Friday December 14, 2018
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Cowboy RobEddie Zawaski for Salem-News.com
Cowboy Rob had been pushed from pillar to post ever since he arrived in Argentina last March.
(PATAGONIA, Argentina) - The latest chapter in the life of a wayward cowboy began with a garbled phone call on a sunny Monday afternoon. Most of our calls are garbled because they are in Spanish and the earpiece in our cheap handset makes everyone sound like a frightened chicken.
This call, however, was in English so it wasn’t so much the sound but the content that was garbled. There was something about a man who believed he was God, an exploding refrigerator, a fire, and burning bodies. The caller spoke quickly because he claimed he was trapped in this place and did not want to be discovered making this call. What the hell had he gotten himself into?
Cowboy Rob had been pushed from pillar to post ever since he arrived in Argentina last March. This was to be his escape from the impending collapse of the North American economic and social order. He would no longer be a victim of corporate thuggery nor a believer in the dreams and myths that keep share prices up and wages down.
He had cast his lot with the good people of the cono sur. Like so many North American cowboys who had come here before him, he had come seeking a better life, a little more freedom. It was no coincidence that he was related to Butch Cassidy, one of Northern Patagonia’s better known resident fugitives.
CHAPTER ONEChapter one ensued when Rob got off the plane in Esquel with a box of tools and a couple of suitcases crammed with enough Carhart jeans to last a lifetime.
No taxi would come out to the windy desolate airport at the edge of this sleepy Argentine military retirement community. Several hours of waiting ended with an invitation from some Englishmen in a Toyota pick-up. They offered not only a ride, but work as well. Before Rob knew it, he was building porches on the fronts of newly-constructed log cabins.
He was just a short step away from from his dream of becoming the log cabin king of Patagonia. He quickly acquired the necessary chain saw and additional tools, but before he could really get going, the work on the Englishmen’s fish ranch petered out so Rob headed north where there would be more work for the likes of him.
CHAPTER TWOThe second part of Rob’s story took him to El Bolson where he fell in with Argentine hippies and a couple of retirees from Oregon. At El Pueblito, the riverside hostel that he called home his first winter here, he paid for his lodgings with carpentry and learned about the Argentine way of doing things.
“Mas o menos” (more or less) became his favorite Spanish expression as he learned to take everything as easy as possible and purge himself of all the exactitude and crisp attention to detail that had characterized his work in “El Norte”.
At the home of the Oregon retirees, he learned how to build a chicken house with green fresh lumber, the only wood available in the deep deep south. So what if the place is drafty? They’re only chickens. As spring warmed toward summer, tourists bumped him out of El Pueblito and the retirees ran out of projects.
It was time for Cowboy Rob to head for the hills, chapter three.
CHAPTER THREESince he was eager to show off his cabin-building prowess, Rob took the closest opportunity he could find. He joined up with a couple of young Argentines who were starting construction on a small cabana on a piece of land a few miles north of town.
Martin and Ana, dreadlocked and shoeless, were trying to make a go of it by selling found object jewelry at the El Bolson Feria. They had made acquaintance with a foreigner who owned a piece of land that he would only occupy intermittently for the next six years.
Their deal was that the foreigner would allow them to build a cabin on his land in exchange for long term caretaking. Rob knew there would be no remuneration for helping these two out, but it was a place to stay and show other people in the district what he could do.
The cabin project ran out quickly. There were plenty of trees on the property to cut into lumber, but that process used up saw chains and blades as well as fuel. The hippies had no money to replace these precious commodities. Once the place was framed up, they ran out of nails putting the whole project on full stop.
Food was also running out as the cowboy soon realized that all the food he brought in from his shopping trips to town was all the food the three of them had. Once Rob’s money ran out, finding another paying job became imperative. He bid adieu to his gentle friends and accepted a salaried job further up the valley.
The upper half of the valley that houses El Bolson and several other communities is a place generally known in these parts as “Mallin Ahogado”. This odd combination of Mapuche and Spanish words connotes a swampy place drowning with water.
While the climate there is the same semi-arid dry summer, wet winter found all along the eastern slopes of the southern Andes, this section of the valley has more than it’s share of streams crisscrossing its rolling hills. The lush landscape that the abundance of water produces is the main attraction for the many different communities of foreigners who have recently settled into this area.
