This entry is part 1 of 44 in the series Smile


They Always Smile


Ted (V.E.) Dewey


Most of this story is true, only the names have been changed. Many years after I made the tape recording of this great adventure, I dusted off my old typewriter and put it down in print. I would use the name Joe Parker, and my brother Dell, would be Bill.

It was the year of 1960. The new Pan-American highway was just being completed, opening up a whole new world to the people in this country. A place where the rivers had already produced many billions of dollars worth of gold, but had never been introduced to the modern dredge.

There should be millions left, we decided. We went down and made a deal with the Nicaraguan government. We would bring down a dredge and mine the gold, splitting the profits. My brother would go after the dredge while I stayed and searched for a rich gravel bar.

This is indeed a new and different world. A land of witchcraft, earthquakes, revolutions, and beautiful women.

In the city of Managua the girls outnumber the young men, twelve to one. The Army has taken the young single men.

We learned how to get acquainted with these beauties by just sitting in a sidewalk cafe, and watching them stroll by. If you see one you like, you give her a big smile. If she smiles back at you, she is yours.


“They Always Smile.”

Chapter 1

This entry is part 02 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter One — Ty

The Nicaraguan night was warm and sticky. I got up from my bunk in the cabin and went outside where it was much cooler. A little breeze had come up, and it was almost light as day. I settled myself in the string hammock and lay in it looking up at the stars. They were shining so brightly and looked so near — near enough for me to grab a hand full and put them in my pocket.

As I lay there I thought of the Judge of Quilalí. In this country, people believe that your future is written in the stars. They read them, and make predictions. The judge had read the stars, and his predictions had come true. Mama Morales could read them also. She had made a prediction, and I had done my best to keep it from coming true. Yes, I concluded, everything is written in the stars.

My companions, Chuck and Jock, had gone to the city. That was a week ago, and they had not yet returned. I would give them hell when they got back. I would tell them off all right, but I would sure be glad to see them.

I was the only one in camp, except the half dozen natives that were guarding the big gold dredge, and I guess I was feeling like the most lonesome guy in the world.

The moon was just coming up in back of me, and was casting weird shadows all around. Suddenly I could see one that was different — one that did not belong. It was that of a man. In his left hand was a machete, slowly being raised. Half of his right hand and arm were missing.

A cold sweat came over me, and I knew that in a few seconds a big knife would come down and cut me in half.

The Colt .45 I usually wore was in the cabin about fifty feet away. One mistake like this can cost a man his life, and it appeared that I had made it. How could I reach my gun before…

My mind raced backwards into my past. I had made enemies, all right. I thought of Cortez, with his teeth smashed and broken. Pedro, with his ear kicked off. Yes, these two had a reason to kill me. Then I thought of Slade, the newspaper man. I remembered the night I ripped the hair from his chest and belly. And his threat of, “I’ll get you for this!”

Guys like Slade don’t forget, but he was too much of a coward to do his own killing. In this country life is cheap. For as little as fifty cordobas you can have a guy rubbed out.

On this last trip to town, Jock had warned, “Sleep light, my friend. Slade is still in Managua, and he is a very wicked man. He now has a man working for him — a fellow by the name of Ty. He is a killer, and an expert with a machete. He has only one arm. His right one was cutoff when he was caught stealing.

Yes, this shadow must be Ty, I concluded. Slade was about to get his revenge, and here I lay without a weapon. I must do something, and do it now! I couldn’t just lie here and be cut in two!

I remembered again how in this country people believe that your future is written in the stars. And they read them — at least they pretend to. So, I would use the stars! I knew that this was grasping at straws — but I must do something.

The shadow of Ty’s big machete was high in the air.

I spoke quickly. “Ty, I knew you were coming. It is written in the stars that tonight you would come. You have come to kill me, Ty, but it is also written that tonight I shall not die. I knew you were coming, my friend, and I have been waiting for you with a very nice present.”

Jock had told me that Ty could understand and speak English, but if he did not understand what I had just said, I was a goner for sure.

“Yes, Ty,” I went on, “in my cabin in a little tin box I have something very nice for you.”

Very slowly I turned my head and looked up at him. Moonlight glinted from the blade of the machete that was still raised high.

“I have a one hundred dollar United States bill. It is for you, Ty, and is more money than you have ever dreamed of having. How much did Slade pay you to do this job?”

“How do I know you do not lie to me?”

“I do not lie, Ty. I will prove to you that I do not lie.” Very slowly I eased off the hammock keeping my hands well above my shoulders as I carefully turned toward the cabin where I had left a light burning.

The big machete and Ty were only a step behind me. When we entered the cabin I motioned for him to turn down the covers on my bed. He did this immediately and found the little tin box. He opened it fast and took out the hundred dollar bill.

“How much did Señor Slade pay you to do this job?” I asked again, feeling that I was winning. I was playing a game, playing for my life, and I had to play every card I had. Ty stared at the bill with a strange expression on his thin, dark face.

Slowly he reached in his shirt pocket and drew out a fifty cordoba note worth about seven dollars in North American money.

“Señor Slade is a very cheap man; a very wicked man,” I said.

Suddenly a look of hatred came into Ty’s evil face. His eyes grew black and he spit on the fifty cordoba note, and tossed it on my bunk.

