No More Waiting to Die

The horse and I just after it nearly threw me to my death

This book is dedicated to Kenneth Skouw,

a man who mastered his fear

and who inspired this book.


What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man,

the will to power, power itself.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.

 – Ernest Hemingway, 1938

All true, all original music, is a swan song.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Published 2012

©Copyright MMXX

Table of Contents

1.The Divine Elbow

2.Just Surviving As Noble Intent

3.Surpassing Neophobia

4.The Middle of the World

5.The Dane

6.The Religion of Sfauism

7.Celebrating Chemistry

8.Connected Columbians

9.Stuntmen and Dakar Motorcycle Groupies

10.Into Amazonian Waters

11.A Beautiful Repressive Niche

12.Canalazo de Naranilla

13.Cajones el grande

14.A Noble Doppelgänger

15.Reno Finds His Footing

16.How to Make a Bomb Out of a Light Bulb

17.The Impossible Black Lily

18.The Boy Fascist


20.The Art of Death

21.The Earthquake Virgin

22.Lambaster of Laughter

23.The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreuden

24.Matador: the Agent of Destiny


26.Mobile Piping

27.Aristotle’s Character Years

28.The Great Pilgrimage

29.A Purpose for Your Sins

30.Errol Flynn

31.The Better Man

32.The Addict’s Ladder

33.The African Club

34.The Dutch Hair Piece

35.The Scent of Ammonia

36.At the Mouth of the Amazon

37.Broken and Renewed

38.Seizing the Moment

39.A Recent Past Discovered

40.Pinned and Threatened by Fate

41.Twice as Much in Half the Time

42.The Pledge

43.Slandering Hamlet

44.Stealing Time

45.On the Old Contraband Trail

Chapter One

The Divine Elbow

Houston, Texas, USA

June 2011


The walls were a sickly off-white color and the worn tile floor waxed and shiny yet still appeared dirty, the fresh wax not able to hide its scars. But it was the thick smell that oppressed him the most: a mixture of sickness, medicine, body odor and over-used cleaning products had created a pungency in the hospital’s stagnant air. It made him impatient. Didn’t matter though. If it was one thing Noble was good at it was ignoring unpleasantness.

Doing that for nearly 50 years.

He put his hand to his chin, unsettled, a thought ruminating down the corridors of his mind. What is life without a dream in pursuit? Merely a filling in? A bypassing of time? A test of patience until the next phase began? Endurance, he thought. Without pursuing his dream it was simply endurance. The excruciating ache of waiting.

“Mr. Noble?” At least the doctor had some idea of what his symptoms meant. Couldn’t remember how many doctors he had seen.

Noble nodded. Just give me some medication; there’s a cure for everything these days.

“From the last round of tests we’ve been able to pinpoint the problem.” It was the doctor’s eyes that made him put down the magazine he was reading to pass the time. “The inflammation and discoloration, and the stiffness and pain are the symptoms of a rare disease called Scleroderma.”

Like a master Buddhist he showed no reaction.

“Scleroderma. Derma. Something to do with the skin? But what about the hardening of my fingers and the swelling?” The doctor, whose name he had already forgotten, nodded.

“It is a systemic auto-immune disease that characteristically affects the hands, arms and face.” No matter what tricks of the mind or skill of ignoring he employed, he knew at that moment that this was exactly what he had. Ran his finger over an elongated spot below the skin on his cheek that was hardened, like a long ripple of semi-hard rock.

He nodded.

“There are two types and I’m sure, due to your shortness of breath and difficulties swallowing, that you have what is called Diffuse Systemic Scleroderma. Unfortunately there are no known cures.”

The silence that followed was a flurry of random thoughts: Damn it there has to be a cure! No cure? Fuck it. Major elbow by God. It means no more work. Don’t have to do that bloody report. Fuck it. I’m retired now! What about my retirement fund? Can finally do what I want. I gotta live before I die.

“So then what’s the treatment?”

“There is no treatment other than taking medications, such as prednisone and an immune suppressant medication.”

“So then how do things play out with this? I eat more fruit and take more vitamins and some pills and it stops? Eventually?”

“I’m afraid not Mr. Noble. It will progressively worsen, affecting your major organs – mainly your lungs, your heart and it will compromise your esophagus and your GI tract. The hardening of tissue will continue.”

For some reason Noble laughed.

“So this isn’t a case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?” The joke fell flat. Butterflies attacked his stomach and could feel sweat on his forehead.

“So then how serious is this Derma piece?

“Scleroderma is fatal.” He looked at his swollen hands and wrists, the bruising and felt the stiffness and pain. Straightening his hands the knuckles and joints changed to a dull green color.

“Umm, how fatal is fatal? I mean talk to me here. What the fuck do I have?” Voice raised, jittery, an aggression emerging.

“From what we know, five-year survival rate is 70 percent. The ten-year survival is 50 percent.”

“You mean I’m going to fucking die from this?” Noble walked to the far side of the room, turned and glared at the doctor.

“It is likely you will. Whether in five or ten years, or fifteen or twenty. It is a progressive fatal disease Mr. Noble, so it will kill you eventually. Or if you’re lucky, old age will. But the affects can be horribly debilitating and painful.”

That’s nice. That’s really fucking nice.

“Listen, I know you’re a good doctor but are you sure about this?”

“Yes. We’re sure. I had my suspicions but from the results of the last round of tests, this is our confirmed diagnosis. Only when we’re sure would we give this kind of news to a patient. You understand.”

Such a clean and safe life I’ve lived! No. Posture straight. Strength man!. There is no way this could be right.

“And what causes this Derma?”

“Scleroderma has no known causes. It affects both men and women between the ages of 30 and 50. We don’t know what triggers it.”

“No cure. Fatal. And no treatment. Anything else?” Grabbed his bag from the chair.

“I would like to see you in two weeks for some pulmonary tests. When it hits the lungs it is the most dangerous. See, your cells in these organs die off, along with smooth muscle cells, and are replaced by collagen. Without getting too technical, healthy cells die, harden and eventually cause organ failure.”

“Right.” Indifferent, knapsack over his shoulder. “Well then I’ll see you in two weeks.” He walked out the door but turned around and went back to the doctor to shake his hand. “Thank you doctor. Thank you for being honest and direct.” Looking deeply into his eyes, somewhere in his mind Noble knew it would be the last time he would ever see him.

Chapter Two

Just Surviving As Noble Intent


A bit about Aaron Noble and his life up to his forty-eight years: dominated by an older brother who excelled at everything he did, so the younger Noble found it was easier to remain in the background, soon learning it was preferable not to participate due to the inevitable comparison with his achiever brother. With a father who left the family when he was four years old, his younger sister was his closest friend and confidant since they together had been the ones who helped their pill-popping mother through the half-dozen suicide attempts and the drunken rants that were never remembered in the morning.

Despite only being three years older, his brother Rex had never taken a liking to him. His only memories were of Rex and his friends mocking him whenever he tried to join them, always ending up in tears, humiliated and with cuts and abrasions. His mother, on a few occasions, had spoken to Rex to explain his responsibility to help and protect and include Aaron, but without a firm fatherly role model Rex ran rampant in everything he did. Reckless and talented with unusual physical coordination, Rex was popular throughout school, eventually earning a scholarship to Rice University where he played baseball.

The younger Noble adopted a gentle, withdrawn manner that protected him from fraternal ridicule. It was safer to not participate in any activity, whether with Rex or with his own classmates. Noble’s best friend moved away from Corpus Christi in the seventh grade, leaving him without any close friends at all. His quiet and gentle manner did not cause him to be the victim of bullying because he was already mastering the art of being invisible.

His father, an aeronautical engineer with an outgoing, bigger-than-life personality like Rex, had moved to San Francisco and had started a new family, but that didn’t stop him from writing his father often, clinging to the illusion that they were close yet ignoring the fact that his father seldom replied. It was a source of strength for Noble to exaggerate and fabricate skills and achievements he never had, so believing his father was proud of him fit into his psychology.

And he chose to ignore the drunken outbursts of hatred his mother had that belittled his father. He excused her for her bitterness because for Noble she was still grieving.

Noble read novels to pass the time, and constructed model airplanes until his bedroom was full of them. Then one night during high school, Rex and his best friend Darryl destroyed them all with a baseball bat. Noble had forgotten why they did it and chose to ignore it, not reacting to the loss and adopting the belief that any more models he built would suffer a similar fate. So he stopped building model airplanes.

After high school and with no scholarship or money for university, he tried his best to find a writing job, soon taking a low-paying job at one of the local newspapers. His reticence and gentle voice were not enough for him to keep the job but it did lead him to find a job with a local manufacturing company that made electronic parts and boats. When asked to write a user manual for one of the many units imported from Taiwan, the owner of the company hired him full time to rewrite all user documentation that came with each unit because the Chinglish – as he called it – was unreadable. Noble found his niche as a technical writer in Houston, a job he still had after nearly twenty-five years. He found it interesting and challenging and it gave him the opportunity to make sense out of a quagmire.

Noble found he liked the routine of work and the savings from his meager paycheck, choosing to forego activities that cost money. He spent his nights watching television or out walking, comforted that he would one day have a decent pension from his investments in his retirement plan. South America was where he wanted to go, a dream that motivated him each day that passed without spending money. And he wanted to see his cousin Alistair in Saudi Arabia and wanted to see the Great Wall of China.

Years passed him by, saving his pennies, seeing less and less of his family except his younger sister Vicky, who had settled down in Florida, not far enough away to avoid during the holidays. He tried to be a good uncle to his nephews but no matter how hard he tried, the birthday cards were intermittent and phone calls rare.

Noble watched his brother Rex from afar, seeing a promising baseball career end during his junior year after being expelled from university for being convicted of rape, spending time in prison, then from job to job, slowly developing into an alcoholic like their mother. Last he had heard Rex was a member of the Banditos Motorcycle Club, spending another stint in prison and now living in the clubhouse in Dallas. Noble still felt fear in his gut when thinking of him.

There had been a number of failed relationships with an array of different women, but none lasted more than six months. After losing his high school sweetheart due to reasons still unclear to him, he had floundered in his efforts to find a companion. Soon he rationalized it was easier to go solo, keeping to his routine.

From long hours spent at the computer, his eyes had begun to fail, requiring him to wear eyeglasses. When his hands became sore and bruised and painfully swollen, he had assumed it was Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and therefore cut down on the time spent on the computer, with the exception of only the necessary manuals required for work. Noble spent his free time resting his hands, waiting for it to go away.

Then finally he went to the hospital, enduring blood tests and perplexed doctors, resenting the money required to determine the source of his pain, ending with a diagnosis he had never expected.


Almost mechanically, Noble walked to his favorite restaurant, ordered broccoli and tofu with rice and tea, and stared ahead holding his head with his hands under his chin. Swirling thoughts and doubts, and then exasperation and shock created a cocktail in his brain. He let out a laugh – a short burst – then rubbed his face and shook his head. Then he laughed again but it morphed into tears and a suffocated cry, quiet enough so others wouldn’t see but powerful enough to illustrate that his new situation had registered in a mind long trained to bypass all danger that could hurt or hamper his life.

Then a long sigh.

At one point during the meal he shook his head again and threw up his hands.

After the meal on his long walk to his apartment, he began to feel a thrill, an irrepressible lightness he hadn’t felt since perhaps his early childhood. It was all over, his game of safe living, his pussy-footing and chronic avoidance of all that life had to offer. The thrill stemmed from mischief, and the knowledge of having the means to leave his old life, quietly and without fanfare. He already knew where he would go before he uttered the question to himself. With some of the best surfing in South America and one of the cheapest places to live, he would move to Ecuador and finally overcome his fear to learn how to surf. Or maybe to go horseback riding. There was no other place that offered what he wanted; it was what he had been daydreaming about all those years working in the office.

Sure there were other places he’d like to see, like the Great Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, but he wanted to gather his thoughts and relax in the middle of the world first and maybe even write an article for some of the surf magazines he was always reading. He knew the international surf competition was taking place in the next few months. Besides, he loved speaking Spanish.

The more he thought about it, the easier the whole thing was. Giving notice at work, giving notice to his landlord, selling some furniture and buying a backpack, were the major things to do. There would be a penalty taking his retirement early but there was more than enough in there to support him in Ecuador for the next five to ten years.

By the time he arrived home he was high with anticipation. A lot could happen in a year or so.

Chapter Three

Beyond Neophobia


The inertia of place can kill a man. Entranced and chained by comfort and ease deadens and destroys the given right of man to step beyond the horizon and clasp the abundance in life. These were Noble’s thoughts when he stepped into the airplane leaving for South America.

It was only after he was airborne that his new reality started to hit home. It gave Noble time to reflect over the past four weeks, wrapping up his old life and tying up loose ends. Only from 30,000 feet above and out of the States was he able to see how he had gone through different phases of emotion, and how he could see why some of his behavior had changed. Upon reflection he saw how at first he felt relief that there had finally been an answer to the question that had haunted him for months. The diagnosis was tying up a loose end that had bothered him. Then incredulity and disbelief hit him, followed by a somewhat violent gathering of facts about the illness in order to eliminate the pressing doubts of his scleroderma that arose. But when the facts were made clear and all the symptoms matched, there was an undeniable moment of acceptance that the disease was precisely what he had.

When he had heard there was no treatment and that it was fatal, he was overwhelmed by the sheer absurdity of it. How could there not be treatment? How could there be no known cause? Hands were thrown into the air and then incredulous laughter followed. When this phase faded, a stunned shock caused a dazed and numbed state, intermixed with outbursts of laughter that tended to end in bitter tears. The brief cry, only a few seconds or so, was the most potent feeling of sadness he had ever felt. But its potency was an experience that had remained with him, reminding him of the danger it carried. To take the path of the victim would destroy and ultimately collapse his life – not the way to experience his final years.

Then there was the moment of profound insight, that all the things that had both bothered him and intrigued him would soon be gone. An overwhelming sense of loss hit him: the senses would soon cease witnessing the magic of everyday life, from the colors and smells to the beauty of the architecture and a tree.

And even the profound inexplicability of how so many people rush through life.

The first behavior change was surprising. Each and every person he had contact with he treated with a pure sincerity, meaningful eye contact and an insuppressible desire to give them respect and gratitude. Petty beefs evaporated in a moment. Forgiveness was carte blanche, and social intercourse became selective. Those he chose to spend time with were those friends who truly meant something to him. And it was surprising who these friends were. What he chose to talk about was different, perhaps a level or two deeper than usual, showing no fear asking meaningful, human questions to those deemed worthy of his time.

Unexpectedly there was a sense of relief to the lifelong question of when you would die. Finally, there was an answer to this central unknown. There was a neatness to this knowledge as well, so that now plans could be made. Saving money for a life that had you living until you were 95 was no longer a worry. A certain freedom was experienced that negated anxiety or worry. This freedom was a brave freedom – a sense of uninhibited options now feasible and more likely to happen.

Any hard edge or impatience soon disappeared. It was deemed wasteful and irrational, the product of an immature state of mind and a frustrated disposition. All quantities of fear went away, which transformed his everyday experience, making it richer. A new assertiveness emerged, which allowed curiosity to be followed and respected. Neophobia became a thing of the past, never again a hindrance to new adventures.

And his priorities changed. What was once regarded as important was demoted to its proper place when one’s quantity of time left to live is known. Any sadness was not for what will no longer be but for all the past times that were not fully enjoyed for what they were. Trivial worries and ridiculous insecurities were gone. The sadness was a lamentation for his own ignorance that had cast shadows on how he had forgone the richness of living his life, always saving for the future. And all past disagreements or fights demanded resolution, with the sole object being forgiveness. This he found somewhat easy because he didn’t have any other rational choice in the matter.

There were other things too. His morning wake up was the moment his mind took footing on the new day, setting his agenda and establishing the cadence and tenor of his mood. It was the moment to instill hope for a day of success and fruitful endeavors, the first spark that ignited power – the piston and hum of the engine. This moment changed when Noble had been given the news of his immanent death. The kick-start was different. Perhaps the kick itself was milder, the grind of the motion weaker, the urgency to tackle the day not as important, or, more accurately, not as crucial. The sparkplug moment was somehow different. The limitless horizon seen throughout his life now had a limit; the cloudless sky now had thunderstorm clouds, hail and impending lightning that he knew would strike him but this weather was welcomed, not dreaded. The step of the day, usually heavy and urgent, was now light and joyful – a shuffle without urgency.