Argentines in Mallin have taken the basic hippie commune idea and turned it into a play for pay enterprise. They call it “woofing”. Young middle class people from North America and Europe flock down to Mallin in December and spend the austral summer building mud houses, growing organic gardens and getting close to nature.
There are also older middle class foreigners in Mallin who play a different game. The English, Americans, French and German residents engage in small-scale empire-building. They all settle on “chacras” of 10 to 100 hectares where they import all the best tools and gadgets that western industry can provide into their incredibly cheap farmsteads.
It was on one of these chacras owned by some part-time Austrians that Cowboy Rob had played out the fourth chapter in his odyssey through Patagonia.
CHAPTER FOURThe Austrians lied and told Rob they were looking for a worker when they really wanted a slave. They specialized in giving him jobs that were impossible and then cutting the work off before it could be completed to begin a new and even more implausible project.
He worked dawn till dusk for 300 pesos per week (about $75) and room and board. His employers were perpetually ornery and depressed from fighting with one another so they took it out on Rob by countermanding each other’s orders as the cowboy spun like a top from fence mending to sheep herding and auto mechanics in the blink of an eye.
Two months of this was all he could take. The denizens of the local tavern where Rob drank up most of his weekly pesos, told him that two weeks was the old record. Nobody works for the Austrians more than two weeks. Covered with mud, excrement and the humiliation of never having accomplished anything in recent memory, Rob thought about going home.
Rob had learned something about himself in Argentina. He had discovered that he was a working guy and that having a job and doing it well was the thing that made him feel good.
This job, however, was not really working out. He reasoned that he could return to Wyoming and slip back into his old job to rebuild his self-esteem, maybe earn a little grub stake and then return to Argentina and start over some place else far from the Austrians. Then everything changed and he got a new job working for some Germans.
We didn’t really get any details on it, only that it was further up the valley and that he would be out of touch for several weeks. We hadn’t heard from him for several weeks when the phone rang.
The garbled phone call was disturbing. Fire? What fire?
We asked around the neighborhood and one of our neighbors, Julia, said she had heard about it on the radio. A big shop burnt down with half a million dollars worth of equipment in it. There was something about someone in the hospital here with serious burns. Julia knew nothing more.
The call had bothered us so much that we decided the following day to go up there and find Rob to be sure he was OK.
Finding a chacra hidden in the upper reaches of the valley above El Bolson is not so easy, especially if you are on foot. We figured, however, that the fire was a big event and the closer we got to it, the more likely it would be that any person on the road might know something.
There is a “colectivo” (local bus) that plies the loop road through Mallin, but we had missed the early morning run and could not reasonably wait until the one p.m. bus that leaves from the city center. We decided to walk out to the main highway and head about a mile north to the intersection of the road that leads on into Mallin Ahogado.
At that intersection, we started hitch-hiking.
The second vehicle to enter the loop rood, stopped and offered us a ride. The inhabitants of the X-cab pick-up were Gerardo and Leo, a couple of young Argentine brothers whom we had met the previous winter at El Pueblito. They knew Rob and knew something about the fire and the Germans Rob had been working for.
They laughed that everyone in the valley knew that the German was crazy and they couldn’t understand why Rob had wanted to work there. As we barreled up the long dirt road, billowing dust behind us, Gerardo talked while he leaned out peering under the open door. He was checking to see if his right front tire was going flat. He said he heard the German had burned up a brand-new pick-up in the blaze, a big Ford flatbed fitted with a crane.
They got us about two-thirds of the way up the valley to the turn-off for Reko, a special kind of Argentine rural enterprise where rich North Americans and Europeans come to learn hippie skills.
They said we were two curves and five kilometers short of the road that would lead to the Chacra where Rob was now house-sitting for the injured owner. We thanked them and started walking up the road toward our destination.
About one kilometer beyond the turn-off, we came up on the Patagonian Rock Museum. We had seen and heard about this place before, but had never mustered enough interest to actually trek out there before this.
