Story of a student heroin dealer [EN]

Ein Bericht eines Studenten aus New York der sich neben dem Studium als Drogendealer betätigte. Hat eigentlich fast Romanqualität und habe ich in diesem Forum gefunden. Setzt relativ gute Englischkenntnisse voraus.

Every town has its man. You don’t always recognize him when you see him on the street, or in a café. He comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the man is brash and ostentatious, and these men usually end up in prison or gasping their last breath in a gutter. Sometimes they listen to the voice inside their head that says “enough is enough,” and they disappear as quietly as they came.

For a little while, I was one of these men in Manhattan’s lower east side, and heroin was my trade. I figure I’ve reformed enough at this point to tell my story, not out of pride or remorse, but simply a sense of hazy wonderment that yes, this was the person I used to be. This is the story of how I sold drugs to New York’s young and elite; my rise and fall.

All the names and many of the places have been changed.

The first person I ever sold heroin to in New York was a fat girl named Amanda. Two of my close friends, Paul and a guy we called Van the Man directed her to me, and eventually they would go on to help me find many of my clients. Paul was a WASP-y type who had dropped out of SUNY to be a day trader. Van the Man was a dreadlocked “homeless” teenager with rich parents. He would bum around the NYU dorms and attend classes on an infrequent basis. Both were pretty heavily into the stuff when I met them, but were still functional at that point. They were well ingrained into the scene, and later I gave them sizable discounts in exchange for new clients, which—god bless the addicted fuckers—they had no trouble locating.

Anyway, back to Amanda. She was my first, as you would say, and I recall the scene pretty well. I remember looking on with detached curiosity as she examined her arm, tracing a delicate finger along its fleshy underside, her veins still bright and viable. The belt wrapped around her bicep made them puffy, a muted blue like sky before sunset. She was really nervous. Her boyfriend had started her on the stuff and now he was out of town for a month and she was getting antsy. It was clear she’d never shot up by herself before.

A funny detail sticks out in my mind, Procol Harem’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” playing softly from my stereo. I remember Amanda’s insane focus on the glint of the needle, the dirty amber liquid eddying inside the syringe. She pressed the point to her vein with a hesitation that would decrease exponentially with time

“Pull back the plunger before you inject,” I advised her. “You want to make sure you get some blood in there so you know you’ve hit the vein.”

Amanda wasn’t in any rush—not yet—but she pulled back the plunger and a thin stream of crimson swirled into the cloudy brown. She injected. The needle slid out and for a second nothing happened. Then, she closed her eyes and sank deep into my sofa as if a cresting wave has submerged her. Her mouth opened, her face contorted in ecstasy. A small line of drool ran down her chin.

“Oh my God,” she said. “I love this song.”

I remember it so vividly because it was the only time I ever allowed someone to shoot up at my apartment. I’ve never shot heroin, though I’d obviously seen plenty of people do it, and Amanda had confided to me that she had no idea how to do it without her boyfriend walking her through it. She was afraid she’d fuck up and OD if she tried it by herself. You could tell by her weight that she hadn’t been using the stuff for very long. If she OD’d that meant one less client, so I figured I’d show her how to do it “safely”. These kinds of trust issues are important in any buyer/seller relationship.

I remember unbuckling the belt from her arm with a weird kind of tenderness, and watching the muscles relax.

She asked me what I do aside from dealing drugs, and I made up some lie about being a waiter. I didn’t tell her I was a student at NYU.

She could believe whatever she wanted. I knew I had been recommended to her because I was “safe.” I was the Manhattan guy, the guy you saw when you needed a fix but didn’t want to deal with the gang bangers in Bed Stuy or Staten Island. My stuff was expensive, but it beat getting shot. Most of my clients would have had no idea how to buy drugs in the bad part of town. These were the trust fund junkies: college kids and yuppies still subconsciously trying to piss off their parents. They paid most of my rent, my utilities, and ensured my good credit. I liked the trust fund junkies.

I wasn’t quite sure if I liked Amanda, at that point. She was fat, like I said, but her face was a healthy cream tone, with eyes as blue as the latticework of veins and arteries crosscutting their way to and from her heart. She lacked the sunken eye sockets and craven stare that I came to associate with my clients in an almost Pavlovian manner. She didn’t yet need me. I gave her the other 8 bags and sent her on her way.

The four AM phone calls would come later.

I guess I should give some background about myself. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Camden, New Jersey. I never told anyone in New York where I was from. You hear Camden, you think poverty and crime. The truth was that Camden was a city with two faces: yes, heroin, and crack, was a huge, huge problem, and the gangs and drug runners fucked up the quality of life in a lot of neighborhoods. It’s one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the country. But we lived by the waterfront, and I remember playing ball outside and walking my dog near the river like a normal kid.

My parents bussed me to a private school outside of town. They were both elementary school teachers for more than a decade, and in a place like Camden you need a saint’s patience to last in that job for more than a week. So I was their little angel, basically. I was smart, probably too smart for my own good, and once I got older they never really kept a close eye on my activities. I got straight As in school and never got picked up by the “fuckin five-o” as so many of my friends described them. I was a math whiz and likely would see a full scholarship to any college I wanted. They didn’t know that I had made acquaintances with a great deal of very unscrupulous fucking people.

I had shit jobs and no money throughout high school. I didn’t really gang bang, (probably because I knew I could figure out smarter ways to make money) but nearly everyone I knew did. I drank a whole lot, smoked tons of weed, sold a little on the side for pocket change. I was friends with the brother of a fairly notorious drug dealer. This dealer, we’ll call him Big L, owned a convenience store specializing in powder heroin. The thing to understand about Camden is that the heroin epidemic—and it really is an epidemic, the DEA has a big fucking red circle around Camden in their little black book—isn’t just affecting the gang bangers. There’s a whole ton of the stuff coming in, and most of it is way strong and way pure, and it’s the suburbanites from Cherry Hill and Colts Neck who are coming down and buying the stuff. So, if you’re savvy (and most of the dealers I saw were the exact opposite) there’s a bundle to be made.

Big L was actually pretty savvy, savvy but limited in his abilities. Some crazy stuff happened that I’d rather not get into, and I eventually alibied Big L and his brother for a shooting. Soon after I found myself helping him cook books in the back of his store. The details of how it happened are pretty wild, but it’s long and is probably a story for another day. The point is, I established trust, and the trust paid off. It’s far more important than guns, money, or drugs. In the end, everything comes back to trust

Big L paid me pretty well for my services and I soon learned that having a lot of money was something that made me very happy. It wasn’t all great—the town was still self-destructing, and I found myself always looking over my shoulder. I would come home from my perfect private school to see a whole lot of my friends end up dead or in jail.

When I turned 18, everything changed. My dad got a job as a professor at Rutgers. My mom’s rich aunt died and we came into some money, not a whole lot, but enough to get me a “cheap” apartment in alphabet city, provided I worked to pay off my share of the rent. Did I mention I got my scholarship to NYU? My parents were moving out of Camden to Piscataway, and I was headed to New York City.

Big L and my gang banger buddies were fucking proud of me, and a few nights before I left we all got trashed in his apartment. Big L was moving up in the world too—enough to buy a new house and a little more security for himself. In me he saw not only promise, but opportunity. He knew that he would be able to markup his heroin in Manhattan to a ridiculous degree. He wondered if I’d take a kilo or so up with me, just to see what it was worth in the big city. He was offering me a huge cut of the profits, enough for me to not have to consider it for very long, way more than the pittance he paid his runners in Camden. What the hell, I thought. I can get an education and be rich at the same time. If things went well, Big L told me, he might start a whole empire in New York, and I’d be the man running the show. I was awestruck, and a little flattered. He didn’t have to ask me twice.

