The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreunden
The gap between action and stasis is
fear, even if the prevention of action is justified or rational. This went
through his mind as he sat in Confederate Books with William.
When Noble had arrived in Mariscal
for Saturday's festivities he decided to buy two bottles of beer and go see
William at Confederate Books. He had a book for him and wanted to pick up the
Kit Carson biography.
"I've been spending too much time at
the bullfights," said William, fingering his ticket stub at his desk. "The
seats that are good go for over a hundred bucks."
you're exaggerating." Noble sat on the broken chair by the literature section,
Kit Carson in his hand looking at the Cubans play coin toss on the street.
"Seats that are good. And you need
to have the seats at the front for a bullfight. It's a must." He looked
at the Cubans by the palm tree, coins in hand jabbering about close calls.
"Problem is my wife keeps complaining. Tears me a new one every time I sneak
off for the day."
"What, does she find your ticket
stubs? Or do you tell her?"
"No! I don't tell her." Gave him a
peculiar look. "No, she finds the stubs. So I keep'em here." He pulled out his
desk drawer and ruffled through a few dozen. "But she found out and looked in
here. Don't know how she knew." There were piles of books stacked along the
desk's edge, paperbacks and hardcovers of different corners of the Great
"Well, it begs the question: why do you keep
"Ah! Now you're asking." William's
great girth stressing the chairs suspension, creaking in rebellion. Pensive. "I
suppose I keep them because each one has one fight that I can relive when I see
one. Strange how that works. They're triggers for a memory that no matter how
hard I try I know I can never forget." Placed his hands on his desk. "Have you
ever seen a matador take on a bull?" Noble sensed a door about to be opened.
"No, because I thought they now only
have them in December."
"That's right, here in Quito.
Another damn new law." Couldn't help slouch for a moment. "They have
them all year over in Mindo. Not far."
"So I'll go this month. Have you
"Everyday man! Can't help myself.
But thank God tomorrow's the last one."
"Last one?" It was imperative to see
a bullfight if in Ecuador. To do is better than not to do, he thought.
"They only run for one week, not all
"That is a shame. I thought
I'd have all month."
"I'm going tomorrow so you can come
with me if you want." Noble clenched his stiff fingers and rubbed the rough
dinosaur flesh of his hands.
"Yes, I'll go." They arranged to
meet noon the next day at Juan Valdez Café in Plaza Foch. He figured he would
stay up all night since it was easier than getting up. It was good he had a bit
of tech. After all, why not two days for every one day when you have so
Naysayers wine in their mind, and are undone
and dismantled by the whisperers of truth who visit in the twilight of the
night. Only few are truth whisperers. This passed through Noble's mind the
night he listened to Richard and Frank over a few pints on a patio near the
William and Noble had chatted until
closing time at the bookstore and decided to go for a pint at the Corner Pub.
Halfway there, hidden under a massive palm tree, someone shouted his name. It
was cold and Noble wanted to go to the warmth and comfort of his regular hang
out, but he trusted William. This was when he met Richard the Scot and Frank
Richard, with his trim white moustache, was the
epitome of the dour Scotsman. He knew instinctively Richard wouldn't like him
so he put Reno's best foot forward and rolled the dice. As with Kurt the Swiss,
he was careful not to judge the book by its cover. Even Reno played it safe
until he could discern some clue to his character. It was only when he heard
the beautiful rolling R of the Scottish brogue that he could understand his
military moustache and his face that showed skepticism. But Frank had a
friendlier disposition, a very Canadian trait he was to find out.
""I'm the guy they call when they've
found the oil and want to stop it somewhere," said Frank, white hair trimmed.
"After the pipeline is built, I manage the temporary storage and the filling of
the tankers, though in this case, my current case, it's the Rio Guayanas."
Again it was another instance of fascinating content beneath a weathered and
lined jacket cover.
Frank had made Quito his home for
twenty years, having nothing kind to say about the special status of the French
in Canada. Now he was involved with Ecuador's oil.
"This country is the fourteenth
largest exporter of oil in the world."
