"They say cocaine's for horses/Not for men,/Doctors say it'll kill ya/But they don't say when." (Cocaine Blues - Luke Jordan, 1927)
The DEA Agent shrugged. "Has to be a couple of billion."
Chris held up two fingers. "Only two," he proclaimed.
The DEA Agent said, "Okay, I'll go for it. How come only two?'
Chris said, "Because the rest are true."
The DEA Agent thought a minute, then nodded. "A lot of funny things happen when you're a cop," he said. "Like, when I was a rookie escorting the meat wagon to the coroner's office and the body fell out the back when they hit a bump."
Chris and I laughed.
The DEA Agent shook his head. "That's not the funny part," he said. "The funny part is that I ran over the son of a bitch."
The laughter became louder and extended. Then the cocktail waitress fetched more drinks and we settled down.
The DEA Agent said, "Problem with cop humor is that somebody is usually getting the brown end of the stick."
I said, "Like Carlos Lehder And Associates. Shitty sticks all around for those guys."
The DEA Agent said, "They had a helluva run while it lasted. Lived like the Rajahs of old. Mountains of money. Harems of beautiful women. Jewelry. Cars. Boats. Villas. People bowing and scraping when they passed."
Chris intoned: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree:/Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea."
"Coleridge," The DEA Agent said - identifying the poet. When he saw our surprise, he added, a little embarrassed, "I was a Liberal Arts major." He sighed. "No help there busting bad guys. What - you've got Reading Gaol? Oscar Wilde going boo-hoo? Carlos Lehder would have pissed on Wilde - or, likely, worse. Hated gay people so much it made me wonder about his own orientation."
As mentioned before, Carlos Lehder was one of the villains who pioneered the modern drug smuggling and narco-murder business. And the DEA Agent - who was undercover and must remain nameless - was the Federal cop responsible for putting him and a whole host of people - including a gang of American good old boys - so far under the jail that they can hear Satan scratching at their cellblock floor.
We'd flown (first class, natch) to Jacksonville, Florida, to meet and interview the agent, who was there tying up the loose ends in the aftermath of the Federal Court Trial of Carlos And Company. Things had been so tense during the trials that all the Courthouse entrances had been sandbagged and the ground floor windows boarded up. They were still in place when we arrived to gather material for the Showtime movie, to be directed by the great William Friedkin.
A side effect was that the script assignment itself was double-damned delicate and every step had to be approved by the DEA brass. They ran security clearances on us, and it didn't hurt that I was a CIA brat, or that Chris was a decorated combat veteran.
Eventually, we met up with the agent and we hit it off from the start, even though he thought we were hippie commie symps and we thought he was a fascist piggy with a badge and gun.
There was a nice bar at our hotel, and while pretty cocktail waitresses fetched us drinks and emptied our ashtrays we got down to it. Naturally, one of the first things we wanted to know was how he got into the cop business in the first place.
He said, "I'm from a little bitty hick town where nothing ever happens and I was the kind who craved adventure. If things had been different, I guess I could have been a bad guy myself.
"I used to like, you know, sort of peek over the fence and see what they were up to. Metaphorically, that is. I admit I was tempted, but my momma would have killed me if I had strayed, so I cashed in some decent high school grades and went off to college instead."
I said, "Drugs were - and are - rampant on most campuses. And the Justice Department's pretty unforgiving about previous drug use. Was that a problem when you took your pre-employment lie detector test?"
The DEA Agent shook his head. "Thanks to my upbringing - and fear of my momma - I managed to stay clean in college. It was tougher afterward when I was a rookie on the D.C. police. I was hanging with the same college crowd. Chasing girls. Drinking beer. You had pot and shit everywhere."
"And you never partook?" I pressed.
He sighed. "No. But I was tempted. Had to quit hanging out with that crowd. Lost a lot of friends."
I said, "What prompted you to go from being a D.C. flatfoot to the DEA?"
He said, "Well, it wasn't long before the cop work got kind of boring. And that can get real dangerous. You get careless."
Chris nodded sympathetically. "It's like being a sojer boy in a combat zone," he said. "Days on end of nothing happening, followed by three minutes of flying bullets and sheer terror."
"Exactly," the DEA Agent said. "Anyway, I made some impressive pinches, and pretty soon the DEA came knocking at my door. It looked like a helluva challenge, so I jumped at it."
He paused, then said, "That's when I lost the rest of my friends. Suddenly, in their eyes I was a Narc. And everybody hated Narcs."
Chris nodded. "Hate them myself." He grinned at the DEA Agent. "Present company excepted... Almost."
"Good to know where we stand," the DEA Agent said - but with a slight smile.