It would be a good place to stop and perhaps ask again about the fire and the fate of our friend. We walked onto the grounds of the museum just at 11, opening time. The museum director popped out onto the road to greet us. His clear sparkling eyes and pink cheeks just above his snowy beard gave the impression of a man you could seriously trust.
He wore a green fishing vest adorned with patches representing various rock formations and smelled strongly of shampoo. Clean and honest often go together. When we told him what we knew of the German and the fire, his twinkling smile quickly melted into a sorrowful sag. He knew about the fire and the German, but didn’t really know whether anyone had been hurt.
It seems that the Rock Museum curator, Eduardo, had been a good friend of the German and had known him for many years. He warned us that the man had always been “un poco loco”. In fact, he told us in no uncertain terms that the man had a messianic complex and was a bomb just waiting to go off.
There was a boat on the grounds that the German had been preparing as his escape vessel for the end of the world. He suggested that if the boat had gone up in flames, the German would be even closer to going off the deep end.
Then his voice got a little softer and he whispered, “drogas”. He was sure the German had been taking some kind of drugs and that had to be connected with the fire. Like the brothers who had driven us up there, he mentioned the pick-up. Everyone seemed to think that was a major tragedy.
We bought museum passes and perused the rocks, coming quickly to the conclusion that there was nothing very much unusual here. I should say, however, that some of the specimens were far larger than any I had ever seen before of the same kinds of rocks.
The signature piece of this display is a heart-shaped piece of rose quartz about five times the size of a normal heart. The ten peso entry fee is good for a year so we promised to come back another time under more favorable circumstances.
We walked about another three kilometers along the road and hardly a vehicle passed. We were actually hitch hiking in a place where there were no opportunities. Finally, a newer pick up came along and pulled up beside us.
The inhabitants, two neatly dressed government workers, hastily informed us that they were lost. They were on their way to a lunch asado (barbecue) but had no idea where the place was. I convinced them that the place we were going to was only 2-3 km up the road and they should give us a lift there.
They knew nothing about where the German’s farm might be, but they had heard that there was a man with serious burns in the hospital in El Bolson. Their asado popped up about one km down the road so they continued on to drop us off at our intersection before heading back to their lunch date.
As we started off down this road, we still had no idea how far the chacra was or how we could find it. Our ace in the hole was that we were closer now and surely anyone we met would know something more.
A few hundred meters along the road, we spied a small herd of cattle that was being tended by a withered paisano in a red sweat shirt. When I asked him if he knew where was the “Chacra de Friddel,” he became very agitated and started going on about the great fire and the pick up that had been burned.
He said we should be careful about going up there because Friddel was a dangerous man and if he was back from the hospital, he would be trouble. In a few more kilometers “mas arriba” (further up the road), we would come to a chapel and near there would be the entrance to Friddel’s.
We walked about two kilometers more down the road without seeing any chapel when another pick-up came by, a man with two boys headed for a fishing hole. Like everyone else, the man knew about the fire and knew exactly where the Friddel place was.
He drove us about a kilometer past the chapel to a driveway that he said would be a short-cut into the place. It’s a long walk down into an arroyo and then up the other side if you go in directly, he explained. If you ask the neighbor here for permission to cross their land, you can walk directly to it with no problem.
He said he had heard about the fire and that it was such a shame that they lost that brand new pick up in the fire.
It was a bit of an error to try to cross in at this new place because the old woman who met us at the house either didn’t understand what we wanted to do or just didn’t want to say no directly. She just led us back out to the road and pointed down hill to where the chapel was.
You go to the chapel, she said, and just beyond it to the right is a green gate with a big stone. She had seen all the smoke and flames and was afraid that Friedel had been killed. She was pleased to know that he was only in the hospital and would recover.
She knew there was a red-haired norteamericano working there and thought he was certainly still on the premises. When we were finished visiting, she concluded, we could come back and buy some fresh vegetables from her.
Once we found and entered the green gate, it turned out to be not so far up and down hill as the fisherman had suggested. Along the entrance path we passed a second gate before we came to a third and final green metal gate with a large brass bell hung above it.
We clanged the bell loudly and instantly two large border collies showed up barking at us madly through the wire mesh. The dogs kept on barking and running back toward a house that was hidden back about 100 meters and behind some trees.