“Yes,” he said. “Señor Slade is a cheap man, a wicked man. I cannot keep his money if I do not do the job!” He was almost shouting. “I am no longer working for Slade, I am your man!”

He then knelt before me.

I breathed easier now and walked over to my little cupboard. I took out a bottle of Flor de Caña and two glasses and poured them full. When I gave one to Ty his hand was shaking. He had come to kill me and had been cool and calm about it, but now that he had changed his mind, he was falling apart. Funny, I thought, when a man is all keyed up to kill then suddenly decides not to do it, how he begins to break.

I felt that I was coming apart myself. “No, Ty, I already have my man.” I didn’t want Ty to work for me.

A look of disappointment spread over his countenance.

“Señor Joe. How can I ever repay you? I must work for you to repay you.”

This, I didn’t want. The stars had served me well this night and I would use them again. I opened the door, and looked up at the sky.

“It is written in the stars, Ty, that you shall go back to the Rio Coco. You will take the hundred dollar bill with you and start your own store. With this money you can buy much Pepsi Cola, beer and cigarettes. You will be a business man and be well respected. No longer will you need to make your living with the machete.”

I turned to see what effect my words had, and again the stars had been kind to me. Ty had a faraway look in his eyes as if he were planning to be an important merchant.

“Yes,” he said, “I will go.” He tossed the machete on my bed. “This I will give to you.”

He bowed very low, walked over to the door, turned about and smiled. Then as silently as he had come, he vanished into the night.

Chapter 2

This entry is part 03 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Two — Reminiscing

Brother Bill once told me, “Joe, life is a game like poker. You are a terrific poker player, and having sat in many a game with you, I know you are hard to beat. When you play poker, you sit and bluff, you lie, and you do everything in your power to win that hand. Life is like that too, and when you learn to play the game of life like you play poker, then you will find happiness. You are too honest, Joe, and you take things too seriously, letting people hurt you. They are only playing the game and you are not.”

Bill had been right. Life was a game all right, quite a game and I had tried to play it, but somehow I had failed. Although tonight I had won over Ty, so maybe I was learning. But what a game! I shuddered. I poured myself a glass of Flor de Caña and drank it slowly. Damn good rum, I thought to myself, kills the bugs in your belly. I went to the open door and gazed up at the heavens. I was reminded of Maria. Maria had stars in her eyes — little dancing lights that kept flicking on and off. Maria… I had almost forgotten her.

Then I thought of Connie, Rosa and Juanita, and that made a great feeling of loneliness come over me again.

My old beat-up suitcase was on the floor at the foot of my bunk. I opened it and saw the several albums of pictures, a Polaroid camera, a little tape recorder and many rolls of tape. I took up an album, opened it and grinned at the picture of Juanita and me taken at Fermin’s. I studied it for a long time. Beautiful blond Juanita. Yes, a woman good enough for any man, but I hadn’t played the game right and I had lost her.

I put the album back in the suitcase and took out another. In this one was a picture of Connie and me standing by the wing of the big transport plane at Siuna. Jock had taken the picture. Thinking of Connie I went outside.

The moon was getting higher overhead and already the oxen in camp lay bedded down for the night. I could see the welts on their necks and shoulders where the natives had prodded them with sharp sticks to guide them. I noticed that the ox carts with their large, wooden wheels didn’t even have a steel band for a tire.

A big log that the natives had dragged in with the oxen lay nearby. It had been set on fire, then covered with earth to make charcoal for our huge mud oven which was really a work of art. It looked like an igloo from Alaska and was about the size of one. The natives had started with mud and straw and fashioned it until it grew into a big mud ball. A little guy had hollowed it out working with a knife, then a fire had been built inside to bake the mud. To cook with the thing, a charcoal fire is built in it. When the oven is hot, the charcoal is removed and replaced by whatever is to be baked. Once the heavy walls of the oven are hot they will hold enough heat to cook most anything. Primitive, I assure you, but the darn thing produced very good bread.

Down the trail I could see the three little cabins that were empty. Below on the big mud lake sat the gold dredge. I could see no light, so I concluded that the natives must be asleep. Here was the mud lake with a gold plated bottom — more damn gold than I had ever dreamed of. The lust for gold and the love of a woman. That is what had brought me here. I thought to myself, “Gold and women are the root of all evil.” Someone had said that, but I didn’t remember who or when. One thing I knew for sure, gold does not by happiness. A man must have a companion; a good woman to grow old with. God had meant it that way. I’d had my chance, tried to play the game and lost. The feeling of loneliness inside me I knew was not for Chuck and Jock, but for a woman. Every man needs a woman — a good woman.

I walked back to my cabin. I had set the tape recorder on the table and as I stood looking at it an idea came to me.

I had several rolls of tape; enough to last for several hours. I had planned on writing a story about my life, and the many things that had happened in this faraway country.

The ribbon on my old typewriter was worn to a frazzle, and I was almost out of paper. Then I thought, “Why not sit down here and tell my story to this little recorder?” Later, I could put it down in black-and-white!

Chapter 3

This entry is part 04 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Three — Brother Bill

My name is Joe Parker and I am a miner. I am thirty years old, five foot-ten and weigh about one hundred eighty pounds.

