Marijuana changed my life.
     It's not what you think, though. If you're expecting some rambling stoned narrative about how wonderful it is to get high, about expanded consciousness and the nature of reality, you're wrong. If, conversely, you're expecting a harshly self-critical account of how marijuana led me down a road of dissipation and wasted potential and how I came to realize the error of my ways, again you're wrong.
     Sometimes I stand naked at the mirror looking at the massive tattoo that covers my body, and wonder how my life could ever have gotten so weird. How could Danny Hawthorne, golden-headed young freelance writer, have morphed into the bizarre, altered, expatriate dude who looks back at me from the glass?
     As an acquaintance of mine once said, sometimes life-changing events turn on tiny details. How would things be different today if my father had not liked to write? If his father had not been dictatorial? If Ronnie Lake had not been vengeful? If the businessman on the plane had not been garrulous?
     If marijuana were not illegal?
     When the phone rang in my apartment in Colton, California that day in May I was writing a piece for Spirit, Southwest Airlines' in-flight magazine, on learning to speak a foreign language. I was flying to Seattle the next day and had to finish it before leaving in order to meet my deadline, so I let the answering machine take the call. When I checked there were two messages. The first was from the Features Editor at Rolling Stone, whom I'd been courting for an assignment.
     "Danny, hi. Sorry I missed you. We'd like you to do an article, dude. About three thousand words on the history of drug smuggling. It's going to be part of a feature we're doing on El Demonio, the drug cartels in general, and the history of the Drug War. Hey, man, call and let me know you got this message, we'll talk about money, deadlines, all that good shit. Ciao!"
     An assignment from Rolling Stone! I'd been pushing for one of those for months! Ebullient, my mind racing, I almost missed the second message, from my Dad.
     "Hi, Danny. Wanted to let you know we're having Mom's birthday party this Friday night. Just Veronica, Rick, me, and Mom. You too, I hope. Come for dinner and the evening. Hope this isn't too short notice. Let us know. Bye."
     Mom's birthday. God, that really crept up. Yeah, of course I'd be there. I'd have to think of a gift for her. But first I needed to follow up with Rolling Stone.
     "What we have in mind is, your piece'll be a sidebar on the main feature," the Features Editor explained. "The main piece is going to be on El Demonio and his drug cartel. There's also going to be an editorial on the futility and counterproductivity of the Drug War. Your piece'll be on the history of smuggling, especially back in the seventies when we think Demonio got his start. Maybe highlight the waste of public resources and lives in the efforts at enforcement that continue today. Maybe talk about Nixon's law-and-order pledge to rid the country of drugs, and how it turned out to be counterproductive from the word go. Capisce?"
     "Sure. No problem." As he spoke I madly jotted notes on a pad. "What's the main feature going to be like? Got anything new on El Demonio?"
     "No, he's still as shadowy as ever. Hotly sought by drug enforcement authorities in both Colombia and the US, as you know, but enormously popular with the Colombian people, a folk hero. Probably it's that popularity that keeps him from being apprehended. His ability to disappear just when the authorities are closing in is legendary. Yet hard information about him is virtually nonexistent, all we have is rumor and hearsay. You'd think the DEA or somebody would know something about him. His identity, at the very least."
     "There's a rumor he doesn't actually exist, he's a myth Colombian mothers use to frighten their children, like the bogeyman. 'Come in and wash up or El Demonio will get you.'"
     "Yeah, I've heard that too. I don't believe it. Bogeymen don't make major philanthropic contributions. I think he's just a guy who's really paranoid about extradition, assassination, the hazards of the drug trade. Y'know, the original idea was that the main feature would be an interview with him. 'Conversation with a Folk Hero!' Wouldn't that be a sensation! Think what it would do for circulation!"
     "Have you actually tried to get an interview with El Demonio?"
     "Yep. No go. The idea of an interview's a pipe dream. Sure would be cool if we could, though. Okay, Danny," he finished up, "deadline's in three weeks. Are we cool?"
     "Yeah, cool. Thanks! I'll be in touch."
     I hung up, my head spinning with scheduling issues. Three weeks, not much time! Especially considering my trip to Seattle tomorrow, Thursday, to interview a surfer about little-known north coast breaks. Then I had to write an article about it for Surfer magazine, deadline this coming Monday. Now there was Mom's birthday Friday night, I had to get her a present and wrap it and... God! It was going to be a hectic weekend, and the next three weeks were probably going to be just the same.
     The next morning I caught the 9:10 flight for Seattle. There was a wreck on I-10, by the time I made it to the Ontario airport and through security they were making the final boarding call for my flight. I took the concourse at a run. Finding a seat on the plane, I was panting like a racehorse.
     "Cut it a bit close, eh?" The fiftyish guy beside me asked with a grin.
     "No, I just... like to take... a morning run," I got out between pants.
     He laughed. "A morning run! Say, that's a good one! I guess that's better than at night, when you'd always be running late!"
     It was going to be a long flight.
     Maybe it was the cup of wonderful steaming coffee the flight attendant brought me when we were in the air. Maybe it was that I'd misjudged the guy beside me. Whatever, he wasn't the idiot I'd first thought. He turned out to be personable in a downhome kind of way, and articulate, even if he did like peppering his talk with stupid puns. I thought I detected the ghost of a Southern accent, and asked him about it.
     "Yeah, I'm originally from Birmingham, Alabama. Haven't lived there since the mid eighties, though. Born and raised in Birmingham, graduated Auburn University with a Bachelor of Architecture. My first job was in Birmingham, worked there for a couple of years. Wanted to see what life was like outside the South, so I headed for LA, the Golden West. Been here ever since. Business is taking me to Seattle today. Client wants me to design a vacation house on a piece of land he owns on Puget Sound. I'm going up there to look at the site."
     I told him it sounded like he had an interesting profession.
