Rupert Remington III had never been so sick... and that was saying something. Ever since the blue blooded oil tycoon turned 65 his health had been kept up by machines. Resperators, ventilators, dehydrators. Remington's fortune kept him going, until the morning the machines weren't enough.
“Rupie, sweetie,” Marjorie, his fifth wife, called from the bottom of the marble staircase. “Time for your water aerobics.”
Remington's palatial and well tended estate was considered by most to be the largest privately owned property in Florida. Remington made sure of it. The only problem with owning a place that massive was when something needed to be said, you weren't always able to be heard saying it. You could be alone in the house or just alone in one room and not know the difference. So when Marjorie yelled for Rupert and didn't get a response she wasn't alarmed. She could've called him, but Rupie hated mobiles. So Margie just shrugged, sipped her Mai Tai, and went back to the pool not knowing he was going to need more medical attention than machine's could provide.
Moon Bird didn’t think of herself as a hippie, though she most certainly was one. Her husband, Bill “Hulbutta” Haney was one too. Bill’s folks were both full blooded Seminole. In fact his dad was well known for spending his formative years as the voice of the Seminole nation. He protected the Everglades with his life saying they meant more to his people than any amount of money or reservation in Oklahoma ever would. He’d refused to leave when the government came. He staged sit ins, held interviews with the press, and did the things you’d expect from a stalwart, empowered leader.
These actions drew the attention of hippies and activists. Enter Shelley Baker, a young idealist from Wichita, Kansas. Shelley packed up her things then moved herself and her 21 years of perspective to Florida to join Bill’s father and the cause for Seminole freedom.
She met Bill at the same time, changed her name to Moon Bird, for reasons beyond anyone's understanding, and became a part of the Haney Tribe. She was tall, blond, and seemingly a bit of a ditz. She also cared more about the Everglades than Bill. To get him motivated, she started calling him Halbutta, because it was the name of a legendary chief of the tribe. Bill didn't care much for the name, but he did care for Shelley.
He also cared about the Everglades more than Shelley thought he did, but he let her think otherwise, because that's what men do. They downplay everything. Especially anything pertaining to matters of the heart. So Bill suggested a lot of things in passing to Shelley with the hopes she'd pick up on it and do something about it. Their non-profit preservation company, “Everglades Forever” had been his idea, but he planted the seed over dinner one night. Half a bottle of wine later and Shelley “Moon Bird” Baker – Haney had laid out an amazing business plan to save her adopted promised land.
A plan that only needed an angel investor or a billionaire seeking immortality who would give a billion dollars to anyone who could find him the Fountain of Youth.
Ted first heard about the Fountain Contest from his mother. He'd worked a double at Electronics Surplus and didn't want to hear about her day. Being 28 and still living at home did have its perks, but having to listen to his 60 year old mom complain about his laziness wasn't one of them. So when he walked in quickly with the plastic bag of five hard shell and five soft shell tacos, he made his way to the fridge for a beer without saying hello to her.
“Teddy you have to come in and watch the news,” she yelled from the living room.
“I don't want to ma,” he said.
“I didn't say you should come in here. I said you have to come in here.”
Ted did the thing he did best. He sighed, slammed the door to the fridge holding a bottle between his knuckles, and moved into the shag carpeted living room.
His mom laid on the couch in her night gown. The flat screen TV on the wall framed a nightly newscast. The anchor, a blond haired woman, had a huge smile on her face that didn't look at all professional. Next to her was a picture of a super old looking dude.
Without talking she turned up the TV.
“After several calls to confirm the legitimacy of this story, Channel 9 can confirm that Remington's contest is in fact real and not a scam," said the grinning male newscaster. "For the latest we're going to our very own, Regina Fernandez who is outside the Remington Estate in Sarasota. Regina,what's happening down there.”
“Give me the gist.” Ted said, growing impatient.
She muted the TV and looked at him for the first time.
“This billionaire is dying of cancer and he'll give anyone who finds him the fountain of youth a billion dollars.”
