Paperbag with 30k

After selling three bales of fresh Jamaican Ganja that was fronted to him by his sister’s boyfriend, RJ, Skip Steele had a personal stash of around a pound of high quality herb and a collection of around $30,000.00 cash.

In this chapter, Skip recounts the backgrounds of his closest partners and outlines the events that unfolded that would change the course of his life drastically involving one fateful encounter and the Paperbag with 30k.

Change is in the Air

I was feeling good…

Between the stash of herb and money I had collected from my first gigs with RJ, things were looking up as I passed all of my College finals totally stoned with flying colors and headed into my second semester.

But before we get into the new direction my life would take, and in order to understand why a middle-class college kid like me would become involved in big-time marijuana smuggling, I need to digress a bit. 

None of us had “criminal” intent or background. 

On the contrary, as I dove into the ganja game, my closest partners were Air Force Academy graduates, and as such, were considered by our Country to be Officers and Gentlemen of the highest caliber.

This included being fully medaled Vietnam War heroes. 

In keeping with their pedigree, one of my partners in crime who was an Academy graduate, Captain in the Air Force and also an intelligence Officer, coined the phrase “Gentlemen’s Sport” to describe our smuggling of marijuana.

None of us considered ourselves to be criminals; no guns, no violence, no contracts, no lawyers (except as partners), only a handshake between a very few guys and a love for a plant that grows naturally around the world. 

Beyond that, for me, it was just a fulfillment of a dream of being able to do something with my older “brothers” who I had looked up to since I was a young boy. 

These guys were every American boy’s heroes, and the chance to be able to travel the World and do exciting adventures with them while making more money than I ever thought possible was and is, a dream come true.

But first, back to the story at hand.

Solidifying a Brotherhood

My relationship with Will Knox blossomed over the years, beginning with his first date with my sister as explained in my earlier story “55 Chevy Bel Air“. 

Will and I became very close.  When he was not at the Academy, and home on break at the beach, we would spend days water skiing together. 

An image of pot smuggler skip steele and his friends water skiing in early  1970's

Having skied with Cypress Gardens in his earlier years, Will was an incredible slalom water skier.

Together, we set up a slalom course in the bay behind my family’s home and would literally spend every waking hour perfecting that water skiing course. 

As I got older and more comfortable, we would compete against each other on the course.

While I never beat his time, I eventually became a good skier myself, at the instruction of Will.

When the wind was calm and the water in the bay was like a mirror, we would “barefoot” water ski behind Will’s boat.

Barefootin’ was one of the first “extreme sports”, one missed step and you will crash and burn. The learning curve on barefoot water skiing requires stepping up and going for it even when fear is the only thing you are feeling.  

I found that the easiest method for barefoot water skiing was to start by slalom skiing and then take my back foot out of the slalom ski and place it on the water as smoothly as possible.

As long as you are traveling at over thirty miles per hour then you can place your weight on your barefoot and step out of the slalom ski.

Sounds easy, but trust me, it is not.

In many ways, I find it is similar to big wave surfing.

You know and accept that you are going to take some bad wipeouts, but the challenge and excitement of overcoming those odds drive you forward.

Will and I would push each other, and without knowing it, perhaps this was training for the years to come.  In those countless hours, we built a bond based upon our mutual love for the ocean.

Graduation, Matrimony, and Far-flung Adventures

Time moved on quickly, as it always does, and before I knew it, Will was graduating from the Air Force Academy

To support him, my entire Family attended his graduation in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I was in awe of the campus and it was my dream to follow in his footsteps and attend the Academy. 

I vividly remember my father telling me, “You had better bring your grades up if you want to go to the Academy.”

An image of the Air Force Academy in the late 1960's.

Will received a “Fulbright” scholarship because of his academic achievements at the Air Force Academy, graduating in the top 1% of his class.

While at the Academy together, both Will and Eric Spatz graduated at the top of their class academically, while placing at the bottom of their class in discipline.

In those days at the Academy, if you were being punished for an “infraction”, the most severe would require a Cadet to march in full battle gear including a rifle and a fifty-pound backpack from the Academy to the foothills and back in any weather, including snowstorms. This exercise was known as a “tour”. 

Needless to say, both Will and Eric marched their fair share of “tours”, during their time at the Academy. 

