It comes wrapped in red foil and purple tissue, this intricate figurine. Molded in the form of a Japanese demon with clawed feet, a mane of fire and a thick tongue jutting from a bloodthirsty smirk. Transparent, the size of a child's fist, it looks like a tiny ice carving or a statuette of glass. It is neither. In fact, it is 25 grams (a little less than one ounce) of nearly 100 percent pure crystallized methamphetamine hydrochloride, known on the streets of Asia as "Shabu." It was almost certainly manufactured in a clandestine laboratory in China, then shipped to the Philippines and on to Hawaii, and finally to Denver. Here it was purchased on the black market for $5,500 -- nearly five times the street value of an equivalent amount of cocaine and ten times that of low-grade, powdered crystal meth.
Randy Goin remembers his first visit to a methamphetamine lab six years ago. It was the beginning of a long and disturbing chemistry lesson.
The target was an old barn on a 25-acre property in rural Adams County. Goin's team found a fully automatic machine gun but no cook in progress; to their relief, the chemicals and glassware appeared to be neatly stored. What caught Goin's attention, though, was the sink that the lab operator had used to dump his waste chemicals.
The sink wasn't connected to the sewer system, and the waste simply oozed from a pipe outside -- near a well pump and a trampoline where kids played. It was easy to trace the discharge as it trickled down a hill to a catch-pond. All you had to do was follow the ever- widening kill path in its wake, a swath of bare ground where the surrounding weeds just stopped.
"Nothing would grow there," Goin recalls. "Nothing."
The scene was his first intimation that he was dealing with something beyond the grasp of conventional law enforcement. What kind of dipstick could so casually poison the land around him -- and possibly his children and his own water supply in the bargain?