In my younger years, I lived in Charlottesville, the old haunt of Mr. Poe, not half a mile from the same Ragged Mountain made famous by his writing. Mr. Poe only attended the University for year or so, his stay mostly remarkable for his lack of actual attendance of lectures and the copious ingestion of alcohol and other intoxicants for which he is still infamous and, I might add, revered and emulated by many undergraduates. Despite his brief stay, Mr. Poe is regarded as one of the University's luminaries even though, as usual, that only came about many years later, after he became famous. At the time, he was hardly noticed, but today you can't go on a tour or enter a bookstore without hearing some tale of Mr. Poe's association with the school or seeing some likeness of a raven.
Ragged Mountain is, as he described it, a low range of desolate hills which are located Southwest of town and trail off in that direction into Nelson County. I have rambled all over those hills with an eye out for the hidden gorge described by Mr. Bledso but, after 10 years, had never seen a trace nor heard the bark of a hyena. Now, decades later, the area is fenced, cross-fenced, and gentrified into yet another suburban enclave of "farms" and "country estates" affordable for the professional class.
I came to Charlottesville after a short residence in South Florida at the height of the pot smuggling era and the beginning of the time of the cocaine cowboys. Part of my reason for leaving was education but another was to get out of the trade as it was becoming increasingly crazy and violent. I was told by some of the old hands that the average lifespan of the low level dealer was about a year until he's was either busted, turned, jailed, shot, or some combination of the above. At each level of the food chain, the chance of ascension was about the same as an American high school soccer player being signed by Manchester City. Most of the guys at level above me had already done their term of advanced study, courtesy of the State of Florida, at Stark or Perry. It was not a very promising prospect. So, I bailed.
Imagine my surprise when, one morning several years later, a knock on the door interrupted my coffee and perusal of the Daily Progress. There, in the grey drizzle, stood R., a famous - or infamous - Florida dealer, a rock star of the trade indeed. He was widely known nationally as a professional surfer when those were as rare as hen's teeth. He had the sponsors, the magazine covers, and the wahines to prove it. But, he also had a taste for cocaine which would later be the end of his teeth, nasal septum, and career. That, however, lay a few years into the future.
Damn, R, what a surprise! Come in out of the rain.
The last time I saw him was two years before, sitting on a bale of Jamaican, calmly picking out the buds. I hadn't spoken to him since then. I struggled to think if there was some reason he was here. Did I owe some money? Had some deal gone sideways? Was it about his sister, my one time lover?
Can I get you some coffee?
R. stood at the kitchen door drinking from his mug, looking out over the front yard and to the mountain beyond shrouded in grey mist. He proceeded to tell me the strange tale of how he ended up in my kitchen.
The whole story begins with that last deal we did together, you know, going down to get the load off that trawler and delivering it up to Satellite. You remember? After you left, I moved back to Miami. I had a nice little import business going, not too big but enough to put some money away. I thought I was staying under the radar. I did an occasional deal with the same crew and laid off the product with our old pal Micky up in Cocoa. Mostly, I was working so I could make enough money to be able to stay in PR or Mex for the winter.
Miguel, the captain, decided that he was not going to run pot from Jamaica anymore. The island was more and more being used as a distribution hub for cocaine and heroin to Houston, New Orleans, Florida, and the East Coast. It made little sense to fill his boat with bales when he could fill it with bricks and make ten times the money for a single run. He told me I could get a special price if the Jamaicans agreed. He didn't think that would be a problem since we had done a number of deals over the years. So, he arranged a meeting on Cat Island. The next week, he picked me up in Miami one evening and, after an overnight passage, we were off French Bay the next morning. We motored the skiff around the point and tied up at a new dock where there was a new hotel under construction.
We walked into a partially finished building and there were 4 guys sitting around a table strewn with architectural plans. One was John, a Jamaican a fellow who often accompanied Miguel into Miami. I had met him before. Two others also were also Jamaicans with dreads and the fourth was a Latin guy in a suit but no tie. He said not a word the whole time we were there. The proposal was simple. They would bring the product in and I was responsible for picking it up COD and laying off a certain amount every two weeks. They knew my name. They knew where I lived - even that I had moved to a different apartment 10 days ago. They knew my bank. They knew where my parents and my sister lived. They even knew a number of my buyers and associates over the years including your old house mate Rick, Micky, and you. No threats were made but I was told that I would pay every two weeks the agreed amount even if I didn't even take delivery. The price point was very good and the initial volume was manageable - pretty close to what I was doing anyway. I'm sure they knew that.