Ted scratched his head covered with brown hair and considered this for one point five seconds.
Ted turned to leave the living room and to get to the business of eating tacos and killing zombies in his bedroom.
“A billion dollars, Theodore,” she said as he left. “Think what you could do that kind of money. The contest starts on Monday.”
“Can't do it,” he said, not stopping on his way down the hallway. “Got an open shift on Monday.”
He closed his door behind him.
Sue knew her son couldn't stand many more chemo treatments. Diagnosed with Leukemia, Little Max was a brave boy, but even brave boys have limits.
In the hospital while he was sleeping, Sue read an article in the newspaper that first made her mad and then gave her hope. Remington's billion could save her son. Little Max had a chance. With a billion dollars, he would have no limits.
Chester Newsome was far richer than anyone else he knew. So when he heard about old man Remington's strange billion dollar contest he wasn't swayed by the money. He was swayed by the thought of the water.
Newsome ran Pure Spring Bottling. A fortune 500, his company sold plastic bottles of H2O all over the world. What if that two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen could make people younger? They'd buy more plastic bottles full of it. They'd buy so much, Chester Newsome would be a house hold name. He'd have a golden pool full of magic water.
Ok, so maybe he was swayed by the money.
Ok, so maybe he was swayed by the money.
So they all started the search. There were millions in fact who went looking for the Fountain of Youth.
The dead beat dude and his mom.
The single mother and her child with Leukemia.
The hippie wife and Seminole husband.
The millionaire bottler looking to be a billionaire bottler.
And more. Many more.
News outlets followed the pandemonium. Mobile cities sprang up overnight. Fights broke out. It was madness in Florida... more madness than usual.
Until somebody actually found it and then the world stopped.
It turned out the Fountain of Youth. That mysterious cascade of blessed water. That reservoir of revitalization. That wellspring found by Ponce De Leon wasn't buried deep in the everglades. It wasn't hidden in a cave off the coast of Cocoa Beach. It wasn't even in St. Augustine.
It was in Mary Elizabeth Loomis's backyared. A retired schoolteacher from New Jersey, Marjorie had known about the rejuvenating properties of her fountain since relocating from Trenton in 1987. She'd been selling the stuff to octogenereans for years and wasn't about to give it all up without a fight. It turned out that the water didn't make you look younger, but most certainly made you feel it.
Coincidentally, Mary had stockpiled quite the arsenal of firearms and ex-military types to use them. She announced her claim of the fountain to prevent bloodshed, but bloodshed could not be prevented.
On the 5th day of November, the Fountain War of Minneola began. Everybody showed up too. The U.S. Army demanding the fountain was property of the United States. The Spanish Army declaring they deserved ownership, because one of their most famous explorer's found it first. And of course, there were all of the mercenaries who all collectively laid siege to Mrs. Loomis's cozy retirement home.
Her forces kept the others in a stand off, until her favorite gardener Luis got shot in the neck by a soldier of fortune from Ecuador named Pablo Rizon. A ex-military contractor, Pablo had been hired by Pure Spring bottling the night before and had only meant to fire a warning shot above Luis's head.
The paramedics got to Luis in time, but the whole ordeal pissed Mary off something fierce. She ordered her hired hands to focus their fire on Pure Spring and that's when things got really bad. Stray bullets hit the US and Spanish armies and they had no choice, but to open fire on everyone else.
Mary got clipped in the shoulder. Pablo, the Ecuadorian gun for hire took two to the belly, and the Fountain War was over 21 minutes after it began.
Shortly thereafter, the US army occupied the grounds. The Spanish apologized profusely and called for diplomats from the UN to smooth things over. Pure Spring's publicist got out in front of the bad publicity and claimed the whole thing was a promotional stunt for their new 100% biodegradable plastic canteen hence all of the military presence in a retirement community. Marjorie recovered from her wound. Pablo didn't.
Rupert Remington III died at 11:42 the following morning.