No Rest For The Wicked

It is a mellow lowcountry evening as Jed and Ray enjoy a relaxed evening with their friends Billy and Brian seated on the patio of one of their favorite “Chucktown” hangouts.  Karma is taking a well deserved break and Jed is becoming restless about wanting to have more of a purpose in life.  He wants to find a way to truly honor his parents in a manor in which they would be proud of him.

“I have got to find something more productive to do with my money and time” Jed said as he slowly exhaled the thick bilious smoke from his favorite Dominican cigar.

“Buy an escort service, I will do the interviews for you” Billy said with a naughty grin.

Brian took the last swallow of his craft beer and said “why not start a cigar business?  It’s something you love, maybe start your own brand!”

Jed looked sharply at Brian and said “you know, I never thought of that, but I don’t know much more than what I like and how to light it.”

“Unless you know a professional roller, I don’t think there is going to be much information on the internet that will be helpful, I’m sure it is a pretty protected craft” Brian said.

Jed pulled his android from his back pocket and looked up cigar conventions around the United States.  The destination wasn’t important and he needed a change of scenery anyway.

“Welp, this poor bastard has work in the morning, I will talk to you ladies tomorrow” said Brian as he tossed a $20 on the waitress’ tray with a wink. The young lady smiled and collected the empty glasses.

Jed looked at Billy who was lustfully staring down the waitress’ blouse that fell open as she wiped the table. “I will talk to you later” Jed said in a loud voice knowing his friend was only interested in the “twins”.  Jed handed the waitress a $50 and said “ma’am, you should keep your modesty around that man, he won’t even pay for porn!”
The waitress clutched the gaping shirt against her chest as she shot an embarrassed glare at Billy.  Billy nodded his head and said “true story” with a smile. The young lady stormed off in disgust. Jed laughed and shook his head as he walked out the door.

The evening was still young when Jed decided to call it a night. Sitting up in bed, Fred the faithful golden retriever in deep slumber at his feet.  Jed’s phone vibrating from yet another text from Ashley he is desperately trying to avoid.  “For Christ’s sake why doesn’t she find a job or hobby or something, she is driving me insane!” he said trying to focus on the notes he was scrawling on the legal pad.

Jed was searching the internet and found the national cigar smokers convention being held in Tampa in a few weeks and marked his calendar. Next he sent Ray a text and asked him to put the date on his calendar too. With everything set, Jed picked up his phone and texted Ashley back.

“Sorry for the delay, I was working on something” Jed responded.

“What could be more important than me?” Ashley responds immediately.

Jed rolls his eyes and tosses the phone on the bed. “I really need to stop seeing her, she is killing me with her ego!” With a deep, frustrated sigh Jed picks the phone back up and types in all caps; “OBVIOUSLY WHAT I AM WORKING ON!” He quickly followed that text up with another that read; “Ash, please, I really do have to work. Our relationship, such that it is, is not on a couple hood basis. I have never said or done anything that would lead you to believe that it is. I never want to hurt you or anyone but I am not looking for any kind of commitment to or from anyone right now, I hope you understand.” After the text was sent, Jed’s phone went silent.

Jed and Ray filled those anxious days of the next few weeks researching what they could about the cigar industry.  As the big weekend came they could hardly contain their excitement.  “Damn, you can smell the stogies from all the way out here!” said Ray as he and Jed walked the quarter mile to the convention centers doors where the cigar event was taking place.  Taking their time strolling through the exhibits of literally hundreds of dealers, rollers and reps, Jed’s head was swimming with smoke and information. He took notes as did Ray, just to make sure nothing was missed.

Bewildered by the commotion and overwhelming pleading from the brands to try their product, Jed felt more lost than he did before he began the information process. Neither Jed or Ray were mentally prepared for this adventure. Needing to take a break, the two men took a couple of free seats next to an out of the way table set up just out of the way of the main drag.  Less boisterous than all the other displays, this modest set up had one younger guy rolling cigars quietly only speaking when asked a question. A thirtyish American fella who looked confident in his product but hungry for sales and recognition seemed a little out of place amongst the big named companies.

Jed struck up a conversation with the young man after purchasing several of his hand rolled beauties. From the first few puffs, Jed and Ray were hooked by the young man’s blend. From the straight forward display in simple but bold type, Jed knew the man was fighting for a shot at his dream.  Recognizing the possible opportunities, Jed began to politely pummel the young man with probing questions.  There was something honest and welcoming about the man that made Jed and Ray feel immediately comfortable.  His appearance was less slick than his competition but his product showed Jed and Ray where the man’s focus was fixed.

After a few answers, the young man laughed and threw his hands in the air and said “damn brother, you planning on buying me or something?”

“Naw man, I don’t swing that way” Jed laughed “but I would like to maybe buy into your brand if that’s a thing.”

