As I stepped from the rickety wooden dock onto John McAfee’s motorboat, I felt like I was in a scene straight out of Heart of Darkness. Here I was, a visitor in a strange land, embarking on a journey up a tropical river in search of the truth about a larger-than-life figure living in self-imposed exile.
“Are we going to find Kurtz?” I joked.
McAfee laughed and gunned the engine. The mood turned more Apocalypse Now, as he cranked the boat up Belize’s twisting New River, our wake surging through the mangrove roots on the bank. Every quarter mile or so the unmarked channel forked, and McAfee assured me that if we took the wrong one we would wind up in Guatemala, hopelessly lost, or else stuck for good, with no way out except to wade mile after mile through nearly impenetrable, crocodile-infested swamp.
Only later would I realize just how truly Kurtz-like the mission had already become. On that day, what had started out as a sympathetic profile for Fast Company would slowly evolve into something more like a take-down, as I realized that McAfee’s position in Belize was much more compromised than I had imagined. Finally I understood why he had kept asking—playfully, I had thought—whether my story was going to be an expose. As the facts emerged, it became clear that I would have to write just that.
What I still don’t understand is whether an expose was what he wanted all along. Did he, like Kurtz, crave the blade? He had, after all, kept bringing up the idea of the expose. And he kept scattering clues of dark import in my path. But why? Was it that he craved the publicity? Was he diverting my attention away from something else? Or did he have some other plan altogether? Given that the subject is an avowed prankster like John McAfee, we may never know the whole truth.