     "It has its up side and its down side, like everything. Code officials? Ah! I could tell you horror stories about code officials. But you don't want to hear that. Dry as dust if you're not in the profession. What do you do?"
     "I'm a freelance writer. Magazine articles, mostly."
     "No kidding? That sounds great! And you've got practically your whole career ahead of you, young as you are. What are you, about twenty-one or -two?"
     "Twenty-five. A good age. Is journalism what's taking you to Seattle?"
     "Yeah, as a matter of fact. I'm writing an article for Surfer magazine." I told him about the fellow I was going to interview. "I've got to finish the article by Monday, then get started on one for Rolling Stone."
     "Rolling Stone? They publish articles about surfing?"
     "That one's not about surfing. That one'll be about drug smuggling. I write about a lot of different things. That's one reason the job is interesting."
     "Drug smuggling? You're writing an article about drug smuggling?"
     "Yes. About smuggling back in the seventies, when people were flying in planeloads of marijuana from Colombia, or running it in on go-fast boats, or sneaking it across the border from Mexico. Not like now. Things have changed a lot since then."
     "You know, that's a coincidence! Fellow I knew in high school became a smuggler. He was a dealer first, then a cop, then a smuggler. Weird dude. Never liked him much, he wasn't what you'd call a nice guy. He beat up a couple of kids, and punched out his girlfriend just before graduation." He leaned close in good-natured confidentiality. "When he was dealing dope around school and the neighborhood, I used to buy from him, back when I was into that sort of thing."
     "What became of him?"
     "Oh, he eventually got busted and went to prison. Where he belongs, you ask me. Dangerous guy."
     A dealer who became a cop who became a smuggler. Now there was a story! "Is he still in prison?"
     "They threw away the key, what I heard. Sent him to the federal penitentiary at El Moro, Colorado. That's about as maximum security as any place in the country, they say."
     "What was this fellow's name?"
     "Ronnie Lake."
     Ronnie Lake. El Moro, Colorado. I jotted it on an airline napkin and stuck it in my pocket.
     The trip to Seattle went well. I hit it off with the surfer, got some fantastic stuff in the interview and some great pictures of the surf. Flying back to LA, I knew the piece on secret breaks of the Northwest was going to practically write itself. Which was good, because if I was going to interview this Lake guy for the Rolling Stone piece, I had no time to waste.
     Friday evening I arrived at my parents' house in Orange as dusk was a brooding roseate smear in the western sky. I found everyone at the trestle table on the deck, sipping drinks, nibbling chips and dip, enjoying one another's company as fragrant smoke rose from the barbeque grille.
     Danny!" Dad grinned. "There you are! Another few minutes and we were going to start the burgers without you."
     "Yeah, sorry about that. There was a tieup on 91. Thought I'd never get through. Happy birthday, Mom." I kissed her cheek.
     "Thanks, dear," she beamed, kissing me back. "Glad you're here."
     I put my present, a gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse in a wrapped box, with the other gifts and took a place at the table between my sister Veronica and my brother Rick.
     Dad was putting the burgers on to grill. He called over his shoulder, "How about a beer, Danny? I laid in some Beck's Dark for the occasion."
     "Sure, great!" Beck's Dark is my favorite.
     We sat there in the gathering night sipping our drinks and talking, the flames of the tiki torches that lined the deck bending and flickering in the evening breeze. Veronica went back to a story she'd been telling. "So anyway, Jess tells me she's thinking of transferring to UCLA, and I'm like, 'Jess! Why?' She goes, 'There's a much wider range of guys there! Why d'you think?' She was kidding, of course."
     "Sounds like sophomoric humor to me, Sis," I said. (God! I sounded like the dude on the plane!)
     Everybody groaned at the pun and Veronica gave me her best sarcastic tone. "Oh, haw haw! Aren't you clever, Mr. Wordsmith!"
     "So how are things at school?" I asked her.
     "They're good, although I'm taking harder courses this semester, Precalculus and Microbiology. I've also got Sociology and French, but they're not such killers."
     "What about that Sunbathing 101?" Rick asked with a smirk, "or Intro to Mary Higgins Clark? I hear those are real rippers!"
     Veronica gave him a punch. "Shut up, fucko! Like you're not majoring in Theory and Practice of Surfing!"
     Dad gave her a frown. "Veronica, language!"
     Rick was still laughing when I asked him, "So, bro. What's up with you these days? Catching any good waves?"
     "As many as I can."
     I told him about my trip to Seattle, about the surfer I interviewed and the article I was about to write. He was fascinated, pumped me for information about the breaks the Seattle surfer had showed me.
     "If you spent as much time on your studies as you do on surfing..." Dad muttered with a testy glance at Rick.
     "My grades are decent," Rick protested, "and I'm looking around at colleges. What more do you want?"
     "If you're making a B average with so little effort, think what your grades could be if you applied yourself," Dad shot back.
     "So what colleges are you looking at?" I asked.
     "Oh... Evergreen, Lewis and Clark, UC Santa Cruz. Pomona," he added with a grudging nod to Veronica.
     "You have a favorite?"
     He popped another Mountain Dew. "Probably Evergreen State, up in Washington. It's a good school, and Olympia isn't that far from the coast. Even besides what you told me tonight, I hear the northern Pacific surf is awesome."
     "Evergreen... I hear Theory and Practice of Getting High is one of the most popular majors," Dad said archly.
     "Well?" Rick said, his smile mischievous. "So they smoke pot at Evergreen. So what? College kids everywhere do."
     Mom gave the back of his shaggy head a good-natured slap. "That doesn't mean you have to, kiddo." She turned to me. "So, Danny, what's coming up after this surfing article? Got any interesting new projects lined up?"
     "Yeah, as a matter of fact. Speaking of potheads," I smiled at Rick, "I just got an assignment from Rolling Stone, to write an article about drug smuggling in the 1970s."
     "No shit?" Rick said, enthralled, ignoring Dad's reprimand of his language.
