Paul*, in his early 30s, operates the call centre for a drug ring in London, UK. He’s the voice at the end of the line when you order a bag of gear that gets dropped off at your address.
VICE: Hey, you around?
Paul: Yeah, just a second, I gotta deal with these drivers. [30 seconds later] OK, go on, then.
Thanks. So what do you sell and where?
I can send you a menu if you like. Just the usual stuff – coke, weed, mandy [MDMA], pills, ket [ketamine]. We’re fairly exclusive – we sell the most high-quality, premium wares. The clients call our number, I take their orders and forward them to drivers who give me ETAs. At any given moment we have drivers covering all four corners of the city – north, east, south, west.
How did you get into this?
Since about the age of 17 I’ve been making money through crime – drugs, robberies. Even though I’ve gone through uni the most natural way I know how to earn money is through crime, although I wouldn’t really consider this a crime – it’s not like I’m endangering people or doing something violent, even though I used to when I was younger. A lot of my friends are in one way or another breaking the law, and they offer me prospects where they can take advantage of my intellectual ability and communication, which is above the average of those working as drivers, so they offered me a job working on the phones.
What do you mean, “intellectual ability”?
You’ve got to be calm under pressure: you’ve got four the five orders coming in at the same time, the drivers arriving at their location, the customers got to get their product. You’ve got to be resourceful and think for yourself – you can’t be phoning the bosses for every problem, or what’s the point of hiring you? You have to perfectly account for every sale: keep a record what time the order was placed, which client, whether it was a new or old client and if they’re new, check them against our security protocol.
I don’t wanna go into it, but the other night I had this chick keep ringing me; “I got referred by so-and-so, honestly, I’m not a fed, I’m an NHS nurse. I just got off my shift and I wanna get high.” But you know if you have hundreds or thousands of clients on your phone and they just tell you a generic English name like “John”, you can’t really check that.
How do you treat the customers?
We aim to provide a luxury type of service. I provide customers with what I call sophisticated responses. If, for example, a client has waited for two hours when I told them it’s an hour due to volume and traffic, I’ll message them and say: “Our driver will be on his way as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we’ve been delayed due to roadworks. We apologise for the inconvenience.”
It’s all about politeness ‘cos if you do that, there’s always some entitled dickheads who get annoyed, but most customers are happy we treat them with that level of service.
Run me through a day at work.
I work from 12 in the afternoon till midnight, sometimes 1-1.30 AM if it gets busy. On New Year’s Eve I was working until four in the morning basically non-stop, to the point I didn’t eat. I ate breakfast at ten in the morning and that was it until half past midnight when my girlfriend made pasta. Then I had to put my phone on loudspeaker, telling drivers where to go while my girlfriends’ putting pasta in my mouth. I didn’t celebrate anything. Once my mum phoned to wish me “happy new year, I love you”, and in the background the phone’s just going “brrrrrring”. And I’m telling her I’m with my girl watching the fireworks, but really I’m just sat glued to my two phones, back aching, fucking hungry. I finished at four, turned the phones off and just crashed. The line ended up making £35,000 to £40,000 worth of sales that night.
Did you earn a bonus from that New Year’s bonanza?
I get an hourly wage, so it doesn’t matter if one night is particularly busy. I just get an hourly rate and I’m happy with that.
How much do you get?
Usually between £600-£1,000 a week, but it depends how well the line does, how many orders, how busy and whether I have to do overtime. We have a cut-off point, kind of a last call after which there’s no more orders, but I have to stay on until every one of those orders is fulfilled.
After New Year’s, I noticed business slowed massively. We usually have four drivers operating but on most days now it’s down to two or three otherwise the bosses won’t make enough to pay for their overheads.
Has quarantine affected business?
There’s been no difference this year, we’re just as busy. I’ve clocked people don’t really give a fuck about lockdown. Some of our customers are paying for top-tier, premier coke, ordering four grams at a time. I can tell some of them are having little gatherings but there’s definitely a whole bunch of sales going to house parties or raves; definitely not sitting at home with a glass of wine, watching the fireworks. So lockdown hasn’t affected us at all.
How about the supply chain? I’ve heard friends in another city complain their coke’s being cut more than it used to.
Hold on, lemme just send a menu to customer. Nah, not really. The only thing that fucked us was the Encrochat thing ‘cos obviously a lot of the people at the top of the supply chain got nicked, so that affected supplies for a couple of weeks. But to be honest, if you run the phones you don’t really know what’s going on with bulk supplies, and neither do the drivers. That way even if someone wanted to snitch, they couldn’t.
Any deals or freebies going?
We do some deals but nothing major, like we’ll do three grams of ket for £100. We have a customer base for several thousand people. This product speaks for itself. If someone makes a particularly large order, we’ll throw in freebies for the sake of it, like here you go. You get funny ones when someone orders £40 worth of weed and says, “I referred you to my friend Angelo, maybe I can get a free bag?” What they don’t realise I have 3,000 to 4,000 people on the phone. But I don’t say that, I say unfortunately we don’t give out freebies due to the high volume of orders.
Are your drivers observing social distancing?
Yeah, our drivers wear masks, but some of them are conspiracy theorists who believe this is a plandemic and we’re all gonna get microchipped.
Aren’t the police carrying out more checks?
Every now and again we’ve lost drivers. But I don’t really wanna reveal their machinations. We all have different procedures in the system we have to follow.
This sounds hectic. How do you spend your R&R?
I don’t get much downtime. I used to go boxing every morning before they closed the gyms, or I tried to when I wasn’t not too tired. Afterwards I tend to read a book or graphic novel cos my eyes ache from looking at the screen. But I don’t do this full time; I’m gonna take some time off next week.
How do you feel about the coronavirus lockdown?
Me personally, even though I’m part of a criminal enterprise I’d prefer it if people followed the rules, wore masks and stayed away from gatherings, so then we can finally go out and all this will be over. This whole lockdown is dead: no social life, no restaurants. What’s the point of being a drug dealer if you can’t enjoy the wealth?
*Name has been changed. This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.