No More Waiting to Die (Part 2)

Chapter Nineteen



Despite sober doubts in the morning and a sleep fitful with images of George Custer and a trail leading to a broken heart, there was no way he was going to pass up the chance to see Sylvia at four o’clock at the pub. Chances slim or perhaps nil, the potential pain of not knowing by a no show would be too painful to pass up. The voice of Reno finally trumped Noble’s rational and timid approach and decided to spend the early afternoon hours in La Rhonda, the narrow street where writers and musicians made their home in the 1930s. There was a groovy historical vibe that appealed to him, a place where he could eat real indigenous food and drink hot Naranjilla. It was strong and bordering on rancid that he only managed to sip in small hits and in the process ended up with an aching headache.

It started to rain and a guitarist stepped into the café to save his guitar from the elements. He didn’t sit; he simply started strumming in crisp strikes and sang in a beautiful baritone. Anything but shy, the voice came from that holy place, strong and clear and soothing, spreading his audio medicine and artistic poise. He knew he was good. He was happy singing in the small café, uninvited, spontaneous and at a proud throaty volume. Reno clapped after each song, nodded and smiled. He had to have a sub-woofer in his lungs. There were three people in the café. Cool recognized cool. There was no man better than this traveling musician, an artista of expertise. Four, five songs, the downpour stopped, he walked to each table without any embarrassment, saying he played for donations. Reno slipped him a fiver. The eye-to-eye nod, shared souls, both brothers of art, all in a glance. Centered, no words required.

“You are a writer?” he asked. Reno nodded, pen in hand, journal open. “You are an artista. Ah, writing. Very good.”

“Your musica muy bien amigo,” said Reno. There was that look, an acknowledgment that they each knew they were good, that they both knew the lonely hours it took to get there, that mutual knowing that they had chosen an original path – a lonely path – a path only for the few. And in that moment they were both proud and humble, an achievement and laurel, enough from each to refuel and face the world that was full of ignorance and pettiness, from a people focusing on what wasn’t important; a knowledge that they were the ones who could help, heal and enhance all those who looked down their nose at them until they experienced their respective creative works.

It was the first time Reno had ever truly been called an artist. A writer of journals, a moustache and beret, a pen dancing across a blank page listening to the perfectly tuned guitar, foot thumping, body slightly in beat to the magic coming from this kindred spirit’s hands, like a mason or watchmaker but whose creation was intangible and fleeting, making the tick-tock of time magical, enjoyable and cocked with emotion. Songs of struggle and independence, of lost love and tragedy but the last song laden with the undertones of hope, understood beyond language, a language universal to the heart, the sound of mourning and understanding and in the end redemption.

Reno pondered after he left, the chances of the rainfall, the urgent need to remain dry, the choice of playing spontaneously, the crossing of paths and the subtle communication between them that gave rise to a flawless set. An otherwise humdrum afternoon racked with nerves at the thought of seeing Sylvia, or of being stood up, now soothed, confident and centered, excited to see what this German woman had to say, to check her sincerity, to test her character, the upside tremendous, the downside now unknown.

In the taxi to meet Silvia at Finn’s, Reno thought about love. Then he spoke to the cab driver who drove without urgency or rush.

“I’m going to meet my woman,” he said, sitting up in the seat.

Bueno. A good woman?”

Muy bonita!” Then he spoke in earnest: “Sometimes it’s not the magic you create together; it’s about the magic you experience in your own heart when you’re with her. You fumble just when you demand perfection from yourself.”

Si hombre. Si.”

“Man always falls short in the presence of overwhelming beauty.”

Si.” The taxi driver nodded.

“Natural beauty: the curl of the lip, the fall of the hair, the steady eye of truth, a purity of self, earned from trial and error, the wrinkle of knowledge lightly etched exactly where it should, the sacred geometry manifest; it all means you cannot let her go!”

Bueno.” The cab pulled in front of Finn’s. The front doors closed. He checked his watch. He had half an hour before the doors opened for the day. He waited on the sidewalk eating burritos for an hour but there was no Sylvia. An old ache replaced the fire in his heart, and his hopes were splashed with ice-cold water. Something dark and thunderous murmured deep down in his person, a door now open leading down into a world of dungeonous dark arts.

Chapter Twenty

The Art of Death


Even Reno had to admit he was overdoing it.

The white powder from the coca leaf had been created by those who have pushed the limits, and believed they were invincible against its charms. Whether it was too much faith in their own strength or not enough belief in the destructive power of cocaine, when the biological machine was pushed too far it broke down and the walls crumbled, the swagger swiftly morphed into a delicate gait of a decrepit old man. Once the peak was attained, one must be careful not to go flying off the cliff to the jagged rocks below.

The Dane knew this but Noble/Reno did not. It was something that lay in his path, an experience he would have that either brought him back down to earth or killed him. There would come a point when he would be reminded that there were boundaries and that the art of living lay in balance and not in prolonged extremism.

Only with the elastic sinew of lithe flesh could a man bounce high, flourish and return to their soft bed of rational beliefs.

For Noble it seemed like all the people he had met in Quito were creating social events he was now obliged to attend. Returning to his guesthouse at six in the morning had become the norm, whether after one or two or three nights in a row. The spirit of the Finn McCool regulars was becoming crazier with more and more after-hour outings post-exit from the pub. More drugs and all sorts of excuses were being thrown around in a Keith Richards’ inspired haze.

The three-day party was one of those indigenous creations common in Quito: a beautiful thing requiring stamina and character that was lined with the sharp edge of danger. There was much to lose but also much to gain for a dying man. It was pushing the boundary of discovering the true nature of your character – who you are – what you could take, and ultimately what stopped you from laughing. It was a prolonged moment in time that one could strip the layers of one-liners and secondary comments, taking you down revealing levels of personality to see what was in the reservoir, what was at the bottom of the tank, and how the lining of the tank reacted while on fumes.

One night he and the Dane as usual were each other’s wingman, both scoring some ‘technology’ but only having the chance to do some lines in the huge bathroom on the third floor of a club called Bungalows. Reno, whose new dealer Roberto had become very consistent with good quality product, poured out some product from his two-gram baggie on top of the porcelain. Generous with his amount, the Dane did a line.

“Ooh, that’s good technology,” he said, wiping his nose. “But there’s too much.” Reno laughed and then tried to snort it all in two long lines.

“Put it back in the bag,” said the Dane, looking at Reno like he was insane. “What’s wrong with you?” He looked at Reno dead straight in the eye and then produced a business card to scoop up the remaining coke and put it back into the bag. Reno was in his first flush of a coke binge. He quickly learned that the Dane was right. The two long lines put him on maximum. For the rest of the night he couldn’t drink another sip of beer, his voice a few octaves higher from the sheer intensity of the buzz.

After the club they bumped into Jamul and Madera on the street. The Dane had many girlfriends and Madera was one of them so those two went back to the Dane’s hostel, so he and Jamul went up the mountainside to Jamul’s house where they played music and smoked pipes. Jamul showed him some of the songs he had written since the last time he had been at his house. All of them dealt directly with death and suicide that brought on a surge of emotion that shot through him. Each of the three songs dealt with the acceptance of death and the sadness of leaving love behind. What struck Noble/Reno was that none of the lyrics had anger or resentment of his fate so the result was a genuine feeling of loss. It disturbed him to the core and lingered in his mind for days afterward. At its core it was the art of death.

Jamul was a great guy. A rapper and poet, he was from Nigeria but had grown up in London. He had come to Ecuador in 2009 after spending time in the joint for stealing cars. Reno trusted him, and confided his misery about Silvia.

“Unrequited love can kill a man,” said Jamul, thinking of a past girlfriend. “It’s the cruelest blow to the male ego, man. You find your soul mate; an once-in-a-lifetime meeting that ends the search, a match so rare and valued by so many that it can wind you for years.”

“Well said.”

“It kills you because you think she can’t see your gifts. That’s the worst.” He played another song all about lost love and then pulled out a crumpled piece of paper.

“I’m working on a song about love right now actually,” said Jamul, taking another hit of base from his pipe. “I just have a few lines written and have to polish it y’know. This is what I have:

Every side of you is shown,

with confident swagger of the alpha male,

nothing left in the closet unseen,

ensuring she sees all your worth.”

“Okay man, let’s add to it,” said Reno, taking up the pencil.”

Yet the glimmer is only fleeting,

weak, brief and unconvincing,

a realization slow to seep in,

to a mind blinded by absolute fate.

Danger creeps in doubt swatted away;

anger kicks out the warmth of love,

resentment at her blindness,

violent thoughts now carved into your heart.

Hope lingers like a policeman;

despair repressed as weak,

cockiness surfaces with recklessness,

like slapping the face of a sleeping child.

The blame falls on you, no sugar-coated charm,

violence turns inward to self-destruction,

anger now two-fold: at her and within,

percolating ‘til the axe severs all.”

Jamul shrugged. “Gotta polish it y’know.” Noble didn’t know how to write a song but for the night Reno did. He found temporary respite from his newly acquired emotional scars.

Noble/Reno looked out his window at the lights of Quito glowing in the dark sky that formed a long snake slinking north to south along the valley floor.

“It’s good you have the ability to write that kind of thing out,” he said to Jamul. “Sort of therapeutic a bit.”

“Sure nigga. But I prefer my crack y’know.” He looked at the baggie of base, giving it a disapproving look. “This stuff ain’t as good. Just keep smoking and smoking this shit. Never git real high.”

“I’ve tried crack.”

“Yeah but you gotta cook your own, clown. It’s called freebasing. It’s shit I don’t have no bicarbonado.”

“No what?”

“Baking soda dude. Where you been?” Noble/Reno didn’t want to answer that question and it brought him to a place in his mind where trying crack might be a panacea for his aches and pains.

“You know who has some is the Dane.”

“Yo dude. He’s got everything. Spoon, bicarb and the sugar.”

Without a wink of sleep, Jamul and him went back into the city and found the Dane at his hostel, Reno having grabbed some cocaine from Roberto on the way.

When they arrived at his room, Madera was still there. Yet again Noble/Reno found himself up all night participating in full in the unique culture of Andean South America. The night had been an emotional ode to Silvia but now he was eager to step it up a notch and take it into a new realm. It was part of his acceptance of death. His hands having become so swollen and stiff he could no longer close them to make a fist. His knuckles had turned into a green hue some nights when he partied. He had started telling others that he had rheumatoid arthritis. Jamul’s songs had stirred something deep in his heart that stayed with him all night, which made him bolder in speech and deed. Despite only knowing Silvia for a few hours, her rejection brought with it a cascading of emotions defined as rejection. It conjured new realizations that he would be facing the end moments of death alone. Reno’s instinct was to shoot it out in a blaze of glory like his kindred spirit General George Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn. He didn’t need anyone one to hold his hand. He chose to go it alone. It was his life, his end-of-life party so if he wanted to go out with a bang then it was his call and no one else’s. He was going to go through it his own way.

He gave the Dane two bags of coke and his Custer book that were warmly welcomed as a gift. It was rare to see the Dane touched. Jamul played his music from his laptop and they busied themselves with the spoon and baking soda so Reno spoke to Madera because she looked sad in the corner on the bed. Her husband had asked for a divorce, her father had just died and her eleven-year old was in a coma. With his heart having such a work out, he empathized with her, and gave her his compassion until a shadow of hope crept into her eyes. Noble spoke to her in a way that the Dane could not. It was a side of him the Dane had criticized as being ‘too soft.’ But with the Dane looking over his shoulder he realized what a little tenderness could do to a grieving woman.

Madera left and Reno was at hand to watch the freebasing. The Dane, who was fielding pointers from Jamul, took his cooking very seriously. A little powder and a little less baking soda in the spoon and filled with a bit of water, was put over the flame of a candle. It sizzled as the baking soda and coke intermingled and dissolved into oil that sat atop the water. He dipped the end of a lighter to the oil that stuck to the lighter. Letting it dry it became hard. Once chipped off the plastic lighter it looked like a tooth. So the Dane broke pieces off and filled each man’s pipe on top of cigarette ash. Reno smoked it and it crackled and popped as it sizzled.

“Wow,” said Reno after he took a hit from his pipe. It tasted stronger than the time he smoked the rock from Pedro when he had first arrived in Quito, and had a much stronger effect. It was as if a low voltage of electricity hummed through his network of nerves and elevated his mind, stimulating the synapses of his brain rather than retarding them like alcohol. He was about to speak but the Dane raised his hand and said:

“Don’t talk! Keep it in, lie back and put your hands like this.” He cupped his hands on his ears. Reno copied him and was brought into an eerie place where he could hear winds and echoes as if he were in tune with a new dimension. Jamul looked at him as if he had finally walked through a threshold and become a man. The Dane slapped him on the shoulder.

“Welcome aboard my man!” Butterflies swirling in his mind, safe and secure and words streaming across his tongue too quickly to harness and verbalize, a flush of heat caused him to sweat, so he removed his shirt and then another shirt until the cool Andean air cooled him like an east wind from the Atlantic. His mind was so clear and concepts appeared with ease as if they were three-dimensional entities that could be handled and manipulated like putty. And the bittersweet taste left on his tongue made it numb, as were his lips, making him want another.

He sat up and looked at the rock. “Another one?” The Dane and Jamul had a hearty chuckle.

Chapter Twenty-one

The Earthquake Virgin


The heart of brotherhood will climb the highest peaks and withstand the fiercest winds. The man of honor grows with time, points made and debates won, proven true and fair and clear, for mankind without honor is a hodgepodge of guile and cunning, destined not to flourish. The philosopher will show honor through deed and word, and become an intuitive pillar of virtue impervious to destructive zeitgeists in history. These were Noble’s thoughts when he relaxed at the Pitcher Bar in Plaza Foch.

Even a more ripping sensation than the sun at the beach on the mid-point of the earth, exposing your skin in Quito through the untainted air and the closeness of the beams, one experienced the severest ultraviolet radiation in the world. The sun hammered and scraped his skin raw and turned his hair into a flaming nest, as Noble relaxed with a pitcher of Passion Punch. Having taken a strategic west-facing table on the patio, the mountaintops were always close to snuffing out the flame. The minute-long instant the sun was blocked by the 12000-foot peaks, finally the pressing intensity that penetrated his skin began to cool as if just placed into a refrigerator.

It had been a strange evening, seeing James and Anthony, the Air Force guys the night before their departure back to California. James was one of the smartest people he had ever met. Ten years in the US Air Force, he was on assignment in Quito, living with a local family to help with his total immersion to master Spanish. He attended classes and was active meeting Ecuadorian Air Force personnel in an ambassadorial role to identify areas where the local pilots could use more arms. It was after that night with Diego at Paulina’s that James had made an effort to engage Noble. The first time after seeing him at Paulina’s, Noble said to him:

“That was very smooth technique how you laid on top of Paulina that night, as Diego and I drank rum and talked about water. Your execution was graceful and more than welcomed.”

“Good of you to notice,” he said, lighting up like a light bulb. “Well you know she grabbed my hands.” The gap between his front teeth revealed.

“But you didn’t even hesitate.”

“Very Spanish.”

“And when you did lie on top of her you didn’t just have one leg that was, you know, kinda half on.” The laughter was pure, which had set the tone for the night.

On another night he had joined Noble’s team for quiz night. The fifty quiz questions acted like a catalyst for them to touch on all sorts of subjects, quickly realizing there was not enough time to tackle all tangents that were left for the taking, being forced to the next question, ideas and facts dangling above the table, the Dane having the booming voice.

James was a man who could communicate so concisely that nothing was vague and thus had the ability to inform immense volume of data in a very short time. Words selected with purpose and the slight acknowledgment that the data was being received clearly and with that understanding he could proceed with more pertinent information. Having spent sixteen months in Special Forces, he stepped to the rear, focusing on South America and international relations. He became a liaison man in Chile where he had lived for the past three years and loved his life in the Air Force. SEALS, helicopters and target-seeking missiles hitting painted targets, James explained how the missile had a built-in computer system that mapped major geographical landmarks of the GPS coordinates and actually slows down to zero in on the precise location of the target.

“It’s amazing how it works.” He was a man who had found a path in life that provided him with the things that made him excited, goosey like a child, continually amazed at the entire world of the US Armed Forces, his high IQ and test scores making him too valuable to be at the front. James had found his niche, and it was infectious.

So when Noble saw James and Anthony on the patio of Bungalows after leaving the Passion Punch in Plaza Foch, he didn’t know it was the pilots’ last night in Quito.

“Hey man watch it!” said James as Reno elbowed him as he walked by. Then the double take.

“I thought you left!”

“I’ve been doing lots of exploring in the old quarter lately,” replied Noble/Reno. “Hanging out at cafés and reading and writing in my journal.”

“Good, I was hoping to see you. And on my last night here in Ecuador. What are the chances?”

“Good question.” He put his hand on Noble’s shoulder.

“I have to say dude, you are one of the smartest, most interesting guys I’ve met.” Noble and Reno had no rebuttal, both terrible with direct compliments. Must have been all that dormant knowledge from history books that Reno liked to spout when in his element.

James wore a t-shirt, warm and insulated with layers of untainted white muscle, and Noble wore his leather jacket but he was the one shivering. Then Anthony appeared on the balcony.

“I’m so glad you’re here. Man I have to say, you are one hell of an intelligent dude.” He put his hand on his leathered shoulder. “When we spoke you taught me something. I mean you engaged me in a way that I learned.” Again, unexpected gushing. “I’ve never met a guy like you. I mean you meet lots of people but without a doubt you are the most interesting guy I’ve ever met.” Quiet and uneasy, Noble was tongue-tied. Reno was damn proud.

Anthony took him downstairs to his booth where he had a bottle of rum he had purchased from the bar. The dance floor was packed.

“I can hardly wait to retire so I could smoke weed with you. And party a bit more than just booze.” Hot and moist from the dancers, they went back to the second-floor patio to have a smoke. James was with a number of women.

“Ah, this guy is one of the smartest dudes I’ve ever met. Seriously, he’s seriously interesting. An intellect.” Reno awkward as the women studied him. Why?

