Rick and I carried Pancho into Doctor Alverez’s Clinica. Pancho had turned purple by then, the basepipe still clutched firmly in his hands. The problem was, what with the spasms and all, Pancho couldn’t find his mouth, but was also hitting his forehead and spilling the Coke on the floor, and endangering the pipe itself. Pancho was bogeying the pipe, and so Rick and I were getting antsy waiting for our turn.
The Doctor came out of his cubbyhole. He appeared to be a patrician: a Spanish gentleman of an old colonial family. The type with connections and an adventurous heritage.
"Caramba, Hijo de Puta! What is happened to this man?”
The doctor was aghast.
"Nuthin much, Doc. Asthma attack or something. Could you get his heartbeat down to two-fifty or so and please pry that pipe out of his hands? It has sentimental value and it's the only one we have. And besides, l’d like a hit myself.”
Doctor Alverez came out of the clinica about fifteen minutes later, glassy eyed and wobbly, the pipe in his hand. Hands shaking, he passed the pipe to me. I filled it and took a good hit. I passed it to Rick, who did the same. Rick then filled the pipe to the brim, passed it to the doctor and showed him how it's done.
The doctor took an enormous hit. His knees turned to jelly. His hair stood on end. He stared into space and saw Jesus in fourteen different flavors.
“MADRE DE DIOS! WHAT IS THIS?"
“Base de cocainia, doctor.”
"Of what utility can this product be put to?"
“Sit down, Doctor and have your LAST HIT. I have an idea and a proposition.”
I was back on this rollercoaster ride. The last chapter had started in Amsterdam twelve months before when I embarked on a scam for some Israeli Mafia types who were into coke but didn't have great sources of supply. Israeli Mafia guys have a reputation for being smart and thorough: I picked the only moron in the group. His name was Ori and he did everything wrong. Or maybe I was cursed again, because it sure was funny how the right things went wrong.
We did some really good Amsterdam business for about six months. Then the August drought hit, and we had a pretty decent market, but no merchandise. When Ori called and told me that he wanted me to set up a laboratory and a pipeline, I was all for it. It turned out, of course, that I was going to do all the work and take most of the risks, while he was going to put up a little of the money and take most of the profits. I marked it down as a typical Israeli deal. But it beat street hustling, and winter was coming. And where would I rather be spending the winter months: Amsterdam or South America? HA HA.
Ori's plan was simple. Acid was cheap in Amsterdam, but expensive in S.A. Cocaine was cheap in S.A. but expensive in Amsterdam. My life was cheap in both places. Therefore, I was going to bring Acid to S.A. and send coke to Amsterdam. That way, for minimal money (HIS) but maximum risk (MINE), the Israelis would have a good thing going.
I started off by finding a busted laboratory in Amsterdam from which we could buy cheap ether, acetone and glassware: the three supplies easiest to trace. Then I went out into the market and bought five thousand hits of paper acid. Next, I got some heavy duty double corrugated cardboard boxes, the type used by airlines to ship food, merchandise and books.
Carefully (and “carefully” is the watch word here and throughout), the double corrugated is separated and the inside ridges are flattened, making an indented pocket. The paper acid is then separated into strips correspondent in size to the indented pockets within the cardboard. The merchandise is then fitted into the indents and the double corrugated is then A) glued back together and B) weighted under books overnight. The next morning a knitting needle is then inserted into flattened areas of the cardboard, reconstituting the look of corrugation. This way you have an innocuous looking box of contraband.
Of course, you fill the box with conspicuous looking material, following the oldest rule: GIVE 'EM SOMETHING TO LOOK AT SO THAT THEY LOSE SIGHT OF WHAT THEY'RE LOOKING FOR. This is why your old lady lets her pink panties show when driving out of Morocco, and why I filled this box with French ticklers and accidentally left a gift-wrapped hunting knife inside. The box was then handed over to the airport authorities, and then to the pilot, and finally returned to me until after I passed customs and immigration in Santiago.
