I got back on the freeway and headed east. I visualized my plan as I drove: exit the freeway at Uvalde, find a payphone, call the police, wait for them to meet me, go with them to Gracie's house and get my phone. I thought it was a shitty plan. It was the HISD cop's plan. First of all, I'd seen how difficult it was for him to reach the right person to talk to when he was calling around. It would probably cost me eight bucks worth of payphone calls just to get the right precinct or whatever. As my reward I'd probably have to try to convince some idiot dispatcher to actually send someone to meet me for this chickenshit deal. Then I'd probably have to wait an hour or more for the cops to show up. It was already almost midnight.
"Fuck that," I decided. I couldn't deal with that kind of aggravation anymore. Not after all of the shit I'd already been through. Instead, I was going to drive around until I spotted a police car, approach them, tell them the story and get them to go with me to the house. I figured it would be much harder for someone to tell me no when I was standing right in front of them. Especially when if they told me no and I went anyway that there was a high likelihood I'd be killed. I figured nobody would want that on their conscience. I couldn't lose. Now I just had to find a cop.
I exited Uvalde and my head was on a swivel looking for flashing lights or a doughnut shop. I looked in all the parking lots lining the I-10 service road. Nothing. I got to the next major intersection and went under the freeway to go back the way I'd come - toward Uvalde. The neighborhood where Gracie lived was on that side of I-10 anyway. I passed several major boulevards. I looked down each one hoping to spot a cop car. Nothing. "Never one when you need it," I thought to myself. "Fuckers."
I was just about to go back down the other side of I-10 when I looked down a major thoroughfare and saw flashing lights in the distance; about a half mile away. Jackpot! I quickly made the turn and sped toward the lights. When I got close enough I could see that a cop had pulled over an SUV. No one was outside of their car - I guess the cop was running their tags or whatever. I pulled into the parking lot where they were sitting, parked my truck and got out. I started walking toward the cop car and I had to pass the SUV on my way. I saw two enormous black chicks in the front seat and they were staring at me like I was from another planet. "What all this?" I heard one of them say as I walked alongside their car. Right then the cop got on his loudspeaker,"SIR, WALK AWAY FROM THE SCENE. RETURN TO YOUR VEHICLE." "Well, shit," I thought, "I should've known better." As I was turning to go back to my truck another car pulled up behind the cop car and a black guy holding some papers got out and started to approach the cop car. "What all this?" I thought to myself. I first thought the guy must've been called by the chicks in the SUV to bring proof of insurance or something. Or he could be walking up to pop a cap in the cop's ass so his ho's wouldn't get pinched for the crack they had in the glove compartment. I got back in my truck to wait it out. Within thirty seconds, two more cop cars roared up with their lights flashing. One came toward me, the other to the guy with the papers. I rolled down my window as the cop got out of his car.
"Hi there," I said as friendly as I could.
"What's going on here?"
"Yeah, I should've known better than to walk up on them like that. But I've got a weird situation and I need some help."
He looked skeptical. I'm sure he thought I was high. You know, I'd come across the tracks to score some smack and now I was wandering around living out some drug induced paranoia. I proceeded to tell him about my truck getting broken into, the phone call, the address and my suspicions about them luring me over there to rob me. Or worse. The cop's eyes lit up as I finished my story.
"We can jack 'em!" he said excitedly.
I wasn't sure what he meant - either to catch and arrest them or something to do with police brutality. Either way, he was really getting excited. I don't know if his regular duties were bland compared to what I was asking him to do or what. But it was clear to me that this guy was fired up about storming this house and kicking some ass.
"Where do you live?"
"Well, technically I live in River Oaks, but it's not really River Oaks. I live at XXXXXX St. and XXXX." (This is my little dilemma about where I live. I live where the River Oaks and Montrose neighborhoods come together. If you look on a map it shows my address in River Oaks. But River Oaks - the real River Oaks - actually starts a couple of blocks from my house. If I tell people I live in River Oaks they jump to the conclusion that I'm some rich fat cat. If I tell them I live in Montrose they think I'm a homosexual.)