After leaving the pilots, now with Brett the Brit, Paulina, Gabby the blonde Romanian and Hubert from Quebec, Reno, now loose from the booze and away from the barrage of comments about his character, was bold enough to splatter some coke on a large business card. A positive response. Reno did the first hit in a loose and dramatic fashion, and then passed it around. Everything changed after that. Everyone chattered, laughed and had a twinkle in their eye. History came up and it was Brett’s turn.

“How do you know all this history?” It was the discussion with Hubert about Pierre Radisson and his role in early North American history.

And then the question of where the Normans came from, and Dublin as a Viking fort.

“What are you? A history major?”

“He’s educated,” said Paulina. “That’s why I can talk to him for hours.” Then she turned to him and said: “By the way, are you going to move in with me? I’m still looking for a roommate.” It was time for him to find an apartment.

Later, at Pacha, it was Hubert who was digging some heavy stuff.

“I’m so glad I met you,” he said, shaking his head. “The stuff you’re saying, I mean it’s wisdom. And it’s just what I need. I’ll be thinking about it for a while I’m sure.” Then the police raided the club. Even after, when they were at Paulina’s and only Gabby was awake, she said: “You clearly are a genius.” Either Reno was having an impact or it was the jacket and new bifocals he was now wearing. After a lifetime of Noble never hearing a compliment, Reno gets four in one night.

Just as he was finishing off the last lines on the table, a deep rumble went up his legs. He thought it was a heavy truck going by but there was no sounds of traffic. He stood up.

“Do you feel that?” The Romanian’s eyes were wide open and she smiled. Noble/Reno looked at the window and saw it shaking. The building shook for ten seconds. “Was that-“

“First earthquake?” The Romanian enjoyed seeing the look on his face.

“Oh, that’s weird.” Noble/Reno was slightly crouched, as if that was going to do any good. He had read about earthquakes in books but had never experienced one. And that was the thing: experiencing an earthquake was different than how he had imagined it would be.

“Don’t have many earthquakes in Texas?” When he had determined that it was over, he still felt a knot of fear in his gut.

“Nope. Not many earthquakes from where I’m from.” She sat there grinning. He had no idea what the protocol was.

“An earthquake virgin.”

“Yep. That’s exactly what I am, or what I was.” She kept the smile so he took his cue and brought her back to his guesthouse for a deeper discussion on the dynamics of tectonics and the earth’s crust shifting. The one-on-one tutorial lasted for hours.

Chapter Twenty-two

The Lambaster of Laughter


The simple truth was that Quito was a dangerous city in the early 2010s. Since hanging out with the Dane he had started walking to his room at the hostel to, in part, save money and also to test his courage by walking through some of the dangerous parts of Quito. He had seen several muggings and none of them were pretty. One time, when he and the Dane had come out of Bungalows and were standing on the street talking with a group of people, a drunk Ecuadorian exited the bar, swaying back and forth and looking for a taxi. From the corner of the street that was out his visual range, four massive Nigerians jumped the man, pinning him to the pavement in the middle of the road. Two had their knees on his back and legs so there was no way he could fight back, the third holding his arms and head while the fourth rifled through his pockets taking his wallet, loose change, mobile phone; everything he had. Noble and the Dane, along with the dozen or so bar-goers, stood there fascinated of the efficiency at this blatant act of criminality that was happening so fast.

“Here, take this,” said the Dane, who handed Noble the beer he had smuggled out of the bar. The Dane walked to the melee and shouted: “Hey!” Arms wide, tattoos showing, neck cocked back, as tall as his six-foot frame would allow. Three of the assaulters ran around the corner and disappeared but one man, perhaps the biggest of them, didn’t budge. Instead he puffed out his chest and rolled his head, showing no fear just like the Dane. He yelled in Spanish, the robber yelling back.

“This is none of your business man!” said the mugger.

“No, this is not all right man! Why are you four hitting on this small guy huh? Small guy. Not too brave is it.” The Dane was right in his face, no fear on his defined features. Cheekbones sticking out like arrows and eyes all ablaze in fury, the big man left in a huff, choosing not to mess with the infuriated Viking. The Dane walked to the corner and shouted but they were gone.

“What a bunch of pussies,” he said as he came back and grabbed his beer from Noble. The women clamored around the Dane, praising him for his valor. Robbed and broke, the Ecuadorian stumbled to his feet as if no one had seen it and stepped into the taxi that was driving by.

“He won’t remember this tomorrow,” said Noble, shaking his head.

Later, when they were eating at a sidewalk kiosk, one of the robbers approached the Dane from a corner, where the muggers hung out. He drew him out, spoke to him and offered his hand.

“Amigo,” said the mugger.

“No. No I’m not your amigo.”

“Ah come one, amigo.”

“No!” he yelled, sending fear into the mugger, turning his head and leaving. But this attracted the attention of the big man, who called for the Dane.

Casually he walked over to him, chicken and potatoes on a stick in his right hand, chewing calmly.

“I don’t want no problems with you man. Amigo?” He offered his hand in peace but was given a verbal wringing by the Dane.

 “You want to be my friend! You pussy attacked a small guy helpless with drink. I don’t become friends with pussies!” The mugger kept his hand out, as if he had expected this rebuttal.

“Come on man. Friends.” Noble was standing behind the Dane watching him and adding to his humiliation. All of them knew the Dane was right.

“I’ll never shake your hand! Go!” His head shot out as if he was going to head butt the robber, the stick of chicken relegated to the road. The few feet the Dane had gained in his verbal lunge forced the big man back to the bricks and stone of the shadowed building near the corner of the street.

“I know where you are,” said the black man from the safety of the darkness.

“Oh, I know where you are too! Don’t you think I don’t. I’m not your amigo.” The angle of the body aggressive, muscles taut, tendons visible in the arms and neck, no fear and grounded in righteousness. An adrenaline bomb waiting for a word or gesture to light the cord. A cocked human weapon waiting to pounce. A real Viking.

The Dane and Noble had spoken a lot about a wide range of things, from his time in prison to the drug-dealing phase in his life when he took on his friends at the Hell’s Angels and lived to tell the tale. And many times he had spoken about the importance to have no fear. This was one of the best examples of how the Dane had mastered righteousness without showing fear. Another story was the time the Dane was dealing drugs in a Hell’s Angels’ territory somewhere in Denmark, so some bikers came over to his apartment one night. The Dane was in bed but had been expecting them, so when he heard the sounds of boots in the corridor he picked up a loaded shotgun and stood just behind his door with the light off aiming at the biker outside the door. Slowly, creaking and inching forward, the biker looked through the little viewing hole and saw the Dane cocked with the shotgun nestled in his arms with his finger on the trigger. The biker wasn’t sure if he was there because it was dark so he stood there not moving, but when the biker’s eyes adjusted to the dark, he leapt back and ran down the hallway with his fellow biker. The Dane said that one act of balls-to-Monty earned him the space he needed to deal within the Angels’ territory.

It was as if his fearlessness had enabled him to live twice as much as the average man. The Dane’s biggest challenge was to meet people who had enough mettle to challenge him. For Noble it was the emergence of Reno that tweaked the Dane’s interest. For him it was like watching a young buck finding his legs. But more than that it was Noble’s book knowledge delivered by Reno that for some reason found a voice around the Dane, as if he were speaking to a kindred soul without any worry of being ridiculed or shot down. And that lack of ridicule reached far within the Dane, a thoroughness that surfaced in the little things he did. One example was how whenever they partied with their pipes and he was administering the goods, he would always pack a pipe for Noble first, before himself, with a fair and equitable share. Most people don’t do that, instead serving themselves first with a bigger portion. To the Dane it showed how addicted they were, and without exception he would call the person on it. Antonio was the worst. The time Antonio took the last pipe out of the Dane’s hand was a straw that Antonio never really recovered from. The Dane drilled him for fifteen minutes on the etiquette of a man with dignity and how he didn’t have any. The Dane was right in his face but never once got personal. It was a lecture not to hurt or humiliate, but rather to inform and instruct. Noble was riveted to his chair following the Dane’s slang Spanish and Antonio’s feeble rebuttals that were always cut off. It was another type of fearlessness that enabled him to speak his mind. His objectivity was so clear that there was no subjective slander in his words. And that was why Antonio had to sit there and take the scolding.

Noble/Reno had noticed that it had enlivened something in him as if a dam had been dismantled and a flood of energized blood pulsed through his dying veins. Stronger and no longer tentative, he carried it in his stride walking to the hostel, eyes sharp to pick up any shadows in the dark, knowing muggers usually worked in pairs. Several times he had walked past some muggers who chose not to take the chance with Noble/Reno, now clad in a leather jacket, red-striped elbows, black. But finally he was approached beside the park five minutes from his guesthouse.

“Yo, amigo,” a man said as he grabbed Reno’s shirt, his friend on the road. Noble/Reno had seen them approach. His adrenaline pumping, he didn’t even break stride as if he welcomed the confrontation. The punch came out with the force of his brisk walk, hitting the mugger in the neck. He fell back, arms braced for a fall.

“Let him go,” said his friend. Noble kept walking, listening for a second attack. Noble/Reno felt like screaming he felt so pumped, never having known the incredible release of a well-connected punch. He had never struck a man like that before. Even with his bad hands, his fist was hard like a hammerhead, the landing area of the neck tissue soft like a bundle of tendons. It felt as he had finally experienced the other side of the schoolyard, not bullying but for the heroes who fought in the name of justice on behalf of the underdogs, a victor through physical feats. His lack of fear surprised him; he didn’t show it because he didn’t feel it. The old Noble, without the use of Reno, would have stopped and given them what they wanted, not because he was afraid of death, but because he didn’t believe he was capable of defeating two foes on a dark street at four in the morning. It was an extraordinary moment of his life that had to be experienced to be truly understood.

For the rest of his walk to the safety of the Swiss guesthouse Noble/Reno pondered the question of fear. What was fear to affect man so greatly, to splay and hinder into submission and lessen man through acts unplayed? Why does she hush man in shame, convince and fool and trick with promises lined in pillows of fleece? Is she the Great Determiner of who’s great and who wanes and the definer of paths untaken of lives left undone? Is her counterpart not courage, the goat of the lion and narcotic of the ego, able to handcuff her mischief and obstruct her trickery? Is she not the great producer of mediocrity and the shepherd of fools, a threatener of undertakings and invisible chance-wrecker and the afflicter of fun? Yes, he thought, she is the ringleader of doubt and hazer of glory, a builder of roadblocks and the lambaster of laughter and blotter of bloom.

Chapter Twenty-three

The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreuden


When Noble had arrived in Mariscal for Saturday’s festivities he decided to buy two bottles of beer and go see William at Confederate Books. He had a book for him and wanted to pick up the Kit Carson biography.

“I’ve been spending too much time at the bullfights,” said William, fingering his ticket stub at his desk. “The seats that are good go for over a hundred bucks.”

“No, you’re exaggerating.” Noble sat on the broken chair by the literature section, Kit Carson in his hand looking at the Cubans play coin toss on the street. 

“Seats that are good. Sure. And you need to have the seats at the front for a bullfight. It’s a must.” He looked at the Cubans by the palm tree in front of the bookstore, coins in hand jabbering about close calls. “Problem is my wife keeps complaining. Tears me a new one every time I sneak off for the day.”

“What, does she find your ticket stubs? Or do you tell her?”

“No! I don’t tell her.” Gave him a peculiar look. “No, she finds the stubs. So I keep’em here.” He pulled out his desk drawer and ruffled through a few dozen. “But she found out and looked in here. Don’t know how she knew.” There were piles of books stacked along the desk’s edge, paperbacks and hardcovers of both fiction and non-fiction.  

 “Well, it begs the question: why do you keep them?”

“Ah! Now you’re asking.” William’s great girth stressing the chair’s suspension, creaking in rebellion. Pensive. “I suppose I keep them because each one has at least one fight that I can relive when I see ticket stub. Strange how that works. They’re triggers for a memory that no matter how hard I try I know I can never forget.” Placed his hands on his desk. “Have you ever seen a matador take on a bull?” Noble sensed a door about to be opened.

“No, not yet.”

“Here in Quito the bullfights only run for one month. December. Another damn new law.” Couldn’t help slouch for a moment. “They have them all year over in Mindo. Not far.”

“So I’ll go this month. Have you been?”

“Everyday man! Can’t help myself. But thank God tomorrow’s the last one.”

“Last one?” It was imperative for him to see a bullfight in Ecuador, he thought. It was like seeing the Great Wall of China while being in northern China.

“They only run for one week, not all month.”

“That is a shame. I thought I’d have all month.”

“I’m going tomorrow so you can come with me if you want.” Noble clenched his stiff fingers and rubbed the rough dinosaur flesh of his hands.

“Yes, I’ll go.” They arranged to meet at noon the next day at Juan Valdez Café in Plaza Foch.


Noble/Reno figured he would stay up all night since it was easier than waking up early in the morning. It was good he had a bit of ‘technology.’ After all, why not stretch one day into two days when you have so little time?

William and Noble had chatted until closing time at the bookstore and decided to go for a pint at the Corner Pub. It was cold and Noble wanted to go to the warmth and comfort of his regular hang out Finn McCool’s but he trusted William. This was when he met Richard the Scot and Frank the Canuck.

Richard, with his trim white moustache, was the epitome of the dour Scotsman. He knew instinctively Richard wouldn’t like him so he put Reno’s best foot forward and rolled the dice. As with Kurt the Swiss, he was careful not to judge the book by its cover. Even Reno played it safe until he could discern some clue to his character. It was only when he heard the beautiful rolling R of the Scottish brogue that he could understand his military moustache and his face that showed skepticism. But Frank had a friendlier disposition, a very Canadian trait he was to find out.

Naysayers are undone and dismantled by the whisperers of truth who visit in the twilight of the night, but only few are truth whisperers. This passed through Reno’s mind the night he listened to Richard and Frank over a few pints on the patio on Amazonas Avenue.

“I’m the guy they call when they’ve found the oil and want to stop it somewhere,” said Frank, white hair trimmed. “After the pipeline is built, I manage the temporary storage and the filling of the tankers, though in this case – my current case – it’s the Rio Guayanas.” Again it was another instance of fascinating content beneath a weathered and lined jacket cover.

Frank had made Quito his home for twenty years, having nothing kind to say about the special status of the French in Canada. Now he was involved with Ecuador’s oil.

“This country is the fourteenth largest exporter of oil in the world.”

“C’mon!” Reno was thirsty for banter.

“Fourteenth. There’s a hell of a lot of oil here. But because most of it is so inaccessible, nobody’s drilled.”

“Except the Americans in the seventies.”

“That’s right, seventies, eighties and nineties. But now the Americans are being muscled out. They haven’t even been asked to make an offer on the new stuff that’s been discovered.”

“I bet the Chinese are the top bidder.” It was at that moment that Richard broke off conversation with William.

Frank raised his finger at Reno. “The Chinese are the only bidder.”

“They’re buying up whatever’s available even if it costs them more to extract it than what it’s worth,” said Richard. “Sudan, Nigeria, Venezuela; whenever they can.”

“They have the biggest bank account in the world,” replied Reno, drinking from his pint. “And have recently become the world’s top consumer of oil.” Dormant knowledge never expressed.

“And whenever the States issues bonds the Chinese buy all of them,” said Richard, face neutral, eyes like the sky. “They say there are only three buildings not mortgaged to the Chinese: The White House, the Pentagon and the mint. They have the Americans in their pocket. What I don’t understand is why America – through the UN – gives China financial aid every year. Just don’t get it.”

“I believe China is still categorized as a ‘developing nation.’ It’s not classified as a ‘first-world nation.’ Something to do with figures, the currency and income per capita.” Reno plucking dormant tidbits from what he had read about China to report to his old boss in Texas. Ordering parts was the company’s biggest cost.

“With 1.4 billion people I’m sure the per capita numbers will always be low,” said William. “And following that fact, you’d think they would have the right to the largest supply of oil, in Saudi.”

“My nephew teaches there, in Saudi” said Frank. “Wouldn’t mind seeing him one of these days.”

“I was there, twice,” said Richard. Reno reckoned he was an oilman too.


“Put in those big holding tanks at the port in Jeddah. Massive buggers they were.”

It started to rain but they were protected under a sprawling palm tree, except for William who said they should be inside, and then led the way. But they didn’t follow. Reno hardly noticed him.

“What was Saudi like?”

“Not much of this there.” Pointed at his pint glass. He noticed Richard had ordered him another pint. “But there are some places for an expat to have a drink, but it’s mostly homebrew.” Up went his hand, and looked at Frank. “Oh, shit, did I tell you? No.” Richard hunched over and told them as if sharing a secret. Acceptance. Anticipation. A whiskey-running tale?

“I didn’t live in a compound but where I was there were a lot of us workers, but we were drawn close to the company compound where there was a Western style restaurant where the waiter would ask you what kind of wine you wanted with your meal. A friend of mine took me. It was okay but my friend says to me: ‘you want to go to a real bar?’ Whaddya think I said? Hah! So he says: ‘meet me right here tomorrow night and I’ll show you the real thing.’ So the next night, fuck I’m standing at the front door of the restaurant we were at and he’s not there until he whistles. He’s maybe twenty feet away in the shadows, so I go over to him and he tells me to shut the fuck up and not say anything. I hadn’t said a thing anyway, so I follow my mate down an alleyway and way out of view from the street or the public for that matter ‘til we’re standing front of a non-descript black door. I mean it’s really shabby: paint chipping, garbage around, nothing at all to say there is any action behind the door. He knocks and an Arab opens the door, shakes my friend’s hand and then looks me over until my friend vouches for me. He tips the Arab and we walk downstairs into a converted basement. They had done it up good like a New York bar, smoky as hell but I guess that was good because you couldn’t smell the damp. All foreigners drinking at tables, people from all over the world. The point is you gotta know someone to find these speakeasies.” With this non-fiction piece Noble’s entire notion of Saudi Arabia changed.

“What about the cops? You reckon they knew of this place?”

