Adventures of a Botanist
by Bob Brill
Table of Contents
appeared in issue 254.
Chapter 9: Puerto Seguro
part 1 of 2
The plane banked sharply as it circled for a landing, yielding me a splendid view of the island. Puerto Seguro was an emerald jewel floating on the surface of the sea, which lay flat and shining in the sun. Tiny waves inched toward the sandy beaches, behind which rose a chain of mountains carpeted in brilliant green foliage. As the plane leveled off and descended, heading for the runway, the island grew larger, more details became visible, sailboats on the water, houses nestled in the foothills. The port city of Bananaville flashed by. I had a quick glimpse of a cruise ship in the harbor, small boats at anchor, houses painted in bright colors and people walking the streets. Then as we dropped to tree level, the view ceased to show the character of an island and became a series of palm trees, huts and buildings streaming past. The ground rose up to meet us. The wheels touched down, the plane bounced twice and we passengers pitched forward as the plane braked, till finally we taxied to the gate and came to a stop.
When I left New York that morning it was snowing. Now as I exited the plane and climbed down the steps to the tarmac, the tropical heat and humidity hit me all at once. I slipped out of my jacket and draped it over my arm.
Customs inspection was perfunctory. No bags were being searched. The welcome mat was out for the planeloads of tourists coming from the US.
“Any thing to declare? Any food, agricultural products, firearms, drugs?” This was clearly an empty formula, required by law. All I had to do was say no, as the people in line ahead of me had done, and I’d be waved through.
But like a dummy I said, “Just this apple left over from my lunch.”
The customs agent confiscated my apple.
“I’m planning to eat that almost immediately,” I protested.
“No, sorry, sir. No fruit can enter. Plenty good fruit here.” The agent gave me a gleaming full tooth smile. “Mango, guayaba, carambola, cherimoya, maracuja, papaya. All wonderful good fruit.”
“Some of my best friends are papayas,” I said.
“Oh me, I like them too. Enjoy your stay.” He waved me through.
As I approached the doors to the street, I chanced to look back and saw him eating my apple. He saw me and grinned. I shrugged it off with a grin of my own and moved out to the taxi stands. That was my first lesson in the ways of the island, learned at small cost.
As my taxi approached the center of Bananaville, we encountered crowds of people dancing in the streets. Our progress was slowed to a crawl.
“Carnaval,” said the driver. “Look at that beauty there. Ay, mamacita,” he cried, followed by a string of Spanish too rapid for me to follow. The beauty in question smiled and tossed him a bead necklace, which he dexterously caught and displayed to me with a laugh. We were inching along behind a float, upon which a spirited local band was playing a rumba. Or was it a samba, or was it a meringue? Whatever it was, it got me smiling and my foot tapping. Girls in scanty costumes were throwing streamers off the float into the crowd. All around us dancers in wild outfits whirled and brushed past the taxi.
A shoeless youth in shorts knocked on my window. I smiled and waved to him. He gestured for me to roll down the window. I did and was hit by a wave of hot air carrying a mélange of aromas I could not identify.
“Salida?” he cried. “You want Salida? Best quality, cheap, good price.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. On the plane I noticed that the emergency exit signs said salida. What was he trying to sell me? I shook my head. “No thank you.” A bead necklace sailed through the window and hit me in the face. I laughed and rolled up the window.
For a moment I wondered if I was on another KR22 adventure, but I concluded that this was the real reality. I had been traveling all day, flying from New York to Miami on American Airlines, and from there on Carib Airlines. If this was KR22, I would have arrived instantaneously, courtesy of lemon ginger tea, and I wouldn’t be tired.
I finally reached my hotel, overstimulated and exhausted. I took a cold shower and lay naked on the bed, staring at the slowly moving fan overhead until I fell asleep.
I had every reason to believe that I would be living in New York and working with Larry Avena at Columbia University, but this was not the way it worked out. Larry and I knew that there would have to be clinical trials of the KR22 antidote, that the drug would have to receive approval by the Food and Drug Administration, and that this could take a long time. Standard procedure. We were prepared for that. But then the FDA turned down the plan that Larry had filed through Columbia University for proposed tests on humans.
The Papaya Contingent gave us the inside story. Rumex Pharmaceuticals, the most powerful drug manufacturer on the planet, had a KR22 antidote already in clinical trials. They did not want to see a competing product going into trials. It would be impossible to prove that Rumex was able to influence the FDA decision, but the Papaya Contingent, privy as they were to many boardroom secrets, knew that the FDA had capitulated to pressure from the industry giant.