Fear? Fear is always there. A smuggler carries fear with him as part of the baggage. That's why “carefully” is the watchword. Remember, you gotta beat them ALL of the time. THEY ONLY GOTTA CATCH YOU ONCE.
But what feeling in the universe beats when you're seven miles inside of the border and laughing your head off?
And so, there I was in a taxi, driving into the suburbs of Santiago and happy as a pig in shit. The taxi gets up to the connection's house, but as we pull into the driveway, the door bursts open and some poor wretch in yarmulke and beard comes flying out, escorted by these big dudes in brown uniforms and red epaulettes, who smack him in the back of the head.
The taxi driver, who sussed it all out, asks, "Are you sure this is the right address? Seguro?”
“No," sez me. "Vamanos.”
"Seguro," sez the driver.
And the next scene finds me in a cheap hotel room, making a very expensive phone call.
Now my man tells me to proceed to Rio de Janeiro where his back-up lives, and to call him after I make the connection. The next day finds me in the Rio airport calling a phone number which doesn't answer. I'm eating up my remaining cash in a hotel room again.
"Listen," Ori sez. "You're in Rio. It's summer there, the weather is great, the women are beautiful. You've got enough money to last a couple of weeks. My friend from Peru should be back shortly. My houseguests in Amsterdam will be back in Rio next week. Enjoy! Go to the beach, have fun, it's Rio!"
So, I took his advice and went to the beach. And I got mugged by three pixotes, who sliced the tendons in my hand and stole my shirt.
I get stitched at the hospital pretty fast, then I'm ready to go. But when I call Amsterdam, I get no answer at Ori's place. I call our safe house and find that Ori caught his old lady looking at somebody else, cut her up with a blade and got busted for assault. The police found the laboratory and Ori got busted for that, as well.
There I am: cut off in front, cut off behind, and cut in the hand. Money is running short and I've got a box full of LSD, which is as illegal in Rio de Janeiro as it is anyplace else. Except here, I got no one to sell it to. I'm not going back to Amsterdam, crippled and broke. So I crack the box and hit the street.
Wot the hell?
There is a mysterious force that runs through the universe called the Confluence of Criminality. Which is why on my first night on The Street, I found myself in a section of Rio de Janeiro called Baixo Leblon, where the dope dealers hang out. Which is why on my first night on The Street, I found myself tripping with this lady I picked up in a coffee shop. Which is why, two months later, I found myself with a split skull, empty wallet, and back on The Street again. The young lady from Baixo Leblon was a spotter for a gang that let me sell my acid (most of it, anyhow) and make some money before they took me down.
I'm sitting in this rented room counting my assets and liabilities, holding my head in my hands and moaning, "Oh Lord, what did I do wrong this time?”
But I did have a connection or two and I did know a little about Rio. I had a telephone and I sent out corrugated box or two, albeit small quantities. I did have a bit of operating cash, albeit a very small amount. A liability was that the amount of cash was small and growing smaller. The second of the two corrugated boxes got ripped off. Ori's friend turned out to be worthless. The telephone bill was due, as was the rent. My slashed tendons became paralyzed, causing my middle finger to give The Finger at all times. And I developed tendonitis in my entire right side, giving me excruciating pain. And I hadn't gotten laid in months, giving me excruciating horniness, and threatening to make me the first Yankee to die of horniness in Rio de Janeiro since the dollar was invented.
Just as I was measuring the height of the room and the length of my belt, the phone rang. SALVATION. . . . JEANNE ANN.
Jeanne Ann was a good ol' gal from an East Texas dirt farm, who was hoofin' it across South America as a chorine in a traveling third-rate chorus line. She filled the requisites: leggy, dumb, blonde, dumb, big tits, dumb, willing...and dumb. Jeanne Ann was a born-again Christian chorus girl coke whore with hair of gold, legs that started at her ears, and a heart as big as John Wayne. She befriended me and gave me pamphlets with bleeding heart covers and exhortations just to believe and I would be saved... while buying coke at inflated prices.