But it was also a somewhat unpleasant experience, an event tinged with tragedy and reservation.

Little things like making his bed were lowered in priority. Saying no to things he didn’t want to do was easier. He became more at ease with designing his day the he wanted. He was more inclined to take a moment to admire and respect nature, like the patter of raindrops on a canopy or the clouds descending on a mountaintop. The futility of shaving became clear, as did the importance of wearing the right shoes, or for that matter, wearing shoes at all. Sandals and comfort became the norm, and there was no anxiety or worry about what others thought.

Being beholden to another took on the flavor of being a chore. Being alone yet together with his profound thoughts comforted him. And the constant race against time ceased altogether. Instead time, or the passage of time, became his intimate friend. A new calm manifested in him. He became a person who didn’t react emotionally to those things outside of his control. Even the ubiquitous points of debate on hot topics of religion and politics and economics dwindled in importance, instead regarded as “to each his own.”

However, the most profound and central thought when he was told he had a few years left to live was the most revealing of all: “Have I lived the life I really wanted to live?” Had he spent the majority of his time doing something that had little meaning for him? Had his time been spent doing a job that was only a means to an end?

The answer to these questions was everything.

If he had spent his life working on the means, would there not be a rush towards living the end, running to this illusive life that had always been out of reach? Fueled by a sense of overwhelming loss and fear of being pummeled by an avalanche of regret and self-reproach, in a frenzy he was frantically embracing the life he had always coveted.

Conversely, if he had chosen to live his dream life, a clam pride and tranquil satisfaction that heightened and bestowed on you an unmentioned honor would be his emotional state. But it wasn’t. He had not lived his dream. He had eschewed his dream and lived a hollow life. Instead he experienced the most profound tragedy possible to an individual with an unrealized dream. As good as he was at ignoring, this tragedy could no longer be ignored. The false life he had lived now tormented him, lacerated him. His anguish was piercing. Why hadn’t he learned to fly an airplane? Why hadn’t he taken time to learn how to surf?

No doubt about it, the toughest thing he was dealing with was that he hadn’t done anything with his life that he truly wanted. He had survived. That’s it. No surfing. No pilot lessons. Just television and work. It stung him deeply. Fueled a rebellious plan. He wondered how he would feel if he had done it the other way and surfed for twenty-five years and flew a crop plane for a few bucks a day. How different would he feel?

Chapter Four

The Middle of the World

Quito, Ecuador, South America

July 2011


There was a great vibe to Quito – a city surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of Andean mountains that sloped into a valley with green patches like a ski resort during summer. The natural plateau so high up in the clouds nurtured a symmetrical view that was pleasing to the eye and calming to the soul. The environment made him philosophical about his plight. Noble intuitively understood why the Incas had chosen this location as one of the two seats of power, and why the Spaniards used Quito as their home base to expand and conquer to create an empire.

While in the taxi going to his hostel, Noble’s mind was filled with reverberating perspective adjustments. It was as if his inner philosopher was wielding a hammer. He was thinking that only a total lack of fear would enable him to attain the freedom he had long craved. He now had the time and financial independence to do what he wanted but still it wouldn’t give him that freedom he knew existed in life. He had been imprisoned by a job he didn’t like but needed to do to survive, but now free from the job it behooved him to take that laissez-faire-I-don’t-care heedlessness that celebrates each day free from routine, punch cards, and normalcy. To act fully without infringements or restrictions is to truly live. He stroked his unshaven chin as he listened to this new inner voice.

These were his thoughts when Noble stepped out of the taxi to the Swiss-run hostel he had chosen.

Clean, safe and cheap, he was unpacked and curious to explore his new surroundings but balked. He sat on his bed and listened to the sound of silence, but then the voice of the philosopher resurfaced: “Your inner house is still hectic! You ought to be gently pushed into the scrum to begin!” His doppelgänger inside his head was strange but it had a calming effect on him. It knew what needed to be said for Noble to step away from the inertia of instructing him to ignore living life.

“Damn right!” he said. “Gently pushed; that’s a good one, Reno.” Why not name his inner philosopher Reno? Why not let the philosopher say his piece? If he was Noble’s doppelgänger then it was excellent timing because if he ever needed help to overcome his shortcomings, now was the time. Called him Reno because it just sounded right to call that voice in his head Reno.

Noble left the hostel and walked through the central park to Mariscal where the expatriates hung out. Lacking poise and a game plan, Noble walked down the busy streets heading towards the restaurants and central plaza, when he passed by a large outdoor market. That was where he met Pedro.

With good posture, Pedro from California held court on the corner, groupies hanging around his knapsack full of stones and bracelets and earrings. There were hippies lined against the worn brick and stone buildings.

“Stones from Ecuador. All sorts of colors.” With raised arm he stopped Noble from fully turning the leave. “Come, I have what you want. Marijuana?” Pedro stepped closer, confident he had spotted a North American partier with Noble’s stubble and Birkenstock sandals. For a moment Pedro’s eyes pleaded with his.

Noble, tired and sore and on his way for a pint, looked at the round face with shaved head and mini ponytail at the back. He fought his habit of avoiding engagement with people. And then he heard the distant voice of Reno, whispering something about saying ‘yes’ to opportunities. People who are dying never procrastinate.

This new life in Ecuador was the life of Reno.

“I know this town. I take travelers around sometimes. I’m from San Diego but my mother lives here. Better here.” said Pedro, lowering his voice and leaning into him so others couldn’t see. “Why don’t we get some cervezas? ‘Been walking and the body and soul needs to take respite.”

Pedro spoke a quick burst of Spanish to one of his friends standing on the corner, scooped up his bag and patted the guy on the shoulder. There was an understanding. Nods all around. Noble sensed danger but was pushed on by his doppelgänger. Walking down the street Pedro looked closely at him with a curled tongue, letting out a quiet whistle through some broken teeth catching the sun, scars on his face showing he lived life from the front row.

“We go get a cerveza at my cousin’s bar,” he said. “He has cerveza there.” It was if Noble had been hijacked by a higher power, walking into an obvious trap. But he was adamant on facing his fears and opening doors. Besides, he had smoked weed a few times before, but for the most part had avoided it. He had a solar-plexus pang at the thought of how much he had missed in life.

They walked through the streets of Quito, under palm trees and passed old colonial houses, until they reached a café. When Pedro went behind the counter into the kitchen Noble reached into the fridge and removed two beers. His thirst was raging and his fear was ebbing.

“No, no!” said Pedro. “We can’t drink here.”

“Why not?”

“You didn’t hear man? Last night nineteen people died from drinking a type of strong homemade tequila, like moonshine. Ninety-percent alcohol. There was something wrong with the mix. Sometimes the guys who sell it behind the cafés add something to it so they can sell more. Betcha there are more than just the nineteen dead they are saying in the news.”

“So how does that affect us drinking beer?”

“The president declared no drinking for three days in mourning.”

“Just my luck,” replied Noble, shoulders hunched.

“No hombre! As I said, I can get some stuff if you want. We can take these beers and go down close to my place where I can pick up if you want. I can get base or coke or whatever man.” The mention of cocaine tweaked something in Noble. It was likely the best place in the world for it and it was something he had seen a thousand times in movies but had never even seen it in real life before. And then he heard that voice again: “Boundaries and the unfounded fences of thought belittle the power of imagination and stifle the capacity of what could be! New heights and mountains as yet unclimbed are rampant in the world, plain to see by all but roped off as undoable by the deafening chorus of nay-sayers that can drown out the voice of inner talent!”

Noble bought some beer and walked with Pedro to pick up some stuff.


Noble, who had been so humdrum and sober all his life and saddled with a sad smile and entrenched with the hollow bass sound of moroseness, found a new vibrancy in his exploration of the cocoa leaf. He experienced for the first time a flutter in his spirit – an elation brought on by a warm wind, comforting and secure, giving him an expansive outlook on everything before him coupled with a waft of optimism.

It was not what he had expected. Nor was it what he had been told by mainstream media.

He found no evil in the harvesting of this plant. Nor did he find it harsh or harmful. In fact he toyed with the idea that perhaps it was the missing piece to the hum-drum boredom in his mind. It might even be the impetus to wider thinking and the catalyst to his imagination, like a spark plug that had ignited the flammable fumes that had remained dormant for decades. Pushed around and fooled he had been by those experts on morality. He had been lied to by those morality-pushers at the cost of the one thing he could never recover: lost time.

But he could not resent them for it was always up to him to question and to explore and to test the truth of that which was fed to him, whether by authority or by his parents or friends. It had always been up to him to verify accepted norms.

The irony didn’t escape him. What stung was the tragedy of so many missed opportunities, so much fun and fulfillment untaken and un-experienced for lack of effort by his own choice. Or rather un-choice. Yet it was a choice he had made, perhaps flippantly on some Tuesday afternoon that only took a moment, lightly, easily, assumed to be correct and a “no-brainer,” a choice not to question that which was spoon-fed from all directions – a choice made blindly, pushed by momentum and conformity that had profound ramifications on his life.

But at least he’s here now doing it by his own hand, he thought. At least he was tasting the nectar – that other life, richer with qualia and somehow, somewhere deeper with meaning.

Chapter Five

The Dane


Sitting on a pile of old Spanish roofing tiles, Noble smoked a joint enjoying the privacy on the balcony attached to an 18th-century school, bricks chipped and mortar disintegrating, vegetation somehow taking root on the walls, pigeons fluttering, watching him. A girl walked by but kept her head down not noticing the joint – downwind from her and safe. The first raindrops fell timidly like the first day of class, the wind whispering of rumbling formidable powers, Andean superiority and mankind feeble in their concrete huts. The university courtyard in the Centro Historica was immaculate. Stone polished, carved fascia, weaned gardens, a central sculpture in the quadrangle, and the quietude associated with serious study. This was where the next generation’s government officials will come from: centuries-old buildings with ornate balconies, large worn stones, ten-foot windows, students well dressed in slacks and collared shirts. Security guards wearing jackboots and bomber jackets, khaki horse-riding pants tucked in and crisp – there and aware – but unaware of Noble.

Roman columns twenty feet high, palm trees old and tall, sturdy and proven, deep-rooted, honest and dependable. Canvassed paintings, large and glass-protected, lined the walls like a monastery run by monks who worship knowledge as God. A bell tower on the west corner fortified in case of civil unrest. The church beside a work of art untouched and not to be touched, its beauty a product of symmetry of form and color and meaning.

He went into the church but his heart was closed. Didn’t pray. Didn’t stay. Just looked and left. His mind was elsewhere. It was a time for action and doing and engaging. But the thing about Quito was the thin air. It took time to adjust to the altitude: 9000 feet above sea level and steep streets had a direct effect on his already compromised lungs. Noble had to reassure himself that he needed a few deep breaths and his struggle for air will be over. It’s an experience like drowning, a feeling that all mammals know. One feels as if they had been a heavy smoker their entire life. Acclimatizing did take time, but it had already been a week.

So he walked.

To the south he saw the snow-peaked volcano of Cotopaxi that translates into English to the Neck of the Moon. Stunning, pointing up above the clouds. The plateau was like an elongated shell that spread north-to-south with red and green roofs dotting the sprawling houses, square and compact, squeezing in the middle divided by roads and perched above on the surrounding hills. He was damned sure he wasn’t going to let his aches and pains inhibit his time in Ecuador so he walked some more, moving north, through Mariscal to Guapalo. There he could see another snow-capped volcano in what was called ‘volcano alley.’ Magical. An Andean holding place where all were close to the Great Hall in the Sky. No wonder there were so many churches in town.

But all the walking made him thirsty so he decided to engage. Noble was not going to spend all his time alone.


The neutral safe zone in Mariscal had to be Finn McCool’s – the only Irish pub and the one spot where he truly felt safe. The criminals, other than the coke dealers, stay away because even the native employees tell them to bugger off. It was a sanctuary where big drinkers don’t have to worry about petty crime. Old rafters hung across the A-framed ceiling, stone fireplace burning a fire in July to dry the room from the moisture of the low-lying clouds, a football game playing loud, the Irish tricolor and the Northern Irish flag with the red hand and ancient Star of David side-by-side in a rare camaraderie countless thousands of miles from home. Antique pistols, old belt buckles, sporrans, other Celtic regalia covered the walls, bookshelves high in the arc over the bar. Nothing was pristine in this bar. It was a place of action where words were thrown around with enough force of a punch.

This was where he met the Dane.

Every corner you have a dealer selling you potent five-dollar bags but it’s not crack or coke. It’s called ‘base.’ It’s the cheap stuff leftover from making pure cocaine: an off-white powder that you sprinkle on a bed of tobacco in a pipe and smoke. Instantly it melts and sizzles into your lungs and only in exhaling can you taste the plasticy residue. It smells strong – like diesel. And the baggie is just a torn off corner of a bigger plastic bag and knotted at the top. Little quantity but big bang. The locals bite off the top, sprinkle the sugary frosting on a bit of tobacco and smoke it; throat burning, esophagus on fire, lungs searing and then the tasty exhale, that thing that gives you another urge to smoke another one.

The pipe is the most important instrument but they are only available at the market, most of them poorly made. Homemade concoctions are the most popular option. Carlos the Cuban dealer made a pipe made out of foil from his cigarette pack that looked like a mini Viking horn angled to hold the base in a big horn-shaped flute. Clouds of billowed smoke from his exhales that he didn’t hold in his lungs, as if he were smoking a cigarette. He bit off the heads of his little baggies standing there on the sidewalk fearless of the police who lurked throughout Mariscal, who left the smokers to their own.

It was the Dane who was decent enough to fill Noble/Reno in on the dos and don’ts on the streets. He knew the regular dealers hanging out on the street corners so when Reno told him he had a little crack he had purchased weeks before from Pedro but no pipe, he took him to a dealer he knew had a pipe.

“Bigger. I like them bigger,” said the Dane as Reno scraped off thin shavings from the rock with his fingernail. He put in a big chunk and the Dane inhaled it into the ethers. Reno bought a pipe off a dealer made from the plastic of the shaft of a Bic pen, electrical tape attaching a cap from a water bottle, all covered with unburnable tape and covered with the foil from a cigarette pack. When it inevitably clogs you have to clean it with a poker, something like a bobby pin or straightened paperclip. Functional, durable, efficient. They went back into the Irish Pub and drank until it closed.

Out on the streets again, Reno and the Dane were smoking from Reno’s pipe when two guys approached them. One a Rasta with dreadlocks and the other an Indian with long hair. The Rasta was happy they were busy smoking, but the Indian embraced Reno and then pulled out his own pipe made out of an apple. Aluminum foil pricked with a pin over a centimeter long opening and an inhalation hole on the side of the apple. Reno offered his pipe to him and the Indian offered his pipe to Reno. The apple kept the burning smoke cool in the throat and had a faint taste of cider. They talked and laughed and patted each other on the back. Stoned in the streets of Quito.

The Dane maintained his serious, svelte-faced posture and didn’t share in the carefree laughter, instead knowing he had to give them credibility, poise and respect among the prowling criminals of the night. A man who had done four and a half years in a Danish prison for dealing drugs and stealing cars, and who had many childhood friends who had become Hell’s Angels. Tattoos on his arms, one being an accurate rendition of the Mona Lisa, the other three women ranging from mother with a baby to strippers, one with a whip. The Dane was the smart one who had learned from life, but Reno was the loose cannon somehow getting by with his laughter, generous heart and pats on the back.

Who would mug their friend?

“It shows weakness,” said the Dane to him at some point in the evening. “They take advantage of you. They see that and they take from you. Always pay the lowest you can. Five a bag, not ten.” The Dane had the proportional angled face of a Danish footballer, lines sculpted in all the right places, a scar above his left eye that was the only scratch in the overall symmetry. It was a face you trusted with eyes that looked at you as all men should: full attention, eyelids raised. Communicating his point was imperative to his survival. On the dangerous streets of Quito prowling at night, Reno was safe with this displaced South American Viking. He would let him show him the other side of life – the alleyways as of yet undiscovered in his sheltered life.