“Sure, but they gotta look the other way. No one says a thing. Not even the expats. It’s a silent privilege. In exchange the Saudis get happy foreign workers. But the public has no idea. The media has no idea. If a foreigner can’t handle his liquor he’s not allowed back in. If he fucks up and makes a public display, he’s kicked out of the country.” Richard had the kind of mischievous disposition to belong to a speakeasy with a shabby black door.

“What year was this?”

He looked at Frank. “2006 I think. Recent. Trust me,” said Richard.” That’s how it works. It’s like a club so you gotta play by the rules. Lots of engineers and skilled laborers but also business people. It was a real hideaway. Met lots of Americans. But fuck, it’s expensive. Maybe ten bucks a drink.” Reno’s imagination on fire. The people he meets.

“Any women?” Frank curious through a haze of smoke.

“Not really, just wives.”

William appeared with a round of pints, Noble already having his fill but Reno desperately trying to keep up with the Scot as if it were a moral imperative.

“So I’m guessing you have to treat the Saudi’s with a heck of a lot of respect, eh?”

“That’s actually the tough part. See, the Saudis think they’re hot shit. They have non-Saudis do all the hard work. Like I worked with lots of Pakistanis setting up holding tanks at the port there. The Pakis don’t mind kissing Saudi ass because they’re poor. They hardly have a pot to piss in. I got on well with my fellow workers, did a good job, made great money but-.“ He stopped and looked at Frank. “Did I ever tell you about the cigarette story?” Reno reached for his Marlboroughs.

“This was- Anyway. My job was to install holding tanks as I mentioned. So I ordered for the new big mother to be scraped and coated, sort of like spray painted to clean and protect the metal. So I sign the requisition form and give it to the Paki to submit to the office. Normal procedure. So the next day there’s nothing – no equipment was there, no supplies for the job, nothing. Nothing I ordered was there. I’m starting to get a bit pissed so there I am, smoking a cigarette when the Arab who was supposed to execute the order from the Paki comes up to me asking me why no one is working. After I explain my requisition wasn’t processed, he tells me my boss lives in Bahrain. I’m the fucking boss. I’m my own boss, so I tell him this. Then he points at my cigarette and tells me I shouldn’t be smoking. No oil has been in this tank yet. It’s a fucking virgin. I’m not in the office. I’m outside. This Arab insists I put out my cigarette. ‘No.’ I say to him. ‘Okay then, you’re fired. I want you out of here today, off the grounds, get out.” I’d done a great job, everything on schedule and by the book and this guy sacks me because I’m having a smoke outside? So I walk with my cigarette into my office, gather my laptop and personal items and he comes in and tells me I can’t take anything, just go.”  

 Reno, the smart Alec, couldn’t help saying: “So you could have said: ‘yes sir,’ and put out the cigarette, and then said: ‘sorry, I’ll contact my boss in Bahrain and get the requisition okay’d,’ but you didn’t because you were in the right, and sick and tired of licking Saudi ass.”

“Exactly. I suppose I could have just adjusted and gone on that day but the arrogance and superiority of the Saudis wears on you. You gotta suck up to your boss. If the boss doesn’t like you, you’re gone. Just hire someone else. It’s just money.” Then the Scotsman smiled. “I later heard the requisition form was misfiled and production didn’t get going again for months. Do you realize how many millions of petrodollars were lost because they sent me packing?” A glint in the Scotsman’s eye bespoke of undertones of scheudenfreuden. Dry Scottish irony. Bone dry. This guy was a master of understatement.

“Bastards.” Frank still smoking, pint nearly empty.

“Thinking about it, it was pretty well done in Jeddah. They can afford good engineers. Where things went really monkey was in Venezuela. We had set up a huge derrick off the coast, the biggest offshore drilling station in Venezuela, so everything is almost ready for Chavez el Presidente to christen the drill and begin production. Problem was there were so many fuck ups, wrong supplies, cheap labor, you name it; that we were behind schedule I was fired. We were so close to the end but they wanted someone to take the fall for the cost overruns. Fine, so I’m gone, still with crucial structuring to do on this mammoth monster.” Richard pauses, raises his beer and says: “So a week after I leave and a few days before Hugo fucking Chavez is about to have his opening ceremony with reporters there and the whole fucking thing, the oil derrick falls into the sea.” The pint held beside his cheek, the eruption of glee from his belly attracts passersby and loiterers across the street. Frank and Reno laugh, but when he recognized the centered laughter of a master, his belly laugh manifested too. Richard’s laugh was clear of bitterness, it was pure and sparked by the comedy of errors that led up to it. Reno laughed into the noble swirl of laughter, enjoying a hearty, heart-felt laugh as if for the first time in his adult life.

They let the laughter run its full course, still rumbling when they drank from their pints.

Chapter Twenty-four

Matador: the Agent of Destiny


Reno walked into the Corner Pub and was surprised at his thoughts. Despite the sure knowledge that one day all his fun would stop, he could not believe it would. ‘These days will go on forever,’ he thought, or at least for many days in the future. For periods of time a convergence of people and geography created synergies that mesh well and make everything easy. How could it all end when it was so good?

The patio tables were full of people he knew. Reno was in his element but for Noble it was the first genuine emotion of camaraderie he had ever felt. There were Toné and Crash, William and Richard, Frank and Milton, and even Martina, who had befriended the actor Crash. Toné the lily expert invited him to his fifty-third-and-a-half birthday party near Christmas.

Frank the retired Canadian was a mess. He told a story of his shoulder, a shoulder that had a metal pin to hold the arm in the shoulder socket, and a metal clamp holding his collarbone in place.

“So last year I’m stepping out of the tub and slip, dislodging the clamp on my collarbone. What I didn’t realize was that one of the three splintered ends of the collarbone was sticking out and through the skin. Since the original injury splintered the bone into three like a chicken claw, the tip of one pierced the skin and bled down my side. So the first doctor at the local hospital tells me to wait a few days, but I knew the clamp had broken off and that it was dislocated. So finally Toné here saw the blood dripping down my side and the obvious pain I was in, and insisted he take me to a good hospital and get an x-ray.”

“’Expense is not an issue,’ I told him,” said the Dutch lily expert, puffing his rolled cigarette, head shining and clean.

“So Toné has the surgeons study the x-rays. The surgeon shook his head in disbelief that I had been suffering for three days. They take me into the operating theater within two hours and gave me full reconstructive surgery to repair my torn up shoulder.”

When Frank finished his story, Noble felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. Reno, extremely tolerant and open-minded to any non-fiction pieces, shook his head and said:

“Pain really is a relative thing isn’t it? Some have a higher tolerance of pain than others.” Frank’s expression changed. He saw the unmistakable look of male pride from a rare feat of suffering that was not accompanied by the whining of a weak man. Frank’s stoic endurance of agony was a testament to his strength of character. “You’ve heard of that expression: ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease?’” Frank’s brief nod preceded a torrent of laughter, a momentary loss of control that racked his rake-thin body into a fluttering leaf. A total release of pent-up emotion. Then the smoker’s hack, the lungs brittle and phlegmatic. The outburst of glee and quiet pride therapeutic and soul nourishing.


Reno was able to sneak into the washroom and do a line throughout the night at the Corner Pub, and then he spent most of the night partying with the Dane and Jamul until noon the next day where he met William at the café in Plaza Foch.

“Was wondering if you were going to make it,” said William, a squint telling him he knew of his quick forays into the washroom. Noble’s nasal drip was the most obvious sign but it was also the debris that dried around his moustache that was the telltale sign of abuse. He was sure most of these men had dabbled with the White Lady when they first arrived in this Coke Utopia.

“Couldn’t miss this one,” he replied. “Wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I missed the bullfights. One never knows where they’re going to be a year hence, no?” Voice higher from the freebasing.

“Beer? We have time.” Without waiting he popped in and bought to cold bottles. Noble threw on his beret and bandana around his neck. The sun did its best to tear up his skin on his arms and face, not a cloud in the sky.

“Nice one.” They clinked bottles.

“To breaking your cherry.” William, some sort of hidden knowledge that gave him a permanent light step. Centered. Life was a breeze.

“There are six fights, so we can miss the first one or two. That’s how we can get the good tickets for half price.”

“So how much are we talking about here?

“The best seats are, say, a hundred and sixty bucks, so we’re looking at maybe fifty each. Depends on how many beers we have here.” William had his leather Panama hat, leather jacket and custom-made cowboy boots.

“I can do that.”

“But let me do the haggling. There’s a certain technique.”

They finished a few beers, Noble snuck up to the washroom and snorted a line to refresh and then they left for the stadium.

As if transplanted from Madrid, the bullfighting arena was classic Spanish colonial architecture, yellow with the stylistic fascia and ramparts of a castle, high arched wooden doors and an iron fence surrounding it. Noble stared at the thirty cops on horses lined up at the entrance. He awkwardly swigged from the bottle of beer they took from the café in front of the hundreds of policemen who supervised the streets, William oblivious as he haggled with scalpers.

“No!” he said, turning his back to one of the scalpers. “This guy doesn’t know his ass from his elbow. But watch this.” They moved away and the scalper grabbed William’s shoulder. Reluctantly the scalper handed over two $160-dollar tickets for $80.

“Now these are good tickets,” William with even a lighter step as they walked through the entranceway. The first thing Noble/Reno noticed were the extraordinary women who sauntered around with barely a stitch on.

“Well done on the tickets man. I’ll get the first round.” Noble/Reno bought a couple beers and gawked at the women.

“Didn’t tell you about the chicks here did I? Well you’ll never find more beautiful women in South America than at a bullfight. Mostly Columbians I think. Look at them!” Each sporting sunglasses, they sipped their beer and surveyed the flesh landscape.

“Never would have guessed.” Long legs, tights, tank tops and cleavage, women looked at them because they were tall gringos.

A roar from the crowd inside.

“Let’s check out our seats. We can come back for another round after the fights over.” Noble/Reno followed him inside the stadium.

There was something undisputedly Visigoth about the drama, something rustic and Castilian and enduring about what was valued in a bullfight, even if it took place 9000 feet above the sea on the equator half a world away from the home of the Visigoths. The Equatorial sun fueled the flames of the crowd the closer the matador got to defeat the bull. They demanded the very best from him, insisting on manliness and courage and poise.

“Half of the six matadors are from Spain,” William said. “The rest are from Columbia and Ecuador.” He knew the line-up already.

The crowd watched every move of the matador closely, the sounds and shouts a weathervane of the performance. One matador missed with one of the deathblow swords on one bull that the crowd didn’t like, letting him know with catcalls and whistles, but the next matador brought them off their feet. Even Reno was standing and shouting in respect for the matador’s bravery and aplomb, who risked his person for the fellowship of his fans. Only when the matador fully imposes his will on the bull, dominating and overwhelming it, did he earn the total respect of the crowd. The bullfighter masterful and exuding chivalry, the crowd threw sombreros and scarves, Panama hats and roses, flags and bouquets of flowers at his feet. But he never bent over to pick anything up, instead half-bending until a junior apprentice picked it up for him, always within a half moment, and throwing selected items back into the crowd. Strutting and proud like a peacock, posture firm and grace full-blown, he acknowledged his gift of courage and mastering of fear and coordination under pressure, waved to his fans and never missed an opportunity to kiss a senorita demanding his attention.

After getting more beer and taking in the female sights, they settled in for the final showdown. The bull, pissed off and obsessed with ramming the human intruders out of his arena, rammed the junior matadors that taunted it when it came out. Ducking behind little protective stations around the perimeter, the bull attacked the horse that wore symbolic armor made of cotton. One of the horns penetrated the fake armor into the horse’s thigh, so it was caught for a moment. The peccadillo took his lance and speared the bull between the shoulder blades, leaving a two-inch hole into its lung. Blood throbbed out of the wound after it loosened itself away from the horse, now really incensed. Confronted by the matador, it tried its best to kill him but always rammed the red cape moving beside the maestro, gouging only air. Time and time again it lunged for the kill only to be tricked by the magic of the bullfighter’s skill. The matador stabbed the bull between the shoulder blades with two spears, both dangling from the gaping holes to its lungs. Blood dripped down its back, exhaustion and blood loss weakening its strength, the bull knowing it was going to die in the battle, the smell of death in its nostrils.

The bull looked at Reno right in the eye in the moment it knew the end was imminent. He returned the gaze and nodded the bull to go forth and fight the brave fight, and battle to the death to an honorable end, an entry fee into the bull version of Valhalla where other past greats convene for some old fashioned mead and good cheer.

The black beast looked at the matador who urged it to go for his red cape again but instead of thrusting its horns for the kill it looked back at Reno, who stood out in the crowd. In that look the bull revealed the futility of battle, its defeat at the hands of the fleshless red devil. Noble/Reno sympathized. Only they knew when it would come. They felt death coming in the pain that ground their spirit down. As he looked at the bull his eyes told it: It is only death that ends it all! There’s nothing to do but fight on, for only the valiant conquer the injustice of untimely death. That’s right. There is no justice. And there never was. It’s a myth served out to lure the gullible, so they hope others honor ones innate understanding of right and wrong. Smoke screens and window dressing! Illusions used for the greater good because it’s better to hope your fellow citizens know what is just than not having that hope. But we know there is no justice. But we must fight on! It’s the only noble thing to do!

Reno finally nodded at the bull, who promptly rushed at the cape, unleashing all it had, horns thrust swiftly up and to the side, only hitting cloth and air. It lost its balance and stumbled forward unable to prevent its front legs from buckling.

The bull fought like a tempest, ill-tempered by its death at the hands of this hairless chimpanzee, and embittered by the chimp’s unscrupulous methods. Reno could see what it was thinking when the bull eyed its nemesis: Why don’t you fight with honor you hairless chimp! You’ve taken the breath out of me. But I am stronger than you! Cheater! Weakling! But it is I who am dying. Where is the justice?

The black beast ended in a blaze of glory, horns smashing with lethal force splintering wood and cracking bone, trying to find purchase in the enemy before its final fall, the bitterest of all pills: the pill-giver Fate’s reckless brother Destiny, both disputed and revered, with the power of a dictator, that can impose its will on anyone at any time without rancor, justice its own subjective view on the matter not open to debate.

The bull stopped, blood still dripping in waves, rippling in its black hair stained darker, tongue sticking out, pointy and small, not moving for fear of suffocation, like asthma grown worse to its logical conclusion. Eyes passive in resignation, Fate taking one leg forward to Destiny in the form of a long silver sword, poised horizontally for the kill. The matador, the agent of Destiny, precise and focused, stabbed the steel home, the valiant fighter’s final moments of life.

Chapter Twenty-five



I have conquered them all, but I am standing amongst graves.

Sitting at the table in the Dane’s room, Reno remembered the Old Danish saying that the Dane had told him, his scar shining in the face of the light.

“One must experience a bullfight to know really what it is,” said Reno. “Extreme poise, theatrics and tradition all come into play, salted heavily with Español machismo.” The Dane raised his hand.

“No interest. Could spend that money on tech and women. And hang in Canoa on the beach.” Woman-in-the-garter-belt tattoo dominant, short-sleeved plaid shirt open at the front, thick reading glasses on to focus on the spoon with bubbling contents.

“Your choice but fair enough,” said Reno, leaning back and smoking and thinking of the beach.

“Did I ever tell you the first time I got stoned on coke?” The Dane had a way of bobbing his head up and down to emphasize a point or hammer home something notable.

Nein,” said Reno, full of mischief.

“One night I’m at this party and some of my friends I hadn’t seen in a while are there in the kitchen with a big bag of coke. So I ask them what they’re doing and this friend of mine asks if I want some. So I sure, fix me up. He fills a syringe with coke and says: ‘where do you want it?’ So I say: ‘wherever you take it.’ So he sticks the needle in my neck, in a vein here.” His finger stabs his neck, tendons defined and skin tight. Reno starts to laugh. “So suddenly I start to sweat, I mean I’m drenched within ten seconds, so I’m about to rip off my shirt when I can move. I’m sitting there sweating and on the edge until I suddenly sit up and say: ‘Man! Fix me up another!’”

“Sounds like you.”

“But my point is that everything after that is an effort to reach that same high, that first one, that one you always remember.”

“Is that what you’re doing?” Reno couldn’t be serious.

“You don’t know what it’s like to be addicted. Not like me. Like my mother is an alcoholic, I chose smack. Just because I was sober for six years after I got busted, I knew eventually I would swing back, but this time it’s not schnocta but crack. Freebased crack. The best there is. And this is export quality, lactose-and-ether-free. My Inner Policeman has no control.” He balanced the spoon with the bubbles waning, leaving an oil patch on top of the water that he scooped up with the end of the lighter, turning into a jagged solid, like a molar freshly extracted.

“That’s a chunk. Look at that!” The Dane held it in his open palm, the pure white medicine distilled in its most benevolent form.

“That’s a nice piece. Groovy schnocta.”

“There’s a word in Danish that I don’t think you have in English that describes this,” motioned to the rock. “It translates to ‘over-filling.’ You don’t say that in English do you?” Never any guile with the Dane. Direct as though it was the law. Coming from a neighborhood where the wrong word or a sarcastic joke falling flat could be the difference between injury or not, he had been bred on direct communication at all costs.

“Overfilling? Yeah, but it’s not used that much. But I hear you. Good word to describe this medicine. Helps my hands.” The Dane’s eyes narrowed.

“Looks worse. The color. Your knuckles are green.” Reno studied his hands, not self-conscious of his hands in front of the Dane.

“Yeah, I need to see a doctor here about that. Man, I’ve been putting it off.”

“No, go see a doctor. You need something for that.” The Dane removed his reading glasses briskly as he turned to his homemade pipe. Every time Reno came over he would be using a different pipe because he destroyed anything he made before leaving his room. He took zero chances when it came to the maid finding a pipe or residue of any kind after partying. Very meticulous except for folding his clothes.

The Dane handed him a fully packed pipe, white rocks broken into thick pieces on a fluffy bed of ashes.

“Here, just cover this hole on the side. I’ll light it.” Total teamwork. The pipe was made out of a half-liter plastic bottle but the pipe had been inserted near the bottom. Reno only had to inhale from the mouth of the bottle. ‘Most effective pipe there is,’ the Dane had said.

