Monday 4 November 1991
In the rearview mirror, I saw Yi's car slow and pull into the crossover. Then, traffic opening, the car shot across the street, into the parking lot.
Yi stepped out, walked toward the grey van.
"There's Yi," I said to Chris.
"Does he have it?" he asked.
"I think so. He's carrying a paper sack."
"Yeah, that's it."
The van's side door slid open, and Duane got out. Yi got in. Duane walked to the front of the van, stood there looking back and forth. Then, reaching up, he grabbed his hat by the brim and pulled it off.
Hell broke loose. Engines screaming. Tires squealing. A pickup sliding to a stop behind me. Two men -- pistols clutched in their hands -- leaping out.
"Police!" they screamed. "Out of the car. Hands on top of your heads. Face down on the ground. Move assholes!" A boot slamming into my back. Gravel cutting into my skin. Steel biting into my wrists. Fear filling my mind.
It would be easy to say that it all began the night I met Duane Jones. But Jones was an opportunist -- only one of several factors that led to my arrest.
At the age of thirty-two I had experienced many of the good things life has to offer. I don't fit the profile of the typical convict, or, rather, what the public perceives as the typical convict. I didn't grow up in a ;broken home, or a ghetto. I grew up in 'nice' homes in 'nice' neighborhoods with two, yes two, loving parents. And though we weren't rich, we weren't poor either. I never went without.
The past four years, however, had been hard. My business had failed in '88; my marriage, in '89. Worse, I'd lost direction. And by the time I met Duane Jones, I was out of work, in debt, and facing eviction. Had things been different, perhaps I wouldn't have found Jones's offer so enticing.
Tuesday 22 October 1991
While driving home from a long and fruitless day of job hunting, I wracked my mind: Where can I pick up a few dollars? I'd been laid-off over a month and my pocket, as well as my gas tank, was empty. Then I remembered I'd loaned my girlfriend's daughter and her roommate money for rent couple of months ago. Dyna, the roommate, still owed twenty dollars. A cocktail waitress, she worked in a club which was along the way. Twenty dollars wouldn't help much, but at this point I'd take anything. I decided to stop.
As I stepped through the door, I was surrounded by pulsing lights and a pounding rock beat. Though the crowd was thin, several tables were occupied. Dyna stood at one them, taking an order. She walked up a moment later.
"Hi, Wayno, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I dropped by to see if I can get that twenty from you. I really need it."
"I'd give to you, but I don't have it right now. If you want to wait, I'll probably have it later."
"How much later?"
"A couple of hours at least. It'll be slow tonight." Then, saying, "Hang on a minute," she walked away.
When she came back, she said, "I've got someone I want you to meet."
"A friend of mine -- he might be able to help."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he's looking for some coke. And he's willing to pay to find it. I already told him about you."
"I don't know," I said. "I don't think I want to get involved in that."
"Listen, I know you know some people, and he's all right. Really. All you have to do is set him up."
"I don't know."
"Aw, c'mon, it won't hurt to talk to him. I wouldn't even 've mentioned it, but I know you really need money."
"Well, all right, I'll talk to him."
She led me to table across the room. It was occupied by a man of medium size, dressed in boots and jeans, a black cowboy hat hiding his face and eyes: Duane Jones.
"Dyna says you might be able to help me find what I'm looking for," he said.
"Maybe, I don't know,"
"Here's the deal: I've got a friend in Dallas, and he just got a-hundred-and- eighty-thousand dollars in an insurance settlement. He's looking to invest it."
The figure had my attention. I stayed, listened.
"He wants ten keys. And he's asked me to help him find it. If you can hook us up, I promise you'll be well taken care of."
I suddenly felt uncomfortable—almost left. But, $180,000.
"It's too noisy in here, lets go outside."
Outside, he asked, "Well, you interested?"
"Man, I don't know what Dyna told you, but I'm not a dealer."
"Yeah, but she said you might know somebody."
"Yeah, I know a couple people, but I don't think they could do anything that big -- that's a lot of dope."
"Couldn't you ask around, maybe make some calls, and see what you can do. I know you could use the money."
"I don't know, I have to think about it."
"Okay, tell you what: I'll give you my beeper number. You think it over and give me call when you decide."
"I'll take the number, but I'm not promising anything."
He went inside, then returned a few minutes later with a bar napkin with his name and number on it.
"Here," he said, handing it to me, "give me a call as soon as you can. We'll make it worth your trouble."
