The Rise and Fall of an All-American Boy and His Mulitmillion-Dollar Cocaine Empireby Mark Bowden
“Shocking . . . briskly and brilliantly told.” –The Baltimore Sun
“Shocking . . . briskly and brilliantly told.” –The Baltimore Sun
By the early 1980s, Larry Lavin seemed to have everything going for him: he was a dentist with an Ivy League education and thriving practice, a beloved father to a young family living in one of Philadelphia’s most exclusive suburbs. But behind the façade of his successes was a dark secret–he was also controlling a cocaine empire that spread from Miami to Boston to New Mexico that was generating over $60 million in annual sales. In Doctor Dealer, journalist and best-selling author Mark Bowden tells the saga of Lavin’s rise and fall with a gripping, novelistic narrative style that has won him international acclaim.
“Shocking . . . briskly and brilliantly told.” –The Baltimore Sun
“Doctor Dealer hooks the reader before page ten. . . . A shocking American tragedy . . . [that] shoots straight from the hip.” –The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“An engrossing crime story and a compelling morality tale.” –The Arizona Republic
“Immensely readable . . . has all the elements of a chilling suspense thriller . . . A smoothly crafted, exciting, can’t-put-it-down book.” –The Louisville New Voice
ONE: Strike One . . .Strike Two . . .
Fall 1972, on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Upperclassman John Sidoli was studying in his third-floor room in Langdell Hall when in jumped his friend Jeff Giancola with a plastic bag full of white powder. Jeff looked around frantically, his eyes coming to rest on Sidoli’s closet. He blurted, “John, let me stash this in there. Just for a little while. If Larry finds it he’ll kill me!” Before Sidoli had a chance to sacrifice good judgment to fellowship, Giancola stashed the bag in his closet and fled.
Sidoli listened to the footsteps retreat down the corridor. Setting aside his book, he stood and walked to his window in time to see Giancola fly out the front door and sprint into the Commons. Behind the girls’ dorm across the way the sky had the warm glow of dusk. Shadow covered half of the green between the tall redbrick Georgian dormitories. Two broad white elms in full autumn display were enclosed in this space.
Sidoli had lived in the same corner of Langdell for more than a year, across the hall from Giancola and Larry Lavin. Sidoli was closer to Giancola, who had confided several weeks ago that he was involved in a drug deal with Lavin, which came as no surprise. Even though Sidoli had known and liked Lavin since the middle of their year as “Lowers,” as sophomores at Exeter are called, he had never really felt close to him. There was something outrageous about Larry, something that made Sidoli believe Giancola’s story. Of all the hundreds of students he knew at Exeter, Larry Lavin was the one most likely to get involved in something like that.
Giancola had said that Larry was working a heroin deal with the Boston Mafia. He said that whenever the drug connection called at Langdell Hall, a message was left for Larry to call his mother. Sidoli knew there were messages on the board nearly every day for Lavin to call his mother. Ever since, whenever he saw the note on the board, “Lavin, call Mom,” it lent credence to the tale.
Looking down now through the magnificent elms, he saw Giancola stop midway across the Commons. Just inside the shadow stood a tall, thin figure Sidoli recognized as Lavin and some big guy with a hat and overcoat. The two strode up to Giancola, who appeared to be pleading. They knocked him down. Giancola jumped up swinging, and was knocked down again. He was kicked by the man in the overcoat. Then he was pulled to his feet and dragged toward the front door.
Sidoli panicked. He ran from his room and down the hall to the lavatory, where he opened one of the toilet stalls and closed the door behind him.
All was silent for long minutes. Then he heard Giancola call for him in the hall. He didn’t answer. The calls got closer until Giancola burst into the bathroom and discovered him hiding in the stall. Jeff looked desperate. He begged Sidoli to cover for him. Somehow, he said, Lavin suspected that the bag of white powder was stashed in Sidoli’s room. Jeff needed his friend to swear that it wasn’t.
Reluctantly, Sidoli agreed, but as they entered the room, Lavin was already holding the plastic bag in his hand.
“You were holding out on us,” he sneered. “You stole an ounce. We’ll show you what we do to people who steal from us.”
And the big man lunged at Giancola with a Coke bottle, shattering it against the side of the door. Sidoli leapt back horrified as Lavin and the other man wrestled Giancola to the floor. Straddling Jeff, Lavin opened the baggie and held the white powder over Giancola’s face.
“Kill him,” said the big man. ‘shove the whole ounce down his throat.”
Just then, Sidoli’s voice interrupted, quavering, shouting a plea he would be embarrassed about for the next twenty years. “No, don’t! Don’t kill him here! Please, kill him somewhere else!”
