Jonathon King on the occupational hazards of working the crime beat….
It’s Fall of 1984 and I’m working the overnight crime beat for the Philadelphia Daily News. I come on at 11 and cover all the grit until 7 a.m.“Jesus, Jon,” he says with surprise that quickly turns to chagrin and then to humor in the span of seconds.
At midnight I get a call at the Philadelphia Police Department roundhouse where the media has a room for reporters to gather. The call is from a detective friend who works narcotics.
“Yo Jon, we’ve got a cocaine trafficking sting going on at the Motel 6 down at the airport. You wanna piece of it, come on down and find me in room 106 and I’ll give you an exclusive.”
Now, exclusives on drug deals aren’t so exclusive in 1984, but I learned to never turn down an offer from a cop source. Who knows what they might come up with?
So I drive down to the Motel 6 but by time I get there, the place looks empty. No cop cars with swirling lights. No milling gawkers. No paddy wagon to load the arrestees. Just quiet.
I ask the front desk guy if the police are still here or if they’ve packed up and left. He shrugs. “I thought they were still back there,” he says with the old hook of the thumb.
Ok, I’m a reporter, I don’t give up easy. I wander back to room 106 where I find the
drapes drawn and only a dim light source inside. Again, there’s no obvious police presence, not a patrol car or uniform in sight. I figure I’m late. Everybody’s gone. But I step up and knock on the door anyway. I’m a reporter, you follow through.
My knuckles are barely off the surface of the door when loud, hard voices behind me start yelling: “POLICE! HANDS IN THE AIR! FREEZE! HANDS IN THE AIR! along with descriptive pronouns not necessarily fitting for a guest blog post.
The voices alone would be a chilling enough but almost as instantly I feel the cold touch of metal, the sensation of a frosted nickel, being pressed to the base of my neck. Now I’ve already written some stories about the Philly cops and their penchant for forgetting proper weapons procedure, so I know, with little imagination, this touch of metal is the muzzle of a gun.
At that same jumbled instant, the door before me flashes open to reveal three armed police officers, one being the detective friend who invited me to room 106 and is now looking in my face.
“Man, did I tell you 106? I meant to tell you 107 next door where we’re set up. This is the bust room, man. We figured you were another buyer. Hell, come on in.”I did get a four paragraph story out of that night. I think we ran it inside, like page 23 or something, the confiscation of several kilos of coke coming out of Miami and a couple of arrests. But years later I still have second thoughts about approaching a darkened house. Come back later. A memory like that sticks with you.
As the cold nickel drops off my neck I follow my detective friend’s grinning sight line down to the front of my trousers. Where I’m happy to say I’m still holding my water, but barely.
43 minutes ago