When the Whip Comes Down
Even on a mild ecstasy high, I should have known the jig was up. Perhaps sensed something was off as I reached my hotel room door, but I was starving. A crazy day of dealing drugs and partying made me forget to eat. I slid my key card through the lock thinking only about devouring the plate of barbecue in my hand. With the swinging open of a door, hunger became the least of my problems.
Four uniformed cops gang-tackled me and introduced my face to the nearest bed surface. Handcuffs then dug into my wrists, but I felt lucky anyway. If I must be subdued by burly police, a pillow top mattress in a luxury hotel was a pleasant place for the indignity. I cooperated with the cops, avoiding a taser shock and earning a loosening of my cuffs.
I felt immense relief, bordering on gratitude, of all things. What awaited me was certain to be awful, but at least the stress of living a lie might end. Perhaps my failed life plan could be corrected.
The Asheville, North Carolina city cops that subdued me were dismissed by John Thornmartin, a plainclothes officer with the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement agency. “Sorry y’all had to wait around all night, fellas,” he said as they left.
Hearing this pleased me. Better the police idle in my room for six hours than harass my Widespread Panic concert-going brethren, partying and minding their own business around town. I’d taken one for the team by accident.
The mellow Officer Thornmartin proved a credit to law enforcement, although at first, he refused to let me eat.
“But I’m starving,” I whined. “Who knows when I’ll be able to eat again?”
“Okay, fine.” Thornmartin directed a second, silent plainclothes cop to move the handcuffs to my front. I sat on a bed and endured questions as I ate.
“Where’d you get the drugs?”
“I plead the fifth.”
“Are you working alone?”
“I want my attorney.”
My mouth was full for every response, trying to talk while inhaling hunks of slow roast pork. I started just shaking my head to respond. I felt lucky for my molly buzz, which kept me in the moment. Otherwise, I might’ve broken down and cried as reality crashed down around me.
“Hey, thanks for letting me eat,” I managed at one point. “Mind grabbing me one of those waters there?”
Thornmartin glared as I nodded towards water bottles in a cooler. “Now you’re really pushing it!”
The cop fished a bottle out, probably more to prevent a captive from choking than benevolence. My eyes drifted to a large Tupperware container next to the cooler, which held roughly ten thousand dollars worth of drugs. Forty-five grams of MDMA powder (a/k/a molly), which is over four-hundred doses, and twenty bags of high-grade pot. Also seized were an ounce of smokable DMT, non-prescribed Xanax, and various tools essential to the drug-dealing trade like a digital scale. My lawyer better have compromising pics of the DA.
Thornmartin soon lost his patience, realizing I didn’t plan to talk. He halted my greedy chow session and cuffed me behind the back again.
“But I’m not done,” I protested.
“We’ve been here for six hours,” he growled while nudging me towards the door. “We need our own fucking food.”
We passed through the plush hotel lobby, my first of several serious walks of shame to come. Bystanders gawked, and I felt like each of them saw me as the shit stain I had become. Thornmartin shuffled me to an unmarked SUV and dismissed the second plainclothes cop for the night. I headed to jail for the first time since a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, twenty-five years earlier.
Thornmartin and I began a two-minute drive, me riding shotgun. Upon my arrest, they failed to search my back pockets so I started unloading several zip-top packets of molly from them while the cop kept his eyes on the road. My long arms and fingers allowed me to fish out the contraband and stuff it into the seat crack, possibly lessening my charges. Getting away with this gave me an adrenaline rush. I hoped the inmate who cleaned the SUV next found it all and enjoyed the best week in the history of incarceration.
I tottered into Buncombe County Jail intake area around one o’clock, and into the modern hell of trying to remember a phone number. I had two for my lawyer memorized, you know, on the off-chance I ever got arrested. Calls to them went unanswered and I couldn’t leave a message on a collect call. I hung up and stared at the phone, joining two other detainees in the same predicament.
Under the pressure, snippets of cell numbers and those of old landlines bounced around in my head, but none worked. The cops refused to search a directory, and each use of the phone required begging. My fading molly buzz made disjointed thoughts even foggier. How long would I be locked up if I contacted no one? The countdown began.
I needed to be sprung fast, to clean up my apartment in case they directed a federal raid there. I had a hotel room full of belongings to retrieve. My car sat in the hotel parking lot with $6,500 stashed in it, in case I came across a good deal for LSD or weed. Oxygen seemed scarce. I may have heard a panic attack in my head, personified: “Hop in, I’m taking you for a ride!”
With my fingertips freshly ink-stained, a cop barked at me to move to the next stage of booking. There, as I watched my belongings being cataloged, a phone number finally came to me. An Atlanta restaurant owned by one of my best friends, Ted. I’d worked there years earlier and knew someone might answer the phone even around three o’clock on a Saturday morning. My heart soared.
“May I please, please, please use that phone over there, officer?”
“After I’m done booking you in, you can,” she mumbled. Minutes seemed like hours as I pictured the restaurant manager killing the lights and locking up for the night.
I finally placed the collect call and spoke my name at the tone: “Ted’s friend, Garrett.”
Eons of silence passed, followed by the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard: “Garrett, it’s Lauren.”
I knew her well. She was my favorite of all the managers. I spat out my dilemma.
“Damn! Okay, I’ll call him right away. I know he’s still awake.”
In theory, I’d walk soon because Ted just gets things done.
In the meantime they stuck me in a holding cell. They call it the cooler since it’s colder than the milk they serve there. Hours passed as I sat with teeth chattering and my t-shirt pulled over my bare knees, confused by the delay. Had one of my best friends forsaken me? God knows my dealing partner Joe had. He’d ratted me out to the cops.