I said, "Then things got boring again, right?"
He snorted. "Right! It's still basically police work. And that means shoe leather, knocking on doors, or staking out places where the bad guys hang until your ass is falling off and your stomach is eating itself raw from all the cardboard coffee and junk food."
I asked him how it was that he stumbled on Carlos Lehder 's trail, and he said that while he was based in Florida, he became suspicious of a pilot... crop dusting, flying banners over the beach... that sort of pilot. The guy had been busted before on Federal dope smuggling charges. Flying pot in from Mexico, and so on. He said the guy was White Trash - an ex-con Cracker - who was suddenly flashing a lot of cash.
He thought the guy was up to his old tricks again, but in a much bigger way - flying harder stuff, like cocaine, into little private airfields that exist by the thousands in the U.S.
"Come to find out," he said, "that when the guy was in the pen at Danbury, he ended up cellmates with Carlos, who also spent a couple of years in our jails. That's where they worked out the new methods of smuggling coke in huge quantities. Flying in small planes below the radar from South America and the Islands. Tons of the stuff, wrapped up in football-size packages. A hundred grand a football."
"Your bosses must have creamed their jeans when you told them about the guy," Chris said.
A weary sigh. "That's what you'd think, wouldn't you?" he said. "But when you're dealing with the government, nothing is ever logical. They were pointed in one direction - dope smuggling on a much smaller scale, and not very organized. Also, I had one sort of job I'd been assigned to, and they wanted me to stick to it."
He said during his off hours, he started hanging out in the neighborhoods where the Cracker and his extended family and friends lived. Saw little trailer homes transformed into big, new doublewides, with fancy decking and above-ground swimming pools in the backyard. Saw the doublewides turn into upscale homes in posh neighborhoods, with proper swimming pools planted into the earth. Big screen TV sets and stereos. Expensive cars and pickups. Bass boats, speed boats. Wives graduating from K-Mart shopping sprees to Bloomingdale blowouts.
"First sign that a Cracker has made good," Chris commented, "is he gets himself a doublewide and a picture of Elvis painted on black velvet to hang in the living room." Chris was originally from Fresno, so he knew the type.
"Hell, there was a time when I might have done the same," the DEA Agent said. "But then those boys started getting really serious. Money - and dope - was rolling in. They bought bigger and better planes - all with really sophisticated electronics. Extra gas tanks to extend the flying range. And pretty soon they were building additions to those homes, and instead of just new cars and pickups, they were buying up whole dealerships."
"Average guy works his whole life," Chris said, "and he's lucky if he has a set of paid-up wheels. And here they have whole car lots full of wheels."
"That's what really pissed me off," the DEA Agent said. "I started getting offended on behalf of all those working stiffs, who just manage to get by. I felt like these boys were personally rubbing my nose in it."
"Even though they didn't even know you existed," I said.
He laughed. "That was the good part," he said. "They didn't have a clue that I was on them like white on rice."
He said he became obsessed. After work, on his days off, and during holidays he would haunt their neighborhood, meeting places, and small private airports they favored. He kept track of everyone who visited them, snapping telephoto shots of license plates, running them through computers - gradually widening his hunt.
He persisted, argued with his bosses, put the evidence together piece by piece. He and his partner spent hours pawing through garbage cans for additional evidence - some of it buried in with the dirty diapers.
"You should have seen us," he said. "Coming up smiling with a key piece of evidence, baby shit all over our hands."
But as they moved in on the Cracker, the international operation was getting larger. Carlos flew in and out of the U.S. with impunity, even though he had been permanently expelled from the country when he left prison.
"They are so sophisticated," he said, "that they've rented - and even purchased - homes near major American bases all along the Gulf.
"I visited one base where they use an AWACs to patrol the Gulf for narcotics and human smugglers. The guy let me look at the radar display. There'd be all these blips of light showing boats speeding across the Gulf when the AWAC was on the ground. The moment it took off on patrol, the blips would stop. When the patrol ended, and the AWAC landed, the blips started up again. Zip, boom... so many dots of light it looked like a meteor shower.
"Obviously, they have guys watching the planes take off and land, and they're alerting their bosses when it is safe and when it is not."
But now, our DEA Agent had a team of guys - both on the ground and in the office - putting pressure on the Cracker and his gang. Going after their car and boat dealerships. Slapping liens on their planes. Searching their homes. Freezing their bank accounts.
"Finally, the Cracker Mr. Big and several of his cronies vanished," the DEA Agent said. "Took a while, but we finally tracked them to Haiti, where they had paid off the government for protection. They set up shop again, but this time they had actual cops guarding whole warehouses of their shit. And the Haitians refused to extradite them."