Then Lavin and Giancola and the other fellow were on the floor, laughing. Sidoli suddenly recognized the big man as a football player who lived two floors down. It was a joke! It was all a joke! Larry, laughing so hard he could barely speak, showed Sidoli the baggie, and sputtered, “Confectioners’ sugar!”
Larry laughed and laughed, and, after a while, Sidoli laughed, too.
Larry Lavin had entered Phillips Exeter Academy in January of 1971 as an awkward “townie,” a tall, skinny fifteen-year-old with a ludicrous retainer on his teeth. He had an especially hard time pronouncing the letter L, which was unfortunate, because every time he introduced himself it came out, “Hi, I’m “arry “avin,” with the Ls coming out as slippery Ws. But Larry didn’t seem to mind. He talked and talked and talked. Even without the retainer his Haverhill accent was so bad that his classmates found him hard to understand. Still, people liked Lavin. He had charm. He was black Irish and full of the devil. His pale green eyes would fix you with a gaze like a dare. His black hair was thick and long, framing his head like a helmet and falling down across his forehead to the eyebrows–which was a thing that preppies didn’t do. He affected gaudy plaid pants and pastel polo shirts and had a closet full of three-piece suits. Larry’s mom had worried about her son fitting in with his upper-class schoolmates, so she had spent months shopping in secondhand stores to find bargains on conservative suits and altering them to fit her youngest son’s gangly, uneven frame. Like his father, everything about Larry was long–a long thin face and nose, long torso, long arms and legs. His left leg was longer than his right, which set his left shoulder slightly higher, which made him always seem off-balance, thrown together loosely, an impression enhanced by the way his thick mop of black hair made his head seem to teeter atop such a pole of a neck.
His mother’s efforts to help her son fit in with his wealthy classmates had precisely the opposite effect. At Exeter the despised coat-and-tie rule was mocked. Students wore the rattiest sport coats and most ridiculous ties they could find to top their rumpled, faded jeans. Tennis shoes were not permitted, so students wore battered penny loafers held together with electrical tape. These were the Vietnam years, when the normal conflict between administration and students bordered on war. On most college campuses students had plenty of avenues to vent their outrage against the war and act out their fashionable disdain for social convention, but Exeter was just a high school, with curfews, a dress code, and other strict regulations against nonconformity. The same generation gap that troubled so many American homes during the sixties and early seventies was magnified a hundred times on a campus like Exeter’s. There were dozens of expulsions every year. Hardly a weekend went by that someone was not caught in violation of one or more of the school’s cardinal rules. This tension had left many in the student body with open contempt for the prep school’s proud 190-year-old traditions.
Enter Larry, a full year and a half behind the rest of the students in his class of “73, wearing his tacky suburban wardrobe, talking nonstop through his braces in a Massachusetts accent few could readily understand. His politics, such as they were, were just a reflection of those of his father, who felt America had lost its last best hope when it rejected Barry Goldwater. It isn’t enough to simply say that this gangly local boy didn’t fit in with the tight teenage dormitory society of Langdell Hall–he stood flamboyantly apart.
But he seemed oblivious to this. If anything, the young eccentric seemed more sure of himself than any of his classmates. He reveled in being different, but not with the underlying anger of many singular adolescents. He liked people and wanted to be liked back. Moreover, Larry seemed to like himself. He enjoyed nothing more than telling people all about himself.
His mother, Pauline, and his father, Justin, had grown up in Haverhill, a nearby Massachusetts town that was one of the oldest in America and which billed itself as “The Shoe Capital of the World.” Both were from Irish Catholic families who had settled in Haverhill to work in the town’s famous four-story brick shoe factories, and who had gone on to better themselves. Pauline, a short bosomy woman with artistic leanings, had been raised as an only child, a rare upbringing among the big-familied Irish. Although her parents sent her to college, Pauline’s chief ambition was to build the family she had missed as a child. She had a daughter and three sons, of whom Larry was the youngest.
Larry’s father, Justin, was a lanky, dark-haired, contentious man who enjoyed commanding center stage. His father, William S. Lavin, was a successful real estate speculator who had laid the foundations for great wealth by borrowing to buy up acres of land in Bradford, a growing residential community across the Merrimack River south of Haverhill proper, and around Chadwick Pond and Kenoza Lake, where the expanding town’s most successful citizens were beginning to build summer cottages. The twenties were a boom time for the shoe and leather industries along the river. Justin was raised as one of Haverhill’s elite. He excelled at high school sports, winning a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame to play football. When his athletic career was stalled by a broken leg in freshman year, he transferred to M.I.T., where he was graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 1939.