I have a brother Bill. Bill, like myself, started out to be a miner. Now he is a mine promoter and a good one — at least he does all right.

I don’t know how the stockholders feel, but I think Bill is the best guy in the world. He lives in a big house on the hill above Reno, Nevada. He has a new Cadillac, a Corvair, a Jeep and an airplane — beautiful job — yellow and black with two engines. Also, he has a pretty wife; little Nellie.

In the eyes of little Nellie, Bill can do nothing wrong, and I guess I always felt the same way about him.

For several years I had been working in a gold mine about fifty miles from Reno. Each year the scale of wages had gone up but the price of gold had remained the same — thirty-five dollars an ounce. And like many other gold mines it closed down, and I was out of a job. So until I could find something else to do I moved in with brother Bill.

Bill is a couple of years older and a lot bigger than I; standing well over six feet, and weighs about two hundred twenty pounds. He is a very convincing talker and always busy.

One morning when breakfast was over he took me into his private den. “Joe,” he said, “I’ve got something I want to show you. Just take a look at this.”

I took the book from his hand and opened it. It was printed in Spanish. “What the devil is it, Bill? You know I don’t read Spanish.”

His grin widened. “I know you don’t, but I do. Now listen carefully. I was down in Mexico a while back and got a hold of this old book. It’s several hundred years old and is a history of the early days of Mexico and Central America. The Spaniards were after only one thing when they invaded Central America and that was gold.”

“I studied about that in school, Bill.”

“Sure, we all did but this old book here tells us where they found it. In some places they found so much gold that they made gold horseshoes for their horses. Just think of that Joe — golden horse shoes! Also it tells of a city built of solid gold. Can you imagine that? A city made of solid gold!”

He was really excited, so for about an hour he read parts of the book to me translating to English. Then he produced a map and spread it out on his desk. It was a map of Central America. As he pointed to it his eyes were sparkling.

“Joe, there must be a heck of a lot of gold left down there. I’ve been reading a lot about Central America lately and do you know something? Those people in those countries are still using oxcarts, living like they did a hundred years ago. I’ll bet they are still mining gold with a gold pan and I’ll bet they have never heard of a gold dredge.”

“What makes you think so?”

“Because” said Bill, “up until now there has been no way of getting one in there. You, of course, know of the Pan-American Highway?”

“Yes, I’ve read a little and heard a little about it.”

“It is just being completed through Central America now, and do you know what that means?”

I shook my head. He was planning too fast for me.

“It means,” he said, “that those countries are just now being opened up to the machine age. You know yourself that without modern equipment they can’t mine those river bottoms.”

“You are right.” I said.

“You bet I’m right! And do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to fly to Dallas, Texas, tomorrow. I know a couple of old boys there that are worth millions — made it in oil. And they’ll gamble on most anything. I’m going to take this old history book here and a bunch of other propaganda that I have gotten together, and go down there to make them a proposition.”

“What kind of proposition can you make to them?”

“I don’t exactly know yet, I’ll just have to play it by ear until I find out how hot I can get them.”

I knew Bill would convince them that there was a lot of gold left in Central America.

“And I have another ace in the hole,” Bill went on, “and that’s you.”


“Joe, you are one of the best mining men in the United States. If I can talk those old boys into financing an expedition down there you are going down to see what you can find.”

The following morning I drove Bill to the airport. His plane was ready with the engines running. He gripped my hand hard. “Hold down the fort Joe. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone but I want you to be ready to take off when I get back.”

Just before he climbed into the plane he reached in his pocket and drew out an envelope and handed it to me. “Take a little vacation while I’m gone.”

He grinned, and before I could get the envelope open, the big plane took off. I tore open the flap and inside were five crisp one hundred dollar bills.

Chapter 4

This entry is part 05 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Four — Maria

It was on the return trip from the airport that I felt like having a cup of coffee, so I looked around for a restaurant. I soon found a small cafe, parked my car and went in. This is where I met Maria. She was a waitress and had just come to town from Los Angeles, California. There was something about Maria that fascinated me. Her large brown eyes had little flecks of light that kept dancing around. “There are stars in your eyes, Maria.”

“Only for you Joe,” she would say.

I sat in that cafe drinking coffee until it was about to run out of my ears. When the crowd of patrons cleared out, I asked Maria for a date for that evening.

She smiled at me and asked, “Promise to be good?”

I crossed my heart and gave her my best smile.

I was a good boy that first night when Maria and I went out to dinner, then dancing. She had a way of getting that slender little body close. I thought to myself, “Why dance?” But I remembered my promise.

That was only the beginning. Every day I counted the hours until I could see Maria again. Every night we had a date. I rented a small cabin up on Silver Lake with “Honeymoon Lodge” on the sign over the door. It was a cute place on the edge of the lake about a hundred feet from the road with a little path leading to it. We spent our weekends there. The fishing was good and we both loved to fish, hunt and swim.

This was indeed a paradise.

There was a big davenport in the cabin with a huge fireplace, and I always made sure there were big logs in it. Maria and I would curl up on the davenport before a blazing fire and I would say, “Maria, there are stars in your eyes.”

“Only for you Joe,” she would answer.

We made the greatest of plans.

Although I was out of a job and short on cash, I knew that something good would break for me, and I had my application in for work in several big mines in Idaho and Montana. One of these days Maria, and I would be married.