"Where do you work?"
"I work at a law firm. I'm an attorney."
So now I was the lawyer from River Oaks who ventured out to Cloverleaf to retrieve my cell phone from some hood rat who said she had it. I'm sure he thought I was a fucking idiot. The feeling of being a white collar pussy washed over me stronger than ever.
"Do you think you guys would be able to help me?"
He thought for a second. "Okay, here's what we're gonna do - you go down to the parking lot at this store called Greener Brothers and wait for us. When we're finished here I'll round up some other officers and we'll come down there and figure out a plan. Okay?"
"Okay. So I'll wait for y'all in the Greener Brothers parking lot."
"Allright. Thanks a lot for your help."
I rolled up my window and headed to Greener Brothers. I pulled in, parked and lit up a cigarette. Thoughts started swirling through my head. "Damn. Now I've got the cops involved in this deal. They're going to storm this poor bitch's house all because of me. If she really is a good Samaritan that's going to suck." "Shit. It's 12:45. Way later than when I told her I'd be there. I hope she's still up. I hate imposing on people." "I did get the cops to help me though. I found them just like I planned and now they're going to help me. I'm a cop manipulator. Hell, I'm the 'copulator.'" Right then a patrol car pulled up next to my truck. The officer I spoke to earlier got out and came over to my window.
"Hey, we've just gotten another call. It's a serious wreck on I-10. We've got to respond to that call, but I just wanted to let you know so you didn't take off. Just wait here and we'll be back."
"Okay, I'll be here."
He got back in his car and peeled out of the parking lot. "Great," I thought, "no telling how long I'm going to be waiting here."
Ten minutes passed, then twenty. I was still waiting. Doubts began to creep in. Maybe these cops were laughing at me, at how stupid I was, and now they were messing with me so they hauled ass and had no intention of coming back. Maybe they intended to help me but they were still at the wreck on I-10. If there were fatalities no telling how long I'd be waiting. After thirty minutes had passed I started wondering what I would do if they never showed up - do I go over to Gracie's house anyway? Do I cut my losses and just say fuck it, write off my phone and forget about the whole thing? Do I try again in the daylight? I was already over there and I just wanted to resolve this thing. Plus, Gracie sounded nice on the phone. I was probably just being paranoid about the whole thing. I could just go over there, knock on the door, apologize, get my phone, give her $40 as a reward and get my ass on down the road and back home. But then I thought, "That's exactly what Gracie is hoping I'm thinking." Fuck that. There was no way I was going over there by myself.
Ten minutes later three cop cars pulled in. The guy I'd talked to earlier got out and came over to my window.
"Sorry to keep you waiting so long. I went and picked up my sergeant."
"No problem." I wondered why he needed superiors for this.
"Okay, so here's the plan: we're going to follow you over to this house. We're going to park a way's off. You're going to wait for us. When we get there you're going to go to the door. We'll be right beside you the whole time. If they try anything we'll be right there. You've got to get them to come outside or it's no good. And whatever you do, don't go inside the house."
"Don't worry. I'm not going inside the house under any circumstances."
"Once they're outside - we'll jack 'em."
I was still uncomfortable with the concept of "jacking them," but I figured the cop was just posturing to look tough. I doubted the situation would come to "jacking them." Whatever that meant. I mulled over the plan.
"Wait a minute. I don't mean to question what you want to do, but why do we need to put me in danger. Couldn't you just go up to the door and knock and ask about the phone?"
"No. That's not going to work. You've got to go to the door and get them to come out or it's no good."
I knew this was bullshit. I ran through all of the Fourth Amendment shit I'd learned in Judge Baird's class. I knew about reasonable suspicion and probable cause and warrantless searches - there was nothing about needing the victim of the crime to do the actual knocking. But, I didn't want to piss the cops off by being a know-it-all. So I decided to go along with the plan.
I followed the three cop cars, each with two officers inside, over to Victoria Street. 13900...14130...14306 - we were getting close. All three cop cars pulled into the parking lot of a small neighborhood convenient store, if you could call it that. There were no street lights and all of the houses were small and run down. There were cars on up on blocks in many of the driveways, most of the windows in the houses were blacked out. There was nobody outside. The place seemed dead.