While we waited for the dogs to roust out whomever was inside, I walked a bit around the perimeter of the fence to where I could see the hulk of the burned-out shed. We waited and began to worry that no one would show up at the gate. Perhaps we shouldn’t have come at siesta. Perhaps Rob wasn’t here.
After ringing the bell several more times, a figure finally appeared.
It wasn’t Rob. The man who came to the gate was familiar. His distinctly neanderthal profile was unmistakable. It belonged to a local Englishman who frequented El Bolson’s watering holes.
When I asked if Rob was there at the house, he answered in a funny way, saying “We have Rob here,” as if Rob were being held prisoner somehow.
He followed that up by adding that Rob was in the process of being “debriefed” and we would be better off to remain silent about anything we might see or hear today. The dogs were dangerous, he warned; stay close to me. With that, he invited us in and ushered us to the house where Rob was resting, shaking off the effects of some of the events of the past few days.
We found our cowboy pal sitting behind the kitchen table and two large empty bottles of Warsteiner beer.
Apparently, he was self-medicating courtesy of his other visitor. He was happy to see us and eager to tell the story, but he was still a bit scattered and probably not in shape to be as coherent as he can be. This is what he told us.
He had taken the job at this place because he was desperate. Other people had warned him that this place could be worse than working for the Austrians, but he felt he had no other real option at the moment. He was there only four days when it all happened.
Yes, Friddel had been difficult from the start, he said without being specific as to how the early difficulties had played out. Rob would only say that his employer thought he was God.
On the day of the fire, the trouble started when the German tore off the door of a refrigerator that was standing outside the house and sent the food flying fifty feet. I had heard something about this particular part of it and wondered what would send the contents flying so far.
Was it an explosion? What had been in that refrigerator? Rob couldn’t or wouldn’t answer those questions and the neighbor who was monitoring the conversation added that it would be best not to speak of this to anyone outside this room.
All Rob could say was that Friedel was exhibiting some feat of super human strength by tearing the door off it’s hinges. That act in itself, he insisted, is what sent bags of frozen broccoli and peas catapulting so far from the fridge.
I suggested that adrenaline could boost a person’s strength to the point where they can do something like that, but Rob and the neighbor both objected to any adrenaline theory on the grounds that Friddel had been like this for several hours.
I thought about drugs, but then said nothing as I had just seen the neighbor pass a small vial of pills to Rob which he was taking to “calm down.” Calm down? Rob looked at the neighbor and the pills with a shrug that said he wasn’t going to be any calmer with these pills. Bringing up the role of drugs in all this might just be an issue a bit too sensitive for all parties concerned.
Next came the fire. Rob was a bit unclear and disjointed about it, but this much was clear. Friddel had been burning waste oil in a large furnace that he had out in his tool shed next to the house.
He was struggling with the cap of the next container to be burnt and got frustrated and threw the container down on the ground. So close to the furnace, the container just exploded. Instantly, Friddel was consumed in an orange ball of flame.
At this point Rob got very agitated and uncomfortable. He said he had never seen anything like that in his life. When he ran for a hose to douse the flames, Rob discovered that all the hoses, all the water had been cut off. Just prior to the start of the conflagration, Friddel had disabled the water supply.
The cowboy was certain that his employer was now fried and he would have to account for his role in this calamity. When he came back to the fire, however, he discovered that the German had already torn off his burning clothes and was exhorting Rob to join him in an effort to save the pick-up.
Seemingly unaware of his burns, Friddel urged the cowboy to get in the truck with him, but all Rob could see was himself and Friedel burning to death together in the cab of the precious pick-up. Besides, the truck was all connected up by hoses and cables to the big boat alongside it and there didn’t seem to be anyway that it could be gotten loose. Nonetheless, the burning man kept exhorting Rob to join him in the cab.
He ran as fast and far as possible, far from the sound of the German maniacally revving the engine that would take him nowhere.
The neighbor contributed something about Rob calling the police and saving lives. Rob didn’t remember anything like that. He ran from house to house looking for help. The neighbors were all quite distant so it took several minutes to reach any other house even at top speed.
At the first place, no one was home and at the second, the inhabitants preferred debate to action. An Austrian neighbor named Franz argued with his wife for several minutes over what might be a proper response to a fire at the Friddel place. No one could call to town for the firemen or police because all the phones were dead due to a recent electrical storm.
