UNITED STATES—Sam Delaney must not have been a businessman at heart. As a class they are often encouraged to be psychopaths at the extreme, married to lucre alone, “success” serves to foster what our time would term psychopathic tendencies, to pillage, exploit, and plunder. After another pivotal encounter with the Bhagavad Gita conjured a soul who lives in a secluded place, who eats little, controls his mind, body and speech, free from the lust for honors, detached from material things and false proprietorship.
This was the sort of thing Sam could self-transfuse. Sam’s friend Rabbi Herskowitz, whose synagogue was often a recipient of his invisible giving out of duty, tzehdakah and the rabbi chalked up his growth to his innate Jewishness surfacing in maturity, yet Sam knew perfectly well that any pretense to this state was underscored by a detachment to material things and worldly honors, Sam faced the fact that he was very fond of the enterprise built from scratch, his blood, sweat and toil, the Chamelecón Fruit Country.
And yet suddenly in the August of 1929, he sold Chamelecón to his chief rival, the Allied Fruit Co. for a ton of money—a banana boatload. There had been plenty of offers over the years, and while the Allied pulpo, the octopus, cleaned up all the minor competition, it actually invigorated Chamelecón.
“I’m ready to retire,” Sam told Rebecca.
Major Keene, who’d started the whole banana craze on the isthmus of with his cuttings as the Tela railway constructed—this American frenzy the Yanquis bought—was a man of inestimable age and eyes like moons in eclipse, very nearly blind. But he had a devoted young thing who cling to his hands, walk him through a cloud, and read aloud from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
“You made out like a bandit,” Major Keene told him, scratchy voice infused by awe. “You must feel mighty proud of yourself, boy. All that pile of dough.”
“I did it to free myself, Major,” Sam said glumly. “In Guatemala I own every inch of railroad and 70 percent of the private land. In Honduras, I own 50 percent of the land. It’s a weight off. Money travels light. I hold that I can do a few good things still.”
“Oh my,” the Major exclaimed. “Sam, you still got the same mind for statistics.”
“Hey, I read all the reports.”
“Hay is for horses,” Major said. The old man still got his goat. The Russian turned American hated hearing hey is for horses, like someone was trying to correct his manners. It wasn’t like he bought his clothes off the rack; he went to the finest tailor in New York.
Spend more time at his manor on the isthmus between warm breeze, like standing outside a steaming cauldron, stirred by hanging orchid baskets of wood and yellow. Swinging on his hammock, staring at the paddles on the veranda roof. Sam might be retiring, but his money didn’t; that was what wily Sam was going for: the horizontal money that could grow and accumulate while he was rocking on his green canvas hammock hung by sisal rope. Indeed. That was the plan.
Good riddance the banana trade. Sam was nobody’s fool. He knew that the people whom he had paid better than another of the other banana growers resented it. They talked badly about it behind his back, sometimes he’d come into a room and the conversation would stop with a start. Such moments he could feel the powerful raw force of power. And lamented its effect over people.
“You know I’ve built 234 schools, Rebecca,” he said in the kitchen of the house on St. Charles Place.
“And I just don’t get why people don’t appreciate it.”
“They all look like train stations, darling.”
He looked at her sternly, and then laughed. He laughed because he knew darn well he’d used the same architect for all the train stations. When he showed his teeth, his cheeks rounded, Sam didn’t look like this man who had seen too much, knew too much, and had too much to forget.
Sam fixed that gaze on the date on the calendar. It was September 16, 1929.
To be continued…
Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.