I pulled up alongside the cop cars and rolled down my window. They all got out of the cars. The same one I'd been talking to came up.
"Okay. This is it. It's a couple of houses down on the right."
"I think it's on the left." I'd been looking at the house numbers as I drove.
"Yeah, yeah, on the left." "You pull over there slowly and we'll be walking up behind. When you get there wait for us to catch up."
I rolled up my window, killed the headlights and pulled slowly forward. 14305...14307...14309 - this was it. I pulled over as best I could. There were no curbs or anything, just the street, which was narrow to begin with, and deep ditches on either side. I looked over at the house. There was a tall chain link fence across the entire front of the yard. The house itself had a small covered front porch with boxes and crap stacked up all around so that you almost couldn't see the front door. All of the windows were blacked out with foil or fabric. In the side yard was an old mobile home. It was old, but it looked liveable. I immediately thought that's where the ambush would come from. There were no lights on in either house. I looked behind me and saw the shadows of the six cops coming up the street twenty yards behind. I waited until they got even with the house. They hung back in the shadows. I didn't know whether I was supposed to get out now or what. A dog started howling. I got out of my truck. The dog was at the house we were going to. It was standing on the front porch and it looked like a pit bull. I walked over to where the cops were standing. They had already discovered that the chain link fence gate was chained and locked. A couple of them were looking for a way through the edge of the fence. I heard one of them mutter something about not wanting to have to kill the dog. The cops fanned out, looking for a way past the fence. I was just standing out in the open in the street right in front of the house. "This wasn't part of the plan," I thought to myself.
Just then one of the cops made a short whistle - he'd found a way into the yard. The cop who'd found the opening went into the front yard. "Heh. He's entered the curtilage," I chuckled to myself. One of the other cops shot him a hushed warning, "Watch out for the dog!" He nodded and made his way over to the porch. The dog hadn't moved, but it also hadn't stopped howling. There was no way the owner of the house hadn't heard it by now. But still there were no lights on in the house. I thought this was suspicious. By this time two cops were at the front porch. They were trying to coax the dog into it's doghouse, which was a large pet carrier. Amazingly, the dog went inside and they locked it in. The dog got quiet. Once the dog was locked away, all the cops entered the yard. Some went to the back of the house. They motioned for me to come forward. I went through the fence and into the yard. When I got even with the front porch I stepped in a huge pile of slippery dog shit. "Sweet," I said out loud. "What?" the cop nearest me asked. "Nothing," I said.
They directed me to the steps leading up to the front door. Before I got there I could hear one of the cops at the rear of the house knocking on one of the doors. This was definitely not part of the plan. I hesitated. The other cops got uneasy. Whoever was inside had been alerted to our presence, but they'd not come to the door or turned on any lights. Something just didn't feel right. I sensed it and so did the cops. I backed away from the steps.
Most of the officers were carrying flashlights. They periodically flipped them on to look at something or another. One of them was shining his light inside a car that was parked in the driveway. I was standing close by.
"Hey," he said, "does this look like your stuff?"
I stepped closer to the car so I could see into the front seat where he was pointing his light. IT WAS MY BAG!!
"That's my bag! That's my stuff in the car!" I whispered. This was a setup after all! Fuck! "This ain't right," I said to the four cops who were standing nearby. "She never said anything about having my bag too - only my phone." "This was a setup."
The cops' demeanor changed immediately. They got on their radios to the two in the back. At least one unbuttoned the strap on his gun holster. Two of them went up on the porch. I was standing completely out in the open. I remembered this situation that happened in Austin where these cops went to this house for a drug raid and while they were at the front door, the guy inside started blasting away. One of the cops had been killed in that incident. The killer's defense was that the cops hadn't identified themselves and he thought someone was trying to break into his house. Well, that exact situation was playing out right before my eyes. I expected chulos to start pouring out of the trailer or for the sound of gunfire to erupt at any moment. I got very uncomfortable. At that moment I thought to myself, "If I live, this is going to make a very good blog post."