Chapter Six

The Religion of Sfauism


It is somehow reassuring to believe there was a consistency guiding one’s life – an invisible hand as it were. Some believe in fate and some believe in free will so that they can engineer their lives according to a plan. But perhaps it is a combination of the two, something that can be called controlled fate. It is both beyond our control (birth, upbringing, genes) and most definitely within our control (education, travel, foolishness). Therefore an element of faith is a required ingredient to see it through, to overcome and to grow. A life lived by controlled fate needs both the heart and the eyes to see and choose, and to accept that which you cannot yet see. All that fell outside one’s control are the cards dealt from above, the grass on which the Great Game is played. Living examples of feats of ingenuity are all around us camouflaged and partially hidden, there within our grasp, waiting to be seen, admired and studied.

These were Noble’s thoughts as he sat at the bar in Finn McCool’s.

Noble was enjoying Quito so he delayed his trip to the coast for a while. He felt he had more to learn and more people to meet. He was becoming a Finn McCool’s regular, feeling welcome and accepted by the expats and locals that made it their home away from home. The Dane was there every day and there were others who made a point of having a pint to relax in the evening. British Andrew was one of those regulars, who was there every night watching the football matches and standing quietly at the bar. Bald, stout and calm, he was steady as a Swiss watch.

The more Noble got to know British Andrew, the more he saw Buddha.

He had just sold a house and decided to milk the money by traveling South America. For six months he had traversed the Andes and seen a world previously unknown to him, now living across the street at a local guesthouse. He was the classic Londoner and soccer hooligan who had graduated to a higher level of wisdom that had made him different from the others. Because he was so quiet, it was hard to get to know him but he soon recognized a man much advanced in spiritual understanding. Just as Buddhism teaches, he never generated a sankara, or reaction. The hectic outer stimuli around him didn’t rattle British Andrew, whether happy or sad or angry or in anyway upset.

He had mastered his keel, and was cool behind the wheel.

When Noble finally commented that he was rather serene, that was when he told him about the religion he had created.

“I call it Sfauism,” he said. Noble shrugged his shoulders inviting him to tell him what it was.

“Right, there’s basically three principles to it:

“One: NEVER EXPLAIN YOURSELF,” he said, self-composed as butterscotch. “Nowhere does it say any man needs to explain himself. If you are ever asked to explain yourself, just say: ‘I prefer not to. Thank you.’

“Two: NEVER ACKNOWLEDGE SHAME. All energies dealing with shame is a waste of time. Nothing good or productive ever comes from dealing with shame. So if you ever have any shame, choose to drop it. Permanently.” His eyes said ‘simple as pie.’

“Three: NEVER ACKNOWLEDGE GUILT. All feelings of guilt are destructive, so just move on from any guilt you feel. Simple.” A slight Buddha smile passed briefly across his face.

“That’s it. That’s my religion.”

His big round pate shone off the lights from the pool table as he puffed on his cigarette cool as Bogart, a connoisseur of the flow. The stripes and solids cracking across the felt top and pool cues falling on the floor beside them were as far away as the Tower of London. He just plopped it on the table and Noble mulled it over.

Reno could see that guilt and shame, as manmade derivatives from past events in one’s life, must be struck from one’s memory and ignored. After all, cluttering debris only weakens the will of man.

But his religion stayed with him, and the more he saw his stoic poise in the midst of the Finn Frenzy every night, the more Noble appreciated his artistry. British Andrew never brought it up again but they both knew it was there. And he never explained himself. In his conversations with others his answers were always accurate and succinct, letting others take his words and bandy them back and forth. British Andrew was engaging but at the same time mildly disengaged; observing and listening, his blue eyes composed and dispassionate, equable and imperturbable. Gautama Buddha and a Chelsea fan, Noble soon found solace just standing beside him, quiet and comfortable, finding a mini oasis from the mayhem. When British Andrew left Quito he genuinely felt a loss but knew that he had come to learn a certain quietude whilst in the fray, remembering the three principles of Sfauism, and knowing he had taught him a Buddhist stoicism.

Noble had become a Sfauist.

Chapter Seven

Celebrating Chemistry


After another late night followed by a late sleep-in, Noble cancelled his Spanish classes until the end of the week. He wanted to recover from the pace of pubbing in Mariscal, but a simple phone call to a local English bookstore brought him down to the action. He purchased seven books on a whim, all set for a few days reading in the beautiful parks in the city.

Sipping a coffee in Mariscal Foch Plaza – the Times Square of Quito – the sun burned his skin like a white-hot paring knife scraped against his arms and face. Noble changed from coffee to two-for-one pitchers of Passion Punch, which he was ill-prepared for. The table set back in the corner of the square, the sun burning and the music loud, the streets and tables filled up with people happy and excited to be in the epicenter. Sitting there half-reading, it tickled his sense of freedom that he had settled into his new life and was beginning to find some degree of peace.

The first pitcher was strong, once done enough was enough, but when the second one arrived the sun dropped behind the mountaintops along the western tip of the plateau, the streetlights came on and an energy in the ethers emerged. After four hours in the hot sun on the patio alone reading, he had to talk to someone. When the pitcher was finished and all four corners of the plaza in full swing, Noble went down the street to the Irish Pub. The thought of returning to his guesthouse was anathema to his spirit. He was truly immersing himself into his new seize-the-day way of life.

Inside the pub there was no one he knew, but there was a woman at the bar looking at Noble, knapsack full of books, a slight grin on her face. He smiled at her, surveyed the pub and looked at her again.

“Well, the Dane isn’t here,” he said.

“The Dane? Who is the Dane?”

“He’s sort of my wingman these days. Likes to party like a Viking. He’s usually here.” Her skepticism morphed into a loving and trusting grin. They chatted for a while.

“Well why don’t you come with me?” Strange as it might sound, her words were reassuring and calming, and comforted him. Too much reading can make a man lonely.  

“Go with you? And where would you like to go?” That was when she put her hand on his forearm and pulled him close to her. When he was close enough he smelled her pheromones and something made him feel safe with her.

“Why don’t we go to my place?” Crooked smile, confident, his age, Italian but looked Spanish, wholesome, slightly self-conscious sitting on her barstool in a pub packed with drinkers, Martina seemed to know him, see his innocence and good heart, and soft eyes. She was willing to take a chance with someone who she saw was not a monster. Loose but not sloppy, graceful but not stumbling, he went with her.

The idea of a new adventure with this dark-haired woman dressed in black pulled him towards her, a safety beacon and trusting voice, the accent of a fellow North American. They left immediately without a lot of talking and took a taxi to her apartment a few minutes away. Front desk, mahogany wood, polite concierge, and right beside the embassy for Spain, they threw their bags on the floor, put on music and she had a Bloody Caesar. Noble was happy enough to pull out his pouch of tobacco and roll a joint, something that nine times out of ten with a women was a bust but she brightened.

“For years I used to run a hemp farm in Saskatchewan,” she said. Of course he thought she was pulling his leg but she kept on. “I’ve been looking for weed since I came here but it’s tough when you’re a woman and single.”

Music, joints, laughter, balcony, water, more and more books on the table, the more crooked her smile became and the more her beauty was unveiled in her tone, her touch and her words. Both thoroughly enjoying the fluke chemistry they shared, it wasn’t long before they lied down together. Noble thought her neighbors were going to come over to tell them to keep it down but it was as if they had found their little patch of privacy where only they knew the utter joy they were having. Afterwards in the kitchen they talked and smoked more joints, laughed with each other, telling each other everything that had been in their minds for months. A purge, a confession and a mutual eruption in the nude at the table, fumbling with rolling papers, selecting music from her computer, each not judging the other, and both happy to have found a kindred soul so high up in the Andes after months of hardship.

Martina had been mugged twice, the second time being pulled along the pavement after a pillion on a passing motorcycle grabbed her purse that she didn’t let go of. She spoke about it as if still raw, as if he were the first and only person that got the full story, her moment to be comforted, and her first moment of healing. Her honesty and vulnerability struck him to the bone, a trust and respect born there in the semi-darkness, teeth slightly bucked, fingernails painted purple, smile lines active, and so utterly giving. At that moment Noble embraced her, like all people in need, fully and without doubt, a declaration of his empathy and imperfections, a partnership of great proportion. This opening up to her gushed out but without a monopoly of words and time; a vigorous mutual exchange of souls confessing, trusting and celebrating the special chemistry.

  She had been in Ecuador for six months since she had sold her highly controversial hemp farm in Canada, with four of those months spent on the beaches on the Pacific mastering her Spanish. She was a landlord, relying on her rental income for her South American expenses. With the money from her hemp business, she had become a successful businesswoman in her own right, single and childless at 43, starting a new chapter in a new land after years of harassment and auditing by the Canadian government. She knew she had become red-flagged by those in power for someone who operated on the boundary of the law. Martina had chosen to start a new life in Ecuador but her biggest problem had been being alone in a dangerous country, being an individual who refused to be told what to do and who detested having her freedom infringed upon just because there were a few restless hoodlums hanging about.

She would rather face danger than have her options limited.

After dancing in the living room they returned to her bedroom and resumed their physical intimacy that reached a higher level, more intense – a new language born that healed each other’s loneliness. It was unabashed acknowledgment of the human need for love. In itself it was art, poetry in motion – an emotional and spiritual awakening. The need and certainty of love shared so far away between two travelers must be one of the rarest experiences any man or woman can have, a need like hunger that lasts long after the event and never to be forgotten.

Chapter Eight

Connected Columbians


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

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

The weekends in Quito were a type of high-demand real estate, so a Friday night was an event that stretched into Saturday. It was the continental coming together of nationalities and the product was always a new mix. And when the mixture produced a chemical reaction it was best not to remove yourself. The results of these nights were memories that will remain forever. The wise realize that the moment will never come again. This was when the bottle was finished and the after-hours bars were sought. And following this, there were many stories of travelers deciding to stay in Quito long term, realizing how special and unique it was. People were quick to see that the Andean city is truly in the middle of the world. It had become the home base of many expatriates.

How many of these travelers knew Quito had been the seat of power in the Inca Empire for seven years?

Noble told himself to accept the road that unfolded in front of him. Take each day as it was without the worries of tomorrow. Know that the road he was on was the right road for the moment. One must respect timing and opportunities and choose the path that appears. One must never be afraid of one’s fate.

He was learning that taking chances was the only way to grow.

But Quito’s lure could also steal a man’s soul and cripple him for life. It was guerilla warfare on the streets between the young Ecuadorian gangs’ testosterone-fueled rebellion ignited by the endless supply of base – cheap, effective and addictive – but always screaming for more. Then there were the older connected Ecuadorian mobsters who ran Mariscal, intimate with select policia who were gentlemanly when kicking people out after an illegal after-hours party, boots polished, never looking at any customers in the eye, there but heads turned, the manager doing the shoving. This was the backbone, the criminal element who made the money, instigated crime for profit but rarely engaged in violence for the sake of petty theft. If violence was necessary, it would be swift and efficient.

New on the scene and gaining power were the Nigerians, immigrants who exported powders for enormous profits, who were gaining a foothold in narcotic competition with the Cubans. The Columbians had their power base but were old school, up there in the hierarchy, inter-connected mainly with military officers, who were now running the drug trade in Columbia. They had point men here in Quito who were protected and established, but to grow in power within the family first you needed to prove yourself on the streets. This was how he met Carlos.

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

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

“I have.”

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

“Clip?” He liked the word when it was explained.

“I use this.” He revered the weapon like a biker would his Harley, Reno taking the time to admire it to. When he offered it he looked closely at the serrated edge, the heavy grip and then balanced it on his index finger showing its quality and craftsmanship. From his reaction, he had never seen how a well-made knife balances perfectly at the neck of the grip. He tried it and a rare smile replaced the young man’s old worn face. Twenty-four but forty-four street years.

But Reno knew it was through his brother that he could establish a binding friendship. Javier was shorter and hadn’t any of his brother’s good looks, looking more like a teacher than a dealer. His English was crisp, but he looked right through you – an eye that could see deceit like a hyena smelling blood.

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


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

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

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

Tu respecto the botella, si? Alcohol will siempre beat you. Entiendo? Mucho respecto. Too mas is not cool. Barracho, non, pero con your amigos it’s okay. Use it. But with respect.” His buzz was such that he wanted to hear those words, Reno’s broken Spanish finding purchase with his new buddies on the streets of Quito.

“Me too, but to use it good you respect it primero.” They drank again and he put the half-full bottle away.

“Here. Medicino.” Marlborough cigarettes went to both brothers. Part of their group was a crazed South African who squatted just outside the group and looked on with envy. Thin, addicted, poor, ratty with a scarred face, he spoke too much – a minion who worshipped the connected brothers. Reno had to treat them like students, not mixing his meanings, not talking bullshit, telling them what he could see they wanted from him.

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

Chapter Nine

Stuntmen and Dakar Rally Groupies


The longer Noble lived in Quito, the more he frequented the Corner Pub. Small but with a great patio, an ex-Special Forces Belgique ran the Corner Pub on the main street Amazonas – a massive man who had quit the military after seven years in Africa to become a flower expert in order to see the world. So it had become the de facto hang out for horticulturalists, most of whom were Dutchmen. Not everyone was allowed to make it their regular watering hole. Vets, orchid experts, retired bankers and oilmen, many who still carried their crusty exterior brashness who were easily triggered by immaturity or drunkenness. Noble kept quiet but Reno had found his classroom, staying cool and listening and adapting to the quality of word exchanged in a myriad of languages. It didn’t take him long to notice the music was the best in town, which bespoke class and taste, but also a toughness that perhaps served to deflect or obscure being called a flower expert. But it were the Dutchmen he was most impressed with, soon discovering that it was difficult to meet a bad-hearted Dutchman. This, he found, created an atmosphere where the cool attracted the cool so that what was created was something special, something powerful and at times something profound.

In the month Noble had been in Ecuador, he had been introduced to the regulars at the Corner Pub by the American bookseller down the street. Sometimes the combination of people made for a memorable time.

One afternoon Noble read his Crazy Horse and Custer book on the Corner Pub patio sipping a rum and coke. The whole thing started with Crash – the cigar-smoking Californian who had just reached the age of 80 after decades of being an actor. One never knew how exactly a conversation starts between two strangers on a deck in Quito, but it could have had something to do with Reno’s now droopy moustache. George Custer’s Civil War record was certainly impressive but his attention was drawn to this man who sat near him with white hair who was smoking a cigar. The topic of motorcycles came up so Reno asked the man if he rode.

“When was the last time you were on a motorcycle?” he asked.

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

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

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

Easy Rider was really his first biggie wasn’t it?”

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

“Peter Fonda?”

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

“I’m a big Henry Fonda fan,” said Reno. “You know he was a real war hero? Him and Jimmy Stewart.”

“Yes that’s right. Especially Jimmy Stewart.”

“But the Duke never went.”

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

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

“Yep. Henry was a good actor.”

“I always thought it would’ve been hard being his son.”


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

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

“Been sober for fourteen years until two weeks ago.”

“He’s got quite the platform.”

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

“You have a good platform going today,” said Crash, giving Reno a wink.

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

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

“Threes, yes. From experience, but when the third comes you should be alright for a while.” Richard studied him from behind his prescription sunglasses.

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

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

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

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

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

A smile. “You?“ he said, pointing. Heavy accent.

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

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

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

“I smoke,” said the Swiss. “We go outside.”

Si,” he said.”

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

Ach, these Marlborough blancas suck,” said Reno.

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

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

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

“Did you meet him?”

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

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

“So what was Gaddafi like?”

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

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

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

“I worked in Iraq too, years ago with Saddam Hussein.” At this point Noble/Reno wasn’t fazed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you meet him?”

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

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

“Hey there, what’s up?” she said, buckteeth announcing themselves between her lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you ride?”


“Ah that’s too bad mate. You should, it’s great fun.” It occurred to Reno that indeed he should

“Yeah, maybe.”

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

“You’re competing?”

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

“Three things?”

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

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

Chapter Ten

Into Amazonian Waters


Just as they did in Ireland, when last call for booze came and went, the front doors at Finn McCool’s were locked. No one could leave except quietly out the back door. The music was turned down but the drinking and carousing continued.