We became quite close friends with a couple we enjoyed being with — Lynn and Betty Olsen. Quite a few times we asked them to the cabin. Lynn and I were great buddies, and so were Maria and Betty. Of course I was still staying at Bill’s house during the week.

Bill telephoned Nell long distance every few days, but it still seemed that he had been gone a hell of a long time. At breakfast one morning Nell seemed unusually happy. “Bill will be home today,” she said. “He called last night from Dallas and we need to meet him at the airport about five o’clock this afternoon.”

Good old Bill, it would sure be swell to see him. That evening when he landed, he picked up Nell, squeezed her, then hit me on the back so hard I felt like my spine had been disjointed.

“Joe, we’ve got it made!”

I asked him just what he meant by that, but he said to wait until we got home; then he would tell us. We drove out to the house, and soon after we arrived I fixed some highballs. Then Nell and I sat down to wait for Bill’s story. He has a habit which I think is a damned bad one. He doesn’t talk until he’s ready. Both Nell and I were anxiously waiting for his report, but finally he started talking.

“Joe, I have a deal for you. I suppose you haven’t found yourself a job yet.”

I told him that I hadn’t looked too hard and was just sort of coasting until he got back.

“Well, your coasting days are over. You are going to Nicaragua!”

Chapter 5

This entry is part 06 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Five — The Texans

Three days later I was looking out the window of a big passenger plane. Down below the great layers of fleecy, white clouds was the Gulf of Mexico. Above us the sun was shining brightly, and in the distance were pyramids of clouds turning from white to gray, their mushroom-like formations looking like atomic blasts.

I put the lens of my camera against the window and snapped the shutter, hoping the picture would be a good one. It was beautiful.

A pretty blond stewardess came by and asked if I would care for a drink. I had a first-class passage and was in the front compartment.

“Sure,” I grinned at her, “bring a bottle of Old Hickory and some water and I’ll pour my own.” She smiled, wheeled around and disappeared. Soon she reappeared with a full bottle of Old Hickory with ice, water, and a glass. What more could I ask for?

When buying my ticket, I, being the conservative type, priced the second-class fare, but Bill had said, “Joe, go first-class. If you go to hell, go first class!” That’s my brother Bill. If he ever goes to hell, it will be on a first-class ticket.

I poured myself a drink, settled back and closed my eyes. If anyone had told me a week ago that I’d be here in the clouds, I would have told them that they were crazy; but here I was. I tried to recall exactly what had happened.

Bill had gone to Dallas, met the two Texans, read the story from the old history book, given them a big sales talk, and they had taken a plane to Managua, Nicaragua. It was the latter part of August when they arrived there, and winter was just about over. Bill had explained that in Nicaragua they don’t really have cold weather; and, that it’s hot there the year round. The average temperature is usually about eighty-three degrees, and the rainy season starts in June, lasting through September or October. This was their winter now, and the rains would be easing off. So this was the best time of year to arrive, for there would be a completely dry season ahead.

Bill’s story of his trip to Texas was extremely interesting. He had given the old boys a sales pitch using the old history book. They went for it. They all boarded a plane and flew to Managua.

Managua is a city of about one hundred and fifty thousand people and quite modern. Their intentions were to go prospecting for gold, but Bill couldn’t get the old boys out of the city.

“Why?” I asked.

He grinned and went on. “Managua is a very fascinating city. There are about ten or twelve women to every man and are those females lookers!”

“How come so many women?” I asked.

“In the tropics there are many more girls born that boys. Besides, kids between the ages of one and five get the fever, and they die off like flies. More boys die than girls. The girls seem to be stronger and can stand a lot more fever. Also, the Army takes many of the boys. Nicaragua has quite an Army — about seven thousand soldiers — and only the boys from the city are taken. The Army doesn’t want the Indians from the bush country, so this leaves all the beautiful señoritas and damn few men. Also, when a man smiles at a girl down there and she smiles back, that means she will go with him. You could have a ball down there, Joe.”

“Cut it out, Bill, you know how it is with Maria and me.”

“I know,” he said, “but a little ‘strange stuff’ wouldn’t hurt you a bit. Anyhow, it seemed to agree with the two boys from Texas. I couldn’t get them out of town, but they did agree on one thing: they think they should have a gold mine in Nicaragua. Then they can have an excuse to fly dawn every so often to look over their holdings.”

“Well, the damned old goats!” I remarked. “Do they want a gold mine, or do they just want to fly down there to play?”

“What difference does it make, Joe? They are putting up the money for you to go down to look the country over, and they will back anything that looks good. We will end up with fifty percent. How can you beat that?”

Yes, how could we beat it? I was out of a job and my money was running out.

The last few nights my dreams had been of Maria wearing golden slippers, a golden gown, and I was riding a golden palomino with horseshoes made of gold. I guess I had the gold fever all right.

Maria drove me to the airport. As I sat in the airplane by a window, I saw her standing by the station waving me good-bye. Tears were running down her cheeks, but she managed a smile as we took off.

Chapter 6

This entry is part 07 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Six — Jock

For hours we flew over what seemed to be an endless sea of clouds. Then from the loud speaker came, “Fasten your safety belts, please. Guatemala City is ahead and we are about to land.”

