Friday, March 19, 2010

A Drug Deal Gone Bad—My Brush with the Law

Last night could have been the last time I ever visited Grandma’s house. She moved to assisted living over the winter and we planned to go help clean out the house so it could sell. But the weather forecast showed snow and traveling to Nebraska didn’t seem like a safe idea.

So instead, my wife Laura and I hung out at home with our eight-year-old neighbor girl and played a few rounds of UNO. (I won once.) About nine o’clock, it was time to walk Makayla home to her grandma’s house behind ours. The night was dark but mild, so Laura went with me. We figured we could take our dog Scout, too, for one last jaunt before bed.

Should we bring the leash? Nah, we’re just going down the sidewalk along our backyard fence. We’ll be fine. Scout’s a shy dog and listens well. The only thing that sets him off is a stranger invading his territory, and we didn’t figure there’d be much activity this time of night.

As we stepped outside, we heard a loud rumbling engine. I grabbed Scout’s collar and Laura put her hand on Makayla’s shoulder. Seconds later, a junky S-10 pickup screeched around our corner street and zoomed out of the neighborhood. The driver was a strange looking fellow—hairy and harried, from what we could tell by his glowing cab lights. But we didn’t give it much thought. Just another punk who should learn to respect his elders and traffic laws.

On our way down the sidewalk, we noticed a couple of tall lanky fellows strolling along the street towards us. Scout gave them no grief (good boy!), probably because they were on the opposite side of the street and we were further away from our house.

We made it to Makayla’s grandma’s house and Laura went inside to talk about weekend plans—something to do with a Princess and the Frog movie night at our house. Meanwhile, Scout and I hung around outside in the increasingly chilly night air, sniffing about the yard and admiring the constellation Orion (guess who did which).

I noticed the two dudes passing by had walked into the house across from ours. A few minutes later, another junky pickup—a different one than the first—rumbled up to this house and honked. The two guys came out and crammed into the truck, which then chugged away.

No big deal. Since last fall, that rental home has been the site of much foot traffic and many weird folks. We’re not quite sure who actually lives there, with all the coming and going. And a lot of hanging out—loitering, really. Their idea of a good time is tossing rope over the tree branches and stringing up makeshift swings. Right now, there’s a office chair seat dangling four feet off the ground. Laura and I are pretty sure there’s some drug use involved.

Laura said “good night” to Makayla and her grandma and we started back toward home. Halfway down the sidewalk, I noticed a police SUV make a sudden stop in front of our house. That’s when the excitement began.

The policeman steps out and from across the yard I hear him say into his collar radio, “I got two suspects.” Next thing I know, he points a gun at us and yells, “Show me your hands!”

Laura almost laughs but we both quickly abide and raise our arms. I think I said something to the effect of, “Whoa! Okay, okay.”

“Call off your dog!”

Unfortunately, Scout hasn’t seen a single episode of Cops. Instead of raising his innocent paws, our dog runs straight toward the policeman and barks off his territory. What can I say? Scout is a softy, but he’s also a skittish Australian Shepherd who protects his home from strangers, gun or no gun.

I have to commend the policeman for being calm under pressure. If he had been trigger-happy or cynophobic (a fear of dogs—look it up), I’m sure the cop could have blown my dog away. (Scout has a record, by the way, but that’s another story.)

Thankfully, I yell at Scout and he scurries back to me, still barking. Still with one hand raised, I manage to corral my dog and snatch his collar. Laura approaches with me and, with a cool head, explains we live right here and why we’re outside.

I now get a better look at the cop’s gun and see it’s no ordinary pistol. It’s a ginormous semi-automatic rifle—the kind of machine gun I coveted during my childhood days playing G.I. Joe. Over my growling dog, I yammer something that basically repeats what my wife just said, except with more gibberish.

The policeman lowers his rifle and tells us there’s a report of someone in our neighborhood carrying a gun. With more half-eloquence, I relay details about the two pickups in under half a minute. The cop grunts and tells us to go inside our house.

We followed those orders faster than his first ones.

Back safe inside our locked home, Laura and I watched through our dining room windows for any activity. Not much, except for a policeman talking with our tree swing neighbors for a half hour. Another cop was walking around their house and yard, no doubt having to sidestep the outdoor collection of pop bottle crates. Not sure what was going on, but it was comforting to know the police are wary of those weirdoes, too.

Instead of going to bed like we had planned post-UNO, I told Laura, “I need a lot of chocolate.”

Laura had called 911 to report what we had witnessed, as the clarity of her words would probably help a lot more than mine. After snack, the police called us back, explaining why they preferred a phone conversation over a house visit: they didn’t want any of our neighbors to think we were snitching on them.

Over the phone, I tried to do a “just the facts” routine, but I think the cops already knew everything I told them. The officer described how there had been an apparent “drug deal gone bad” down the block, as someone had brought along a shotgun. It wasn’t the weirdoes across the street, so it must have been the crazy punk in the first pickup. Then the policeman explained they had visited our tree swing neighbors due to an “ancillary report”—whatever that meant.

I mentioned how the tree swingers often act strange, and it gets worse when the weather warms up. The cop said, “Yeah, that’s when our business picks up, too.”

He thanked us both, wishing there were more neighbors like us who watched out for our neighborhood. I finished with an attempted cool but rather lame, “Just let us know what we can do.”

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. Thankfully, Kansas is supposed to have a snowstorm over the weekend. Maybe that’ll chill things down.

When I taught high school, some students jokingly gave me the hero name “IceBerg.” If I were a super-hero, I’d like to have ice powers—control the weather and make it eternally cold, freezing freaks from dubious deeds. Instead, last night my hero moniker was more like Professor Nearly-Pees-His-Pants, Doctor Don’t-Make-Any-Sudden-Moves, or Sleeps-with-the-Lights-On Lad.

Laura has already looked up on-line info about starting a Neighborhood Watch group. Most of our neighbors are nice. It’s only been a year since we moved here, and we’re already friends with several households. But all it takes is a few drifters and druggies to drag down the whole block.

Last night as the adrenaline waned, I told Laura I’m ready to move out as soon as we can. But that’s not very plausible or honorable. We’ve shared a lot of good experiences with our neighbors. I even baptized Makalya earlier this year. I don’t think God is done with us in our current community.

So maybe the hero thing to do is stick it out. Take a stand. Or at least put up a sign. That’s a good start.

We’ll do more than watch. We’ll act, too. And next time we’ll bring our leash.

And to think, I would have missed out on all this excitement had I gone to Grandma’s.

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