My parents drove me up to NYU with 2 kilos of heroin wrapped securely in my backpack. It was the beginning of a long road for me.

Entry 2:
East Third Street lies between avenues A and B in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Alphabet City. As an 18 year old kid settling into an apartment with 2 kilos of heroin to move, it seemed to me simultaneously grimy and glamorous. Certainly these streets were no stranger to drugs, but there was an odd sort of refinement to them, as if they accepted their vices and had made peace with them. It was actually fortunate I arrived when I did. A few years back Alphabet City had been a slum, populated by the Puerto Rican “Loisaidas” and thugs and other various unscrupulous types. Now it had become a trendy spot for NYU students and yuppies, embraced in the strange way New York City has of coveting its run down and disheartened areas. It would be easier to set up shop without getting bumped by some dealer.

I remember unwrapping the heroin once my parents had left, like a kid opening a Christmas present. I put it on my bed; to me it looked two big brown bricks, but it might as well have been a suitcase full of cash. Big L was excited. He figured I could get close to a hundred grand for each kilo. I was somewhat less optimistic—I knew the prices in Manhattan would trump anything I’d seen in Camden, but I still had to get out there and test the waters. If everything went right, I was expecting about $150,000 all together. Big L was giving me 15%, so I was looking forward to about 20k for myself, less what I would eventually need for expenses. Big L told me he had muscle out in Queens, should I need them, but I was pretty sure I was going to buy my own muscle, guys I could trust and not thugs who would start trouble and bring attention.

There’s a part in Malcolm X’s biography that I like, when he’s living in Boston and describing “the hustle.” You can’t just hustle sometimes, he explains, you need to live the hustle, breathe the hustle. It has to be on your mind every waking moment. Every decision has to be balanced and counterbalanced. From the moment I unwrapped those bags, I had started my hustle.

I sat there on my mattress next to the heroin, thinking about the future. Everything I knew about the game I learned from observation, from watching the tricks of the trade and the mistakes of the runners in Camden. I went out and bought a digital scale, baggies, and a heavy duty safe. I went back home and measured out 20 grams into the baggies and stashed it all away in the safe. Big L had explained to me about the quality of the heroin, which he had described as reasonably potent. I didn’t know shit about quality or potency at that point, but I knew the drugs would sell themselves, provided I could get the word out in a discreet way. I would usually short each bag by a few hundreds of a gram and throw in an extra one; it would still add up to the same amount, but I figured it might save me a few OD’s if someone’s tolerance went up and they decided to shoot 8 bags at a time. An OD was one less customer, remember, and the profit margin was my bottom line.

My nets were cast and I was ready to trawl. I went to my NYU orientation, not so they could usher me into the semester, but to look for contacts and buyers. I was on the prowl for parties, dorm rooms, anyplace where kids would be getting together and doing lots of drugs.

If you’ve never visited an NYU dorm, then it’s hard to understand just how depraved it can get. I knew the college had a reputation for this hedonistic kind of lifestyle, but even I was shocked to see the extent of it: art students and Tisch film geeks huddled into the Hayden bathroom smoking crack; business school kids blazing more weed and popping more pills than the gang bangers back in Camden. The first week before classes started was like some kind of Dionysian orgy, this panoply of drugs and booze as far as the eye could see. I was surrounded by five girls in a kitchen, none of them old enough to buy alcohol, snorting Oxycontin off a tabletop. The school was afraid to step in, I guess, because of the lawsuits that would inevitable stem from accusing rich white kids of doing and selling drugs. I figured it shouldn’t be too hard to set up shop.

When asking around about the H, I tried to be subtle:

“Hey you guys ever…shoot up?”

“I know a guy who can get you good skag.”

“You ever try anything stronger than this shit?”

But it seemed like heroin still held the stigma that all these other drugs had shed. It was the one thing nobody talked about, which pissed me off, since it seemed like every dorm and apartment I walked into had at least ten people blowing lines in the bathroom. The first week was almost up and I still hadn’t sold anything. That’s when I met Paul.

This girl I’d met, a Columbia grad student, invited me to a party in the back of some bar of the meatpacking district. Paul was standing against the wall in a cheap sports jacket, talking to a girl. There were no obvious outward signs he was a user, but something about him gave off the vibe. I noticed the tiny dark rings around his eyes, the way he seemed just slightly too emaciated for his frame. When he left to use the bathroom, I followed him inside. He went into the stall, and I waited, pretending to wash my hands. Finally he comes out with a spaced out gleam in his eye and I know for sure. I stop him.

“Hey man,” I said, with a big grin. “I’ve got some stuff that won’t send you running to the bathroom every couple hours. I’ve got some good stuff that will last you all day.”

He sized me up. I’m too young and skinny to be a cop, and I’m smiling that wide knowing grin that tells him “I know what you’ve been up to in there buddy, but it’s cool. I’ve seen it before man.”

“You know a lotta people in this town?” I asked, meaning “do you know a lot of people who shoot heroin?”

Paul snapped out of his daze and shot me a grin. “Hell yeah man,” he said. “You lookin’ for people?”

I shrug. “Maybe. You know, if you were able to hook me up with some cool people, I might be able to hook you up with some good stuff.”

“Yeah you got any on you”

“No, back at my place.”

“Want to head back there?”

“Nah,” I said. “I’ll bring some to your place. No charge for delivery.”

There was a strange phenomenon among heroin users. For some reason, their tolerance seems to go down when shooting up in a new location. Some weird quirk of the brain chemistry, I supposed. I figure this guy probably doesn’t have that problem, if he’s shooting up in bathrooms, but I don’t know how pure the stuff he’s been using is, and I plan on introducing him to my shit tonight. He nods, tells me his name is Paul, and gives me his address. He lives in an apartment Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, and I meet him at his place about an hour later with some baggies.

I’m convinced now that Paul wasn’t addicted to merely to heroin, but to fluctuation. He measured everything in his life in terms of rise and fall, gain and loss. That was why he dropped out of school to become a day trader. Everything about his life was in pursuit of the next big high, whether it be the hit of H or making five grand in one night in the stock market. I show him the baggies and we get to talking.

“How much you want?” Paul asked, eyeing the heroin with a desperate stare I would come to know all too well.

“Nothing,” I said, and Paul looks confused. “Just try it and see what you think.”

Paul breaks out his needles, his piece of rubber tubing, the whole apparatus. He shoots up and collapses into a big Lay-Z-Boy recliner, his eyes glazing over.

“This stuff’s real good,” he slurs. “Shit. I think you’re my new guy.”

“You think you can find more customers for me?” I ask. “You find me a lot of people, and I’ll give you a cut. And more of this good stuff.”

“Shit,” Paul said. “Yeah man I know so many NYU kids into this stuff. A lot of musicians too. I can get you a ton of numbers.”

I let Paul chill in his stupor for a while, when someone knocks loud at the door and starts to scream. I nearly shit my pants. Paul laughs.

“That’s just Van the Man, by buddy. Go let him in.”

I opened the door to find this short, greasy looking guy dressed like a Rasta, with filthy dreadlocks matted together and one eye that bulged slightly bigger than the other.

“Yooooooo,” he drawled. “You guys getting high in here?”