     "Yeah, and I've already had a little luck: on my flight to Seattle I sat next to this dude who told me about a fellow he'd gone to high school with back in Alabama. This classmate of his was a pot dealer in high school, then a cop, then a smuggler. He's in federal prison in Colorado, the guy said. I'm going to contact him. If he's willing to talk to me, I'll go to Colorado and interview him. Ronnie Lake, his name is."
     I couldn't help noticing Mom looked a bit stricken, like she'd swallowed something wrong.      Dad noticed too. "Beth? Are you okay? You look a little..."
     "I'm fine." Mom said quickly, putting on a smile. "Just a stray hunger pang reminding me it's time to eat. Are you guys hungry? I'm starved!"
     Dad does great burgers, marinating them overnight in brandy. As he took them off the grille, Veronica, Rick and I went to the kitchen to bring out everything else for the meal, buns, sliced tomatoes and onions, wooden bowls of salad, a big pot of Mom's baked beans that had been simmering on the stove. I poured a beer into an empty Mountain Dew can and slipped it to Rick. The conversation continued as we ate, although Mom seemed a bit subdued.
     After dinner she perked up to open her gifts, a skirt and blouse outfit from Dad - he always was good at picking clothes that would look good on her - a bubble bath, body splash and cologne set from Veronica, from Rick a book about Pink Floyd, Mom's favorite band, and of course the Outback gift certificate from me. There was also a birthday card from Uncle Scott, Mom's younger brother who lives in Pittsburgh.
     Afterwards, as we got up from the table, she put a hand on my shoulder. "Danny? Can I talk to you privately?" We went to the den, closed the door, and sat down together on the leather sofa Dad was so proud of.
     "Danny, there's something I need to tell you. Something important. I guess I should have told you a long time ago, but... well, the time just never seemed right, and I never could quite bring myself to..." She paused, gathering her thoughts, or her courage.
     "Danny, your Dad... is not really your father. Not your biological father, that is. Your biological father died before you were born, in a plane crash. He was a smuggler. He died on a flight bringing drugs into the country from South America."
     She produced a snapshot, a curling and yellowed Polaroid, its colors faded to vague pastels. In it stood three young men, twentysomethings in jeans and T-shirts, in front of an old DC-3. The middle one, the tallest, had straight blond hair to his shoulders, and tattoos: a huge tribal piece snaked from his T-shirt sleeve down his left arm, and I could see another on his right bicep. The guy to his right was shorter, slim, muscular, shoulder length sun-streaked brown hair, both arms heavily tattooed. On the tall one's other side was an even shorter dude with longish dark hair, whose Harley-Davidson T-shirt and black jeans gave him the look of a biker. Unlike the other two, his arms were unmarked, and unlike the others, he wasn't smiling. His eyes were so blue they looked colorless in the faded print, a bit disquieting. The tall blond one and the sandy-haired one were barefooted, I could see bare toes peeping out from under their bellbottoms; the biker-looking dude wore heavy black boots.
     Mom indicated the middle one, the tall blond dude. "That's your father.
     "Those three ran a marijuana smuggling operation. Kevin - your father's name was Kevin Densmore - was a pilot, a very enthusiastic one. He loved flying, and he also loved smoking pot. He was the one that began smuggling. That's what he did until that last flight, when he..." Her words trailed off.
     I was aghast. Dad was not my real father? It was like my life, my reality had just suffered a major earthquake. "Why didn't you ever tell me this?" I asked, trying not to sound confrontive and not quite succeeding.
     "Well, several reasons. For one thing, I didn't want any of what Kevin did to come back on you. Oh, I know you couldn't be held responsible for things your father did before you were born. But I also know how people are. I was afraid if it got out your father was a drug smuggler, it'd be held against you in one way or another.
     "Another thing, for a long time I was worried about... well, about myself, Danny. The law is that if a person has knowledge of a criminal enterprise and fails to report it to the authorities, that person is subject to arrest and prosecution as part of that enterprise. And," she gave a humorless laugh, "there is no doubt I had knowledge of what Kevin was doing. He tried to keep it a secret, but I knew. That means in the eyes of the law, I was part of his criminal enterprise. I was afraid of going to jail, Danny!"
     "But that was years ago. Surely-"
     "Oh, sure, there's a statute of limitations. But the government is so fond of rolling back civil rights where drugs are involved. All they have to do is declare the statute of limitations suspended or waived or not applicable, and my neck is back on the chopping block.
     "When Kevin died, at first I thought I - and you too, Danny - would be destitute. I had depended on Kevin to live. When he was gone, I had no idea what to do - I was young, I had no marketable skills, no education, not even a high school diploma... and I was pregnant. I had enough cash to live on for a while, but after that, the future looked bleak. Until I found out Kevin had taken out a big life insurance policy with me as sole beneficiary. That policy paid $500,000, Danny. That money gave me some options. It let me get my high school equivalency, and my college degree. College is where I met your Dad, and before I knew it we were in love and getting married. It was Kevin's insurance money that got us started as newlyweds, and later on put you through college, too. It started a new life for both of us, me and you."
     She sat back on the sofa and closed her eyes as if the effort of telling me all this was exhausting. Stunned, I tried to assimilate everything she'd said. Tried to put my world back together.
     Dad, sitting outside on the deck, laughing with my sister and brother - my half sister and half brother, I realized with a jolt - was not my real father, not a blood relative at all. And my Mom... well, she was obviously an entirely different person than the one I thought I knew.
     "Mom? Doesn't Uncle Scott know about me? That I'm not really...?" I gestured vaguely toward the deck where Dad sat.
     "Scott... presumes you are your Dad's son, Danny. Oh, he knew about Kevin, but he never knew I got pregnant with him. Scott and I were out of touch for a time. When we got back in contact, you were a baby and I was with your Dad, and Scott just naturally assumed..."
     "Your parents...?" The subject of Mom's parents, my grandparents, was a touchy one. I knew Mom and her parents didn't get along and hadn't seen each other in years, but I didn't know why. It was something she never liked to talk about.