But during the Depression, while Justin was away at school, his father was forced to sell most of his real estate holdings at a loss. The Lavin family retained a measure of social prominence in Bradford, but lost most of its wealth. When World War II started, Justin enlisted as a naval aviation cadet. For more than three years he flew dangerous combat missions in Wildcat and Hellcat fighter-bombers in the Pacific. Twice he was shot down and survived, once after drifting for four hours in the ocean aboard a rubber raft. He returned from the war a local hero, decorated with two Navy Cross medals, the Air Medal, a Presidential unit citation, and the Purple Heart, but a man whose life had been permanently changed by the war. Larry remembers that many years later his father could be startled out of his chair by a fork accidently falling to the kitchen floor. His experience as an officer in a navy ruled by a tight coterie of predominantly WASP Naval Academy graduates left him with bitter feelings toward the U.S. government. Despite his acknowledged heroism and skill, Justin felt shut out of paths toward more power and responsibility. Long after the war had begun to fade in people’s memories, Justin could invest his harrowing war stories, stories of life and death, danger and triumph, with enough detail and enthusiasm to make them seem as though they had happened only yesterday. He seemed to pine for those days of daring and adventure.
Back in Haverhill, Justin found a different life from the one he had known as a child. During the fifties he became president and treasurer of the Keeler-Cochran Heel Co., Inc., one of the town’s oldest and most durable manufacturers. His executive position for a time afforded Justin the income and social status he was raised to expect. He and Pauline joined the Bradford Country Club, and Justin sat on the board of trustees for Bradford Junior College. In 1960 they bought a handsome two-story house on Highland Street with gray shingles and a brick front walk and a detached two-car garage in back. Justin added black shutters cut with the silhouette of a sailboat on the top, and would build on a redbrick patio with a small pool decorated with porcelain dolphins at either end that spouted water from their blowholes. Then came decline. Competition from foreign shoemakers, whose postwar economies had been subsidized by the United States, crushed Haverhill’s three-hundred-year-old shoe industry. Justin’s heel factory closed. He found work at an employment office in Boston, an hour’s commute south, and spent the next decade trying to find work for other displaced executives, earning commissions only when he was successful. Pauline found work as a medical secretary, and the Lavins often lived for months on her salary alone.
Larry, who had been born March 14, 1955, had no memory of the heel factory. He grew up in a family determined to live beyond its means, maintaining an active social schedule, planning ski trips all the while fending off creditors. He remembers being told to stand beside his desk at Sacred Heart School with the other children whose parents had fallen behind in tuition payments, or being turned away at the Bradford Swim Club because dues were unpaid, or taking an excited trip with his father to the department store to buy a color TV, only to be disappointed when Justin’s credit card was rejected. Justin would explode with anger. His children would feel ashamed for him, and somehow betrayed. Larry was a teenager when the family moved from its Bradford home into a small townhouse in a new development called Colonial Village across the river in Methuen. His mother supplemented family earnings by selling floral arrangements to local restaurants and eventually by teaching this skill to other women.
An outspoken conservative Republican, Justin Lavin blamed U.S. policy under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations for these hardships. He could go on and on, working himself into a fine Irish froth, about “The jerks went to work for the government. Have you ever dealt with some of the government boys in Washington? Some of the stupidest sons of bitches I have ever met in my life. . . .” Justin became the kind of man with whom people avoided serious conversation. A friendly chat would often explode into argument or serve as an excuse to launch a red-faced diatribe against the ineptitude and corruption of authority. Larry grew up absorbing his father’s bitterness for the system that had rewarded his wartime heroism with financial failure.
Still, despite his setbacks, Justin remained a talented and hardworking man. He took up cabinetmaking as a hobby, and over the years developed such skill that he furnished their home with handsome, inexpensive reproductions of delicate antiques. Larry remembers his parents’ tireless ingenuity in keeping up with bills and maintaining their ambitious living standard. When the back patio was under construction, there were late-night drives to demolition sites where Larry and his brothers would help his father scavenge valuable red bricks. If his father drove past a pile of mulch dumped for road crews gardening along the interstate, he would pull off the road, open the trunk, and hurriedly fill several plastic bags. If they’re stupid enough to leave this lying by the side of the road . . . that was how his father saw it. Larry loved and admired his parents, but at the same time, as he grew older, he felt sorry for them. If there was one lesson in their experience, it was that in the pursuit of wealth, talent and hard work weren’t enough.
