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Flying

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The taxi driver drops me off at the Marriott, and I call Happy the second I get to the room. After much haggling, he agrees to drive out to the hotel, but only if I will spend at least $800. I say no problem. It is just after eleven when Happy and I speak. At 11:50, he calls me from the parking lot. I can’t remember his ever delivering this quickly in Manhattan.

I have a spectacular pile of crack in the little ashtray on the nightstand. This is the most I have ever had on my own, and I know I will smoke every last bit of it. I wonder if somewhere in that pile is the crumb that will bring on a heart attack or stroke or seizure. The cardiac event that will deliver all this to an abrupt and welcome halt. My chest pounds, my fingers are singed, I fill my lungs with smoke.

I phone the front desk and find out that the last call at the bar is at one. I shower and shave and clean up as best I can. I put in a new pair of contacts because when I’m getting high, no matter how much water I drink or how many eye drops I empty into my eyes, the lenses dry up and pop out. I wear my navy cashmere turtleneck because it’s thick and cabled and hides my rickety frame; it is also expensive and, I think, obscures the cracked-out truth of me. I wear my jeans, and even though I am now cinching my belt to its last hole, I still need to tuck the front of the sweater in to keep them from falling down.

I finally make it downstairs and am immediately disappointed that the bar is nearly empty and dotted with a few couples and business colleagues traveling together. I don’t see the vulnerable and restless loner I’m looking for—that magical kindred partner in crime, game for a long night. I slam three or four vodkas and begin to get shaky. More than twenty minutes without a hit is pushing it, and I’ve been downstairs for at least half an hour. Vodka usually eases that jittery feeling, smooths the little wrinkles of horror that slip in as a high teeters toward a crash, but it’s not helping much now. In any case, I’ve got the largest pile of crack I’ve ever seen waiting in the room.

The night swirls with thick smoke, and I go through nine of the sixteen bags by early afternoon. I have never smoked so much in such a short time—two bags, shared with at least one other person, would normally be a big night—and my skin tingles with heat. I’m aware of every breath and every heartbeat.

I ask the cabdriver if he parties. Sure do, he says, and right then, I know I will probably never make it to Berlin.

With three hours before the flight, I finally make my way down through the lobby. As I check out, I notice, near the door, five or six men between the ages of 40 and 60. Each has some distinct but unspecific quality—gray slacks, grim shoes, windbreaker. Head-to-toe JCPenney. They mumble to one another, and it seems—though it’s not exactly clear—that they all have earpieces with wires tucked discreetly into their shirts. There is no one else in the lobby. Only one cab waits at the taxi stand. I hear, “That’s him,” from one of them, or I think I do, as I make my way through the electric doors. As I get into the taxi, I notice all five or six of them heading toward cars. The driver gives me a knowing look and states more than asks, “Continental,” which is of course my airline, but how does he know? I ask him and he says, “It’s Newark, everyone flies Continental.” I look at his I.D. displayed in the Plexiglas partition and see that the photo, just like the one in the cab yesterday, is obscured by a piece of cardboard. I begin to panic. He starts the car, pulls away from the hotel, and, as I watch the cars filled with the JCPenney guys follow us, I know I am, right now, crossing over from one world into another. I can already imagine myself remembering this cab ride, how it will signal the end of the time when I was free.

I have a bag of crack and a very used pipe folded in tissue in the front pocket of my jeans. I don’t see how I can get rid of it. Throw it out the window? No, these guys, whoever they are, are right on our tail. Stash it in the garbage when we pull up? No, same reason. Stuff it in the seat cushion of a cab that is probably being driven by an undercover DEA agent? Obviously no. Swallow it? Maybe. But the glass pipe … what do I do with the glass pipe?


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