by Christopher Dow
During my younger years, when I didn't have a car, I did a lot of hitchhiking. That was a lot safer then—back in the late 1960s and early ’70s—than it now. Does anybody actually hitchhike anymore? My thumb got me around the city, to nearby cities, and a couple of times, across the country. One of the city-to-city trips was from my home in Houston to Austin, this time with a friend named Clay. We went to visit our friend, Ditto, who'd move there the year before. I don’t know if Clay came up with the idea, or if I did, but suffice it to say that we got out on the road and stuck out our thumbs.
The trips to and from Austin must have been uneventful since I don’t remember anything about them. After we arrived in Austin, we found Ditto’s place, which was a house fairly near the university. Ditto had a roommate named Paul, and they’d lived in the house for only a week. Inside, it was a typical poor freak student pad, furnished with mattresses on the floor, crates for end tables, shelves made of cement blocks and boards, and cheap dressers and desks.
Shortly after Clay and I arrived, Paul came home with an ounce of pot, and the four of us spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening talking and smoking and having a good time. At last it was time for bed. Paul went to his room, Clay dossed out in the living room on the mattress that served as a sofa, and I slept on an extra mattress in Ditto’s room, which had a door to the back yard. I guess we went to bed about 11:30 or midnight.
About one o’clock, I was shocked from a deep sleep by a huge crash followed by the hurried trample of heavy feet. Lights were flashing confusedly in the darkness, nightmarishly silhouetting a handful of menacing forms moving quickly through the room from the busted-open back door. It was like some wild nightmare, but I was pretty sure I was awake, so I reached for my glasses. Just as I got a grip on them, a gun butt slammed into my arm, pinning it to the crate that served as a nightstand. Handcuffs were snapped around my wrists, and in seconds, I was dragged from bed by the chain, roughly hauled into the living room, and tossed onto the mattress next to Clay, who was sitting up in sleepy astonishment. With a plunk, Ditto, also in handcuffs, was deposited beside us, and a few seconds later, Paul was there, too.
By now, someone had turned on the overhead lights, replacing the confused flares of the flashlights lighting the scene, and the four of us—all in our underwear—found ourselves confronted by five large and menacing men in cheap suits, one man in slacks and a sport shirt, and a single uniformed cop. All were brandishing pistols or shotguns and flashing badges.
“Okay,” said the bullying, overweight, florid-faced man who seemed to be in charge. “Where’s the stuff?”
“What...?” we stammered.
“We know you’re dealing,” the boss said. “Tell us where it is.”
“We’re not dealing,” Ditto said.
“Have it your way,” the boss said, and he turned to his five colleagues. “Find it.”
All the plainclothes cops disappeared into the other rooms, leaving the uniformed cop to guard us, and seconds later came the sounds of the place being torn apart. The uniformed cop stood halfway in the hall, staring toward Ditto’s bedroom, watching the search in progress more than he was keeping an eye on us. But then, what could we do? Where could we go? We were in our underwear, lined up on the mattress with our backs to the wall, and two of us were handcuffed.
That’s when we began to act like the Three Stooges, only there were four of us. As I recall, Ditto was on one end of our line and Paul was on the other. Ditto started it:
“Where’s the pot?” he whispered in my ear. I surreptitiously passed the query on to Clay, who passed it on to Paul. Paul whispered the reply to Clay, who whispered in my ear.
“We’re sitting on it.”
I told Ditto, and we all grew quiet, somber, and very self-conscious sitting there on the mattress with the ounce of pot secreted somewhere beneath it.
A few minutes later, the plainclothes cop who was wearing slacks and a sports shirt came in, and the uniformed cop left to join the search. The plainclothes cop began asking us questions about who we were and so forth. I don’t know if it was the good cop/bad cop routine with this guy playing the good cop to the six bad ones, but his behavior toward us was actually decent. After a few minutes of questioning and learning that Ditto and Paul had lived in the house only a week, that Clay and I were friends visiting from out of town, and that all of us were students, he seemed a bit chagrined. We could understand that—apparently these guys were looking for some big-time drug dealers, and they just weren’t going to find large quantities of drugs here. We could only hope they wouldn’t find the small quantity we were sitting on.
About the time the friendly plainclothes cop finished questioning us, the uniformed cop returned. He’d been allowed to help in the search, and now he was eager to use his own initiative.