There was a bond they all shared when they exercised their unique abilities partying in the pubs of Quito, and it was this bond that created new things and new ideas when they came together on a full moon. There were no curfews, no parents, no old hang-ups and no reminders of their shortcomings. They talked as if they had all shed a skin, as if new levels of being could be attained. It was the grand secret that none of them mentioned that gave them an extra lightness in their step. New possibilities descended upon their imaginations like a narcotic that inspires – a new personal best that only you and God witness.

Reno had become a regular, staying many times after closing. He met Diego at the end of the night when Paulina was talking about how she dated the son of the Turkish prime minister and the numerous times she had been assaulted by him during their two-year marriage. Sure Reno was empathetic but he was a cad first and foremost and was mostly concerned about his terrible heartburn that rankled from every swig of his warm, flat beer. He was going to leave for his guesthouse but Paulina, after she had finished her tears, invited Reno and James the air force pilot and Diego to her apartment for a nightcap.

He had only been talking to Diego for five minutes but there was something different about him. An enthusiasm that could be heard in his voice that was incongruous with the blue and red tattoos that covered his right arm. He didn’t seem tough enough to have been in jail and he didn’t look rich but he was rich. He was a man who wanted to be included. And he was a man who seemed to have a secret. He insisted he come with them as if leaving with three gringos was earning him brownie points with the native South Americans at the pub. Reno didn’t care. He wanted water to soothe his heartburn.

But Diego rose to the occasion. His vehicle was parked right in front of the back door. He knew where to buy rum in the wee hours of the morning and he picked up his buddy Roman, whose disposition and clean pink skin invited confidence. But it wasn’t until after the hot springs that Reno learned the whole story.


The sun tearing at the skin through the open window, the first bottle of rum now finished. Diego, inspired by a well-timed taunt by Reno, who was in full control now, could not refuse to turn a dull Tuesday morning into something memorable and beautiful, and an experience good enough for this funny American. Diego sifted through his bag of speed, trying to convince himself that water was the most important commodity in the world.

“Okay,” he said, “we go.”

Reno was relieved to leave Paulina’s apartment. She had told them that both he and her mother had been crowned Miss Ecuador, and then had taken James the pilot by the hand to her bedroom and shut the door hours ago. With a nod from Diego, they left with Roman feeling boyish and mischievous, like schoolboys about to play hooky and break a whole bunch of rules.

Hillsides of Quito illuminated in the morning sun in patches and uneven sections like an historic opera house, decrepit like an old tourist attraction. The houses were perched like a house of cards balanced on a mountainside. The slightest gust of wind, the shaking of the earth, would cause an avalanche of concrete. With one placed stop, Diego disappeared into a friend’s house while Reno bought a bottle of rum, cold beer and cigarettes. Then, as if through serendipity and a divine nod from God, Diego and Reno did a large amount of coke and speed, and sped down the hill, Reno only knowing the destination was to water. Roman, with head tilted in casual acceptance, saw that his old friend Diego was up to trouble once again.

At first Reno was glad Diego had taken such a large hit of the white powder because there was a better chance he wouldn’t lose interest and call it off, but almost immediately it was obvious Diego had taken it as a personal challenge to not only take his new American friend on a tour of Ecuador but to also impress him with his rally driving skills. Reno watched him hit his stride, recklessly passing cars and trucks on his descent out of town. Just to show his approval, Reno lit a cigarette for him and put it to his lips as he downshifted, swerved around a big pothole and braced for a corner. Any other vehicle than the jeep four-by-four and the suspension would be shot and the axel bent.

The coke with ketamine hit Reno in the solar plexus as if someone had plugged him into an electrical socket. Having grown up with video games, the danger of this real-life video game did not deter him. There were no outbursts to say ‘go slower!’ There was only laughter when taking a corner right on the line. His four-wheel drifting down the mountain road corners and the utter disregard of the welfare of the vehicle were the most shocking things Reno thought of as he witnessed it all in the backseat. Hurtling down steep cobblestone roads – Andean steep with a driver full of speed – on a Tuesday morning passing any vehicle that wasn’t speeding, corners sharp and potholed, semi-controlled skidding with no guardrails demarcating the Andean slopes from the abyss, Reno reached for the seat belt but was thwarted. The belt was simply too small. Only the hand grip above the window and the back of the seat could hold him in place as the vehicle climbed and descended deeper into the Andes. Diego and Roman spoke Spanish while Reno smoked and held on to the seat and smiled, squinting into the sun.

A deep white-water gorge cut through the bedrock exposing earth the color of sand, ferns a cross between cacti and palm trees dominated the walls of rock. Tour buses climbed slowly, Diego speeding by without a thought to the police. Soon the 45-degree mountainsides began to level to a plateau, green grass covering the inaccessible terrain, the road the only sign of man. Dusty crumbling concrete in the air, not a building clean or chipped or unscarred yet strangely functional, like a lily pad half-eaten in midsummer. Off-road motorcycles screaming and humming, smooth over the bumps, the four-wheeled drive unsteady and bobbing, churning the dusty sand of pavement into a fine wake of white powder.

“Okay, now we climb,” said Diego. Reno had been wise enough to ask where they were going, half toying with the idea they were headed all the way to the coast. “Do you know where we are?”

“Somewhere in the Andes,” Reno wanted to say but didn’t want to tamper with the perfect temperament of the man who had his life in his hands. “No.”

“We’re going to the Amazon. We call it the Oriente.”

“We’re going to Brazil?”

Si. It will get very high. How do you say? Water goes one way and then water goes the other way. The middle of the Andes.”

“The Continental Divide?”

Si! Si! That’s it. There are volcanoes and hot springs.”

Agua!” Certainly the theme of the day.

And they did climb, the mountains massive but not snow-capped, like a seven-foot tall basketball player wearing Birkenstocks. Then it started to rain. Again Reno tried to tie himself down with the seat belt but it was too small. The corners varied from 90- to 180-degrees, real mountain road snaking upwards, no guardrail. The steep role to death was merely a few feet away. But Diego and his super strong speed and his cold beer kept attacking the corners, now perfecting the four-wheel drift, both hands firmly on the wheel, gear-changing only when necessary.

Then out of nowhere he turned off the road to an ancient driveway. Nothing was said to him. They walked to a river where Diego sat.

“Beautiful.” Cigarettes. Wet grass. Total isolation.

Then they all took a piss.

Back in the Jeep more speed for everyone, and it all started again. Foliage like gigantic snakes intertwined and clinging, unmovable and growing with hardly a tree. Mountainsides inhospitable to human habitation, steep enough for vertigo.

Wedged between two massive volcanoes they reached the hot springs. When they arrived it was hailing.

“Families are here so watch yourself,” said Diego with a nod.

Reno insisted he pay the small fee that included swimming trunks, then bringing their clothes in a basket to the closest hot spring where they could see them. Hot. Then not so hot, until they went to the source. Steam rising, rain falling, bits of hail adding body to the downpour. Mountainsides a mangled mass of greenery, not a tree to be seen. Walls of exposed rock touching the sky on both sides, a small piece of paradise unknown to the world except to a few. The joy and tremendous feeling of safety like a balm long needed.

“We are about 13000 feet above the ocean,” said Diego, looking proud.

“This water comes from a volcano,” said Roman, who at a glance suddenly looked like Jesus. Hummingbirds darted around the pools as if they were born here.

The aching decline of American culture was thousands of miles away, in a different hemisphere, a place full of ‘no’s’ and ‘cannots.’ The explosion of genius erupted like a hot spring, warming and comforting him in the lonely corridors of his mind, a dormant force that said ‘yes!’ and a power that burst forth from a forgotten spring. The new environment was the lost key that opened the door to a truer, freer sprit where forgotten dreams reawakened because you were in a new world, where time was fresh and people believed in you. Exhaustion and latent fears of sterility no longer poisoned the spirit, and no longer possessed you. There was no more saving for tomorrow and no more school nights to hinder and restrict. The resounding yes was a bugle call that used the butane as yet unused, the extra kick that took you into new realms of thought and feeling, a higher plain on the mountain where your old favorite peak was now reachable.

 Chapter Eleven

A Beautiful Repressive Niche


Most people only take snippets from uni-sensory images seen briefly from electronic media, sound bites and consumer-driven sights to build a foundation of perception, which are full of half-truths and spun with propaganda. Only from the horse’s mouth of the doer can human potential be studied effectively; the look in the eye, a twitch of the mouth, the almost indecipherable sneer somewhere in the face, the uneasiness of a lie, the odor of heightened emotion, the limp muscles of defeat, the lines of experience, the able hands scarred from the contact with life, the quiver in the voice when the tragedy is reborn, the shaky fluttering words of joyful recollection, the impatience of wit barging out resulting in interruption and apology, the calm even tone of competence, the flush of a cheek of embarrassment, the lowered eyes of shame, the aura of flourishment and the lethargy of despair. This is the language of truth that speaks to the soul, not the mind. This is the world of moist subjectivity, not the world of dry objectivity.

Without this language life can only be mundane, routine and humdrum, something almost detached and surreal. True engagement takes courage, but to be aware that you are acting in your own self-interest should be impetus enough to engage with an astute eye, looking for parts of people that speak to your subconscious mind on a higher level that can be identified by a tingling sensation, a smile on your face or the feeling of infinite possibility in your heart. Trust your intuition that gives you that inner voice that says: ‘that’s it! That is cool.’ And be mindful that that thing – that it – is different for each of us. Whether a doll or an airplane, an adventure or an idea, all is great for the will; all are pieces of your puzzle waiting to be considered, adopted and tested before they become part of you, another color in your character, more light for you to see who you are and where you would like to be in a world that has everything.

Comfort was never part of life. It has never been a given or a constant; only pain and sorrow are the nuts and bolts of living, the alpha and the omega of life’s journey. Accepting this as the underpinning prepares you for the injuries and bruises that accompany those who participate in the scrum. It minimizes disappointment and causes you to relish the triumphs and moments of joy along the way. It guards against over-expectation and vexation, hardens your defensive armor during the battles that ensue. And it helps open the door a little wider to the melee. Learning from books will give you the conceptual apparatus that can function as a digestive tract, but without the sounds and smells and sights and feel it will always remain an empty stomach, flimsy and feeble, and forever on the verge of being blown over when in the presence of a man of action, a doer, a man in full with a firm centre who has gravitas.

Being close-mindedness and quick to judge inhibits growth and dwarfs character development; always a sign of a small man. Some very wealthy and powerful people are close-minded and quick to judge and label others, but below the material bells and whistles they envy the man of character, the doers and explorers who have experienced life’s mysteries, absorbed the wisdom and fortified their self into a person who commands respect. This will always be the hierarchy of man.

What the Small Man lacks in character he makes up in toys.

Innovators explore; sheep follow. Doers weigh more and have more than avoiders. Avoiders cannot help admiring the doer and the competence that is written all over his face and shown by the cadence of his voice. Herein lies what defines the pecking order of man.

The avoider is also a sober man, in mind and body, a person without the knowledge of the epiphanies of Bacchus and the heightened realms of truth. He is a plain hamburger without the joys of condiments or the sesame seed bun, destined to be bland and uninteresting, overlooked and inwardly little. His laughter is shallow and false, coming from a barren room where the imagination has atrophied and dried up, void of the life force of anima – the water spring of the man of character. The laughter booms with infectious glee from the man with inner knowledge and self-awareness, an audio beacon attractive to all recipient ears like a medicine that has the power to disintegrate and remove problems pressing down on the brow of man, a momentary blast of the coveted panacea hoped for by those burdened by gravity and ailments of passion. Laughter is the thunder of man, an emission illustrating his comfort and freedom of self, an intangible trophy earned from overcoming and conquering, a gigantic YAWP that reveals his level of evolution and how high he has climbed – the mark of a thinking man who has achieved balance between contemplation and action, the inner exploration deemed by Socrates to be the most significant task of man.

Laughter from the gut is the most genuine sound in the world; cadence overflowing that touches the soul of all from its sureness of truth, its celebration of knowledge. It is pure, without malice or scheudenfreunden, unstained by envy of derision, an explosion of joy that is impossible to ignore. It is the sound of a master, a sage and the coveted philosopher-poet who all aim to become. It is a declaration that he has the keys to the mysteries of life, the secret code of the mystics and the lightness of a child at play. It is the voice of unity, showing oneness of self and having the power to unify others. It is a sound that exemplifies the rhythms of nature, the primeval hum that all animals seek, a momentary fountain of youth – the elixir all thirst for. And the most valued medicine known to man.

Therefore it is not a journey with any reward nor is it an empty task or a pointless exercise. It has as its gold man’s highest yield, desired by king and peasant, loved and respected and admired by all yet possessed by so few.

These were Reno’s thoughts while soaking in the hot springs in volcano alley high up in the Andes Mountains.

“Watch out for hypothermia when we get out,” said Diego, jolting Reno out of his tangential epiphany.

Reno thought Diego was dabbling in hyperbole. Simply said they were on the equator. But his body temperature had risen so much that when he did leave the hot springs he did flirt with hypothermia, thanking God he had brought his black wool beret. His teeth were chattering when they reached the parked Jeep.

“Diego, how many years has it been since you’ve been here?”

“Two days ago.” Diego laughed. He wore a groovy wool pullover covered with indigenous designs. It was a beautiful piece of clothing, thick yet soft to the touch. Understated. And with class. Unique. Practical.

“I sell these,” he said. “In California, Mexico – where there is surfing.” He didn’t seem like a businessman but it did occur to Reno that he had found his niche and had perhaps been a top-ranked surfer or skateboarder who had made some serious bread through sponsorships. After all, he had the word “skateboarder” tattooed across his abdomen. This was a far as he got with the Diego enigma until they stopped at his house an hour outside of Quito. Diego’s expensive Jeep didn’t match his tattoos and he didn’t drive it like an owner. Once Reno attached himself to the puzzle, the riddle of Diego began to grow.

Posh, high-security neighborhood, his house was the most impressive property in the enclave. Private electronic gate with two other expensive four-by-fours parked in the double garage.

“The servants are here so please be quiet. Follow me.” Instantly anxious, Noble glanced at Roman who nodded. Diego earlier had shown him a photo of his wife and two young daughters and had told him they were in Switzerland on vacation and then on their way to the Vatican.

“Who wants to go to the Vatican?” he had said. Noble/Reno left it at that because he would’ve have gone, but he had also become aware that many young guys in South America were openly hostile to the Roman church.

So Diego was on his own for a couple of weeks.

“I have to make a call to my wife. Make yourselves at home but stay on the balcony and try to keep it down. I won’t be long,” he said and left to make the call. The house was massive, big enough to have two servants and a full-time gardener. The house was built on the side of a deep gorge. Palm trees, putting-green lawn, greenhouse, garden above the garage, patio; serious old Spanish wealth had built this work of art. It had a separate building across the yard stocked with hundreds of bottles of wine, a long table, bookshelves and a desk – a man’s ideal getaway and study. When he asked Roman about the house he said it was Diego’s wife’s house given to her by her father. This, of course, was a corner piece of the puzzle.

Afterwards, when Roman was having a nap, he and Diego went there where they promptly did a long, nostril-stinging line of coke, clearly in an effort to raise his spirits. He had spent almost two hours speaking to his wife on the telephone.

“Jesus, you have everything here.” Reno was back.

“This is all an illusion,” he replied, sweeping his hand over it all. Reno shook his head.

“Maybe so, but every man needs a home base.” These words pierced his armor and he started to talk. He loved his wife he said but it was difficult sometimes, that she kept him on a tight leash.

“She’s really strict about my partying,” he said. “I don’t know, sometimes I think I prefer Argentina to Ecuador.” Diego sat on the couch in the corner. “I had some friends over about three days ago and when she called here the gardener told her I was having a big party. She was pretty angry. And I’m angry at the gardener.”

“It’s none of his damn business,” said Reno, speaking man-to-man firm. “You’re the man of the house, tell him to mind his own business, that he sees nothing. Set him straight. You don’t want a bloody spy in your own home.”