The smoke was billowy, swirling into pillows, thick and soft.

“Okay, inhale!” Dramatic and precise, the Dane always sought maximization from freebased rocks. All of the pillows found their way into his lungs. “Keep it in! Don’t talk!” Hand in his face. “If you keep it in long enough nothing comes out.” Reno put a special foot forward. Finally exhaling, nothing came out. The Dane watched and smiled.

“Now that was a nice one.” Nodded, proud. “Brings out the Upper Man.” A guttural bellowing from the dungeons of his person. Enjoyed the use of his term.

Reno, who had never had a drug habit yet always wanted one, now had a drug habit, not out of addiction but because he believed he would gain more insights into the darker corners of his soul with the use of the pipe. Almost daily he launched into his training program, fully enjoying his intake of the cocoa-leaf powder, until his pipe became the most important thing he carried with him. However it wasn’t until he went to the hospital after freebasing with the Dane all night that he might have an issue with the drug.

Choosing to ignore that he was high, or that his elevated state was a separate issue, Reno walked into the hospital and was immediately taken into the emergency ward. He showed the doctor the swelling and bruising of his hands and rubbed his dry skin and told them he was short of breath.

“I need some medication or cream for my skin,” he said, knowing there wasn’t any treatment for his illness. “I have Scleroderma. It’s a type of rheumatoid arthritis. I can’t breathe.” The intern was intrigued, soon calling for the senior doctor who, after examination, said the word “allergies” in English. In fact it was an allergic reaction to an antibody his body was producing, a type of antibody called a “nuclear antibody,” meaning it was like a nuclear bomb to every muscle cell it came in contact with.

But the doctor was more concerned with Reno’s heart rate.

“Did you have breakfast just now?” asked the doctor. Reno explained he had just ate and had a few cups of coffee, which was true.

Drooga?” The doctor more concerned than accusing.


“Drinking?” he said.

“Ah, yes. I was with my amigo last night and we had a fiesta. No sleep. But I’m affected by this shortness of breath.” The doctor nodded, knowing what it was. The entire time the heart monitor beeped loudly and rapidly because a clamp was on his finger. Every ten or so beats an alarm went off. The two doctors and now three nurses spoke amongst themselves, pointing at his swollen hands and looking at him as if he had done all this to himself.

They put a long intravenous needle into his wrist that went far too deep into the vein, Ten minutes later the nurse re-pointed the needle, Reno with his eyes closed trying to get his mind off the pain and internal damage she was doing to his wrist. And he tried to calm his heart rate. Very high on very strong crack, Reno had chosen to seek medical attention for a lingering pain that he had had for ten months.

It took Reno to go when Noble hadn’t budged.

He looked at his watch and laid back. The next thing he knew it was six hours later and he was being pushed by his legs. Two nurses told him to pull himself up because he was dangling off the end of the bed. It was four o’clock. He took a deep breath. Better but still some affliction. He took his prescription and left for the pharmacy to pick up his magic pills that would completely erase the arthritis from his muscles, stopping the attack of the nuclear antibodies and save or prolong his life. Five days of two-a-day magic pills to prove effective, back to the old robust self. Toyed with the notion of going to McDonald’s but decided against it concluding Big Macs were more detrimental to his long-term health than his crack pipe. So he navigated down Reina Victoria to where he met his dealer Roberto in Mariscal for what he craved.

Chapter Twenty-six

Mobile Piping


Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more, then all your pokers in the fire will ripen together all in a bottleneck of time. There is a surreal serendipity to this coincidence of time as if invisible forces had been restricted until there is alignment so a nexus opens up, which allows a bundle of forces to finally move forward in tandem. How you act as you exercise patience is the measure of a man’s character. It is when time slows down and bunches up that your temperament is tested, as if the sands of the hourglass were blood red. Is there grace or hurried awkwardness? Is there manners or rudeness? Is there poise and confidence or nervousness and self-consciousness? Is one whole and complete or fractured and frustrated? And if there is wholeness and calm, how is it achieved? Is it a mental trick of perspective to time – a mental discipline to ignore the bunching up and slowing down of time? Is it this sort of trickery that lies behind the mastering of patience? Or is it a belief in the mechanics and physics in the movement of life?

These were Noble’s thoughts as he sipped his coffee in the courtyard of his Swiss hostel. He put down his Keith Richards biography and stared past the palm tree. The only solution for shortness of breath in Quito was to descend to the coast where the sea breeze will fill his lungs with oxygen-rich sea-level air. Manta, Canoa and Montanita were all calling, more oxygen per square inch than the thin air here. In no time he thirsted for the beach.


Within the hour the bus departed for the coast. It felt good to be on the move again, squeezing out between glances, on a day when many would be in the office.

The Banana Leaf God lived in the flush steepness of the Andes. Mile after mile of massive soil deposits carved by the gravity of water, like splinters separated by uncrossable gullies.  Produced during the Great Andean Spilt, these cut-by-the-rain heaps of earth made inhabitation impossible.

Reno blamed it on the design of the bus that it lent itself to such consumption of technology on his pipe. Hidden and helped by an open window and having great positioning in the back corner, Reno dipped down and flicked his lighter trying his best to ignite any residue in his pipe. There was plenty and he blew it out the window with no one the wiser. Reno couldn’t curtail his curiosity so he immediately assembled a pipe. It was so flawless in execution that it spurned a whole flurry of well-executed smokeless pipes. Reno said yes to his pipe all afternoon down the Andes and past long-spraying waterfalls and inches away from guard rails on the lip of corners, branches smacking his window and the wheels skidding off the inside curb washed away by runoff. Favorable skidding well angled, Reno soon could feel the hug of the wheels, like it was a tug. Only in the foothills does the sheer drop of the forested mountains mellow, where Noble/Reno saw banana trees everywhere. When sunset came his consumption went way down, but he had never had such an experience on a bus before. He felt safe with the door to the driver closed and the curtains drawn, his head out the window taking in the smells of the equatorial mountains.

The entire afternoon Reno engaged in his pipe, passengers oblivious to his piping, increasing in increments and severity. His smile magnified the more he smoked, sneaking a packed pipe as the towns passed by outside his window, increasing his high, his sense of mischief, his getting-away-with sense of his grand adventure, garnering muted chuckling that left him grinning a hollow grin, no wingman or soulmate to share his accumulating achievements. Each time the pipe was packed with the bed of tobacco from the end of a cigarette and topped with the endless baggie of yellowish power that was the acid that burned his throat and gave him the flush he so craved. A one-man party, he flourished in his deviousness in the face of descending the awesome Andes on his way towards the Pacific Ocean. If only he could share his stunt; mobile piping el grande, unbelieved to be possible yet with every passing mile growing in consumption, an endless hedonistic bus ride with the driver hidden behind the closed door that shut him off the aisle and his people. This was a trip to get him off the pipe yet the transportation yielded the opportune gap to smoke – and smoke he did. Over and over again. How could he engage with such abandon? He didn’t ask himself that question. He simply smoked. The slight crack in the window being his way out and his methodology. It was if God had given him the means to take his rebellion further, deeper and darker. He didn’t question the set-up; he only seized it.

It had been too many years of letting time pass him by.

The sea air thick in the port city Manta, the panacea to his ills. No Irish Pub in town, Reno found a bar with a mural of John Lennon on the patio, a safety zone. He would be joining John, Jim and Jimmy in the Early Exit. For some reason the Dane’s Overfilling Upper Man popped into his mind. These were his thoughts as he sat on the patio in front of John Lennon: the Upper Man is not only one’s doppelgänger, it is the combined best of both the boy inside the man and one’s doppelgänger, creating a synthesis of selves, when each boy and rascal is in the reign of the Upper Man. Full employment of one’s Upper Man is a tricky beast to tame because it likes to take charge. What defines an Upper Man is his extreme objectivity that he contributes effectively, mired not in judgment of others but only judgment of deed and action treated as if on a higher level. Talking but not doing is for the tarantulas and the Small Man, but blood, sweat and coordination was the language of the Upper Man, for it is the Upper Man who can get things done.

Noble wrote down some words on the beer-coaster:

The Upper Man respects strength through action;

The Upper Man sees normalcy with contempt;

The Upper Man has no guile;

The Upper Man knows the boundaries beyond;

The Upper Man employs clear, concise language;

The Upper Man always helps a man in need;

The Upper Man recognizes other Upper Men, whether male or female;

The Upper Man marches to his own rhythm;

The Upper Man never speaks negatively about others;

The Upper Man believes open-mindedness is his primary pillar;

The Upper Man is modest because of the depth of his abilities;

The Upper Man does not hear what others say about him;

The Upper Man holds honest laughter above all else;

The Upper Man values justice and individual righteousness;

The Upper Man masters time utilization.

The hypothesis turned out to be correct. Lungs fuller of oxygen and the shortness of breath gone, he slept like the dead in Manta.

Chapter Twenty-seven

Aristotle’s Character Years


 The execution of action toward an idea is an act of freedom. It is pure unselfconsciousness and the key to full enjoyment of the journey to the end game of the matador’s sword. The magic lies in the means of action. Noble mulled this over as he watched the waves hammer into the shore.

For the first hour in Canoa, Noble had hovered around his pipe and map in his hotel room, groggy from the rich air. It wasn’t until he reached the beach that he had his déja vous. The laziness in the slow movement of palm trees, and the sand around the corner bar at the end of the pavement he had seen before in a dream. It was a small corner of the earth arranged in just the right way. A great relief spread over him, and restored faith in the importance of reading the signs. There had to be a reason why he traveled down 9000 feet of the country to land specifically here, where a rustic charm rang an ancient bell within him: a sand dune enclave on the equator where waves crashed onto the sandy shores, palm trees lined in a row protecting the hostels and bars.

He had found oro verde.

The white frothy salted soup pushed in rolling curves and toppled into the shallows, a repository of the wet dust of rock. Two big pelicans glided over the water inches from the spray, wings pinched-in and holding, a flap or two above the crest and then back skimming the white broth. Aerodynamic migrants hovered near the sand cliffs that defined the beach like bookends. The north cliff jutted out into the water creating a pocket for twenty miles of straight shores of sandy beach to San Vincente. It faced directly into the sunset over Pacific waters in a north-south longitude on the equator where the sun dropped at the same time every day all year. It had to be one of Earth’s most richly endowed natural beaches in the middle of the world: surrounded by hills of sand and cacti and palm trees into a natural waterway cut by storms that reached into the valley running east between the hills.

Canoa had good Feng Shui.

Near the end of the day a hand-glider hovered beside the skinny-winged migrants, savoring the bird’s-eye view of the soup and surfers and feeling the sub-woofers on the beach bang out rhythms of soul vibrate in their wings. After hours of hovering off of the non-stop incoming air from the ocean, the glider slowly moved over the beach and watched the volley-ballers dive and roll in the sand. Two hundred feet in the air he circled in using the sound and feel of the air.

Noble walked down to the end of the beach as the sun fell behind the distant horizon, the orange rays reflecting briefly off the shimmering surface, the orange melting into rose and then purple shadowed by the clouds above. It was if he were in a time vortex, where the balance of the sea matched the power of gravity so that there was no extra spin, no misallocation of nature’s forces, kissing at the halfway point between magnetic poles. Weightless and relaxed, and intoxicated by the air, Noble thought he might like to retire here, or at least have a home base. Whenever a utopia is discussed, it must include sand and palms and sea.

There was something comforting about this spot in South America.

So Noble determined his task was to adapt. But in doing so, he thought to himself: there is an old stubbornness in the selves that govern a man’s inner government – a chorus of bitter old men resistant to change, thinking entities with proven and tested belief systems. Inertia was the obstacle, not close-mindedness. No man is unable to tweak, but only few can face their fears in the eye and become a complete man, an Upper Man, a fusion of selves that can silence the critic within. Caution has to be thrown aside, and all cynical voices banished from one’s inner auditorium. If having a more profound depth of engagement in life increased what Aristotle called ‘character years,’ then one must evolve more in the same amount of time as someone else the same age.

He sat on the sand and stared to the horizon with the purple hue and pondered some more. Is it all just a difference of being ruled by one’s Inner Policeman versus retiring one’s Inner Policeman? No, there’s more, and so his thoughts went thus: belief in one’s true self versus doubt of true self; self-knowledge versus ignorance of self; capability of imagination versus incapability of imagination; learning through instinct versus the ignoring of instinct; overcoming fear versus overcome by fear; geography versus domesticity; good chi management versus poor chi management; ability to laugh versus inhibition; the use of one’s doppelgänger versus no acknowledgment of doppelgänger; purpose of sinning versus no purpose; evolution versus stagnation; and the wise expenditure of time versus the foolish spending of time.

There was something to it. Or was it that easy?

Noble walked in bare feet along the sand road of the strip and took a seat with Jim Morrison and Chuck Berry at the Surf Shak. Drank pints and wrote in his journal: The Ecuadorian riptide, a different flora, fauna of palms, Inner Policeman drowned and waterlogged, flick of a lighter and eyes aflame, I deserve a little vice after years of playing it safe and following the rules. It’s my little phase. Geography changes time, justifications in all forms, it is different on the equator on the beach, but how does that change how I live the day? Nothing can change time, the sage’s dictum repeated infinitum, but here the physical matrix is aligned, a day still a day at zero latitude, yet still is the epitome of a year. To increase the depth of time, the challenge must be met at all costs, with kind-hearted mischief, the cocoa leaf consumed, tweaking curiosity to new heights, an evolution-usurping peace, the thrill coming from knowing it cannot last. Finding the silver thread of time and holding onto it, letting it reveal the way, the path with all the signs, the walk with the greatest harvest. But can geography change time, the bedrock of life force and the flame that sparks the pathway that opens doors that frees the hand of wit? Is mortal man able to catch a glimpse of his hidden magic, its richness and manifoldness, showing the wisdom of a kind deed, embedding in memory forever? Can man master time, the puzzle of the ages and the riddle to life?

Just as he had finished writing, Mark the Irishman walked by.

“Noble? Is that you?”


“What are you doing here?” His wife and child sat down on the patio.

“A little vacation from Quito. Thought I’d enjoy the beach.” Stared at each other. “You?”

“I live here mate. That’s my place right there.” He pointed at the three-story hostel and bar beside the Surf Shak. “Been running that as a pub for four years. Called The Shamrock.” Noble, a little burnt from the sun and wobbly from the beer, walked halfway across the sand street and looked at the bar.

“It’s beautiful man. But it doesn’t say The Shamrock. It says…” He couldn’t read the spray-painted sign.

“I know that-“ Mark shook his head. “They guy who has run it for the last year changed the name to The Snail’s Pace because it was a pun with his name. But no one gets it because no one knows his name. Strange guy. Retired professor from Canada. He’s just terminated his lease. Will be out on Sunday.”

“So will you be running it as The Shamrock again?” The palm-leaf roof rustled in the wind.

“No, looking to rent it out again. Have a few nibbles but nothing yet. Damn shame because people are already stealing stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Like the water pump. Just had it installed too. Pain in the ass that is. And they took the sink.”

“You need someone to live in there to watch the place for you.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking. Say, you need a place to stay? Free rent.” Noble sat back, smiled and stroked his chin. Canoa was a groovy enough place for any man to flourish.

Chapter Twenty-eight

The Great Pilgrimage


Bypassing life weakens man but engaging in it elevates. Neglecting moments limit the depth of emotion, and rejecting possibility hinders the power of creation, but stepping forward into life enables enlightenment, and partaking in the scrum fosters and fortifies. To embrace is to strengthen and improve but to ignore is to deflate and decay. To create is to build and grow but to destroy is to injure and impair. To consider stirs imagination and possibility but to refuse causes regret and resentment. To say yes brings fortune and opportunity but to say no castrates and beguiles. Hope fosters and fuels but despair cripples and defeats. These were Noble’s thoughts written in his journal as he faced a new day with fresh lungs and windburn on his cheeks.

The roar of the waves crashed and skirmished against the force of the moon in the early hours of daylight, coughing up a spray leaving an unmistakable chill. The sun, slow to rise and break free from cloud cover, hadn’t yet warmed the air that left even the keenest bodysurfer tepid of the morning dip. Is not a swim designed for midday?


Noble slept long hours for many days, wiped out from the rich oxygen of sea level, drugged into a stupor by nature’s own hand. He spent less time with his pipe and more time relaxing on the sand, choosing to swim and walk rather than freebase and party all night. He settled in with his Kit Carson biography and was mesmerized by the man’s abilities and impact on American history. He was finally embittered by Kit Carson’s unjust fate of falling off his horse at the age of 58. He was at the peak of his powers and had just brought the mighty Navajo Indians to their knees without firing a bullet. The biography kept his mind exercised and away from depression at his impending illness and death. 

Mark the Irishman was going to get back to him about staying in his empty hostel to act as a property manager and policeman, but the idea didn’t pull him in because the hostel was on the strip and beside the heart of the nightlife. With no mosquito net and filthy with mould and dead insects, the room was the opposite of his current room at the hotel, clean and well-lit and void of equatorial bugs. Sure he was dying but he didn’t want to be struck with the fever of malaria or dengue, two common afflictions to visitors to Canoa.

His knees were inflamed and brown with bruising, noticeable when he walked down the strip in shorts, something a tan couldn’t hide. But to Noble that was window dressing, not important to him in the slightest. What troubled him was the debris he was coughing up. So severe was the gunk that the fourth day he found blood. He knew that the disease had started on his lungs and that it wouldn’t be long until he would suffocate from dead lung cells and collagen. The thought scared him to the quick but he put his chin up and refused to bow under the fright it caused. The taste of the gunk reviled him, and caused him to think of returning to Quito where the thinner oxygen likely slowed down the spread of the disease because there was less oxygen to fuel the flames of destruction.