In a small basin in the high mountains of Guatemala, lies Guatemala City. A few miles away is a beautiful blue lake. They say the sun shines every day in the city, at least for a few minutes.

Surrounding the city are jungles, forests and coffee plantations. We were landing before I had time to fully enjoy much of the scenery.

We changed planes. The next stop was San Salvador, another beautiful city by a lake.

Again, we transferred to another plane and our next stop was Managua, Nicaragua, and another lake — Lake Managua.

A high volcano was belching smoke and fire. It proved to be Mombotombo. There were many other volcanoes. Most of them were dormant, yet a few were smoking.

Here I was at last — the real America — Central America — the land of volcanoes, earthquakes, revolutions, and gold.

It wasn’t quite dark when we landed; and it was hot and damp.

As I stood in line getting my baggage checked, a fellow began going through my suitcase. He found a carton of book matches from Harold’s Club in Reno and set them aside, and said, “Everything is all right but the matches.”

“What’s the matter with the matches,” I asked, surprised.

He grinned and said, “President Somosa owns the match factory here. Keep them — and welcome!”

I laughed.

I picked up my suitcase and stepped outside. A man came up to me and asked, “Who are you? Where are you going? Where do you come from?”

“My name is Joe Parker. I come from the United States.”

“I am Jock,” he said simply. “Jock Talbot. I am from Honduras — British Honduras. I helped build the road through Honduras and Nicaragua. What are you doing here?”

“I am a miner. I have come here searching for gold.”

“I do not know anything about gold,” said Jock, “but you will need a man. I speak English, Spanish, French, German and Mosquito Indian. I am a good interpreter and you will need me, so I am your man.”

So right then and there, Jock became my man. He has been my man ever since. God bless him.

We got into a taxi and rode the several miles into the city. I asked Jock about a good place to stay and he suggested the Gran Hotel. As the taxi driver took us there, I said, “I don’t have any Nicaraguan money. Will the driver take United States money?”

“Anyone will take United States money, too much of it,” Jock informed me, “I will pay him in cords.”

“What are cords?”

“Cordobas. You can pay me tomorrow after you get your money changed.”

When Jock paid the taxi driver off there was a heated argument.

“What was it all about,” I asked later.

“He was going to charge twenty cord. The regular price is ten. He said you very rich North Americano and should pay twenty cord.”

“How much did you give him?”

“Ten. You see I have saved you ten cord already.” Well, damned if he hadn’t! Probably I would have given the guy a five dollar bill, thirty-five cordobas.

We went into the main lobby of the Gran Hotel where the opulence amazed me. In the center was a huge mahogany stump perhaps twelve or thirteen feet in diameter. It had big burls all over it, and was varnished and polished to a high luster, and at the right of the mahogany desk was a plush cocktail lounge. The center of the hotel was roofless and it contained a large swimming pool. In the rear and under shelter, was the restaurant. The whole setup looked big enough to cover half a city block. There were many showcases full of goods for sale; scarves, handkerchiefs, blouses, etc.

“Very nice, huh?” said Jock. “All handmade.”

They certainly were nice, but what intrigued me most were the showcases full of gold — gold earrings, bracelets, tie pins, cuff links; about every kind of ornament. Each piece was different, and of course hand-carved. The most beautiful work I’d ever seen. I thought to myself, “There surely must be a lot of gold in the ground around here.”

After signing the register, I told Jock I would see him in the morning and went up to my room. It was a big pleasant room and the bed looked comfortable. A girl came in and turned down my bed, then stood there smiling. I remembered what Bill had said about “they always smile,” and I didn’t smile back. I nodded toward the door and she looked disappointed as she left me.

I undressed and went to the bathroom — no bathtub, just a shower and toilet. The toilet had no lid but the porcelain flared out to form a seat. There was only one water faucet — cold — no hot water. I learned later that there are very few people in Nicaragua that know what a bathtub looks like, and there is no hot water in the whole city. After enjoying these luxuries, I went to bed. I was very tired and immediately fell into a virtuous sleep.

Chapter 7

This entry is part 08 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Seven — Fermin & Chase

The next morning I was awakened by bells, beautiful bells. Bell-ringing is an art in Managua. The operators beat the bells with large malls and play many tunes simultaneously, yet the effect is harmonious.

I looked at my wristwatch and found that it was six o’clock. I got up and dressed and stepped out into the hallway. Jock, looking neat in white shirt and blue jeans, was waiting for me. He is a small fellow about five-feet-six inches tall, and he weighs about a hundred and forty pounds. He has strong even teeth and dark curly hair he wears parted low on one side. His eyes are big and brown, and he has a winning grin.

“Good morning, Jock, You’re up early.”

“Everyone gets up early here.”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Twenty-four,” he said.

Jock was indeed an amazing fellow. Only twenty-four years old and he could speak five languages. We walked downstairs and had breakfast. The menu was printed in both Spanish and English. We had ham and eggs and coffee. Everything was very good but the coffee which was black and strong. I think they must have boiled it all night.

I told Jock that I needed a shave and haircut, and asked if there was a barber shop nearby. He said there was one with seven barbers in the hotel building just around the corner.

We walked outside into the bright sunlight and on to the barbershop. We found all seven barbers standing on the sidewalk in front of the shop. Each man had a yo-yo in his hand, and was throwing it up, down, and around, each thoroughly enjoying themselves.