Larry’s oldest brother, Justin, Jr. (the family called him Paul), and his sister, Mary (who was known as Jill), were quiet, hardworking, accomplished students. His other brother, Rusty, with his pink face and red hair and fearless personality, had a wild streak. Rusty ended more than a decade of feuding with teachers and school officials by dropping out of high school, the first member of his family who did not attend college. In a family fiercely intent on bettering itself, Rusty seemed defiantly downwardly mobile. He found work off and on as a trucker and moved into an apartment in Haverhill, spending most of what he earned on the ski slopes, where he became expert. Paul and Jill, for all their success in school, were sensitive, withdrawn, and sometimes troubled children. Jill fought with her father so much over politics and style–she was against the Vietnam War, he favored it; he wanted her to wear a dress, Jill preferred blue jeans–that she moved into an apartment with a girlfriend when she was only sixteen. Paul, who was more diplomatic than Jill, nevertheless found himself frequently at odds with his father. He would come home from college with liberal ideas that gave his father apoplexy. In the midst of all these battles with teenage children, young Larry, who looked so much like his father, was a blessing. He seemed to have acquired the best traits of all his older siblings with none of the worst. He was a straight-A student whose grades seemed to come even easier than Paul’s or Jill’s. If it was true that Larry possessed a touch of Rusty’s rambunctious style, he was blessed with a unique counterbalancing charm.
Once, after a teacher took exception when Larry threw a pencil out a classroom window in the middle of a lesson, he assigned the boy a punishment essay. Larry invented a story entitled ‘my Life as a Pencil,” envisioning the plunge through the open classroom window through the pencil’s eyes. As it fell earthward its life passed before its eyes, giving Larry a chance to invent a satire of the teacher and classroom as seen through the eyes of a pencil at rest on the sill under the chalkboard. As a final indignity, the pencil crashed to its death on the roof of the teacher’s car. The teacher, who had a sense of humor, thought the work so clever that he read it out loud to his advanced composition classes.
This and other incidents like it imbued Larry with a cocky individuality beyond his years. He was someone whom other children admired and imitated. When he violated the dress code at Sacred Heart School one spring morning by showing up for classes wearing bright yellow pants, which were a fad with Haverhill children that spring, he was taken to the principal’s office and sent home. The next day the school hallway blossomed from the waist down in bright colors.
Justin and Pauline learned early to accept warm compliments about their youngest son. Larry shoveled driveways and sidewalks for people in the neighborhood, raked leaves, cut lawns, delivered newspapers. When Justin drove the paper route one week while Larry was away at a summer camp, customers lavished praise on his youngest son. Along the way he discovered cards and notes left out by customers for ‘dear Larry,” asking him to please deliver a loaf of bread or gallon of milk the next day, or reminding him to take out the garbage cans. Larry earned Boy Scout merit badges, served as an altar boy at funerals and weddings in Sacred Heart Church, and was twice elected president of his class at Cardinal Cushing Academy. When he was only fourteen, Larry talked himself into a job at a local restaurant. When the employment board found out and he lost that position, Larry hitchhiked out to a newly opened Friendly’s restaurant on Main Street and got hired there. Larry filled in extra hours helping his friend Glen Fuller’s father roast and package peanuts for sale to local bars, and often contributed his earnings to help pay late electric or gas bills at home. Larry’s parents were used to leaving their youngest son alone. He seemed gifted with some prodigious sense of inner direction. Unlike Paul and Jill and Rusty, Larry was not a child to cause them concern. To the contrary, Larry’s parents were continually amazed by their youngest son’s accomplishments.
He saved up enough money from his paper route to help pay for his own braces, which corrected a pair of incisors so misdirected that Larry had long suffered the nickname Fang. He helped to offset the cost by doing odd jobs for the neighborhood dentist, who took such a liking to the boy that he would spend hours talking to Larry, explaining his procedures and detailing the advantages dentistry offered over other kinds of work–comparable pay with general medicine and more regular hours, and a profession that was immune to the shifting economic fortunes that had ruined his father’s business and so undermined the whole town. Before his sophomore year of high school Larry announced his choice of career. When Cardinal Cushing Academy was forced to close after Larry’s freshman year because of dwindling enrollments, Larry, on his own, signed up to take a competitive examination that admitted one or two local boys each year to the nearby prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. After less than one semester at Haverhill High School, Larry won the scholarship, which paid more than half of the $3,800 yearly tuition. His parents were reluctant to send him to the public school, which was rougher and less academically challenging than the private Catholic schools his brothers and sister had attended. But they knew they couldn’t afford anything better. Suddenly, on his own, Larry had found his way into one of the oldest, best preparatory schools in the country!
Exeter was a big challenge for Larry. He had to work hard to catch up to classmates who had more than a year of the school’s demanding curriculum behind them already. In French class–Larry had always earned A’s in French at Cardinal Cushing–he found himself competing with students who had spent summers, even years, living in Europe. He took a heavy load of math and science courses, which were considered the hardest. Larry learned quickly that, unlike at the schools he had attended before, doing well at Exeter meant spending hours preparing for classes, and days preparing for tests. Many classes had fewer than ten students, who sat around a big table in a room heated by a crackling fire. It was impossible to escape notice and censure if you came unprepared. Likewise, the intimacy of life at boarding school made all failures and successes public. He felt a steady strong pressure to succeed.