I gave him a couple trial baggies of his own, and Van the Man shoots up. He giggles like a schoolgirl and curls up in a ball on the floor. Paul, I figured, had something of a head on his shoulders, but Van the Man was freaking me out. I didn’t know if I wanted him involved with my business. Later, though, I would come to realize that he was actually a kind of idiot savant—functionally retarded in a lot ways, but always managing to ingratiate himself into situations where powerful people supported him. His idea of a get rich quick scheme was to head down to Canal Street and try to find a real Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag. But when all was said and done, Van the Man would go on to set up some of my biggest scores, while Paul would prove to be more trouble than he was worth. Paul and I explained the situation to him, and he seemed fucking eager. I gave them my number, and told them to let me know if there’s any news.

Well the planets must have aligned correctly, because the next day Paul calls me with Amanda’s name, and from there my phone just kept ringing. I hadn’t been wrong in thinking Paul and Van were pretty deep into the scene—the first two weeks, they sent so many people over to my apartment that I had to call them and tell them to slow it down because I was worried about the traffic flow to and from my apartment. A long line of nervous looking NYU kids came to my door, along with a few hardcore junkies, probably homeless. I always made people stay for least a half hour, but I didn’t want any of the Hispanics or the gang bangers near Avenue C to realize what I was doing. I moved about 5 grand in next two weeks, which doubled and then quadrupled in the next couple of months as word caught on and friends told friends. There was also apparently a shortage of quality H when I moved into town, so once the ball got rolling, it rolled hard and fast.

Business was good. No real big deals yet, but plenty of smaller ones sending money my way. My studies suffered. Going to class and writing my papers became secondary to this little side venture. I didn’t have many friends aside from the people I sold drugs to, but for the moment, I was on top of the world.

Still, I saw problems in the future.

I couldn’t keep doing all the work myself, not if I wanted to maintain my sanity. I trusted Paul and Van, but I wasn’t sure how long I could rely on them for. I paid them mostly in H, throwing them a few hundred dollars here or there. They were invaluable to me at the start, but as the old saying goes, never trust a junkie, and truer words were never spoken. I had the police to worry about too, of course. I wasn’t even thinking about my cut, at this point, and my ego hadn’t yet blown up to the epic proportions that would eventually lead me into trouble. I still had to manage the cash and the prices. I figured was going to need someone maybe just a little less savvy than myself to scope out the streets and see who was talking about what. I had come into the game in a sprint. It was time to put my head down and get serious about running the marathon.

I had sold just about eighty thousand dollars worth of heroin when Ferdinand came into the picture.

Entry 3:
I remember an instance where I met Ferdinand for coffee near West Fourth Street. I arrived early and sat outside, crumbling some biscotti in between my fingers to feed to the pigeons. The weather was a glorious Indian summer, all mellow breeze and tepid sun. Ferdinand arrived, dark hair blowing in waves behind him. He is tall and lanky, like a robot bolted together at perpendicular angles, but he slides adroitly into the seat across from me, grinning.

“God bless this global warming,” he says, just a hint of accent in his English. “Another fifty years or so and the New York winter will be like Costa del Sol.”

This is just me embellishing, I think. In reality I’m sure Ferdinand said nothing so eloquent. He was a businessman after all, and businessmen usually only have one thing on their minds.

I first met Ferdinand through Paul, who introduced us at a nightclub that I don’t recall the name of. Paul claimed that Ferdinand had heard of me and was interested in making a few “business propositions.” Later on I would realize that Paul had probably known about Ferdinand all along, way before he met me.

I was still naïve as a newborn at this point. The fact that people were talking about me had me scared, as if I’d been protected by some magical shield that made me invisible to rival drug dealers. Ferdinand told me something when we first met that had chilled my blood. He said that “someone” had put a hit on me, and that I had been about two minutes away from getting shot in the back of the head as I walked down East Third Street. He said this with a smile, as if we were making small talk about the weather. He said he was glad I wasn’t killed, because he had an idea we could be pretty useful to each other.

I had no way to know if he was telling the truth, but his words knocked me off my high horse and drove home the reality of the matter pretty fucking fast. Ferdinand never divulged exactly who his associates were, what gang he was working with, but from the looks of him I’d say it was a group of Puerto Rican bangers, the Loisaidas. He dealt mostly in coke running, he told me. He was a shipping guy, bought off people at the ports and made sure the product got past customs and into the hands of dealers. Capable dealers, like myself. Recently he’d made deals with some new people and was started to branch out into Heroin—good stuff, he said, but not as good as the shit I’d supposedly been running. We talked a bit more and arranged that meeting on MacDougal Street, a nice, neutral location.

His words put a fright into me, but I figured a lot of it was typical Latin machismo blunder. If they really wanted me dead, they would have tried to ice me by now, and I was still walking around. Ferdinand didn’t know what kind of muscle I was packing, and I had to give the impression that if I wanted to, I could put a serious hurt into his business. West Fourth Street was safe enough, for the time being. I would hear what he had to say.

At this point also I was beginning to have serious questions about Big L. I had close to eighty grand in cash stashed away at my apartment, and no one seemed to be checking up on me to make sure I had the money. Big L had instructed me to contact him via payphone, for obvious reasons, but I hadn’t been able to get a hold of him in about two weeks. Every time I tried to call I was greeted with his answering machine or one of his flunkies whispering cautiously that Big L wasn’t around, to call back later. It didn’t make sense to me. Big L had unloaded a veritable fortune into my hands, enough to leave the country and start a pretty comfortable life in some tropical country, if I so intended. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t even get a chance to skim anything from the top, because he never collected anything in the first place. I trusted Big L and he trusted me, so the lack of communication was unsettling, to say the least.

Back to Ferdinand. We sat outside the café and drank coffee. It was a nice day and crowded with people, so our conversation was long among the undercurrent of chatter.

“So what’s the deal?” I asked. “What are you looking for?”

“A partner,” Ferdinand said. “Or maybe, more accurately, a business associate. You’re just a kid, but you’re a smart kid. How much you made since you been in the game? A hundred grand? Two hundred?”

He’s being glib, but I have to fight to smile, and even then it just barely materializes, like a shimmering mirage. He was trying to flatter me, maybe. I didn’t say anything.

“How reliable is your supplier?” Ferdinand asked, as if he’d been reading my mind about Big L and his recent disappearance. “You’ve got a quality product. Better than anything I’ve seen around here. You’re obviously a front for someone, probably Jersey or Delaware I’m guessing? They giving you the cut you deserve?”

This was the first time his prescience really started to unnerve me, and I wondered if I had finally met someone in the game as smart as myself. I knew he wasn’t getting any of this from Paul or Van, because I didn’t tell them shit.

“I wouldn’t put too much trust into Paul,” Ferdinand continued. “He’s a junkie, and he’ll fuck you just as soon as a better deal comes along.”

So would you, I thought, but instead I say “I don’t rely on Paul to do anything but find me more junkies. And he knows a lot of them.”

“Listen to me,” Ferdinand said, leaning over the table and nearly knocking over his espresso. He smelled like a combination of expensive cologne and cigarettes. “I’ve got the ports locked down. I’m going to have a steady shipment of skag coming in, and I don’t know skag, I know coke, and I need someone who knows what they’re doing to get it out there. I can get you runners to do your small deals. I can make sure no one fucks with you, that no one finds out where you live. I’ve got plenty of muscle behind me. I’ve got friends at the NYPD, to make sure they stay off your back. And I can give you a big cut, not sure if it’s larger than what you’re getting now but I’m willing to bet that it is. 30%, maybe? And I can do that because I’m rich and you’re only going to make me richer.”

