From the Archives: Snowblind (1977)

By Robert Sabbag

Brown Gold Espresso, imported and packaged by the Andes Espresso Company of Palisades Park, New Jersey, is, as its label factors out, “100% Colombian.” A singular mix of Medellin Excelso and the Armenia Excelso espresso beans, the label provides, it’s “value its style in gold.” Cocaine, then again, a mix of coca leaf alkaloids and impartial crystals, fairly often one hundred pc Colombian, is value roughly its precise weight in gold—and that’s earlier than it crosses the border. The arithmetic of this coincidence appealed to Zachary Swan, who over his morning espresso was scanning the journey pages of The New York Instances.

“Excellent,” he stated.

“Discover what you had been searching for?” Alice requested.

“Avianca Airways is providing a ten-day tour. Santa Marta, Barranquilia and Cartagena. Leaves from New York. It even names the lodges.”

“Fortunate you.”

Alice, at this level, was the one individual in whom Swan had confided. However to guarantee the success of this, his most Byzantine transfer.

Swan would wish the assistance of a minimum of two others. He would use Davis on the New York finish and Canadian Jack in Cartagena. He would contact them later. What he wanted now was an workplace. He wanted an workplace, a phone quantity, a couple of jars of espresso, a handful of printed materials and lots of luck. He moved quick.

The workplace was a small one close to Lüchow’s restaurant on 14th Road. He rented it on a month-to-month foundation. Into it he moved an outdated desk, a brand new submitting cupboard, a swivel chair and a espresso percolator. Whereas he waited for a phone, he labored on getting the printed materials he wanted. This was not arduous. As a former packaging govt (in essence a printing salesman) he had little or no hassle coming by the required four-color work and stationery. Most of it he ordered from the Andes Espresso folks himself—labels, poster advertisements and packaging paper, all stamped with the Andes emblem and deal with: ANDES COFFEE CORK, S. A. Schonbrunn & Co., Inc., Palisades Park, N.J. 07650. What he didn’t get immediately from Andes, he received from enterprise associates who had entry to the Andes printing purchaser, and what he didn’t get from them, he had printed on his personal. A very powerful piece of authentic printing was a miniature folded brochure stamped along with his new workplace quantity.

He embellished the workplace in acceptable unhealthy style with all the trimmings he had accrued—posters on the wall, espresso cans adorning the desk, subway advertisements, grocery store artwork, labels glued to all the things—purchased the espresso and moved in to work. It was tough work, however after some time and several other containers of espresso, he lastly managed to take away the vacuum seal from a four-ounce jar of freeze-dried prompt with out tearing it. He inserted his brochure, changed the seal with rubber cement, capped the jar and drove to Queens to place the jar in a grocery retailer. Earlier than he returned to his workplace, nonetheless, he skilled a head-on collision—operating arduous up in opposition to America’s free-market system. The espresso in Queens was cheaper than the espresso in Manhattan. Bohack was promoting it for lower than D’Agostino’s. The value tags had been completely different. However Swan was undaunted. Within the proud custom of Yankee know-how and a typical client’s respect for our nation’s supermarkets, Swan switched the lids and moved his jar to the entrance of the shelf. It was so simple as that. He was leaving nothing to probability. He walked out, questioning who had shoplifted whom, returned to his workplace and waited. For days.

Mrs. Vagelatos referred to as at about 4:30 within the afternoon.

“Brown Gold Firm.”



“I’m Mrs. Vagelatos.”

“Sure, Mrs. Vagelatos.”

“I’m quantity 21-27-37-31-32.”

“Are you calling concerning the contest, Mrs. Vagelatos?”

“Sure. The competition. Sure, I’m.”

“And what’s your quantity once more, Mrs. Vagelatos?”

“Quantity 21-27-37-31-32.”

“Did I hear you appropriately, Mrs. Vagelatos? Will you repeat that quantity?”

She did. (Swan’s submitting system was fairly easy: there was just one quantity—it was printed into the brochure, it got here with the order. There was just one quantity, and solely one of many brochures was in circulation. If Mrs. Vagelatos had not referred to as, Swan would have waited and tried once more—he didn’t need too many copies of the brochure floating round.)

