“Birds,” explains Lenny, “is slang for a kilo of coke.”
The letters from South America weren’t arriving fast enough, so Lenny asked around and found another connection: a surly older guy who often had a gun tucked into the waist of his pants. “We’ve never had a conversation longer than ten seconds,” says Lenny, but he suspected that his new supplier was “mobbed up.” His product was even more pure, and reasonable at $25 a gram, about a third of the street value. (The Bush administration claims that thanks to the $4 billion war on drugs in Colombia, cocaine in the U.S. now costs $170 a gram and is 15 percent less pure than it used to be. “I don’t know who their connection is,” Lenny deadpans, “but someone’s getting ripped off.”) Lenny would buy anywhere from 200 to 600 grams at a time from his new source, the coke coming not in powder form but in a hard, crystalline brick—not excessively “doctored up” with baking soda or baby laxatives. Sometimes, depending on how much he picked up, Lenny could see the symbol of the cartel indented in the brick.
He had money in his pocket, a Glock 9 hidden away for protection, and superfluous jewelry jangling from his neck and wrists. He was also dipping into the product with greater frequency, developing a habit that rivaled most of his customers’. He took a leave of absence from school and moved back into the city, holing up with a friend in an unfurnished apartment, his days an alkaloid blur of crushing up product, sniffing, selling, and muting cocaine’s tweaky comedown with heroic quantities of hydroponic pot. Nights rolled around, and Lenny, barely of legal drinking age, was cruising around in limos and spending $2,000 on bottle service. “I used to be the king of Suede,” he says, more embarrassed than proud of this today. It was around this time that he discovered “coke groupies,” quasi-anorexic girls willing to give up any last shred of dignity for a free line. But their presence was better in theory than reality. “Sex is overrated,” says Lenny, “or at least it’s only worthwhile if it’s with a girl you’re crazy into.” One night, he had to take a Viagra just to be able to perform adequately, an experience no 21-year-old man should have to live through.
Lenny was pushing it, he knew. Sitting on the couch in the middle of the day, he’d glance over at his buddy—his sallow skin, the way his eyes had caved into his face, the spastic twitch in his jaw—and some fogged-over cluster of cells in Lenny’s mind would remind him that he was practically looking in the mirror. Then one day he showed up at his apartment and right away he could tell something was off. He walked through the entryway and into the kitchen, taking in the upturned drawers, the broken dishes, the slashed mattress in the bedroom, the clothes all over the floor—it was so surreal that it took him a moment to process that he’d been robbed. His TV and DVD and VCR were gone. So were a pound of marijuana and a briefcase safe with $25,000 inside—the bulk of his life savings. And it wasn’t a random act. The thief had entered the apartment through the roof. Lenny had been targeted. The past few months flashed back like a checklist of how not to run a business. All those nights he tooled around in white stretch limos, just because he could. And the steady stream of nameless girls with Gucci-embossed leather bags prancing in and out at all hours. To say nothing of his own wardrobe of Purple Label cashmere sweaters from Ralph Lauren, Prada loafers, silk-lined Donna Karan motorcycle pants, and the eighteen-karat-gold Cuban necklace hanging stupidly from his neck—$2,500 worth of precious metal practically taunting someone to jump him.
“I blamed myself,” says Lenny, “for being so loose.”
He considered getting out right then. He owed his connection $5,000, which happened to be exactly what he had in his savings account. He could chalk up the burglary as some kind of accidental intervention, pay off his debts, and move on. Or he could get serious: Stop using, keep a low profile, stay in the game another year or two, and cash out. For all the talk of dealers inevitably imploding, Lenny knew scores of guys who owned buildings, small businesses, racehorses—guys you’d never suspect got started pushing product. His indiscretions aside, these had always been his business models.
He reached for his phone, dialed his connection.
“Yo, I’ve been jacked,” he said. “I need you to loan me some stuff, help me get back on my feet.”