All around Payne are people who seem at once motivated, enthralled and unnerved by the daily sight of him charging forward to throw himself on a coronary grenade. They cringe at evidence of a less-than-healthy lifestyle even by the standards of middle-aged men who don't have his cardiovascular history. Payne used to play basketball, but unless speed golf counts, he doesn't exercise anymore. Colleagues wince at breakfast meetings while Payne wolfs down bacon and eggs or suggests stopping for a plate of fried fish on the way home after a long day of talking the dream, perhaps believing that the abiding goodness of his cause will preserve him.
"I can still beat anybody my age in the 40-yard dash," Payne says defensively when health issues are raised.
"Oh, bull——," says one of his closest aides when told of Payne's claim.
"There's not much doubt about what's going to kill me," Payne says. "The $64,000 question is when. I have never reacted to health concerns by going overboard, by becoming a vegetarian or a marathon runner in the hope of dying at 74 instead of 72. I don't live in fear of death. I live in fear of not having my family and friends . . . and maybe that is one and the same thing.
"I don't really know how to deal with health issues," Payne says after a pause. "Maybe I'm cheatin' life a little bit."
The phrase "cheatin' life" is a Paynism heard often by those close to the heat of his Olympian chase. Other people employ the phrase "cheatin' death," though few of them wake in the darkness of each morning able to recall the precise number of days it has been since they set themselves a near-impossible task, or how many days are left until the whole world sees the results.
"It's impossible for us not to achieve an overwhelming success, because this is the United States of America," Billy says. "We're doing something that's more important than any of us!" He rises to his feet and announces that it is time to stop talking and to return to the work at hand. "This thing has virtually limitless potential—if we do it right—to affect humanity. This is it, man! This is it! And I do believe we're gonna do it for sure!"