Perked, Diego said he didn’t have any friends in Quito. Yes, he thought, that was it: Diego was being manhandled and suffocated by his wife, didn’t have the freedom to party when and how he wanted, and didn’t even have one good friend he could talk to.

“Listen man, every man needs at least one guy who he can talk to about anything. Not a sister or father but a male friend. Otherwise you suffocate.” Reno saw it now, how he drove into the city, hung out at the Irish Pub, met friends that only lasted a night and then he was back to where he was. In all the wealth that surrounded him, the irony was severe.

“Do you mind if I ask you what your wife does?”

“She’s a DJ.”

“DJ? As in disk jockey?”

“Yes, but she’s really good, plays all over Europe. Ibiza and whatnot.”

Another corner piece

“She still does it but with the girls she’s taken some time off.”

The melancholy was still there as they walked in silence along a trail just outside his fence overlooking the gorge and realized that it was a time when a man with nothing can still attain a sincere level of happiness, and that a man with such riches can truly be miserable.

“I’ll tell you man,” said Reno with some gusto, “with your driving skills you should be a rally driver.” Even Reno, who was seldom startled, was amazed at his turn of mood.

“You think so?” he said, his stride quicker. The man hadn’t yet found his true niche.

“You tell me you don’t have the gift? Your driving today was world-class man.” Like a child with warm milk and a nipple, the lightness returned, Roman was awakened and drinks were served to usher in a new day in earnest.

Chapter Twelve

Canelazo de Naranjilla


Sometimes, when one finds the right place in the world one can meet the people one needs to meet who can open doors to a new self-perception and thus view of the world. Most are born into their geography, an inheritance of birth and circumstance, but when one grows and evolves, and if one finds oneself stifled and repressed, finding one’s right geomancy can be like transplanting a flower into better soil and so it blooms all over again.

It was only after he had landed in the capital of Ecuador that his new reality hit home. It caused Noble to realize how things had changed over the last six weeks, how he had gone through different phases of emotion, and how he could now see some of his behavior had changed.

His doppelgänger had Reno had emerged.

The big question Noble/Reno had had in his mind since he had arrived was: Why here? A long thin valley in the very heart of the Andes sprawled out with surrounding grass and foothills lacquered with eucalyptus trees. He had expected it to be hot but it is more crisp than hot, especially during the evening. But that was its greatest strength. It’s chilly enough here to ward off malaria and yellow fever and other equatorial diseases, and that was why the Spanish used Quito as its home base to create an empire. The conquistadors took control of Columbia and Venezuela and the Guyanas to the north, and Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina to the south. And Quito remained the unconquered middle. They took control of Quito in 1535, after being one of two seats of power of the Inca Empire for only seven years. Pizarro established his base here to administer the empire, and other than it being in the very middle of the world, it has clean, safe mountain water.

Noble could tell it had never been conquered because of the absolutely beautiful churches in the Old Town. The old Jesuit church in the heart of the old town had seven tons of gold on the walls. The old Jesuit mission is a work of art, and was part of the reason why the United Nations Heritage Foundation, when established in 1977, chose Quito as its first heritage site. But Noble knew it was more than just the architecture and buildings; it was the vibe here. Being so high up in the mountains is like having a settlement that is as close to God as is possible on Earth.

It’s like a huge natural spire poking up through the clouds to heaven.

The Switzerland of South America.

Reno’s search for the local special cocktail Canelazo de Naranjilla had brought him down the old part of town behind the churches where there was lane of cafés where people swaggered with purpose. Inside a courtyard Noble/Reno took a seat.

Canelazo por favor senora,” he said. The woman’s face breaks into a friendly smile with arms extended that say ‘by all means sir.”

A guitarist played an acoustic guitar painted red and white, dressed like an Ecuadorian Elvis Presley. Women watch the men talk, venting their politics and justifications, gesticulating in the universal manner, arms working with spittle on their lips – passion without anger, belief without malice, joy without bitterness. A people embodying Aristolean happiness. Women chatting in clusters. Rosy-cheeked, sheen-skinned, raven-haired, sharp-cheekboned, windswept beauties eager to grin, white teeth contrasting against the dark red hue of the cheek. Indigenous Mestizo with Visigoth bone structure made for a very spiritual combination. Quick to laugh, non-resentful, soulful souls unencumbered by consumerism, ascetic and simple, understated and pretty.

Everywhere is downhill from here, he thought: disease, squalor and hardship, monsoons and tidal waves, crime and danger, bacteria and yellow fever. North or south disturbs the equilibrium. Downwards to the sea increases discomfort and decreases metabolism. The air too thick with exhaust, heavy with metals, putrid with viruses hanging and hovering and itching and dense. Noble/Reno preferred the cobblestone lanes over fast American freeways, a climate with no seasons, a land where the sun sets at the same time forever, and where flowers were in perpetual bloom. Even here during the night the traffic is silent and raucous sounds of joviality reflect off the enmeshing walls of rock.

An old Chinese man sat a few tables down muttering to himself in a Naranjilla stupor. Or he could be having a series of Zen-like epiphanies experienced by only himself and God.

Reno attacked the beverage, feeling sure it could not dent his armor. It was sweet – dulce – a descendent of the sugar cane family. Thick like a hot milkshake the color of purloined pear. It disappeared in minutes so he chose to purchase a clay jug. The waitress used a ladle from a ten-gallon jar heated over a low propane-powered flame. Not scalding hot; the Ecuadorian drinking public would not allow that. The cocktail had a hint of absinthe in it that bespoke caution, but Reno ignored the red flag in the name of fun and empirical data. He felt a passion to test this city, to engorge its fruits in the bohemian tradition of the beatniks, and let nothing slip by him. Like Kerouac: jazz, pot, booze, women, road trips and joyrides to the max. Truths are universal and can be discovered in every corner of the globe. This, he realized, was part of the beauty of the philosopher’s life: his office does not have four walls.

A band setting up in front of decayed walls, the old hacienda chipped but standing, off-green double doors pointed twenty times, the courtyard banisters intermittent but intact. Roman pillars scarred and painted a rusty red. Musicians dressed in suits, black, pressed slacks and freshly shaved, hair gelled back out of respect for their audience. No blacks; no gringos; strictly an Ecuadorian affair. Waiters polite, well dressed. No ashtrays. Your own space. Respect for the foreigner. No obnoxious college blondes bumping into your table. Classy and rustic. Good cocktail. Effective overall package. Tough to beat. Reno has found his own niche within Ecuador’s inner sanctum.

A little later Reno had stopped off at his guesthouse to drop off his bag, have a pipe and roll a joint before he left for the Irish Pub. He was only at the pub for ten minutes before the Dane showed up with a matchbox full of blow. Halfway through the first cerveza he told Reno about this black woman who dropped by his guesthouse and how he packed himself a spiked cigarette for his morning hit but then she took it from him not knowing it was spiked with the white stuff.

“She turned horny. I should make it a regular thing,” he said, reliving in his mind the ins and outs of the night.

And he blamed the Dane for what eventually happened that night. Music blared, drinks being served, football on the screen, and the Dane hands him his matchbox and tells him to go into the washroom.

“Have a lot,” he said, an order from a Viking who knows what he’s doing. Two lines, one in each nostril that burned, watering his eyes. Walked out squinting behind his spectacles, the music crisper, the groove more vibrant, and his barstool still vacant. The Dane’s eyes the color of icebergs, his earnestness unmatched by any man.

Quito was an amalgamation of forces vying for power on the equator in the heart of the world. Most men never experience the steady twelve-hour days, the clear piercing mornings after the cool chill of the night. The Incas had to live here.


The brothel was packed with too many men for the ratio of half-dressed women. Pornography on televisions on both sides of the club, a stripper in the middle using the brass pole to her advantage. Women sat and drank and smoked and smiled and waited until an Ecuadorian would have enough guts to take the first step, pay the bar fee and take her to the only room behind the bar for a quickie. One room, one bed, dirty sheets; this was the Ecuadorian brothel. Reno and the Dane were the only foreigners there except a black prostitute with a large bosom. It was she who Reno chose to play with.

Chapter Thirteen

Cajones el grande


So Reno nursed his pint getting ready to leave when Jaap strolled in, leather jacket hanging loosely, silver chain outside the shirt. Glass of bourbon in hand, he stepped outside and rolled a cigarette.

“Now that’s a leather,” said Reno, intrigued by the crisp figure rolling with one hand.

“It is. It’s a good one. Yours too.” Accent subtle, words quick, eyes set and locked, caked with lines of life but jawline tight, muscles in play.

“Just working it in. A bit of a pain in the ass.”

“It is. It is a pain in the ass. Best way to get up to par is sleep in it.” Noble unsure, Reno throwing out a token laugh. “Serious. Three nights. Zip it up and sleep. Works.” Simple.

“Is that Dutch Drum?”

“Used to smoke Drum. This is Staap. Can’t get it here. I have someone who imports it for me. Better than those chemicaled cigarettes. Chemicaled, you know what I mean?” Eyes sharp, collar starched, hair white but full, skin pink with health but lined with character.

Chemicaled, sure. What is it, 249 chemicals in one of these babies, many purposely put in to increase addiction?”

“True.” Finger pointed, accused of speaking truth. “And many of those cause cancer. It’s been proven.”

“I believe you’re correct.”

“I am correct. But this is good smoke. Fluffy – if you use that word – and pure.”

“Though there are native cigarettes you can purchase from Indian reservations that are pure tobacco. None of this chemical bullshit.”

“Bullshit, that’s right. I heard of the native ones. Some good and some not so good, but not loaded with the crap.”

Sans crap.” The face transformed from professor and scientist of truth to great creases of joy, skin finely wrinkled and eyelids lifted.

Sans crap, that’s good.” He offered his hand. “I’m Jaap, but people call me Jack.”

“Noble.” Jaap’s smile grew to protect from a joke.

“Noble? As in Duke? Or palatinate?”

“That’s the one. Noble is my last name. Don’t use my first name.”

“So leave it a mystery, eh? Works with the girls?”

“Depends on the delivery.” Jaap snatched the cigarette from his mouth before ashes blew on Noble/Reno.

“That’s a good one.”

“You a regular here?”

“Could say that.”

“Flower expert like the owner?” He tilted his head to consider the angle of the question. “Not like Toné if you’ve met him. Big. Bald.”


“He’s an expert, works the flowers. Lilies.” Urgency to establish lilies and not another kind like roses or daffodils. “Expert, yes. I run a farm and sell them.”


“Yup. And roses, all colors. Good market for both those.”

“In Europe?”

“Russia mostly. Big market there. Others are opening up. But with the new president here in Quito the profit margins are thinning. Really thinning.”

“Let me guess: deemed a non-essential industry?”

“Correct. Can’t eat flowers. But this is the best place in the world to grow roses and lilies. Good profits, good income for my employees. Over 160,000 workers employed in flowers here.”

“Land of perpetual bloom.”

“That’s right!” Adamant on establishing the truths of his world. “Depends on the elevation, but where we are here it’s very good. Very good.” Another cigarette, elbows on the table, silver chain jingling. “President doesn’t know what he’s doing. If he’s not careful he’ll destroy what we’ve built for decades. Me, eighteen years here building my farms. I pay my employees a little more but unlike the other farms that have a turnover of…say… twelve percent, my farms have a one percent turnover rate. You know turnover?” Accent thick with some words.

“Sure, the rate employees quit.”

“Exactly!” Finger pointed, like a Daschund. “I treat my people good. Real good. So it pains me to think of closing the farms because of increased taxes and tariffs. He’s making it unprofitable. Can’t work for nothing.”

“No, one needs to eat.”

“Precisely! And that’s what we do. Not Toné, he gets his monthly salary, but others who sell the flowers. We’re getting squeezed.” Head shaking, sigh hidden, pain swallowed, injustice kept at bay.

“Might I ask you a question?”


“How did you get into flowers? Was your father a horticulturalist?” Three fingers thrusted at Reno.

“That’s what one would expect. But not me.” He smiled at a memory, or an irony. “I was a bartender in Holland, West Holland, about thirty when this regular comes in and starts bitching about his flower deliveries. ‘Course I had been at the bar for years so I knew him ‘cause we had spoken often, so he says to me: ‘Jaap, I want you to go to these twelves places and ask the buyers what they paid.’ See it was all a cash business back then and his profits were thinning too but not for the same reasons. He suspected his salesmen were, you know, skimming the top? So I take the day off work and drive his truck to these flower stores, and ask how much they paid for their last delivery. Well it doesn’t take much to calculate how much is being skimmed and who is skimming, so I tracked them down, the salesmen, and fired most of them. Just told them they were gone. So when I get back I give the information to the flower manager and he says ‘Jaap, I want you to deliver my flowers for me.’ And I did!”

“So it was your integrity that earned his respect and opened the door to the industry.”

“Correct. See, he could trust me. You have to in this business. If you don’t you don’t last long. Few years, that’s it. So he retired after a few years and I took over the business. Love it. Love flowers. I’m lucky.”

“You are. Part of the few.”

“I agree with you. So I expanded and came here, bought some land and built…oh…how many hectares? Doesn’t matter. Did well for years until Correa changed the laws.”

“Changing the rules of the game mid-game, poor form, no?”

“Very poor form. But you see he’s hurting his own people.”


“It is Noble. It is.”

“Why don’t you speak up, go to the government and say your piece. Seems rational to me.”

“I did!” Smile smiting the gleam of his smooth skin into a thousand lines of proportion and symmetry. “I said my piece and then was asked to shut up but I didn’t. The president said to me ‘we’re working on it.’ So I said ‘when do you think it will be done?’ He gave me the same vague answer so I asked again. I explained I needed to know because of my employees but he didn’t answer.”

“Snowballed you.”

“Snowball? Okay, sure. So I’m snowballed and driving home and these two big four-by-fours pin me in at my driveway, block me in. Few of his boys. And they say to me to settle down and shut up, and if I act like that to the president again they’ll kill me. So, of course this is my property so I tell them if they ever put foot on my land again I’ll hire some killers to snuff them out. So that was the end of that.”

“You gotta have balls to do that.”

“You do, yep.”

“So why haven’t they clipped you?”

“Clipped? Oh, no, they wouldn’t. Been here too long.”

“VIP.” Jaap considered the comment.

“Yep, you could say that.”

Cajones el grande man!” The face wrinkled into a work of art, the laugh dry and only air, eyes pinched shut, chain dangling but hands still rolling another cigarette.

“That’s my problem Noble. I’m too honest. Too direct. Can’t keep my mouth shut.”

“But in business one would expect that to be a virtue.”

“I agree with you. I agree with you. But not here. Not now.”

“Disagreeable zeitgeist.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself. Disagreeable zeitgeist. Yes.”

“So one could argue that to stand up to the president of Ecuador – or for that matter any country – would not be considered wise, especially if one has built and runs a successful farm and who cares about their employees’ welfare.”


“However,” his turn to raise his finger in the air. “If one has a legitimate beef where livelihoods are at stake, not just yours as a business owner but as a representative of the president’s people, that is, those who voted him into office, then one might regard that as courageous and a great example of leadership.”

“Yes, one could.” Nodding thoughtfully.

“Perhaps it was all in the delivery?” They both let it out, the laughter, the connecting tissue to bring them right back to where they started. “One might have great ideas, noble ideas, ideas that do not exploit but rather enhance, but how it is packaged and handed forward to the big wigs could call for a point man or deputy of some sort.”

“I don’t disagree, however my problem is that it doesn’t matter if he’s el presidente or the tenth man in the hierarchy of power, my point is still valid and deserves attention.”

“I concur wholeheartedly. Sugar-coating and sucking up and beating around the bush are not the hallmarks of a visionary or leader.”

“That’s it. I cannot compromise. If I know it to be true I say it as it is. For example, tomorrow I go to a farm, you know within the reach of Quito, that is owned by an older man who has handed the farm to his son. Maybe 29-years old, knows some but not enough to run a profitable and productive flower farm but I will tell him exactly what needs to be done, but if he doesn’t like it, or only wants part of it, I walk away. That’s just the way I am.”

“But that’s also what has made you successful.”

“I would say you are right there.”

“Well then stick to your guns and see it through, but make that effort to make them see how your way is the best way, for their employees, their balance sheet and so they can go to sleep at night knowing their enterprise is getting better.”