“Mrs. Vagelatos. Mrs. Vagelatos, you’re a winner. You could have received a prize. You could have received first prize. You could have received a free ten-day journey to Colombia.”

Mrs. Vagelatos stated she was outdated and that her husband was retired. He was outdated too, she stated. She spoke English poorly. Mrs. Vagelatos had, nonetheless, lived in America for a while.

“Can I’ve the cash, as an alternative?”

Swan defined the principles of the competition to her—basically, “It doesn’t work that means, girl.” Mrs. Vagelatos stated she would suppose it over. She referred to as again the following day, having talked it over along with her husband, and informed Swan that she and Mr. Vagelatos would take the journey.

“You’ll take pleasure in it, Mrs. Vagelatos. Sure. What? After all. And along with the holiday, there will likely be many items and souvenirs.”

After all.

Swan opened a checking account within the title of S. A. Schonbrunn & Co., Inc., and acquired tickets for the Avianca tour within the Vagelatoses’ title. He enclosed the tickets in a Brown Gold envelope, added a letter of congratulations and an itinerary typewritten on Brown Gold stationery and mailed them to the couple in Queens.

The itinerary: Santa Marta, Barranquilla and Cartagena. Swan knew the place the Vagelatoses could be, and after they could be there, on a regular basis they had been in Colombia. In his letter of congratulations he had knowledgeable them {that a} consultant of the corporate would meet them in Cartagena to current them with their items. He referred to as Armando from New York and informed him he could be down in every week. He wanted three bottles of Chanel.

“And no fucking round, Armando, I should have it. For those who’ve received it there, maintain it. I’ll positively be down.”

Two weeks later he took $22,000 money from a protected deposit field on the East Aspect and flew to Bogotá. (Every time Swan carried massive quantities of forex —and typically cocaine—he wore a particular jacket, the liner of which had been designed particularly for that goal by Alice. Primarily the jacket was lined with pockets. They had been distributed evenly across the again and sides to stop bulging, they had been invisibly tufted in order that the liner itself appeared easy and so they had been hemmed with Velcro, that miracle of the House Age, to facilitate entry and obviate the need for zippers or buttons. At any time, however particularly when Swan traveled South, the jacket was a really costly piece of tailoring.)

Armando delivered. He charged Swan six thousand a kilo for the three keys, a five-dollar enhance per gram, partly for holding the load and partly as a result of on the time the worth of cocaine was going up all all over the world, Angel and Rudolpho made the fill. Swan tracked down Canadian Jack, give him $200, a couple of grams of coke and a ticket to Cartagena. The 2 flew north collectively, Swan with the souvenirs, and Canadian Jack carrying a model new Polaroid digital camera.

El Caribe Resort, the place the Vagelatoses’ tour was booked, is situated in Cartagena’s Bocagrande district, on the tip of a peninsula which separates Cartagena Bay from the Caribbean Sea. Distant from the Outdated City, decidedly distant in statute and non secular miles from any of these issues which can distinguish Cartagena from the opposite cities of the world —on the market, throughout the harbor—Bocagrande, on the ocean aspect, is devoted nearly completely to vacationers. The Caribbean entrance of the peninsula is roofed with neo-Miami concrete-and-Formica firetraps which go by such names as Americar, Flamingo, El Dorado and Las Vegas, each room of which gives Inquisition-in-walnut furnishings, a pastel, round sink in bas aid and a view of the seashore.

Underneath building when Swan labored out of Cartagena, and now a second thought-provoking actuality, these wonders of contemporary structure are designed to make South Individuals really feel they’ve come a good distance and make North Individuals really feel at residence. The precept governing their start is identical one as that which presumes the consuming of Coca-Cola in Bordeaux. Social historians name it progress.

