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Chapter Fourteen

A Noble Doppelgänger

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            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, but there is Reno witnessing his conjoined twin, smirking, quiet, an older man whispering ‘I told you so you idiot,' not loud enough to hear but loud enough to know it's on his lips. 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 respects his doppelgänger and knows himself well enough that Reno's voice is real, the balancing force to Noble's linear rationale, to his absolutes and seeping generalizations that he tolerates with his intimate knowledge of the world of gray in all its multifarious shades and degrees. Reno is not the best of him nor is Noble the best of him; they are a working partnership that must work together and forgive, but never bicker, mock or cut down, especially as witness to the other's most foolish and embarrassing moments.

            Furthermore, it could be said that many never nurture and develop their Reno, instead clinging to the boyhood notions learned in the schoolyard, hardwired in all people, always correct because this underpinning of first beliefs were made in granite and not easily thrown away or forgotten. These tapes have a seniority that have already been deemed sufficient to guide you through life's pitfalls and unexpected turbulence, but when up against the adult's world littered with guile and crime and theft and manipulation, ones worldly Reno can identify the guile and provide the calm voice of warning in the hollering of the boy's 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 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 noble, and who prefer destruction to creation.

            The Dane had been right; he had been nurturing and respecting his own Reno, and could see the little boy exposed when my doppelgänger should have been in the driver's seat. It's easy to keep your Mr. Hyde hidden away in the cellar of your soul, preferring the clean logic of rationale, keeping a distance from full messy engagement, but 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 his first experience at a brothel. There was no room for Noble there; it was a forum where Reno had more effective contribution. Noble was cowering in the corner, embarrassed.

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            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 eye 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 it 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 and 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 hadn't cocooned himself from the rigors of life, rather he had found a comfortable path.

            Any cynicism he had came 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 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 her 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. Debris and poisons left infiltrated in the water and soil in the surrounding villages soon caused children to be born with no fingers or no toes, a direct result of the toxins and hazardous byproducts 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, so the western press wouldn't follow it, the judge declared Texaco must pay the aggrieved parties nine billion dollars. Texaco has appealed the decision.

            "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.

            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 and the end result 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. He knew if she tried she would reap; a death of a noisy female journalist asking questions is possible, especially if it only exposed the messy part of an irresponsible American oil company.

            "You know it could be dangerous," she replied. 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. Noble thought it was the just thing to do.

            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 has negative repercussions.

            "Sounds like Agent Orange." 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, and who can make the decision on his own.    

            "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 and 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 in 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." Mutual mischief.

            "And danger turns your cranky?" Deadpan.

            "The danger you mean? Oh, it doesn't bother me. It's so unlikely I don't even think about it." Something died in his gut. A weight left his shoulders.

            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 she would be clipped. All her research lost, body never found.

            "You're going to merge el norte to the refugee camps?" Reno wanted 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 his 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 should be brought down to size. Golden opportunity to correct a wrong. His voice currently misplaced.

            Reno saw a left wing liberal nut. A Goliath that can only grow stronger. 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.

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            It was during the quiet hour before sleep that Noble recalled past events long hidden in the corner of his memory bank. Images of anger and punishment by his father with a face white with rage. He knew he had to have been only three years old, the age he had been when his father left the family and moved to San Francisco with his new girlfriend. It was a sting so profound that the ripple of his punishment and departure still rattled within him, a reverberation that had become like a piece of permanent furniture in his soul. The piercing stab was not a pain but an unexpressed injustice forever muted, dormant in shadows, comatose and ignored, existing in a vast void that echoed with the ache of abandonment.

 


 

Chapter Fifteen

Reno Finds His Footing

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            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 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 ones doppelganger is the path to evolution of self and the starting point for an upward-moving dialectic. Very quickly 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's 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, Reno 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. I sucked on my cerveza wanting to acknowledge what he had done but Reno held firm and curled his lips to feel the blonde hairs of his moustache.

            "Here." One word. No doubt. Complete matter-of-factness and said as if 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 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 fuelled Reno, a new swagger emerging 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 surfacing with the Dane. Neither of them switched up a gear too obviously, words dry and delivered with 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 orange from the fireplace. I looked at the Dane. So recently his shoulders and posture had been overrun by gravity and fatigue. 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." Her hand slammed on the bar, flattered and relieved, looking even prettier in her triumph.

             Their height and swagger and glow 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 his 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 to play well. And when the pace was brisk it brought out the best in men.

            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 American 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 see his pride in him.

            "We're trying our hardest to get the American 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 to 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 remember. The Dane was proud to be his friends, 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 every time.

            Antonio had shown up and had set up a party at Paul's 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." 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 a 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 rascal to break free.

            But it was Monica who he thought felt the deepest emotion, proud of her two men, proud of the ambiance of 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 knew that she was aware that they were witnessing a harmony of parts, a fleeting moment that could never last, a chemistry always hoped for, 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 of 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 that could warm her heart anytime she recalled the non-stop laughter, the fountain of comic wit coming from these giant men that 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 all that on her face, but Reno was 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 full man 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, 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 embrace 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 poetry to her.

            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 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.

 
 

Table of Contents

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

                  Epilogue

 

 
 

 

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