Larry found an outlet for his interest in writing by contributing accounts of sporting events to the Plain Dealer, a campus newspaper that had been founded by an embattled minority of Nixonites to counter the fuzzy-headed liberalism that then prevailed on the Exonian, Exeter’s official, better-funded, and more polished student newspaper. Larry himself soon abandoned his conservative political convictions, but he did enjoy the Plain Dealer’s freewheeling rebel posture. He was named sports editor in his second year, but lost interest in the paper; his name dropped on and off the masthead from week to week. His colleagues remember that even after losing interest Larry had a talent for recruiting others to turn in stories. His scholarship job in the school library gave him a chance to get acquainted with just about everyone at the school. When Exeter’s dramatic new Louis Kahn Library opened across the street from the main campus, Larry helped to organize the student chain that moved more than sixty thousand volumes from the old building to the new. He played water polo and joined one of the school’s club lacrosse teams, and was considered fairly good with a stick. His grades soon recovered from the initial shock of dealing with Exeter’s demanding course load. All this would have been enough for a normal student, but as those who came to know him soon realized, it was all just the surface Larry Lavin.
This exceptional scholarship student was usually as engrossed in some illicit caper as he was in his schoolwork. On the surface Larry displayed such innocent charm that the faculty at Exeter counseled him to avoid the more rebellious of his classmates, fearing they would lead him into trouble. The truth was, Larry was into things even these students wouldn’t dare. He snuck a TV into his room, against dorm regulations, and then crawled with a wire out on the ledge and up onto the sharply angled roof, a good fifty feet up, and attached it to the housemaster’s big antenna. Somehow Larry had obtained a master key to the dining hall, so he could lead his friends on midnight raids to the commissary storehouse in the basement. Even more impressively, he was the only one who dared sneak a girl into his room and have sex with her, a chubby, unattractive girl from Haverhill named Sherry whom Larry had a crush on in his senior year. It was funny how Larry seemed to get as excited about the logistics of sneaking Sherry into his room as he was about the sex. To Larry, risk was like foreplay.
As it was in high schools all over the country, marijuana smoking was common at Exeter in the early seventies, despite the prep school’s rigidly enforced expulsion policy. Easily half of the students at Exeter smoked dope. It wasn’t just infatuation with the drug; it was a form of cultural expression, a clear litmus test of cool–an intoxicant with fewer harmful side effects than alcohol, a magical substance that only adults and the uncool condemned. Larry couldn’t afford to buy dope, something that was no problem for his wealthy classmates, so he held up his end by shouldering the risk. He moved his clothes to a room next to his in Langdell Hall and rigged his own walk-in closet as a smoking den, with a bong at stage center, with layers of screens and wall hangings shielding the inner sanctum from the outer room, and three fans, including one area fan that stood eight feet high, to blow away the smoke. Larry had devised an alarm system, an intercom wired to the room of a friend downstairs who alerted him whenever David Walker, the housemaster, left his first-floor quarters to come upstairs. It was the safest place on campus to get high.
Larry thrilled to these things–the master key and the TV and the girl, the hot plate he had smuggled to his room against regulations. He would host postcurfew pot parties, serving warm hot dogs filched from the commissary fridge. These were his delicious secrets, little illicit triumphs. If you were his friend he would let you in on them, give you a glimpse of the real Larry.
But he wouldn’t tell you everything.
Only Larry’s best friends knew just how wide was his larcenous streak. To adults and to those who knew him only casually, Larry was a bright, pleasant, promising kid. This wasn’t just a facade, either. Larry really was all those things: hardworking, ambitious, sensitive, caring. He took pleasure in treating other people well, in keeping his word and doing favors. Yet, despite this, he already believed that beneath even the most spotless reputation, most people were dishonest. Everyone was hiding something about themselves, pretending to be more than they really were. Authority figures in particular tended to be hypocrites. This gut-level cynicism excused all manner of moral quibbles from Larry Lavin’s conscience. Even though he did dishonest things, Larry felt he was, in fact, more honest than most people because he did not deny the truth about himself. If he saw a chance to improve his own lot at someone else’s expense, well, why not? Wouldn’t they? Once you got to know him well, Larry wasn’t hiding anything. What the hell! Larry was positively cheerful about his bad streak. If you’re going to work a caper on the side, why be bashful? Why, he’d even cut you in on it, for fellowship’s sake. And Larry always had something cooking. . . .