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should dig deeper to make them see what I see. What do you say? Stick my guns? I like that one.”

“Don’t forget Jaap that you’re the expert. And if you have found your calling don’t doubt your judgment. Your objectivity is your greatest gift.” He rubbed his chin.

“Very good Noble. Yes, yes.”

“Or you could always bring a beautiful woman with you, not to distract, but to add to the bouquet and beauty of your presentation and summary of suggestions.” The three women who entered the patio surrounded Jaap, each giving him a kiss and one taking his hand leading him inside the bar, his smile hitting maximum with the third kiss.

“Good to talk Noble. See you again.”

“Could be an opportunity for some research for that new position you’re looking for.” The hand shot up, the head fell back and the laughter bounced off the ceiling in the pub. Reno remained for a few moments, mulling the exchange, amazed at the confident voice emerging from his lips – Reno’s lips – long held dormant and overlooked in a stuffy, time-wasting life back in Texas.

Chapter Fourteen

A Noble Doppelgänger


Hope stirs all that is good in man, so when it is crushed by flimsy and guile, the little boy wants to smash his toys and cry for his mother and bring down everything in his path. Skeletons of immaturity awaken and danger comes near. The stomping and shouting doesn’t come to fruition perhaps due to an objectivity of self, an impartial evaluation of the facts and finally the sober judgment that renders destruction useless. Noble respected his doppelgänger Reno and knew himself well enough to know that Reno’s voice was real: the balancing force to Noble’s linear rationale, to his absolutes and sweeping generalizations that he tolerated. Reno world view was a world of gray in all its multifarious shades and degrees. Reno was not the best of him nor was Noble the best of him; they were a working partnership that had to work together and forgive, but never bicker, mock or cut down, especially as witness to the other’s most foolish and embarrassing moments.

To Noble, over a sober morning coffee out on the quadrangle of his guesthouse, it could be said that many never nurture and develop their inner Reno, instead clinging to the boyhood notions learned in the schoolyard, hardwired in all people, always correct because their underpinning of first beliefs were carved in granite and not easily thrown away or forgotten. These tapes made in granite have a seniority that have already been deemed sufficient to guide one through life’s pitfalls and unexpected turbulence, however when up against the adult’s world littered with guile and crime and theft and manipulation, one’s more worldly Reno can identify the guile and provide the calm voice of warning amidst the boy’s hollering enthusiasm. As Nietzsche believed, there are many different selves within the soul. Develop and know the two most powerful to balance and vet, to discuss and reason and conclude, to aid and support in the vicissitudes of what life throws at you in the storms of time and throughout the tsunami of duration. Share the road with the yang of your ying, to propel you through and protect you from the barbs and bruises inflicted by uncaring usurpers who do not know the meaning of honour, and who prefer destruction over creation.

The Dane had been right. The truth of the matter is that Quito is dangerous and without the armored swagger of your laissez-faire-beyond-nihilism self, others can see the pink cheek of inexperience and find your Achilles Heel. The Dane was protecting Noble. Much more street smart, the Dane preferred Reno to Noble. But even then he was warning Reno not to be careless and silly, that Reno must guard against all cheap shots and scallywags that will strike whenever they want.

These were Noble’s thoughts the day after another three-day party spent with the underworld of Ecuador’s capital city.


Noble had never married because he hadn’t been able to find a woman he truly loved, or at least a woman who was as good as his first love in high school. At times he considered this as impossible – that no one could match his high school sweetheart – but he kept his eyes open. Sure, there had been many women but none that lasted more than a few months. He was sure his standards were not too high. There were some, like Katie and Amy, that he thought would last, but inconsistencies and subconscious disrespect would manifest that caused him to think they were being untruthful to him. Noble would push them away just before things became too serious, choosing the path to freedom, which was always less hassle than full commitment. He had always told himself he would marry later in his life like both his grandfathers, most likely in his forties like them. But when he reached forty his view of women had waned, tainted by bad experiences and too much wavering and extremism of emotions for his benign and consistent equilibrium of emotion.

At times he mulled over the possibility that his emotional body had atrophied and that his heart had turned to wood, but he rationalized that even if this was true it was safer and less turbulent this way.

He no longer cocooned himself from the rigors of life, rather he had now found a comfortable path forward here in Quito. Any cynicism he had, had come from the inevitable problems and crises he had had with his personal relationships with women. He simply had not found the one yet. But maybe he only had one true love but she had slipped through his fingers in a smoky haze of misunderstanding, leaving him permanently scarred by perplexity. It was simply easier to live without them. None had enhanced his life. All had hampered his life, causing grief and distrust in both parties leaving nothing but pain and resentment at the end.

And Noble preferred to have less pain and resentment in his life.

These were his thoughts as he strolled through the huge Parque Carolina in the heart of the business district in Quito. They were walking past the garden that had one of the most varied presentations of orchids in the world.

He had asked Martina what she planned to do here in Ecuador now that she had sold her farm. That was when she told him about what happened here in the seventies. An oil company that was eventually purchased by Texaco, drilled for oil, produced and then closed down in the Amazon jungles of the Oriente. Toxic debris and poisons left behind after the drilling infiltrated the water table and into the soil in the surrounding villages that soon caused children to be born with no fingers or no toes, a direct result of the hazardous by-products of oil production. The remoteness of the jungle terrain and mountains made the effort of cleaning up even more difficult compared to other geographies. Almost forgotten were the indigenous villagers affected by the chemicals, who brought a class-action lawsuit against Texaco since it had assumed all potential liabilities from past production. Texaco took the case down to Quito where after years of legal paperwork finally heard the case two weeks ago. By going to Quito, the western press wouldn’t follow it.

“The judge declared Texaco must pay the aggrieved parties nine billion dollars,” she said to him as they walked past the orchids. Noble was only half-listening.

“You can have someone killed here for a hundred dollars,” he said, as if he had just made a comment on the price of beer.

“Texaco has appealed the decision already.”

She had told him that she wanted to better her Spanish for a few more months and then go talk to the villagers to hear their side of the story firsthand and record the event in a book. Of course Reno thought it was a waste of time but he loved the idea of seeking truth in the sharp teeth of danger. He could see the mischief in her eye, having an innate understanding of her sense of adventure, but he also knew if she tried she would reap what she did not want. A death of a noisy female journalist asking questions was very possible, especially if it exposed the messy part of an irresponsible American oil company with deep pockets.

“You know it could be dangerous,” he said. Flinging her hair back, she relished the thought that she could cause that type of response. Her past in the hemp industry had given rise to a passion to fight injustice and put the guilty parties in the public spotlight. Her thinking was not to sensationalize or exploit but rather to learn from and correct.

“It would be the just thing to do,” said Noble.

The twinkle in her wide brown eyes widened.

 “But the real thing I’d like to do,” she said, “is to show how the US is destroying the Columbian cocoa fields with poisonous herbicides.” She told him how there were over 200,000 displaced Columbians living in Ecuador who had fled because of the bombardment of their land with a poison that had negative health repercussions.

“Sounds like Agent Orange.” Noble/Reno smiling. Light jousting, all is fair game. A man with a sharp mind who can take the time to be playful and to take it to the park with his woman.

“Planes fly overhead and spray the forests. These people can’t go back.” It charged her up. “And it’s one corporation that does it, only one company who runs all the planes dropping the herbicide. It’s called Monsanto. They make millions killing plants and displacing villagers who have been there for a thousand years.” The cigarette in her hand was like a toothpick between her long fingers, not bony but defined, lined; hands that had lived, accomplished, that had etched the story of her life.

It was Reno who smiled.

“Well why wouldn’t someone from Monsanto hire a local to have you clipped?”

“They could.”

“And danger turns your cranky?” Deadpan. Mutual mischief.

“The danger you mean? Oh, it doesn’t bother me. It’s so unlikely I don’t even think about it.”

Reno had an image of her in the jungle alone, hair up, new hiking shoes, mixture of light and joy with no idea of the danger in her semi-stoned state. Several different scenarios floated through his mind as to what method was used to clip her. All her research lost, body never found.

“You’re going to merge el norte to the refugee camps?” Reno wanted to get an idea of her mettle. (Noble could hear the insincerity in his voice).

“Once I can get my Spanish better because I need to talk to them.”

“Highly flammable, no?” Lightness in Reno’s voice.

“Well people know but they don’t know the full story.”

Noble felt helpless. He silently grieved for this brave woman before him with a noble purpose. A Goliath that could be brought down to size. A golden opportunity to correct a wrong. His voice currently misplaced, deadened. Reno saw a left wing liberal nut. A Goliath that would only grow stronger from her zeal. Corporations can hire their own assassins. Journalist missing, assumed to be sunstroke or a snake bite. Happened all the time. He looked at his watch and wondered whether he would have time to get to the pub for their two-for-one special.

Chapter Fifteen

Reno Finds His Footing


When it rains the clouds descend the surrounding mountaintops and stamp out all noise, quiet with raindrops constant with purpose, showing mankind that this plateau is 9000 feet above sea level in the Andes, cool and cruel to those wet and exposed. The air is full of water falling steady with no hurry. Rejuvenation is in the air and the cold kills bacterium and cleans the water but a cold nonetheless that shouldn’t be equated with a city right on the equator. In a way it’s the safest place in the world. Twelve hours of day all here, sunny, rainy but always constant. Never minus 30 or 100 Fahrenheit. Here a man can trust the weather, depend on a consistency. It affects the pace of life, the choices people make and how they live life. A geography-based life philosophy, thanks to the Creator for the friendly ebb and flow of hot and cold.

When the centering of self comes a bolder character emerges, a firmer voice without fear of attack, opening the door to ideas and wit normally kept censored by inner vociferous clamoring of consternation and trepidation. With these noises discredited there is a leap of wit, a new resource ready for a quick delivery, an ease that can dictate the flow and subject matter in a group. Because there is no fear, laughter and acceptance come from others with the natural ease of falling water. Respect and nurturing of one’s doppelgänger is the path to evolution of self and the starting point for an upward-moving dialectic. Very quickly Noble/Reno ran with it with the belief that what was interesting to him was interesting to at least one other.

Noble was at the bar with the Dane nursing a first pint. Just the two of them as if old regulars devoted to the bar’s health. The Dane, thin and melancholy, pushed his pint aside and said he’d be right back.

“Two minutes.” He was a man who never engaged in exaggeration or hyperbole, a man who admired and employed understatement whenever possible. Noble assumed he was off across the street to call Diego the Argentinean who somehow ended up with his credit card. Innocence and sober thought were his comfort zones, never taking words as inaccurate, but the doppelgänger in Noble soon thought he had stepped out to score a baggie of nose candy. Five minutes and then ten, the Dane emerged in a cloud of smoke and the fizz of the huge glass of beer in front of him.

The Dane, being every bit able, competent and worldly went straight into the bathroom and then to Reno’s side, grin, lines and the slight twinkle in his eye that to Reno was beautiful. Here was a man who knew his likes and dislikes, his stimulants and had no inclination to ask permission or announce his minor crime. In a single leap he had body-checked the melancholy out and lifted his spirits to a sporting playfulness. Noble sucked on his cerveza wanting to acknowledge what he had done, but Reno held firm and curled his lips to feel the blonde hairs of his emerging moustache.

“Here.” One word. No doubt. Complete matter-of-factness and said as if Noble/Reno were a brother and old friend. The small bag of coke went into his hand, for a moment worried at how obvious the handoff was. But the thrill Reno felt trumped the caution Noble wanted to exercise. Only a nod and he was off to the washroom.

Now somewhat experienced after 48 years of never partaking in the white powder, Reno did the only thing he knew: deposited a large hit onto the porcelain mantelpiece of the toilet, a pile unmanicured by credit card or cigarette box. He rolled a bill tightly and then took a deep breath enjoying the knowledge that the door was locked and the bar still empty. The long-suppressed rascal bent down and demolished the cocoa in two goes, stinging the nostril lining but knowing it was both a clean execution and a high yield. Breaking rules and breaking laws and being bad all combined to scare Noble but fueling Reno, a new swagger emerged when he re-entered the bar after making sure there was no evidence around his nostril. Even the glance in the mirror added to his poise, savoring the knowledge that he had never looked better.

Who ever said pride was a sin?

Noble wanted to verbally enthuse but with Reno now in the driver’s seat, he slipped onto the barstool, resumed watching the football and casually handed back the coveted baggie. Nothing said. Action known but left unacknowledged, successful execution of a crime resulting in a faster heartbeat and now nurturing the urge to talk about all sorts of things.

Noble felt like a tea-totaling prude contrasted against the muted relishing concealed under his unembellished grin, the long dormant Viking genes surfacing with the Dane. Neither of them switched up a gear too obviously, words dry and delivered with understated mischief, suddenly savoring the moment, the beer and the night’s possibilities.

“You two playing poker tonight?” Reno noticed the bar filling up, the candles lit on the tables and the fire emitting an orange hue from the fireplace. He looked at the Dane. So recently his shoulders and posture had been overrun by gravity and fatigue, but his blue eyes sparkled, devil-may-care-I-can-do-anything-if-you’re-game spoken without words.

“Oh come on!” Monica, the most beautiful of all the regulars, manager no-nonsense Scot who spoke her mind, challenging the two alpha males to play ball, crossed her arms ready to challenge two bad-assed big spenders.

‘Yeah, what the hell,” replied the Dane. Her hand slammed on the bar, flattered and relieved, looking even prettier in her triumph.

 Their height and swagger and glow soon attracted others to the table, with them taking the best seats around the two tables side-by-side. Ecuador social etiquette was very clear about introductions. There were Andreas from Switzerland: 27 years old smart and laidback to Reno’s left, and PY from Quebec across the table, Jason from New Jersey who whatever he did could not conceal his crassness and loud voice; Monica, the bar manager and Mare also from Quebec. Right from the start the Dane and Reno dominated and toyed, teased and joked, leading by example that this night could not be anything but fun. But there was a cool expertise, words enunciated clearly, stoned-state concealed, aplomb and firmness noticed and respected by all except Jason.

There was one thing about the Dane: he was unable to tolerate drunkenness and stupidity, especially during a poker game. To Reno it was because he was European and had class. And he was right. The American was flippant and careless, disrespectful not to the players but to the code of good sportsmanship. Reno knew the Dane well enough to sit back in silent awe of witnessing him pull rank while he reveled at the Dane’s unabashed assertiveness.

Jason settled down from the Dane’s policing, clearly unaccustomed to European sensibilities of etiquette. Reno loved it and took note of the Dane’s technique, direct and fair, firm and straight on.

They quickly settled into a robust and well-played game of Texas Hold’em, all showing a keenness to win but most of all a desire to play well. And when the pace was brisk it brought out the best in then all.

Noble was usually conservative when betting but Reno usurped any serious contemplation of prudish sobriety and caution, and let loose with the blunt cockiness that garnered replies from all. With a good two cards he said: “Being a fair man I thought I’d tell you I’m going to win this hand.” Reckless abandon, cocksure and coy, the jester was welcomed into the mix.

“So that’s how you bluff.” The Swiss, smart, polite and tattooed, responding well to the challenge. The bets went high, Reno was in, the face cards matching well to his hand. But it was the American who simply refused to believe Reno would make such a bold statement if he did have a good hand. With the Swiss out, he knew exactly what was happening. The man from New Jersey adamant, stubborn, stupid and loud, loaded the pot. From what he could see, Jason probably had three kings but he knew he had his favorite hand and Reno kept raising the bet.

“Lure him in,” the Swiss whispered, keeping his cigarette hidden under the table. The Dane, dealing and folded, snuck a peek at Reno’s cards. Nothing. No expression or utterance but Reno could sense his pride in him.

“We’re trying our hardest to get the New Jersey man out of the game.” Reno, full of bluster, everyone laughing at his boldness, Jason slurring in defense.

With the pot high with chips, he finally called. Careless and without fanfare, Reno’s two low cards showed not even a pair, for a moment caught in a bluff, the American about to erupt in triumph until the Swiss pointed and said: “A flush!” A moment until the Dane struck him hard, the laughter coming from a deep and sincere place.