By the time Franz had convinced his wife to go into town to get help, a full half-hour had elapsed since Rob had left Friddel madly gunning his motor in the burning shed. Franz pumped three rifle shots in the air and bade Rob follow him back up to the fire. The shots would bring the other neighbors.
Nearing the access road to the disaster site, Rob and Franz spied Friddel running out toward the highway stark naked. For Franz, this was proof that Friddel was mad, but Rob thought it made sense as the man’s clothes had been on fire so why would he put them back on? Only later would Rob learn from the German’s wife that he had removed his clothing to render himself invisible, proof that they were both insane.
The neighbors were already there when Rob and Franz got back.
Fortunately, most had been trained as firefighters and the closest neighbor knew where all the water hook-ups were on the property. He had quickly found where the hoses and valves had been buried, reconnected everything and gotten water started on the burning shed.
The men of the community worked like bees to smother the fire and salvage the remains of all that the shed had sheltered.
As the fire was reduced to smoldering ashes, the police showed up with Friddel naked and handcuffed. They had to assess the damage and decide what to do with their disrobed prisoner. Apparently, Friddel had no inclination to go anywhere with the police as he immediately snapped his steel bonds and made a dash for the woods.
It took ten men to subdue him and get him back into custody. Not only did he seem oblivious of his burned arms and face, but he had broken out of the stainless steel cuffs as if they nothing.
Everyone at the scene began to breathe a bit easier when the madman was stuffed back into the police car and taken into the hospital for treatment and observation. One more feat of super human strength would have sent everyone scattering for safety.
None of this was told in any sort of rational or organized manner as Rob’s tale was, itself, the mirror image of all the fear and confusion of the moment. By the time he was through, all we really knew was that Friddel was down at the hospital in El Bolson heavily sedated and probably not coming back home for a little while.
I suggested to Rob that he would be better off if he weren’t on the premises when Friddel gets back from the hospital. The neighbor backed me up on this, but added that the man’s wife who was alone here now, needed Rob’s help until such time as her husband would be back. A fine line. If it were me, I would have been making my exit immediately.
Rob said he still hadn’t sorted everything out in his mind yet, but felt some responsibility to stay and continue to help. The neighbor suggested that Rob had been a hero and now was showing what a complete hero he was by staying until help arrived.
He underlined his statement with a darker comment about what a big heel Rob would be if he left that helpless woman hanging. Besides, he added, the place will be a lot safer when Friedel returns now that most of the man’s weapons have been removed from the premises. Of Friedel’ s considerable end-of-the-world arsenal, only a few machetes remained.
This neighbor who was there helping Rob recover was certainly well-intentioned, but I seriously doubt that Rob should have been taking any advice from this man.
Up until the time we arrived, he had been trying to convince Rob that everything was OK because the entire human race had been subjected to mind control by a race of reptilian aliens. It doesn't matter what we do, the aliens are in control. I suppose it was the aliens who had told him to scoop up Friedel's cache of automatic weapons.
It seemed that there are some friends of the family who were coming down to Mallin from abroad and they could help keep things under control when the German got back from the hospital.
Rob was hoping that the immanent arrival of one of Friddel’s old friends from Germany would help put the unhinged lunatic on a more even keel. The neighbor then offered us a ride back to the crossroads where we could catch a bus or taxi back to town.
CHAPTER FIVEWe left our sorry-ass cowboy friend without having closed out this fifth chapter in his life in Patagonia. He said that these folks from abroad would probably all be in before Friedel could get released from the hospital and then he would leave.
Where he would go after that is anybody’s guess. The neighbor added that Rob had built a local reputation for being a loyal, steady and even heroic worker in the most difficult circumstances so any number of people in the district would be happy to employ him. I supposed the employers he was taking about were any one of the number of foreign barons in Mallin on their various estates.
Rob took the neighbor’s advice to heart and resolved to stay on with the Friddel clan until he could secure his next employment. This meant staying even after the teutonic meglomaniac had returned home. Fortunately, the person who returned after an eight day sojourn at the El Bolson hospital bore little resemblance to the mighty maniac who had burned his way into the memory of all who live in the mallin.
