I Am the Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, in Five Easy Lessons by Luca Rastello, translated by Jonathan Hunt | Faber & Faber | 178 pages, $22

The second time I smuggled cocaine I was fifteen years old. I purchased a large orange wax candle, the coffee-can shaped, six-wick kind with a gold crepe bow around it, at the candle store in the Six Flags mall in Arlington, Texas. I also bought a smaller candle that matched the color. Then I used a paring knife to carve out the inside of the candle and inserted the ounce of cocaine I had purchased from a blind man named Frankie on a farm on the outskirts of Fort Worth. I paid $1,000 for the ounce, which I planned to cut into two ounces with a laxative powder Frankie told me you could buy at any drug store. There are about twenty-eight grams in an ounce and I would be selling the cocaine for $100 a gram—the going price in Calgary, Alberta, at the time, if you could get your hands on the stuff—so from my $1,000 investment, plus my $400 plane ticket, I would net about $4,200 on the deal, an excellent return if you aren’t thinking about the risks. After my tightly plastic-wrapped cocaine was secured in the candle, I added more plastic to protect it, and then covered the hole with drippings from the smaller candle and the melted candle shavings. Unfortunately, when you melt candle wax it re-cools a different shade. But I had the large round price sticker on the bottom, and though it did not cover the discoloration it helped distract the eye. When the Canadian customs officer removed the candle from my bag—I am surprised I didn’t pass out cold; the fearlessness of the teenager, I suppose—I explained that it was a birthday gift for my big sister. He raised one eyebrow as though questioning my taste in gifts, and put it back in the bag.

It turns out that the cleverest techniques of the world’s largest cocaine smugglers are no more sophisticated, in kind, than a teenage boy’s. In Luca Rastello’s I Am The Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, in Five Easy Lessons, here’s the big secret:

Take eight [granite or marble] tiles and cut a square hole in the middle of each one. Next, make a pile of ten tiles like this: pile the eight tiles with holes in the middle on top of each other, and put an uncut tile at the top and bottom of each pile. Since each tile is 1 centimeter thick, there is a cavity measuring 20 centimeters by 20 centimeters by 8 centimeters, just the right size for your bag of cocaine. The ten tiles form one packet, which you’re going to put into a crate. After you’ve cut the eight tiles, you put a bag of cocaine into the cavity, glue the pile of ten tiles together (that’s important), wrap them up, and put the packet in the middle of the crate, surrounded by packets of uncut tiles. You check that the hot crates weigh exactly the same as the clean crates. And with this trick you get eighty kilos of stuff into one container. Twenty-five containers, and you have your two tons.

Clancy Martin is professor and chair of philosophy at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine. His recent novel, How to Sell, has much more to say about cocaine.