Tucked away out right here within the timber, a lush array and ample number of timber, on an enormous expanse of protected actual property, is the Resort Caribe. A devoted rendition of Spanish structure, outdated, stately, a sort of one-man Environmental Safety Company, El Caribe helps its personal arboretum and tropical gardens in addition to an animal inhabitants of modest scope. A lot of the fruit served right here is grown on the grounds, and a lot of the grounds, clearly, are dedicated to nothing greater than the easy pleasure of being on them. A again gate opens onto the seashore. A marina fronts on a bay to the southeast. The lodge itself, if not as massive as a few of its treeless and sunscorched upstart neighbors, affords its clientele a larger diploma of consolation, and a wide range of luxurious that each one however disappeared with the appearance of terrazzo lawns and vertical enlargement. Maybe as a result of it’s unimaginable for a swimmer to drown in an upright place nearby of Cartagena—the Caribbean right here is simply too shallow for too nice a distance out—or possibly as a result of strolling the seashore at night time, like strolling wherever in South America, is taking your life in your arms —the Resort Caribe was blueprinted round area for an Olympic pool, shaded by palm timber on two sides, bordered by an enclosed restaurant on one and an open-air poolside eating space on the opposite. It was by the pool, amid these lavish environment, that Swan staged his awards ceremony.

Swan and Canadian Jack took a midweek, morning flight from Bogota to Cartagena and checked into the Resort Caribe. Shortly after he arrived, Swan referred to as the Vagelatoses’ room and requested the couple to satisfy him on the pool to obtain their items. Whereas Swan, sporting a full beard and darkish glasses, awarded the Vagelatoses their prizes and made a giant present of certifying with the waiter that the espresso they had been consuming was one hundred pc Colombian, laughing all the best way, Canadian Jack dashed round along with his digital camera. As normal, Swan and the Canadian had been stoned, so it made no distinction to both of them that the Polaroid was empty and confirmed no indicators of creating and ejecting the images it was presumably takjng.

Swan loaded the Vagelatoses down with rolling pins, statues, wall hangings, hammocks, blankets, ruanas, straw hats, leather-based luggage—about forty kilos of paraphernalia that price him near $150 and which might retail in america for over $500, all of it dragged out of two nice, overflowing plastic luggage. In his room, Swan had a replica of each one of many souvenirs. He requested the Vagelatoses to signal an settlement by which they had been sure to be photographed once more with their presents within the New York workplace. He made an offhand joke, unacknowledged, about Greeks bearing items, gave them a replica of the settlement to maintain and wished them a protected journey residence.

The Vagelatoses had been due again in New York two days later. Swan left a day early and made a dry run along with his duplicates. They weren’t examined. The Vagelatoses had been presupposed to name Swan’s workplace as quickly as they returned. They didn’t. Swan waited. He nervous. He needed to name them. They had been drained, it turned out—they’d arrived on schedule. Swan groaned out loud over the cellphone. He dispatched a limousine, which he paid for in money, to select them up at their residence in Queens.

Davis took the New York photographs. And whereas Swan purchased the Vagelatoses lunch at Lüchows, Davis made the change. The Vagelatoses returned to the workplace, picked up their items, Swan wished them well being, wealth and happiness, escorted them to the limousine and despatched them residence. He closed down the workplace the following day and by no means noticed the couple from Queens once more.

Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis …

The Customs man, clearly, had by no means learn Virgil.

With the Brown Gold transfer, the supposed basis upon which Swan had based mostly his entry into smuggling was first referred to as into query. His declare that he would by no means endanger a service or throw an harmless particular person to the lions was challenged on the premise of his use of Mr. and Mrs. Vagelatos, a pair who had no thought of the difficulty they could be strolling into, two harmless Greek immigrants whose religion in America was mirrored, for higher or worse, by the religion they positioned in its establishments, whether or not these be its supermarkets, its espresso firms or its Treasury Division, and the belief they positioned in its residents, whether or not they be trustworthy Customs brokers, as harmless of the details as they, or alleged felons like Richard Nixon and Zachary Swan. The proof in Swan’s favor, nonetheless, is critical.

Within the first place the Vagelatoses had been harmless, which in itself is anybody’s best asset to getting by a Customs examine. Of their favor additionally was the truth that they had been touring with a tour, a gaggle of Individuals who’re predominantly middle-class and middle-aged and who’re supervised nearly each step of their means via a international nation—their baggage is even dealt with otherwise. Nevertheless it begs the query to say that the Vagelatoses had a greater than common probability of constructing it via Customs with out a search. In any case, Swan’s thought was to get the coke via—it was what the rip-off was designed for. Within the occasion of a search, then, and assuming the much more distant risk that the cocaine was found (Customs didn’t break open Swan’s souvenirs, which had been equivalent to these Mr. and Mrs. Vagelatos had been carrying), one should ask how nicely the Vagelatoses had been coated.