Upon graduation, Will’s first assignment as a Fulbright scholar and Officer was attached to the American Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

But before that could happen we had a celebration to experience; Will and my Sister were to be married.

It was an exciting time around our house.

In addition to different people being around constantly, Will’s best man in the Wedding, Eric Spatz stayed at our house. 

My parent’s home had a “Mother-In-Law” apartment attached to the main house and it made the perfect place for Eric to stay during the festivities.  

It also meant that I had an older guy to hang around and play basketball with during this time. 

As a result, Eric and I became fast friends, even though I was ten years his junior.

I introduced him to my boating, water skiing, and tennis. He was pretty good at tennis, but I could beat him and that pissed him off as he was very competitive.  

Little did I ever think that in less than ten years from that day, Eric would be back, living in our apartment again, as we imported boatloads of marijuana from Colombia

The wedding culminated with Will and my Sister, Sue, as husband and wife walking under a saber arch created by the Air Force Officers in attendance. 

With swords drawn and the blades pointed upward, they exited the Church and ended a week of celebration.

Once Will and my Sister were married, Eric went west to study at the University of Hawaii East-West Center for his Master’s degree in Eastern Studies.  

Meanwhile, Will and my Sister went south to begin Will’s first Tour of Duty as a Fulbright Scholar and Officer in the Air Force attached to the Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Upon arrival Will immediately enrolled in Spanish language classes at the Embassy, and within roughly six months Will was totally fluent in the language. 

Again, inside of ten years that knowledge of Spanish would be critical in helping us set up our Colombian connection for Marijuana in Santa Marta, Colombia…

Time again flew by as I grew up and graduated High School and before I knew it my Sister and Will had moved back into town after Will had resigned his commission as an Air Force Officer. 

After time in Argentina and a comprehensive tour as an F-100 pilot in Vietnam, he had had enough of the Air Force rules and confining regulations and had begun studying Law at the local Law School. 

His plan was to join his Father’s Law firm and practice Law in the sleepy town on the beach that we all grew up in.  It was great to have them both back, as Will and I resumed our friendship along with water skiing and boating together, after what had been a six-year hiatus.

Will was still the same guy, even after all those years in the Air Force and his tour of duty as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. 

A year earlier I visited Will and Sue in England, while they were stationed at Upper Heyford Air Force base in the U.K. where Will was an F-100 fighter pilot, having just finished his tours of duty in Vietnam.

It was here that Will and I really had our first gig together, “smuggling” my BSA 175 motorcycle back to the States.  Please see “BSA 175” in an earlier story.

Once Will and Sue moved back to town, it was like having my older brother back.

We got back on the water skiing adventures and like any middle-class American family, would meet up each week on Sunday for a formal family dinner.

Knocking down the Door

Another Sunday night “family” dinner was the last thing I wanted to do as a 19-year-old college student in 1971.  

I really wanted to go out with my friends and burn some herb, and not spend half of the night with my parents and family. 

I was itching to share some of the fresh ganja that I had stashed with my friends, get stoned, hang out and maybe get lucky.

My obligations had other plans.             

 “Dinner is ready!” my Dad yelled towards my room that Sunday evening.

“I’ll be right there,” I responded.

“Ok, don’t be late, everything is ready and your Mom has worked hard,” he replied.

“Yea, Yea.” was my response under my breath.

I was busy rolling a joint for me and my friends to enjoy.

Once this family thing was over, I was out of there. 

I carefully placed the joint into a small wooden matchbox and hid it under my desk. 

Unbeknownst to me, I had forgotten to lock my bedroom door, as was required when I was rolling up some fresh herb. 

Reaching under the desk, I spotted my “money bag” looking somewhat misplaced so I reached to remove it and make sure that all of the money was still inside. 

In all honesty, I simply liked looking at it.  It was exciting to stare at all those stacks of bills.  

I had a few hundreds, a couple of fifties but mostly twenty dollar bills and I arranged them into stacks of $ 1,000.00 and rubber banded them together for easy and fast counting.

I admit that I must have counted that money a thousand times over the past couple of weeks.  Yep, thirty grand and change, nice and secure!

As I was staring into the bag, my door opened and Will was standing there.

“Dinner’s ready…let’s go,”  he stated as he stood in the doorway of my bedroom.

“Ok,” I replied.  As I began to close the paper bag and started to replace it under my desk.