One of those who saw this side of Larry Lavin was his childhood friend from Haverhill, Ricky Baratt. At home, on vacation from Lawrenceville School, Ricky was Larry’s constant companion. They would drive aimlessly for hours in Ricky’s father’s car. In the wooded hills outside Haverhill they would get high and drink beer and take whatever drugs they could find. One night they swallowed horse tranquilizers at Ricky’s house while his parents were away. They wound up crawling down the hallway from Ricky’s bedroom to the living room. Larry didn’t want to drive, so Ricky volunteered. Larry and Ricky and their friends have vague memories of riding on top of the car with Ricky driving, and waking up the next morning sleeping on a cliff called Big Rock, an outcropping that was the highest spot in the area. Normally Ricky was afraid of this spot. He couldn’t remember how they got there. Last thing he remembered was crawling down the hallway of his house.
Blackouts were not new to Ricky. Ever since the eighth grade it seemed he stayed stoned or drunk most of the time. He was a nervous, chubby boy with pale blue eyes, curly brown hair, and a skin problem. Ricky’s father was a successful Haverhill obstetrician/gynecologist. Ricky had grown up in the house next door to Larry until the Lavins moved. Both boys had older brothers who excelled in school and in sports–Paul Lavin had been a high school and college track star and was on his way to a distinguished career in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Ricky’s older brother, Bobby, was a champion wrestler and skilled equestrian who planned to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Ricky and Larry had always been an unlikely pair: Ricky short and chubby, nervous and shy; Larry tall and skinny, bold and outgoing. Larry’s grandmother had a house by Sunset Lake close to the Baratts’ summer home, and during the summer Ricky and Larry had learned to water-ski and ride horses. Some of those summers Larry had seemed to belong more to the Baratt family than his own. He openly admired the Baratts, with their big suburban home, their lakefront second home, and their boat. “This is the kind of life I want to have someday,” he told Ricky.
For his part, Ricky knew his parents would like him to exhibit some of Larry Lavin’s levelheaded, hardworking gumption.
But Ricky knew things about Larry that his parents didn’t. He knew that despite appearances, Larry was as much of a drinker and doper as he was, only these things didn’t seem to have the same debilitating effect on Larry that they had on Ricky. He had introduced Larry to pot, hiding in the Lavins’ garage with Jill and Rusty and Larry passing around a joint awkwardly, enjoying the nervous titillation of doing something illegal! After that, Larry and Ricky smoked just about every chance they got. Yet, while Ricky floundered, Larry continued to breeze through school. With Ricky, the drugs and alcohol seemed to crowd everything else out of his life. His first blackout came when he was in the eighth grade. One day in the same year, he dropped acid before going to school. His father had to come and bring him home. It was a terrifying experience. A week later Ricky tried mescaline and barely made it through the day. His grades were terrible. His parents, who were heroically understanding, grew increasingly frustrated. When Ricky nearly overdosed on pills at home one afternoon, his father saved his life, forcing him to vomit and pulling him into a cold shower to keep him awake. Despite such catastrophes, despite declining performance in school, despite all his parents’ loving patience and pleadings, nothing seemed to help. Ricky would feel so overwhelmed that the only thing to make him feel better was to get high. So he would call Larry. During summers and vacation breaks he partied night after night with Larry, and marveled at him.
On one of those lazy, stoned days, in the spring of 1972, Larry had an idea. He showed Ricky a key.
“Not just any old key,” he explained. “I borrowed a master key to my dorm at Exeter from a senior proctor, and copied it. You should see some of the stuff these guys have in their rooms.”
Ricky and Larry drove together the twenty miles to the redbrick Colonial campus. Larry opened the front door of the dorm adjacent to Langdell Hall with his key, and then took his friend from home on a tour. He led him down the hall, using the key to open doors to his classmates’ rooms. Ricky felt queasy about it, so at first he resisted taking anything for himself, but he helped Larry carry two big, expensive Advent speakers from one kid’s room. They hauled the speakers out the front door in broad daylight, with Larry grinning, and loaded them gently into the trunk. On one of the last trips Ricky picked up a typewriter. Larry gathered additional stereo components, a shag rug, and helped himself to a tapestry he had admired on another classmate’s wall. He paused to flip through record collections, and picked out albums by groups that he liked: Yes, Pink Floyd, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Cat Stevens. Larry felt no qualms about doing this. These were things that the privileged people at school had that he did not. To Larry, there was something wrong about that.
In the car on the way back he told Ricky, “These people are all so rich it’s like nothing to them.”
