Paraguay is a very long way from my usual haunts in both distance, culture, and language. Like many a high school youth I had taken the obligatory two year language course and like many I chose to try and learn Spanish. My language learning ability was somewhat sadly lacking and aside from learning how to conjugate irregular verbs perfectly and parrot the usual customary and limited useful phrases, I was hardly a competent speaker of that language. On the other hand, had I chosen to attend a liberal arts college I would have needed to take another two years of that language course. Lucky for me Uncle sam intervened to save me from a fate worse than death. Another fate awaited in the jungles of southeast Asia that proved a bit more useful than learning a language for which I limited need. No one in Vietnam spoke spanish and thus I was saved the embarrassment of trying to use what little knowledge I held. But no good deed ever goes unpunished.
Felix Hauptman had a dream and was insistent that all everyone in the company should share it with him. Felix was a romantic in the old fashioned sense, he actually believed in his dreams and so we tolerated his spectral visions. Besides, it wasn’t like we had all that much else to do, the boredom of war being what it is, keep you head down and don’t become a target. The general feeling was that the less one lived his life in the reality of war the more likely he would return stateside in one piece or close to it. So Felix would regale us about his latest finds relating to his dream. Seems that somewhere he had come across is some old men’s magazine of highly reputable quality short stories that described the rich life of emerald and gold miners in that famous triangle of national borders of Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. His plan was to save most of his pay and maybe even do a second tour so that he could have a stake that would last a couple of years while he hunted for this mineral treasure. The more saner of us managed to convince him that he stood a better chance of finding his treasure if he didn’t re-up for the bennies or annoy fate by volunteering for a second tour.
“Bill, I really want to go to South America and try prospecting. I just need to make sure I’ve got enough money saved.”
“Felix, don’t worry, the foreign currencies are really cheap down there. Just your combat pay will see you through a year of prospecting.”
“Are you sure, Bill? I’ve just got to make my dream come true.” Well, what could I say? His dream wasn’t the worst idea of the bunch. There were a couple of guys who thought that they could go back and start college and make the football or baseball team real easy cause they had been through the roughest life imaginable. I mean, two or three years away from sports wasn’t going to give them any edge, that was for damn sure. Besides, judging from the amount of beer they drank on a daily basis it wasn’t doing their muscle tone any good. But Felix worried me. I mean, it’s not that I really cared for the man that much but he was of that sort in life, a babe in the woods.
“Look, Felix, you got to educate yourself. You know, study maps and topography. And do forget to take a course in mineralogy, it’s not like those emeralds are going to sing to you to find them. The two things you will need is a good rifle and pistol. If there is one thing I know it’s that gold and gemstones attract thieves.”
“Why are you so pessimistic, Bill? What, you don’t think I can look out for myself? That’s what my girlfriend writes in her letters. About how much I don’t know and how I would be disappointed and how I might be killed. My god, haven’t you ever taken any chances in life?”
“When it comes to bombs and bullets, no. Death is no substitute for learning. Look, Felix, all I’m saying is do your homework. When we get back I’ll help you learn what you need to know. Okay, you satisfied now?”
I kept my promise, we were stationed at the same base in Colorado and I helped him to find a lot of information he needed. He took Spanish lessons and a couple of basic courses in geology and mineralogy. I was surprised that he was a such good student. I mean he seemed to be able to acquire the knowledge he needed or at least wanted. His girlfriend came to visit once, stayed for a week. As I recall they fought a lot about his future. Janie was a dark haired woman with the kind of oval moon face and high cheekbones. Her eyes were a light green with a ring of fire, sparks of reds and yellows.
Now I tried to stay away from the two of them because I knew they would pull me into their arguments. But Janie caught me one day and poured her heart out. Well, what can any man do with a woman’s tears? Her face had fear written all over it and I knew there was nothing I say, no truth I could offer that would make one damn bit of difference. I though she would break up with him then but it never happened. But even now I remember her words. “He’s going to die out there, I’m as sure of that as I can be. They’ll kill him and he’ll never know why. I can see it in his eyes.” This was not the time to quote John Wayne, “A man gots to do what a man gots to do.” But it was true none the less.
A few months later I mustered out and headed for Texas, a great state with a lot of promise. Also the living was cheaper as was the college tuition and I found myself immersed in the activities needed to earn a degree in science. Mechanical engineering is a useful trade and pays the bills as long as one can keep from being laid off. The oil boom of the seventies had come and gone and as the eighties crept up on the country I found my services were no longer needed by the construction company whose sole business was the oil patch. At least I could do a little welding to keep body and soul together. It was then I received package in the mail, a very thick envelope that had bounced around for several months in search of me. I was perplexed to say the least as I opened the envelope. There were a number of documents in Spanish and thankfully they had been translated abiet in a rough manner.
Felix Hauptman was dead and I was named his executor to his estate. A Senior Montes was asking me to come to Bahia Negra and do whatever it was that I was supposed to do. Enclosed was a check for five thousand dollars American for traveling expenses. The flight to Rio was grueling and the connection to Asuncion was even worse. I was not flying the friendly skies. From Asuncion it was a long and ugly buss trip to Loma Plata and then to Bahia Negra. for the most part, the roads were little more that gravel tracks when there was gravel to be had. Don’t get me wrong, the countryside is rather beautiful with a certain greenness that bespeaks of good climate and decent rains. But Paraguay is still a nineteenth century country. don’t drink the water and one will be alright.
Once in Bahia Negra I checked into one of the local hotels and hunted up Senior Montes, a man of old world charm and manners. I felt like an American, a bit ugly and out of sort. He provided me with a table and chair in his office and place a packet of documents in front of me. “Senor, this is a sad occasion for the both of us. You being a very close friend and he was my most esteemed client.” I started to wonder what this fool wanted from me. “Please read the documents and later I will answer any questions you man have.”
“So I sat and read document after document, at least the ones that had been translated. the others I had to rely on Senor Montes to give me the gist of their import. From what I could see, Felix had hit the mother lode, so to speak. The gems and gold amounted to about $100,000 US dollars. As to his death, well, that was unclear. The documents did not speak as to whether it was the government or bandits who killed him. But it was the unfinished letter he had written at the time of his death that most intrigued me.
“My darling, I have spent a good amount of time prospecting and I have found a source of both gold and emeralds. I am becoming a rich man as I said I would. My dream has finally come through. I know we have had our differences but no I want to see you again.” The ink was smudged after than and there were no more characters to decipher. Under that sheet of paper was the last letter he had received from Janie. “Dear Felix, I have met a man whom I respect and who wants to take care of me. I want you to know that I have loved you but now I must see to my future. We plan to be married at the end of August. Love Janie.”
It was in Felix’s will to have his body, in the event of an untimely death here in Paraguay, taken back to the United States and buried in the family plot. The bulk of his estate was to be settled on Janie. In any event, I was the emissary of death and I detested that duty. But I preformed my duties although I avoided seeing Janie. I rather liked Felix’s dream.