“Three kings,” said Jason, not believing that five low cards showing clubs could beat his royalty. Simple, understated cards, smart yet effective, the hand so many forget to play. The more Jason resisted yet accepted the outcome, his tattooed arms refusing and gesturing, belching futile resistance, the game became something more. The bluff had been a bluff until the first three clubs were laid, Reno aware his chances were fair with his two low clubs.

Everyone drank, the Quebecois loving the American’s resistance and deflation and his struggle to accept the unsung flush. The chips overflowed in front of him, mild embarrassment but for Reno a moment to relish. The Dane was proud to be his friend, the Swiss handing him his cigarette under the table, acceptance and digging Reno’s cool, the Quebecois all grins, and Monica suppressing her smile that revealed more than her perfect teeth.

And so the game went.

Only when Monica was focused on something did Reno and the Swiss sneak a smoke, and only when the Swiss was watching did Reno fling the cigarette over her head and into the fire, swallowed into the flame. Perfect flick.

Antonio had shown up and had set up a party at a friend of his named Paul so he tried to lose quickly, beefing up pots and calling bluffs, but Reno kept winning. Jason from New Jersey was the first to lose followed by the Dane. Being the way he was, he bought in with more chips but lost those two, settling into being the dealer for every hand yet still rotating the order of bets. A flow, the well-oiled machine purring, the rare moment of levity, a contained silliness hidden, consistent and free, flowing and sharp, bouncing retorts with one liners, his smile only interrupted by the steady flow of pints he and the Dane consumed at an impressive pace.

“Two more el grande por favor, my bill,” said Reno

“No, no. My bill,” replied the Dane. And so it went.

The game went on for hours, Antonio drinking and sulking in the corner, looking at his watch, the Dane not caring, Reno pushing his recklessness so he could lose and get to Paul’s. He even snuck in a second visit to the washroom after the Dane had returned, serendipitous hand-off unseen by even the most prying eyes, another thick line, the rest of the game employed in the constant concealment of the dreaded nasal drip. The Dane and Reno unable to halt the cracks, all arid as the desert, the Quebecois polite and loose, the Swiss wide-eyed and notably piqued at the level of it all, and at the absolute fearlessness of the Dane and Reno sharing and balancing the flow, opening the doors for others to crack the joke, encouraging the inner rascal to break free.

But it was Monica who he thought felt the deepest emotion, proud of her two men, proud of the ambiance with the four candles on the table, proud of the music selected and the warmth of the fire and impressed by the underlying grace so evident in the humor that could not be killed. Noble/Reno knew that she was aware that they were witnessing a harmony of international parts, a fleeting moment that could never last, a chemistry always sought, the flawless coming together of personalities, the good stuff from good hearts, the genuine sharing of mutual joy, a breaking down of walls and inhibition through a fluke in the mix, life how it should be, and in the back of her mind the knowledge that it was all her doing, her initiative and her efforts that had made this magic happen. Monica’s expression also showed that she knew it could not last, a tinge of the underpinning of life’s sadness: that perfect moments could only exist as a memory. It was a memory that could afterwards warm her heart anytime she recollected the non-stop laughter, the fountain of comic wit coming from these giant men who looked like cousins, fair and kind, meanness never knocking on the door, the storm of banality kept locked out by the will of two men, proud and unabashed and perhaps unaware at the utter exposure of their characters for all to see and savor. Monica knew this was about what human beings were capable of, so completely different from the wars and crimes and squalor that most people never stopped talking about.

Noble could see all that on her face, but Reno was only noticing her flushed cheeks, her coquettishness and the way she watched him, a heat he could sense. Monica was beyond Noble, beyond his capabilities, too much to handle, too full and confident a woman but a perfect match for Reno, rare, gifted, imbued with ease and the grace of God, a man in full on display showing all, baring his soul, bringing the best out in others, the man she knew existed but could never find. Noble could see Reno had restored her faith in the goodness of men, her belief in the possibility of love, and her nagging hope in a partner that could enhance her life through laughter, openness and the safety of a good heart. Monica couldn’t help restoring and refilling those areas in herself that had slowly drained and dried up, her instinct encouraging her to heal the jaded edges in her soul created by the drought of fully experiencing an honest and full man, and being surrounded by the petty disharmonies of the immature and selfish, who never embraced all that was good and noble in man. Silently she feasted on the vibe and soothed the frayed tissue in her heart, stitching and sewing herself, becoming stronger and safer and even happier, even if just for a moment. Humanity could be beautiful. Total strangers meeting in her bar over cards could create something bigger than its parts, a hovering synergy that was palpable, and to her: poetry.

But as they all knew the moment could not last. Antonio was causing a raucous outside because the front doors had been locked at closing time and he had been caught outside and couldn’t get in. Around the back door he knocked and bitched, a no-no of etiquette, upsetting the stern bouncer who came to the table and said: “Antonio.”

The Dane gave Noble a look and he knew what they had to do. Under no circumstances could we allow him to upset Monica and attract the police roaming the streets of Mariscal, causing turbulence to the special privilege the pub had in the neighborhood, the gentle balance of knowing and allowing Finn’s to illegally drink and smoke all night if they wanted as long as they were quiet and didn’t cause trouble. And the Dane and Noble/Reno knew Antonio had it in him to wreck it all. They didn’t say anything.

The irony was Reno was playing and about to lose the last of his chips. He was brave when he nodded at Monica and stood up, motioning to the bouncer that the problem was about to go away. The real world infringing on a thing of beauty, the magic marred by a man who could not share and who was unable to laugh.

Chapter Sixteen

How to Make a Bomb Out of a Light Bulb


When he had first met Antonio a few weeks ago, he was hanging out on the sidewalk beside Finn’s with a bunch of people smoking their pipes. The road beside Finn’s was a one-way and heavily treed lane so the police seldom patrolled it and tended to shadow a few partiers there. Antonio though stood out from all the smokers. He had a very precise face, firm and proportional with an aquiline nose, straight and narrow, and lips that were muscular and symmetrical. He spoke with the rhythm of Argentinean slang in a baritone voice making up for his long, thin frame, coordinated and purposeful. At 33 he already had the lines on his face of a doer – past stories waiting for the chance to be told from a childhood in Buenos Aries.

They had chatted after the bars closed under a tree on a dead-end street, smoking base and drinking Northena from the bottle. Antonio could construct a perfect pipe from the cigarette pack foil, like a funnel twisted and bent. He was an expert and major consumer of the diesel-smelling powder. Noble had wondered why his makeshift pipe-making technique was so good. Obviously well educated, it hadn’t occurred to Noble that he was talking to an addict. He had told him that he was flying to Denmark on the following Thursday for work as a forensic photographer “taking pictures of the mortes.” He was in Quito waiting for his flight, where he had come to recover from a broken relationship. When he had become drunk he blabbered about his wife and kids, unafraid to show how his cracked heart had shattered him and torn up his life. Antonio’s face, so earnest and teary, would move closer to Noble/Reno so that he was in his space, causing him to lean back. It was urgent that he understood his pain. He was a man in pain and a man who needed empathy. He had said he couldn’t afford to live in a hostel, so Noble lent him twenty dollars. He insisted he would find Noble/Reno at Finn’s and pay him back once he received money from his mother for his trip to Denmark.

A week later he bumped into Antonio beside Finn’s. He was wearing only a t-shirt so when it started to rain Noble invited him into the pub for a few pints. Noble knew he didn’t have the money he owed him and he didn’t have it in him to ask for it. It didn’t take him long to realize that Antonio was a scam artist and a scallywag, but Noble/Reno was not out to change anyone. Antonio was an interesting dude and seemed to know everyone. And it was through him that he met Paul the ex-SAS man.


After the poker game had ended he stepped behind the Dane who never allowed himself to be interrupted or forced to do anything by anyone but himself and at his own speed. At the back door the bouncer, a man who had never showed any emotion, shook Reno’s hand in relief and respect for his promptness, a coup of sorts with the strong man and protector of the best expat pub in Quito. After a month of nods and Reno’s enticements with calling him “amigo,” he had finally made a judgment, a favorable one, and a judgment not of Noble but of Reno, the best and most unexpected ending to poker night at Finn’s.

Antonio stopped whining when Reno abruptly raised his hand and said:

“In English! Gotta practice your English.”

The deflection was successful because he couldn’t bitch in English. Reno was swift enough to not really care, trying to plug the holes that were letting that magic feeling out that a minute ago had been so intoxicating. The cold night air outside the pub permeated through his fleece and vest. He knew the best strategy was to engage and keep moving forward.

“Technology?” It was one of the few words of slang Antonio had picked up from him. He nodded. Good news because they needed to bring supplies over to the party.

When the Dane came out of the pub he went right to Antonio, his face inches away. He spoke in rapid Spanish as if scolding a child, not letting him talk, ensuring he understood he was acting selfishly and immature and to stop his whining. It was a beautiful sight: direct and clear, blue eyes wide and unwavering, shoulders square, absolutely nothing casual about it. Stern but not angry, the ultimate in alpha male pulling rank. It all had something to do with Antonio ending up with his credit card from a previous night partying.

Since Noble/Reno was the tallest, he stood close enough to the Dane to add some muster to the barrage. He didn’t say a word. Antonio tried but the Dane simply overwhelmed him, shaming him with his truth. The Dane then insisted Antonio indicate his understanding and acceptance of his spiel. The Argentinean looked small and physically shrunken. For the man from Denmark, misbehavior always needed to be confronted and corrected. It was just his way. Noble thought it was brilliant, and was the secret to his stature.

“Did you understand all that?” the Dane asked, walking to Plaza Foch to grab a taxi. The Dane had a date with one of his several girlfriends at his hostel.

“I certainly got the gist and he needed to hear it, direct and clear. Well done.” He left for his date and Antonio and Noble caught a taxi and took off for Paul’s.

Immediately when Noble saw him and heard him speak he could tell he was intelligent despite speaking Spanish to Antonio. Thin, wiry, short haired with a beard, t-shirt stained and khaki fatigues, he was doing ten things at once. He only heard his British accent after he started asking Noble/Reno questions.

“Did you bring a bottle?” Antonio, still fazed, looked at Noble.

“An el grande,” Noble/Reno answered. “And some goodies.” Paul abruptly took the bottle from his hand.

“Well then let’s get to it.” Immediately liked his style. No loitering or gray areas. Reno took charge and made himself right at home.

Paul was a man Noble/Reno knew existed in the world but could seldom find. His mind had stretched so much from living life he couldn’t fit anywhere. He was the classic answer to the question: “where do all the men who have lived a truly extraordinary life end up?” Quito? After a career as an engineer in oil exploration and ten years in the SAS, this man could never adjust to the phonies, the stupidity and the constant bombardment of offensive superficialities of living in London. No, he lived in a mansion in Quito on a healthy pension.

Genuinely brilliant with an IQ of 160, he touched on his skills of making bombs from gasoline and laundry detergent, to the longest proven sniper kill from 2700 meters away, Reno’s imagination took hold.

“Well then, how long did it take?” Eyes wide, Noble/Reno shuffling more powder in his pipe.

“Click! That’s how long it took!” Noble/Reno was not to be deterred. The only stupid question was the question that was not asked.

“I mean the bullet must have taken four seconds or so to hit the target.” Becoming more serious, the fair complexion and thin white beard somehow pinker.

“Five seconds. Filmed. One leg went flying and the rest just gone.”

“Thick streaks of blood?”

“It was a 57 caliber. The thing’s designed to-“ He used his hands to imply explosion.

“Did you see it?”

“Yeah. It was all recorded.” Antonio broke open the anisette and the three of them went outside where the lush foliage created a natural setting. The apartment was built on the side of a mountain above a long tunnel. Quitonian utopia. Spices like mint and rosemary perfumed the air held in by the trees that protected Paul’s garden.

“But this is nothing compared to what we call the V-Dam bomb, an explosion that could take out a three-story building and leave nothing but rebar.”

Then he lit his pipe.

So Reno lit a joint.

“You mean the supporting steel only?”

“Only the supporting steel that help up the building. No fallout debris of the three floors, nothing but basement man. You know we go in and paint the target so it’s all locked in. The V-Dam is the most accurate and powerful. We don’t use guided missiles because the V-Dam man is precise. The computer locks in the exact location so when the bomb is in the air it compares geographical images taken by satellite and the terrain say two miles out. It sees it and finds the marker and hits the paint. But the bomb has a purposeful delay when it first strikes the top floor so it is allowed to fall deeper into the lower floors for greater impact. The building just disappears just like that. Including the people inside.”

“Not even a dental record?”

“The heat that is released actually burns through in a blast and incinerates. We’re talking a lot of fuel exploding here.”

Back inside Paul switched to smaller fare.

“But the easiest way to make a bomb is to unscrew a light bulb, gauge out the lead at the base with a blade, and then fill the bulb with gasoline and detergent. When the bastard switches on the light switch, boom! You wouldn’t believe the damage it does. Shards of glass like shrapnel cutting everything in its radius. Powerful bugger. I would not try this at home.” Paul was so wound up he stood on a chair and unscrewed the light bulb, pointed exactly where the lead was and then screwed it back in. “We call that one the sparkplug.”

He then took out a weapon from a room he had found in the mountains of Ecuador: a twelve-foot long stick hollowed to shoot darts. He quickly produced a dart made from a twig with part of the end wrapped in cotton, and blew the dart to the CD he had placed above the couch in the living room. Perfect hit from twenty-five feet.

“It’s all in the way you hold it. See this arm supports the weapon almost entirely so that the other hand can focus on the target.” Crisp demonstration and Reno followed Paul’s technique and hit the CD.

With the Argentinean waging a constant campaign of consumption and they were running low on technology, Paul and Antonio began to argue. The deep baritone of the Argentinean rising in degree, Paul turned to Reno.

“He wants to head down to score from his guy but I got the good stuff.” He looked at Antonio. “Mi casa. Mi decision.” And Paul made a call. Twenty minutes later a tall man named Roberto arrived with the largest baggie Reno had ever seen appeared on the table. Paul pulled at the bag with his teeth and poured the entire amount on the table. Heaping. Crazy ex-SAS military with a twelve-foot peashooter leaning against the wall, high-tech radio equipment stacked neatly in a corner with unplugged wires and remote controls, two subwoofers and a copper antenna all over it.

“If you want good tech you should call this guy,” he said to Noble. “Why not? It’s the best stuff in Quito. Trust me.” Roberto spoke to Paul in Spanish.

“No, just Noble,” he said. “I vouch for him. He’s one of us.” They shook hands and now Noble/Reno had a new connection. Reno was thrilled.

After Roberto left and they attacked the white pile of cocoa leaves, Reno pointed at the antenna.

Paul shook his head. “No, it’s not for music.”

“Can’t I plug in my I-phone or I-pod into some sort of auxiliary slot like that?” The way Paul slowly shook his head Reno had misfired. “High-tech military gear then is it?”

“Actually, it’s part of my gear I use when surveying land for oil deposits. Sort of works like a sonar device, but for different things like sulfur and some other boring stuff.”

“Oil.” He stood up and returned with a large coffee table book and pointed at the book cover. It was an aerial view of what looked like a white factory in the middle of the jungle.

“That’s where we extracted oil. I helped set it up.”

“Where is this?”

“In the Oriente. Amazon jungle along the eastern border with Brazil. Spent ten years there. See, here are the barracks here and that’s the holding tank.”

“How the hell did you get it out of there?”

“With those.” He pointed to some manmade image a few miles from the factory surrounded by the thick canopy of trees. Looking closer and using Paul’s own reading glasses, Noble realized it was a very large helicopter.

“That thing is huge.”

“Double rotor. Immense capacity. We used to do fourteen runs a day during her high production peak. Flying one of those was tricky.” Reno didn’t bother asking. It was akin to asking Buffalo Bill Cody how many buffalo he’d killed.

