Portrait of a Dealer

Maestro is a Miami drug dealer who plies his trade at night, but you won't find him standing on a street corner, shifting his weight from foot to foot and making furtive hand signals. Like many in the coke-selling sector of the economy, Maestro has found a more discreet and comfortable arrangement, living for payday Fridays and slipping between neighbors and neighborhoods separated by mere streets but belonging to different worlds. He has the cover of a legitimate day job selling used boats and boat parts, a thriving seaside industry that brings him into contact with all sorts of people.

At 2:00 a.m. on a recent Saturday he sits at a poker table with four men who socially are somewhere between the dealer's friends and business acquaintances. Maestro gambles a gram of coke, a value of $40. He never has to give up cash when he plays cards with this crowd, because he pays his debts with his product. As he concentrates on the game, he lets his constantly ringing cell phone go to voicemail.

The calls were from a now-annoyed customer. Fueling that frustration was Maestro's recorded greeting: "Oh, so you're one of those. Yeah, you know who you are. It's three in the morning and you've called me fourteen fucking times looking for more. Well, I have news for you, buddy — I'm not picking up. Deal with it. Beeeep."

Earlier in the evening Maestro was easier to reach. His first call came from a youngish guy he calls "the Mediator." (He gives nicknames to all of his clients.) The Mediator is the only member of his buttoned-down preppy crew bold enough to actually initiate and make a drug deal. He buys an eighth of an ounce (an eightball, as it's commonly referred to) for around $120. "This guy, what he does is, he'll be at a party and his friends will want some booch but they won't know where to get it or they're too scared," Maestro explains. "He'll cap like two eightballs for the friends and then turn right around and tax the shit out of them. Instead of $240, or maybe a little less depending on how generous I'm feeling, he'll charge them $280. I'm telling you the guy never pays for his blow. He always gets a halfie or two for free. Then he'll try to negotiate with me and try to get me to lower the price."

Haggling is one of the vicissitudes of dealing cocaine, as are concerns over minimizing the possibilities of detection. Maestro prefers to deliver to his customers; he doesn't like the idea of people knowing where he lives, of having a constant flow of wired little monkeys showing up banging on the door of his Kendall home. "In the car," he says, "I can creep by a couple of times and scope out the situation. If I smell something fishy, I book. I don't have that luxury at the crib."

He deploys this type of slow-motion drive-by when another regular client, "Demento," issues a summons to meet behind a Winn-Dixie at Sunset Drive and SW 150th Avenue.

"Demento is nuts," Maestro says bluntly. "He'll cap an eightball for himself, go home, hit half of it, and become so incredibly paranoid that he'll flush the rest down the toilet. As if that weren't a bad enough crime to land you in the freaking nut house, the fool then goes and hides in his closet for the rest of night because he thinks the DEA is about to raid his house, guns blazing. The guy is so far gone that last week he was hitting the blow all night, past sunrise, and he could hear his neighbors talking through the walls. He thought they were talking shit about him, so he grabs a bat, and in his underwear steps outside and tries to look hard, you know trying to intimidate the neighbors, all the while heating himself up. Oh yeah, this guy is whacked, but since half his shit goes into the toilet, he's a regular customer."

Maestro eschews the Tony Montana image of the hardscrabble, violent cocaine kingpin. At age 27, he hews closely to the suburban identity he developed as a teenager in Kendall. He likes to tell people he writes poetry and lives a crime-free existence — except for occasional shoplifting expeditions to Barnes & Noble.

He points to his dealings with a fellow named "Rehab" as a totem of his humanity. Rehab has been institutionalized to help cure his cocaine addiction, a treatment that apparently hasn't worked, because the young man is out and looking to make a purchase. Maestro politely refuses the transaction. "I've never seen crack, but I have a couple of people who are always asking for pills. I think those people are a lot like crack addicts," he observes. "The thing with coke is that most people, at least the people I sell to, are aware of the effects and the toll."

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Kris Conesa