     "My parents know nothing about my life. I haven't talked to them since I left home, before you were born. They threw me out, Danny. I would rather have worked menial labor than go crawling back to them."
     Her eyes met mine. "Every time I look at you, you remind me of Kevin. Even after all these years. I see him in your face, in the way you walk, in the way you move.
     "Your Dad out there on the deck is a good, decent man. He is a loving father to you just as much as he is to Veronica and Rick, and a loving husband to me. Even so..." Her eyes became faraway, her voice so soft I almost didn't hear. "Kevin was the love of my life."
     I found my voice. "Mom? What about the other two guys? In the picture?"
     She indicated the one to my father's right, the sandy-haired smiling one. "That's Bobby Martin, Kevin's best friend. He helped your father sell the marijuana they flew in. When the smuggling operation blew up, he disappeared. I have no idea where he is now, if he's alive or dead. He was a tattoo artist. From Alabama, a little place called Cedar Spring. That's all I really know about him. Oh, and uh... since I'm telling secrets tonight..."
     She pulled up her sleeve. High on her left arm was a tattoo, a sinuous black tribal pattern sprawling over her upper arm and shoulder. I gaped in amazement! It was huge, and through all my boyhood and adolescence, I'd never seen it.
     "Bobby's work."
     "You have a tattoo?"  I couldn't stop staring at it. "How did you manage to keep us from seeing that all these years?"
     She smiled unsteadily. "I was always careful to wear sleeves long enough to cover it. And I never go swimming. I don't think I've been swimming once since Kevin died."
     With an effort I put my shock aside and turned back to the snapshot. "Mom? What about the third guy?" The blue-eyed unsmiling biker dude on my father's left.
     "That's Ronnie Lake. The person you're about to interview."
     I looked from the snapshot to her, not comprehending.
     "That's why I'm telling you all this. I wanted you to hear it from me, rather than stumbling onto it when you interview him.
     "Ronnie was in college, doing a thesis about drug smuggling. He and Kevin met by chance in Colombia, and became friends. He became part of Kevin's smuggling operation, in charge of security. It was his job to make sure Kevin didn't get burned or busted or anything." She laughed humorlessly. "Guess he wasn't very good at it.
     "I didn't know Ronnie very well. I always found him creepy. He got busted along with Kevin and Bobby when the smuggling operation blew up. He went to prison, that's all I know. You probably already know more about him than I do. I didn't know he was a cop until you said so this evening."
     "Wait - Kevin got busted? I thought you said he died in a plane crash, smuggling?"
     "Yes, he did, but... well, it's complicated.
     "I was sixteen when I met your father. I'd never had a boyfriend before - not a real boyfriend, if you know what I mean - and Kevin swept me off my feet. He was nineteen when I first met him. His blond-boyish good looks, that self-assured independence of his, the tattoos... he was sexier than any boy I'd ever known. The boys I knew in high school were children in comparison.
     "The minute I met him I wanted him. I wanted to be naked with him, wanted to do everything with him. I denied it for a time... self-denial it was, to pretend to myself I wasn't sex-hungry."
     Glancing at me, she laughed. "I'm sorry, Danny. I guess it must be uncomfortable hearing your mother talk about her teenage sex life."
     It was acutely uncomfortable, but I wasn't about to stop her.
     "All these years since Kevin died, I've never spoken of him to anyone. Not even your Dad. Oh, he knew when we met that I'd been with someone before... I had a baby, after all. But he loved me, accepted me without question. He said our pasts before we knew each other were irrelevant to our present relationship. He accepted you, Danny, as a part of my life, and therefore a part of his. He loves you as dearly as if you were his own son. That's why he adopted you. It was his idea to do that, something he wanted to do. He may not be your blood father, Danny, but never doubt that he is your Dad in every other sense of that word."
     She paused again, lost in her thoughts.
     "One of the ways you remind me of Kevin is that you like to write."
     "My father was a writer?"
     "Not published. He just liked to express himself in writing, and he was pretty good at it. He kept a journal for years, from junior high school right up until a few days before his death.
     "I have all of those." She said it so casually, it took me a moment to comprehend.
     "You have... my father's journals?"
     "Yes. All of them, a whole box full. I've saved them all these years. Those and that snapshot you're holding are the only bits of him I have left. Except memories." Tears spilled down her cheeks. "You know what's funny? I never look at those journals. When he died, I read them all, every single one, cover to cover. Then I put them away and never looked at them again.
     "They're in a box in the attic. Take them, Danny. They're yours. They'll help you know who your father was." She gave a funny little smile. "Get ready to find out a few things about who I am, too."
     By the time Mom and I finished talking it was late. Everybody was in bed except Dad, who was in his pajamas and robe in the living room, sipping a cup of hot chocolate and browsing through the Los Angeles Times. "Must have been some heart-to-heart," he said cheerfully as we emerged from the den. He and Mom headed for bed, arms across each other's back.
     As quietly as possible I hauled the stepladder from the utility closet. Setting it up in the hall beneath the trapdoor in the ceiling, I climbed up into the attic. There were at least a couple dozen boxes stored up there. I didn't know which box held the journals, so one by one I hauled them out into the dim light of the attic's single bare bulb and opened them. The first was books, old worn textbooks from Mom's and Dad's college days. The next was children's toys, some of which I recognized from my own childhood. The next was full of file folders; hope sparking, I pulled one out, but it was Dad's business records from years ago. I went through two stacks of boxes that way, discovering all manner of junk I'd forgotten about or didn't know we had.
     The box at the bottom of the second stack was a plain brown carton, medium size, medium heavy, tied with twine. It was packed with spiral notebooks, all worn and battered-looking, their covers a rainbow of colors. Pulling one out, I opened it at random and squinted at the lines of handwriting.