 He wasn’t afraid of surfing but he did know how rough the surf was having been thrown around in the white-water when he went bodysurfing. He had lost thirty-five pounds since his diagnosis almost six months ago, his chest now concave and his ribs defined like the tent on a wagon wheel. If he contracted dengue he would be dead within weeks. With his immune system weakening each day, the chances of getting one of the countless tropical diseases here on the water increased, something that made him uncomfortable. And having so little meat on him the water was cold, which made bodysurfing more a chore than an event of joy. The sun seldom shone, at least not as much as in Quito, instead the overcast skies hiding the warmth of the sun, the wind and moisture creating a chill by the water that made him shiver. He didn’t want to let his illness dictate what he did but with him coughing up blood in the denser air of the coast he had the tangible evidence that it had taken hold and was doing its best to destroy his organs. The medications he had been taking since his diagnosis didn’t seem to be having an effect. He knew he would die in Ecuador and that he would not tell any of his family, except for his sister. There was nothing back in America for him except memories of being stifled and impatient with the slow passing of time.

Coming to terms with the reality of his physical condition changed Noble. He saw the surf as violent that brought fear into his heart. It was feeble of him to cower at the power of Mother Nature but he had to face the fact that he was diminishing, his own power waning with each passing day. His hands were frozen like a claw, fingers unmovable and fingertips dry and hard and lacking any sense of touch. His clothes were baggy on him and pants falling off his waist. Even with many new notches in his belt he couldn’t keep his pants up. He even started growing a beard to hide his bony face. The Pacific Ocean had become a constant trumpet warning of the dangers lurking below the surface and beyond the break, the thundering and uncensored brutality producing shards of fear in his gut. He cringed at his own weakness and grew fervent to overcome his fear but he knew Mother Nature’s power was greater than his, himself being only a part of her grand plan. The riptide in the crashing soup menaced him now, a monster waiting to pull him down and away without a witness. He felt small and helpless in her yaw, cold and scared, like an old man in the face of a typhoon.

There was such a sadness in his heart that he didn’t move from his spot on the beach for some time, letting the rain wet him and the wind chill him, as he profoundly respected the forces of nature, morose that he didn’t have more time to explore her mysteries. He knew it would be something he would miss. He ruminated on the irony of finding this haven in the world that he had seen before in the landscapes of his dreams, only to be too ill to savor and enjoy it. He wasn’t bitter but rather grateful he had found it and experienced its special vibe, thankful he had chosen to come here from reading the signs.

He sat for hours and pondered his life. He thought of the Dane and the good times he had had in Quito, missing that camaraderie and the security he felt from the love of friends he had made on his own in the last six months, a new life opposite to his old life in the States. It was the saving grace of a wasted life, a balm to his person from the ramifications of taking the wrong path chosen using emotion rather than wisdom. He had wished he had read more books that could have inspired him to choose a path where others feared to tread, and taken advantage of the canon of art that emoted through stories and works of art about the tragedy of mortal life, and songs of love that celebrated the joy of having fun and feeling safe. He had always been a little boy, no one around who cared enough to make him snap out of it and take the first step to becoming who he truly was. He had stopped when an obstacle was insurmountable, not knowing he could have gone around it and kept moving forward, working on a solution to overcome it with his own hand. He had been a man who had remained a boy, an insecure voice demanding respect but lacking the grace that came from empirical knowledge, a man-boy with a flaw in his life philosophy, mired in his own immaturity.

He had been lonely, as if through choice, preferring safety and softness to the rigors of the scrum. The unavailability of sharing had been the cause of silencing the sugar-coated lips of Reno, an emoting vitality that thrived on sharing his wit. Instead the ghost of indifference, the most unwanted of all dispositions, cut him off from his audience and atrophied his tongue. He had castrated himself, soon withering on the vine so that he prayed for rain rather than hoped for sunshine. He could have followed the voice of Reno the philosopher he heard speaking sometimes, the slow diction and tenor of a sage, prompting consideration to change and provoking new thoughts that threatened his belief system. But the paradigm shift never came, the flush of courage never came to his cheek, and the adventure that lay hidden behind the door was never had because the door was kept locked. He never taxed his character arising from challenges and obstacles, and never traversed alone knowing the transitory nature of life.

He wondered if there are not two worlds that co-exist, side-by-side in time, one world full of those on their Great Pilgrimage to find the answers to life’s mysteries, and those who never leave their cozy nest mired in their inertia and unwilling to go forth. Two communities of peoples living according to different principles and interpretations of the compass, different orientations on opposing poles only overlapping along zero latitude. It had taken a fatal disease to push him out of his community to the other side where people grew flowers and went to bullfights, drove like rally drivers and flew helicopters, and created religions and drilled for oil. Unique in aspect and novel in form, it was an eccentric and strange world of creators and explorers long accustomed to the tougher gravity and bumpier ground that was the playing field of the Great Game.

And who were these people who lived in this world of the Great Pilgrimage? They were producers of art that inspired humankind, people of insight and opinion, unorthodox and unsung in frayed collars, forgotten and overlooked, yet totally immersed in the Powerful Play. They were the lifeline and lifeblood, people of sincerity and patience, founders and builders, visionaries and scholars, and providers of sustenance for the universal spirit and at home in their anonymity. There were unwavering in purpose and self-belief, dedicated to their dreams with infirmaries untended, carpenters and painters impervious to skeptics, originators and teachers of knowledge and craft, who laughed and waited for the rest of humanity to catch up.

Chapter Twenty-nine

A Purpose for Your Sins


Finite time is the foundation of life’s inherent sadness, he thought to himself as he listened to the blonde Van Limburger, eyes bright with light.

“It changes a man,” she said, eyebrows barely discernable in the beach twilight. “You can see it. You can see how the coke takes it out of them.” Van Limburger knew exactly what she was saying but he was equally shocked at how she had come to know this truth. She simply wasn’t old enough. He thought of Jamul and the Dane.

“Yes,” he said, waiting to see if she had more.

“It’s different than the others. They say it’s the hardest drug of them all.” Van Limburger was trying to quell the storm before it morphed into a squall. She could see how sick he was and thought it was from the drug. The trouble was she was exactly right.

“Well, put it this way, I’ve been working my entire life, since I was twelve with no summers off. I even had a paper route during the year.” Images of predawn mornings crossed his mind, taking momentary delight in knowing he had mastered throwing the newspaper from the sidewalk.


“So now I don’t mind having my little drug phase. In fact I’m really enjoying my coke phase.” The moxie didn’t change her expression. She knew there wasn’t any beef in his words. What he could see was the ancient expression of maternal concern in her eyes. She knew exactly where he was heading, and she knew precisely where he would end up if there wasn’t a stop to his sinful activities. For a moment – just for a moment – he screamed in his head at all the injustices that had beset his life, his brother, his lost love, his fatal illness, and all the missed opportunities. He coughed and tasted the coppery taste of blood. He wondered if he had some dried blood around the corners of his mouth. He could feel his cotton shirt falling off his toothpick shoulders, its looseness baggy and cold.

“What if you were at the end of your life, and you had the means and interest to experience the other side of life? And you know from books like that Keith Richard’s biography that a small dabble for six months is nothing compared to thirty-five years of severe partaking.” He was a puppy compared to Keith.

“If it’s the end of your life?” She pondered it.

“Funny how time affects decisions isn’t it? You have your whole life in front of you waiting to be tasted. It’s wise not to delve into the White Lady without a purpose to your sins.”

“I suppose I would try it. I mean if I was dying I would. Sure, why not? As long I don’t get hooked.” Raised a good point.

“So what if you liked it and used it out of choice rather than physiological dependence? Like drinking coffee in the morning. And afternoon. And night.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I could because it wrecks you.” She looked at his emaciated neck and shoulders. “Lose your appetite.” He nodded.

“Okay, let me ask you something then: If you had twelve months to live and were crippling worse with each passing day, would you partake and trade off maybe six months of your time left, or choose the slow death without an elixir?” He wanted to tell her that the cocoa leaf has been medicine for arthritis for centuries in South America.

“But you’re in a drugged stupor.”

“But what if it acted like a magic pill that took the pain away and brought you to a holy place in your spirit? To a clear and divine state.” She laughed.

“You’re pretty set on this aren’t you?”

“What if it was a medicine? Would you trade in half your time?” Her eyes glimmered when she drank her Mojito, her boyfriend quiet, leaning back on his chair, stirring the mint leaves slowly.

“So without the medicine it would be painful?”


“I don’t know. That’s a tough one.”

“I know what I’d do,” said her boyfriend in a sudden thrust of assertion. “I would take it. No question. Why go out in pain? No man, take the medicine I say!” He raised his pint glass. “That’s an easy one!” The guttural laughter hit Noble and silenced his raging-but-silent internal screams.

Having purchased more base from a local surfer with dreadlocks, Noble was urged on by Reno and his mischief, trying to turn a day into a year. Van Limburger had gone for a walk under the full moon along the beach with her boyfriend so Noble/Reno found himself on a second-floor bar with a pool table, challenging for the table. An American from Chicago was there, eyeglasses and well over six feet, with the words ‘GOOD LUCK’ tattooed on the back of each finger below the knuckle. Reno, after taking the table from the locals, challenged him to a game.

“No man, I don’t plan of going back to Illinois. You kidding me? Too cold you know. I got married man, I’m here for the long haul.” Hair falling in his eyes, Dan was terrible at billiards.

“I hear you on that. How long you been married?” Reno stoned, sunglasses still on.

“’Bout a year. Renewing my visa was pissing me off.” The word ‘visa’ reminded him he needed to renew his visa. He looked at his watch.

“What’s the date today?”

“Who cares?”

“Seriously. About the 15th?”

“About that.” He had three days to renew.

“Visas yeah. Pain in the ass.”

“Shame though.” He looked closely at his swollen wrist. “Had a fight last night with my old lady. Almost puncher her. Hit the wall instead. Bad move though. Could’ve busted a bone.” Dan had a runny nose he wiped with the back of his hand.

“A wall has very little give.”

“But I love her man. I really do. I don’t know why but she gets my goat sometimes. Keeps talking about moving to Chicago. I mean what’s with that?”

“You should be all right. I mean you have a positive vibe from those words on your fingers.” The tattoo looked fresh.

“They kinda wrecked the ‘G’ here but all in all getting redone here for the third time was worth it.”

“Looks good to me dude.” The letters huge on his big hands. “One ought to expect an Ecuadorian wife to immigrate to the States though. You know it’s cooler here in Canoa but she doesn’t, and maybe never will.”

“I know.”

“She doesn’t know that there’s better technology here, higher quality I mean.” Reno smoked. A cloud obscuring his face.

“Technology, yeah.”

“The white tech.”

“Much better quality.”

“The base here is different than Quito. It’s pink.” Reno sank the eight ball for the victory.

“That’s ‘cause it comes from Columbia. All the blow here comes from up the coast. Very clean.” Sniffed louder and with more purpose, no longer needing to hide it.

“I came here to get away from it!” The irony.

“Best in the world.”

“Speaking of which.”


They went outside and down the stairs to the side of the bar in an alley where Dan deposited a large amount of blow between the back of his hand and his thumb, and snorted. He refilled and offered some to Reno.

“Messy this technique.” Reno attacked the small mountain of coke with his left nostril. The acid burned the lining at the top of his sinus, like an acid, until the drop in the back of his throat. Getting jittery. Too much pain in his nasal cavity now. Pulled out his pipe. Put in some tobacco and then sprinkled the top of it with the pink base and then lit it.

“This is a great pipe,” Reno said with reverence. “Served me well.” The sugar-topped bowl on the tobacco bed went up in flames, disappearing into his bloodied lungs.

“Don’t smoke that shit. Fucks my lungs up too much.”

“Doesn’t the blow make your nose bleed?” Soldiers comparing battle wounds.

“Only if it’s bad shit. But I have a good supplier. He’d never screw me.” He waved his hand gently.

Quiet on the side street, dark and silent except barking dogs and the splash of the surf.

“I’m heading to the Surf Shak,” said Reno, eyes sparkling.

“Good, that’s where I’m heading too. Meeting my wife later.”

They strolled down the street past the corner with locals hanging out, motorbikes parked in a line, shirtless and cocky. Tall and white, they two Americans veered to the sand and the line of palm trees shunning the wind.

Taking advantage of two-for-one cocktails, they ordered banana and rum drinks and stayed at the bar inside. The winds and moisture made it cold outside. Each darted to the washroom to take a line or smoke a pipe throughout the night, no one taking notice or caring, so by the time Dan’s wife showed up she was pissed off. Dan’s nose was like a waterfall and he kept running out of tissue.

She was suspicious of Reno, his unshaven face and sunglasses, coke grin.

“Where were you tonight?” The tone was enough for Reno to take his drink and go for a smoke outside.

“There you are,” said Mark the Irishman, sitting with his wife watching his daughter play with the dog.

“Been adjusting to this air,” he replied, truthfully.

“Yeah, I know the difference. Hits you hard, that.” Hair still cut in the military tradition, Mark could never seem to get the army out of him. His bearing was military, and so was his drinking. Fast-paced and snowballed with a blast of nicotine, Mark pursued his pint with vigor, like a thirsty old barman. 

“So that offer I made you mate, I have to take it back.” He pointed with his thumb next door. “Just rented it out, to another Canadian, but he’s just given me a hundred-thousand deposit to buy the place so I think he’s serious.” It hadn’t really crossed his mind. The salt and moisture and oxygen would probably drown him in his own blood.

“I guess you’ve got the next round then.” That crack caught the attention of Balmer, the local brew master.

“That sounds like a good idea.” He was drinking the wheat beer he made just down the street in Canoa.

“And get me some of that wheat beer will ya,” Reno making himself at home on the patio. There was Pete the hand-glider and his wife Felicity, and James the old owner and Balmer the brew master.

“All right, I need to tell you that I can out drink any of you. I’m open to challenges.” Balmer had the swagger of a man from Milwaukee.

“I’ll take you on,” said Pete the hand-glider, tanned features and flip flops worked in. The contest latest for a few seconds. Balmer just poured it down his throat. Pete was heaving and spilling. James ignored them but Mark the Irishman went to bat but also went down in flames. A fine effort nonetheless. So Reno threw his hat in the ring.

“I’ll challenge you then, see if I can oust you from your platform.” Balmer showed signs of drunkenness already. Reno knew he couldn’t quaff a beer but he played up to the bluff.

“Let’s see how they drink down in Texas,” he retorted, beer foam in his moustache.

It was Reno’s moment of introduction to the Surf Shak gang, who had only seen the skinny Texan walking the beach for a week. James kept separate, brooding over his vodka.

 “All right, what’s the time to beat?” Felicity kept score.

“One-point-nine seconds,” she said, happy to establish the bridge.

“Ah, when I was at Rice I was unbeaten in my junior year.” All lies. Reno had taken the turret with this rifle.

“Well then it’s two unbeaten masters going neck-and-neck,” Mark hoping his friend will perform well. Even James looked up with attention.

“So the victor picks up the next round?” Balmer looked at his plastic cup filled to the brim with the concoction he made every day.

“Um, I don’t know if I need another.”

“Yes!” said Pete from the corner, cool and crisp, not about to let the free round pass.

“Okay then.” Reno removed his fleece for spillage and picked up his cup.

“Ready, drink!”

Balmer poured his beer into his gullet in one-point-seven seconds while Reno chugged his beer taking over eight seconds. It was his best shot.

After all the hoopla, it was good to know a dying man could still bluff.

Chapter Thirty

Errol Flynn


The character of a dying man is revealed through the choices they make, a mirror of what is valued, proclaiming what they seek. This was Noble’s thought when sitting pensive on his hotel’s rooftop smoking a joint.

Many thoughts went through his mind as he sat, enjoying the view of the waves hitting the shore in perfect white lines. He toyed with Joyce’s Ulysses in his hand and stared in awe at Pete hanging with the birds off the sand cliff, quiet and still. 

 What is thought? He wondered, it must be more than what the Irishman thought of thought. He read: “Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquility sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.” Tranquil yes, but do thoughts not have substance to them? A weight? There must be more than just a dark void in the box of thought, something that nullifies Joyce’s view of the void: a thrice-deduced thought still taking place within a thought, complete with emotional, physical and mental landscapes outlined with color and smells and pain.

Deep, but for the moment enjoyable rumination.

Noble knew he would never hand-glide with the migrants floating off the cliff. He knew he didn’t have the strength to do it, but he could let the thought in, and toy with the image, the wind and the smell of salt air making the thought richer, an event that was to never be but had the shudder of realism. He was grateful for the firsthand witnessing of what it was like but what bothered him was that he could have succeeded to fly with the black and white birds and gazed at the Pacific sunset when he was of able limb and had the time. No matter what he did he could never have the full experience of hovering like a bird, astral planning in the fluttering air, in control of a soundless ship, accepted by the migrants and seagulls as one of them. This realization wrecked the joy he was feeling watching the hand-gliders overhead in the oncoming winds, and made him think: Do dreamers merely become better dreamers if no action is taken? Is their expertise not mental projection, void of tactility and touch? Is not a dreamer, who does not act, an incomplete man? He can live many lives in his imagination but his shoulders are thin and his stomach is soft.

Noble stayed on the balcony alone the entire day, thinking of his life and the time he had left.


The next day started with an innocent fish and rice dish and coffee, with his Kit Carson book opened and the breeze soothing, but morphed into an opportunity and an emphatic yes. It was a day that flourished on the foundation of a ‘yes.’ A guy at a nearby table named Errol – named after the famous Tasmanian actor Errol Flynn – started a conversation. Noble liked his book but sometimes people were more interesting.

It is easy to forget that within a twenty-four hour stretch, meeting someone new can make the difference between surviving the day and thriving. Most people close the door of unexpected opportunity after initial contact, and few will entertain a man with idiosyncratic eccentricities, both wanting to gently remove oneself from the pending melee that could lead to a wasted day. However some, who recognize a door when they see one, will let it go on in a moment-to-moment tender, which can lead to new vistas and new experiences. With a laidback, laissez-faire attitude, one can renew their faith in the fellowship of man. So when this stranger Errol Flynn, an untested and unproven quantity, wanted to say something about his story, Noble/Reno said ‘yes.’

