Let’s just get one thing out there: I have never done drugs. I am not saying that my life has been free of vice, but the ones in which I have indulged have tended to be of the “legal but still not a good idea” kinds like tobacco and alcohol. In the early and mid 1980s, however, not everyone else in my circle of friends was quite so restrained. Which is how I got invited to a drug bust.
During my last two years of law school I lived with three other guys in a four bedroom townhouse. The complex was an odd mix of younger and older students from the various undergrad and grad schools affiliated with Indiana and Purdue Universities in Indianapolis. By and large, the complex was a little oasis of struggling students surrounded by the general decline that was the west side of Indianapolis.
At the beginning of our last year we got a new neighbor on one side. Which was a bit of a relief because the prior neighbors were a man and woman in their late twenties who seemed to spend all of their time at home either fighting with each other or, uhm, making up. Both modes were always quite audible and gave us more information about them than we really needed or wanted to know.
Tony was more our age. He was a young African-American guy with a wide smile and a big personality. Always friendly, we spent many hours out front visiting with Tony when the weather was nice and we had the time. It was during one of these visits when Tony let it be known that in addition to being a college student, he was, . . ., well let’s just call it an entrepreneur.
One of my roommates (I’ll call him Phil) was not above an occasional taste for a little canibus and it was always available over at Tony’s place. We all knew what it meant when he said “I’m going to run over to see Tony for a few minutes.” Me? I was a regular cigarette smoker in those days, with a secondary taste for an occasional cigar. So Tony’s wares didn’t really appeal to me, but different strokes, right?
My roommates didn’t mind the cigarette smoke but one of them simply hated the cigars. In an effort to maintain domestic tranquility I made an effort to save the cigars for walks outside. On one such evening I started down the sidewalk. I noticed that there was more traffic than normal. What’s more, that extra traffic looked an awful lot like law enforcement. The cars would come into the main circular driveway, slowly cruise the circle and then exit. I did not know what John Law’s purpose was, but I did know that my friend was next door at Tony’s. I also knew that if I was any kind of a friend I needed to get him out of there.
I turned around and walked back into my apartment, trying to maintain the same relaxed pace with which my walk had begun. But it was no more relaxing when I got back inside. “The cops are outside and Phil’s next door at Tony’s. I’ve gotta get him out of there.” One of the other guys suggested that I use the pretext of his girlfriend on the phone, which was a common occurrence. they even called a friend and asked him to call us right back so that the phone would ring, giving a little, uh, texture to my pretext.
I tried to project calm as I went back outside and walked next door. With my lit cigar still in my mouth I knocked on the door. The door opened to a sight I have not experienced either before or since (and hope to keep it that way): there were two uniformed officers with their guns drawn and pointed at me. The greeting that accompanied their wide smiles? “Come on in . . . Join the party!” “OK” I replied as I kept my hands free and in plain sight.
“Just have a seat over there” they said to me. About four other people were on their knees along the living room wall with their hands against the backs of their heads. Tony was one of them. Phil was in the room too, but seated. “Laura’s on the phone” I said, wondering if it might help. “He’s busy” replied one of the officers “but thanks”.
As luck would have it Phil came in after the badge party got rolling and so was not caught in anything illegal. I emptied my pockets as well and proved myself clean, as I knew I would. But for the next few minutes we remained in Tony’s apartment as guests of the city and county.
I wondered how I was going to explain this to the firm where I was a law clerk. The senior partner there was about as straight-laced of a Presbyterian as they came. At that time, in order to be admitted to the State Bar each applicant had to sit for a character and fitness interview. There was a rumor that Wendell, having previously been among those doing those interviewing, had flunked a guy who admitted to living with his girlfriend without the benefit of matrimony. Knowing Wendell, I could see that he would genuinely believe that the young man was not morally fit to practice law. Yes, this adventure was going to cause me some trouble at work.
After another few minutes though, things began to look up when one of the cops said to another “I think we can send these two home. Especially that one with the cigar – nobody who smokes cigars is buying marijuana.” The other one laughed and nodded. Phil and I were allowed to leave and wasted no time getting back home where we told our friends about our near-miss of an all-expense-paid trip to the Graybar Hotel.
That was about the last we saw of Tony, although I saw years later that he had pled guilty to some fraud charges in connection with a shady used car business he was running. Which did not surprise me. We were soon out of that apartment complex as well, on to our adult lives after graduation that May.
Did I do something stupid in knocking on that door? Adult me acknowledges that I probably did. I like to think, however, that my instinct to look out for my friend was not a bad thing either. Well, they say that God takes care of children and fools and perhaps my friend and I both received some assistance under that particular program that evening. And not because we were children.