Hussein." At this point Noble wasn't phased.

            "Building palaces again?" Kurt had alluded to Vietnam several times and men he knew from the war, but Noble's assumption was that they were regulars at his bar in the Philippines.

            "I did some building, yes, but also helped him with other things. It was during the war against Iran. They had some military camps outside Baghdad so I helped with that." Perhaps it was the drink or maybe it was just Reno but he pressed Kurt here. He hadn't mentioned water fountains or whiskey. Reno wanted specifics.

            "Well it was a military camp and they had some equipment from Swiss and our job was to make sure they knew how to use it correctly."

            "Like what?" Playful, light, casual, as Reno lit up another cigarette.

            "Shooting. I am good at shooting so some of the new equipment was guns, yes." He smiled. "I used to be good but now." His hand motioned to his pear-shaped body, form long gone and a slight self-consciousness present. A sensitive point made after a sensitive topic raised. Reno with a nod, nothing more, eyes glimmering at the imagery of it all. ‘Who would have ever know,' he wanted to say but Reno, grasp firm on the cool button, censored it.

            "Did you meet him?"

            "Several times, when he visited the camps." When Kurt slowly waddled into the bar to the washroom he could only shake his head and say to himself, ‘What a life.'

            When he looked up Martina was there on the street walking down Amazonas.

            "Hey there, what's up?" she said, buckteeth announcing themselves between her lips.

"Fancy meeting you here. A bit late for a stroll down Amazonas at dusk, no?"

            "Late Spanish lessons today. It's getting a little out of control this ‘total immersion.'

            "Studying too hard. Relax with a cocktail?" A brief survey of the almost empty patio with a strange peach hue lingering over the amphitheater of rock around Quito's perimeter.

            "Sure, why not?" Sexy in black, her cleavage too determined to remain unseen. Ease, good chemistry, no pressure woman.

            When Kurt returned she was a bit surprised. Introductions, the Swiss factor, Noble gave a very modest overview of what Kurt had shared with him, enough for her to be interested. But Martina was keen on her own story and it was just a matter of time before she started telling him about the hemp farm she ran in Canada before she was red-flagged and pushed out of the country. When she found her groove, Reno strode to the bar determined to keep pace and keep the rum flowing. That was when he met Alan O'Brien, mustache half grown, accent thick with kangaroos and tumbleweeds.

            Like most Australians, outgoing and happy, tanned and healthy, with the sun lines to prove his past. He should have known it from that face and his motorcycle jacket that he was into motorcycling, a two-wheeled connoisseur.

            "Are you riding a motorbike in Ecuador?" He had seen so many motorbikes that he had begun to think it would be fun to ride.

            "Do you ride?"

            "No."

            "Ah that's too bad mate. You should, it's great fun." It occurred to Reno that indeed he should

            "Yeah, maybe."

            "I'm here in South America to cover the Dakar Motorcycle rally in January," said O'Brien. A feeling of magic and possibility jolted through Reno, whetting his appetite and igniting something within him he could not explain.

            "You're competing?"

            "No, no. I'm here just to watch it. Thought I'd come a little early and explore a bit of this land down here. I have a decent bike and the three most important things." Like a jester he tilted his head with coyness.

            "Three things?"

            "Ah, never thought you'd ask!" Laugh like a Koala bear. "Three most important things in a rider's kit are a good map, a compass and of course a good bag of weed." Jovial bluster of the unexpected, Reno liked his style. Thus sharing a laugh, O'Brien was eager to join them outside. And then to his amazement, O'Brien told of his motorcycle trip around all of Australia, including the coveted Broome stretch. I suppose it wasn't so much the story but how he told it, reliving the joy and pride of each stage of the tour, his teeth exposed from the smile that wouldn't leave his face.

            Martina bored of the motorcycle story and departed to her homework, O'Brien shuffled out due to a previous engagement and Kurt had left so he went to Finn McCool's for last call but Reno decided to remain at the bar after closing hours, which was where he met some new people, one of whom was an Argentinean named Diego. The night was not yet over for the man from Texas.

 
 

Table of Contents

  1. The Divine Elbow
  2. Just Surviving As Noble Intent
  3. Surpassing Neophobia
  4. The Middle of the World
  5. The Dane
  6. The Religion of Sfauism
  7. Celebrating Chemistry
  8. Connected Columbians
  9. Stuntmen and Dakar Motorcycle Groupies
  10. Into Amazon Waters
  11. A Beautiful Repressive Niche
  12. Canalazo de Naranilla
  13. Cajunes el grande
  14. A Noble Doppelgänger
  15. Reno Finds His Footing
  16. How to Make a Bomb Out of a Light Bulb
  17. The Impossible Black Lily
  18. The Boy Fascist
  19. Artistas
  20. The Art of Death
  21. The Earthquake Virgin
  22. Lambaster of Laughter
  23. The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreunden
  24. Matador: the Agent of Destiny
  25. Overfilling
  26. Mobile Piping
  27. Aristotle’s Character Years
  28. The Great Pilgrimage
  29. A Purpose for Your Sins
  30. Errol Flynn
  31. The Better Man
  32. The Addict’s Ladder
  33. The African Club
  34. The Dutch Hair Piece
  35. The Swiss Army Knife
  36. The Scent of Ammonia
  37. At the Mouth of the Amazon
  38. Broken and Renewed
  39. Seizing the Moment
  40. A Recent Past Discovered
  41. Pinned and Threatened by Fate
  42. Twice as Much in Half the Time
  43. The Assassination
  44. The Pledge
  45. Slandering Hamlet
  46. Stealing Time
  47. Hannibal at the Gates
  48. On the Old Contraband Trail

                  Epilogue

 

 
 

 

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