Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Twenty-two

The Lambaster of Laughter

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            The simple truth was that Reno should have been the one handling Sylvia's game, guarding the boy Noble from harm and keeping him far away from the tantrum that would inevitably come from unrealistic hope unfulfilled.

            Interestingly, when the Dane told him he had slept with Martina the other weekend, Noble let it gnaw at him, rattling away at his unbending sense of honor and loyalty, right and wrong, old stiff moral code, leaving him indignant. Betrayed and hurt, Noble felt the self-righteous screaming edging towards the surface, reaching boiling point, haughty in his arrogance and judgment. But when he took a deep breath and saw it from Reno's perspective, it became comic and unimportant, an event without meaning, which dispatched the heat and silenced the screams. Reno's view prevented the ugly manifestation of a pout, something no one wants to see on a 48-year old's face. Saved. Correct interpretation. Maturity and backbone in action, the fruits of Noble's own Dr. Jekyl, a voice of prestige and wisdom given the chance to take the floor despite the swirling emotion that threatened to chide Noble and disrupt his equilibrium.

            It is a troubling and disturbing thought to think of all the people who have suffocated and repressed their Mr. Hyde, relying only on their uni-self, the child pretending to be a man, still mired in the granite foundation that can only remain incongruous with the adult world. They are thus blind to the nuances of gray, restricted by the straight and perpendicular lines of binary logic that runs their thinking processes and keeps them from graduating into the world of men.

            For many, remaining in their hometown and staying within the known and limited boundaries of their youth is a way of forgiving the need and hard work of identifying their doppelgänger, who might surface now and again during an evening of Bacchus and wine and truth, earnestly forgotten the next day, especially when accompanied by friends and family denouncing and condemning this "other self" as evil and foreign to ones person. Embarrassment is the motivator to silencing this uninvited stranger from your midst, a dirty secret never to be allowed to take root and find a voice.

            Yet ironically when your doppelgänger begins knocking at your door at first he is ugly and unpolished, slipping on its own placenta, like a young fawn at birth that one day has the genes to grow into a mighty stag. Rub the genie, let it out; watch it and observe, and behold the voices that brew within, crawling out from the dungeon of your ancient instinct, a friend and brother, and protector and helper, stronger in sinew and muscle to the witnessing self, long undisputed ruler and king. The boy fascist wants to crush this interloper but again and again he appears, soon showing consistency and substance, refusing to cower to the self-righteous boy king.

            These were Noble's thoughts as he was walking out of Mariscal back to his guesthouse.

            Since hanging out with the Dane freebasing he had started walking to his room at the hostel to, in part, save money and also to test his cou9rage by walking through the dangerous part of Quito. He had seen several muggings and none of them were pretty. One time, when he and the Dane had come out of Bungalow's and were standing on the street talking with a group of people, a drunk Ecuadorian exited the bar, swaying back and forth and looking for a taxi. From the corner of the street that was out his visual range, four massive guys jumped this man, pinning his to the pavement in the middle of the road. Two had their knees on his back and legs so there was no way he could fight back, the third holding his arms and head while the fourth rifled through his pockets taking his wallet, loose change, mobile phone; everything he had. The dozen or so bar-goers stood there fascinated of the efficiency at this blatant act of criminality that was happening so fast.

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

            "This is none of your business man!" he said.

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

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

            "He won't remember this tomorrow," said Noble, shaking his head.

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

            "Amigo," said the mugger.

            "No. No I'm not your amigo."

            "Ah come one, amigo."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            For the rest of his walk to the safety of the Swiss guesthouse Noble pondered the question of fear. Who was fear to affect man so greatly, to splay and hinder into unwanted submission and lessen man through acts unplayed? Is it power she wields or is man drunk in the comfort of a dream? How can she plunder so many tulips of joy unlived and a thousand earmarked loves? Why does she hush man in shame, convince and fool and trick with promises lined in pillows of fleece? Is she the Great Determiner of who's great and who wanes and the definer of paths untaken of lives left undone? How does she conspire to doubt truth and slander reason and destroy intention unleashed? Who can trump her powers, this slayer of false rumblings, ridding man of this damaging sorceress, muter of dreams and harbinger of defeat? What is her antidote against these thunderstorms of the spirit, to disbar in perpetuity and relegate to history? Is her counterpart not courage, the goat of the lion and narcotic of the ego, able to handcuff her mischief and obstruct her trickery? Is she not the great producer of mediocrity and the shepherd of fools, a threatener of undertakings and afflicter of fun, and the invisible chance-wrecker and spoiler of fun? Yes, he thought, she is the ringleader of doubt and hazer of glory, a builder of roadblocks and obscurer of chance, and the lambaster of laughter and blotter of bloom.

 


 

Chapter Twenty-three

The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreunden

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            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."

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

            "Seats that are good. 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 Puzzle.

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

            "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 been?"

            "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 month."

            "That is a shame. I thought I'd have all month."

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

            "Yes, I'll go." They arranged to meet 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 little time?

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            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 bookstore.

            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 the Canuck.

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

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

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

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

            "C'mon!" Reno was thirsty for banter.

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

            "Except the Americans in the seventies."

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

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

            Frank raised his finger. "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.

            "Oil?"

            "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 whiskey-running tale?

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

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

            "Sure, but they gotta look the other way. No one says a thing. Not even the expats. It's a silent privilege 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 Frank.

            "2006 I think. Recent."

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

            "Any women?" Frank curious through a haze of smoke.

            "Not really, just wives."

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

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

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

            "This was- Anyway. My job was to install holding tanks as I mentioned. So I ordered for the new big mother to be scraped and coated, sort of like spray painted to clean and protect the metal. So I sign the requisition form and give it to the Paki to submit to the office. Normal procedure. So the next day there's nothing - no equipment was there, no supplies for the job, nothing. Nothing I ordered was there. I'm starting to get a bit pissed so there I am, smoking a cigarette when the Arab who was supposed to execute the order 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.

 
 

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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