Swan claims they had been coated nicely. He had insisted that they save the competition quantity; he might assume that they nonetheless had the espresso jar. Along with these two objects, the Vagelatoses had been in possession of two Avianca tickets bought by a examine accounted to S. A. Schonbrunn & Co., Inc., whose workplace deal with was on 14th Road. On their individuals at Customs they’d a letter of congratulations and an itinerary typed on Brown Gold stationery. And in the identical envelope they’d a signed settlement to seem on the 14th Road workplace with their items upon arrival in america. Within the absence of all the things else, they’d a minimum of thirty witnesses poolside in Cartagena. The proof of their innocence, then, was overwhelming, as Swan noticed it. If the Vagelatoses suffered in any respect, he assumed, it will be principally by means of embarrassment and maybe non permanent detention on the airport whereas the proof was examined; and he supposed that the free ten-day trip and the unconfiscated souvenirs could be adequate compensation for that. Because it turned out, in reality, everybody however Uncle Sam made out on the deal.

Swan was transferring quick now. The Brown Gold transfer was such an amazing success, and his confidence within the wake of it so buoyant, that his roiling creativeness started to generate extra blueprints than he might comply with. He needed to throw them away. One define that was carried via to success with out his data was one which he threw away within the firm of Canadian Jack and Black Dan on a wet night time in Bogotá, when the cocaine specific was taking its curves on the excessive aspect.

Black Dan had been residing on the Oriole for nearly two years when Swan first met him. He cherished it in Bogotá. He left solely as soon as each six weeks, and he was all the time again quick. His visits to San Francisco had been temporary. Though he didn’t divulge heart’s contents to Swan till a 12 months after their assembly, it was fairly apparent all alongside that he was a smuggler. It was what you had been in Bogotá if you weren’t manifestly anything. And Dan all the time had cocaine. It was Dan who informed Swan about Mannite, the Italian laxative, the cocaine slicing agent of alternative and that with which Dan all the time minimize his personal coke earlier than snorting. He most well-liked it that strategy to pure, for causes which had been unclear to Swan, and he most well-liked it out of a spoon, a style Swan attributed to hours within the again rooms of Mission District bars.

Dan’s closest pal in Bogotá was Canadian Jack, a friendship, in Swan’s thoughts, distinguished mainly by its sharp contrasts. Past the plain one (Canadian Jack was a blond) was the virtually polar distinction of their approaches to smuggling. Black Dan was completely skilled. He discovered no must acknowledge that he was a smuggler, even to Swan, a smuggler himself, whose professionalism was exemplified, if in no different means, by the truth that he by no means questioned Dan. Black Dan was a professional, and he had been going for years. He moved in amount, not like Jack, whose strikes had been small, and he was constant. Each six weeks he flew to Mexico Metropolis with the coke strapped to his legs. From there he would fly to Matamoros or Tijuana, or no matter border city was handy to his wants, and stroll the load throughout, reentering the States with the bullfight crowds on the weekends, intimidating each official in his path by his mere presence. He by no means wasted time, and the closest he ever got here to bother was the difficulty out of which he was all the time bailing Jack.

It was a night within the early summer time of 1971, six months after he had helped load Swan’s press into Rudolpho’s automotive and nonetheless six months earlier than he would open up and apprise Swan of the Mexican route, that Black Dan, Swan and Canadian Jack had been doing samples in Dan’s suite on the Oriole, speaking concerning the upcoming Summer time Video games in Cali.

“That’s going to be a smugglers’ conference,” stated Swan.

“You suppose so?”

“Properly, simply give it some thought for a minute. Primary—the pickpockets. Each dipper within the nation goes to pack up and go away residence. The thieves will likely be popping out of the woodwork, and so they’ll all converge on Cali when the video games begin. There’ll be one million vacationers there and one other million folks related with the video games in a method or one other. Don’t even rely the Colombians, and that’s a hell of some huge cash floating round. This nation is as well-known for its pickpockets as it’s for its fucking espresso, and each one among them will likely be in Cali subsequent month. So a smuggler doubles his cash earlier than he begins.”