October 20, 1972
     Took Mr. Ingworth's algebra test today. It was hard, as all of his are. Did OK though, I think. Jake & Keith want me to go trick or treating with them. Sounds cool, but last year I thought would be the last time we did that. I might go anyway. Have to think about a costume. Maybe just a sheet with eyeholes? Simple, and nobody would know it was me.

     It was the journals! I pulled out another and opened it.

     Bobby & I hauled a couple of lawn chairs to the secret beach today. Have to grill burgers or steaks there soon. Good place to smoke a joint and watch afternoon become evening.

     There were twenty-two of them, their blue-lined pages covered with entries in ballpoint, a few in smudgy pencil. I noticed a large hardbound book among them and pulled it out. It was a high school yearbook, Je Reviens embossed in gold streamlined script on its dark red cover. Below that was "1974-75" inside a circle trailing curved swoop lines like a meteor plunging in from space. On the title page was repeated the annual's name, Je Reviens, and below:

Riverside High School
The Village of Indian Hill, Ohio

     I turned to the senior class photos, the guys all in tuxedo coats, white shirts and bow ties, the girls in V-necked formal dresses. There was no Densmore.
     The junior and sophomore classes - apparently Riverside High only had grades ten, eleven, and twelve - had been photographed in everyday school clothes rather than formals. The boys wore T-shirts or button-downs, the girls wore T-shirts or blouses with tiny flower patterns. Most of the boys had long hair, parted in the middle or hanging moplike over their forehead and ears. Long, straight styles predominated among the girls.
     The name below the photo jarred me, I hadn't even recognized the clean-cut, straight-looking boy in the photo as the same as the longhaired, barefooted dude in the Polaroid. He was wearing a half-sleeve Oxford cloth shirt, the collar tabs neatly buttoned. His hair was short, his arms unmarked. His smile was open and pleasant. Even though the picture was black and white, I could see his apple-cheeked complexion. He looked nice, neat, conventional. Probably a bit too neat for the mid-seventies. His only concession to cool was a choker necklace peeping from his shirt collar.
     Taking out the Polaroid, I compared it with the junior class picture. Side by side, I could tell Most Likely to Succeed and the Counterculture Kid were the same. Obviously Kevin had changed a great deal between 1975 and May, 1981 when the Polaroid was dated. What, I wondered, led to such dramatic changes? What compelled Kevin to go from all-American high schooler to drug smuggler? Maybe the answers were right here in this box.
     Putting the yearbook away, I pulled out the first of the journals. The first entry was dated June 3, 1971. In it Kevin wrote about the end of school and the beginning of the summer between seventh and eighth grades, about how he liked the idea of keeping a journal as Mrs. Webster, his seventh grade English teacher, suggested. If Kevin graduated high school in 1976, he was thirteen years old when he wrote those words. Pulling out the last journal, I turned to the last entry, less than halfway through the notebook; it was dated simply March, 1984. The handwriting was tighter than in the early journals, and, if not exactly precise, at least easily readable. It occurred to me that I had not thought to ask Mom the date of Kevin's death.
     Over the next days I read every entry in each of Kevin's journals. Much of what he wrote, particularly in the early years, was everyday-ordinary, the thoughts, observations and musings of an average middle class kid. Other entries, especially those written after he started smuggling, were fascinating, riveting. I couldn't put the journals down.
     The journals whetted my appetite to learn more about Kevin and what he did. I knew I had to talk to someone who had known him.
     That would be Ronnie Lake.