“What’s in the bag?”  Will questioned.

“Shit…” I thought to myself as my mind raced…”Oh, nothing”  I casually replied.

“If it’s nothing then let me see it. ” was his next statement.

“I can’t right now,”  I responded.

“What kinda bullshit is that let me see the bag?!?”  he persisted.

“Fine, close the door and lock it.” was my retort.

Will moved into my room and closed the door behind him and locked the door from the inside.

Alone, I looked directly at Will and spoke.

“You have to promise me on your life that you will not ever tell anyone what you are about to see”, I stated.

“What can be so important in that paper bag?  Do you have some Pot in that bag?  I know you smoke pot and your sister knows also.”  Will stated.   “Hell, I think your parents know,” he added, laughing.

“Not reefer.” was my reply.

“You have to promise” I continued.

“Ok, ok, I promise” he replied.

“No, you have to say you promise me and you will not tell anyone before I will ever show you this bag.”  I countered.

“Dinner, boys…”  I heard my mother call out.

“I promise, now let me see that bag. We have to get to dinner.”  Will commanded.

I reluctantly lifted the bag and handed it over to Will for his inspection. 

I watched as his eyes grew very large and his jaw dropped about six inches.

“What the Fuck!?”  came out of his mouth.

“Shhhh, be quiet!” I hushed him.

“How much is in here?”  he asked.

30 grand, give or take.” was my reply.

“Well, fuck me! ” Will spat out.

“Give it back, we have to go to dinner now.”  was all I could say.

“Ok, but we are going to talk, after dinner,”  Will told me.

Still in shock, he handed me my paper bag and I placed it into its secret compartment under my desk, between the drawers. 

Having completed that task, we both moved into the dining room for dinner.  

Everyone was there, including my other Sister and her boyfriend RJ.

Dinner was long and dragged on for at least an hour.  I wanted to go out with my friends as we all cleared the table of all the dishes and began the cleanup.

My Sister CJ and RJ helped a little bit, but then they exited after the family dinner was complete. Will assisted me as we rinsed the dishes and placed them into the dishwasher.

“Let’s go out to the dock and have a chat,”  Will insisted.

“Ok, but I have to meet some friends.” 

“Come on, it will only take a minute…” Will responded.

“Fine Will, but only for a minute.” I agreed.

The birth of a Cannabis Smuggler

We sat on the dock together that night and I told Will the entire affair, how I helped RJ unload at the bridge and how those guys were friends of mine from the beach. 

Then I explained how I went over to RJ’s friend, Midge’s house and got a total of three bales from RJ for approximately one hundred fifty pounds. I also explained to him how  RJ had fronted the reefer to me and how I sold that reefer to my friends and had made all of that money in the past month.

As I told Will the story, I could see his mind was working. 

We chatted for over an hour, Will wanted to know all of the details and he wanted me to explain the entire business to him.  I told him that it would probably be better if we both spoke with RJ as I didn’t really understand the business and all the complexities. 

Will seemed most interested in how marijuana came from Jamaica to Florida.

I related that CJ had carried money to Jamaica for a “Gig” that RJ and some of the guys from the beach had recently completed. 

I also told him that I knew a bunch of the guys from the beach were involved in the “Pot” business, but that RJ was the only one that I knew who would be willing to speak with us, everyone else was very closed-mouth about what was happening on the beach. 

“Let’s get RJ to speak with us about all of this.  Do you think he will talk to me?”  Will asked.

“I don’t see why he wouldn’t,” I answered.

A couple of days later Will and I met with RJ on the dock one evening at the old homestead. 

RJ told both of us things that shocked me.  Most of my childhood friends were apparently involved in this burgeoning marijuana business, and RJ was totally comfortable with helping us make in-roads.

Will was really interested in the price paid in Jamaica vs. the price that the reefer would bring in the States.  RJ confirmed that they were buying the ganja for under $8.00 per pound and selling it off the boat for $200.00 per pound, in large quantities.  I realized then that RJ had given me a really good price when I only paid him $200.00 per pound for the single bales that he had fronted to me.

At the close of this meeting, Will told RJ that he would like to give it some thought.    

As we sat on the dock that evening, a calming breeze was blowing in our faces out of the West…but little did we know that the winds of massive change were beginning to blow from a number of new directions.  But that is another story for another day…

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