Mercury Falling

For 11 years, Markus Cook was synonymous with Bay Area bike messengers. But he didn't live to see his dream come true -- the Cycle Messenger World Championships held here in San Francisco.

The vacation was restful, and Mark easily blended into the culture, stopping to talk with bicyclists, bouncing with endless curiosity. He stayed seven weeks, and flew back home with his young nephew.

Returning in March, Markus soon moved into a flat on Valencia with friends. He was essentially starting over at the age of 32, the big questions looming over his head. He had a college degree -- should he get a real job? Was he ever going to be a rock star? Had he gone as far as he could in the messenger community? Was he ever going to be in a relationship again?

Fortunately there was always another issue of Mercury Rising to be done, preparation for the upcoming messenger championships in London, and gigs to play with L. Sid, which had regrouped with a new lineup.

In July he met up with Carla Laser at a music show. The slender, freckled graphic designer became the love of his life. The two quickly grew inseparable, riding bikes on the weekends, teased by friends for their public affection.

Markus dove back into life with renewed passion. He hustled his band to get booked into gigs all over town, from the Bottom of the Hill to benefit shows for friends. Many performances ended with a stage crowded with dancing fans. He had corrective surgery on one of his shoulders, and switched from messenger to dispatcher at Now Courier.

A few months after the London messenger championships in August, Carla was involved in a serious bicycle accident, which shattered one entire side of her body and left her bedridden for months. She had a day nurse, but Markus insisted on visiting her and staying with her every day.

"Thank God he was in my life," says Carla.
The next month, Mark's messenger friend Thomas Meredith was struck and killed while on the job by a Market Street Muni bus. The messenger community held a ceremony at the spot where the bus ran Meredith down, and Mercury Rising published a special tribute section.

Though his life appeared to be on the upswing, Markus still seemed down, even though he had moved in with Carla. Friends and fellow employees at Now sensed something was going on. Rumors circulated, but most assumed it was the background noise of life -- reverberations from his broken marriage and his girlfriend's injury. His band laid back, letting him know they were rehearsing every month, and that he was welcome to come by whenever he felt like it. But others gave him a wider berth. If somebody doesn't want any help, it's impossible to offer.

In June 1995 Markus made the toughest phone call of his life -- to his sister Camille.

"I've got to talk to you," he said, and biked over to her house in Glen Park on a Sunday afternoon. They sat in her living room, siblings, best friends through hell and back.

Markus cut to the chase. "I'm a heroin addict."
Camille knew him better than anyone, but it had never crossed her mind -- and she thought herself fairly savvy about drugs. Pot, coke, speed, she'd seen all this stuff before. He told her he'd tried to work up the nerve to tell her, and that he'd been using needles for seven or eight months.

The previous month she had taken Mark to Mexico for a week with her family. He was obviously depressed, and she thought a quick SunTrips vacation would snap him out of it. But this excursion was nothing like the visit to Colombia. For the first three days he was completely sick -- sweating, chills, fever, insomnia. The family thought he was kind of a whiner. "Why is he always complaining about the food, and the bed?" they wondered, when in reality Mark was trying to go cold turkey and pass it off as the flu.

"You have to adopt a certain lifestyle in order to maintain a habit," says Dr. Diana Amodia of the Haight Ashbury Drug Detox Program. "We commonly see that as addict behavior in general -- dishonesty, deceitfulness. Your family members don't know you anymore."

Markus Cook told his sister he started using after returning from Berlin. Just snorting at first, but after Thomas Meredith died he switched to needles. Daily, sometimes two or three times a day, if he had the money. He scored most often at 16th Street and Mission -- they specialized in speedballs -- but you could get heroin anywhere in San Francisco.

"This town is awash in it," he told her.
From June to November the family tried to help place him in a recovery program, and endured what Camille refers to as a "confession-redemption-attempt-failure" period. They tried a methadone program. He didn't make it through three weeks.

All the while, he was trying to raise money for the messenger championships in Toronto, hoping that it would turn into a paying job.

"He was damn good at fooling everybody," says Camille. "He had it down to a science -- when he used, how much time he needed to be able to fool people."

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