He said his name was Eduardo. I knew he was lying, of course. No one used their real name in that place.
It was a good name, though. It matched the light mahogany of his skin, with eyes so dark there was no boundary between pupil and iris. It matched the hand-rolled double maduro he used to punctuate his speech — a trail of bluish smoke left in the air italicizing a point for extra emphasis, while a slow drag on the cigar was a full stop, putting a dot at the end of a sentence.
He offered me one, but I demurred, lamenting the pathological fear of tongue cancer which prevented me from enjoying even the most occasional of cigars. He laughed, and gestured at the tumbler of rum at my elbow, leaving a question mark of curling smoke over the dark liquid. I shrugged and smiled, and explained that while I might be over-protective of my tongue, my liver could surely take care of itself. He laughed again. Then another full stop.
How had he come here, I asked, with a gesture that encompassed the bar, the palm trees, and the moonlight glittering on the warm waters of the Caribbean. The wisp of onshore breeze couldn’t overcome the stifling heat of the evening. In fact, the gentle air movement only seemed to revive the pestilential mosquitoes, giving them enough renewed vigor to take another stab at our slick, salty skins.
Eduardo spread his hands in a gesture both apologetic and subtly dismissive. He had been looking for adventure, he said, and joined the Merchant Marine in his youth. When he had finally had enough of wandering and decided to come ashore, his ship had been tied up at this tiny island, and he’d been there ever since.
He must have done well, I said, glancing at the gold rings on his fingers, and the gold chains around his neck. He had been lucky, he said. But I knew luck had had little to do with his systematic acquisition of nearly all the arable land on the island, using methods that were brutally effective. Nor did luck excuse the casual cruelty with which he treated his workers as they harvested his sugar cane. Many died. Many more were maimed while using the razor-sharp machetes. He had worked hard, very hard, to become something like a monarch here, in fact if not in name.
The conversation stalled for a while. I looked out at the water, with the fractured reflection of the moon on its surface, and took another sip of rum. When Eduardo hadn’t spoken for some time, I looked over to see him looking at me, eyes only half open, and not blinking. I sighed, and ruefully set my glass down on the tabletop. Too soon. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of that remarkable rum.
I stood up and moved to Eduardo’s side of the table. Leaning down, I whispered into his ear. In Russian.
“Ah, Borz. You led us a merry chase, my friend. It has been so many years. I admit I sometimes doubted that you still lived.”
He moved not a hair. I carefully removed the cigar from his frozen fingers, then retrieved two more from his breast pocket.
“Did you really think you could kill so many innocents, and then just disappear? So many women, so many children, Borz. Only a pathetic coward makes war on schoolchildren. Mother Russia mourns her children, Borz. Their souls cry out for justice. And our Mother does not forget.”
I slipped the cigars into a plastic bag, and then carefully wiped down my glass. Not that there was likely to be a forensic pathologist on this speck of dirt. But one could never be too careful. Turning to face ‘Eduardo’, I held the plastic bag out in front of his open, staring eyes.
“It’s a terrible way to die. Unable to speak, unable to move. I am told it will take almost forty-five minutes for your heart to stop, and for you to completely stop breathing. And you will be aware of every moment. Every moment, Borz. My gift to you.”
I put the cigars in their bag into my breast pocket, and then leaned forward to look into those dark intense eyes again.
“And so the Wolf of Grozny dies. Not with a roar, not even with a whimper. May the Devil take you straight to hell, you son-of-a-bitch.”
Then I straightened up, turned, and walked casually away from the table. It was finally time to return home.
“It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.”
“The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.”
One morning last spring I came to work, settled down at my desk, and had just begun to check my email when I heard the crash of breaking glass outside. I stood up and craned my neck to look out the window and down to the sidewalk. Two figures were scuffling, rolling around together and throwing punches.
From appearances, some young man had decided to harass an older man, and had dumped out his bag of collected bottles and cans. I think the young buck may have underestimated his balding opponent, because the older guy was connecting with more of his punches. After a few moments they separated. The kid postured and threatened a bit, but he wasn’t pressing the issue. “Get your fucking mess off the sidewalk,” he taunted, then strutted away down the sidewalk.
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The website Organic City Sounds is Evan Tenenbaum’s attempt to introduce the world to the city of Portland via their ears. The website includes audio clips in the categories of Portland Speaks and Organic Sounds, but it is perhaps the audio Portraits that are the most interesting and ambitious:
Every week I’ll bring you an audio portrait of Portland. It may be a personal story, a collection of interviews on a subject, or a piece of sound art. You can expect to hear an eclectic collection of voices, sounds, and stories throughout my project. Some may intrigue you, others may repulse you, but hopefully they will all give you a sense of my little corner of the world.
As of right now, you can listen to two audio portraits about Portland; one focused on the Food Cart Scene, and another on Kirk Reeves — better known as the Mickey Mouse guy, or the trumpet player on the Hawthorne Bridge.
Check it out, and join me in wishing Evan nothing but the best of luck with this worthwhile project.
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