 After finishing their meal, from the restaurant Noble and Errol went to the Bamboo café for coffee and then a kiosk on the beach for a beer. Feeling like a Sfauist and not wanting to speak too much, Noble let Errol talk about his time in the army when he was Special Forces in Vietnam, his time at the Okinawa naval base, his time as a merchant marine, followed by a full confession of his love for the cowboy life and Errol Flynn. The living adventure behind this stranger came to life, the words that explain the story of the scars and lines on his face, and the hidden corner pieces in the puzzle of the man.

Big-boned and understated, Errol was in his sixties, wife dead and kids grown, roaming around South America because it was the only part of the world he hadn’t seen.

“What I’d really like to do with my time now is get back to ranching, like I done in New Mexico for those years after the navy. Boy them days were good.”

“So you were a cowboy who chose to go to sea,” said Noble.

“That’s exactly right. Never heard it put that way before. Simplifies it good too.”

“Well at least you chose something, and didn’t let inertia take you.” Errol was uncomfortable with the word ‘inertia.’ “Momentum,” he added, met with a nod.

“Anyone who reads about Kit Carson has gotta have something worth something in him. I don’t know much about what he did other than he was the best shot during the Civil War and that he got on well with the Indians.”

“His father was buddies with Daniel Boone.”

“No shit?”

“So when the new immigrants were landing in East Kentucky Daniel Boone picked up, left his farm and moved to West Kentucky and founded a town called Booneville. So the Carsons followed him there, which was wide-open prairie with a lot of Indian contact. That’s when Kit, who was about twelve, decided he was going to have the best shot of any of them, Daniel Boone or his father. He was short, about five-foot one, so when he finally beat them both in their annual shooting contest, he was invited out to hunt. That’s when he came into contact with Indians and began to learn many of the Indian dialects that was to shape his life.” Errol had become all ears after telling his own life story.

“Carson City was named after him, indt’ it?”

“Yep, and Fort Carson, in Nevada. He lived as a hunter for seven years, learning from the best Mountain Men, like big Jim Bridger and the others lost to the records of history. Lived in the bush, improved his shot, and became known as a fair man with the Blackfoot and Sioux in the area. He was given the Indian name Otter, which was a name of respect among the Natives.”

“And then the Civil War came.”

“Drafted into the military he became a Brigadier-General, same as Custer.”

“But Custer fought for the north.”

“Custer.” Noble shook his head at what a character Custer had been.

“He had a bit of an attitude problem dint’ he? Sort of cavalier.”

“Very cavalier. He used to play fight with is old classmates from West Point after a battle. Poor form. Did you know his regiment suffered the highest casualty rate of any other on both sides? Very cavalier.”

“West point, huh?”

“Last in his class.”

“Loved his moustache though.”

“But it was after the Civil War and after Custer’s Last Stand particularly that Kit Carson really hit his stride. General Sherman was hell-bent on getting the Indians to live on reservations so they could open up the west, so he hired Kit specifically to subdue the strongest native tribe of them all who had as yet not engaged with the White Man.”

“The Apache?”

“The Navajo. They lived on top of this plateau that was a natural fortress, protected on the best land in the south. So instead of taking them on in direct battles as most other generals did, Kit starved them out by burning their crops, completely subduing them in eighteen months. Didn’t even shed blood. One day the chief went up to him and said: ‘Where do we go?’ It was brilliant.”

“So what happened to him after that?”

“He became an Indian Agent in New Mexico close to the border, got married to a Mexican and then died when he fell off his steed at the age of fifty-seven. Died from his injuries.” Errol slapped his hand on the table.

“Well ain’t that a story! Fell off his horse! Ain’t that-a-way to go.”

It’s strange, thought Noble, how a man is defined by their death.

“Yep, just like Genghis Khan.”

“Is that so?”

“And I believe Crazy Horse also died young from falling off his horse. What a life. Wasn’t even forty when he graduated to the Spirit World.”

“Spirit World, I like that. Got to try to remember that one.”

“And Friedrich Nietzsche too though he didn’t die. Fell off his horse as a medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and shattered something in his chest. Was never the same after that. Took to drugs and of course had his breakdown when he was forty-four. All from a horse.”

“Getting’ thrown off a horse is pretty damn serious. Snap your neck or break your back. If you ain’t got the alpha status of one of them big steeds they’ll buck you off or gallop and twist, which is the more common. You ever been bucked off?” Reno didn’t want to admit he had never ridden a horse but Noble thought it would healthy to verbally admit it.

“Flynn, no, in fact I’ve never-“

“God damn good you ain’t an keep it that way. See, I’m part Indian. My great-granddaddy did that long walk from Florida and was one of those few to survive. You know what I’m talking about?” Noble could see now the strong hairline and big bones and square jaw and wide cheekbones, and the unmistakable inner strength.

“Yeah, when they forced the Indians to walk west across a longitudinal point on the map, which they did, and then the law was all Indians were to live west of the Mississippi, which is what they did. Forced march.”

“They’ all ended up in Oklahoma.” Slapped his knee, chin jutting out, secret knowledge shared. “That’s where my great-granddaddy settled. Some nice land up in those parts, er, just past Oklahoma. Good ranchin’ up there.” Errol swung his hand down and whacked the leather on his cowboy boots. “Damn I miss horsing around. Here it’s legal to wear a pistol in a holster. Oh yeah, you can do some real cowboying here in Ecuador. They just haven’t got around to changing the law. I even checked out a forty-hectare plot with those chocolate plants, er, the one they make chocolate from. ”

“Cacao plants.”

“That’s the one! Lots of those, and good spaces for ridin’. Get mahself a piece.”

Noble reflected on Errol Flynn and the life he had lived, and wondered again why those who had lived an extraordinary life ended up in Ecuador. He suspected it had something to do with being on the equator.

Chapter Thirty-one

The Better Man


Most of the people one knows in one’s life will never reach the heights and horizons of the free man’s life. For a fair and democratic man, this is a gross injustice. These were Noble’s thoughts when he was walking the streets of Bahia del Caraquez at the mouth of Rio Chone.

The peninsula was windy and the waves smashed against the jagged rock along the shore to the south by the red-and-white beacon scarred by salt and wind, but within the Spanish colonial bungalows and mature palms, it was like a bird sanctuary, especially around the trees and statues in central park, where there was an impromptu concert of local talent. The air stirred with erupting sounds of nature, but did not roar like Canoa. No bamboo huts here. Only walled bungalows with patios, lush gardens and hammocks. Expatriate history was palpable on this red carpet to the Pacific and once busiest port in Ecuador.

Not being able to find any place private enough to smoke his pipe, Noble/Reno took a room at a guesthouse overlooking the park. But he was given a dormitory all to himself, with three bunk beds and a window obscured by a palm tree that gave him privacy to smoke his pipe. The tops of the walls were open so any smoke that escaped could be smelled in the open hallways that joined the owner’s flat. Extreme caution was required. Reno locked the door and focused on giving his pipe a cleaning and testing its functionality. He had the dorm for the day before he left on the night bus to Quito. His visa expired in a few days.

Addiction will always be the body-checker; all else will be squeezed out by the mothership, not allowing any flowers to grow. This crossed Noble’s mind when realized the acrid smell of the smoke was noticeable in the hallway. Then he had another coppery cough.

“Oxygen turns even steel into dust,” he mumbled to himself out loud.

In the calming cross breeze of the peninsula, Noble settled in at a cabinas and made some telephone calls. With the copper hue of death on his tongue, he knew the end of his life was not far off. He first called his sister but she didn’t answer. He left a message saying he was safe and happy in South America and that he would call back in a few minutes. Then he called his brother.

“Hey big shooter. Where the hellya ‘been?” Drunken slur.

“Moved out,” he replied. “I’m living in South America.”

“Looka that pussy. Shit man, you don’t know shit about me do you? You know where I’ve been man? Last nine months I’ve been living with this chick who just dumped me for her old boyfriend despite leaving her with a million-dollar mortgage.”

“Oh yeah.”

“I had this great gig. People would pay me after buying me dinner and drinks and answering questions about the club. Easy money man.”

“Listen Rex, I’m dying. I have a fatal disease and it’s incurable.”

“So what’s South America like? Heard you fucked up back home.”

“Fucked up?”

“What’d ju do? Get canned? You were always like that though. Mom always said so. Said you’d ask for rent for the time you spent in her womb! Fuckin’ cheap bastard. Always were, man. Say, whatddya say I come down there and visit? Or would you charge me too?” Laughter melded into a phlegmatic choking. “What’s the pussy down there like? Ah, you probably wouldn’t know.”

“I have a fatal disease Rex. It’s important you know that.”

“D’you have any friends down there?” Intoxicated concrete wall. Hell is the impossibility of reason.

“Yes, I do. Great guy from Denmark.”

“Those Danes are good stock,” he replied, so he knew Rex could hear him.

“How’s Mom?”

“Same. She’s good. Have a beer with her when she’s not workin’.”

“Spoken to Dad?”

“Bastard. Why would I talk to him? Fucking devil that guy. ‘Bit like you.” Noble was about to hang up but Reno’s wisdom beckoned and he took a moment to hear his input. Here was Rex, wrecked and without a penny, homeless except for the clubhouse of bandits who shared a love he had cultivated. One had to respect that, and the fact he didn’t respect Noble had some rationale. Be the bigger man, Reno whispered, be the better man.

“Rex, I want you to have my apartment if I don’t make it home. I’m pretty ill. You can sell it if you want, or keep the tenants for the rent. Doesn’t matter to me. It’s a thousand a month so it can fortify your income.”

“Noble, you’re mad. But thank you.” The silence filled his heart with sadness because the words had penetrated. He knew his brother didn’t know how to process this kind of news.

“I don’t know when I’ll speak to you again so let me say I always looked up to you, for your courage and initiative, and so maybe this is my way of saying that. I will send my revised will to Victoria. But everything I have goes to you bro.”

“Don’t know about thing you have but keep your chin up, okay?” The tone softer, a moment he had never had before.

“I will. And I wish-“

“I do too.” A moment of rare connection.

“I wish I had had more heart, like you. And I wish I could have been a better brother.”

“What’s wrong with you? I mean medically?” When he told him there was a longer silence. When he asked if it was genetic, he sighed.

“No, you won’t get it. You’re too old.”

“Bloody ironic isn’t it?” It felt for a moment they were both nodding into the phone.

“Enjoy your motorbiking. I wish it was something I had done.”

“Get one down there. Riding must be good.”

“Too late I think. Too late for a lot of things. But I’m happy I’m here. Have met some good people. Finally getting a taste of what life could have been. Great nose candy down here. Wish we coulda shared a line bro.” Rex stood up from the table in the clubhouse and walked to a quiet corner where the music wasn’t so loud.

“I bet it is. Better than the stuff we get here though we’re working on it.”

“Then get your ass down here on a flight so we have that time together. Think about it. I’d like to you remember me as I am now. Not as the little boy scared to dive into life, you know?”

“The beginning of the month is coming. Maybe it’s a possibility.”

“Give me your bank details and I’ll send you enough for a ticket. Call me at this number and let me know when you’ll arrive. But hurry. I don’t have much time. It would mean a hell of a lot to me Rex.” Bank account information was handed over.

“I’m pretty busy here and they might not let me in the country you know.”

“Give it a try. Promise me that.”

“All right. When I get down there have your shit together. You know what I mean. And maybe we can get some bikes and ride.” Noble/Reno was doubtful but something in his mind thought serendipity might be in play. This was one timeline he wanted to correct.

“I’ll see ya buddy. Keep your chin up.”

“Thanks Rex. Right, take care man.” Hung up. Wrecked by booze, wet brain, freeloader, never worked a day in his life. Blamed the world for his ills. Danger zone. Walking problem area. But still, he was his brother. He had been there from the beginning. And for a moment actually wondered if he would visit him in South America.

Called his mother.

“Hi son. Where are you?”


“Why? You got things t’a do here.”

“No, I quit my job. I have Scleroderma. It’s fatal. I’m dying Mom.”

“Too bad, eh. Not t’a say you don’t deserve it. Never did Diddly with yer life, eh?” The slur of pills and the roar of the television in the background.

“I thought I would tell you.”

“Hell, it’s yer problem. Whaddya wan’ me t’a do about it?”

“Nothing. Are you well?”

“Selfish bugger jus’ like yer father. Never cared a damn.” Noble wondered what it would be like to have a normal family, a mother who cared, who listened and who wasn’t a pill addict.

“I don’t think I’ll be back Mom. I like it down here.”

“Figures. Leavin’ me here to pay all the bills. You still owe me money.” He could hear her light a cigarette.

 “You take care Mom. I love you.” Words hollow. Void of meaning. Window dressing that lacked hue or punch. What a shame.

Next he called his father in San Francisco.

“Hey sport? How’re you doing?”

“Good Dad. I’m living down in South America these days. Moved a few months or so ago. Much different than the States.”

“South America?” asked his father’s wife on the other line.

“Hi Carla.”

“We just took a cruise down there. Fantastic.” Sounded like they were having a party.

“I’m calling to tell you I have an illness that is fatal and there is no cure.”

“That’s a shame honey.”

“What’s it called son?”


“Isn’t that what Dorthy has?”

“Ah, you’ll be fine. She’s had it for years.”

“Loved that cruise son. Might take another next year. If you’re still around then maybe we’ll visit.” Carla went on for a while about how her friend had battled the disease for years and was fit as a fiddle, but she had to be thinking of a different sickness. Finally he had had enough and said good-bye. And deep despair and loneliness covered him like fog. He tried his sister one more time but she didn’t pick up her mobile phone. There were no more people to call. No more ears to listen. Nothing more to do.

If you don’t give them anything, nobody will care.


He was rattled from the all-night bus up the mountains in darkness. Wanton and recklessly skidding around corners, it was a roller coaster without seat belts over unseen bumps with heavy G-Force, but Reno was still able to pack a pipe and feed his habit, more for kicks than for need. For Reno it was great fun, but for Noble the ride jarred his solar plexus that made him a whiter shade of pale and weak as a leaf in Fall.

Chapter Thirty-two

The Addict’s Ladder


The addict prides himself on his stamina; it is a badge of honor and proof of his dedication to mastering the drug. Preferring to remain atop his pinnacle, he will give a little bit more to feed it, to stay close to the bosom of his high. If it is an illusion then by damn it’s his illusion, perfect and flawed, a work of art he will fight to defend. Soon he believes life without the drug would be a mistake. God provided these plants for our bounty. Only a fool or imbecile would turn down this natural fruit; these spikers of doldrums, these uplifters against gravity, these givers of wings, this wool blanket that warms in a fog of bliss. It is his only friend, the only one he can trust. These were Noble’s thoughts when he arrived in Quito.

Cold, pushy taxi drivers and graffitied walls reminded him of her isolated geography and special place in the soul of the Andes. Some make Quito their hometown because of the perpetual spring and some because of the inexpensive living, but some do for the cocoa leaf. Both the Dane and Kate the Brit had made the capital of Ecuador their home for four years, each exercising a daily habit like Keith Richards. Kate had evolved her management technique of her tech intake with a nip here and a nip there, looking healthy, but the Dane kept going harder and harder, increasing his tolerance and pushing for that first-time high that he had had back in Denmark when he was poked in the neck. His technique freebasing had been perfected, as had his pipe-making capabilities. A half-liter plastic bottle, foil from the top of a yogurt container, fresh ashes, good supply of baking soda and lighters, tissue, and excellent pipe-cleaning utensil were his tools. The Dane had lost more weight, his face svelte and lined, with a Band-Aid on his forehead. Blood and pus seeping through. Noble didn’t say anything at first, until the Dane brought it up.

“Some guy hit me in the head with a glass,” he said, after ten minutes.


“I see this guy manhandling this good-looking chick in the washroom when she was barfing all over the place, so I tell him to take his hands off. He tells me to mind my own business but I know this girl. And this guy’s not her boyfriend. He’s grabbing a piece you know? So he leaves the bar all pissed off and returns half-an-hour later with two of his brothers. So he calls me, I turn around and bam! He threw the glass at my forehead. So I take him down but his oldest brother yells to stop. ‘This is my amigo,’ he said, pointing at me.’ So his little brother leaves and his brother Ricardo tells me ‘if there’s anything I can do’ so I got that coming to me when I want. I’m going to see him this Saturday. Connected guy. Part of the family.”

“You should take him up on that sooner than later.” Busy burning the coke and bicarbonate in water with his thick reading glasses, Noble had a good look at the cut with the soiled Band-Aid now off. A jagged pink line over his left eye was red and glowing, an angry lightning bolt that was the crowning scar of his many wounds that took his symmetrical beauty one more step away from boyish youth. It occurred to him that maybe that was why the Dane didn’t go for stitches.

“I could have used five passes of the needle and thread.” For a guy who hung out with Hells Angels, the cut was a trophy. It went well with the tattoo of the flags around his bicep of the countries he likes in South America, with the words: ‘El grand adventura en Sud America’ written below them.

The best thing about the Dane was his laughter from the gut. When he laughed it was pure, so with Reno’s sharp wit hours would pass by as if suspended in time. He spoke a lot about surviving on the streets in Quito to try to hammer Noble into shape. Spending time with the Dane was strictly a Reno affair. He even invited him to his girlfriend’s uncle’s place in the mountains.

“The tech was great in Canoa. Pink.”


“I stopped for the first week but then found a good dealer.”

“You’re addicted, that’s why.”

“No way. Not even close.” The Dane squared his shoulders to give absolute attention.

“You’re addicted and you don’t even know it. That’s how I know.” Reno shook his head at the impossibility.

“How can I be addicted after only a few months?” The put his elbow on the table and used it as a composer would his stick.

“Let me ask you a question: ‘How do you feel when the person next to you has the joint?” Reno played it through his mind and then smiled. “See, I told you.”


“Yes! See, most people don’t know what addiction is. Me, I’ve been addicted since I was sixteen. My mother was alcoholic and drank at the bar where she was a waitress, so I was exposed to it. Doesn’t matter if it’s alcohol or drugs. Same thing.” Reno shook his head.