I don’t say anything and look Ferdinand over, trying to do my best steely faced stare. He’s still grinning that grin, and it’s a strangely comforting one, the grin of a man who’s capable and in control. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw his grandmother, but greed was my main incentive in those days, and greed has a way of obfuscating your rational thought in ways that would baffle even the most cunning of men.

“What about my supplier?” I asked. “What do I do about them?”

Ferdinand shrugged. “What do you want to do about them? You can play them too, if you’d like, as long as you skim some of it my way. What you do on your own time is none of my business.”

He pulls back away from me, and laughs.

“I’ve sold drugs to Hollywood actors, famous rock stars, politicians,” he says. “I drive a Porsche. The black market is sitting out there like money growing on trees, waiting to be plucked. It’s there if you want it.”

“All right,” I said. “When can I get the first shipment?”

People have been asking how I felt morally about my trade, if I ever felt pangs of remorse or regret about the people who undoubtedly died or fucked up their lives from my product. I’ll tell you now that the answer isn’t as simple as I felt good about it or I felt badly about it. Like any job, some days were better than others, sometimes I felt like I was on top of the world, other times I would see a junkie with hideous skin, sunken eyes, emaciated and begging for a fix and I guess a small part of me felt compassion. Sometimes. I didn’t need to rationalize with myself. I wasn’t putting a gun to a junkie’s head and telling him to put the needle in his arm or I would blow his brains out. It didn’t work that way.

I never touched the stuff, never would. All I did was provide a service for a demand that would exist independent of me. If I stopped selling, a new dealer would germinate in my place, overnight, like weeds tangling their way through the roots of a garden. Heroin was simple. I got my shit from my people, who probably bought it from the Russians or the Chinese, who probably got it all the way from Osama squatting on poppy plants in Afghanistan. I never really knew too much about the shipping aspect of things. Once Ferdinand delivered me my first half-kilo of his stuff, things took off.

Entry 4:
I was just about done selling Big L’s stuff, and I was sitting on nearly $180,000 dollars, but I was done waiting for Big L to get off his ass and collect it. I started buying things for myself, nothing too flashy, just enough gadgets and gizmos to tide me over and furnish my apartment into something that looked livable. I bought a plasma TV, a king size bed, top of the line computer and lots of other shit. All with cash.

The semester ended at NYU and my grades were shit. I was in danger of losing my scholarship, but all that mattered to me at the time was the business. I even found a girlfriend, a girl named Elise, who I’ll talk more about later. I slept with plenty of girls on the side, coked out of my mind at parties and clubs and wherever. I figured I was starting to develop a somewhat serious cocaine addiction. It wasn’t intrusive at that point, but hell, whenever I saw Ferdinand it was like fucking Scarface. It was practically obligatory to do a line before we started talking business.

Selling Ferdinand’s shit was a breeze. Paul and Van the Man didn’t let me down in terms of clientele, and Ferdinand’s runners, a couple of scrappy Hispanic high school dropouts, made it so I could stop doing deals out of my apartment, which drastically decreased my paranoia. Ferdinand’s stuff wasn’t as good as Big L’s, but it still sold like candy, and I felt like I was untouchable. With Van the Man’s facilitating things, I sold heroin to Colin Ferrell. I sold heroin to members of the Strokes. When Pete Doherty came stateside he nearly bought out my entire fucking inventory. I was making close to 10 grand a week, my profit, the share that I kept.

I know it all sounds very glamorous and exciting, but I’m probably viewing it here with rose colored spectacles. I still had to make the bigger deals myself, and I usually delivered to my best customers myself. The first OD I ever saw was a turning point of sorts, I think. It was a bad omen for things to come.

I was delivering to a guy named Mike who lived in midtown, a real friendly dude who had gotten pretty rich through some internet company. Mike was a gregarious and jolly guy with a huge monkey on his back and some hidden inner demons He was one of the fittest looking heroin addicts I’d ever seen, big and muscular, which is why I was surprised to go into his bathroom to take a piss and come out to find him dead on the ground with the needle still in his arm. His eyes were still open halfway and he this awful expression of rapture on his face that I’ll probably remember until the day I die. I cleaned the froth out of his mouth and tried CPR, but it didn’t work. To this day I don’t know why he OD’d. It’s possible I fucked up and accidentally gave him the last of Big L’s stuff after he’d been shooting Ferdinand’s weaker shit for a while. But I don’t think I did. Sometimes you push the plunger and it’s like Russian Roulette, I guess. There’s no explaining it.

I started freaking out a bit, trying to figure out what to do. Eventually I grabbed the rest of my drugs, dialed 911 and left the phone dangling off the hook, and bolted. Sometimes I think back on it and convince myself the paramedics managed to revive him, but I doubt it. When you’re dead, you’re dead, and there’d been nothing left in Mike’s eyes.

A couple days after came a knock on my door. I opened the five or so deadbolts and saw Big L’s little brother standing there, who we’ll call Scrazzle Dazzle. He was eating a bag of sunflower seeds, as I remember, and spitting them out onto my carpet.

“Don’t spit that shit out on my floor, man!” I said, but I was glad to see him. We hugged. “Where the fuck you been? I was getting worried.”

Scrazzle Dazzle took at seat at my kitchen table. His cornrows were manky and unwashed, and he looked like he hadn’t been sleeping much. He kept chewing those sunflower seeds compulsively and spitting them out. I got him a plate.

“Trouble back home,” he said. “Big L got pinched. He’s gonna do thirty years in Trenton, it looks like.”

“Pinched?” I said. “By who?”

“The fuckin’ DEA man. Our house got seized. Our momma got all her assets seized. Everthing’s gone to shit.”

“What the fuck happened?”

“Man, why you think Big L gave you those kilos? It wasn’t a fucking investment. Big L knew the feds were about to a get a warrant to wiretap his house. He had to unload that shit as far away as possible.”

So that was why Big L gave me those kilos. Not because he was confident in my dealing abilities. Because he had already written off that money as a loss, and it was his last ditch attempt to keep it out of the DEA’s hands.

“He didn’t fucking roll over on me, did he?” I said, starting to get scared. “The DEA doesn’t know about me?”

“Nah,” Scrazzle Dazzle said, shooting another sunflower shell into the plate. “But half our crew’s going away. Big L got those kilos out just in time.”

About now Scrazzle Dazzle’s cell phone rang. He answered it with a few noncommittal grunts, and said “yeah that’s fine,” and hung up.

“Who’s that?”

“My fucking momma. She’s about to have a heart attack, man. Everything’s falling apart.”

“Shit,” I said. I didn’t know if Big L being out of the picture was good or bad, at this point. But I knew what Scrazzle Dazzle was doing here, and it wasn’t to catch up on old times. “I guess you’re here for your share of the money.”

Just then two huge guys come smashing into my apartment, waving handguns. One of them bolts the door behind him. I realize much later that these guys were probably the Queens muscle Big L had been talking about.

Scrazzle Dazzle gets up from his chair in a flash and pulls a pistol from his wasteband, leveling it at my head.

“Nah, not my share, all the fucking money!” I remember with a bizarre clarity his emphasis on those last two words, fucking money. It sticks out in my mind.

If you’ve never had a gun pointed at you before, you don’t know the fucking sheer terror of it, the emasculating, horrifying helpless feeling. Every instinct in your body tells you to just run and get behind some cover. I started trembling, sputtering. I couldn’t form words. I remember one of the thugs screaming “Where the drugs! Where the drugs! Get the fucking cash and the drugs!”