"Hi honey! It's me, Jeanne Ann for Jesus, an' I got a surprise for you!”
“Hi Jeanne Ann. It's six AM and that's already a big surprise. What's happening at six AM, sweetie?"
“JESUS SAVES at all hours, honey. And I met these oil company executives last night and they had the best COCAINE and lots of money and we're goin' to have a picnic today. Goin' to Santa Catarina Island and gonna do some scuba divin'. Please come with us. You've been so depressed lately and these boys are surely good fun.”
I didn't want to meet any straight-suit oil executives, to say nothing of partying with them. I was broke and depressed. And I knew that once Jeanne Ann started proselytizing, there would be no stopping her. So, eight AM found me waiting for the party on Avinida Atlantico, Copacabana... as did eight thirty and nine. I was about to leave when the bus pulled up and Jeanne Ann got out, apologetic and telling me how they were delayed because they couldn't find any coke and did I know where to get some at nine-fifteen in the morning.
"N-O spells NO,” I said. I was a bit paranoid of Americans I didn't know and Arlindo wouldn't appreciate me waking him up before twelve anyway.
Practically drugless, we proceeded on our way. They were not quite what I expected. They weren't stuffy oil executives in suits and ties. Instead, they were closer to party/disco types but with rough edges. As a matter of fact, as we got deeper into our trip, I realized that these guys were Proles with good paying jobs, and that they were as paranoid of me as I had been of them. As a matter of fact, I could smell a hustle comin' on.
These dudes were Americans out for a good time. So, when we pulled to a rest stop and several of them stood in a circle behind the bus, it didn't take my nose to tell me what they were smoking. I eased my way into the circle, and this dude looks at me and says, “YOU GET HIGH?"
I look at him and respond, "Not while you’re holding that joint, my friend.”
Shit grins and smiles break out. And then I say, "Hey, you guys, who wants to drop some acid?” Their mouths drop open.
And then I say, "You mean that you guys never went diving while you were tripping?" They point their noses in my direction. And then I say, "Did you guys say that you wanted to cop some really good coke?"
It was SNAP! Fish on the line. GULP! Fat city in the mornin'.
The oil shortage was in full bloom and the drilling companies were snapping up recent A&M grads and geologists as they came off the assembly line. No experience necessary, thirty thousand starting salary, two weeks on the offshore rigs and two weeks R&R in Rio: all expenses paid.
The seven sisters all had drilling concessions in South America. The southern Atlantic was an American lake. Aberdeen was loaded with Americans teaching the Brits how to despoil the ecology and Rio de Janeiro was the promised land. Loose money, beautiful women, young Texan roughnecks. John Wayne wasn't there, but his kid brothers Beavis and Butthead were. These were young and inexperienced Americans with a “them against us” attitude and a party on the brain. They were all (or should I say, “We were all”) raised with the mythology of the cowboy, and I became their masked man on white horse.
So I hustled a grubstake and made a run to La Paz. Then I learned some more, and made it to Santa Cruz for a few more runs. Finally, I made a run to The States. I was buying at five dollars a gram in Santa Cruz and selling for one-twenty-five in Rio, or sixty thou a kilo in Houston. I was living in the most expensive apartment hotel in Rio: penthouse, if you please. I had as my mistress the wife of the foreign exchange at Banco do Brasil, and was invited to the Off Shore Technology Conference in Houston.
The situation was simple: we were all Yankees and I was their man in the field. And I was safe 'cause Americans don't squeal, or so Americans like to believe. Actually, Americans are pretty good that way. Or, at least we were, until our government started giving murderers witness protection in return for squealing on petty dealers. And we're still not like the French. Most Americans won't crack until they are facing a really hard term, but a Frog... well, with your typical Froggie, the cops have to smack him in the face to make him stop talking.