“Not the same thing.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” His head came down like a sledgehammer hitting a spike, a gust of air hitting Reno’s face. Eyes a pink fog, the blue iris like fire, the trophy like stairs etched into his forehead. “Listen, I’ll tell what addiction is.” He held his eyes in Reno’s until he nodded. “It’s like a ladder, the first hit being the first rung on the ladder. Each step for me can be described, beginning at the bottom of the ladder but here I’ll begin with the first step to addiction at the top. The Dane wrote really small on a sheet of paper:

Curiosity, low self esteem

Acceptance by friends, ambition

Desire for power and money, new motivation

Recognition of the people around you and by them

Acknowledgment for new ‘outlaw’ social standing, the bad boys

Lack of interest in normal and the conventional life, more money

Realizing new opportunities for lifestyle and career, an original path

Growing fascination with the criminal world, life of sin outside the box

Enjoying not being like everyone else, pride and satisfaction of living by own rules

Embracing newfound respect based on fear, others noticing your notoriety as a bad guy

Reputation further fuels more intake and consumption, helps ‘legalize’ your abuse to yourself

Discovery of being trapped in your new character role and social group, inherent peer pressure to smoke

Loss of control of consumption and bigger amount and more often, with days dominated by drug intake

Growing lack of ability to manage everyday life, and seeing the narcotic has control over your life decisions

Loss of status within your new social niche because of your lack of control, and dipping into the main supply, theft

Developing an anti-social attitude and behavior, escaping to find more time and space to do your drugs, becoming a loner

Enhanced and more robust intake making the drug your best friend, replacing your friends for the sake of your new love: the drug

Realization that the intoxicant is the only thing your world revolves around and following your master to consume against your will

Accepting that you are living among the lowest of the social hierarchy and knowledge that you could die from your addiction and abuse

Reaching the point that you spend more days sick than stoned, so keeping yourself healthy enough to get stoned, focus on health for buzz

Lack of care of hygiene, self-respect and simple maintenance of basic nourishment, daily life’s chores ignored as lower priority and distraction

Realizing that you’re lost in life and you must admit you can’t change your situation on your own, and that to do this you would require assistance

“That’s how mine would go, or something very similar,” said the Dane. “You have a better idea now?” Reno liked the ladder-shaped description of his path to addiction, and wondered for a moment if this was the Dane’s way of asking for assistance.

“Better idea, yeah. But yours will be different than mine. I mean your flowchart. Or ladder. Here let me-“ He took the pencil and drew his own ladder on the other side of the paper:

Try something forbidden

Not as bad as they said it’d be

Discovery of another way of being

Other self emerges, birth of doppelgänger

Bolder, the beginning of new code of ethics

Evolution of priorities and image metamorphosis

New interests, new doors opening and paths forged

Nihilism, flirting with the abyss and sheer recklessness

Paradigm shift, self-destruction, anger and deep resentment

Fermentation of rebellion because of injustice of how life works

Risk-taking justified on disagreeable Fate done with zeal and moxie

Harnessing intoxicant to batter practicality and normalcy, done with danger

Assertive and daring, aware of new self taking precedence over old self’s reign

Fresher appreciation of art and things hitherto dismissed as unimportant and boring

Harder intake of narcotics for earnest exploration of imagination and pursuit of new ideas

Confident moving away from norms of society, harboring lighter step on way to outskirts of being

Comfort in the knowledge you’re on the path to growth, leaving the old superficial thinking long forgotten

Employment of new laissez-faire attitude while overcoming unforeseen obstacles while carefree and laidback

Valuing new path more than safety and being pragmatic, throwing dice and gambling one’s life based on new beliefs

Moving beyond old life and aches, finding new joy in deeper immersion in life, using insights of drug use for enhancement

A hidden artist emerges long dormant and overlooked, finding joy in the expression of original ideas and fruition of doppelgänger

Discovering new thrill in engaging life, using euphoria to bridge between shyness and fear into the tangible fabric of life and its dangers

Courage snowballs as evidence of flourishment is manifest, old doubts quelled and boundless optimism is born for a life more meaningful

To ignite the flame of motivation consumption is more common and more precise, executed to magnify emotion and profundity of experience

New insight into time utilization and wisdom to better spend time each day as if it were your final, letting a day’s maintenance fall by to the side

Eventually fulltime use and obsession with freedom to imbibe to master balance and flow, living like a work of art and pursuing mischief at all costs

“Mine would be something like that,” he said. “A bit different.”

“Yes, they are never right, are they?”

“I suppose I’m newer at this than you.”

“You have far to go, though look at your fingers.” Fingers yellowed by nicotine and burn scars from ill-made matches, nail of the right forefinger stained deep with dirt under the nail long overdue for a clip. Finger gnarled from battle, full assault on all the hip drooga of his Ecuadorian brothers.

Mucho,” he said.

“Everyone has their own way but they all lead to the same destination.” The Dane kept his eye on Reno to confirm the double entendre.

“Well said Dane Man.” Reno pulled out another bag for cooking. “All to the same destination.” The hardy Viking laughter. The kind with bite.


Meeting Max and Solomon happened the following night over a game of pool. They were playing without beer so Reno bought them a beer near the end of the night, so when after-hours came and the front doors closed they were allowed to stay in the inner sanctum. Monica and Reno engaged them with Solomon laughing from his guts, pure and reckless. Max was cool in his long black leather jacket and snakeskin cowboy boots. Son of a Nigerian king. Reno handed off his baggie of tech to Max, who promptly disappeared into the washroom for a few minutes. Solomon was too busy trying to pick up Monica to offer him any. The whites were at the bar and the Ecuadorians looked with suspicion at the Nigerians, Reno making sure they were comfortable and welcome. Solomon invited them to a party on Friday night at the African Club, a private fraternity where expatriate Nigerians hung out.

“And bring your friend from Denmark,” he said, forgetting the name of the Dane they had played pool against. Monica smiled at Reno, making it known she was single.

Chapter Thirty-three

The African Club


Laughter harvested will a good man make, the hidden smile of playfulness will partake. It is one thing to laugh freely and unhindered, but it is something entirely different to bring out the hidden sunshine of the soul in others, leaving a smile on their face, giving them hope, and momentarily raising them from the darkness of gnawing problems. To have this ability to elevate others might be regarded as being on par with the rare individuals who can inspire others to greatness. But these select few are rare and usually overlooked by history.

All human beings have the capacity of laughter and yet many lose their will to laugh, believing it is childish or immature. The stern face, the look of constant worry, the serious demeanor are all adult faces. Humanity needs comedians, our artists, our stand-up comics, who have historically been the ones invited to the King’s court and the emperor’s palace. There are so many noble qualities in man yet the one universal constant is that strange reflex to laugh. It is humankind’s Sublime Leveler, the Bonder of Brothers, the Great Mother of Man reminding us that it is all right, that love is better than war, that honesty is better than guile, and that we can all work together. In a darkening world of overpopulation, food shortages and toxic pollution, our gifted comedians need to find a voice to shout across the rooftops of the world to unite us all as brethren and to alert us of the empyrean, and put us back in touch with the infinite drop of goodness in our hearts that all peoples are born with.

Hard work can be channeled into polishing wit, identifying what makes others laugh and thus become your own expert to make others laugh. Learn to bypass impressing others with achievement and material gains; know that the skill of raising another to the natural state of momentary abandon is a gift more valued and more sought after. It is a form of emancipation into the realms of magic, and an animation of the spirit. It is magic because it’s involuntary, as if a divine sprite is tampering with your skeletal musculature. But the uncentered man is too fractured to focus on polishing his ability to make others laugh. One must get into the mix, employ courage and know your true character to find your center. Only then can you become a giver to humanity and a maestro healing others through laughter. With one’s freedom of self, one then has the ability to laugh at themselves, which is the first step of making others crack up. It is not playing the fool; it is an indirect way of showing others your mastership is so thorough that you have come out on the other side, an exuberance of joy from life and a confidence of knowledge that is impenetrable to insecurity and embarrassment.

These were Noble’s thoughts the night of the African Club party.

It was that one act of kindness that had produced the invitation to the African Club. Noble had heard about the African Club from being in the pub scene in Mariscal, but few non-members were allowed in. He was flattered to have been invited but was relieved the Dane had been included. He knew why the club was so valued among the African expatriates: the blatant racism in Quito was shocking. Whenever a cop or an undercover searched someone in Mariscal, it was always a black with dreadlocks. Not only could he see it, he could feel it too. So the blacks stuck together and removed themselves from the glare of bigotry. They culminated in an old Spanish casa where they could order good food cheap and play music and relax.

When Friday rolled around the Dane had sequestered himself with a new woman in his hostel, choosing to forgo the African Club much to Reno’s chagrin, but there was no way he was going to stand up Solomon and Max so he went to Finn’s early and met David the Irishman who could belt out laughter with the best of them. Reno was going to create his own posse to land in the African Club, fully supplied with tech, bringing Paulina who the Africans might like to look at since she was once Miss Ecuador.

Noble, the Irishman, Paulina and her boyfriend from Britain arrived with Solomon at four o’clock in the morning to an empty house except Patrick Campbell, the club manager. It wasn’t until Reno placed the white powder on the table that the pace of conversation picked up until everyone was speaking and no one was listening. Classic coke party. When the African music filled the room, the vibe enhanced. Only Paulina was a dud. She made it plain that she didn’t like or trust blacks in a voice loud enough to be heard. Crass and rude, Reno took the initiative and encouraged her to depart with her British boyfriend. Once they left things really loosened up, the conversations started to take root and flourish. Time passed as the lines were demolished with ferocity until they all reached a soft and fluffy level of intoxication.

The first morning arrivals were Max and two of his women, one soon breastfeeding her daughter across the table from Noble/Reno without a hint of embarrassment. After seven hours of snorting, drinking and robust vocal exchange, members began arriving, many shocked at the number of bottles and quaffing still in play. Since Solomon was the DJ, he made a point of introducing every member to Noble/Reno and the Irishman. Noble didn’t think he and the Irishman would be embraced so sincerely but he was wrong. All of the fifty or so members who entered the club on Saturday shook his hand, each man looking Noble/Reno right in the eye, making an effort to welcome them both. Never had he been shown so much respect. Every member had a quality of kindness that showed an open mind that ceased to surprise him. Noble had expected a cold shoulder or hesitance from some but every single man welcomed him and the Irishman with class. Not once did he sense resentment that two very pink, white men were in their sanctuary. It was a members-only club based solely on race yet the two whites were treated as equals, many showing genuine happiness of their presence.

It was early on Saturday that Noble/Reno started to be aware of overstaying his welcome, readying to leave at any time. But Solomon was adamant that they remain in the club. Noble/Reno called the Dane several times but he had turned his phone off to avoid coitus interruptus, but he couldn’t ignore the great time he was missing. It was Saturday midday after snorting lines from the table that Noble/Reno realized that a dominant characteristic of the members was their individual style, each having an individual look. Each look was original; each expressing the look they liked; none a variation of another’s or even similar. Like an unwritten acknowledgment that personal style was valued, it was the identification of their true character that was valued over socio-economic status.

Many members sat around in the main room and chilled out from the ruckus and oppression of Quito, finding comfort in the ease and laughter generated by the Noble/Reno, David and Solomon table in the main room. Noble on alert to vamos so he didn’t mar the great party they were having, with each new greeting the handshake was firm and the impetus to depart postponed, never reaching the action point.

David the Irishman had never done nose candy before so he was on cloud nine, going with the flow and not afraid to ask questions regarding technique and etiquette around the coke table. Clearly a man who knew how to have a good time, it was his laugh that made everyone feel at ease, particularly Solomon, who was gaining brownie points for his invitation of two spenders. Max sat at the table and did the line and drank a beer cool as cool could be, plain for Noble/Reno to see he was one of the most respected men in the club. A son of a Nigerian king who had been ousted during a struggle for power, he now called his home South Africa. He was thickly built and had the natural poise of royalty, never moving for others if he didn’t have to but never insolent or rude.

Solomon was the opposite. Soon becoming drunk from the beer, he was loud and interacted with everyone, choosing the music to suit the mood, provoking some to react in order to get their blood going. If any non-member was ever to be brought to the club, Solomon was the best man to do it. Fearless and a talented jester, if he wasn’t joking around he was smoking his pipe of base or drinking beer or bent over selecting the next song. And this day he was enlivened by the politeness and good humor of his guests. He had given a nod to Reno for booting Paulina out. The Africans were just sick and tired of non-thinking prejudices that were rampant in Ecuador.

It was a real family at the African Club.

“We’re getting low on our tech,” he said to Solomon, who had been indoctrinated into the language already.

“I know where to go, but I need cash.” Solomon had the gift of extracting money from Noble without ever asking directly. But it was their mutual belief in God and respect for Him that joined them in trust. It was one of the first things he had brought up with Noble, and it was Noble’s nature to reply with direct honesty, now ever more direct and clear after observing the Dane’s technique. It didn’t take Solomon more than a few songs to come back with the largest amount of base Noble had ever seen.

The tech had gone underground with all the people around, the intake taking place in the washroom one at a time. A football match came on the big screen above the mirrored far wall so the Irishman and Noble followed Solomon upstairs to one of the four open rooms where there was a party going on. Noble bought some Abuella Rum and Coke and proceeded to solidify his platform and laugh at the stand-up comic routine Solomon was trying to do. But more than that, it was the comfort and acceptance of the members to join the party with most of them shaking Noble’s hand a second time and restating their name.

There was a strict etiquette smoking the smelly base from a pipe. Not allowed inside the premises, there was a balcony that was partially hidden from the road where doobies and pipes could be undertaken briskly, with no loitering. Solomon was a vacuum, and enjoyed the tangy bite of the yellow-colored base, instantly causing his eyes to become like pee holes in the snow. Jousting and light-hearted, there were no long faces in the room, each trying to raise the other’s spirit in a country that didn’t want them.

Then Lawrence showed up.

“Can I have some rum?” he asked Noble, head dipped and face acquiescing.

“Absolutely.” With skin dry and rough like sandpaper, his curled hair whitening and drying out like the stubble on his face, he towered over the table with his polite manners and soft voice. But Noble could see he was a man who had lived a hard life, so he wasn’t going to think of him as a child. He said he was Nigerian but had grown up in Brooklyn.

“Have you ever been to Africa?”

“Not yet,” he replied. “So many places and not enough time.” Lawrence slapped the table.

“You must make time Noble! Make time to go because there’s no other place in the world like Africa. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the same thing. The sky is bigger and the land is richer in color. But!” His hand shot upwards. “But what country should you visit? That’s the tough one to answer. But I know where the best country is. It’s also the country with the best marijuana in the world.”

“I thought the best was from California or up the West coast around Vancouver in Canada. Hydroponics or whatever it’s called.”

No!” Again the slapping of the table with his fleshy hand. Then eyes turning empathetic. “You don’t like the grass?” Noble had to take a step back to let Reno answer with wit.

“I’ve had lots of different kinds but I don’t think I’ve tried Nigerian weed.”

“Well then you have that to look forward to.” The laughter electrified the room, many so accustomed to eruptions of mirth that they hardly noticed. “No but trust me. Nigeria has the best of any country. Ask anyone.”

“The room is full of Nigerians. What else are they going to say?”

“True!” Like a hair trigger, ready to sprint at the sound of the starter’s pistol, Lawrence let his piano-key teeth shine with confidence, knowing that that moment is the best of any part of the twenty-four-hour cycle of time. Just loved to laugh. It only brought out more from Reno.

 “But seriously now Lawrence, if I were to go to Africa, where in Nigeria would I go? The capital? What is it? Lagos?”

“Yes! But no, not there. But of course you arrive there and then you go north up the mountains to a plateau. That’s where you can get good weed and enjoy smoking it too.”

“A plateau like Quito?”

“No, very very flat. Where you can see all of Africa. Sit there and smoke the ganja and ponder life’s bigger questions.”

“You know something Lawrence, that sounds very appealing to me.” Noble/Reno stroked his growing beard, and entertained the possibility of taking a trip to Africa.

“Nigeria. Trust me. You will like it.” 

“And what is this place called? This plateau? Can you write it down for me?” He took his pen and wrote it on a piece of paper. “But you know if I go there and the weed is crappy I’m have to hunt you down and chop off one of your limbs.” Again the hair trigger. Booming sub-woofer sound of joy. Didn’t really have to be funny, only needed to make the attempt.

Since Reno was holding the baggies, Solomon asked him if he wanted to smoke some more. Lawrence was curious.

“Would you like to have a pipe?”


“No, base. Very strong base,”

“Don’t touch that stuff,” he replied, shaking his head. “Clog your lungs and the high isn’t high enough, if you know what I mean. Noble knew exactly what he meant.

“I do. You keep on smoking it and you never get higher than you are after the first hit.”

“Could’ve have said it better myself.” Noble, once square now drug connoisseur.

“Freebasing is the best in my opinion. It’s so clean, and that taste.”

“Oh brother I hear ya! That smoooooth taste! Gotta get me some!”

“Wish I had some baking soda we could cook some up.”

“No, no. Not here. Some other place maybe. But I have a line on some great stuff. Powder white. The White Lady!”

“Fluffy nose candy. Hmmm. I could be interested.” Money being spent but why not? As the Dane once said: when you spend a hundred you have to believe you will get eight hundred in return – or something like that. Some old Danish expression.

“She’s a pure lady this cracker bitch.” Deadpan. It was Reno’s turn to let loose. Face flushed. The relaxing of orifices and the loosening of the bowels.

“It’s a good cracker bitch is she? Well then I might want to sample this cracker’s goodies if it’s fluffy and untainted.” The massive body contorted like a crumbling deck of cards in laughter, folding into itself, letting the head dangle so as not to obstruct the flow of joy through the tensing of muscles. Lawrence drooled by mistake on the table.

“Larry man!” Solomon was trying to act pissed off.

Reno gave Lawrence forty bucks and a half hour later he returned with the strongest White Lady Noble/Reno had ever ingested. But it was poor David the Irishman who reeled from one of the long lines Noble/Reno left on top of the toilet. First Noble/Reno, then Lawrence and then David, but when David came out his face was redder than what would be comfortable, his voice quivering and his words jumbled. He had tilted the machine. He snuck out some time after that leaving only Noble/Reno standing. He and Lawrence laughed and listened to music as Solomon took requests and bitched with everyone who came into his sphere of influence. It was dark out when Noble finally left some time on Sunday early morning.

