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Bad, Bad Lori Arnold
  • September 22, 2011 : 20:09
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There was this numbing sameness to our days, to our lives. Once in a while I would dare peek at the future, try to imagine life past the next week or month, and I couldn’t see anything new; I could only imagine this cycle of being broke, of being scared, of never leaving, just going on forever into the future. And that’s what happened for most people in Ottumwa, for most of the girls I went to school with, for my family—you were stuck there, feet trapped in the mud with the river rising. You felt as if you couldn’t take a step to save yourself. What was the point?


The cabin by the river was beautiful in late spring and summer, the fertile earth was green with thick grass and orange wildflowers, the cornstalks were bursting up behind us, and you couldn’t even smell the chicken coops up the hill. There were boats on the river, and you could toss a line in from the shore and catch a bass or a perch. In the good seasons you’d forget all about the cold and the flood, and I could let Josh run around on the lawn or play by the picnic table. Even Floyd, at least during the day, before he’d had a few, would be smiling and happy.

One night Floyd’s brother Mike came down from Brooklyn, Iowa and we were having a few beers inside the cabin, and he asked, “Say, have you ever tried crystal meth?”

I thought he was talking about a type of speed tablet that was always around, but he pulled out a little glassine envelope of powder and chopped it up, and about 10 minutes later I was like, “Woooooh.” All of a sudden the doldrums were gone. The neighbors came over and had some, and a few minutes later we were all cleaning out our yard, then cleaning out their yard.

Mike gave me a gram and showed me how to cut envelopes out of glossy magazines to make little quarter-gram bundles. He said, “If you go down to the bar, have a beer or whatever; just see if anyone wants any of this.”

There may have been Ottumwans who had tried crystal before, just as I’m sure there were Iowans who’d had it. But when I went down to Union Station Bar, it was pretty dead before I began giving out lines, and it was obvious no one there had ever tried it before, because within a few minutes everyone in the place was drinking and dancing and singing along to a Judas Priest song on the jukebox. It was the best time any of us had had in a long time. I sold everything in 15 minutes and made $75—it had been months since I’d had any spending money—and I made the whole town a happier place. That’s how I saw it.

The next day I called Mike, and he brought us down two eight balls, three and a half grams each, and I went back down to Union Station Bar and sold all of that within a few minutes. It was pretty obvious this stuff was easy to sell. Everyone wanted more of it. I liked having a little bit of money in my pocket, and it got me out of the house and away from Floyd.

Within a week I was making $200 to $300 a night, selling an eight ball and then a quarter ounce every day. I told Mike I needed more. I needed a few ounces, maybe a quarter pound at a time. Mike was getting sick of running down here every other day, and he said the guy he was scoring from had heard of the legendary Floyd and wouldn’t mind coming down and meeting him in person.

Steve J. pulled up to our shabby-ass cabin in a white Corvette. I walked out on the porch. “Hey, nice car!”

Steve nodded, looked me over, tossed up the keys and said, “Here, it’s yours.”

He handed me a quarter pound of meth. “Pay me when you get the money, honey.”

I was able to whack up a quarter pound in a weekend. People in Ottumwa needed something—anything—and crystal meth was it. I was paying about $1,000 for an ounce and could turn that over for $2,800. Four ounces in a quarter pound meant more than $7,000 profit in a weekend. That was just the beginning.


It turned out living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere had its advantages, as no one paid any attention to how many cars were coming and going up our little dirt road. And being Floyd’s old lady was a blessing. You didn’t want to mess with the Big Reaper, and everybody assumed he was behind this business. The truth was, he had a terrible head for figures and didn’t like crystal meth himself. It had a strange effect on him; it slowed him down instead of speeding him up. Like those kids today with attention deficit disorder they give Ritalin to, Floyd would do a line and just stand there, frozen in a spot, staring straight ahead. He hated the way it slowed him down. But just his name ensured that I was getting paid and supplied and that no one ever fucked with us.

If anyone was slow in paying or tried to short us on a deal, all I had to say was “Well, let me talk to Floyd about that.”

And then they would be all, “No, no, don’t tell Floyd,” and they’d come up with the money or the drugs somehow.

There were people coming to the house all day and night, wanting grams, quarter grams. I was getting so busy I realized I needed to cut out the retail and sell only ounces, or maybe quarter ounces, to a few friends so I could deal only quarter pounds and pounds. I set up a few friends—girls I knew from the bars, some of Floyd’s biker buddies—with ounces so they could sell smaller amounts. I had bartenders working in town who could sell grams, guys working out at some of the foundries, even other moms at school. But our place still became a regular party place, with people there all hours, and I loved being the center of attention. What was great was, if Floyd had enough money he was happy to stay fishing on the river or working on one of his new cars. I was snorting every day and awake all the time, which suited my disposition. With crystal meth I could be up all night partying and still fix Josh breakfast and drive him to school. On the way there people would see my Corvette and flag me down. One day Josh asked me, “Mama, how come we’re selling bags of tea?” I had to laugh and tell him, “Because everyone seems to love tea.”