Some people blamed Larry’s bad streak on Glen Fuller. Larry was at Cardinal Cushing Academy when he started running with Glen, a thickset rebel with light brown hair and wild pale blue eyes. As a student in elementary school Glen had been the butt of his classmates’ humor; there was something indefinably cockeyed about him. By the time he met Larry in high school, Glen had learned to fight back. First it was just to defend himself against the bullies who had poked fun at him for years. Then it became something else. Glen learned that the secret to being tough was to be unafraid of getting hurt. All of a sudden, he was a student whom others feared–and respected. There was hardly a day at school when Glen wasn’t in a brawl, his long, tangled brown hair flying and a wicked grin on his broad, round face. School didn’t interest Glen half as much as the ski slope, where he could compete on the downhill slopes of Vermont and New Hampshire with young Olympic hopefuls. His parents, who wanted to encourage Glen’s talent for skiing, began allowing him to stay away on weekends in ski resorts at a time when most children still had strict curfews.
At the ski resorts Glen learned about a lot more than skiing. Most Academy students lived on campus and came from well-to-do Catholic families. They had been raised in genteel suburbs, where breaking the rules meant raiding Dad’s refrigerator Friday nights after basketball for a six-pack of beer. Glen came from a working-class Haverhill family. If the Lavin family was determined to avoid being mistaken for middle class, the Fullers seemed to rejoice in it. His father, Kenneth Fuller, had known Justin Lavin when they were both in school, and they hadn’t gotten along then either. Justin had grown up believing that success was due to hard work and dedication over many years. Ken Fuller had a different approach. He was more of a free-form entrepreneur, someone who believed that success was not so much earned as snared, by taking chances, by making a sudden daring move in the right direction at the right time. Glen’s father had done well, but until Glen and his siblings had grown up and moved away, the family stayed in its modest corner home on Fifth Street in downtown Haverhill. They kept an assortment of Cadillacs parked in front, a new model for Glen’s parents and an old one for him.
Because Glen helped out with his father’s peanut business, he had learned to drive a few years before the legal age. With his car, his relative freedom from parental supervision, his experiences with alcohol, drugs, and women, by age sixteen Glen seemed remarkably free of the fears and inhibitions that torment a normal teenage boy. At the resorts he had met people who could get him marijuana cheap, so Glen made extra money by dealing to his more sheltered classmates at Cardinal Cushing. He wore a jeans jacket with extra pockets sewed on the inside. On Fridays he would fill them with dope and exchange it for the money he needed to go skiing that weekend. He had friends a few years older who lived in their own apartments, friends like Larry’s older brother Rusty, so he was used to staying out all night. He knew girls who did more than kiss you good night at the front door. In different ways, Glen and Larry were two of the most extraordinary students in the school. Predictably, they were drawn together.
To Glen, Larry was a smart kid from a rich neighborhood who didn’t look down his nose at him and who wasn’t afraid to break the rules. Glen would stop by Friendly’s while Larry worked the cash register and buy an ice cream cone. He would pay with a one-dollar bill, and then Larry would casually hand him back change for a ten. A half gallon of ice cream cost $1.19. It was easy in the course of a four-hour shift to ring up ten half-gallon transactions, nineteen cents each. If anyone noticed, Larry would smile and thank them and say he’d correct the mistake on the next purchase. Most nights Larry and Glen could siphon out at least twenty bucks, which was enough to buy an ounce of pot and a six-pack of beer.
To Larry, Glen’s life came close to fulfilling every adolescent want. Larry went to work for Ken Fuller on weekends, helping to deliver roasted peanuts to local bars. Glen had, in addition to his old Cadillac, a deep green 1957 International Metro van, which looked like an old laundry truck. Larry would outfit the van with the stolen stereo speakers, albums, and the shag rug he had stolen from a classmate’s rooms. They called the van Fuller’s Fuck Truck. Out on deliveries with Larry, Glen had friends who would get them beer or whiskey. Then they would pick up girls. The girls Glen knew were chubby and unattractive, but they were willing to have sex. He introduced Larry to Sherry, who had a pornographic manual showing 1,001 ways of having intercourse. No matter that Sherry was no beauty queen; Larry fell in love. He and Sherry went to work on the book, page by page, in the back of Glen’s van.
Glen broadened Larry’s experience in other ways. There was nothing Glen wouldn’t do. If Larry had an idea, Glen was at once ready to act on it, no matter at what difficulty or risk. Once, when Larry mentioned that his father needed lumber for a construction project at home, Larry and Glen took the Fuck Truck on a night trip to a nearby home construction site. The next day Larry told his father, “We found some lumber that somebody dumped out in the woods,” and directed him to it. Justin was delighted. Larry would always remember how happy his father was . . . and that he hadn’t asked any questions about the windfall.
