zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


8 poets making it new
generation z
lutwidge finch
the back of beyond

Chapter 1
Chicago/New York City
February 1995



We flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport together. Me and Isabel and Maria. The flight originated in Frankfurt, Germany where I couldn’t sleep because of a bad feeling I had about this current operation.

I’m not a superstitious person, but I had a feeling this trip would not end well for me.
You’re probably asking, why did I go through with the operation. I asked myself the same thing. but I had made a deal and I’m one of those guys who always sees things to the end. of course there were many times that I’ve regretted this, many times I knew I was fighting a losing battle. But I fought and sometimes, by some miracle, I won. maybe not always a complete victory, but I at least lived to tell about it. I, Mel Mendelsohn, had escaped the jaws of defeat.

I have to tell you that I was not sure how things would turn out that last night in Frankfurt when I stood in my hotel room with the two women.

“Take off your tops,” I told them in a sharp hard manner, letting them know that there was nothing sexual in my request. They were good looking women with decent figures but I had made myself a stone man when it came to sexual involvement with the women I had to work with.

Even in my small hotel room in Frankfurt with isabel and Maria half naked before me I didn’t even get a tingle. And they were impressive, with Isabel having the biggest set with deep cleavage. Maria was smaller, younger and firmer, but she still did nothing for me. I kept telling myself this was business. I refused to be distracted but still there was a nagging pull in the back of my mind, telling me to get away from these women as fast as I could. Of course, I ignored this; of course, I went on with my business.

“These are to be worn under your clothes,” I told them as I took the vests off the bed.

They wore the vests as I tapped the pockets where the drugs were stored. “Wear something loose so you don’t bring attention to yourselves. Do you understand me?”

They both nodded yes, my voice like a whip.

I didn’t want them to think I was mean, but I didn’t want them to take this jaunt as some kind of joke. There is nothing funny about drug smuggling, or the consequences. If caught, we were all facing serious jail time. I, for one, was not interested in spending any time in jail. That meant everybody had to do their job. We had to get through Immigration and Customs with no problems.

If something went wrong . . .
I didn’t want to think about that.
Nothing could go wrong.
I wouldn’t let it.

Now I was standing outside Customs looking for the women. “Where are they?” I asked myself, patting my chest and pants pockets looking for cigarettes that I knew I would not find there. I had given up smoking three years ago, after visiting Gary Burton in the Veterans’ Hospital where he was dying of lung cancer. I sat with Bonita, Gary’s beautiful brown wife who was crying incessantly, her broad face looking like it had sprung a leak, the tears never stopping. I was too stunned to cry.

I wasn’t getting a good feeling there in Gary’s room, but we had been in the war together and I felt I owed him a visit. I was just sorry I hadn’t gotten there sooner. Gary didn’t know who I was. I didn’t feel bad about that because at the stage he was at, he didn’t even know Bonita was there.

Life sucks and then you die.

Gary looked skinny and pale and drawn like all the life was being sucked out of him from the inside.

I drove Bonita home after the visit. She asked me to come inside. I went in and comforted the best I could. She couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t wait to get away from her.

A week later she called and told me that Gary had died. I was glad he had passed, for his sake. I didn’t want to go out like that, so I stopped smoking cigarettes.

Now as I stood outside Customs I wished that I had something to puff on, knowing that it was a death wish but I was feeling that this waiting for the two women was death too.

The last time I had seen them they were waiting on line to pass through the Immigration checkpoint. Now my face was tight with anxiety.

After another ten minutes the anxiety became a painful uneasiness. In six prior trips from Frankfurt, with different couriers, this was the first instance of delay. We had to get through Customs then onto the next stage of our journey.

I looked at my watch. We had to catch a 1:30 p.m. flight to Newark International Airport.
This operation was going sour and there was nothing I could do about it.

I moved away from the Customs area and left the International Arrivals building by tramway and charged over to the domestic portion of the huge airport. After a short walk I found myself standing in front of the United Airlines counter. I checked in, then boarded the flight, locating my seat halfway down the aisle. My fingers were crossed as I took my seat. Had I escaped the jaws of defeat again? It was too soon to tell now. The danger was right upon me. Anything could have happened.

I tried not to think about the women. All I could think of were the women. Hopefully they were caught in congestion at the Customs counter, I told myself. They would be on the next flight. We had discussed this possibility; they knew what to do. These women were not dumb. It’d all work out. We’d laugh and drink at Newark Airport. it would be a grand reunion. I might even drop my stone mask enough to be friendly. I might even hug the women. I know Maria would like this. She was the kind of person that likes to hug and cry, just like Bonita at Gary’s funeral.

She didn’t think I’d come, but she called me, and me and Gary had been in the war together. That had to mean something.

Five minutes before take off I saw them.
“My God!” I exclaimed, startling the passengers sitting next to me.

Then I saw the three Customs agents walking up the aisle of the plane. I turned back to the window and saw that Isabel and Maria were standing there. I noticed the men in suits standing behind them.
The three Customs agents coming up the aisles were checking each passenger’s identification. Run, my mind screamed! Escape this place of your death. But there was no place to run. I felt the jaws of defeat closing over my body. I knew I should have run but was suddenly too tired.

How did they know which airline I would fly? Which flight I would be on? Then it hit me as I recalled the words of an ex-high-ranking KGB major: “The Achilles heel of even the most sophisticated security system is the human factor. More often than not, incompetence or carelessness is at the source of a security breach.”

Who had been incompetent? Who had been careless? Did it really matter at this point?

Still, I cursed my partners in crime, especially Mohammad. “Mo, you are the incompetent, careless human factor. You are the Achilles heel. Not only for recruiting two inexperienced couriers, but cavalierly bringing them to our office and providing them with the trip itinerary. In this instance, you exhibited egotistical, doltish thought processes.”

As I sat there waiting for the Customs agents to get to me, my mind got stuck on MO, Mohammad Yousaf, My partner in crime as I transported heroin from Pakistan to the United States—he made the travel arrangements.

I recalled the last good time we had together two and a half weeks earlier. It was a Friday evening, February 3rd, at my wedding to Jennifer. The ceremony hadn’t started even though we were already thirty minutes late.

Rabbi Dworkin spoke to me, asking, “has your best man arrived yet?”