From the consumer’s point of view Rumex’s product was far from ideal. It required the addict to take the medication repeatedly over an indefinite timespan, it was expensive and it had some nasty side effects, like nausea, headache and depression. From Rumex’s point of view it was perfect, i.e., profitable. They already had drugs on the market to alleviate nausea, headache and depression, which would provide an additional after market income. Those drugs had their own side effects, but no one was looking at that. They had already received FDA approval.
No drug company would be interested in manufacturing the Papaya cure, since there is no profit to be made from a one-dose, inexpensive, permanent cure with no side effects. Larry Avena had illegally tried the drug on himself and a few volunteers. So far the drug was performing well. But as Larry pointed out, trials were still necessary, not only because it is illegal in the US to dispense drugs without FDA approval, but also because there was still insufficient evidence that the Papaya Contingent’s claims were valid. The drug industry was not interested in pursuing this and neither was the FDA.
The Papaya Contingent offered us an alternative. The island of Puerto Seguro in the Caribbean has a long, bloody history. The aboriginal Arawaks were wiped out by European explorers, that is, those that weren’t wiped out by their neighbors, the ferocious Caribs. In the 17th century the island’s two sheltered harbors served as home base for pirates, from whence they sailed forth to pillage, plunder, rob, and yes, even steal. Murder was a mere byproduct of this work, though generally conducted with considerable gusto. The island was eventually settled by Europeans, who kept up the tradition of nastiness by importing slaves from Africa to work the sugar plantations and the mines.
Today Puerto Seguro is an independent country and a center for international banking. A consortium of European and American banking interests has created a Switzerland of the Caribbean, except that the island is also a haven for illegal activities, such as money laundering, gun running and drug smuggling. Aside from a local police force for helping inebriated citizens get home safely on Saturday nights, there is no military presence here. It is protected by the mutual agreement of the world at large, since everyone, from governments to multi-national corporations, from criminals to ordinary billionaires, benefits from the arrangement. The banks are the safest in the world. Even bank robbers keep their money in banks and these are their banks of preference.
So to Puerto Seguro I came to set up a lab for making the Papaya cure. While I was still in New York, Larry Avena taught me how to make it from simple precursor chemicals, but he chose not to involve himself in the illicit offshore project. The Papaya Contingent found me Norman Hordeum, a shady businessman, who knew his way around the Puerto Seguro scene. He rented the lab space, bought the equipment I needed, and set up a secure website to advertise the cure, solicit funding, and take orders from around the world. He cut a deal with some smugglers to carry our filled orders to the US, each in a sealed, properly stamped envelope, addressed to one of our customers, ready to drop into any US mailbox. My job was to turn out product.
After a few weeks on the scene I discovered that in the building next to mine there was a lab for making KR22. There was a nice little restaurant across the street where I usually took lunch and so did some of the KR22 lab technicians. We got to know one another and we often ate lunch together. At first I feared that they might try to sabotage my operation, but it became clear that any addicts that I might rescue would scarcely affect their profit.
“You got no idea of the volume of the trade,” said Fiorello over lunch one day. He was an American citizen of Italian descent, who had years of experience with both legal and illegal operations, both in and out of prison. He was a mine of information and an even greater source of opinion. He had an optimistic view of life, as it offered so many opportunities for material advancement, if you didn’t mind breaking the law and occasionally doing some jailtime. “We can’t turn the stuff out fast enough. Labs are springing up everywhere. In the US they like to set up labs in semi-trailers. That way they’re always on the move. Hard to track down. And when a lab does get raided and shut down, two more spring up in their place.”
“I had no idea there was so much traffic going on.”
“Oh, yeah. You know how they bombed that place in Kyvia? Where it all started? That was a waste of time. That didn’t stop nothing. In fact, when it hit the papers, then everybody knew about it, just like it was advertising. The method for making the stuff had already leaked out before the bombing. It’s so easy to make. You can set up on a shoestring.
“Oh, and listen, pal. You got to stop calling it KR22. Nobody calls it that. What do you call your cure?”
“Oh, give me a break. That stinks. No wonder you’re not getting the sales. You keep calling it by its chemical name, none of your potential customers gonna know what you’re talking about. On the street and in the trade it’s got hundreds of different names. Well, maybe ten or twelve.”
“Split, Zip, Go. On the West Coast they call it OOH. Stands for Out Of Here. Around here they call it Salida.”
“Yeah, you know, like in the movie theater, the signs over the exits say salida.”
“Oh, yes, now I know what that kid was trying to sell me.”
“Yeah, you see that means exit in Spanish. That’s what you do when you drop Salida.”
“Yes, I know about that.”
“Oh, you do Salida?”
“If you’re ever in the mood, just let me know, Albert. I’ll fix you up. On the house.”
“Thanks, Fiorello. I’ll keep it in mind.”
“And listen, get a real name for your product.”
Proceed to Chapter 9, part 2...
Copyright © 2007 by Bob Brill