"Sounds like you were pretty well stuck," I said. "What did you do?"
The DEA Agent shrugged. "I went to Haiti. What else?"
Now the tale got doubly interesting. The Agent flew to Haiti and checked in with the police there.
"I tried to appeal to them cop to cop," he said. "But, it was no dice. I couldn't even get a line on where they lived. I hit the streets, greased some palms, and finally found this nightclub they hung out in.
"And man, that place was something else. Like one of those hangouts Blackbeard and his pirate crews partied at in Port Au Prince back in the old days. Everything illegal in the world going on in that joint, and they had uniformed cops outside for bouncers."
"One night there was a big party and I blended in with the crowd and got into the club. Boy, were they going at it. Smoking dope and snorting lines of coke right at the tables. Everybody openly armed to the teeth. Drinking and carrying on.
"Pawing at naked girls on their laps. Then hauling them out on the floor to dance. It was the wildest scene I've ever witnessed in my life.
"After a while, they started to take notice of me. Even in the crowd. I figured I was looking too straight. So, I started drinking a little more. And then this pretty girl came up to me - stark naked - and asks if I want to dance with her.
"I could see out of the corner of my eye that some of the guys were watching me. That's when I spotted the Cracker Mr. Big, who was sitting there with the other guys, a girl in his lap. One of his boys gives him a nudge and then he's looking directly at me. He's never seen me before, but I could tell he was getting suspicious.
"So, I act all drunk and happy and grab the girl and get out on the floor and dance with her. Dancing right over by their table, as if I hadn't a thought in my head but this beautiful Haitian girl."
He shook his head at the memory. "It was so damned strange," he said. "I'm dancing with this naked girl who is all pressed up against me, which sure got my blood boiling. Meanwhile, these guys with guns in shoulder holsters are giving me the eye and sending icicles up my spine."
"What did you do?" I asked.
The DEA Agent barked laughter. "What else? Grabbed her ass and kept dancing. Let her rub herself up against me. Then it was back to my table and more drinks."
He said after a while, when the Cracker and the others quit paying attention to him, he figured he'd better get out of there. But how to exit without drawing their attention again?
"I told the girl I wanted to hire her for the night," he said. "So, she got some clothes - a really skimpy outfit that showed everything. And she had plenty of everything.
"Then we slip outside and get into my rental car. I wait a few minutes, smoking a cigarette, and listening to the girl chatter in this sexy, Island/Frenchy accent. Pretty soon I see the Cracker come out with some buddies and several girls.
"They get into a big old SUV and take off. I followed them out of there in my car, not letting on to the girl, and I see where they go. Up this big hill with a ditch running right down the center, carrying a huge pipe that was busted up and spewing water everywhere. And there's people there, in the middle of the night, with buckets and pails filling up with water and hauling them home. The girl's talking a mile a minute and I'm nodding, 'Uh, huh. Really? Son of a gun.' Like that.
"Pretty soon I see the SUV get to this huge mansion at the top of the hill. I thought it was obscene. All that money on display with all those poor people hauling water from a ditch.
"The SUV heads up the driveway, and so I mark the spot and go on past. And, now I know where the Cracker hangs his Ball Cap. I turn around and head back down the hill. But then I notice that those car lights I 'd thought might be following me, really were following me.
"I pass the car and it's a cop car. After I go by.... In my rear-view I see it make a U-Turn and come back to shadow me.
"Only thing I could do was go back to my motel. And now, here I'm sitting in this motel with this gorgeous girl who was dancing naked with me only an hour or so ago. And what the hell am I going to do with her? I can't send her away until morning because I know damned well that Haitian cop car is out there watching."
He paused, stubbed out a cigarette and a lit another. For a minute, it looked like he wasn't going to continue. The suspense was killing us.
Chris finally asked, "Did you fuck her?"
The DEA Agent sighed. "Yeah," he said. "I fucked her."
"But you were divorced at the time, right?" I said, allowing him to let off a little of the guilt I saw on his face.
He brightened a bit. "I was," he said. "Wasn't final yet. But we were getting close."
Chris said. "Good, because Billy will want to put that in the movie."
The DEA Agent nodded. "Thought he would," he said, resigned.
"And now you had to figure out how to bust the Cracker and get him and his gang home and in jail," I said.
He laughed. It was the first real laugh we'd heard from him since the interviews had started.
"That was one helluva deal," he said.
"Tell us," I said.
And he did.
LUCKY IN CYPRUS:
A True Story About A Boy,
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FREEDOM BIRD: 3 GI'S HOME FROM VIETNAM
Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.
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What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)
Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969