"C'mon!" Reno was thirsty for
"Fourteenth. There's a hell of a lot
of oil here. But because most of it is so inaccessible, nobody's drilled."
"Except the Americans in the
"That's right, seventies, eighties
and nineties. But now the Americans are being muscled out. They haven't even
been asked to make an offer on the new stuff that's been discovered."
"I bet the Chinese are the top bidder."
It was at that moment that Richard broke off conversation with William.
Frank raised his finger. "The
Chinese are the only bidder."
"They're buying up whatever's
available even if it costs them more to extract it than what it's worth. Sudan,
Nigeria, Venezuela; whenever they can." Reno using information from importing
from China. "They have the biggest bank account in the world. And have recently
become the world's top consumer of oil." Dormant knowledge never expressed.
"And whenever the States issues
bonds the Chinese buy all of them," said Richard, face neutral, eyes like the
sky. "They say there are only three buildings not mortgaged to the Chinese: The
White House, the Pentagon and the mint. They have the Americans in their
pocket. What I don't understand is why America through the UN gives China aid
every year. Just don't get it."
"I believe China is still
categorized as a developing nation. It's not a first world nation. Something to
do with figures, the currency and income per capita." Reno plucking dormant
tidbits from what he had read about China to report to his boss. Ordering parts
was the company's biggest cost.
"With 1.3 billion people I'm sure
the per capita numbers will always be low," said William. "And following that
fact, you'd think they would have the right to the largest supply of oil, in Saudi."
"My cousin teaches there," said Reno. "Wouldn't
mind seeing him one of these days." How much longer did he really have?
"I was there, twice," said Richard.
Reno reckoned he was an oilman too.
"Put in those big holding tanks at
the port in Jeddah. Massive buggers they were."
It started to rain but they were
protected under the tree, except for William who said they should be inside,
and then led the way. But they didn't follow. Reno hardly noticed him.
"What was Saudi like?"
"Not much of this there." Pointed at
his pint glass. He noticed Richard had ordered him another pint. "But there are
some places for an expat to have a drink, but its mostly homebrew." Up went his
hand, and looked at Frank. "Oh, shit, did I tell you? No." Richard hunched over
and told them as if sharing a secret. Acceptance. Anticipation. A
"I didn't live in a compound but
where I was there were a lot of us workers, but we were drawn close to the
company compound where there was a Western style restaurant where the waiter
would ask you what kind of wine you wanted with your meal. A friend of mine
took me. It was okay but my friend says to me: ‘you want to go to a real bar?'
Whaddya think I said? Hah! So he says: ‘meet me right here tomorrow night and
I'll show you the real thing.' So the next night, fuck I'm standing at the
front door of the restaurant we were at and he's not there until he whistles.
He's maybe twenty feet away in the shadows, so I go over to him and he tells me
to shut the fuck up and not say anything. I hadn't said a thing anyway, so I
follow my mate down an alleyway and way out of view from the street or the
public for that matter ‘til we're standing front of a non-descript black door.
I mean it's really shabby: paint chipping, garbage around, nothing at all to
say there is any action behind the door. He knocks and an Arab opens the door,
shakes my friend's hand and then looks me over until my friend vouches for me.
He tips the Arab and we walk downstairs into a converted basement. They had
done it up good like a New York bar, smoky as hell but I guess that was good
because you couldn't smell the damp. All foreigners drinking at tables, people
from all over the world. The point is you gotta know someone to find these
speakeasies." With this non-fiction piece Noble's entire notion of Saudi Arabia
"What about the cops? You reckon
they knew of this place?"
"Sure, but they gotta look the other
way. No one says a thing. Not even the expats. It's a silent privilege and for
that silence. In exchange they get happy foreign workers. But the public has no
idea. The media has no idea. If a foreigner can't handle his liquor he's not
allowed back in. If he fucks up and makes a public display, he's kicked out of
the country." Alistair had the kind of mischievous disposition to belong to a
speakeasy with a shabby black door.
"What year was this?" He looked at
"2006 I think. Recent."
"Trust me," said Richard." That's how it works.