Chapter Thirty-four

The Dutch Hair Piece


The firmness of step and the power of a man centered within his character come only after many timid steps and awkward outbursts – the entry fee to a lifelong discovery of one’s true self. Noble thought that he might have reached a point of center whereby he knew his character and had amalgamated Reno and Noble together creating a new self: the Upper Man – he who knows all selves within the soul.

Noble/Reno straightened his posture and walked towards Frank and Michael on the patio of the Corner Pub. He wore layers of shirts to hide his emaciated frame, his hands now very red and swollen from his spreading illness. His knapsack was heavy with rum for Toné and beers and cocaine for himself. Birthday present and sunglasses and pipe – the usual. It was the Dutchman’s birthday party.

“Wasn’t sure if you were going to make it,” said Michael, crisp handshake, bright red shirt pressed and trousers clean.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” said Frank the retired Canadian, eyes watery and puffy, cigarette smoke dry and lined like his face.

“Had to pick up some goodies,” he said, putting his bag on the sidewalk. Strange to wait beside the usual hangout when it’s closed.

“We’re waiting on Milton.”

“Should be here in thirty minutes,” said Frank, suede jacket crisp in the afternoon sun.

“He has a truck so we can go with him.”

“He knows where it is ‘cause I sure don’t!”

Thirty minutes standing on the corner looking around?

“Um, in that case I think I’ll relax on the patio down there by the palm tree,” said Noble.

“Where we met you that night?”

“That’s the one. Come over when he’s here, or I can keep an eye open from there.” Michael looked at his watch, Frank’s curiosity tweaked.

“Twenty-five minutes, that’s enough for a pint. I think I’ll join you,” said Michael.

“I’ll stay here,” said Frank, hunching over on the patio.

The local football team La Liga won the Ecuadorian championship against their archrival, fans beeping their horns and waving flags, most in soccer/football jerseys.

“Good that they won, otherwise there would have been a riot. Serious grudge match with Cuenca. That’s where my family lives – where the family home is, so I’m a Cuenca supporter. Good I’m going to Toné’s tonight. It’s easier for me not to make a comment to a La Liga fan if I’m out of the bars.”

“Might be some fans at the Dutchman’s tonight.”

“Nah. It’ll be Dutch and Ecuadorians. Doubt if they’ll be any talk about it. Besides, it’s the old man’s fifty-three-and-a-third Birthday.” Michael took a long swig leaving foam on his lip. “You know the story behind fifty-three-and-a-half?” Noble shook his head.

“Wasn’t it something about being halfway to a hundred-and-three?” Noble didn’t do the math calculation.

“Right, but that comes from the story behind it.” Michael started to smile. “One day, after six weeks off having a swollen lymph node he walks into the doctor with a fever of a hundred-and-six. The doctor says: ‘I need to lance that immediately, it will break the fever. That stuff must come out.’ But Toné says: ‘Okay but I need to go home first and make sure my dog is okay. You know, tell the neighbors.’ ‘No! The doctors says, it’s imperative we open that festering boil before it kills you young man!’ But no, Toné picks up his bag and cycles home in half an hour, talks to his neighbor to take care of his dog, and cycles back to the doctor with a temperature of a hundred-and-six degrees. I’m telling ya. So his friends afterwards said to him if he can do that with a one-o-six fever then you’re going to live ‘til you’re a-hundred-and-seven.”


The house was huge on a natural shelf of rock, bar built in the Dutch fashion, a separate building like a garage but devoted entirely to memories made in there. Outside bar and tables, a band and food, the grass as green as possible. Horticulturalist’s lawn.

“Noble. Are you well?” The Dutchman full smile, rum in hand and hat over his bald head. White suit, fully cocked, could not have been more in his element.

“As well as can be expected.” Handed him the bottle of twenty-year-old rum. “This is for you. Happy fifty-three-and-a-half birthday Mister Dutch Man.” His hand crushed by the Dutchman’s, muscled and tendoned by an extraterrestrial gene pool. That was when Toné took notice of his color, the patchy green skin on his face, fingers like creaking toothpicks, pink bags under the eyes. Fragile.

“Thank you Noble. Beverage? You’re going to love this band.” But the Dutchman knew he was too weak, the mass of his body a fourth smaller than months before, chest disintegrated, voice firm but lacking moxie. Noble didn’t follow his few steps to the live band by the fence, just stood there in his leather, happy to be part of this exclusive party in the mountains of Quito, full of flower experts, traders, wives and girlfriends. But what made Toné different was his sensitivity under the bluster.

“Let me show you the bar. You will like it.” They walked slowly down the grade to the door. Something occurred to Noble at that moment, a knowledge that it would be the last time such a memory were to happen, and perhaps true knowledge of what time was. He had to start letting go, face those last moments with faith that time will keep on going for others, and that at least he had had some good times. Memories to bring to the afterlife in that dimension that none can see. It was to be his last party, the last time he would step into a bar, this one a Dutch masterpiece, the bar at the end of the universe, in of all places: Quito, Ecuador.

Noble’s chest seized, causing him to breathe in. His throat caught and he shuddered, tears like salted lava muting an emotive outburst at this realization. Witnessed to no one except the Dutchman and a hummingbird, a convergence of three in a moment in time. The threshold was coming. He had to start letting go. He had to face the pain and accept its sting. He lifted his head and straightened his shoulders, reaching Toné’s height but just a flake of a man next to the stout Dutchman.


Since it was Aaron Noble-now-Reno Noble-Upper Man’s last shindig, he was supplied with the best tech, up all night, playing the best songs, drinking the best beer and rum, the last man standing after the last of the tall Dutchmen left for the night. Supplied with everything he needed, the music was loud, the ice was still frozen, the seven-year old rum plentiful, and a deep welling in his heart was struggling to the surface that needed attention. With no paper, he found a cardboard box and ripped sheets from it, finding a pen he was set to let the emotion out, a thank you for Toné’s subtle acknowledgement of his affliction. He thought Toné would be the one he would confess to if it came to that. He hadn’t figured out exactly why he had chosen to tell Toné about his scleroderma, other than it felt right. He didn’t want to wreck his friendship with the Dane in any way and Toné had a quality to him that made him feel safe. In a sense he was already grateful that he could tell him so in reaction to that release he had not yet had, he penned some lines for the inventor of the black lily.


The next morning Michael was the first one up, having slept in the side room in the bar. Then Toné emerged morning drink in hand.

“You’re still here!”

“Didn’t feel like calling it a night. Bar’s too cool. Must be the perfect bar if there’s such a thing.”

“Hoped you’d be here.” The words like tonic to his stoned mind and paranoia of death lingering around the corner.

“Never know when it’s going to be your last.” The Dutchman looked deeper into his bloodshot eyes, turquoise blur, purpose clear: savoring every piece of time he had left.

“Maybe fifty-three is good enough.” Sleep in his eyes, awareness between the lines, steady and true.

“I was thinking about that. Maybe half is all ya get. So do twice as much in half the time and let the rest go. You have to. ‘Cause it goes on and on and on.”

“I need to smoke more.” The Dutch halfway through rolling a cigarette.

They sat among the hummingbirds, extra green grass like a putting green with a beard, cold beer still beading off the glass, sun strong, leather soft, conversation light, the torn pieces of cardboard piled in front of him.

“Yeah, work on it will ya. Be a team player and croak early to save your fellow citizens tax dollars. ” 

“And shave your head to cut down on hair-cutting costs. It’ll save you money so you can give it to the tax people.” Hardy laughter. Spirits bright for the Dutchman’s next fifty-three-and-a-half years. 

“Yeah but you cut yours because you don’t have any.” He hardly had eyebrows.

“Maybe so but I still save money on hair costs. I don’t have any!” His brother came out from the kitchen with a steaming mug of coffee. Bald like his brother.

“Why are so many Dutchmen bald?” Toné’s brother Henrik stopped.

“You think you’re not going to be bald one day?” Chin slightly out.

“No, I do not.” Reno stepping forth, jutting chin in kind, mocking, playful tone. “I will never go bald. I will have this hair on my head when I am in my box!” The words so definitive, the charge improvable, the jest waiting for rebuttal. The brothers look at each other.

“Okay then, I’ll bet you twenty dollars that you will.” Toné, folding his arms with the look he knew something Reno didn’t. But Reno knew he was right. No bluffing this time.

“Done. I’ll take your bet Dutchman. And be happy to take your money.”

“A twenty then.” He wasn’t going to be outdone on the eve of his last breath.

“And be done with it.” The words of Reno’s grandmother coming out of his lips.

Jaap from Holland strode in wearing his motorcycle jacket, clean shaven, looking sober and awake.

“What are you Skandooligans doing here on this Sunday day of rest? Getting ready for church then?” Jaap cool as a mountainside of a thousand roses and tulips all varied in color. The chief. Just because he was the only one who knew how to run things. Simple.

“A little morning cheer Reverend Jaap.” Reno reckless, nasal drip in full drip mode.

“That’s all right My Son, I can handle it.”

About five minutes later Reno was pulled down from his chair from behind, four arms wrapped around his chest.

“Whoa!” The buzz of shears tickled his scalp from the neck up. “What- Wait!” The hand with the shears clicked it off. Noble’s hand darted up to his hair, a fresh bald spot four inches long.

“You’re going to be bald because Hendrik wants his twenty bucks!” Michael laughed with symphonic sound still holding on to his leather.

“Well I don’t think I’m going to be walking around with this thing exposed.” The buzz returned and the shears sheared the rest of his hair in a minute. From no-haircut-in-six-months, his hair now less than a centimeter long. The skin of the white scalp now burning under the equatorial sun, attacking the virgin white skin never to have seen its full glare, his hand rubbing it, the hair now bristled steaming the moisture out of the tangled jungle.

“What do you say Texan?” He rubbed his fingers together. “Where the twenty?” He removed his hat and rubbed his bald head the same way Reno did. “You like it? Looks good on you. Hair was too long before.”

“Like a hippie.” Michael always to the point.

He looked at Jaap.

“Suits you.” A true nod. A direct descendent of the God of Truth,

“All right, fair enough. I am now bald. Here’s your bread.” Though some rules were assumed they were never specified. The Dutchmen had a good holler at that one. Wasn’t the first time that trick had been pulled.

“No more hippie look for you now. Welcome to the real world.” Grin strong, half-rolled cigarette cradled in one hand.

“So I suppose I should say thank you.”

“You should!”

“Okay, so to say thank you I give you this.” He handed the scraps of cardboard with his leveled handwriting to Jaap, the only normal one in the bunch. He studied it, saw the numbered pieces and figured it out.

“You want me to read it?”

“Sure. You’re probably the only one in this zoo who can read.” Jaap cracked up, took the request seriously, slipped on his reading glasses and read the poem to Toné, his brother and Michael in a clear, poetic voice:

The Black Lily

Esoteric yet known to child and adult, as old as Cain and Abel,

Flowers have inspired mankind to greatness and feats unseen,

An organic reminder of our faculty for beauty and subtlety of hue, air perfumed,

A modest blip in a world ravaged by waste and warfare and disease and death.

As Man progressed and evolved

From spear to seed and sword to stem,

The lily emerged coveted most by kings and court,

Sought by leaders of nations, desired by the cultivated artist in Man.

Seafarers by prophecy and traders by instinct and skill,

The Dutch flourished at horticultural pursuits,

Perfecting the art of growing and cross-breeding,

By Fate and with hand of divine grace.

Tough, resourceful and blessed with resilient integrity,

The Dutch rose to the top of this industry, vital to few yet inspiring to all,

Discovering soil in the best climes the world over,

Establishing gardens nestled 9000 feet in the Andes on the equator.

Like pilots trying to break the unreachable sound barrier at Mach One,

The Chuck Yeager of flowers experimenting and cross-breeding with relish,

Undeterred in his dream for the Holy Grail of his aristocratic profession:

The creation of the black lily, the long-sought enigma for centuries.

Impossible and unattainable by the clumsy hand of man it was believed,

‘Black doesn’t exist in the color spectrum,’ the naysayers said,

‘A waste of bloody time it is, like an alchemist turning lead into gold,’

The doubters’ ridicule smug and cocky, shouted with barbs of cynicism.

But some with vision persevered with expert dexterity to create this plant divine,

Determined the human animal could attain the perfection of God,

That drop of the divine that lay dormant in us all.

A challenge to the few who had been given a gift from the heavens.

Wondered in whispers of man’s mastership of plant and root,

One Dutchman faced the conundrum with self-belief in his step,

Chin out, chest full, and hands earthed by soil from whence he came,

His eyes housing the glimmer of grounded invincibility of purpose.

Maybe taken as a personal or professional challenge,

Or perhaps seen as a goal for patriotism ingrained,

Hands and head and hoe spoke for the words he left unsaid,

Bluster manifest in his search for the path hidden to the black lily.

Big and bald and brawn and brave,

The botanist busied his brain by blazing boldly with backbone and boot,

Bypassing the backbiting babble of banal boo-hooers banded to break his bevel,

Bolstered by the bower banished beyond boundaries barren.

The Dutchman forged the path still untrammeled,

Ideas working long after the days’ work was done,

Eurekas of insight tickling during the twilight of slumber,

A pencil handy with paper scribbled with possibilities.

Fueled and sparked by the chorus of the impossible,

Old tools of the trade employed and explored,

A sailor of oceans of clay and earth,

The laboratory the bosom of Mother Earth.

Failing but learning, inch by inch and yard by yard.

The live-giver smiling its orange heat day after day,

A scientist and dreamer, a yaysayer and doer,

Overlooked by all in the heart of his Andean fortress.

‘There is a white lily but not its opposite,’

Thoughts rankled between the raindrops of time,

‘A black must be her Adam, her soul mate, her man,’

The puzzle set and the belief remained.

Perhaps wisdom acquired through history ancient in Man,

Permeated like osmosis the Dutchman’s digging mind,

The story of the Red Man’s Medicine Wheel appeared,

Bespeaking an old story of the four races of mankind.

‘White here, yellow over there, red at the top but here the blue race,’

He wondered with mind racing, the quartered circle with colors before him,

‘Why the black race is blue is the key to cracking this!’

Unvoiced words fervent and forceful, holding council with gravel in hand.

The color spectrum known to the horticulturalist,

Like a chemist his periodic table of interlaced logic,

Appeared in its glory and perfection shining in his mind’s eye,

Having long awaited the man with the daring to see what others had not.

‘There is no black race like there is no white race,’

Ran the dialogue of his brewing thoughts,

‘A lack of pigment lets the blood shine out pink,

And blue is not black, far from darkness of a moonless night.’

‘So if light pink is white and blue is black,’ deduced the Dutchman,

‘Then dark purple is my black, a hue of night waiting to be lit!’

And so he grew new strains and cross-bred new hues,

Of purple and red and burgundy, each kissing the mate of lily’s white.

More batches and more petals tainted by purple and burgundy,

Patience hoping for the genetic blip blighting the color of wisdom,

Soon producing the strain black to the naked eye,

Even under the life-giving smile of Nature’s fire.

A thing of beauty sought by the connoisseurs of the plant divine.

Taken and nurtured like the Creator Himself,

Giving life to a dream long thought to be beyond the reach of Man,

The botanist’s age-old bellyache now neutralized with an antidote of black.

And so it was created by the hand of a Dutch flower man,

The black lily was born,

Tainted not by mauve or red or rose,

But of the wise power of purple, the color of the royal line.

But the naysayers still doubted like Thomas to Jesus,

Believing it to be a miracle consisting of a lifetime of one,

A phony menace to reason and science,

Dying bloom void of the sustainability of life.

So to insist the flower was not a fluke,

Five years they demanded it live and bloom,

‘Five years of strength and staying power can only prove its worth,

Before it can be recognized by us in the know.’

So the Dutchman kept his secret safe and secure,

The dark purple flourished, stem solid and leaf strong,

With bloom so void of color the hue muted to night,

That mystery that whispers of unconquered secrets of life.

Now known as the ‘Black Lily Dutchman,’

Incognito in all but name,

A legend revered and respected who rides a Harley Davidson,

By royalty the world over, beyond borders or creed.

“You wrote that last night?”

“Hey, it’s a great bar and I was alone. Writing kept my mind off of other things.” Toné stood up, walking around the table and shook Reno’s hand.

“Didn’t know you could write.” Then a hug – and strong embrace of a strong man protecting a dying waif of a man about to be taken away in his prime.

“I can’t,” he replied, hug ending. “I’m grateful Jaap can read.” A blush on his cheek. Hand still seized by the Dutchman’s hand.

“Well we have another four months until it’s official but damn, that’s going up on the wall of fame in the bar.” Smile crooked, teeth as neat as his rows of white lilies. Jaap handed him the poem and shook Reno’s hand. Not a word but the nod said it all.

“It’s legible, and look.” Jaap held the three pieces together. “All the lines are level.”

“Perfect. I’ll put it up with your illegible handwritten scrawl. ” He winked as he took possession of the poem. “Maybe I’ll get them framed too.”

“Doesn’t suit you to flatter.”

“But I do have one thing I want you to change.”

“Oh, oh.”

“I want to be known as the Dutchman of the Black Lily, not how you had it.”

“The Black Lily Dutchman.”

“Exactly. Makes me sound black.”

“Should have called you The Flowering Dutchman.”

“Nah. But the best part you put in there is that I ride a Harley. Good touch. I’ll send this to the trade magazine called Flowers Internationale when the announcement is made.”

“And our magazine in Holland too,” said Jaap.

“I can translate it and type it out without the Black Lily Dutchman.” Laughter.

“Just make sure you don’t screw it up.” The hand slammed the table, causing his poodle to scurry to his leg, and regard Noble/Reno with suspicion, laughter roaring over the cliffs into the valley. For a moment all four looked at him slouched in the chair, the skinny Texan with the sharp Reno wit now seen to have a capacity none of them had. Never had he felt prouder of himself, the first truly selfless thing he had ever done. He smiled and ran his hand across his bald pate.