Driving home, I looked at the napkin several times. I thought about throwing it out the window. But I didn't.
I spent a restless night, tossing and turning, thinking maybe, just maybe, if I did this just this one time, I'd gain some room to breathe, and give myself and Gayle, my girlfriend, a chance. I deluded myself.
At eight the following morning, I sat down with the Yellow Pages and continued my job search. I called every possible listing. No luck, and I'd run out of places to call. No one had work. There wasn't any.
Duane's offer had been at the back of my mind all morning, the $180,000 popping to the surface relentlessly. Soon I started to wonder what "well taken care of" meant. Did it mean $5,000? $10,000? Even $2,000 would buy the one thing I desperately needed: time. I went and got the napkin, studied the number. Dialed.
He called back quick. "Well, what did you decide?"
"I'll check around and see what I can do," I answered.
"Great!" he said, "I'm glad you decided to help us out."
He then explained how he wanted to work it. I was to locate a supplier and arrange for the purchase of a one ounce sample, this to be followed by the ten kilos.
I didn't look for a source that day, though. After I'd acted, I found myself plagued by second thoughts. I wasn't sure of how to start either. Of course, I knew people who used cocaine occasionally, and some who did a little low level dealing. But this was big. I dropped it. That is, I dropped it until Duane prompted me.
He called that night, wanting to know if I'd found anything. And again the next morning. And again Thursday night. I should have known something was wrong then, and I did have suspicions, but I ignored them. Rather than telling him to forget it, I told him to try me later.
I found a supplier for the ounce easily enough: Slim, But Slim couldn't get close to ten kilos -- only nine ounces at the most. I did, however, have one name left: Chris.
My friend and former business partner, I'd known Chris since 1988. He was there when my marriage fell apart, helping me pull myself together and giving me a place to stay. The last few years had been hard for Chris, too, and he and Alicia, his wife, were living at her mother's house in the Houston Heights.
Though Chris wasn't a dealer, he knew one, a man named Yi. Chris had met Yi through his mother-in-law's book keeping service and did occasional odd jobs for him. If I could convince him, Chris could serve as a link to a supplier.
At first Chris didn't want anything to do with it, but after I explained my situation, he said, "If you can't work it any other way, I'll talk to Yi."
The next time I talked to Duane, I told him I'd found an ounce but no kilos. He was disappointed, perhaps even angry. He brought up the money, said, "You're not acting like you're interested in taking care of business."
Friday morning, Duane pushing again. So I called Chris. Be said to go ahead and set up the deal for the ounce and he'd talk to Yi. when Duane called back, we agreed to meet in the club's parking lot at noon on Monday. I warned him if they came armed, I'd leave.
I still had a major problem: I needed a place to stay. Barry, my roommate and landlord, had made it clear that he wanted Gayle and me out by Friday evening. And, though I knew he wouldn't throw us out, I didn't want to push it. So I found some friends who agreed to let us spend the weekend. Sunday we went back to Barry's. Until the day of my arrest, we drove back forth between the two places, spending a night here a night there, a pair of vagabonds.
Monday 28 October 1991
I awakened early and spent two hours checking Sunday's want adds. Still no luck. Though there were a few adds, they weren't hiring, only taking resumes, or the work was outside my area of experience. Duane called at 10. I assured him I'd be there and told him the ounce would be $750. "That'll be fine," he said. "I'll put a little something on top for you."
I pulled into the club's parking lot at five minutes to twelve, a thousand what ifs? running through my mind.
Duane got out of his pickup and walked toward me. "Hold it right there!" I said, getting out of the car. He stopped, a confused expression on his face.
"I want to make sure ya'll didn't bring any guns. Told you how I feel about that."
I patted him and his companion down and looked in the pickup. No guns. Somehow this reassured me.
I paged Slim. While we waited, Duane said, "I put fifty dollars on top for you," then introduced the buyer.
Thirty-something, jeans and Reeboks, salt and pepper hair, and a Don Johnson-Miami Vice beard. A flash of teeth the smile never reaching his eyes. Then, offering a manicured hand, "Hi, I'm Gary, Gary Redding."
Gary's main concern was how soon could he get the kilos if he liked the sample. I only knew it would be sometime that week.
"That sounds good," he said.
The phone rang. Slim wasn't ready yet, said, "Call back in an hour." He never returned the next call.
By 1:30 Gary was complaining about the wait, so I called Chris. He said, "I'll call YI, meet me at the store around the corner."