Glassy-eyed, shuffling and drooling, Friddel came home loaded up on injectable anti-psychotic drugs and quite unable to focus on any of his customary delusions. Despite his lack of focus, he was immediately aware that his arsenal was conspicuously absent.
The first thing he did was to quiz the cowboy about his missing guns. Rob did a neat Texas-two-step around that one. Without saying who it was that had come to remove the weapons, Rob curtly indicated that the police had them. Friddel would get everything back in time. Of course all this was patently misleading if not outright untrue.
No one really knew if the police had the guns. The neighbor had taken them and said....well, whatever he said may or may not have been true. He was doing whatever he did in his own interests, the interests of Friddel’s neighbors.
Friddel had a long history of difficulties with his neighbors. Peter, an Austrian who owns the neighboring chacra, was a particular focus of the madman’s animosity. He had more incentive than most to file a complaint, an appeal to a local judge to have Friddel locked away in an institution as far away as possible. Peter demurred. It was the other neighbor, the alien invasion resister with the guns, who filed the complaint.
His charge was that Friddel, crazy or not, had committed premeditated arson in burning down his own shop. The man was a danger not only to himself, but to the entire community. The entire district could go up in flames. An official investigation would have to follow. A prison sentence might be in Friddel’s future.
At times, even paranoids have real enemies. This may be one of those cases.
The neighbor was building a case against Friddel. In the aftermath of the fire, he had gathered up Friddel’s armory and and any other objects that could be considered evidence of malicious insanity. He even obtained a tape-recorded statement from Rob, the only real witness to all the events.
When Rob needed a place to stay after Friddel’s return from the hospital, the neighbor conveniently provided a bed and a small stipend to keep Rob close at hand. He would need Rob in person should an investigating judge need direct testimony. Rob, not knowing what to do, and out of options decided to stay with the neighbor. What could possibly happen there?
CHAPTER SIXChapter six in the life of our Patagonian cowboy seemed more like an extension of the previous chapter. After all, he hadn’t moved far and the specter of a confrontation with Friddel still weighed heavily upon him. It didn’t help that his new employer was obsessed with corralling Friddel. Despite this, Rob stayed because the workload was light, the pay steady and everyone at his new place spoke English.
Dennis and Susan left England for their piece of patagonian paradise about fifteen years earlier, about the same time that Friddel made his way south from Germany. The English couple had a rocky start because their move south had exhausted most of their capital and living off the fat of the land was not working out.
While most of their Argentine neighbors seemed able to provide for themselves without cash, the English couple struggled. A few years on, a small inheritance came along to help out, but it didn’t help as much as Dennis’ new profession. Always a spiritual sort, he discovered in himself the power to heal by the laying on of hands.
In a part of the world where the dominant religious orientation is a deep belief in woodland fairies and elves, Dennis’ new profession fit right in.
Rob was amazed at the droves of people who found their way every Tuesday and Thursday to this isolated spot for healing. Simple paisanos from Santa Cruz and middle class professionals from Neuquen drove or hitch hiked to the Englishman’s gate with abundant hope.
For 250 pesos a crack, Dennis would supply the required “hands-on” experience. Susan’s home-cooked homeopathics were extra. Since all comers had already exhausted mainstream medicine’s offerings, Dennis’s success rate was 100%. Nobody got any worse.
Rob’s new job at this bucolic clinic was clean-up. He prepared the house for the arrival of patients and scrubbed the kitchen afterwards. For these services, he received a small weekly stipend and a room of his own.
The most valuable service the cowboy performed was merely sticking around until the legal authorities would come to secure his testimony. While everyone waited for this, the tension grew.
Every evening Dennis and Susan drank themselves into a coma obsessing about impending conflicts with Friddel. Two or three times a day the phone would ring unanswered as the caller ID showed that the German was on the line yet again. Friddel was too smart to leave threatening messages.
One day while Rob accompanied Dennis on a shopping trip into town, they ran into Friddel’s wife Gabby who was picking up her husband’s medications at the pharmacy.
Dennis berated her loudly next to the cosmetics counter. Why hadn’t she, herself, taken steps to have her husband committed, he wanted to know. Gabby responded by appealing to Rob to return to her home to care for her and her demented husband.