"I'm going back to my truck," I told the cop standing nearest me.
Just as I was leaving the yard they started banging on the door and yelling. "Open up! This is the police!"
They kept banging and yelling, but no one came to the door. I was sitting in my truck by this time and all I wanted to do was drive down the street a ways to get out of the line of fire.
Apparently by this point the cops heard someone in the house moving around. They got even more agitated. "Open your door right now or we're going to break it down! This is the police!"
All of the cops were gathered around the front door, ready to burst in.
Right then, the door opened slightly.
"This is the police! Show me your hands! Step outside of the house!"
A short Hispanic woman came outside onto the porch. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but the cops were grilling her. She looked very nervous. One of the other cops went into the house with his flashlight. The other cops continued to question the woman. This seemed to go on forever. The cop that had gone inside the house came back out and reported to the others that it was all clear. At least that's what it looked like from where I was. They led her back inside and when she came back out she had my phone in her hand. I tried to roll down my window so I could hear what they were saying, but I didn't want to make any noise and let her know that I was there until the cops were ready to tell her. Before too much longer the cops were apparently satisfied with her story. Eventually one of the cops motioned for me to come over.
I got out of my truck, went through the gate and up to the front porch. I felt like I was the boss man in some movie scene where I step out of the shadows after my henchmen have worked someone over.
The officer who'd been questioning her the most reported to me, "She says she just found the phone and the bag at the Wal Mart. I think her story checks out."
I stepped toward the woman.
"Mrs. Galindo, I'm Ojo Rojo." I extended my hand. "I'm really sorry that we scared you like this. I hope you understand why I couldn't come over here by myself."
She was obviously freaked out. Not crying, but definitely shaking. "No. No. I see that."
"I had no way of knowing if you were legit. You know? You might have been trying to lure me over here or something. I couldn't take any chances."
"I'm sorry that we scared you. But the police needed to do this the way they thought best. If you really did just find my things and were trying to return them then you did the right thing and I'm really sorry that things happened like this. I hope you understand."
"Yeah. Yeah. I understand."
"It's just that when we saw the bag in the car and we weren't expecting it that we got really suspicious that this was a setup. You know?"
"Yeah. No. I can see that."
"So how did you get my bag? When we talked on the phone you didn't have it."
"I found it at Wal Mart - like I said."
"So you went back over there and looked around and found it after you talked to me?"
"Yeah. Yeah. I went back over there."
I didn't really believe her. I had intentionally planted the explanation in my question because I didn't want to drag this out any further. I had my shit back and I really didn't care about anything else right then.
"Well, can I get my phone and my bag back from you now?"
"Oh. Oh. Yes." She handed me the phone like it was a hot potato. She went over to the car and grabbed the bag off the front seat, brought it over and handed it to me.
I set the bag down on the porch to look through it and see what all was missing. I pulled out the day planner, folders and some papers. I pulled out the sets of photos from Christmas and my recent ski trip and when I did the cop asked me, "Is there anything in those photos you wouldn't want anybody to see?"
"No. Not that I can think of." I thought that was a weird statement.
"Well, because if they put any of those pictures on the internet we could find out where they were coming from."
"Oh. Yeah, no, there's nothing in here. I mean, my girlfriend's real cute and all, but she's not naked in any of the pictures." The cop didn't think I was funny.
Everything appeared to be in my bag except a stack of bills. I looked up and told them that everything was there except for the bills. Nobody made a move.
"So, is that it then?" I asked.
"That's it," the cop said.
I turned to Mrs. Galindo. I wanted to give her the money for the reward for returning my stuff, but I felt uncomfortable doing it in front of the police. Plus, I wasn't entirely sure I trusted her after the whole thing with the bag. So I just reached out and shook her hand again and thanked her and apologized to her one more time.
I put my bag on my shoulder and stopped in the middle of the street and thanked all of the police officers who were there. I got back in my truck, lit a cigarette and headed home.