“I thought as much” he said, “Joseph Griffith is the name but folks in the business call me Joey” he said thrusting out a hand.

“Good to meet ya Joey, I’m Jed and this is Ray.”

Over the course of the weekend, Joey, Jed and Ray walked the convention shaking hands and networking.  Jed was taking names and letting Joey do the talking.  By the end of the convention, Jed and Ray decided that this was the company they wanted instead of starting from scratch.

As the days following the convention went by, Jed, Joey and Ray got to know one another better. They met Joey’s wife and their young son Joseph Jr..  Jed was slowly learning the ins and outs of the business and about the farms and people from whom Joey buys his raw product. Joey taught Jed and Ray the customs of what is acceptable on the small island  and what will get your throat cut.

When they agreed to a partnership, Joey was low on funds but stocked full of hopes and big dreams while Jed had the money and a pool of folks who owed him lots of favors if not their very lives. With their new partnership, Joey arranged a meeting with his key suppliers in the Dominican Republic.

Before long Jed and Ray found themselves in a small country not entirely as primitive as they thought but certainly not on par with the worst of North Charleston, South Carolina.

A new sun was dawning over the small Dominican island as Jed was waking and stretching, scratching the parts you never mention as the sun began her climb ever higher into the day. Sipping his coffee while staring out the hotel window, he wondered for the moment how it must have felt for his fore fathers in the days of yore as they watched that very same sun on its timeless accent into yet another day.

For them, they would not be waking in a high rise overlooking an overpopulated city filled with the smog and filth of millions of unhappy souls. It would be the filth and stench of rotting, decay of old inedible food or worse.  Suddenly nostalgia leaves Jed wandering ever gratefully to the bathroom to relieve himself of last nights libations.

Today is a meeting in strange lands Jed only read of in the periodicals of his passion of the legal weed…the cigar. His passions brought him here as a necessity to secure the unrolled leaf meant for the next best blend of a struggling cigar brand. It is the huge love of the cigar that made Jed decide to buy into his new dream, the free cigars was only an after thought.

As the men met with the farmer, Jed and Ray were out of their element and tried their leveled best not to show it. Joey although young looking comparatively speaking, knew his way around. He was an educated man, deeply versed in the culture and customs of this country. Shrewd but honest in his dealings with the farmers, Joey spoke in their language without struggle even though the farmers spoke fluent English.

To Joey, it was a courtesy that helped build his relationships and set him apart from the other buyers who came for the leaf.  Joey introduced Jed and Ray to Basilio, the farmer who would be their chief supplier. Joey did all the talking, Jed was there to write a check. Before long, the conversation ended in a hand shake between Joey and the Basilio, both nodding and grinning from ear to ear.

Joey reached inside his worn, tan cotton blazer and from a pocket, produced several cigars and offered them to everyone present in the deal. Basilio readily took one of the cigars and held it to his nose.  With eyes closed Basilio inhaled deeply as a smile developed upon his lips. Joey smiled as the farmer opened his eyes and spoke now in clear English; “Joseph my friend, with each passing year your talents improve. This is yet the finest blend of my leaf.”

Joey humbled by the Basilio’s compliment replied “thank you my friend, it is only with your guidance and finest leaf that I have come this far, I owe much to you and your generosity.”

The late afternoon sun cast long shadows on the veranda of the farmers ranch. In the coolness of this welcoming shade, the men now smoked their cigars and sipped the finest whiskey well into the evening.  As the last of the setting sun disappeared over the mountains of the Dominican landscape, Basilio’s daughter stepped bare foot onto the veranda and approached her father.

A Dominican beauty not much more than twenty five, long flowing dark brown hair highlighted by the sun with large, deep dark eyes and lips of a fine red wine. Shapely and tall she moved with grace as her ankle length, white and flowered sundress swayed as she approached.

Jed, trying to master all six feet six inches of his nervous height, clumsily rose to his feet as she approached her father.  She smiled at the courtesy as her father also stood. Basilio introduced his daughter, Luciana to Jed and Ray as Joey had already known the young woman. It was with Jed that she held her gaze the longest, even after she began speaking with her father.

“Gentlemen, it is time for dinner I am told and it would be well for all of us to carry ourselves to the table!” said Basilio with a warm laugh.  The Basilio and Luciana walked side by side with Joey asking him how his young family was doing as Jed and Ray followed behind.

The meal, the drinks and the company were more than Jed and Ray’s souls could ask for.  There was a simple magic about the tiny island and seemed to emanate from the souls of the people around the table.  It was a feeling that neither man would ever forget and always long to share in it again.

As the evening wound to a close, Jed, Ray and Joey prepared to leave.  After humbly thanking Basilio and his family for their generosity, the men were escorted to the door by Basilio and Luciana.  “This trip you came as businessmen, from now on, you will be welcomed as family” Basilio said to Jed and Ray.  “as for you Joseph, I think you know where your room is” he laughed.