“I gotta tell ya’ Hal, I’m not sure we can pull this one off,” said Jeff. “We’ve scoured just about every factory we could find by now. How are we going to top ourselves? …Hal?…Hal.”
Hal was already asleep, dreaming his usual dream of coaching the Albanian national soccer team to a World Cup victory.
When Jeff and Hal arrived in Managua, it was pouring. The last thing you want to do is drive up the two lane Pan American Highway in the rain. Even on a good day it’s treacherous, and it’s common for other drivers to pass you on one of its cliffhanging hairpin turns. There’s really no point in even wearing a seat belt. If you fly off the road, you’re instant vulture food, and no one will find you anyway.
Four hours later they had made it to EstelÃ in one piece and checked-in to the La Campiña, their usual lodgings.
“I’m hungry,” said Jeff sliding his bag under the bed. “I’m going to see if anyone’s in the kitchen. If not, I’m going out back and I’m gonna kill one of those chickens myself.”
As they sat at a table on the indoor patio and ate their chicken sandwiches, Jeff frantically dialed every connection he had in EstelÃ.
“I think we’re crap out of luck amigo,” said Jeff.
Hal, who could keep a cool head in the middle of an alien invasion said, “Don’t worry, something will come up. It always does.”
Hours passed. Jeff lay on his lumpy bed staring at the ceiling with a cigar sticking straight up from between his teeth and began counting the little holes in the ceiling tiles. Suddenly, his cell phone rang. It was Arthur.
“So, did you find anything yet?”
“We just got here,” said Jeff.
“That’s no excuse. The hotel is costing me $10 a day.”
“But it’s a monsoon here. The local roads are flooded.”
“I don’t want weather reports,” snarled Arthur. “I want cigars, and good ones, too.” Then the phone went dead. Jeff put his cell down on the night stand.
“I’m going to take a cold shower,” said Jeff.
“Whaddya miss your wife or somethin’?” laughed Hal.
“No, as usual there’s no hot water.”
Just as he grabbed a towel, Jeff’s cell rang again. “This better not be Arthur again,” he thought.
“Hello? Si…Oh, Amilcar. Que tal?…Uh huh…Uh huh…Sure, we can be there tomorrow.”
“What’s up?” said Hal.
“See this guy who just called? His name’s Amilcar. He’s been calling me for months to come see his new factory and try his cigars, but I don’t know; for some reason I never called him back. I figured he must have thought I wasn’t interested.”
“Until now,” said Hal with a smile.
* * *
The next day the weather cleared and the oppressive Nicaraguan sun smiled upon our two travelers as they drove to Tabacalera Villa Cuba.
Amilcar Perez Castro was waiting for them outside, and after the obligatory handshakes and introductions in Spanish, he escorted Jeff and Hal into his factory. Following a short tour of the place they settled down in a small office down the hall from the rolling room. A wooden, weather-beaten tray with cigars was on the table. A pretty young Nicaraguan woman poked her head in.
“Ah, Maria. Cafecito, por favor,” commanded Amilcar, and she darted down the hall. “So what do you think gentlemen?”
“Nice operation,” said Jeff.
“Sure, sure,” echoed Hal.
“I’ve got something I really want you to try,” said Amilcar as he reached into the tray and handed the guys each a cigar. “Go ahead and light up. I have to check on something in the factory. I’ll be back shortly. Enjoy.”
Jeff and Hal gave each other a quick stare and lit-up their cigars. About 15 minutes later Amilcar returned and found the guys nodding their heads in approval.
“So, you like?”
“Si, we like,” said Hal.
“If you like them enough, they’re yours,” said Amilcar. “I made them for a U.S. customer who defaulted on the order. Now I’m stuck with them. There are only so many sizes, but I’ll make them worth your while.”
“It’s got a nice peppery start then smoothes right out. Nice and full, too. I like that,” said Jeff. “What else have you got around here?”
Jeff turned to Hal, and half-whispered, “This guy’s the bomb. If we can make a good deal on these, we’re heroes. Plus we’ve got a new source for our house brands. Who knows? The sky’s the limit!”
The guys thanked Amilcar profusely as they left the factory, and called Arthur on the way back to La Campiña to tell him about the cigars and the deal.
“Have him ship some samples back. We’ll give them a go-round with the others and see what they think.”
* * *
Needless to say, the cigars were a hit back at Smoke Shop headquarters. A deal was struck and the Nicaraguan Selection 6000 was born.
Two weeks later, Jeff and Hal were on their way back to EstelÃ to follow-up with Amilcar on the cigars. Everything was going perfectly according to schedule, and this time even the weather cooperated. The guys pulled up in front of the factory and practically leaped out of the car to meet their new friend and smoke some more of his splendid cigars.
When they got inside, Amilcar was there waiting for them in his office.
“Gentlemen, please sit down,” he said, as he waved his hand toward the two chairs in front of his desk. “Maria! Cafecito por favor.” Amilcar’s face looked nonplussed.
“What’s up Amilcar? Everything OK with our 6000 order?” said Jeff.
“I have good news and bad news.”
“I’ll take the bad news first,” said Jeff.
“I am very sorry, but I’m not going to be able to make any more 6000.”
“Well, that’s part of the good news. About two hours ago, Rocky Patel was here. You know I’ve been making some cigars for him, si? I am very happy to tell you that Rocky and I are now partners in this factory, which means I will now be making cigars for him. The 6000’s are all yours, of course, but I can only ship you what I’ve got.”
A long pause ensued. Suddenly Jeff jumped out of his chair. “I say, congratulations are in order!” Then Hal stood up and they all shook hands and traded hugs. “You’re goin’ to the top now my friend,” said Jeff. “To the top!”
* * *
The following day, as their plane took off from Augusto C. Sandino International in Managua and ascended toward the morning sun, Jeff and Hal looked at each other, and you could tell they were thinking the exact same thing at the exact same moment: “The sky’s the limit.”