Seattle has been a boom town since the mid 1990’s. From my teen years through my twenties I spent no small amount of time earning a few coins on this jobsite or that one, usually as an unskilled hand, a throw away day laborer, young and strong and large and not betraying even the slightest hint of intelligence or trustworthiness. The foremen and skilled tradesmen looked down on me with contempt and suspicion. My fellow day laborers and I may as well have been Bombay sewer rats in what I perceived to be a modern day caste system. I found that no amount of good attitude or hard work would ever win me a real full time construction job. A driver’s license, a pick up truck and a high school diploma seemed all but unattainable to me, those being the prerequisites for full time construction employment. Even in boom times there are winners and losers, as there always has been, and most winners are unwilling to permit a loser entry to their club. So, I dug ditches or packed forms for minimum wage, unloaded trucks, or stole anything that wasn’t nailed down when there wasn’t work to be had. It’s all who you know, and I didn’t know ’em.
But why all this about jobsites, you ask? Just to mention that it was a construction site adjacent to the music store being the location where my accomplice and I drank pilfered beer that summer evening and concocted an impromptu plot to raid said music store. The way we figured, it would be a piece of cake to clean the place out and turn a tidy profit.
My partner in crime that day was Mr. Clarke, he who fell asleep under the sink, he who I barely knew, and he who would soon reveal his lack of character.
The music store’s backside faced the I-5 freeway. Across the freeway on the other side was a green slope heavily cloaked in trees and brush.
Having surveyed the terrain, we immediately procured two large duffel bags and two large camouflage tarps from Mr. Clarke’s family home, then set to work cutting the cyclone fence behind the store, eliminating the need to climb it later. We then stowed the tarps on the other side of the freeway, under the trees in preparation for our dastardly scheme.
It was well past midnight, traffic was light, and running across the freeway was a breeze.
Back at the construction site now, I noticed a chunk of concrete weighing about thirty-five pounds, laying a mere fifty feet or so from the front window of the music store. Full of cheap beer and reefer, I take the lead, and after carrying the chunk over, I toss it with all my might at the window.
I try again.
I wasn’t expecting the window to be made of such tough stuff.
After a few more tosses, a small ding appeared. With the claw end of a hammer I went to work on that ding, tearing a hole and then widening it to permit our entrance. It took a lot longer than I would have liked, but after much sweat and toil, it was of an acceptable circumference. I made sure not to disturb the foil security wire around the outside edge of the window, as I knew that doing so would break the circuit and trigger an alarm.
I’d like to point out right now that this music store wasn’t a mom and pop outfit, but a chain store that had a reputation for being less than honest. I was somewhat picky about who I liked to steal from.
In we went and out we came, making four or perhaps five trips to our camouflage tarps across the freeway. The last trip out, my inebriated eighteen year old self caught a sharp edge of the broken window and sliced my leg wide open, broke the window even more, and sounded the alarm. It was extremely loud, 100 decibels or more.
Back across the freeway we go, with me bleeding like a stuck pig.
Within a matter of minutes, safely tucked away under the camouflage tarps, we saw the spot lights and the strobes. Then we heard the dogs. The dogs led their masters to the cut fence and went crazy. They smelled blood alright. These canine sleuths knew exactly where we were, but the cops never did cross the freeway. Mr. Clarke and I dared not even whisper. We breathed shallow and moved not a muscle for over an hour as the dogs barked and the men shone their lights. The incessant barking of the police K9 rattled our nerves and made us both know what it feels like to be the hunted.
They finally must have concluded that we absconded in a truck.
The idea that we were concealed not one hundred yards away was just too absurd a notion for the police to entertain. At first light, we each took a duffle bag and walked away in separate directions, looking like nothing more than two pitiful young homeless men, not worthy of a second glance. I made two more trips to retrieve my share of the booty, and headed back up to North Seattle. Putting some miles between me and the crime scene seemed like the thing to do. I knew of a man who would pay cash on the barrel head for guitars and the like, and I had a good friend who would gladly store the items until arrangements could be made. I had no plans to return to Burien, or see Mr. Clarke ever again.
Mr. Clarke wasn’t much of a criminal. He lived in a large house with his parents, his father was a well respected preacher, his mother a teacher. I think this may have been the first crime he ever committed. He stashed his share of the loot in his bedroom at mommy and daddy’s house.
The temptation to brag and show off ill gotten gains to his middle class peers was too much for him to resist.
One of these friends of his was the son of a King County detective who just so happened to be assigned to the music store case. Life is just full of coincidences. Within 48 hours the jig was up.
He ratted me out with a quickness.
Pretty soon, I’m in an interrogation room with the detective. He tells me what they know and how they know it. If only I were to surrender the stolen merchandise, all would be forgiven. Case closed. My instinct tells me to dummy up, but I’m also thinking, what good will that do? They’ve got me.
I take a chance and play along. Play the part of a nice middle class white kid. Really lay it on thick.
I tell him what a relief it is to finally be caught, the heavy burden of my guilty conscience has been weighing me down. The stolen goods have been nothing but a curse, my black eyes and scuffed up countenance are proof of that, in fact, I was hijacked myself, by a trio of dusky hued savages on my way to a central district pawn shop(all good lies contain a grain of truth) who stole it all away from ME. I’d return it all if I could, but to do so would be impossible, as I no longer possessed it….
The cop was true to his word. I thought for sure I’d end up in a red suit on the eighth floor, but in the end I kept the stuff and walked out a free man.
I have always suspected that this stroke of luck was due to the authorities decision to give Mr. Clarke a break, the good kid from the good family, my own freedom being nothing more than an unpleasant but neccessary by product of that desire to shield him from a blemish on his permanent record. It’s all who you know…