Scrazzle Dazzle puts the gun to my head and leads me into the bedroom. I open the safe, somehow managing to do it on the first try. Inside there’s only about 90 grand and about 500 grams of heroin. I’m begging Scrazzle Dazzle not to shoot, on my knees, almost crying.

“Where’s the rest of the money?” he shouts.

“I spent it!” I yelled, in retrospect probably the stupidest thing I could have said. I wasn’t stupid. I knew getting robbed was a possibility, and I had pried up a floorboard and stashed the rest of the money and drugs in there. But I was also fucking pissed off, and there was no way I was giving up my entire stash to fucking backstabbing Scrazzle Dazzle. The fact that this easily could have gotten me killed didn’t dawn on me until later. “I’m sorry man!”

“I should fucking shoot you!” Scrazzle Dazzle said, pressing the gun into my temple. One of the other thugs grabs his arm.

“Take it easy, Scraz, there’s people walkin around on this floor.” Scrazzle Dazzle shakes his head. He looked down at me.

“We got history, I guess, so I won’t ice you now. You’ve got a week to get me that other hundred K, or else we’re coming back here to ice you for real, got it?”

They didn’t say anything else. They stash the shit in a shopping bag and hustle out the door.

I crawl to the bathroom and throw up.

Entry 5:
We’ll get back to Scrazzle Dazzle and his thugs in just a minute, but first I want to talk a little bit about my girlfriend Elise. She was an older girl, not particularly bright, and she never really questioned where I was getting all this money to buy her nice things. I was careful not to lavish her with too much—too much and she would get suspicious, and I couldn’t really be throwing all that much money around without other people getting suspicious, too. I kept her around to keep me sane in the wake of all the madness in my life, but I guess like all women she had her own ways of driving me crazy.

The day after I was robbed by Scraz I gave one of my runners five hundred dollars and we met up later in an alley near Avenue C, where he handed me a gun, a matte-black Glock, and a box of bullets. I had told Ferdinand about the incident, told him that anyone in Queens who suddenly started pushing quality shit were probably the guys that robbed me. Told him about Scrazzle’s deadline, but I don’t think anyone (including Scrazzle) believed he was ever going to see that money. Ferdinand assured me we’d deal with it and recoup the losses, but nevertheless I was seething angry and wanted to be ready in case I was accosted again. The fact that I’d never fired a gun before in my life did little to dissuade me.

On the way home I stop at a jeweler’s and buy a necklace for Elise. The diamond was actually cubic zirconium—I might have some cash to blow, but I’m not quite at the point where I can buy a new car every time the ashtray gets full. Besides, she wouldn’t know the difference. I could buy her a piece of paper with a picture of a necklace on it, and I doubt she’d have known the goddamn difference.

Elise came over around eight and I cooked her dinner, a veal and white wine recipe that I got off the internet. I’m still in a strange kind of shock after the robbery and I probably looked pretty dazed. We sat there in silence for a while until she starts talking about her new paralegal job. I listen for about a minute before tuning out, focusing instead on my dinner, which was far tastier than I expected. Elise didn’t use but she might as well have—she was scrawny, small, with feeble hands and a narrow face. She usually wore a frizzy brown ponytail, but tonight it had been straightened to a dull sheen for the occasion. She looked like she should be working in a textile mill somewhere. I had no real emotion toward the whole relationship, but I tolerate her because she likes having sex and has demonstrated proficiency in that area.

I show her the necklace and she conversely displays her happiness and approval. She kisses me. Her breath smells like the garlic from dinner and all I can think of is Scrazzle Dazzle pressing the gun against my head and spitting sunflower seeds onto my floor. I had to fight the urge to push her away. We retired to my bedroom for a few hours before passing out.

I awoke in the small hours of the night to an incessant pounding. My brain sputters before realizing someone is knocking on my door.

“Who is it?” Elise asks, half-asleep.

How the hell should I know? I wanted to say, but instead I say “I’m not sure,” and grab my bathrobe and the gun from my dresser. Elise rolls over and falls back asleep. I knew immediately it wasn’t Scrazzle and his boys; even they wouldn’t be stupid enough to try the same stunt two nights in a row. I wasn’t unaccustomed to late-night visitors, not in my line of work, but I never could shake the disquieting feeling that four in the morning brings trouble, trouble and only trouble. I check the peephole to see what trouble I’m in for tonight.

It’s Paul. He’s wearing a black trench coat and he’s got a smile on his face. I let him in, lowering the gun.

“You ready?” He asks, his voice rising with excitement.

“Ready for what?” I say, whispering. “Keep your voice down, my girlfriend’s sleeping.”

“Sorry,” he says, still with that manic grin. “Ferdinand didn’t tell you? We’re gonna take a ride down Rockaway Boulevard. Show those ******s who robbed you they’re fucking with the wrong people.”

I sigh, exasperated. “My girlfriend’s asleep back there, Paul. What the fuck am I supposed to tell her?”

“Don’t need to tell her anything. We’ll be back before she wakes up. Come on. Let’s go.”

I change quickly, take a last look back into my bedroom, and shrug. Quietly, we step out and I lock the door. I’m tired, but I’m also pissed off, and itching for revenge.

Two cars are idling on the street below, beater Oldsmobiles with dark colors. Ferdinand is sitting in the driver’s seat of one car; two scarred and tattooed Loisaidas are in the other. I get into the passengers seat next to Ferdinand. Paul starts heading to the backseat, but I roll down the window.

“No,” I say. “Go with them. We’ve got stuff to discuss.”

“Hey man,” Paul starts. “I’m just as…”

“Did you fucking hear me?” I shout, suddenly angry. “Get in the other car and I don’t want to hear another fucking word, understand?”

Paul shoots me a look of pure disgust and does as he’s told. Ferdinand looks at me but says nothing, and we head off toward Queens.

“Why is he here?” I ask, as we make our way through the placid, late night streets of the city that never sleeps.

“Paul?” Ferdinand asks. “He’s the one who found our boys so quickly. It was his friends in Queens saw these new guys trying to hustle skag and doing a bad job of it. I thought he deserved to tag along.”

“I don’t want him hanging around in our business anymore,” I say. “He’s a junkie, isn’t that what you told me? Sooner or later he’s going to fuck up, big.”

Ferdinand sighs. “You were the one who told me he was a valuable guy to have around. And having one more man around tonight won’t hurt.”

I just shake my head.

“You got any coke?” I ask. Ferdinand hands me a small baggie, and I do a few lines off the dashboard. Suddenly I’m feeling a whole lot better. Suddenly I’m more than ready to take on Scrazzle Dazzle and his mouth-breathing thugs. I’m ready to take on a whole fucking army. Ferdinand’s stuff is really good.

“So what are you doing here?” I ask, suddenly talkative because of the cocaine. “Don’t you have guys to do this kind of shit for you?”

“It’s my fucking drugs they stole,” he says, as if that explains everything. Ferdinand is fucking nuts, I realize with sudden lucidity, every bit as goddamn fucking nuts as the junkies and Scrazzle Dazzle and all the rest of them.

A little later we roll into Queens. The lead car directs us to a neighborhood full of tenements and crack houses, dilapidated, run down pieces of shit. The coke is still going strong and I feel like I’m in Saigon or Anzio or something. I reach down and feel my gun, to make sure it’s still there. We pull over to the side of the road and kill the engine. The two Loisaidas and Paul step out. Paul’s still looking at me like I pissed in his cornflakes.