I was astounded. “Do grown men play with yo-yos here?” I asked Jock.

“Sure,” he said, pulling out his own, “the yo-yo is very popular.”

I asked if it was something new, and he said that it was and had only been here a short time. When I asked how the pastime got started, he told me the story.

“Coca-cola was the very famous drink here and everyone drank Coca-cola, then Pepsi-cola came to town with a larger bottle and a very good drink. Almost everyone had switched to Pepsi, when Coca-cola came out with a larger bottle, it was too late because all the people were drinking Pepsi. The Coca-cola people are very smart and they introduced the yo-yo. You cannot buy one, but for ten bottle caps and one cordoba, they will send you a beautiful yo-yo. Now many people are drinking Coca-cola again.”

I got a chuckle out of that and walked into the barber shop. All seven barbers took hold of me in seven different places, each trying to drag me to his chair. I thought surely I would be torn into pieces, but finally I managed to sit down.

One of the barbers, smiled and started to work on me. The other six went back to their yo-yos. A girl came in to give me a manicure. I took the full treatment. It cost me ten cord, which is one dollar and forty cents, U. S. money.

Jock asked me if I would like to take a tour of the city, but I told him I didn’t have time, that I was here on business. “I came to look for gold,” I said. “You are my man now. Where do we start?”

“I have been thinking,” said Jock. “I have a friend up the street. His name is Fermin Goldburg. He is a Jew — a German Jew. We call him Fermin the German. He runs a little cafe. He speaks good English and he has been here a long time. Maybe he can help us.”

Fermin had a neat little cafe and bar. Jock introduced me and asked Fermin if he could help me locate some gold. Fermin scratched his head. “Maybe if you would buy one bottle of Flor de Caña we might be able to figure out something. Also, you being new here, the water will make you sick. You will get bugs in your belly if you drink our water, but not if you drink much Flor de Caña.”

I thought he was kidding and looked at Jock. Jock nodded so I ordered a bottle. Fermin pulled a table out to the sidewalk, and brought us ice and Coca-cola. His waitress brought a platter of dainty little sandwiches about an inch square that had toothpicks pinning them together. This was my first experience having refreshments at a sidewalk cafe and I was really enjoying it. The Flor de Caña (rum) the Coca-cola, and ice with a little squeeze of lime, was the finest I had ever tasted.

Fermin brought a map of Nicaragua and spread it out on the table. “Now, this map tells you where to find everything. Look, mahogany timber.” This same mark appeared in many places on the map.

“If you want pine there is much pine,” Fermin said.

“I’m not in the lumber business,” I said. “Where can I find some gold?”

“Gold in Spanish is ‘Oro,’ look for yourself.”

Jock and I bent our heads over the map. Oro, oro, almost everywhere we looked.

“This just can’t be true, Fermin,” I said. “If there’s gold everywhere in Nicaragua, why aren’t people out mining it?”

“Hundreds of years ago this country was very rich in gold. It has been looted by pirates, bandits, churches, and many dictators. The rich gold is all gone. There is a little left,” he said sadly, “but most of it is gone.”

“It has never been mined with dredges or heavy equipment has it, Fermin?” I asked.

“No, only by hand. I don’t believe there has ever been a dredge in Nicaragua.”

The rum was warming me up and I felt good inside. Bill had been right. This country was loaded with gold. Only the surface had been scratched.

“If you were going to look for some good places where gold could be mined with a small dredge, where would you go?” I asked.

Fermin studied the map for a moment, then said he would go north and prospect the Rio Coco.

Yes, there it was, the Rio Coco on the map. It looked like a big river. Fermin explained that a mountain range runs down through Nicaragua, and there is much flat land on the west coast; then the peaks tower high and are very steep on the west side from where they gradually taper to sea level on the east coast. The Coco hugs the west fairly close and the mouth of the river empties into the Caribbean Sea.

I said to Jock, “Well, I’m not getting anywhere or getting anything done if I stay around Managua. I must start somewhere, so why not at the Rio Coco?”

“We will need a Jeep ,” he said.

“You are my man,” I told him. “Get us a Jeep.”

A big smile lit up his face. He jumped to his feet and took off.

If Flor de Caña kills the bugs in your belly, I was well vaccinated by the time Jock returned. Fermin and I were on the third bottle and were very buddy-buddy when up pulled a Jeep pickup.

That’s when I met Chase. Chase, a Negro, was from Bluefields. Bluefields lies on the east coast and had been an old English slave-trading post. Almost everyone there speaks English.

When Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the United States, he also freed them in Nicaragua. Even today, the Nicaraguan postage stamps have the picture of Abraham Lincoln on them. Lincoln said, “All men are created equal,” and he meant it. Here in Nicaragua people believed in him and respected him. There are several statues of him in Managua. Abraham Lincoln may have freed the slaves, but here in Nicaragua is where he really freed them. Here, a Negro is equal to any other man as he should be.

Chase was handsome as are most of the Negroes in Nicaragua — probably crossed up a bit with the English, the Spanish and the Mosquito Indian. They are the real Nicaraguans.

Chase had a big smile on his face as Jock introduced him. Yes, he would lead us to the Rio Coco. He would need a tire for his Jeep, and a few other things; and he didn’t have any money. My money was in travelers’ checks.

