Everybody must get stoned
Bob Dylan, "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," from Blonde on Blonde and a thousand concerts, live albums and bootleg tapes, 19662000 and counting
Whitey began to get suspicious around July '69. They had been trying to hold down the number of their contacts and increase the amounts they moved each time, as the pyramid grew organically from the bottom, but street instincts told him that too many people were getting to know their faces.
"Don't wanna go back in the fuckin' nick, man," he emphasized one night over the post-prandial number.
"No chance," insisted Blackie, "They never even see us touch it."
This was true. They had set up an elaborate system of cut-outs by this time that meant that none of their customers ever saw either them and hash or them and cash in the same room. Nor did either of their chief lieutenants handle both money and merchandise; and both were bound by ties of friendship, gratitude, loyalty and especially fear. The justice system among criminals was a lot more effective than the criminal justice system.
"This gig's getting heavy, man," Whitey explained.
"Dunno, but somethin's gonna go down, an' I don't wannit t'be me." He paused to pull on the joint and squeezed the next two syllables out with just a trickle of smoke. "Or you."
"Yeah," admitted Blackie, letting go of his own plume of smoke. "Let's hit the road."
"Right." There was a pause for inhalation. "India?"
"Dunno," admitted Whitey. Concepts may have been his end of the partnership; details and budgets were left to his mate. "Nepal's in India, yeah?"
"It's right near it," Blackie said. "We could get temple balls."
Blackie looked at his mate skeptically.
"Ahmed's? In Kabul?"
Whitey nodded with an enigmatic twist of the lips. He was good at those.
"Can handle him."
"Yeah, that's what I'm worried about."
"Right, right. My point exactly, go roll another one."
Which he did, thereby postponing discussion but not deliberation. Blackie knew enough to respect his partner's instincts. Whitey's street smarts took him in blind leaps from one, he might not even know what direction ten was in, but he'd skip at least to six, stride to seven, look around and then jump on to ten; Blackie liked to know where ten was when he started out, and to reach it in an orderly sequence of consecutive integers but he accepted that Whitey's guesses were always useful first-order approximations. Maybe it was time to quit.
It had been a fine game, flying blind on skull sweat and hope, but the odds against a comfortable old age were long. Besides, setting up the system had been fun, a challenge in practical economics, but running it was beginning to feel like work. And the chances of evading arrest were bound to keep going down, given the propensity of the cops to manufacture evidence if it was otherwise unobtainable and given the fact that no one ever forgot their sources, so the number of people who could shop them to cover their own asses never did anything but increase. The real irony would be if they quit and then got framed. Which was less likely if they had an alibi. Like being several thousand miles away. Even a jury might buy that one.
Over the next few days, he checked out the books carefully. Mostly this meant a lot of mental arithmetic (for security reasons they operated on the zero-entry bookkeeping system), but Blackie was good at that. They'd been reinvesting most of their turnover, skimming living expenses as needed, and quietly replenishing his original investment, the equivalent of which was safely in Switzerland. Assuming life in Asia was cheap a pound a day was a commonly quoted number if they cashed out now, they could live out there for ... six and a half years. And still have a couple of months left over. Even at a slightly more extravagant standard of living, it was clear that they could do the Asia trip in as leisurely a manner as they felt like at the time. In a couple of years, no one would think of fingering them.
"Cool!" was Whitey's response.
"But why can't we," wondered Blackie, "Do business while we're over there?"
" 'Cause we're retiring, right?"
"Well, maybe we're taking a sabbatical ... like they get after seven years at college?"
"Nah, 's time for a holiday."
"All right already, people are always gonna want to get high. We can hang loose on the rest of it for a while."
"Just let me figure out how we get there."
They decided to adjust the business plan to emphasize short-term profit maximization. One major score and split. Fortunately, an important opportunity was looming Bob Dylan's return to performance after a three-year hiatus was expected to draw a quarter of a million to the Isle of Wight, almost all of whom were likely to get high there. It was known that there was a Canadian called Hugh who hadn't yet come down from participating in a government study of the short-term effects of massive cannabis ingestion, and a few more might choose to abstain, but not many. Except of course for those few dozen in attendance who would wear arch supports in sensible shoes about six feet south of their obvious ears ... but coppers in mufti were too easily identifiable in those days to represent a serious inconvenience to businessmen. One percent market penetration, at a quid deal each, would gross £2,500, more than twice the average annual take-home pay at the time (and about one-fifteenth of what Dylan was getting); five per cent at a fiver ... ten at fifteen ... well, let's just say there would be a lot of bread floating around.
Exploiting this gift from the gods required an adjustment in corporate procedures. Essentially they planned a temporary vertical expansion into the retail sector, using clout established through a history of volume purchasing to hold costs down and keep margins up even at standard retail in circumstances that would normally justify a special mark-up. Concert deals outside of the Deadhead axis were (and are) notoriously bad for the consumer, since there was no expectation of repeat business. Conversely, the availability of good, solid, fifteen-quid ounces prices had gone up a bit was likely to be bruited about rapidly. The myth of Woodstock was in the air, not the days of rolling in mud but the selfless dedication of the men with a mission to turn on the world. Good deals at the Isle of Wight were part of the public preconception. Really, it was a service. The punters expected it.
Through Sunday night, it worked like a charm. Business was brisk in the shantytown that sprung up by Thursday (called, inevitably, "Desolation Row") and boomed on the final day. The organizers claimed to have printed 120,000 tickets and sold most of them, but someone must have had access to another printing press because there were a lot more people than that; rumors of tax scams were rife. Dylan left the stage just after midnight and the crowd, after the ritual cheers and boos, began to dissipate towards the ferries to the strains of the Beatles' "Get Back". Blackie and Whitey wandered along in the middle of the crowd, figuring on safety in numbers since they were carrying cash, stuffed into a beat-up old rucksack. There was a tedious queue that took most of the night, leading to a jammed boat and a boring crossing. It was almost five when they reached the car.
That's when the roof fell in.