By Harriet Rohmer
Miami, Florida, 2003
THE HOSPICE PEOPLE WANTED OLD MAN CANE TO DIE ALREADY. Twenty-one years was beyond their limit.
Cane didn’t think so. “At my age,” he said, “it takes time to reinvent yourself—and I plan on taking whatever I need!”
He’d been a robber baron for sixty-five years. Top of his class. Migrated south to Miami in the 1930s, where he’d specialized in real estate, smuggling, and swamp removal—until he was goaded into a major stroke by one of those journalist types on the six o’clock news.
But he was in recovery now.
He’d spent the last months flipping through old copies of *National Geographic*, which had got him itching for a new, pace-setting innovation. Something natural this time. Something related to the new war going on, over there in Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization.
He read and he read. He scribbled notes.
A story about pain killing snails caught his eye. Toxic beyond belief, their venom (if processed correctly) dulled the pain of just about anything—liver cancer, high-speed bullets, land mines… A little tricky in the manufacture, and potentially subject to heinous regulations. “But rewards to reap,” he meditated. “My kind of rewards to reap.”
The snails were beautiful. Denizens of some coral reef on the other side of the planet. A thousand times more effective than addictive painkillers, like morphine. Now, couldn’t the war in Iraq use that? With all the injured coming through?
He queried the traumatized vets in the 5:00 p.m. yoga class at the hospice, directing them to evaluate their current painkillers.
“You’re familiar with the routine, gentlemen. You’re going to rank your regular painkillers on a scale from one to ten. You know, One for private to Ten for general.”
The soldiers stared and shook, but they completed Cane’s little exercise.
Scores were abysmal—from a minus 5 to a plus 1.7.
That’s when Cane knew that he had a winner.
He summoned the young man who had discovered the miracle snails. He found out how the damn things worked. Offered backing. Called in his bankers, who were astonished to learn that he was still alive. Drew up contracts that cheated the hell out of them all.
He needed an administrator—someone trustworthy. One hundred percent under his thumb. He thought about Little Peter, his grandson. Yes. Little Peter. Now thirty-one years old and a blasted failure. Why not Peter? The boy had an artistic nature. Collected fancy tree snails (non-toxic). And he had debts.
In their second meeting, Old Man Cane signed him up.
“Peter, we’re going into pharmacology together. You’ll be my man on the ground. Your route to success. So, what do you say?”
What could thirty-one-year-old Peter, shamed to the core, manage to say?
“Where are we going to do this, Grandpa?”
“Good thinking, son!”
So the old man bought up two tree islands in the Everglades. One to pacify the boy, where he could raise his artsy snails. Take care of artistic desires, etc. And the adjacent island as the home for the deadly-poison, pain-killing snails, the mainstay of his enterprise-to-be.
Around this time, the hospice people hiked up the rent on his private room. (Partially greed and partially embarrassment at his long-term residence.) He wasn’t spiteful about this. He gladly paid. He took it as a vote of confidence—the gift of a formidable business headquarters on the cheap.
1. Ascertain need for super strength pain meds: Critical war events could accelerate at any time. Therefore, it is essential that product be available 24/7.
2. Focus on wartime Iraq: Deliveries must synch to anticipate major engagements.
3. Communicate w/ known and currently unknown contacts re automatic delivery inducements. Cash works best.
4. Clients will inventory and place orders hourly: Because they’re going to have hospitals full of guys and gals w/ super big pain (PAIN).
5. And we manufacture right here in the Glades. And ship from here.
Who would even suspect that Old Man Cane was pushing his nineties? Fellow had more energy than he’d ever had in his ENTIRE LIFE!
The day that Cane cut his first big deal with the US military, he paraded up and down the hall in his pajamas, celebrating his victory, issuing orders, commandeering supplies via one of those new cell phones. The medical staff went practically berserk! But Cane didn’t care. THE ROBBER BARON WAS BACK IN BUSINESS—BIGGER AND BETTER THAN EVER! He knew he was on the path. And he knew how to get from where he was to where in the heck he was going to be.