“Let’s go to the bank,” I said to Jock, “and I’ll cash some of these travelers’ checks. I’d better cash about five hundred dollars into cordobas.”

“Do not go to the bank,” Fermin said. “They only give seven cords for one dollar in U. S. money. I will give you seven twenty-five for one U. S. dollar. There is not enough United States money in this country to go around. People come here from all over the world. Anywhere anyone goes the U. S. dollar is good. I can make money on it.”

Seven twenty-five to one! Never before had I realized the value of the good old U. S. dollar. We made the transaction, and I gave Jock two thousand cord. I felt I could trust him. I told Jock to buy everything we would need for a couple of weeks, and to get plenty of food, bedding, tents and whatever he thought necessary.

“Give Chase an advance on his wages and get him a tire. You are my man, so let’s see how good a job you can do. We will leave tomorrow morning at daybreak.”

Chapter 8

This entry is part 09 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Eight — Ocotal

The purr of the Jeep was sweet music.

We left Managua at daybreak, passed through the town of Tipitapa and headed up the Pan-American Highway toward Honduras. I felt good and I had no sign of a hangover from all of that Flor de Caña. If I had drunk that much whiskey, I would have had a head on me like a balloon.

The highway was rough. In places it was well oiled, although most of it was gravel and in places no road at all — only a detour through the jungle. I guess I slept most of the way, but the screeching of the brakes brought me wide awake. I sat up.

“Good Lord, what in the devil is that!” I asked.

Just ahead of us stretched halfway across the road was the damnedest creature I had ever seen. It must have been eight to ten feet long and it stood about twelve to fourteen inches high. It had a head that looked like a horned toad, spikes down its back like Ally Oop’s dinosaur and its back was arched, also its tail. This creature really had poise and it looked like some prehistoric monster from out of the past.

“Iguana!” yelled Jock.

“Iguana!” yelled Chase.

I knew enough of the language to understand. The creature was a giant lizard!” It lay there in the road sunning itself, not moving a muscle.

Jock and Chase slipped out of the jeep, grabbed a big machete and cut a long piece of bamboo. On the end of this they fastened a buckskin thong.

It reminded me of the times I had fished for bullfrogs back in the States. They were trying to slip the loop over the creature’s head. Suddenly it took off like a quarter horse. It sure could move fast. Across the road it went, hit the bank on the other side took off like a quarter horse. Yes, indeed, it sure could move fast. Across the road it went, hit the bank on the other side and came sliding back. Jock and Chase were upon it as the loop caught it around the neck. There was a brief struggle and the capture was made. They tied the huge jaws together with buckskin thongs, curled up the big long tail, put another piece of buckskin around the belly, ran a pole through the thongs and came carrying the creature back to the Jeep. They were grinning from ear to ear.

You’re really not going to eat that damn thing, are you?” I cried.

“Sure!” declared Jock. “By keeping him alive, we will have fresh meat on hand.”

“Well, you guys can eat the darn thing, but count me out!”

Chase started the Jeep, and we continued our journey.

There were quite a few pickups and trucks on the road. So far we hadn’t met even one passenger car, although there had been a bus or two.

In the middle of the afternoon we came to a sign pointing toward the east: “Ocotal” Here we pulled off the highway and headed back into the jungle on a narrow winding road. The growth was so dense in places that we couldn’t see the sky. Many natives were walking — coming and going — and all carried machetes, slashing at the vines; back and forth, each time cutting some of the foliage. Jock explained that if they didn’t do this, soon the jungle would grow together and there would be no road at all as the vines here grow several feet each night.

There were ox carts — many of them. The men walked in front poking the oxen in the neck. The carts were loaded with wood, sugar — in brown cakes about the size of a brick, corn, tobacco, cocoa-nuts, bannanas, and pineapple.

The ox cart is the main mode of hauling necessities. Originally, people were riding on horseback — little horses brough from Spain hundreds of years ago. These horse were not much bigger than Shetland ponies. I don’t think I saw one that would weigh over five hundred pounds. There were some small mules and many burros — the beasts of burden.

Everyone we met on the road stopped and smiled and I was glad they were friendly. We met a “motorbus,” an old beat-up affair that looked like a 1940 model that was loaded with passengers. We pulled out to the side of the road to let it pass. The riders waved and yelled. They all looked happy.

We met a big truck loaded with lumber — pine lumber — and I concluded there must be a sawmill back somewhere in the jungle.

About dusk we arrived in Ocotal, the fifth largest city in Nicaragua, with a population of about twenty thousand; quite a sizable settlement for this country. The houses were all built of mud and sticks and they had red tile roofs. I learned that almost everyone here could make tile. I don’t believe I saw a pane of glass, at least not in the houses.

Finally we came to a Texaco filling station, so we gassed up the Jeep and inquired about lodging. The young Negro attendant sent us to the Hotel López.

Hotel López proved to be the best hotel in town, but it wasn’t much.

There was with a small dirty bar, an old card table and an old pool table. The felt on the pool table had apparently worn out years ago. Now it was covered with jaguar skin. The dining room in the patio in the rear had widow screens to keep the flies out, but there were no glass panes. There was only one guest room, and luckily we were the only guests. In the room were three small canvas camp cots with no springs or mattress, and just one sheet, and one blanket on each.

