The stock broker’s voice sounded like music on the phone. “Mr. Churchill, the Brazilian government announced that an excessive rainy season has severely cut coffee production. I liquidated your options before the market closed. You net about four million.”
Andrew Churchill rolled his blue eyes and leaned back in his chair. “You beautiful bastard.” No matter what else happened, this would keep those private investors off his back.
“Do you want me to look for another position?” The broker sounded hungry.
“Clark, let me enjoy my spoils for five minutes, okay?”
“Sure, it’s just that I could parlay this up. I’m more confident now.”
Something in Clark Fanning’s voice caught Churchill. “More confident? Why would you be more confident about option derivatives? They’re risky as hell. I know ten guys who lost their asses with only one trade, but you’ve been batting a thousand. How?”
“Well, I can’t really say.”
“Bullshit. We’re talking millions now, Fanning. I’m not going to let you parlay a goddamn thing unless I know how you’re making these trades.”
“Mr. Churchill, most people are just glad to make the money.”
“Well, I’m not most people and we’re talking serious coin. I started with a lousy fifty grand. How are you doing this?”
Fanning hesitated. He thought of his ethical obligation to his client, the farmer, Barry Meeks. He thought of the hefty commission he’d made on this four million-dollar trade plus the fat profit he’d made in his own portfolio. Meeks was soon to become a former client, selling his farm and retiring to . When that happened, Fanning would lose his link to the information that was making him rich. Realistically, how much would he owe Meeks after the well ran dry?
Andrew Churchill, on the other hand, Fanning’s current client, planned to take his pharmaceutical company public. Being the underwriter of a hot public offering was every broker’s dream score. Clark Fanning would ride the rocket to retirement. No, Clark Fanning decided he wouldn’t really need that damn farmer’s information anymore.
Fanning said, “There’s this guy, a farmer named Ethan West…”
The black Lincoln Continental lumbered up the driveway so slowly, it barely raised dust. Buzz’s barking drew Ethan from the back of his house where he was repairing a downspout.
To the two suits who got out of the Continental, Ethan said, “Mornin’.”
Buzz sniffed the air and barked. Ethan thought of how he and Beth had learned to trust Buzz’s instincts and had coined the dog’s analysis of strangers as the Buzz test. Ethan picked up a small branch and threw it at the dog. “Buzz, no!” Buzz sat on his haunches and shut up, but his eyes never left the strangers.
“Mr. West?” The taller one spoke.
“Who are you?”
“Are you Ethan West?”
Ethan squinted. “Two suits in sunglasses come to a man’s house and start asking questions. No hello, no pardon me. Cops or salesmen. Which are you?”
“We’ve come to offer you a business proposition.”
“I’m a farmer, not a businessman. Good day, gentlemen.” Ethan started for the rear of his house. The two suits squinted at each other. The shorter one stepped forward.
“Excuse my associate, Mr. West. We didn’t mean to offend you. But we would like to talk about something that could be beneficial to you.”
“We represent Neural Research Laboratory from down in . We explore aspects of human brain activity, memory, things like that for the Defense Department.”
“What’s that have to do with me?”
“We understand you have a unique talent. Predict what to plant, that sort of thing. We’d like to pay you to let us conduct some tests to see how you do what you do.”
Ethan’s senses tingled. He had dipped his toes in forbidden waters to make a living, thinking it harmless. But crocodiles lurked under the surface. What good was hiding if people found you? “How you know anything about me?”
“Mr. West, people in this valley have noticed your uncanny ability to pick the right crops to grow, year after year. People talk. The story got to us and we wanted to look more closely at this ability. We’d pay you very well for some of your time.”
“I’m just lucky, is all.”
“Mr. West, luck is ability that’s not understood. Maybe you have such ability and maybe you don’t. But we’re willing to pay to find out.”
“Five thousand dollars a day.”
Forbidden waters looked inviting. Beth’s funeral had been expensive, even without a body.
I can deal with crocodiles, Ethan thought. Even if they wear suits.