I had looked at a map before I set out, so I knew where I was going. The wind was blowing into the cab of my truck as I drove. I looked over at the pile of shattered glass on the passenger seat. In a way, I felt helpless and victimized by the fact that my truck had been broken into and I knew this was going to cost me money. I had already lost a bunch of my shit. And I hate losing shit. Especially shit that I like. But since I'd gotten the call from Gracie Galindo I felt like I was on a recovery mission. I felt good about the fact that I was able to do something to actively improve this otherwise shitty situation. I was going to get my phone back and thinking about it made me feel better.
These were the thoughts I had as I drove the miles down I-10 into East Houston.
For those of you who don't know, East Houston is pretty rough. It's the armpit of the city. It's the industrial area where all of the oil refineries and chemical plants are mixed in with these run down neighborhoods. There's a lot of the familiar stuff though: convenient stores, fast food joints, big box retailers, but they're grimier on this side of town. I had the very real sense that I was off my turf. All of a sudden I felt like I'd been living some kind of pampered and sheltered life. I looked down at the way I was dressed - white button down shirt, flat front cotton dress pants, leather shoes and a black linen blazer. I would have been in my element strolling into Downing Street to sip on single malts, but now I felt like some white collar pussy, which, in this situation I guess I was. I'd be haunted by that feeling for the rest of the night.
I saw the Wal Mart off the service road and a Whataburger. I knew I was close. I exited the freeway and took a left. Ten, twelve blocks down I saw Victoria street. I took a left and started looking for numbers on the houses. All of the houses were small; none alike. It should have been dreary, but I found something cheerful about it. Maybe it was the disintegrating paper Christmas decorations hanging from the eaves. More likely it was the gaudy outdoor statues and lights that signify you're in a Mexican neighborhood. I started counting the house numbers - 4606, 4608, 4614... A lot of the house numbers were spray-painted on. I had chosen my route so that I could travel the entire length of the street and see all of the house numbers. My map didn't have block numbers on it so I figured I'd start at one end and work my way all the way down. But I got to the end of the street and the numbers only went up to 7400. Shit. I doubled back and started looking for house numbers again, hoping I'd just made a mistake. No dice. The house numbers were the same. A couple of blocks down I happened to look down a side street and I saw a cop car in a parking lot of what looked like a school. I turned down the street and into the lot and pulled up next to the cop car. I rolled down my window as the cop did the same.
"Hi there. Say, I know this is a little strange, but I could use your help."
I quickly recounted the story and explained why I was there.
"So anyway, this is Victoria Street here, but it only goes from the 4600 block to the 7400 block. The woman who has my phone is at 14309. Do you have any idea where that's at?" I knew most cops had maps in their cars or on a computer linkup to find where they were going. He had a map book of the Houston area that he pulled out. He spent a couple of minutes poring over it.
"Yeah, see, you're in Denver Harbor. Victoria only goes up to 7400 over here. The Victoria Street you're looking for is in Cloverleaf."
I got out of my truck to look closer at the map. Sure enough, I wasn't far enough east.
"You say you're going to this woman's house who says she has your phone?"
He paused. Before he could say anything I cut in, "Say, I'm a little out of my element over here (this was an understatement) and I don't feel real comfortable going up to this house by myself. I mean, this woman might be waiting to waylay me or something. Would it be possible for you to escort me over there? Just to be on the safe side?" Right then I noticed the markings on his car: Houston ISD Police. I knew immediately that this guy was a chickenshit cop, but I also knew that this didn't matter. He had a uniform and a cop car - he'd do the trick for my purposes. I don't know if he had a gun; he was sitting in his car the whole time and he had a big jacket on. All I needed was a show of force so I didn't really care.
"Well, Cloverleaf is pretty far away. Out of my jurisdiction. I'm here babysitting this school because it's under construction and I can't leave my post."
"Yeah. I didn't realize you were HISD until just now. Do you have radio contact with anybody in that area who might be able to meet me? I really don't feel safe going over there by myself."
"No. No. I don't have a radio. I mean, I'm not in contact with those guys. I think that might be the sheriff's jurisdiction that far over. That's Jacinto City over there. But that Cloverleaf - I've heard stories."
"Yeah. See, you're in Denver Harbor right here. It's pretty bad over here too, but I've heard stories about Cloverleaf. If I was you I'd probly just write the phone off and forget about it."
"Yeah, well, I know what you're saying. I mean I'm not willing to risk my life for my phone or anything, but I'd really like to have it back. It's got every number of every person I know in it and I don't have those numbers anywhere else."
The cop realized that I wasn't going to give up that easy. I was passively demanding that he give me some sort of assistance. He muttered something about trying to find a number to the sheriff's office. While he fumbled with papers and stuff in his car I started thinking about just how dangerous this situation could be. I mean, it wasn't that big of a stretch to think that this woman was snowing me and that this was a plot to lure me over there and then rob me. Or worse. Maybe they were pissed about the fact that there wasn't a laptop in my bag and they were going to try to squeeze whatever they could out of the situation. No doubt they looked all through the bag and had seen my business cards that say "Ojo Rojo, Attorney at Law" on them. Everybody knows that all lawyers are rich. And gullible. I'm sure to them I seemed like an ideal target. I could see this situation spiraling down - with me gagged, hands tied behind my back and lying in a pool of my own blood from the bullet hole in the back of my head. I resolved at that moment that there was no fucking way that I was going to this house by myself.
I looked over and the HISD cop was on his phone. He talked to someone, hung up, dialed again. He must've done this four or five times. Finally, he wrote down some phone numbers on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
"Here's the number to the constable's office who has jurisdiction over there. You're going to take I-10 east and exit Uvalde. There'll be a convenient store there where you can use the phone to call them to meet you. If you don't get a hold of anybody I wouldn't go it alone. I've heard stories about Cloverleaf."
I took the paper and looked at it. "Okay. Yeah, I'm not going to get killed over a phone. Thanks a lot for your help." I shook his hand, got back in my truck and pulled out of the parking lot.
I was going to Cloverleaf.
To be continued...