By Paul McGuire © 2009
There were four of us... at first.
I struggled to find a reliable connection in Sydney, aside from a few hustlers and trannie hookers hanging out around King's Cross. Every morning, I frequented a cafe near my flat where I ate a proper English breakfast with the finest organic ingredients that Australia had to offer. When I joked to the waitress about being out of smoke, she suggested that I contact her flatmate's brother to get sorted out. That's when I was introduced to Charles, a lanky Kiwi computer programmer.
Charles was skeptical and accused me of being a CIA or DEA agent, not to mention the evil offspring of George Bush. There was a strong anti-American sentiment in New Zealand and Charles epitomized that angst. When I unfurled a wad of multi-colored Australian dollars, he abruptly ended his rant and asked me how much I needed.
I bought a small chunk of hashish every few weeks. Each time that we met, we hung out a little and little longer. Initially, we met in non-suspicious locations, such as St. James Place or near Hyde Park. After a while, Charles agreed to meet me at his flat in Glebe, where we'd hang out and smoke on his roof and talk about politics. Sometimes we watched cricket on his TV and he explained to me the intricacies of the peculiar game. His real passion was rugby and he promised to take me to a proper match once the season started up.
Clayton, born and bred in London and later educated at Oxford, was a business reporter for the Financial Times and he also moonlighted for the BBC. Clayton lived in Sydney with his model girlfriend. Shelby, born in Wales, spent most of her teens and early 20s traveling the world as a model. Although in her late 20s, she was considered washed up in the modeling scene and landed a second career modeling in Asia. She had an agent in Hong Kong and frequently left Sydney for fashion shows, shoots, and assignments in Japan and Hong Kong.
I never figured out how Clayton and Charles knew each other. They never explained their common link. I met Clayton one afternoon when he stopped by Charles' flat for a pick up. Since we were both writers, Clayton and I instantly bonded. He and his girlfriend lived in a high rise overlooking Sydney Harbour and the famous Opera House. Supposedly, Russell Crowe owned the penthouse in the same building.
Clayton and Shelby threw dinner parties a couple of times a month, usually when her work and travel scheduled permitted such a gathering. He invited me and mentioned that if I showed up with liquor and he'd provide food and the rest of the party favors. They ordered in fantastic meals from Chinatown and a rotating group of a dozen or so guests from different walks of life were in attendance like a local record producer, a diplomat from Malaysia, and a couple of British ex-pats on an extended holiday in Australia.
After getting fired from my job at the newspaper, I got stuck ghost-writing the autobiography of a powerful Australian businessman. I spent two hours a day and four-days a week listening to him recant the vapid highlights of his life into my voice recorder and I went home each night and transcribed everything and struggled to piece together chapters. The old Aussie ran the largest hedge fund in the Pacific-Rim and took a major hit. Clayton told me that he lost billions (in U.S. dollars) gambling on credit default swaps. During the financial crisis, his book was put on hold for a few weeks while the old Aussie flew back-and-forth between Hong Kong, Frankfurt, and New York taking meetings and trying to stop his fund from hemorrhaging millions of dollars every day.
During the downtime, Clayton found me work writing dispatches for the BBC. I never realized how little I was getting paid at the Chronicle until I started freelancing for the Brits. Plus, they paid me in British Pounds which had a favorable conversion to Australian Dollars. My rent was subsidized by the book contract and I had spent most of my advance on paying off credit card debt before I left San Francisco. The extra cash from the BBC was welcomed. I spent my mornings writing and most of my afternoons sitting in pubs with Clayton and other business writers. When I wasn't drinking pints of Tooheys and discussing the impending collapse of the almighty U.S. dollar, I was sitting on Charles' roof discussing rugby strategy and smoking hash that was grown in the Peshwar region, somewhere along the imaginary border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"You know, mate, your President can throw us all into that prison in Cuba for supporting the evildoers," said Charles as he exhaled a plume of smoke and handed me the joint.
"Yeah," I agreed as I took a drag, "I'm the enemy for buying hashish supplied by narco-terrorists. And you're the worst of the bunch... the lowly middle-man."