The main problem was that this arrangement would interfere with my surf trips. I was even planning to go to Hawaii that winter. The apparent head guy dismissed it. "You got to grow up, mon. With this deal, you make enough to commute to Hawaii." I agreed, as long as the deliveries were handled by Miguel or one of the Jamaicans I had met. The guy in the suit then pulled out a case and opened it up revealing about 8 keys of coke and a single brick of Mexican heroin. I told them I didn't sell that stuff and wasn't sure if I could move it. John said I'd see. It would be no problem. Anyway, this half key was a gift to seal our partnership. I was supposed to see them in 2 days on Marco Island with the cash.
The return trip was uneventful. I spent the next 2 days trying to round up the cash and ended up using a chunk of the money I had saved for my winter on the North Shore. I made it to the yacht harbor on Marco Island at dusk and Miguel and John met me there in a new Contender. I handed over the money and turned to leave. No, señor, Miguel said. Let's take a ride. We got in the boat and rode South toward Chokoloskee. The wind was dead calm and the water was plate glass as the moon rose over the Thousand Islands. After about an hour, I spotted an unlit trawler in the moonlight and we pulled alongside. There were 3-4 people on board and one guy on the top of the pilothouse with a rifle. A Jamaican guy got on board the Contender. We headed East into the mangrove channels at good speed. There was a campfire on one of the islands and we made a bead for it.
You know Santeria? It's Cuban or something. In Haiti, they got voodoo. These Jamaicans had some other fucked up religion which involves speaking some pidgin, fire, ganga, and sacrifices. They had a couple of chickens gutted and were soaking feathers in blood, throwing them in the fire, and other such shit. I stood there looking stupid until one of the guys grabbed both my arms and held me. I turned to him and said hey and he just cracked a grin. As I turned back to the fire, another pressed a big ass blade against my throat, all bloody and sticky with chicken guts. This older guy with long dreads picks up some feathers and smears my cheek with blood, muttering some shit. He smiled with his gold teeth glinting in the fire and said now he knew he could trust me. You do what I say and you will be protected by Obi. They let me go and handed me a fat spliff they had been passing around. I was shaking like a leaf. The old Jamaican seemed to be the leader or chief or priest or whatever. The others kept their distance.
He pulled out a snuff box and motioned me over. He opened it and took a snort with a little spoon. I thought great, I could use a little bump. It's about time I tried some of this coke. I took one snort and it was just like acid or fire in my nose. I sneezed, coughed, gagged and threw up, as all those freaks were laughing like hyenas. Then I began to get weird sensations like the sparks from the fire left trails as they went up in the air, the crickets seemed so loud, but I couldn't hear or understand what people were saying. I felt dizzy and sat down, leaning back against this palm trunk and kinda passed out.
I woke up in the early morning with fucking fire ants biting my foot. I was laying on the beach next to the smoldering fire and those burnt chicken carcasses. They were covered with ants. It was foggy, cold, and wet. I couldn't see shit. No one else was around. I looked out toward the bay and could barely see the water's edge. I stirred up the fire but it was all wet and that just put it out. I figured I'd wait for the sun to come and burn the fog off. After an hour or so, I don't know how long, the fog was a bit thinner but I still didn't see any boats.
There was a sand track like some old road leading off the beach where I had slept which curved East up into the mangroves. I was tired of slapping mosquitoes so after waiting a while I started walking. Not too far up the road I came to a ruined fish camp. Just a falling down shack, a rotten pier and some pilings in the bank of a canal. In the fog, it looked like it was a thousand years old. The road continued on until I came to some rusty seemingly abandoned trailers, doors gone or swinging open. I heard a dog bark up ahead in the fog. Then, I walked into some sort of town - a few more forgotten trailers, a couple of shacks with no windows, and a ramshackle store. My stomach was still fucked up. I walked into the store. A naked bulb hung in the room. I called out but no one was around. There was an old rusty Coke ice chest. I opened it and saw a couple of those old Coke bottles submerged in rusty warm water. What were they? Six ounces? Anyway, I got a room temperature bottle of Coke which almost made me puke again and brought the trails and the noise in my ears back. I sat down on the steps and must have passed out for a couple of hours.
I dreamed I was up on some hill looking down on a town. It looked hot and dusty down there but up on the hill it was cool. I could see people down there, moving about like ants far below. Then, gradually, it seemed like face after face turned in my direction until the whole town seemed to be looking up the hill at me. A group of people set out from the town toward me and more joined them as they walked. I turned around to see what they were looking at but there was nothing on the hill. When I turned back, the throng was twice the size and some of them were carrying sticks or spears. As they came closer, I realized that those I had taken for women were men with long hair and dreads. I thought I better get out of there so I turned back and took off.
