A MAN GOES TO TAKE A DUMP in the woods. He’s been out in the woods for days now, on a hunting trip with his friends, and after some initial reluctance he has taken quite a liking to voiding his bowels in the great out of doors. Indeed, he has come to make a show of his gusto in this department, so much so that his hunting buddies decide to teach him a lesson. They gut a rabbit and pile the entrails in the hole over which their friend reliably squats. Sure enough, he repairs to his place in the woods, and some time later he returns, moving slowly, with a chastened waddle. “You wouldn’t believe what happened,” he says. “I shit my guts out, out there. Luckily, though, with a sharp stick and the grace of God, I got it all back in.”
That was Dennis Corrin’s. Dennis, the pilot from New Zealand, had a joke about everything, even the shit sticks, and by the time he told it, on the fourth night of their captivity - Day 4 - well, they needed to hear a joke about shit sticks. They were forced to use them, you see. During the day, they beat the trail for hours at a time in rotten socks, drinking sugar water for strength, and during the night, they had to ask the ninjas to go with them when it came time to piss or shit in the woods. They had to ask for permission. They had to take their sticks and dig their holes and squat trembling while some asshole with a machine gun stood there smoking a cigarette. Back in the tent, they weren’t allowed to talk; every time one of them spoke in a full voice, a ninja would shine a flashlight in his face and bark, “Silencio!” They learned to speak in a continual whisper, and so, when Dennis told the one about the shit stick and they all just started freaking howling in the middle of the jungle, they all figured they were going to get shot… .
They didn’t, and the joke became the beginning of their … well, it’s hard to know what to call it. Their resistance? Their rebellion? All those words sound so grand, when what really happened was so … incremental. They just began talking. They could tell one another what they had learned. They could start to figure things out. They could get their bearings.
Once the helicopter had disgorged the hostages, the ninjas had directed the Frenchmen to go back in the air and dump it a mile away in an effort to put the army off their trail. Nobody ever saw the Frenchmen again. They had gotten away. The ninjas never talked about them. There were eight of them now: the New Zealander, the Chilean, the Argentine, and the five Americans. During the day, they could hear planes and helicopters flying overhead, looking for them. From the ground, they couldn’t see the sky through the canopy of trees; from the sky, they couldn’t be seen. At first, of course, they wanted to be found; then they didn’t. The ninjas had said that in any encounter with the army, they were under orders to shoot the hostages before they defended themselves. It was the first lesson in the mutability of hope: The planes and helicopters that they thought represented hope came to stand for throbbing terror. They decided that their only chance for survival was to preserve themselves, physically and psychologically, for the long haul. One of the ninjas told Jorge, the Argentine, that the last time they did this the negotiations had lasted six months. They could already sense the wasting of their flesh, and so on the morning of Day 6 - two days after they mustered the courage to laugh at Dennis’s joke - the guys from Gold Hill started doing sit-ups and push-ups. They wanted to see what they could get away with. The ninjas looked at them suspiciously, and then one of them tried doing exercises of his own, in both emulation and opposition… .
That’s the one they called G. I. Jane. The one who’d shouted “Taxi” at Steve and Jason’s door, they called him Taxi. The one who wore the ski mask was Ski Mask. The grizzled hard case with the red beard and the gold teeth always armed with a shotgun was Shotgun. There was also Wing Nut, who had big ears and was sometimes kind to them, and the Girl, who looked like a girl. There was Scarneck. The bandit who stole their watches was Watchstealer, though later he morphed into Mini-Me because of his shameless adulation of the commandant, Qaddafi. Qaddafi was the one who made speeches about Ronald Reagan’s criminality in Nicaragua and read revolutionary texts while the rest of them read self-help books in Spanish. The other commandant was Fernando, who was in charge of the radio. They packed a radio around, with a motorcycle battery. They had left a message behind, with the frequency the radio would be tuned to, they said. Someone from the oil companies would contact them, they said… .
The ninjas of the jungle. What a joke. They were stupid, they were dirty, they were venal, they were cruel, they were greedy, they stunk, and they lied. Without their guns, they were nothing. Without their guns, they were the fucking Girl Scouts. That’s what Jason thought, anyway. That’s what he obsessed about; that’s what he wrote in his journal: I’ve been kidnapped by the Girl Scouts. Jason was a goddamn marine, a highly trained soldier from the U. S. of A. He had been to Somalia and Sudan. When the ninjas gave each of them their bowls the bowls they were supposed to eat from and bathe with Jason wrote LICK ME on his where his name was supposed to be. When he went to piss or squat, two ninjas went to guard him because he had no respect for them, and they knew it. But that was Jason’s problem he had no respect for anybody, early on. Oh, sure, he had respect for Steve and Arnie and Dennis, but the other guys? The guys from Schlumberger and from Helmerich & Payne? Jorge was a scaredy-cat. German was old - he was sixty - and he was lazy. Dave Bradley was forty-one years old, smart as hell, but he’d been to college and had nothing to show for it. Jason had no time for him.
As for the other guy, Ron Sander well, Jason didn’t know what to make of him. He was the oldest of the Americans, fifty-four, with silver hair and a little potbelly and bad legs. He was too quiet, too peaceful. When he talked, he talked about fishing with his wife back home on the Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri. When Jason went off on German for pissing near the tarp when German burned a hole in the tarp with his incessant cigarette and Jason said that if German’s cigarette ever affected him again, he would stick it up his ass Ron pulled him aside and told him to calm down, that they were all in this together. It was as if he’d decided to go through life without an enemy, and once he even asked Jason why he hated the ninjas so much. “They haven’t done anything to you,” he said. Oh, well, Jason thought: Maybe Ron was just scared.
Was Jason scared? No, never. The ninjas didn’t deserve his fear. In fact, what bothered him, what ate him up, was something like the opposite of fear: the knowledge that he was better than his captors; the knowledge that he could get away from them if it weren’t for Steve and Arnie and Ron and all the rest. It was something they all knew: that there was a hole in the jungle big enough for one man. One man could get away, if he was careless of the retribution that would surely be visited on those he left behind, and so early on, when Jason was hiking up a muddy trail and his guard fell facedown in the mud with a pack on his back and was helpless and all Jason had to do was break the guy’s neck with a forearm and run into the trees - what Jason did instead, what he had to do, for the other seven, was help him up.