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9 - Nothing To Snort At

So I had become a New York Magazine writer, with multiple stories published. I did the cover story that was, at that time, their biggest selling issue. It was a subject close to the editors’ hearts. Or noses.


I had gotten a tip from a narcotics cop that Jackson Heights, Queens was “bigger than Bogota” when it came to cocaine dealing. I proposed doing a story and the editors went for it. I handed in a draft using a small level Caucasian cocaine dealer to help set the scene. They said it was good but could use more inside details.


In the article, I had written how clannish the Colombian dealers were trusting only people they knew from their old neighborhoods in Bogota, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin, Barranquilla. The editors suggested I buy cocaine to ingratiate myself. They were offering a generous budget, with the expectation I brought the probably near pure coke back into the office. Once again, I wisely declined.


New York Magazine had been founded by some of the creators of the New Journalism, people who were as concerned about good writing as they were about facts. Maybe more concerned about good writing. Nik Cohn, for example, who wrote the article that inspired Saturday Night Fever later admitted that the main character, Tony Manero, was a composite creation.


I stuck to facts and the editors fleshed out the issue with a story by Henry Post on nose jobs for cocaine overuse.


Cover of New York Magazine, September 1978


The article came out September 1978 and created a media firestorm. I was called into Congressman Ben Rosenthal’s office, and he told me only the Vietnam War had produced more letters to him. Numerous media outlets quoted my figure of 16 murders in a seven-block area. Without crediting me. Or without doing their own research. If they had, they would have found there was another murder in the area by the time my story came out.


I was warned by a DEA agent that I better not go back to the neighborhood. There wasn’t a contract on me, but a number of people had said they would kill me. My grandmother had long since moved out of the neighborhood to Florida, so I had no motivation to return.

A few weeks later I was walking in the Green Acres Mall on Long Island when a gun stuck out of a car parked in front of me. I threw myself to the ground, tearing the knees on my pants. A kid, probably no more than 10, poked his head out the window, grinning and waving a cap gun. Wherever that 10-year-old is today, we can both be grateful that I wasn’t carrying.


If you wonder why guns feature so prominently in The Master Mind, all these experiences will help to explain. And I didn’t even mention the time when I was about 12, kicked a pile of leaves in front of my house, and out bounced a gun. I took it to the police station, where detectives said it was a .22 starter’s pistol that had been rebored to actually shoot bullets. Fortunately, I had been a cautious kid and never pointed it at anyone.


Another gun-related New York Magazine story: I wasn’t the first writer to dig into the .22 caliber mob killings, but I did an extensive piece that had new information. Mobsters, and suspected mob informants, were being killed all over the country with .22s. For those not into gun culture, that’s basically the smallest caliber bullet out there. Not much stopping power, but quieter than bigger calibers, and when shot into the skull, it can bounce around doing more damage than a bigger bullet’s through-and-through wound.


The New York Magazine blurb read, “In the past few years there has been a rash of curious gangland murders: The victims (numbering 35 by the FBI’s latest count) have been killed with .22 caliber handguns-small guns and relatively cheap. All have been, or have been suspected of being by the Mafia, informants to the feds. In any case, the toll has cut the number of informants down to one-who could either break the case or wind up as a final statistic.”


One of my sources was an FBI agent who swore that our communication was completely confidential. This was proven bogus when a few months later I was contacted by a federal prosecutor who wanted information. I didn’t cooperate and was able to avoid consequences.


I’d have a couple other run-ins with the feds, despite being a good boy. More on that later.

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