I had it made pretty well, but then I caught a habit. Or rather, one caught me. And then I ran into Pancho and Rick, two dudes with even bigger habits than mine. And now we're sitting in Doctor Alverez's clinica and I'm figuring that maybe I've made enough runs home, and maybe there's a way to bring home here.
Certain facts were self-evident and they were: A) There was a large market in Brazil and America. B) There was a large supply in Bolivia. C) There was a colony of freebase chefs residing in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, who were considered to be among the best in the world of freebasers. Rick, Pancho, and I were the best of the best; ask any one of us and he would confirm it.
In Bolivia, the use of cocaine was permissible in two specific instances. The first was the ancient Incan law, continued under the Spanish regency, sanctioning the use of cocaine in order to extend the amount of labor that a messenger or miner could perform in a given period. As a matter of historic record, a unit of labor called "The Cocida" was devised. That is, the amount of labor a miner could perform or the distance that a runner could travel given "X" amount of coca.
The second sanctioned usage was either psychiatric (see Freud) or medical. That is, any doctor or shrink could prescribe getting high on his premises if he had a had a license to practice. We had these ingredients: A) a doctor with a habit and a license. B) A group of clients who could fall into the miner/laborer category, ie. the oil workers. C) A group of clients (potentially) who could be described as messengers, ie. Rock & Roll musicians. And an idea: "Doctor Hidalgo Alverez's Clinica De Gordos de Bolivia.”
“Located six kilometers outside historic Santa Cruz,” or so said our brochure, “Doctor Alverez's Clinica” or a Fat Farm in Bolivia, “offers the best and most modern methods to administer an ancient Incan remedy for whatever ails you.”
“No more sneaking into barroom bathrooms, no more paranoia, no more fruitless five AM wanders with gristle on your chin and blood on your knuckles. Doctor Alverez will satisfy your needs and lose your excess weight.”
Our duties were carefully delineated. Doctor Alverez's was to stay as high as he could and sign every paper put in front of him. Pancho was the chef and weight man (there was no exercise room). Rick ran the head shop (pipes, filters and cigarette lighters). My job was to recruit clientele (very easy to do) and get them to leave after their two week treatment (not so easy, sometimes necessitating physical force).
We were filled to capacity and booked for years in advance. We did have a supplemental sex therapy which was a bit weird, to say the least. We had fifteen cabins serving thirty patients and a central hall where the "medicine" was administered by thirty young therapists who doubled both as dietician and sex therapists. They were rarely required to take their clothing off, or do much more than fill the pipes and refill the lighters. The "normal" scene was thirty nude clients sitting around small coffee tables being administered to by thirty dressed and bored young Bolivian women.
We had the best of all possible worlds: getting high, getting rich and getting it on with our coked out therapists. Naturally enough, trouble soon appeared on the horizon. First there was the spread of a revolutionary movement, sponsored by the DEA, which caused the government to fight a counterrevolution also sponsored by the DEA. A curfew was established, which directed that anyone found on the streets or roads after eleven PM would be shot.
Secondly, Rick and Pancho would disappear into their rooms with the therapists for hours at a time and come out wired to the gills. When I questioned them about this they claimed that Doctor Alverez had developed an entirely new way of getting high which they would demonstrate at our forthcoming anniversary party.
We were really excited about our first anniversary and had invited our thirty best clients for a week-long bash. Supplies were stocked: three kilos of the best cocaine to be found, one kilo plus two hundred grams of bicarbonate soda, a gallon of acetone, some potato chips, twenty gallons of cranberry juice, a pound of pistachio nuts, five hundred pounds of ice and sixty-two porno videos. The last person standing would get a two-week free stay at "The Cedars Of Lebanon Sanitarium" in Los Angeles.
Our clients were assembled in the great hall. Doctor Alverez was trundled out. He raised his pipe and cried, "Let the party begin!” And then he ducked behind the wooden partition separating the Great Hall, as we called the drug room, and the private clinica where the doctor and my two partners liked to hang out while I worked the clients.