"Well, at least I didn't have to hide the lump in my bum to smuggle it into the country."
During one of Clayton's dinner parties, Shelby pulled me aside and I followed her into their bedroom. A model friend of Shelby's finished up a shoot in Thailand and scored a packet of pink pills.
"Is that ya ba?" I asked.
Ya ba was meth in pill form. Bright pink pills to be exact. They were manufactured in illegal factories somewhere on the Burma border. Although the Golden Triangle was notoriously known for it's opium and heroin production, there was a growing demand for meth. Thailand was in the middle of an atrocious ya ba epidemic and the pink pills were in high demand in China, mostly to keep the low-wage factory workers jacked up while they churned out flimsy plastic pieces of shit that were generated into American toys and Swedish furniture.
Ya ba was Thai slang for "mad medicine" and it transformed whoever took it into a raving lunatic. As a few hippies I knew from Marin County used to tell me, "Speed kills." Somehow, Shelby's friend scored her a packet of pink pills. Shelby popped one pill and handed out a pink pill to myself, Clayton, and Charles. We all hung out until sunrise talking about what, I can't remember. The effects were similar to a weak-batch of ecstasy. In short, I was wired and stayed up for two days. I wrote a hundred pages of pure gibberish, but at the time, I thought it was Pulitzer Prize winning material.
We really only abused ya ba a couple of times a month during Clayton's dinner parties. When the batch ran out, we stopped for a couple of weeks until Shelby scored more. But that time, we started smoking ya ba. Chasing the pink dragon. The effects multiplied immensely. The high was shorter but more intense.
The first packet Shelby originally scored lasted us several months. And the latest packet? Consumed in a frantic weekend. We sat around hopelessly smoking ya ba during a tumultuous bender. We were up for 50 hours straight and watched CNN and BBC, convinced that every single reporter was an alien shapeshifter feeding English-speaking citizens around the globe propaganda and covering up an evil alien agenda that infiltrated the governments of Great Britain, Canada, America, and Australia.
When ya ba supplies dried up, Clayton, Shelby, and Charles decided to take a holiday up to Thailand to secure more product. By that point, my client was ready to finish his book, and I had to stay behind in Sydney against my will. Clayton, Charles, and Shelby found a reliable ya ba source in Bangkok and convinced me to blow off work in order to join them for a full moon party on Samui. I respectfully declined. As much as I enjoyed the ya ba, I wasn't as addicted as the rest of my friends. I also had a book to finish and a $20,000 paycheck waiting for me once I turned in the final draft. That decision to avoid Samui was a wise one for me.
I never saw Clayton or Shelby ever again. They got super strung out and couldn't escape the morbid grasps of meth addiction. Clayton got sacked from both jobs at the Financial Times and the BBC. With a position open at the BBC, I was hired as a full time reporter and I replaced Clayton. That was a bittersweet moment. My new boss had no idea that I knew Clayton, let alone did drugs with him.
"Meet your deadlines and we won't have any issues," said my new boss. "I had to sack the previous reporter because he was a bloody junkie. Another sad casualty of the Asian meth wars."
I heard a rumor from a fellow business writer at Bloomberg that Shelby and Clayton split. She moved to Hong Kong and became a high-end call girl, turning tricks with wealthy businessman in order to support her ya ba habit and whatever else she got addicted to during her lost time in Thailand. And Clayton? Not one word. He disappeared without a trace.
Charles returned to Sydney after a couple of weeks, but was utterly strung out. Although he continued to hook me up with hashish, he refused to sell me any ya ba, instead keeping it all to himself. We stopped hanging out on his roof and no longer had lengthy discussions about philosophy, politics, cricket, and rugby. He became a shut in and covered up all his windows because any inkling of light caused him intense migraines. It became harder for us to actually carry-on a conversation. His rambling rants became more incoherent and his paranoid accusations ruled his behavior. He was a functioning addict and some how kept his job while he continued to work from home. The rest of his time, he chased the pink dragon, while he repeatedly asked me to lift up my shirt to prove that I wasn't wearing a wire for the DEA.
Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.