Two years later, Lenny is on the move. He climbs the cracked tile steps of an East Village walk-up, delivering a chiquita to a painter who lives in a funky little studio. He’s got a $5,000 watch on his wrist, but other than that, he is inconspicuous, efficient, a pro. From the East Village, he hops a cab uptown—no driving for Lenny; owning a car is “too hot”—and drops off two big ones at an Upper West Side apartment, then another chiquita to an asset-management specialist standing outside an Irish pub in Hell’s Kitchen. “It’s all about the speed getting to each spot,” Lenny explains as he slides into the backseat of another cab, pouring the Baggies into his lap and counting them. “If I’m taking too long, someone will call back and say, ‘I’m gonna call someone else.’ That’s the competition, you know?”
Meanwhile, one of his “partners” is traversing the city making similar stops, staying in constant contact via Nextel. He’ll sell $1,000 worth of tickets tonight, keeping 20 percent of the profits and kicking $800 up to Lenny. Until recently, Lenny always hired other people to do the grunt work, just like in high school. “That way, I’m getting paid,” he says, “but no one’s putting my face to the service.” But these days, since he’s priming his company for auction, he prefers to do as much of the work himself as he can. In a business of deception, finding trustworthy employees is a challenge: A few months back, Lenny caught a worker cutting his Baggies with baking soda, pocketing the extra profits, and pissing off regular customers, which is just the sort of misstep he can’t afford to repeat. He’s already piqued the interest of a few potential buyers and plans to start showing them the spreadsheet over the next few months. (“Honestly, I don’t even know if drug people know how to read a spreadsheet,” says Lenny. “We’ll just have to see.”) Serious prospects will then trail him for a week, to see that the numbers add up. Then he’ll make the biggest deal of his life—assuming, of course, that he is genuinely ready to give up the game.
On the corner of 24th and Sixth, Lenny meets up with two club kids, followed by a bartender at a gay bar farther downtown. Then it’s another cab back to the East Village. He has just shy of 200 regular customers, and the list grows solely by word of mouth: When Lenny gets a call from an unfamiliar number, he asks for a reference, then calls that reference to make sure it’s legitimate. His primary market is still kids in their twenties, many of them new to the city, the majority living in the East Village and on the Lower East Side. But he does not discriminate. Among his regulars are strivers, slackers, black kids, white kids, Asian kids, NYU kids, socialites, agoraphobics, a lesbian couple, an Afghan lawyer, an Ivy League undergrad who deals Lenny’s product on campus, and a Russian “diplomat brat” who lives out of town but comes to New York twice a month to hole up in a hotel suite with his lover. “I’d like to market more in the finance world,” says Lenny. “One guy I know, he’s always telling me to go after that scene, dudes who have no issue burning through $500 on a Friday night. But it takes time. You’re basically saying to people, ‘Tell your friends about me,’ and hoping the message gets to the right people.”
At least 6 million Americans do cocaine every year, making it more popular than 50 Cent’s last album. Ninety percent of the supply comes from Colombian cartels, passing through numerous hands before it reaches Lenny. Because 72 percent of the cocaine comes across the Texas-Mexico border, Houston has emerged as America’s leading distribution center. (The rest arrives by ship via the Caribbean, with a small percentage coming directly from South America.) From Houston, the drug is shipped to other cities hidden in tractor trailers. Once it reaches New York, the supply is controlled mainly by the Mafia and Latino street gangs. Lenny has contacts in both worlds. That way, he can play the two against each other, keeping the price low and quality high. Whenever one supplier jacks up the price, Lenny takes his business elsewhere until the price comes down. “That’s why we call it ‘the game,’ ” he says.
Truly pure cocaine is impossible to come across on the street; most users are so accustomed to sniffing diluted product that pure coke would be too potent to enjoy. A kilo arriving in the U.S. tends to be 80 to 90 percent pure and cost between $17,000 and $25,000. Before reaching someone like Lenny, it’s cut twice to make four kilos with about 22 percent purity, each of which will then generate around $100,000 in street-level sales. (Some kilos are cut up to three times, bringing the purity down to 11 percent, but you can only sell this inferior product in “ignorant” markets—college kids, indiscriminate addicts, etc.) Lenny tests the purity of all his purchases by weighing it, cooking it, then placing it on a triple-beam balance: The additives sizzle away, revealing the weight of the pure drug. “My suppliers are straight with me,” he says, “because they know I’ll know if they start giving me shit. Since I’m making them money, fucking me on quality is not in their interest. So if it’s not that good, they tell me, and I only buy a little to keep them happy. When it’s good, that’s when I stock up, keeping my customers happy.”