“Barry, where the hell you getting your information?” Clark Fanning leaned back in his leather chair and spun his Cross pen on his rosewood desk.
At the other end of the call the farmer, Barry Meeks, hesitated, twisting his phone in a gnarled hand. “Well, not sure I can say.”
“C’mon, cut the crap. I need to know how you do it before I commit us to something really risky.” Fanning looked out his window and frowned. Semi-crappy view. On Wall Street, the more you made, the better the view. He really needed a better view.
“Information’s reliable. Leave it at that.”
With the skill of two decades of sales, Clark Fanning said, “Barry, do you want to retire or do you want to keep working your farm until you’re an old man?”
“Christ, I’m already an old man. Feel like one anyway. Wake up every mornin’ with a dozen old aches and half a dozen new ones. Hell, fifty-nine, I’ve had enough of farmin’. Want to move to and get the dirt out from under my fingernails.”
“Then tell me, Barry. Where are you getting this information?”
After a few seconds of silence, Barry Meeks said, “Just between us, Mr. Fanning? Don’t want nothin’ to kill the golden goose.”
“Just us, Barry,” Fanning said, consciously using the farmer’s name again. He remembered his first boss telling him how people loved the sound of their own names. “Say their names enough, they’ll love you. They love you enough and you’ll get rich on commissions.”
“Okay. There’s this guy Ethan West lives outside Boonsboro. Twenty years ago, his grandfather dies, both his parents are gone, so he shows up from , takes over the family farm. City slicker, college boy, never grew so much as a house plant. Bunch of us neighbors offer him help, but he says no.
“Never has a bad harvest. Sidesteps drought, grasshoppers, mildew, every damn thing nature can throw at a farmer. Thought we needed to help him, but it’s us needs the help. We’re havin’ good years, some bad, but he’s got good harvests every single year.
“Stopped hittin’ my head against the wall some years back and started watchin’ this guy. If he planted corn, I bought corn futures. Bad Midwest weather pushed up corn prices and I made a bundle. When he didn’t plant corn, I went short on corn futures, figuring it would be a bumper crop for supplies and prices would drop. You know that’s exactly what happened. I’m makin’ ten times more money tradin’ commodities than from farmin’ my Goddamn land.”
“You’ve parlayed a respectable portfolio, Barry, but these last five years could just be luck. Before I let you risk everything, I want more information.”
“Okay, one time he grew watermelons. Everybody laughed their asses off. Nobody grows watermelons in Frederick County. Season’s too short. Well, that year we had the longest summer I ever seen. With five hundred acres in melons he made a killin’. Next year, some farmers tried melons and an early freeze in September wiped ’em out. But that year this guy grew tomatoes. Two days before the frost, he hires pickers. Frost hits and his fields are bare. How you explain that?”
Fanning said, “I can’t. But there must have been times he screwed up.”
“You sure, Barry? Sure enough to take a big risk? You’re wrong, you’ll lose everything.”
Clark Fanning pondered. He had taken flyers on less. “Okay, Barry. Here’s the play.”
If this hick was really onto something, Fanning had big plans. And if the farmer was wrong, well, it was the hick’s money, not Fanning’s. He’d make commission either way.