It's like a club so you gotta play by the rules. Lots of engineers and skilled
laborers but also business people. It was a real hideaway. Met lots of
Americans. But fuck, it's expensive. Maybe ten bucks a drink." Reno's
imagination on fire. The people he meets.
"Any women?" Frank curious through a haze of
"Not really, just wives."
William appeared with a round of
pints, Noble already having his fill but Reno desperately trying to keep up
with the Scot as if it were a moral imperative.
"So I'm guessing you have to treat
the Saudi's with a heck of a lot of respect, eh?"
"That's actually the tough part.
See, the Saudis think they're hot shit. They have non-Saudis do all the hard
work. Like I worked with lots of Pakistanis setting up holding tanks at the
port there. The Pakis don't mind kissing Saudi ass because they're poor. They
hardly have a pot to piss in. I got on well with my fellow workers, did a good
job, made great money but-" He stopped and looked at Frank. "Did I ever tell you
about the cigarette story?" Reno reached for his Marlboroughs.
"This was- Anyway. My job was to
install holding tanks as I mentioned. So I ordered for the new big mother to be
scraped and coated, sort of like spray painted to clean and protect the metal.
So I sign the requisition form and give it to the Paki to submit to the office.
Normal procedure. So the next day there's nothing - no equipment was there, no
supplies for the job, nothing. Nothing I ordered was there. I'm starting to get
a bit pissed so there I am, smoking a cigarette when the Arab who was supposed
to execute the order form the Paki comes up to me asking me why no one is
working. After I explain my requisition wasn't processed, he tells me my boss
lives in Bahrain. I'm the fucking boss. I'm my own boss, so I tell him this.
Then he points at my cigarette and tells me I shouldn't be smoking. No oil has
been in this tank yet. It's a fucking virgin. I'm not in the office. I'm
outside. This Arab insists I put out my cigarette. ‘No.' I say to him. ‘Okay
then, you're fired. I want you out of here today, off the grounds, get out."
I'd done a great job, everything on schedule and by the book and this guy sacs
me because I'm having a smoke outside? So I walk with my cigarette into my
office, gather my laptop and personal items and he comes in and tells me I
can't take anything, just go."
Reno, the smart Alec, couldn't help saying:
"So you could have said: ‘yes sir,' and put out the cigarette, and then said:
‘sorry, I'll contact my boss in Bahrain and get the requisition okayed.' But
you didn't because you were in the right, and sick and tired of licking Saudi ass."
"Exactly. I suppose I could
have just adjusted and gone on that day but the arrogance and superiority of
the Saudis wears on you. You gotta suck up to your boss. If the boss doesn't
like you, you're gone. Just hire someone else. It's just money."
"Bastards." Frank still smoking,
pint nearly empty.
"Thinking about it, it was pretty
well done in Jeddah. They can afford good engineers. Where things went really
monkey was in Venezuela. We had set up a huge derrick off the coast, the
biggest offshore drilling station in Venezuela, so everything is almost ready
for Chavez el Presidente to christen the drill and begin production.
Problem was there were so many fuck ups, wrong supplies, cheap labor, you name
it; that we were behind schedule I was fired. We were so close to the end but
they wanted someone to take the fall for the cost overruns. Fine, so I'm gone,
still with crucial structuring to do on this mammoth monster." Richard pauses,
raises his beer and says: "So a week after I leave and a few days before Hugo
fucking Chavez is about to have his opening ceremony with reporters there and
the whole fucking thing, the oil derrick falls into the sea." The pint held
over his head, the eruption of glee from his belly attracts passersby and
loiterers across the street. Frank and Noble laugh, but when he recognized the
centered laughter of a master, his belly laugh manifested. Richard's was clear of
bitterness, it was pure and sparked by the comedy of errors that led up to it.
Noble laughed into the noble swirl of laughter, as if the true belly laugh of
the Scots had a taste of irony in it. They let the laughter run its full
course, still rumbling when they drank from their pints.
Where do they all go, those who have
lived an extraordinary life? He thought. Here, in Quito, in the middle of the
world where they can hang with like-minded individuals and where the others
they don't like can't see them.