“Look,” I say. “If shit goes down, then it goes down. But this guy could have iced me and he didn’t. We’ll get our shit back, but I don’t want any shooting unless there’s gotta be.”

“Fine by me,” Ferdinand says. The two Loisaidas pull out pistols. Paul pulls out a pistol. I pull out my Glock.

“I’m going to stay in the car,” Ferdinand says. “You guys got 10 minutes to do your thing and get out, otherwise I roll out of here. I’ve got your back if there’s trouble.” He says something to the Loisaidas in Spanish.

“You guys ready?” Paul asks. I nod. The house we’re about to enter is some condemned thing, rotting wood and broken glass everywhere. Rap music is playing very faintly from somewhere inside. I’m reminded very strongly of Camden. I’m ready, as ready as I’ll ever be I guess. The two gang bangers take the lead and Paul and I follow.

The door to the crack house is swinging off its hinges. We push it aside and go in.

Inside is filthy. The only light comes from what’s streaming in through the broken windows. Trash and wires are strewn everywhere; there’s foul smelling liquid dripping off everything and filling my mouth with a repulsive, pungent taste. I nearly step on a hypodermic needle and kick it aside in disgust. There’s probably more AIDS here than in Africa. The Loisaidas bust into a few rooms, while Paul and I check the others. All we see is detritus from squatters; more needles and trash. There’s no one on the first floor. We head toward the stairs.

One of the Loisaidas trips over something on the stairs and nearly loses his balance. We look down and I can see the faint outline one of the thugs who robbed me. I see an empty bottle of gin lying to next him. He starts to stir.

The first Loisaida, the one with more tattoos, pistols whips him viciously across the face, and he goes back out like a cheap flashlight.

“Stupid fucking ******,” Paul mutters. I whisper to him to shut up. We step carefully over his unconscious body and head upstairs.

There’s a faint light still flickering on the second floor. Most of the trash and debris has been swept into a huge pile in the hallway. The rap music I heard outside is louder, the bass thudding away through the thin plywood walls. There’s a light on in one of the rooms. It smells like weed.

Suddenly, thug two steps out of one of the adjoining rooms, his back turned. He doesn’t see us, but we can see him walking toward the room with the light on, the butt of his pistol sticking out from behind his waistband. The other Loisaida raises his gun and shoots him twice in the back. It sounds like an air raid in the small hallway. Two bright spots of blood blossom in the thug’s shirt, and he falls forward. Then everything goes crazy.

“Holy FUCK!” Paul yells. We bust into the room where the rap music’s playing. I’m shaking and sweating with adrenaline, holding my gun out in front of me like a divining rod or something.

Scrazzle Dazzle’s on a filthy white mattress with some jungle princess, fumbling underneath his pillow for his gun. The jungle princess screams at a decibel usually reserved for dog whistles. One of the Loisaidas yells something in Spanish.

“Don’t move motherfucker!” I yell, and Scrazzle stops moving when he sees four guns pointed his way. He raises his hands and sneers.

“Shit,” is all he says.

I learned at this moment that while having a gun pointed at you is one of the worst feelings in the world, pointing a gun at someone who fucked you over, while not the best feeling, is pretty good.

“Where’s the money Scraz?” I ask.

Scrazzle doesn’t do anything for a long moment, then moves his hand and points toward a closet. There’s a crash louder than thunder and Scrazzle Dazzle’s head explodes, turning the mattress into something that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting.

I jump a mile into the air and turn to see it was Paul who fired, looking out of his mind with fear.

“Oh shit,” he says, in almost a whisper. He fires again and shoots the girl in the head.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” I yell, about to strangle Paul. One of the Loisaidas has to hold me back.

“Sorry man,” Paul says, still holding the gun out in front of him. “I thought…I thought he was reaching.”

I’m still in shock as the Loisaidas rummage through the closet and gather up the heroin and the cash.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” Paul says, in an infuriatingly calm voice. “I’ll leave my gun by the guy on the stairs. We’ll call the cops and he gets the heat. ******s shooting each other all the time, right?”

I was numb at this point. I didn’t say anything else. Paul wiped his prints off his gun with his shirt and put it in the hands of the passed out thug on the stairs. We all hustle back outside, and take off in the Oldsmobiles. Ferdinand sees the bag with the drugs and money and nods to me.

When we’re about 15 minutes away we stop at a payphone and make an anonymous 911 call.

I let Paul ride in Ferdinand’s car the rest of the way so Ferdinand won’t see me trembling.

Entry 6:
As you can imagine, things were not the same after this. As a matter of fact, things began to unfold very quickly at this point. But before I take you into the final stretch of my sordid tale, let me paint a picture of the last heroin deal I ever made.

I head into Brooklyn to meet named Alex, who had been calling my phone incessantly and who I just wanted to shut up. I’d stopped using my runners, paranoid that they would lead the cops back to me. I made the trek into Brooklyn alone, looking over my shoulder every five minutes like someone in a bad spy movie.

Alex had been in rehab for a while, but once the phone calls started up again it was clear he had relapsed. I arrived late, probably looking disheveled and disoriented. After you start seeing people murdered in front of you, “the game” starts to lose much of its allure. Alex’s place is some dingy shithole, no furniture, only the bare necessities to make the place habitable. He let’s me in and they take a seat on a couple of milk crates with blankets thrown over them.

He’s there with a girl. Alex himself looks terrible. He’s about six two, one-hundred-forty pounds, and he’s acquired the hollowed out stare and nervous tics of the addict. He’s sweating a good deal, although it’s not warm. I figure they probably had him on methadone, so he’s not going through heavy withdrawal, but the slow uphill crawl of methadone can’t compete with the orgasmic rush of heroin, and Alex knows it. The girl he’s brought with him is quite lovely. Long black hair, a cute face that looked vaguely Italian, and dark brown eyes. She can’t be much more than 18 years old, if that. I take one look at her and know she isn’t using. She’s too vibrant. Part of me—the same part that felt stirrings of pity when I sold to Amanda—doesn’t want her to start.

“What’s your name?” I ask the girl

“Isabelle,” she says, shaking my hand. I remember her voice was low and sexy, and I wonder what she’s doing with a fuck up like Alex.

“You’re young,” I say.

“We met in rehab,” Alex says, scratching his neck with a gnawed fingernail. “Her parents had her in there for pot, man, can you believe that?” Isabelle frowns and says nothing.

“Didn’t you just get clean?” I ask him. “Why are you going back to this?”

“What do you care?” Isabelle says. “You’re making money.”

Alex just smiles, slow and sad. I know why he’s doing it. Because the nerves at the base of his spine crave the opiates, because Alex is weak and self-destructive and a spiraling train wreck of epic proportions. I don’t care. But Isabelle is not using, and for some reason this makes me happy.

“How much are you looking for?” I ask. “I can give you twenty bags for two hundred.”
I get the bags, and Alex hands me the money. If Isabelle has any objections, she does not voice them.

“How you been?” Alex asks me as I get up to leave and he breaks out his paraphernalia. “Staying out of trouble?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. I’m about to step out the door when I notice that Alex has tied off Isabelle’s arm with a belt and is readying the needle. I stop with my hand on his doorknob and turn around.

“What the hell are you doing?” I ask. Alex looks at me with a dumbfounded expression.

“What are you talking about?”

“I thought she wasn’t using the stuff.”

Alex shrugs. “She’s curious.” He starts filling up the syringe as Isabelle looks on with a bored expression.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I say. “You just get out of rehab and you want to get her into this shit? Is she even out of high school?”