*   *  *

     The dude on the plane said Lake was at El Moro Federal Correctional Institution near Trinidad, Colorado. Obviously the next step would be to set up an interview.
     I began by researching the question on the Internet, that inexhaustible fount of knowledge and information. This brought me to the website of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, www.bop.gov, and its Inmate Locator option. Keying in the name "Lake, Ronald" did indeed yield a Ronald Matthew Lake in El Moro. I clicked on Visiting Rules. Only those persons on the inmate's approved visitors list were allowed to visit, this list consisting of immediate family members such as spouse, children, parents, siblings; secondary family such as grandparents, cousins, and so on; and the inmate's attorney(s), clergy, etc.  Nowhere in the listing was the word "journalists."
     I decided my best course of action would be to fire off an email to the prison warden explaining who I was, what I was doing, and asking permission to visit Lake at El Moro for a personal interview. Several days passed before a return message appeared in my inbox. The message, from the Warden, was brief and direct:

Mr. Hawthorne:

     Re your inquiry of May 12, I regret to inform you that permission to visit and interview inmate Ronald Matthew Lake is denied.
     If we can be of service in any other way, please do not hesitate to contact us.

     Very Truly Yours,
     Maj. Robert Midders, USMC (ret.)
     Warden & Commanding Officer
     El Moro Federal Correctional Institution

     Maybe I could write a letter to Lake asking if he'd be willing to correspond with me about his experiences as a smuggler, since an in-person interview seemed out of the question. I might learn a few things about Kevin too.
     After mailing the letter, rather than sitting around waiting for a reply that may never come, I turned my attention to learning whatever I could about Bobby Martin, the man Mom said was Kevin's best friend. If I could locate and contact him, he might be able to give me info about drug smuggling back in the day and Kevin, both. Besides that, I was curious about Bobby. Kevin wrote a lot about Bobby in his journals, often recounted Bobby's words verbatim. But this was no substitute for actually meeting him.
     Kevin's journals told of his first meeting Bobby in high school, of their friendship up to the smuggling trip when they got busted. I scanned the journals, noting hard facts about Kevin's friend. When it was finished, the list read:

     Born Cedar Spring, Alabama, April 20, 1958
     Father: Keith Martin, farmer
          Cedar Spring High School thru grade 11
          Bay Pines HS, St. Petersburg, FL Grade 12
     Uncle & aunt: Frank & Margo Martin, St. Pete
          Cedar Spg: John & Tal Akins, Cody Robinson
          St. Pete: Kai Stevens
     Arrest record (St. Pete): unlawful possession of controlled substance; suspended.
          (Sunflower, GA): same as above, + smuggling; not prosecuted.
     Professions/skills: tattoo artist, fine artist/sci fi & horror genre, auto mechanic
     Last known profession: Tattoo artist, smuggler
     Last known address: Big Pine Key, Florida
     Last seen: June 1981, Sunflower, Georgia

     There were a few leads. I began with a phone call to long distance directory assistance for north Alabama, asking for listings in Cedar Spring for Keith Martin, or John or Tal Akins; there were none. I made a similar call to St. Petersburg, Florida asking about listings for Frank or Margo Martin, or Kai Stevens; again nothing. Frustrated, I turned my efforts to the Internet.
     Using both Google and Anywho, I tried several different searches on Bobby's name with the places he'd lived, the word "tattoo," even the word "marijuana." Still nothing.
     In desperation I turned back to the telephone and long distance directory assistance, asking for a listing in Cedar Spring, Alabama for Cody Robinson. I did get a hit on him, at Route 1, Box 1260, Cedar Spring. Eagerly I dialed the number.
     An adolescent male voice answered. "H'lo?"
     "Hi. Is Cody Robinson in?"
     There was a clunk as the telephone receiver was unceremoniously dropped. "Daddy! Telephone!"
     In a moment a more adult-sounding male voice with a thick Southern accent answered. After confirming that I was speaking to Cody, I explained who I was, and that I was trying to locate Bobby Martin.
     "Bobby Martin! Now there's a name I ain't heard in a while."
     "Do you know where he is now?"
     "Sure don't. Just when senior year of high school was starting? He moved away real sudden-like. To Florida. Some hassle with the local Deputy Fife, I heard."
     Tell me something I don't know. "I understand Bobby was friends with Johnny and Tal Akins. Would you know where they are now?"
     "Guess they'd be somewhere in the Alabama state prison system. Y'get sent up for killing a cop, they throw away the damn key."
     So. Nothing. Wherever Bobby Martin had disappeared to, he'd done so completely and without a trace. I couldn't help wondering if he meant to, or if it was done for him, and if so, by whom.
     The deadline for my Rolling Stone article was approaching, so I wrote it as a series of excerpts from Kevin's journals, tracking his journey from high school kid to international drug smuggler. My editor loved it. "It's not just about Drug War history," he gushed, "it's a piece of Drug War history." It ran entitled "Diary of a Pot Smuggler."
     The main feature that "Diary" accompanied was titled "El Demonio: A Life in the Shadows." It was a biography of sorts, as much as could be written about an individual whose identity was unknown. Beginning with a brief history of the drug industry in Colombia and the rise of the cartels, it talked about the downfall of Pablo Escobar and the subsequent appearance of El Demonio. It is believed, the article stated, that El Demonio had been a lieutenant in the Companía, Escobar's drug smuggling cartel, who saw an opportunity in Escobar's death and seized it through violence and intimidation of anyone who might have become a competitor. He rebuilt the cartel using his own obscurity as a tool to breed fear, in much the same way as a formula horror story does when the monster, all fangs and claws and slavering jaws, emerges from the fog to tear apart his prey. Smart, the article opined, especially considering that this same obscurity served to insulate him from pursuit and apprehension by the authorities.
     The article contained the following interview:

CIA spokesman Steven Mandrake  Demonio represents himself as folk hero rather than as international crime lord by financing various grandiose, highly visible public works. His construction projects make a point of using as much local labor, skilled and unskilled, as possible. And the projects are always to serve the public good: housing for the urban poor, charity hospitals, medical and dental clinics in small towns and isolated areas, schools, libraries. Demonio understands the PR value of these sorts of initiatives, and milks them for all they're worth, just as did Pablo Escobar.
Rolling Stone  I hear his public works offer better services than those offered by the Colombian government.
SM  Yes, that's true. But that fact was carefully engineered to eclipse El Demonio's dark side, to hide the fact that, after everything, he is a criminal. A vicious, ruthless criminal who is ultimately out for his own enrichment and acquisition of power. Demonio has bred fear into his employees and associates, into everyone with whom his business network comes in contact. This is not simply fear for one's life. It is the fear that to cross El Demonio is to bring down the wrath of hell on oneself, one's family, friends, everything one cares about and holds dear.
RS  "The wrath of hell?" Isn't that a bit dramatic?
SM  El Demonio's crimes are dramatic. But he is smart. He realizes that Pablo Escobar's downfall was precipitated by the viciousness of his crimes. Where Escobar might have bombed a public place to have revenge or make a point, Demonio would tend more to quietly kidnap the subject, "disappear" him, as it were. Or disappear the subject's wife, or mother, or eldest son, then spread stories about what happened, stories of torture, dismemberment, death in any number of slow, painful ways. That's how El Demonio operates.
RS  Yet no evidence of such heinous crimes is ever made public, except by innuendo. Are you certain of your facts? Is it possible El Demonio is taking the rap for acts he did not commit?
SM  No, that's not possible. Demonio specifically discourages direct publicity. Reporters, journalists, newsmen throughout Colombia know this. They know - fear - the consequences of displeasing him. In such a climate, of course there is no publicity.
RS  Then how do you substantiate your claims?
SM  The CIA is party to a number of confidential intelligence sources throughout Colombia, Latin America and the world. We are in receipt of much information not available to the public. Trust us. We know what we're talking about.

     The article ran with two shorter sidebar articles, one an editorial sharply critical of current US drug policy, the other my "Diary of a Pot Smuggler."
     The only trouble was, they deleted Kevin's last few journal entries from my article, everything after the bust. Those last few journal entries were, I thought, the most important part of the article. But it was done, and I had a byline in Rolling Stone. Totally cool!

*   *   *

     Three weeks after my Rolling Stone article came out two men in dark suits showed up at my door. Their cards identified them as FBI agents Polk and Carter. Two presidents.
Seated on the sofa in my living room, Agent Polk pulled out a Xerox copy of the letter I had written to Ronnie Lake at El Moro proposing an interview by mail. "Did you write that letter, Mr. Hawthorne?"
     "Yes, I did."
     "Have you gotten any response from Lake? A letter, a phone call, an email? Or anyone mentioning Lake's name, or conveying a message from him?"
     "Nothing from Lake himself. I got an email from the Warden at El Moro, refusing me an interview with him. What's this about?"
     Agent Carter answered. "Ronald Lake escaped from prison three days ago."
     "He escaped? From El Moro? I thought that was a maximum security place, state-of-the-art escapeproof."
     "It is. Was."
     "How did he manage it?" I couldn't resist asking.
     "We are not presently disposed to discuss that." Polk.
     "How did you know of Lake?" Carter.
     "A man I sat next to on a plane gave me his name. He said he went to high school with him."
     "The man's name?"
     "I don't know."
     "The airline, your flight and seat number?"
     "Southwest flight 2347 on May 7. But there are no assigned seats on Southwest."
Polk noted all this down.
     "You had no prior knowledge of Ronald Lake before this air passenger next to you mentioned him?"
     "No." I felt a pang of - what? Fear? Guilt? It was true, I didn't know of Lake before the dude on the plane told me about him. However, I was certain the agents would find it very interesting indeed that I was Lake's smuggling partner's illegitimate son. Suddenly I understood Mom's paranoia.
     Polk and Carter asked me other questions, all of which I answered truthfully and accurately. Several of the questions were obviously designed to confirm - or contradict - previous answers.
     At last they got up to leave. "If Lake should contact you, even through a third party, please call us at once," Polk said, handing me a card.
     "Under no circumstances should you agree to meet him face to face," Carter admonished. "He is armed and extremely dangerous."
     Thanking me for my cooperation, they left. If ever there had been any possibility, however remote, of interviewing Ronnie Lake, it was now gone.
     A growl from my stomach reminded me it was time to eat. Stepping to the kitchen, I opened the refrigerator to see what I might pull together for dinner.