It was in December 1971, shortly before Larry was to start at Exeter, that he got his first taste of serious crime. Larry had talked his folks into letting him go off with Glen Fuller for a three-day ski trip, but when the friends got together they realized that their cash was short. Over a bottle of syrupy sweet Boone’s Farm Strawberry wine, Glen proposed a quick way of fixing that.
“I know this guy in Salem who’ll give us a hundred bucks for a hot Ski-Doo, no questions asked,” he said.
The Ski-Doo, a compact little skimobile, was the newest snow toy in rural New England.
Glen added, “And I know where we can get a Ski-Doo.”
That night, he and Glen visited two local dealerships, loading the Fuck Truck with two Ski-Doos, an engine, and a set of tools. At the first location, Mears Trust in nearby Plaistow, New Hampshire, Larry rigged an ingenious sequence of overturned barrels and a ramp to ease the heavy snowmobile up and into the back of the truck.
With the truck loaded with booty, Glen and Larry drove out to the snowy New Hampshire hills and roared around on their new toys until dawn.
They got caught the next day. Glen had sold the Ski-Doos to a fence in Salem, New Hampshire, but not before insisting on one last joyride. He threw a tread on that ride, and as he worked to fix it, stranded on the back lot of a local high school, a man had stopped his truck and walked across the field to help him.
Hung over and strung out from the excitement and lack of sleep, Larry and Glen drove back into Haverhill later that morning. As they passed by Fifth Street, Larry noticed a police car parked in front of Glen’s house. They drove by without stopping. Larry was convinced they had been discovered already.
“You’re paranoid,” said Glen. “How could they know?”
Glen stopped the truck around the corner and dropped Larry off. Filled with nervous energy, Larry ran the four miles through a heavy snowfall back to his own house. When Larry got home, his father sent him out to help his brother, Paul, shovel the walks. As they worked, Larry explained to Paul what had happened. Paul was dumbfounded. Home from the University of Pennsylvania, he was completing his premed studies at the top of his class. He hadn’t been around his little brother that much over the last few years, but he had thought he knew him better than this! Larry would always remember the look on Paul’s face.
“Oh, my God, Larry! Why in the world would you do that?”
The police phoned while Larry was outside shoveling. Glen had been arrested when he got home, and he had given Larry’s name to the police.
Justin fumed as he drove his son to the police station.
“How could you do this?” he kept asking. “Why?”
“I did it for you,” said Larry, and he tried to explain that he was going to use the money to help buy something for the house.
This just angered his father further.
“How can you say you did this for me! I would never condone stealing!”
Larry thought of the lumber, but his father was so angry that Larry didn’t dare bring it up. To Larry, the only difference between this and the bricks, the mulch, and the lumber was that he had gotten caught.
And that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Glen. At police headquarters Larry learned that the man who had stopped to help them align the tread in Salem had recognized the skimobile as one that he had recently returned to the dealer–it had been his machine! He had jotted down the license number on the truck and called the police, who had just taken the robbery report from the dealer. The license number led police directly to Glen Fuller’s door.
Because of Glen’s previous troubles it was assumed that he had planned and instigated the theft, and that Larry was just an innocent kid who had been drawn along. Larry, of course, knew there was more to it than that, but he kept his mouth shut. The case was handled by a judge who used to live across the street from the Lavins’ old home in Bradford. Larry got a lecture, and the charges against him were dropped. Glen was convicted and received two years’ probation. It soured their friendship for a time. Larry was angry at Glen for being stupid enough to insist upon joyriding all over the place, and for giving his name to the police. Glen was angry because Larry had let him take the whole rap.
But the most memorable consequence of the incident for Larry was the write-up the crime got in his local newspaper. His name wasn’t in the article because he was a minor, but a local policeman was quoted as saying he doubted that two kids could have pulled off such a professional job by themselves, that someone else must have been behind it.
Larry liked that–’such a professional job.”
Larry wrote an account of the skimobile incident for a creative writing class at Exeter. It was the first writing assignment since ‘my Life as a Pencil” that excited him. He tried to re-create every little detail: cutting through the padlock to break in; Glen starting up a forklift motor all of a sudden as they fumbled through the garage; the ironic way they had gotten caught. He was proud of the story. So he was surprised at the critical reception it got from his teacher. The writing teacher, perhaps alarmed by the evident pleasure his student took in the caper, said something was missing.
“Haven’t you learned anything from the experience?” he asked Larry when they discussed the paper. “This does nothing more than tell the story, blow by blow. What does it mean to you? What’s the point?”
Larry didn’t have answers to those questions. He was disappointed by the paper’s reception, but decided against trying to rewrite it. He just accepted a C, and concluded creative writing just wasn’t his thing. He was no good at putting things between the lines.