“Did anyone look under there?” he asked, pointing to the mattress we were sitting on.
“Yes,” said two of us as the other two said, “No.”
The Four Stooges.
“Get up,” ordered the uniformed cop. “Sit over there.” He directed us to the far side of the room, where we sat on the bare wood floor by the wall, with the friendly plainclothesman standing in the doorway right next to us.
I was pretty nervous. The uniform—the lowly uniform—was going to lift the mattress, find the ounce of pot, and be the one to make the bust. I knew my friends felt much the same because none of us were breathing, and we were all staring, mesmerized, at the mattress.
The uniformed cop grabbed the mattress by one of its handles and hoisted the front edge about three feet off the floor. His initiative about to pay off, he bent and peered beneath.
All I could do was gaze with riveted, numb resignation. There, tucked back near the wall and now in full view of those of us on the far side of the room, was the plastic baggie full of pot. It was glittering in the light. No, it was flashing like a neon light. It was shouting, “Look at me! Here I am!” It was about to do a jig to draw more attention to itself when the uniform dropped the mattress, squashing it. He straightened and, without a word, left the room to search elsewhere.
“You boys get back on that mattress, and stay there,” the friendly plainclothesman said quickly, giving us a peculiar look.
Amazed and shocked though we were, we moved very quickly back to the mattress.
Apparently, only the sagging curve of the mattress had kept the uniformed cop from seeing the baggie of pot where it was snugged up against the wall. But I know the plainclothesman must have seen it, could not have failed to see it. Even his attitude said he’d seen it. But for some reason, he let it ride.
I think the reason was that the cops thought they were busting major dealers, not just casual users, and the friendly plainclothesman knew that even if we were arrested for possession of the ounce, the raid itself was a bust and an embarrassment.
By now, the sounds of the search were diminishing in the background, and the florid-faced boss cop reentered the room with a couple of other plainclothesmen and the uniform. The boss was carrying a shoe box.
“Did anyone look under there?” the boss asked, indicating the mattress.
“I did,” the uniform said. The friendly plainclothesman quickly affirmed that, and we kept our asses planted firmly and confidently. We all knew the right answer, now.
“We know you’ve got five kilos stashed somewhere,” said the boss, standing over us with his most menacing stance. “And we’re going to find it.”
“We don’t,” Ditto tried to tell him, but the boss wasn’t listening. I suppose he’d heard false protestations of innocence too often to recognize the real thing.
“Look at this,” the boss said, triumphantly holding out the shoe box, determined to save face.
It was empty.
He must have seen our puzzled expressions, because he amplified: “Dust.”
He wiped a finger inside the shoe box and held it up so we could see the dust on his finger.
“I know this is marijuana dust. You were using this box to clean your stuff. We’re going to take it back to the lab for analysis.”
The absurdity was enough to make us laugh, but we were too sobered by the events of the past thirty or forty minutes to even consider a chuckle.
“All right,” the boss said to his goons. “Let’s go.” They retrieved their handcuffs from our wrists and left, with the boss giving one parting shot: “We’ll get you sooner or later.”
Well, no, they won’t catch the big dealers unless they have the right people in the right house. Ditto later learned that the previous tenants probably were drug dealers, but it didn’t say much for the Austin P.D. that their surveillance of the house was at least two weeks out of date when they decided to pull their raid. Which netted one empty shoe box coated with a patina of closet dust.
Once they’d gone, we inspected the damage, which was considerable. The back door was half kicked off its hinges, and the searchers had trashed the entire house. Everything was pulled out of closets and drawers and off of shelves and was lying jumbled on the floors.
We sat up a little while longer, amazed at the wonder of it all, trying to figure out why it had happened and astonished that we’d escaped unscathed, then we went back to bed. But the excitement wasn’t over quite yet.
At six am, a heavy knocking on the front door roused us. It was a uniformed cop, though not the same one who’d been there earlier. He wanted to know if a certain underage runaway girl was on the premises.
Not in the last two weeks, at least, officer.
But we let him tramp through the house, anyway. It was easier to let him look than it would have been to argue with him.
When he finally left, his expression clearly showed that he was disgusted by the way those dirty hippies lived, with their stuff lying all over the floor and the back door gaping half-open on broken hinges. But he didn’t find the girl.
Maybe Ditto or Paul had her stashed under a mattress.
A couple of days latter, Clay and I hitchhiked back to Houston, and after that, I never saw him again.