Soon after we arrived at the store, Chris pulled up. I jumped out of the car, pocketing the $800 Gary had given me, and joined him. We rode to his house in silence. Minutes later, briefcase in hand, Yi knocked on the door. He and Chris went to a back room.
Chris called me in. "There it is," he said, pointing at the ounce. It was on a scale, on top of the dresser.
I glanced at it. "That's fine," I said. "Let's go, I'm ready to get this over with."
In the car, Chris said, "Yi can only get five keys, and not 'til Wednesday." Then, pulling up in front of the store, he handed me a joint. "Here, make 'em smoke first."
I dropped it in my pocket and crossed the street, by then relieved more than anything. It had been a long day, and I was glad it was coming to an end.
Duane and Gary were sitting in my car when I walked up.
"Here," I said, handing Duane the joint. I've got to see y'all smoke some of this first."
"No problem," he said, lit it, and passed it to Gary. Gary leaned across the seat and looked at me as he took a long drag.
Saying nothing, I pulled the ounce out of my pocket and tossed it on the seat between them.
Gary picked it up, looked at it, opened it, tasted it.
"Tastes good. When can I get the rest?"
"Wednesday, but all he can get is five keys."
"That'll work. Duane'll call and let you know where to meet us."
Wednesday morning, over breakfast, Gary explained that, because of seizure laws, he didn't like to carry money through airports. Instead the money was coming down from Dallas in a van, but it wasn't there yet.
When the van still hadn't arrived an hour later, Gary suggested we go to his room, so he could find out where it was. After a brief call, he said it was broke down, and the money would be delayed.
Chris called Yi -- he was ready to go.
"Good," Gary said, "but there's something we still need to talk about."
Acting for Yi, Chris relayed the price of $18,000 a kilo; there was no disagreement over that. There was, however, a long and involved discussion over how the exchange would be made. Gary wanted the dope first; Yi, the money. Finally, after hammering on the subject for two hours, they tabled the discussion. There was another problem.
According to Gary, the van's fuel pump was out, and the money was delayed until Thursday. (I later learned the DEA agent who was to bring the "flash roll"—the bait money, failed to show.). This made Yi angry, so he upped the price $500 a kilo and told Chris,
"Don't call again until you've seen the Money."
Gary wasn't happy either. The deal would have to wait until Friday.
"I've got to fly to Dallas and calm down my investors," he explained. "They're a couple of heavies from up north and if I don't let 'em know what's going on they'll come down here."
He looked at Chris and me. "Ya'll wouldn't like that."
Gary then turned his attention to me. "So, what do you want out of this?"
Fear enveloped me. My heart pounded, my throat constricted, it was difficult to speak. Striking suddenly, it was an instinctive and primal fear, emanating, it seemed, from the depths of my subconscious. A warning? Perhaps. Nevertheless, I ignored it.
"I don't know, Duane said you'd 'take care' of me."
"Tell you what I'm going to do. I have a girl driving for me, and I don't like her being alone with that much shit. I want you ride back to Dallas with her. When you get in the van I'm going to give you $2,500. And when you get to Dallas I'll have a plane ticket back to Houston waiting for you. How's that?-
"Okay," I said, thinking, Now I know what they mean by "well taken care of."
Friday was a beautiful day, one of those blue-skied, cool and breezy days that make Fall the best time of year on the Texas Gulf Coast. It was also a long and trying day.
Chris and I arrived a few minutes early, but as usual, Duane and Gary were waiting. The money, though, wasn't. Gary insisted on lunch, and as we finished eating, a tall brunette woman entered the restaurant and waved to him.
"There she is, boys, the money's here" he said smiling. Then, to Chris, "C'mon let's go look at it."
Yi wanted us to meet him across town at a diner near Houston's Hobby Airport, so we got in our vehicles and caravanned to the new location.
Yi was an hour late, and when he arrived the problem of how the exchange would take place still had to be settled. After carrying messages back and forth an hour, Chris told Yi and Gary to settle it themselves. They argued another hour before deciding the deal wouldn't happen that day. Rather, Yi would take Gary to the "body shop" to look at a kilo as a show of good faith. This, quite naturally, caused another problem: Gary claimed he was concerned it was plot to rob him. He insisted we do a "drive by" first -- so the procession wove through the streets of Houston again.
Yi pulled in; Gary kept going. Yi chased him. Chris and I were tired of the games, so we stopped at a self-serve on the corner. A quick call led us to a nearby hotel.
