Sunday, January 06, 2008
hide dope in the ceiling, there's nothing like the dealer's feeling:
Any fan of The Wire, fresh from viewing tonight's season premiere, really has to see the Little Melvin Williams profile on BET's excellent series American Gangster. For those who don't know (like myself, until recently), the Deacon character ("a good church man is always up in everybody's shit") is played by Melvin Williams, the undisputed master of heroin and gambling in 1970s-80s Baltimore.

Seeing the chuchman Williams stunting in his rings and his gold chains as an old man is worth the price of admission alone. But when he starts to talk about his rules of the game -- "All strangers are the police. All phones are tapped. No weapon should ever be at the time the package is delivered. Fourth and last is that the package should never be tampered with until it's clear that what you're supposed to have is what you got." -- god damn. At the pleading of Baltimore politicians, Melvin stopped the 1968 riots with a few well-chosen words, and still the police sent Melvin to jail after planting drugs on him. Decades out of hustling, he sticks to the G-code, speaking in cautious, cryptic terms when describing his heroin connections in New York:

I was directed to be some place in a part of the planet. And I went there. And I was the only guy there that looked like me. Everyone else was of some foreign descent and they had alligator boots and things that made it clear to me that these people were prominent and who they claimed to be. If they were supposed to be gangsters, that's who they looked like. Know this -- that in the drug business of the day, you couldn't buy narcotics. All you had to do was to have the kind of character and demeanor that says, 'I can protect this. I can sell this. And I will never remember anybody if I get apprehended.' The only thing I remember is that 40 packages showed up and the game began.

Update: I should have also mentioned that two of Williams' lieutenants were named Nathan Barksdale and Roland Bell.

--Spencer Ackerman