I don’t know where this sudden bout of self-righteousness comes from. All I know is that I’m very pissed off at this moment, and Alex is making me angrier.

Alex just laughs. “Chill out man, everything’s cool.”

“Yeah,” Isabelle says. “It’s not any of your business.”

“None of my business? None of my fucking business?”

I head toward them and Alex stands up, suddenly scared. But he’s lanky and weak, and I push him aside. He drops the needle and it rolls quietly along the barren floor.

I stop suddenly, feeling futile and empty.

“Do whatever the fuck you want. Don’t ever call me again.” I kick the syringe into the wall and walk out the door.

After the murders in Queens, I knew I had to get out. Dealing drugs and making money was fine, I could live with that, but in my dreams I kept reliving the scene; Scrazzle Dazzle’s cornrows getting blown onto the wall behind him, the screams of that girl he’d been with. All the money in the world wasn’t worth those nightmares. I still had Ferdinand’s drugs and money in my apartment, and I knew I had to find someway to get out, to get rid of it, to leave New York and get myself as far away from the mess I’d made as I could. Forget about my college education. If I didn’t do something soon, I wasn’t going to make it to my 20th birthday.

I scanned the paper everyday and found the headline: Gang Violence Suspected in Queens Triple Slaying The cops had arrested the thug Paul had tried to set up, but I knew the charges weren’t going to stick. The detectives weren’t stupid. It was only a matter of time before they traced the gun back to Paul, to me. I thought of what my parents would say if I got sent to prison for life for accessory to murder. I started to collapse in on myself.

I didn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t trust anybody. Elise came over to cook dinner and asked me what was wrong. I told her I thought I might have the flu. I realized that every word out of my mouth since I went under the Holland tunnel into New York City had been a lie. I had nobody to turn to.

I was sitting on nearly sixty grand. I couldn’t deposit it. I considered buying a plane ticket and moving to some other country, but strolling into the airport and buying a transatlantic ticket with a big wad of cash was bound to set off some alarms. When Elise wasn’t there I took out my gun and stared at it for a long time before deciding to take a walk and throw it into the East river. Who the fuck was I kidding? I didn’t know what to do with it. If heat came down, it wasn’t going to help me. All it could have done was make things worse.

I got a call from Paul, telling me he’d be keeping a low profile and I probably wouldn’t hear from him for a while. That was fine by me. If I never heard from him again, I’d be happy. I’d been sequestered in my apartment myself for a few days before I finally heard from Ferdinand. He wanted to meet in Washington Square Park to discuss things. He assured me that he would have everything taken care of. I wasn’t so sure. I asked him if Paul would be there, and he told me no. With trepidation I agreed to meet Ferdinand.

It was a gray and miserable afternoon in WSP, rainy and wet, the kind of day where nature knows just how you feel. Ferdinand was sitting on a bench, eating a falafel and throwing bits of it to the pigeons. I sat down next to him.

“Good to see you again,” Ferdinand said, still just that hint of accent creeping through his words. “Sorry things turned into such a shitstorm the other day. But the cops brought in that guy Paul framed up. They’ve got nothing on us.”

“They’re gonna know something’s up,” I said. “The guy didn’t fire the gun. And one of your boys shot someone with a different gun. The ballistics aren’t going to match up.”

Ferdinand looks ahead for a long moment. “The cops just need to arrest someone for the papers,” he says finally. “They’re not going to care if they have the right guy if it gets the media off their back.”

“You really think they’re going to whitewash a triple murder?” I ask, my voice rising just a little bit. “Because I don’t think they will!”

“I’ll worry about it if and when the time comes,” Ferdinand says. “But you don’t need to worry. I’ve got your back. I have a big deal coming up that I want you to see to personally. These guys in Brooklyn want to make a transaction. Five kilos. Half a million dollars. Fifty grand for yourself.”

I looked up at the bleak, overcast sky. Fifty grand was a lot of money. I didn’t want to help Ferdinand anymore, but I didn’t know what he’d do if I said no.

“You’ve already got the transaction set up?” I asked. “So why do you need me?”

“Think of it as an apology for the unpleasantness in Queens. I want this deal to be just between you and me. No one else knows. A nice little bonus for ourselves.”

“Paul doesn’t know?” I ask.

“No one knows,” Ferdinand says. “I was wrong to include Paul in our business. I don’t want him causing anymore trouble.”

I think about it for a long while. I say yes. Ferdinand tells me to meet him at an address on Delancey Street late tomorrow.

Later that day I get a call from Van the Man. He hadn’t heard from me in a while, and he was worried. I feel a strange tug of compassion, and I tell him to come over to my apartment if he wants to chat. I realize that he’s been left almost completely in the dark my Paul and Ferdinand, and part of me feels bad for him. This whole time I’d been making money, while he’d just been getting high and digging himself deeper into a hole.

Van the Man comes over and for once I’m actually happy to see those stupid dreadlocks and his goofy eye. I realize he’s the only one of the whole bunch whom I actually considered a friend. I ask if he wants any H and I’m shocked to hear that he doesn’t, that he’s starting methadone and trying to wean himself off the stuff. We sit and talk for awhile, Van wistfully relating to me all the times he’s done drugs with celebrities and supermodels, etc etc. I wonder how long he’ll be able to stay off the stuff. It’s clear he doesn’t know about the debacle in Queens. He’s talking fast and is really happy-go-lucky, and I wonder if he’s maybe a little drunk. He’s running his mouth so fast that I don’t even really process most of what he’s saying.

“How’s business?” he asks me, fingering his dreadlocks and making some weird compulsive movements with his hands.

“Good as always, I guess,” I say.

“Hear you got a big deal coming up tomorrow?”

“Oh, where’d you hear that?” I say idly, not really paying attention.

“Heard Paul talkin’ about it on the phone. Sounds like it’s gonna be a good score.”

“Well, you know, it’s probably—”

I stop mid-sentence.

“What?” Van the Man asks.

I flashback to earlier that day and the conversation with Ferdinand. I see the words forming on his tongue. He tells me he doesn’t want Paul in his business anymore. He said only him and I know about the deal.

But Paul knows about the deal. Which means Ferdinand was lying to me. Which means something is not right. Something, in fact, is very wrong.

Just then my phone rings. It’s Elise. She wants to know if she can come over. I tell her no. I make up some excuse. I turn to Van the Man, and he can tell by my expression that something’s very wrong.

“You need to go into hiding,” I tell him. “Don’t talk to Ferdinand. Especially don’t talk to Paul. Get out of the city if you have to. Get rid of any drugs you still have.”

“What’s going on?” Van the Man asks, not understanding.

“You have to go,” I tell him. “You gotta trust me, man. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

There’s that funny word again, trust. Everything always seems to come back to it.

Van the Man is still puzzled, but he sees the fear in my eyes and it’s a strong incentive. He leaves, and I realize now that if I want to get out of this I’ve got no one I can trust but myself.

I go through my apartment and gather up all the heroin I’ve got left, about a half kilo and put it into a backpack. I don’t know exactly what Paul and Ferdinand have in store for me, but they’re either trying to have me killed or selling me out to the cops. I have some phone calls to make.

I take a walk to a phone booth and dial a police station in Queens. I tell them I have information about the triple murder. They transfer me over to a bored sounding detective named Peters.

I tell him some details about the crime scene and suddenly his ears perk up.

“What’s your name?” he asks. I don’t answer.

“You find any prints on the gun you can’t match up?” I ask. Detective Peters pauses for a moment.