From there, Yi took Gary to look at the kilo. Gary came back satisfied and told Chris and me the deal was set for Monday morning. We left.
When we got to Chris's house, his wife was waiting with a message: Duane wanted me to call.
"Gary," he said, "ain't happy with all this bullshit. He says he's fucked around with ya'll for nearly two weeks and ain't seen nothing but one key, and if ya'll don't have your shit together Monday, you'll be sorry."
Too far, he'd gone too far.
"Listen," I said, "I'm sorry I ever let you talk me into this shit. You've hounded me, hassled me, and threatened me. And I'm tired of it. I'm done with it. If you've got a problem with that, I'll be happy to meet you anywhere you like and stomp your ass!"
Smoldering, I slammed the receiver down and stormed out of the house.
It wasn't long before the phone rang, Duane. Chris took the call, then joined me on the porch.
"It's still on for Monday," he said.
"Man, I'm fed up with this shit," I said. "I wish I'd never got involved in it."
"Me and you both, but it's too late to back out now. There's no telling what those idiots might do. We're on the spot."
He handed me a cigarette, lit one of his own. "It'll be over Monday, and that'll be it." "All right, I guess we have to."
Monday 4 November 1991
I remember that morning well. It was clear, but a cold front was moving in: A north wind was blowing and the sky held a hint of haze that would turn to lead by ten. Then, when I walked out the door, I saw one of my tires was flat. A portent of things to come. Chris and I rode to the meeting together.
Gary bought breakfast, and we waited for YI. And waited.
Gary became angry, asked, "Where the hell's Yi?"
"He supposed to be on the way," Chris replied.
"He better get here pretty goddamn soon," Gary said, letting his words hang for a moment. Then, glaring at each of us, "I've had my people waiting a week, and they're not happy. If this fucking deal don't go through today, I can't go back to Dallas, and ya'll better not go home either."
Chris jumped up. "I'll call Yi again and see what's holding him up." Then, looking at me, "C'mon."
As we stood by the phone, the fears and suspicions that had plagued me for the past two weeks suddenly boiled over. "Listen," I told Chris, "let's just forget the whole damn thing and walk out of here, just get in the car and go."
"Hang on man. It's almost over now. In a couple of hours---"
The phone rang.
Chris hung up. "He'll be here in a few minutes."
"Okay, let's get it over with then."
When Yi showed up, he and Gary went to talk. Gary came back a few minutes later, angry again. "Yi says he's going to bring one key to the hotel. Then, if everything goes to his satisfaction, he'll bring the rest of it. What a bunch of bullshit!"
At the hotel Gary walked up and said he was going to the bathroom, asked if either of us wanted to go with him. We said no. Then, as he disappeared through the door, Chris said: "Go see what he's up to."
I got back in the car, said, "He's on the phone, I don't like it. Let's get out of here, they don't need us."
"What about your money?" Chris asked.
"Fuck the money. Let's just go!"
"Take it easy, man," he said, checking the review mirror.
"Help me watch for Yi,"
In the rearview mirror, I saw Yi's car slow and pull into the crossover....
Following our arrests the police raided the body shop where they seized another two pounds of cocaine and arrested the body shop owner. In a plea bargain agreement he received twenty years for possession with intent to distribute.
Chris and I took our case to trial as co-defendants and entered a plea of not guilty based on entrapment. We were convicted, however, under Texas's "law of parties" statutes for delivery of over 400 grams of cocaine and sentenced to35 years each and a fine: $50,000 for Chris $40,000 for me. I was also convicted of delivery of less than 28 grams of cocaine and sentenced to twenty years and a $10,000 fine. My sentences run concurrently.
Duane Jones received $4255 for his services as a Confidential Informant. During the trial Jones admitted he had been paid as much as $8,000 for similar services in a single two month period and that he'd had a felony theft case pending at the time of our arrests. He received a two year probation for this offense in a plea bargain agreement.
Gary Hilton (Redding is an alias) is with the Texan Department of Public Safety's Narcotics Division. I have no knowledge of Yi's whereabouts or of the disposition of his case.
After serving five year, eleven months, three weeks, and one day, I was released on parole. Chris is still waiting.
Under Texas "law of parties" statutes a person is equally
responsible for an offense committed by another if he aids directs or encourages the other
person to commit the offense. Texas also has mandatory minimums. Any case involving
more than 400 grams of cocaine carries a minimum of fifteen years in prison.
© 1998 Wayne James, all rights reserved
appears here by permission