At the end of the first day, a kilo of pure had been converted and smoked and people were looking out the windows. At the end of the second day we had consumed two full kilos of pure cocaine and some of our clients were crouched on their hands and knees looking under the door. Others were hiding in closets. Still others were scratching at their arms and saying things like "bugs and molecules.”
Rick and Pancho had disappeared and I called for a six-hour rest break. However the "Just one more" vote was carried over my veto. The horror broke at eleven PM of the third day. We were down to our last six hundred grams and seven survivors. I was thinking that I would have to buy new supplies the next day when suddenly the realization hit.
WE WERE OUT OF CIGARETTE LIGHTERS. WE WERE OUT OF MATCHES. WE HAD NO FLINT OR STONE. WE HAD NO SUNSHINE AND MAGNIFYING GLASSES. WE HAD ABSOLUTELY NO WAY TO MAKE A FLAME AND RICK AND PANCHO WERE NOWHERES IN SIGHT.
The horde was getting restless a mutiny was imminent. The clinica was six kilometers out of town. There was a curfew in effect and people who were caught out doors after hours were getting shot. While what we were doing was technically legal, I was sure that the DEA had a price on our heads. The elite corps "Los Panteros" was looking for a way to fuck us up, or at least get some bribe money out of us. Colonel Enrique, who always wore a mask had followed me down the streets of Santa Cruz on various occasions, muttering in English, "I'll get you, sucker.”
I heard the sound of tramping feet: an army patrol. Desperate, I tacked a white T-shirt onto a broomstick and walked out into the roadway crying "NO FUEGO! POR FAVOR, NO FUEGO!” Which could be translated as either, "DON'T SHOOT! DON'T SHOOT!” Or, "NO FIRE! NO FIRE!” Either way being accurate.
I managed to buy two boxes of matches for a hundred dollars. I got back to the clinica with my prizes and the clients went crazy scrambling for a hit on their pipes. Then they went into a feeding frenzy, ripping down cabins, doors, anything made of wood, and finally the partition between the Great Hall and the private clinica. And there were Pancho, Rick, the doctor, and ten of our best clients, along with our sexiest therapists.
They were buck naked and everyone but for Rick and Pancho were strung up to ceiling beams. Rick and Pancho had needleless hypodermics in their hands and a pot of liquid cocaine on a table.
"WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?" I SCREAMED.
"This is our new invention," said Pancho.
"It's like this," sez Rick. “First you put a gram of coke into water and shake it up until it all dissolves. Then you take it into a needleless hypo and put it up the rectum. Then you slowly squirt the coke into the large intestine and you get a great rush. Wanna try it?"
"N-O SPELLS NO," sez I. And the next thing you know, the door crashes open and in flies Colonel Enrique and Los Panteros.
“Caramba," says the Colonel. "Que pasa aqui?"
"Think quick, Rick," I tell him.
Rick was a great alibi man, but he screwed up here because the only thing that he came up with was, "We're torturing them so that they'll tell us where the money is.”
Colonel Enrique pulled himself up to his full four feet eleven and said, "Tortura es illegal en Bolivia. I hereby confiscate this clinica, all of the cocaine and your money. And I order you out of the country!”
Meanwhile in the Great Hall, the clients and therapists, naked each and every one, were fighting to the death over the remaining matches.
I grabbed the last six hundred grams and fled into the jungle which was illuminated by the flames of the burning clinica. When the flames reached the vats of ether and acetone the explosion could be heard in Cochabamba. I don't know what happened to Doctor Alverez, Rick and Pancho. As for the clients, I do know that it ain't safe for me to go to Houston.
Me, I made it back to Amsterdam, don't ask me how.
And started all over again. Hope springs eternal.
Photographs and Text by Nat Finkelstein
© The Estate of Nat Finkelstein