Summer 2015 — THE POTOMAC

The Youth Scam

  Roger Castleman

"Captain," Enrique Talavera addressed Ponce. They were just coming in sight of land. "I'm sure that's Bimini up ahead." Ponce was willing to believe anything. You could see it in the feeble lines of his chin and the hollows of his cheeks, his skull rapidly becoming that of an old man; his desperate wish to be young again was scribbled all over him, from the cursive squiggles of his thinning hair to the looping punctuation marks around his squinting eyes; his stoop made you think of the heft of a heavy tome, and the groans he involuntarily made when he stood from a chair or bent to pick something from the floor were oratorical renditions of his epic-in-progress, the hunger for everlasting youth.

"You really think so, Enrique? Could we be near our goal at last?"

"I sense it, Captain. I can feel it. Zuania had a dream last night in which we were all swimming in a lake of pure water, shedding our years and our infirmities as we paddled around the clear waters."

"Ah, Enrique. I know Zuania is a gifted seer into the eternal mysteries. I only hope her dreams portend something imminent and providential."

"I am almost certain, my captain —"




"Go to Ponce. Let him touch you," Enrique urged, shuddering at the shadow that passed over his wife's eyes. Was it indignation? Was it concupiscence? Either way he felt uncomfortable. "It is only to convince him, my love," Enrique soothed, caressing Zuania.

"If he sees that I am what you call faithless," Zuania murmured, gazing intently into Enrique's eyes, sweeping her arm out over him as he lay beside her, a gesture indicating that by "you" she meant all the Spaniards, "will that not cause the governor to doubt?"

"The governor already doubts. He is eaten by the fear of infirmity, of old age, sickness and death. He knows how weakness can be exploited, taken advantage of. He fears he is becoming weak, Zuania. You can relieve his doubts, Zuania."

Zuania continued to gaze into Enrique's eyes. She said nothing but it was as if her eyes were fathomless pools in which he felt himself drowning.




"Why not call it Pescua Florida," Enrique Talavera advised the adelantado, with a suggestive nudge.

Ponce looked at him sharply. He half-suspected Enrique and the native woman, Zuania, of trying to pull a fast one on him. Only, what was in it for them if they didn't find the fountain? It was a lot of trouble to go to for the sake of a practical joke, if they weren't being honest about the fountain. It wasn't on Bimini, though. Or at least they hadn't found the fountain in the Bahamas.

Still, he had the impression Talavera was making light of his impotence, the thing that was truly driving him to seek the glorious youth-restoring waters, his desperation. But how could Talavera even begin to guess? True, Ponce was silver- haired, past fifty, but he and Leonor did have four children. Still, when Enrique had offered to send Zuania to him one night, he'd declined, and perhaps Talavera had drawn his own conclusions from that.

"Easter was just last week," Enrique reminded him, and his obsequious tone reassured Ponce, eased his suspicions. "It just goes on and on. This must be more than simply an island," he continued to the adelantado.

"Yes, 'La Florida.' I do like that, Talavera. La Florida. La Pescua de Florida." Ponce repeated the words to savor their sound. "La Florida. La Pescua de Florida."

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