Jim looked at me squarely. Are you getting this? Do you understand?
Looking at the shiny chunks of metal in the batilla brought on some wild ideas, he went on. I could build a resort, a casino in the Amazon. Anything at all. I would have my own Learjet, like before I went broke. All I could think about was this gold. I'm going to become rich. I'm going to show everybody in the world that I made it again after what happened to me. I made it back on top, but much bigger.
One of the Indians was trying to gesture to me, no, no, Jimhe was shaking his head at my excitementthe clumps of metal aren't real gold. They haven't found it yet. This is false gold. He is pointing up the river. We have to search other parts of the property until we find the real thing and begin our mining operation.
It's not real gold, but I can't turn off the faucet.
I don't give a shit about anything. I'll eat anteater, heated-over anteater with maggots stirred inthat's what we ate for the next three days from the barrel. Only someone completely mad could eat such vomit. I would sleep on the ground with bugs crawling up my legs. I'm going to make it, whatever it takes. We'll cut an airfield into the jungle with machetes and our bare hands. We're going to bring in heavy equipment. Whatever happens, I'm going to find the gold, because other guys in the jungle are finding it. In Manaus, all I would hear about was gold, gold; men were putting together expeditions with every dollar they could muster.
It was something more than just getting excited. A force was running through me. On that first day the rules changed.
After a few days on the property we started to find the real thing, small amounts, but it was gold for sure. And I knew nothing was going to get in my way. All the things that I went through in my life prepared me for this. I had no fear. Nobody's going to take anything away from me. If you get in my way, I'm going to trample you. You could put a gun to my head. That happened to me, and I didn't give a shit. I was one son of a bitch. I had to deal with my people and some of them were brutal. I did bad things. People died. So what?
Jim looked at me a beat and then back toward the moving lights. So what! I thought.
I loved it, he said. I loved it. One time I was speeding along a rutted street outside Manaus and this euphoria built up in me and I just started screaming into the night like I was on something. Because I was.
People can see it in you. You could see it in me. They called me gringo maluco, the crazy American. I was another person. As if you had a dream about wanting to be a certain type of guya real tough guy, you see them in the movies. And these guys can do things you could barely imagine. Well, these guys are for real, a lot of them, because they have something inside. A lot of CIA agents, or people who are killerswell, they have this drive. It's a fever. Some people who kill a lot of peoplethese multiple killerswhat do you think they have inside of them? Something's driving them. Nothing's stopping them. Nothing was stopping me.
Now Jim was quiet for a time, looking out at the dark ocean.
Are they coming any closer? I asked for the third or fourth time, unable to get my mind off the gunmen in the boats.
Hard to say, he answered.
Jim was returning from the jungle and didn't seem concerned about the boats. I imagined that he was thinking where this experience had left himwhether a man can come all the way back and be normal, live again with his wife in a neat little house in the suburbs as if he never left.
The plan was for us to keep our vigil, behind the Boston Whaler where the Colombians couldn't see us if they came back. That way, surprise would be on our side. Jim told me that he was a good shot, and I didn't doubt it. We would have a fighting chance, if we stayed up the night and remained alert. That was the key. He'd learned about such things in Brazil. He had a plan and I believed him.
Excerpted from The Dream Merchant by Fred Waitzkin. Copyright © 2013 by Fred Waitzkin. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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