As Max gets comfortable, palming a Parliament cigarette out of its pack, Stephanie Mason shakes like a leaf next to him. She has just learned that her old Catholic friend Wes is a Jewish guy named Max who once wrote a book. That, of course, is just the beginning. "You're going to hear some shit that's going to shock you," Max warns her. "Just listen."

Max spent many hours over the next five days in that conference room as Tabor's tape recorder rolled. Tabor wanted to know everything, from minute details about smuggling, to his favorite movie (Silence of the Lambs), to his opinion of Cocaine Cowboys, which Max had watched on DVD. The former smuggler deemed the film "more style than substance."

They subsisted on room service, Chinese food, and a delivery from LongHorn Steakhouse. Max chugged cups of Starbucks white chocolate mocha, his favorite drink.

Max, living under an invented identity, spent several years in Florida after nemesis Pablo Escobar was killed.
Courtesy of the Max Mermelstein family
Max, living under an invented identity, spent several years in Florida after nemesis Pablo Escobar was killed.
Screenwriter Brett Tabor
C. Stiles
Screenwriter Brett Tabor

As it turns out, Max put up no fight in negotiations over his film rights. He could use the $3,000 check, and he was thinking about his legacy. While Tabor filmed one afternoon, Max grabbed a Mont Blanc pen and signed away his rights, a cigarette wedged between his fingers.

After one of the sessions with Tabor that week, Max headed to the oncologist's office. Stephanie sat in the waiting room, reading The Man Who Made It Snow and learning the true background of her old friend.

Max already knew he had cancer of the lung, liver, and bone. That day, his doctor gave him bad news: He'd be lucky to live another month.


The obituary in the Frankfort State Journal was 24 words long and listed him as one year younger than he actually was: "Services for Wesley Barclay, 64, will be held at a later date in Florida. He died on September 12. There will be no visitation."

Max Mermelstein, meanwhile, received a thousand-word eulogy in the Washington Post. It was written by Jeff Leen, author of the Medellín Cartel tome Kings of Cocaine and the only professional reporter to ever interview him.

In late September, a wake was held for Max's cremated remains at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Homestead. For the first time in more than two decades, his real name was openly used. About 20 relatives attended the ceremony, most of them relocatees of the Witness Protection Program.

Tabor was also there, along with Gregorie. When it came time for a speech in remembrance of Max, heads swiveled to the back of the church, where Tabor sat. In a roomful of family, the man who knew Max best had met him four weeks before he died. Tabor's short speech recalled that Max was honest to a razor-sharp edge: "You always knew where you stood with him."

Afterward, Gregorie thanked Tabor for speaking instead of him. Nobody wanted to see an old prosecutor blubber. "I had a tear in my eye, and it wasn't for the mean old Max," Gregorie says. "It was for what everybody had just lost. He was a piece of history."


Max's ashes now sit in Ana's house. His daughter was also bequeathed $800, according to Wes Barclay's will, which was filed in Franklin County Court in Kentucky. That's a third share of his net worth at death: $4,000 in a Bank of America account minus $1,600 in credit card debt. Isabella also inherited her share.

Max left Ana's husband, Mannie, a computer and a handgun that he legally should not have owned. The Himalayan cat, Cat, also lives in Ana's house somewhere in Florida.

Ana's 4-year-old son Pedro will inherit the Yiddish/Tasmanian Devil talisman when he comes of age.

Stephanie Mason inherited Max's worn furniture, her share of the money, and his old silver Lexus.

Brett Tabor is currently shopping his finished script to producers. Isabella, Ana, and Stephanie will split any royalties, which according to the will, are of "values unknown."

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