An inquisitive intellectual who had actually studied and a man of action, Paul was a great illustration of a man who had evolved and had come to know who he was and had achieved the freedom to laugh from the gut unrepressed, uncensored, opened and centered. This was not a fractured man. With such a vast mental capacity, he had filled it through challenges, dangers and facing all that life offered, absorbing insights, testing them and then incorporating, pushing the boundaries that enabled him to see his true self, now a master and a sage, willing to discuss and inform but never to lecture having learned the importance of teaching a man how to fish rather than giving him a fish. His gravitas was almost tangible to Reno, with each moment in his presence another opportunity to learn, a whole man and master of his time so obviously on the top of his game. Lean and lithe and exuding excitement at all life’s conundrums and riddles on the table for discussion never trying to be someone he wasn’t, he was a man who was comfortable in his worked-in tennis shoes.

Chapter Seventeen

The Impossible Black Lily


Noble had finished reading his Crazy Horse and Custer book and yearned for something different so he walked to the bookstore in the heart of Mariscal. He was bummed out at the death of Crazy Horse falling off his horse at the age of 36. So many had died that way.

“William, buenos naches,” he said as he walked through the door.

“”Si, Noel.” He leaned back when Noble past his desk.  “Your name again?”


“I was close.”

“I’m looking for the biography section.”

“Oh, you’re looking for that Kit Carson biography aren’t you?” William drank from a bottle of Pilsner that he had under his desk.

“Well, I think I’ll leave that until next time. I was thinking of something a little different.” He perused the shelves and knew as soon as he saw it that that was the book he wanted to read.

“Find something?”

“What’s the scoop on this Keith Richard’s biography? Any good?”

“Haven’t got to it yet. Been going to too many bullfights. But the reviews are great. Say it’s one of the best rock and roll memoirs ever written.” Bottles clanged at William’s feet when he cracked open another fresh bottle.

“Well then I think I’ll snag it.” Noble knew he didn’t want to return to his depressing hostel so he chatted about books with William for a while.

“Say, wouldn’t you want to go for a beer, just one, down at the Corner Pub?” Tired, flat, sore, Noble overcame all practical rationale and agreed. But as usual Reno’s instinct served him well leading the way and giving guidance to manage gravity’s stronger pull on his fatigued limbs.

They waked into the pub with the red lion etched into the window.

“Toné!” William looked weak and soft beside Toné. The baldhead bespoke of discipline and cleanliness; even his head looked muscular. A bottle of dark rum in front of him, bottle of coke, bottled water and a pouch of Dutch tobacco.

“You Canadian too?” he asked, after shaking his huge hand.

“American.” Noble stuck out his chest. Toné was massive.

“How do you know him?” he asked William.


“Why? You don’t read?” He slapped William with the back of his hand on his chest.

“Gotta watch this guy. This Dutchman is a little unusual.”

“Thanks for the compliment. Canadians are the ones you have to watch. Mark my words. Say, when are you going to get more Dutch books in there? There’s a market for it. Lots of us here.”

“Yeah, yeah. You know I have lots of books.” Toné licked the rolling paper and twisted it home.

“Too many laws here now.” Reno had emerged in the presence of this giant of a man, and knew he was referring to the new smoking ban from the pubs. “I’ve been here ten years now and they made another law that makes no sense.” Blue eyes piercing, skin dry as a spider-mited rose.

“Oh c’mon,” said Reno, forging ahead with some grit after the few beers he had had in the bookstore with William. “Not many laws here.” Toné looked at him in the eye. “The smoking bylaw sucks but it’s still freer than the West.”

“That’s why I came here. It was good for a while.” Toné stepped to the window, pulled it open and lit his smoke, one foot outside, denim jacket worn almost white, frayed and loose, Harley Davidson patch on it. Stood there as if it was his own corner, the lookout point from where he could watch a hundred partying Ecuadorians down the busiest strip of bars in town.

“The smoking law is something they’re doing because the West wants them to.” Reno pulled out his Marlboroughs and lit one as he pulled the sliding glass door wider and put his one foot on the cement flower box outside.

“You know why I think all people in the world should smoke?” Scar above the eye hidden in wrinkles, posture straight as an arrow.

“Because it will help solve the overpopulation issue.” Reno dry, assertive.

“Exactly. I die eight years earlier and it saves the government eight years’ worth of paying my pension.” The way Toné looked out to the street, slight squint, mild preoccupation with unfinished business, past valor, showed a tough mettle, only strength and wisdom defining his face.

“At the bar William had bought Reno a pint of local ale, but he had a half bottle of vodka and a bottle of carbonated water. Beside it was a large knife in its sheath. Toné grabbed it, removed the leather prophylactic and studied the weapon.

“It’s a Gerber,” said William triumphantly, sipping his vodka.

“A what?”

“A Gerber.” Toné shook his head like William was a madman. Just as the bookstore owner was about to show it off, Reno took it from him, examining the long double serrated blade, the most narrow and penetrating piece of steel imaginable. The grip customized with tape and string underneath, like a hockey stick.

“Effective piece,” he said when he handed it back.

“Very effective. If that robber is still in front of my apartment when I get home he’s going to get it.” The Dutchman shook his head again.

“And he will have a pistola and you with a bullet in your guts.”

“Naw, he will be too stoned and miss.” Toné laughed without needing to comment that the mugger couldn’t miss a lard ass like him. Reno shared the laugh.

It wasn’t long until Reno bought his own bottle of dark rum and a bottle of coke. Milton the bartender supplied the glass full of ice.

“That’s a beautiful drink.”

“William handed him Toné’s bottle and pointed at a small white circle with the number 182 written on it. For a moment he thought it was a price but they had forgotten the decimal.

“That’s his one-hundred-and-eighty-second bottle of rum.” Reno assumed it was for the ten years Toné had been here. “And he started June 11th, 2010.” Reno did the math. It was the end of 2011.

“That’s a…impressive.” He looked at the Dutchman’s full glass of rum and coke and ice and wondered about the state of his liver.

William left after one drink, still intent on using his knife. Toné and Reno stayed at the bar and chatted. He had assumed the Dutchman was military because of his appearance and size, so he was surprised when he told Reno that he was a flower expert.

“Lilies,” he said. “We harvest about ten thousand lilies a week. Send them mainly to Europe and Russia.”

“Is that big here? Flowers?” Looked at him like he was stupid.

“One hundred and fifty thousand people are employed in the flower industry here in Ecuador.” Reno nodding, now seeing the whole picture.

“That makes sense doesn’t it? This must be one of the best spots to grow.” Everything so lush and pungent green.

“The best.” Reno asked him if he liked it.

“Money is good.” Gave Reno some of his blue-ice eye. “But what I’m after is to make the world’s first black lily.” Choosing not to react in case it was a joke, Toné went on. “Of course there’s no such thing as a black lily but it’s the illusive goal for many of us. And we’ve got one. It’s a really dark purple but it looks dark. Black.”

“That sounds pretty groovy.” Nodded at Reno’s word.

“Have to have it alive for five years or more, and then we can market it to the world.”

“So how long have you had it so far?”

“Four years. Next year the world will get my black lily.” The massive bald head and torn Harley Davidson jacket incongruous with the horticulturist. Noble was to soon learn flower experts rebelled against their profession through motorcycles, drinking and women.


Later, as he walked back to his guesthouse past muggers and prostitutes, Noble/Reno had begun to see Ecuador as Huxley’s Greenland; a land where all the Alpha non-conformists went to escape the liberal and socialist oppression of Western governments. Fed up with affirmative action and social programs favoring immigrants and minorities, individuals of European descent fled to a land apart and away from the great debate and propaganda and unprecedented intrusion of privacy by governments spying and observing and judging and gathering information in order to one day clamp down, cripple or prosecute, labeling you a terrorist, racist or an undesirable. Watching patiently and auditing submitted papers to see an inaccuracy or untruth, ready to pounce and accuse and incarcerate when deemed a danger to the established order – a threat being anyone who thinks for themselves and is an original thinker and thus can see the unfounded reality being promoted by the powers that be. At all costs, never can they allow another Thomas Payne to arise from the gullible populous. Whatever it takes all must toe the line and believe what has been chosen as the correct hermeneutical conclusion. The beliefs of Schopenhauer must be repressed and removed from the reach of the average citizen, instead creating new sound bites to coerce and manipulate the potentially dangerous minds from seeing their hidden moral agenda. Those that can see the cleavage of what truly is and what is presented as the truth, know the fight is futile and thus remove themselves from the cesspool of misinformation.

Finding a destination appropriate and free enough for a hungry mind is the challenge. Eventually Ecuador emerged as a front-runner for its natural beauty and isolation from the forceful promotion of the Great Lie. Once landed a relief sweeps over them that there is a place untainted by the guile of those who have the power in the world, and a sweet justification comforts them for their dogged self-belief and courage to follow their own conclusions. Sanity and peace enable even more flourishment that is impossible to attain in those countries they have fled. Expatriates living in Ecuador all know this truth, the great secret they all share, enjoyed and valued each day, discussed openly and protected fiercely from any force strong enough to remove them from their discovered utopia.

The Alpha thinker and doer values the freedom of independent thinking above all else; the one inalienable right that is being squashed in the West by an omnipresent media onslaught controlled and tweaked by the few who have the power to deliver and disseminate through all channels of information. They already know the vast majority doesn’t see what they see. It has been sadly accepted by the worker bees busy working for a goal that is reachable but foolish, burdened by debt and taxes and a salary designed to give them only barely enough to get by. Waiting, working and wanting, they nobly endure and distract with entertainment, a sugar-coated candy that tastes good and alleviates the brain from digging deeper. Anxiety is temporarily forgotten because the clever pieces of entertainment communicate a morality and value system that reinforces their chosen path in life, measuring hope back into their lives by repainting a new image of the goal they seek.

Chapter Eighteen

The Little Boy Fascist


Is the hope of love more powerful than love? Does it not destroy despair by supplanting darkness with the warmth of a rising sun? Like finding hieroglyphics without the Rosetta Stone, countless women had attracted Noble but none like Silvia who he met at Finn’s.

When he met the one he knew immediately, not because of a perfect fit into his expectations or desired stereotype. It was based on her having the one primary attribute that he desired most so that her entire orientation cascaded around that one trait. Silvia didn’t have any guile. This dominant characteristic was like an elixir: purity so rare that it acted like a magnet. He absolutely wanted to be with her, an attraction with such force that he had to care for that one bright light in a world that had always been dark.

Silvia, smooth skin like ivory, hair the color of root beer with earnest eyes the same hue, cheekbones sharp and prominent. Eyes showing no guile, her lips thin. It was Reno who broke the ice but his gamble at humor backfired. Trying to be witty, he said he hoped she was Dutch and not German. Noble cringed but Reno slugged it off thinking it was par for the course to say the wrong thing to an attractive woman right off the bat. So he persevered.

Silvia was German.

Reno ordered the same White Russian that she was drinking, knowing full well it was a good conversation piece since it was made with powdered milk – thick and sweet like a milkshake. A few words and then more words led to a full-blown conversation. Reno played it cool, drawing her in from her friends, Noble in awe of the power of Reno’s charm. He saw a newly developed gravitas working, a newfound freedom emancipated him from the awkward tongue-tied drill that would have followed in the face if such beauty. His first point of recovery was pointing out that his great grandfather was from Hanover.

“And yet you said you preferred Dutch.” Playful yet purposeful, eyes giving him her full attention.

“Well, I was only saying that I’ve never met a bad Dutchman in all my life, that’s all.” Coy. A slight grin. Her skin pale and like silk, her noticing Reno’s undisguised interest.

“Oh, I’ve met some Dutch that were not so good.” She turned her attention to Noble/Reno and ignored her taller girlfriends and the bearded Argentinean beside her.

“Might be a Texan thing,” he said, wondering if she really could be interested. They spoke about South America and he assumed she was a recent arrival.

“No, no. I’ve been here fourteen months,” she said. When she told him she worked for an NGO he saw an opening. Reno didn’t hold back.

“You know what would be my ultimate job?” She leaned in closer. “To work for the Red Cross and travel around the world helping Americans who were in jail. You know, expats stuck in prison. Give them care packages and books and things they want. Burns me to think there are so many cool people locked up for the most minor offences, forgotten and overlooked. In a perfect world that’s what I’d really like to do.” Her expression a combination of surprise, awe, profound understanding and a hint of gushing.

“I do something similar to that,” she replied. Reno, bold and adhering to his beliefs and gut, went on.

“See the thing is I have an open ticket. I have the freedom now that I didn’t have before.”


“And when I find my true love we will bring the kids with us all over the world, local schools, major empirical data, because we live in an international world. The kids would speak five different languages by the time they were twenty.” Sylvia put her hand on his forearm, sending a thrill through him. Enraptured and stupefied, as if discovering someone she always existed, she blurted:

“Will you marry me?” In the silence Paul McCartney sang and people all around them were busy talking and laughing, he feared it was a joke. But Reno saw something in her eyes – an abandon, a leap, a young girl showing courage at the words and archetype she had seen many times in her dreams. He was careful not to be cavalier.

“Okay, I’ll marry you.”

“I’m serious you know. Five kids is good.”

“Six would be better.” Reno flippant.

“Five is good,” she said, coming closer to him, seeing that they were a perfect match.

“We get married and we go anywhere we want with the kids.” He was thrilled and scared but not suspicious, confident Reno had said his piece simply and honestly.

“Las Vegas?” Lame.

“No, here in Quito. All we need are two witnesses.”

“I have one,” he said, immediately thinking of the Dane.

“Me too.” They smiled at each other, considering the possibility seriously for the first time. He felt a flutter and enjoyed the tingling sensation at the brutal frankness of this German, seeing no sign of guile.

“I’ve never asked anyone that before,” she said. He pondered the simplicity of the proposal, the acknowledgment of the chemistry, the torment of her search and the great relief it posited for him. To bypass the games and the courting and the second-guessing seemed so Reno. But he didn’t feel fear, only a profound stirring. Noble/Reno thought to himself: how crisp. She’s perfect: a woman who knew she wanted to live the exact life he had described. She went on.

“You like five kids?”

“Five is good, yes.”

“And we can go all over the world with them?”

“That’s the ideal.”

“And we marry here in Quito?”

“Why not?” He was amazed to see how utterly happy she was. The time for admitting it was a joke had passed. They hugged, her pheromones perfect.

Silvia turned to her friends.

“We’re going to be married.”

“You need witnesses,” her friend said.

“I have one, a Dane.” They looked at each other and laughed. It was then that Noble thought the joke had been played on the notoriously gullible Reno.

“Why don’t we get married in Centro Historica at the Compana de Jesus?”

“Where? Oh you mean the Compana Iglesias?” her friend asked.

“Yeah, the one with seven tons of gold on the walls. I mean have you seen a church like that?”

“Perfect. It’s beautiful.” Sylvia squeezed his hand and kissed him. Dumfounded, for a moment Reno was speechless, a rarity of the extreme. Countless thoughts raced through his mind. Nervously he took out his cigarettes, toying with them.

“Shall we go out for a cigarette?” Sylvia read his mind. Relieved that she was a smoker. It was when they were outside smoking, with the cold rainy air on his face that he feared there might be guile in play, but he also experienced the heady magic of chemistry, knowing that he wanted to make this woman happy. He simply could not come up with a reason why this woman would toy with him.

“I will be here tomorrow,” she said, “at four.”

“Okay, I’ll come by.” She nodded as if it was the only course of action.

A little while she left with her friends, leaving him scared and spinning, and in an animated state of disbelief. Noble/Reno didn’t want to return to his guesthouse so he sat quietly at the bar pondering the whole episode. Just as he had thought love was an illusion spun by poets and exaggerated by writers for dramatic effect, Noble knew now that love was real: a natural and everlasting intoxicant for the heart that balances life’s waltz toward the end point of one’s mortality, an enhancing force that was a constant reminder of the inherent thrill in the everyday, a witness to the joys and achievements and a support when trouble and sadness marred one’s chosen path. The shadow of loneliness evaporated, and the dark whispers of the ghost of misery ceased, bringing sunshine from the clouded sky.

He knew that now, but he hadn’t before. He had been comforted in his desolation, and fictitious in his belief that his abject bitterness and resignation from participating in life was righteous and safe. He had become accustomed to his whispers to himself that just getting through unscathed was the wiser course of action.

“Bullshit,” he mumbled.

Choosing to engage in all of what life had to offer, he thought, was how he would be able to continue without slashing and stoning himself to death by his own hand. But nowhere in his inner thoughts did he face the fact that he was a dying man.