“There’s a partial on the magazine we can’t identify. You know anything about it?”

I give him Paul’s name and tell him to do a search. I figure Paul’s probably gotten himself into trouble sometime before, his prints are most likely on file. I hang up the phone.

I move to another payphone a few blocks away and call Paul. He picks up the phone sounding scared and frantic.

“Paul,” I say. “I know about Ferdinand’s plan. Ferdinand told you he was gonna have some of his boys try and ice me at the deal tomorrow, right? I know you think you guys are playing me, but actually he’s playing you. He’s going to have you killed, not me.”

I figure Ferdinand is actually trying to have both of us killed, but I don’t tell Paul that.

“What the…” Paul trails off, and I can tell from his voice that he’s deeply shocked. And then, sounding almost like a petulant child, “Why would he do that?”

“Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I want to get us out of this. I’m going to head over to your place in a few minutes, and we can talk about how we’re gonna get out of this.”

Paul agrees, and I can tell by the warbling in his voice that he’s not playing me, that he’s scared and that he trusts me. I’m pretty fucking scared myself, but this is my one chance, my only chance to get out of this. I take the backpack and head over to Paul’s.

I knock on Paul’s door and announce myself. He unlocks the chain and I step inside. He’s got another gun in his hands, and he looks like he’s been doing some of Ferdinand’s coke. He doesn’t point the gun at me, just lowers it and looks at me, almost like he’s about to cry. He’s a mess.

“I’m sorry man, I’m sorry I tried to play you, I’m just scared man, I’m really scared, and those people that I killed man, I don’t want to

“I’m sorry man, I’m sorry I tried to play you, I’m just scared man, I’m really scared, and those people that I killed man, I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Hey, hey,” I say. “Listen, everything’s gonna be cool. I gotta take a piss, I’ll be out in a minute.”

Paul nods but his gaze is vacant, like he’s in his own world. I go into Paul’s bathroom and take out the heroin. I stuff it into the toilet tank, and flush for posterity. I come back out.

“You and Ferdinand have been working together for a while now, right?” I ask. Paul nods.

“I guess, yeah. I’m like his right hand man. Was.” He says this with a faint note of pride. “I can’t believe he’d fucking do me like this. You got any H, man? I could really use a fix.”

“A fix is the last thing you need,” I say. “Look, here’s what we do. I’ve got muscle Ferdinand doesn’t know about. We can get him if he’s not expecting it. Do you think you’d be able to get Ferdinand up here?”

“What do I tell him?”

“I don’t know. Make up some excuse. Tell him you want to talk business.”

“He’ll probably bring his boys with him.”

“That’s fine. I’ve got a lot of muscle. When you guys are done talking, we’ll ambush ‘em on the way out. No survivors. You can get out of New York. They’ll be no evidence to link you back to the murders.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?” I ask. “We either help each other or we’re both dead. I’m not gonna sell you out. Make the call.”

Paul dials the phone and calls Ferdinand. He tells him he wants to talk about tomorrow. They talk a bit more and Paul hangs up the phone.

“He’s in Chinatown,” Paul says. “He’ll be here soon.”

“Okay,” I say. “I’m going to get my muscle. I’ll give you a call when all is said and done, okay?”

“All right,” says Paul. “Thanks.”

“Just keep Ferdinand and his boys here for like 15 minutes,” I say. “Everything should work out.”

I leave Paul’s apartment and hustle to find a payphone. When I get there, I dial the police station in Queens and ask for detective Peters. He picks up the phone, sounding a lot more interested than the first time.

“Did you run that print?” I ask.

“It matched your guy,” detective Peters says, sounding very excited. “Paul Hawthorne, ex-army, discharged with psychiatric problems, That explains a lot I think to myself.
“… and priors for heroin possession,” he continues. We just finished getting a warrant.”

“Beautiful,” I say

“What else can you tell me?” Peters asks.

I give him Paul’s address.

“A drug deal is going to be going down in about 10 minutes, so you guys better hustle. They’re all armed, so you might want to get the SWAT team.”

I hang up the phone and head through a couple of alleys so I have a vantage point of Paul’s apartment. A few minutes later the beat up Oldsmobile arrives, and I can see a very pissed off looking Ferdinand and his two Loisaidas heading up to Paul’s place. About ten minutes later the building is swarmed with police cars, and I walk casually away. I don’t look back.

About a week later I’m packing up my things and preparing to leave the city, when I hear a knock at my door. I look through the peephole and there’s two detectives standing there. I let them in and they seem almost embarrassed. They introduce themselves. They ask my name and I tell them, my real name.

“Moving out?” one of them asks me.

“City life isn’t really for me,” I said. “It’s too stressful.”

“You go to school?” One of them asks, sounding as if they think there’s been a mistake.

“NYU,” I say, “but I’m probably going to transfer someplace else after I move.”

“My nephew goes to NYU,” says one of the detectives. “Great school.”

I nod. “So is there a problem?”

“We’re just following up on a lead. A guy we arrested last week said drugs were being dealt at this address. Probably bullshit like most of our leads, but we have to follow up on everything. But you look like a pretty upstanding kid to me.”

I shrug. “You guys can look around if you’d like.”

They do, but just a cursory glance into the rooms. They obviously feel like they’re wasting their time. I’ve long since thrown away my old cell phone. I’ve got no more drugs. The only thing I have left is the 60 grand, below my floorboards, but the detectives don’t look there. I figure it was one of the Loisaidas tried to implicate me.

Paul and Ferdinand got killed when the cops raided his place. He drew his gun and they blew him away. I don’t know if Ferdinand got nicked in the crossfire or what but he’s dead too. The two Loisaidas surrendered, but the cops traced their gun back to the murders in Queens and they’re both probably gonna do life. I figure they coughed up my address, maybe tried to cut a deal. I disavowed all knowledge.

The cops found the H in Paul’s toilet and the long list of names in his phone and figured him for a dealer. I guess they figured the Queens thing for a deal gone bad. A blurb credited the bust to a “mystery informant,” and I grinned a little when I read that. But I still wanted to get out of the city. I didn’t know if any vestiges of Ferdinand’s gangs were hanging around, and too many people knew my face. I never did find out what happened to Van the Man. I’m sure he likely OD’d or ended up in prison, but a small part of me likes to think he got clean, and makes his money playing dive bars or something, wailing out reggae music with a little guitar and steel drum.

My parents were a little disappointed. I told them I wasn’t happy with Economics at NYU. I wanted to transfer somewhere else, maybe become an English or Comparative Lit major instead. I figured the 60 grand would help get me on my feet and pay my rent for a while, but I was going to life the straight life from now on. I had my lucky break, my time in the fast lane, and it was nice for awhile, but it would have killed me if I stayed much longer. Elise was sad to see me go, but it was really more of a fling then anything.

The cops asked where I was on the night of the Queens shooting and Elise alibied me. She remembered because it was her father’s birthday. She’d had no idea I’d been gone.

“Sorry for wasting your time,” one of the detectives said. “You seem like a good kid. Good luck wherever you decide to go to school.”

They left, and that was that. Soon after I left New York. I was a little less than 20 years old.

Every town has its man. You won’t always recognize him if you meet him on the street or in a bar. If you’ve got that 26 dollars in your hand, he can be your friend. The man is usually late, but he always arrives. I was that man, for a little while, and it’s a tough gig. The man don’t last long, in this world. I was going to let someone else be that man from now on. I was fine with that. There were plenty of people to take my place. Because, in the end, no matter how far you go, there’s always going to be someone waiting for the man.

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