I was starting to hold a lot of cash, $10,000 to $30,000 at a time, and had to hide it behind the wallboard in the bedroom while I waited for Steve to come back with more supply.

Steve was bringing down pounds, but I was going through that in a weekend selling through my network, and they were branching out into neighboring towns, and he couldn’t keep up with the demand. He had to go back and forth to California to get it, so I asked him if he would hook us up with his connection out there. Through the Reapers, Floyd was also able to find another connection in Arizona, a fellow named Jose who had his own labs. I decided I would send Floyd out there in our new Ford Thunderbird to see if we could secure more quantity. He drove out to Chula Vista, by San Diego, and came back with five pounds of some of the best meth we had ever had. His next trip was to Arizona, and the quality was just as good. The problem was always supply. The demand was steady, like a current you could feel. The whole town was tweaking, and I could move two pounds a week.


I’m always having to explain how, during the 1980s, meth was higher quality than the stuff that later wiped out American towns. The cooks back then could secure genuine ­phenyl-2-propanone, a chemical that reduced to pure methamphetamine. P2P, as it was called, was eventually made a Schedule II controlled substance, but it was around in quantity and allowed for large-scale cooking of high-quality, purer meth. This was the good stuff. These days the meth made by cooking down ephedrine, a chemical from cold tablets, is a dirty, low-yield product and very poisonous. Cookers can manufacture maybe four pounds of low-grade stuff if they don’t purify it, which nobody does. But it’s cheap and you don’t need drums of P2P, which nobody can get anymore.

The kids today are snorting and smoking a nastier drug than we were using back then. I’m not making excuses for what I did or sold; I’m just stating a fact.


We paid $10,000 per pound. I could turn a pound for $42,000. I had so much cash I started burying it out behind the house at night.


I bought the Union Station Bar so we could put some of our cash into a legitimate business.

We remodeled the place. There was wood paneling on the walls, two pillars down the middle, a long, varnished maple bar, a pool table, shuffleboard, darts, video games and a little bandstand where groups played on the weekends. The place looked great when we opened in 1987, and because of the traffic my drug business brought in, it was an instant success. I renamed it the Wild Side.


We had a code set up: You call me and say, “You want to go out for pizza?”

And I would say, “What time?”

“Two o’clock.” That meant two pounds.

“Are you going to wash your car today?” you would ask.

“At four o’clock.”

So we would meet at the car wash at four o’clock, and while we were having our cars washed I would sell you two pounds of meth.


Tom would occasionally come down with his buddies from Minnesota. He was doing stand-up comedy there on the weekends, to earn money for college. They would come down to the Wild Side once in a while, and I would hook them up with a little meth. But for Tom, back then, it was more recreational. He was more of a cokehead anyway. But one weekend up in Minnesota he entered a contest, and whoever won got to introduce this famous comic, Roseanne Barr. Tom won, did his routine and introduced her, and she really liked what she heard and asked him to come write for her. She was married to her first husband; she already had kids, and she was doing The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman. I remember the first time he brought her down to Ottumwa, she fit right in. She’d grown up with very little, just like us. I could tell she was more than just a friend of Tom’s.


We were sending runners out every other week to pick up a few pounds at a time. If we used the same car every trip, that would start to arouse suspicion. We needed a wider range of vehicles, and at that point I was looking for another legitimate business, so I bought a used-car lot. That way Floyd or another of the drivers could always take a different, clean vehicle out West.

Then I saw a ranch advertised in the paper. I went out and decided I wanted it. Rolling Hills Ranch was made for horses, and Floyd loved horses. I figured if we had horses then Floyd would be happy. I bought the place: 144 acres in south Ottumwa with a huge farmhouse and outbuildings for machinery and equipment. There were rolling hills in the back and a 40-acre hay field.

We built a barn and stables, space for 50, 60 horses, and then we began going to horse auctions. Floyd bought a few riding horses, no big deal, but then we met a fellow who had a quarter horse for sale, a beautiful brown mare named Iris Crimson Mooner. When we bought it the owner told us he had already paid the dues to run a stakes race down in Prairie Meadows that week. Our first quarter horse, and it wins! We were hooked. Floyd began looking for horses all over the Midwest, and he began buying all kinds of quarter horses. Lady of Intent, Mack Everett, Iris Blue Missy, they all won stakes races.

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read more: News, magazine, issue october 2011


  • Anonymous
    Amazing story. Thanks.
  • Anonymous
    This is the kind of quality writing and reporting you just don't get from "blog sites"
  • Anonymous
    Sparse with words, loaded with the feels. What a crazy world.