The Coke Game

We were sniffing so much coke by now, that we were making several trips a week to the Dominican coke merchants up on 168st and Amsterdam Ave. One day after copping, Lytle made me a proposition, just when I was about to crack for a slice of the pie. Well, getting me to agree didn’t require much of a sales job. He was longing to diversify, with me heading of the drug sales division.

The split was to be fifty/fifty. From the start, I had my apprehensions. But, after our first major purchase, I started to believe. Our normal buys took place in hallways, but this one was too big to make in the open.

Our normal guy was always there to greet us, flashing the smile of a used car salesman. Good to see you, my friends,” he said, in a heavy Spanish ascent. After scanning the block for anything out of the ordinary, we followed him inside. Once inside, Lytle flashed a roll of cash, wiping the smile off of his sandy-brown face. He thought for a minute before waving for us to follow him.

Reaching the top floor of the walkup, he knocked and waited. After a short exchange in Spanish, bolts released and locks tumbled. As I entered the tenement apartment, I noticed that the hall was empty. Hearing the door close, I turned to see a shot-gun pump in the hands of someone who looked like he knew how to use it. Our guide patted us down and then he started toward the front of the apartment. Noisy floorboards rattled under foot and a dog scratched earnestly as the door to a side room as we filed down the dimly lit hallway.

Entering into the living room, lit by a gaudy chandelier, I spotted a man beside blackened windows holding an assault rifle and an older man seated in the center of the room. The only items in the room were a card table, a folding chair, a triple beam scale, a stack of white brinks (kilos) waist high. All of a sudden, I realized the risk that I was taking. If joint was stuck up or busted, my life is over,” I thought. A feeling of panic began to chip away at my nerves: I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

The man behind the scale was as cold as snow, his eyes scanning us on levels we couldn’t imagine. After looking us over, he us beckoned over to the table. Lytle laid eight thousand on the table and glanced over at me. A quick count and the man unwrapped a cellophane brick and broke off a third. Without weighing it, he rewrapped it and handed it to Lytle. Then the man nodded to the street dealer, never giving us a second thought.

That’s how our little enterprise got started. But, we had acted so hastily, we hadn’t thought about territory. It was too dangerous (with the police, stick-up kids and rival dealers) to stake out a spot in Harlem, so we settled for 96th Street and Central Park West, just inside the park.

By the end of the first week, I hadn’t made a single sale. We were starting to rethink the location. Suddenly, sales began to pick up. Early morning jogger started to approach me. My first sale came from a Wall Street type who lived in a fashionable high-rise across the street.

Within two weeks, I had a dozen regular customers, most of which lived along the opulent Central Park West. You might say that I spoke their language on two levels. Within two weeks of starting out, we needed to resupply, warranting another trip to Jackson Heights. I carried a gun to the buy as a precaution and left it in the car.

I was about to learn why so many fell into that line of work and never looked back. It is all about Money. By twelve noon, I was usually sold out. I worked mornings to pick up the rush hour trade of businessmen looking for a hit to start their day, when coffee just wasn’t doing it any more. No matter the weather, I always sold out. After settling with Lytle, I usually cleared a couple of thousand dollars a week.

Entering my little room, I would throw the drug money into my top draw to be counted after my nap. Afterwards, I stored my growing snatch in the underbelly of the dresser. Any product left over was stored in a mini frig that Lyle bought.

I gave my landlady an extra $25 a month to keep her from squawking about my personal appliance. Lytle would show up about five and we’d do a little shopping and then figure out where to eat. City Island was our favorite spot. He loved the seafood and I loved the view. It was the same every day.

After only a couple of weeks, my wardrobe had become so extensive, I had nowhere to store it all. My room started to resemble a tiny clothing outlet filled with country club attire including: Adidas jogging suits of every color with matching Kangols, boxes of white sneakers, mohair sport jackets, linen suits, Italian-cut shirts and alligator kicks. I was living the life.

I was amazed by how easy it all was. The drug money was as addictive as the drug itself, and I was hooked on both. White people just walked up to me and handed me green. I rationalized that I was simply providing a service; not helping to destroy lives.

I was thinking about taking on help when the best thing in the world happened, I got busted. On a morning like any other, a jogging suit clan white man with jet-black hair and smoldering gray eyes approached me. I should have read that classic cop stare, but he caught me daydreaming. Instead of paying attention to the business at hand, I was going over the day’s deliveries in my head.

“What you got?” asked the stone-faced white man, not the least bit nervous. That should have been a red flag. My first time customers were always a little jumpy.

“What you need,” I asked, digging my hand into my jacket pocket.

Chapter One Hundred & Eighty-Seven: Cold Busted

Stone face didn’t allow me to retrieve my hand from my pocket before he was on top of me. The rest of his three man squad rushed in to take me down. After cuffing me, they transported me to a staging area in the heart of the park. There were about twenty of us, mostly Puerto Ricans, spread side by side on the grass like rows of cigars in a box.

I soon learned that they were waiting a transport bus to central booking. My face resting in the grass, I thought about how my arrest was going to kill my mother. Every time she saw Lytle, she warned me about him.

“You need to stop letting that boy lead you around. He calls and you come. And, I ain’t buying that story about him just giving you money.”

The top cop arrived and he ordered personal searches. They found about $200 in cash and another $2,000 in product. After the sergeant performed a taste test, he gave me a puzzled look. Then, he called over to one of his subordinates.

“This fucker here seems to be the only one out here conducting business. The rest of these fuck heads are peddling shit. The two cops moved just out of ear range to carry on what I thought was the last details of our transport, as the police bus was just pulling up. My future was in the toilet, and they were about to flush. The top cop then walked slowly back to me.

“Get him up. Get him on his feet. Listen, you fucker, today is you lucky day. You’re being let go,” he said, looking over at the others still on the ground. “But, I better never see your black ass in my park again, not ever.”

“You won’t, officer. I will never…”

“Take the cuffs off,” he ordered. “Now get the fuck out of here!”

My feet couldn’t carry me fast enough. My stomach was tied in a knot, and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I thought about the train, and then remembered I had no money. They kept it all, perhaps more interested in my drugs than the bust. I called Lytle now after getting uptown.

I gave him the details of my release, and he agreed with my assessment. He said that he would resupply me and suggested a change of location. But that was it for me. I wasn’t cut out for the business. I knew from the moment of my release that my drug-dealing days were over and so was our partnership. And, for that matter, so was our friendship.