“I don’t get the connection,” stated Jack.

“Are you able to image the exercise on the American Specific workplace? All people and his mom goes to be there changing stolen traveler’s checks—‘I simply received to Cali and my traveler’s checks have been stolen’—and so they’re not going to ask them any questions. ‘After all they’ve been stolen, that is Colombia.’ So what do you do? You signal ’em, promote ’em … use ’em … and then you definately change them. You are able to do it each day, and the banks aren’t going to select up on it. Barclay’s, Financial institution of America, First Nationwide Metropolis, Cook dinner’s, they’re all going to be giving cash away. So that you double your cash … triple it … earlier than you start.”

“And with all of the visitors out and in,” stated Dan, “Customs will likely be that a lot simpler.”

“Or harder,” stated Jack.

“So that you rent a jock. Or get a crewcut. Steal a few warmup jackets with emblems on them and stroll via Customs carrying your gear. Soccer balls could be good. Or javelins, in the event that they’re made from wooden, although they could be making these out of steel now. You title it. what I’d do?”

“What’s that?” requested Dan.

“Beginning blocks. , the picket blocks they use for the sprint. Excellent. Who would consider cracking a beginning block? And you will get a few kilos in there simply. It’s good.”

“It’s good,” Dan agreed.

“Let’s have one other blow,” stated Jack.

Canadian Jack informed Swan that the Brown Gold transfer was essentially the most lovely piece of enterprise he had ever witnessed. It impressed him to christen Swan with a nickname, one which caught, and one which gained instant forex among the many borderline elite. From then on Swan, as a result of Jack thought he was sly and since everybody thought he was outdated, was referred to as the Silver Fox.

“The sensation after placing one over is indescribable. To start with, all of them laughed at me, in any respect my lengthy, intricate plans, my maps, my charts—my overdevelopment, they referred to as it—Vinnie, Mickey, all of them, all of them thought I used to be dumb … however fairly quickly all of them ended up working for me… ultimately they had been all both investing in me or working for me. After that one I had so many concepts, I couldn’t use all of them. I gave them away. [Some, like the flourish he worked on Adrian, he sold, but he did, in fact, give many of them away. One of these was the Duplicate Bag Switch, which he gave to Canadian Jack on his next trip to Bogotá.] I needed to maintain transferring, and I needed that boat transfer.”

Earlier than leaving Colombia to await the Vagelatoses in New York, Swan ran into two outdated pals. By some means having drifted down from Santa Marta, on the whim of no matter currents prevailed, Jane and April had ended up on the seashore in Cartagena, and so they had been as free as ever—Swan was all the time reminded of Halloween after they had been round. Assuming that they’d eaten little however mushrooms since he had final seen them, he smuggled them previous the guard on the again gate of the Caribe and acquired them dinner. He tried to get as a lot protein into them as he might.

Jane was trying significantly unwell. April’s voice appeared to have dropped about an octave up to now six months, however Jane was strung out to the restrict. Swan noticed tombstones in her eyes. She had discovered a pair of outdated strolling sneakers and a damaged conch shell on the seashore and was carrying them round along with her wherever she went. They had been for her brother. For his birthday. He lived in Brooklyn, she stated.

Swan provided to take her residence.

“No,” she stated. She needed her brother to come back down and get her.

“Inform him the place I’m and inform him to come back down and get me.”

Swan stated: “Please.”


She gave him a word and the outdated sneakers and the shell. He carried them again to New York with the Vagelatoses’ souvenirs. He referred to as her brother in Brooklyn, and when her brother got here to select up his birthday presents, Swan informed him he had higher go down quickly.

“Properly,” he stated, “you already know what sort of lady she is. She ran away when she was fifteen, doesn’t give a shit. And I don’t give a shit. Did you give her cash?”

Swan simply stared.

“She in all probability spent it on dope. That’s what sort of lady she is.”

“You’re not going?”


That is an excerpt from Robert Sabbag’s Snowblind: A Transient Profession within the Cocaine Commerce (Bobbs-Merrill, 1976)

Excessive Instances Journal, April 1977

Learn the total difficulty right here.

The publish From the Archives: Snowblind (1977) appeared first on Excessive Instances.

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