*   *   *

     The next day was Saturday. I had no approaching deadlines, the day was free. I called up Barb, a girl I'd been out with a couple of times, and we spent the day at the Queen Mary. That evening we had dinner at the Rock Bottom in Long Beach.
     "So how's your writing going?" she asked as we tied into our Texas Fire Steaks.
     "Pretty well. I just finished an article for Rolling Stone on drug smuggling in the 1970s." I told her about it.
     "You have an actual smuggler's diary? From back in the day? Where did you find that?"
     "It was given to me by - a source."
     "'A source.' Who isn't named in the article, I suppose."
     "No, of course not."
     She shook her head. "I just hate it when criminals hide behind journalistic confidentiality. Don't you feel complicit in his crimes, sheltering him like that?"
     Her comments caught me off guard. "Well - no. The statute of limitations on his crimes expired years ago, Barb."
     "The statute of limitations. That's something they ought to get rid of! If you can evade the authorities for a certain length of time, then your crimes magically go away, your record remains lily white. Is that fair?"
     "Actually, yeah, it is. Do you think if a person makes a mistake it should follow him the rest of his life?"
     "Until he pays his debt to society, yes."
     I knew there were legal and social reasons for statutes of limitations, but for the life of me I couldn't verbalize them.
     "I mean, drugs are evil, Danny! They ruin lives! Whoever brings dangerous drugs into the country should suffer the consequences! How does the passage of time change anything?"
     "He was only smuggling marijuana, Barb."
     "Marijuana is a dangerous drug! Haven't you seen the Partnership for a Drug-Free America commercials? Marijuana is the first step to harder drugs. Back in the seventies people thought it was harmless, but it's not! Pot today is even more dangerous than back then, because it's so much stronger."
     "Barb, I'm not sure you've got your facts straight. If you-"
     "Everything I just said came straight from government sources. Why would they lie about such a thing?"
     I let the subject drop. But a distance between Barb and me had opened. It wasn't that I was such a big drug decrim advocate, but I did think her ideas on the subject were questionable.
     I'd been hoping when I took Barb home she'd invite me in, but she dismissed me at the door with a cool thank you, a distant smile, and a chaste peck on the cheek. Disappointed, I returned to my apartment alone.
     As I stepped carefully through my darkened living room to turn on the floor lamp, I caught the vague odor of stale cigarette smoke. I suppose that should have been a warning, but my mind was on the date gone wrong. Absently trying to think who might have been smoking in here, I switched on the light.
     And froze.
     There was a man in my armchair. Pointing a gun at me.
     The face looking at me was cruel, ruthless: pale, soulless eyes as cold and hard as chips of sapphire, the straight slash of a mouth, the knife scar, the severely buzzcut dark hair; this was a sociopathic malevolence capable of anything. As if to emphasize this, he wore all black, making him look like some bizarre evil priest.
     For a long moment both of us were frozen like waxworks. I ventured, "Look, I've got some cash in my wallet, but not much."
     Unexpectedly, surprisingly, a smile spread over his face, transforming it. Suddenly he looked like an okay guy, the kind of guy I might be friends with.
     "You're Danny?" His voice had the rasp of years of cigarettes.
     "Yeah...?" It came to me that this was no ordinary robbery. How did he know my name?
     His smile stayed, but the gun was unwavering. "I'm Ronnie Lake. I understand you want to interview me."
     Cartoonlike, my jaw dropped. I stood there gaping at him.
     "You're not gonna do anything stupid, right, Danny? The gun's just to get your attention, keep things under control until we get comfortable with each other." Abruptly it disappeared. I had a feeling it could reappear just as quickly. "Have a seat, man. Relax."
     I sat, feeling as if I were in the presence of a venomous snake. "You realize the FBI was here, asking about you?"
     "Yeah, I figured they would be. Let me worry about that. If the FBI asks you about my visit? You can truthfully say I held you at gunpoint." He cocked his head. "What are they saying about me?"
     "That you're armed and extremely dangerous."
     "Armed? Yeah. 'Extremely dangerous?' That's bullshit."
     I wasn't at all sure about that. "Look, Mr. Lake-"
     "...Ronnie. I have to ask. Why are you doing this?"
     "I told you. I'm here so you can interview me."
     "No, I mean - you escape from prison, and the first thing you do is come see me so I can interview you? Surely you realize how risky this is?"
     His face became solemn. "Danny, you don't know how important it is that I tell my story. They don't want what I know to get out! They put me in El Moro to keep me quiet, hide me away where nobody can talk to me."
     "The authorities. Cutter. The fucking CIA, man! They can't have me talking, telling what I know!"
     My confusion must have shown on my face, because he said, "Look, Danny. There's all kinds of shit you don't know. You think you know the true situation with the Drug War, but you don't. You don't even know the right questions to ask. So why don't you just ask whatever you want, and I'll make sure you hear the stuff you need to hear. Right?"
     Struggling to regain my emotional balance, I realized this was a golden opportunity to interview Lake, without prison authorities monitoring every word. I grabbed a legal pad and pen and switched on my recorder.
     "Okay, Ronnie. Let's start with your life. How did you first get involved with drugs?"
     He took his time, taking out a Marlboro menthol and lighting up.
     "Oh man, my life? Has been the longest, strangest trip you can imagine."
     With those words he launched into an amazing story. I listened for hours.
     When he finished, the eastern sky was turning royal blue and we were munching the last of a pizza I'd ordered. What Ronnie told me that night led me to Bobby Martin and beyond. It led me to the story you are about to read.
     These are Ronnie's and Bobby's stories, and selected entries from Kevin's journals. Ronnie's and Bobby's words are exactly as they were spoken, Kevin's exactly as they were written. No "cleaning up" of the monologues and journal entries has been done, no correction of grammatical errors, no improvement of language. I did omit less pertinent of Kevin's journal entries, and edited the interviews to avoid repetition. The interviews and journal entries are in chronological order of events, rather than in the order the interviews were done. To understand Kevin you must understand Bobby. To understand what happened to them you must understand Ronnie.
     But this is more than the story of Kevin, Bobby, Ronnie, and the marijuana smuggling operation they ran in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is the story of the United States government and its War on Drugs. It is the story of me, and the weird, unbelievable turn my life has taken.
     The story starts in the early 1970s, with Bobby Martin.