The Rio Coco runs by the edge of the town, so I thought this would be a good place to start prospecting. I told Jock to find us some horses and some miners that knew the country, and to get supplies for a trip of several days.

I was tired, and went in to the room and laid down on a cot. Funny, I thought, how I trusted Jock. I felt that I had known him all my life.

Chapter 9

This entry is part 10 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Nine — Prospecting For Gold

The crowing of the roosters and the ringing of the bells awakened me early next morning.

Jock and Chase were already up. I dressed and walked out to the back yard of the hotel where Jock was having a shower. A barrel was set up on a tripod about seven feet in the air. The barrel had holes in the bottom and a little way off was a pump with a pipe going from it to the top of the barrel. Chase was pumping like mad and grinning widely. It would be his turn next for a shower. I entered into the spirit of the thing, and took my turn at the pump and the shower.

After we had shaved, breakfast was ready. There was more of that thick black coffee and some hot milk, then the breakfast. The cook brought us something that looked like pizza pie covered with tomatoes, cheese, peppers and I didn’t know what else. It was filled with small chunks of white meat that looked and tasted a lot like scallops. It was delicious so I ordered a second helping. I was really hungry. After we finished breakfast, I told Jock it was the most delicious pie I’d ever eaten and asked what they called it.

Jock grinned. “Iguana pie,” he chuckled.

I had helped eat the big lizard after all!

There must be millions in gold lying at the bottom of the Rio Coco. Every sand or gravel bar gave up gold. For days we dug, panned and tested the bars. In the bottom of every pan, gold! Little flakes — too tiny — too flat. This gold had traveled a long way. Looking at it through my glass I could see that the tiny particles were beaten flat-flake gold. Somewhere up the river must be the mother lode.

We kept going upstream until we came to a high narrow canyon. Here was rapid water and rocky cliffs, and no longer a trail. To go farther would be useless. It would cost a fortune to build a road through this canyon, but probably someday someone will do it, I concluded.

This was not what I was looking for. We must look somewhere else, so we returned to Ocotal. Several people told us that there was much more gold on the Rio Jaciro. They advised us to go to the town of Quilalí and start from there.

Quilalí is about fifty miles east of Ocotal so we packed the Jeep well and started out again. We climbed a high range of mountains where there were beautiful pine forests and not so much jungle. We found widened places in the road every so often and ox carts could pull aside to let us pass. On top of the mountain was a sawmill that a North American named Jones had installed. We stopped to look it over. Jones seemed to be doing all right. The natives felled and bucked the trees and dragged them to the mill with oxen.

Jones was glad to see us and we had dinner with him. I asked him where he sold the lumber.

“Most of it goes abroad, mostly to Germany,” he said. “We haul it from here to Managua by truck, ship by rail to Port of Carinto and from there it goes by boat. Cheap labor makes it possible for me to operate. I pay the fellows here about one cordoba an hour. That’s about fourteen cents in U.S. money.”

Jones had a gold mine all right, but in lumber; mining was out of his line. He wrote a letter for us before we left.

“Take this letter,” he said, “to the Judge of Quilalí and it will introduce you. Make friends with the Judge and I’m sure he will help you. Let me give you a little advice. These people here are friendly, but you must be very careful not to offend them. If someone offers you something to eat, eat it, or something to drink go ahead and drink it. There is much voodoo and witchcraft here. Never laugh at any of their customs, regardless of how strange they seem to you.”

That evening we arrived in Quilalí which was much like Ocotal only much smaller, probably around two thousand people. The sound of the Jeep engine brought everyone to their doors. It was the only automobile in the town. We parked in front of Hotel Quilalí and Jock went in to arrange a place for us to sleep. We were unpacking some things from the Jeep when up walked a big, fat Negro woman.

“Who are you?” she asked. “Where are you going? Where do you come from?”

After we told her she said, “Come down to my house. My house is your house. I am from Bluefields. I cook white bread just like you do in North America. I will bake some white bread just for you.”

“What is your name?” I asked.

She grinned, “Just call me Nigger Woman. That’s what everybody calls me.”

So that evening we had dinner with Nigger Woman. She operated a little cafe and store. She chased the pigs and chickens out of the dining room, spread a snow white tablecloth on the table and we had a very fine dinner. After we had eaten I offered her a cigarette. She shook her head, took a leaf of tobacco, tore part of it off, rubbed it in her hand and rolled it into the damnedest cigar I had ever seen. She clamped the thing in her strong white teeth, and I held a match for her.

In her store there was corn, rice and un-roasted coffee. People here roast their own coffee, I learned.

“Señor Joe,” said Jock, “we need more coffee.”

“How much?” I asked.

“Better buy about ten cord worth.”

So I ordered the coffee. Nigger Woman dragged out her scales. I had certainly never seen scales like them. It was a board with a nail driven through its center and on each end of the board was a tin can. There was a pile of stones on the counter. With the big black cigar clamped firmly between her teeth, carefully she selected several stones, put them in the can on one end and put coffee beans in the can on the other end until the scales balanced. She poured the coffee beans on a sheet of old newspaper and tied it up with some sort of grass or vine.

It was hard for me to keep a sober face.