She desperately did not want to give up her Argentine country lifestyle. If something happened to Friddel, she would have to return to Germany. The Englishman was alone in wanting to put Friddel in a cell.
When he wasn’t curing cancer or exorcising alien mind control with his magic fingertips, Dennis was busy campaigning with the neighbors to join his effort to put Friddel on ice. Rob helped him prepare several neighborhood asados, lots of roast lamb and copious amounts of local beer.
The Germans and Austrians in the upper Mallin came to eat and drink but wanted no part of Dennis’s revenge. They all thought Friddel annoying and a bit looney, but dangerous only to himself.
The Argentines in the district all had a great deal of respect for Friddel, especially for his ability to get back at them if they wronged him. Everyone thought that trying to get Friddel locked up was a fool’s errand as involuntary commitment was a near impossibility in Argentina. Putting someone in jail on an arson charge was absolutely impossible.
In the aftermath of the brutal military dictatorship in the 70’s and 80’s, Argentine military and police authorities are loathe to use even a hint of force with any civilian. Since Friddel would be expected to resist arrest, the cops would be expected to leave him alone. A warrant could rest unexecuted for decades.
The final blow for Dennis came when Rob left after one of the asados leaving only a phone message.
The cowboy had realized he was mired in a whirlpool of someone else’s revenge and was getting out as soon as possible. He had to get out, but there was no place to go. He could pitch a tent with his hippy pals Martin and Anna, but they were having problems.
It seems that the owner of the land where Martin was building his cabin did not have legal title. The french patrona had made a private cash deal for twenty hectares and a house with the tired elderly Mapuche owner.
A few years into the deal, the old Indian’s son renounced the deal by burning down the woman’s house. Now the son was back threatening Martin with similar consequences if he didn’t leave the place too. The threat was real enough for Rob. He picked up his tent and hit the road.
Just a few kilometers down the dusty track that cuts through the media mallin, a car pulled over and the driver offered a ride. Rob wasn’t hitch-hiking, but the offer was made in English. The white Honda Civic had Michigan plates.
“Are you headed into town?” The woman behind the wheel had a sharp mid-western accent. Her husband on the passenger side said nothing.
Rob was headed for town and this was one ride he did not want to turn down. He had come to this district specifically to find Americans who needed a hired hand and had found mainly Germans and English until now.
“Do you mind if I throw my gear in the trunk?” For at least the next half hour, Rob would be speaking English with folks from his own part of the world.
Diane and Harry did have a little spread up the valley, but they already had a hired hand, Cenovio, a gaucho who had drifted down here from the Limay Valley near Neuquen about a dozen years ago. When they bought their place about three years ago, Cenovio came with it.
Diane explained that they couldn’t afford two hired men, but her neighbor might be in the market. It seems that a friend of theirs from the US had recently visited and made a deal for the 20 hectare piece adjoining theirs.
She was in Buenos Aires now filing legal documents to certify her ownership. When she got back, Diane added, she would probably be interested in some help for maintenance on the place. A fence was needed.
Rob assured his two new friends that he was a veritable wizard of wire and could fashion any kind of fence their friend needed and at a competitive price. Of course the last part about the price was just said for the benefit of the norteamericanos as in Argentina there is no such thing as a competitive price.
There is one price always on everything and you pay when the work is done. Competitive or not, Rob didn’t really know what the price should be, but he did know that 8,000 pesos would get him through the winter.
“That would be $2000 US.” This was the first and only thing Harry said during the entire ride. When the couple dropped him off at the Plaza Pagano, Rob was beginning to feel hopeful.
Their friend would have legal title to the land and might even allow him to stay for the winter. If he could only hold out a few more weeks.
The last we heard of Rob was that he made a deal for the fence and disappeared. The owner of the property had paid Rob in advance and that advance was just about enough to cover a one-way ticket to Casper.
The foreign land barons in Mallin all thought Rob had stolen the French woman’s money to flee back to North America. Considering the type of luck he had been having there, I can’t say that I blame him.
Eddie Zawaski is a contributing Salem-News.com writer based in Patagonia, Argentina, who is originally from Oregon.
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