I woke up swatting mosquitoes again. My ears were clear and I could hear again. I felt better so I kept walking down the road until I hit some pavement. I walked West as the sun finally came out. I flagged down this Seminole in an old Ford and bummed a ride back to civilization. He asked where I came from. I told him I was partying on an island and was left by my friends then walked to the road. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "You must have duck feet. There's nothing but swamp on that side." I told him about the rundown town on dirt road but he said there's no road. He pointed to the canal which ran along the highway which I could see stretching straight as an arrow in both directions. I couldn't see the sand road. Weird. I hopped into the cab and he drove me back to Naples.
When I got back to Miami, I found some fucking chicken feathers on my kitchen counter. I called my sister but couldn't reach her.
Yeah. He looked sideways at me. She asks about you sometimes. I finally got in touch with her girlfriend and she told me that Pam had gone to Jamaica for a week and was at some resort! I was going to lay low but then I realized I had another shipment in 8-9 days and had to come up with the money or who knows what those psychos would do. What's worse is I keep having the dream where I'm running from a crowd of Jamaicans.
Don't you have any whiskey to put in this coffee?, he said as he handed me the mug.
I started heating up the coffee and making some eggs and toast. I got R a new cup with a splash of Paddys.
What was that shit? Sounds like ackee, Jimson weed, or some other such poison.
John said it was some herb - I didn't recognize the name - and ground up human bones.
You're shitting me. That's whacked.
Yeah, I've found that whole crew is seriously crazy - probably from snorting that.
I hope you don't expect me to come up with money. I'm a poor medical student now just getting by on part-time work and my wife's job.
The money's no problem for now. When I got back to Miami, I took stock and found I had cleared enough to pay for the next 3 deliveries almost. I decided to focus on a select few buyers so I could dispose of the product rapidly. I gave them a good price so they were making money. Soon, I was basically doing a delivery service for the coke to Miami and up coast. The problem was the heroin. The Jamaicans likely had a higher profit on that and pushed more and more of it on me. For a while, I was able to get rid of it to Ron.
Ron - who lived on the Venetian Isles?
Seriously, I thought he was a pilot for some airline. I haven't seen him forever.
Well, he had some commercial gig, but I think he made more dealing. I didn't know him as well as you.
Which was not very well.
Anyway, he didn't want any more than 4 keys at a time so soon I had a problem. Plus, one of my buyers from Savannah went to jail. I can't sell any more without risk. So here I am.
Shit, R, you're like the rat on the wheel.
Hmm. I could introduce you to Jim in Norfolk who still deals but he's flaky. I can't help you much there as I'm out of the trade.
That's where I'd like to be.
Well, you could get yourself busted for some minor possession charge, do a few months, and then they likely wouldn't want to deal with you after.
Or, move to Indo.
I was thinking Tahiti or Samoa.
Good luck. Don't tell Pam. So how did you find me?
I asked John. I was on my way up to DC so I thought I would drop by.
Well, I'm not hiding and I'm in the phone book so I guess I could be found, but still it's a little disconcerting. Still if I can help you I could try to come up with some names.
But now I had no intention of giving him any other names. Who knows, maybe he had been busted and was trying to set people up for the cops. Maybe I would just be throwing those poor sods under the bus, either to the cops or, maybe worse, to be menaced by some fucking Obi wannabe priest. Now, I just wanted to get him to move on. We had a bit of breakfast and I called Jim, my acquaintance in Norfolk, telling him to expect a visit from R. We said goodbye and R. said he would drop by on the way back to meet my wife. But I never saw him again.
I heard from Jim that he met R. and they did a few deals. Jim met the Jamaicans too and they started bringing drugs into Norfolk directly. Ballsy as hell. I had almost shit myself when we went down to the Miami River docks and unloaded a trawler in clear sight of the federal building. But now these guys were running boats full of cocaine and heroin right past the entire Atlantic Fleet and up the Elizabeth River. Jim was busted two years later. Ultimately, he died of a heart attack at age 50. I always wondered if coke mixed with Jamaican hoodoo dust was to blame. R. didn't show on the return trip. I later heard from one of my Florida friends that he was still in Miami, a bit of a hopeless addict who had lost his back teeth and had a hole in his nasal septum from snorting some shit.
Since I live in Florida now, I see Jamaicans all the time, some guy with dreads out of the corner of my eye, some sound man for a reggae band scanning the crowd at the bar, but maybe not those Jamaicans. Who knows?
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