Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tales of A Pizzaman- The Big Bust

I used to be the co-manager of the Domino's Pizza store at 111 North Belvedere in Richmond, VA. That was where I insulted Wynton Marsalis.

We were one of the busiest stores in the Dominos Pizza Chain. Word got around the street that because we were so busy, there was a lot of money in the store. Then somebody heard that some persons unknown were planning to rob us. So we hired off-duty Richmond cops to stay in the store during the night shift to act as security. They got $15 an hour under the table, which was great money for that time and place.

My favorite hired gun was Arnold. I knew it was going to be a good night if he was there.

He was a big black guy, and ex-Vietnam veteran, who used to work with the K-9 unit. He had a great sense of humor, and liked to tell stories. Still, he could be a no nonsense all business type if he had to. He and his wife were separated at the time, and he was living alone in a studio apartment. His daughters adored him, and came around to cook for him and make sure their daddy was OK. Still, he liked to be out of that apartment and out among people. Making extra money was just a bonus.

Nothing ever happened that I couldn't handle while Arnold was there, but he was always ready to back me up. If someone was getting a little too loud or too frisky, Arnold would shoot them a nasty look and they would calm down quick. Usually, though, he just stood around on the other side of the counter and cracked jokes and talked with people. It was like having your favorite Uncle as your store security.

One night, it was late, and business was slow. Almost everyone had gone home, and I was getting ready to close up. Arnold said he was going outside to have a cigarette.

He stood on the corner looking uptown. A guy came around the corner. He was a tall, almost skeletal white guy with stringy hair, wearing torn jeans, a light plaid shirt, sneakers, and nothing else except a cast on his wrist and scratches on his face. There was nothing unusual about that, not in that neighborhood, except that it was the dead of winter, and the temperature was somewhere in the teens.

The guy obviously asked for a cigarette, and Arnold gave him one, and lit it for him. They talked for maybe five minutes, then they came inside, Arnold opening the door and walking in behind him.

The guy stood in the corner by the window, and Arnold stood calmly over him.

"You wait there", he says, and you know he means it.
The guy says something to him, that I don't understand.
"Hey John, you got some water? He has to take some medication."
I get a 16 ounce bottle of Coke from the cooler.
"You don't have anything else?"
"Don't worry, it's OK"
Arnold gives the guy the Coke.
"Tell the man thank you."
He says thanks like an chastised and obedient little boy, and takes his medicine. Then his nose remains pointed at the floor, but his eyes look look around.
He seems confused, or bewildered.
"Hey John, I got a call I have to make. Can I use your phone?"
"Sure, go right ahead."
I bring the phone closer to him, and he dials his number. I go back to cleaning up. Arnold says something short, no more than a few sentences. He hangs up, looks over at the guy, and says thanks for letting me use the phone.

Five minutes later, our parking lot is suddenly filled with Virginia State Trooper patrol cars, their tires screaming, lights going, and sirens blasting. Arnold says to the guy "let's go", the guy says, "I can't believe he's a cop", and shuffles out.

The troopers are obviously agitated, and cuff the guy and throw him into a car. After a few minutes, the car with the guy inside leaves. Arnold comes in with a couple of troopers, they go in a corner and talk, and they trooper take a statement. Meanwhile, my drivers are coming in, totally clueless to what was going on. They probably would have thought we had been robbed, if I hadn't been acting so nonchalant about the whole thing.

Sokhom, the little ex-Cambodian Army jungle fighter, was worried and asked me what was going on. Festus, the crazy Cameroonian, came in with his usual aplomb in his crazy yellow Fiat, (this was before his wife firebombed it), and for once, he actually looked concerned about something other than who his date would be for the night. I assured them that things were OK, and once I found out what happened, I would let them know. They went out on the last couple of Pizza runs, leaving me, Arnold, and half of the Virginia State Police in the store.

After about fifteen minutes, the parking lot was empty. Arnold came back inside after seeing the last of the officers off.

"OK Arnold, tell me. What just happened?"
"Well, you saw that I went outside to have a cigarette. I wanted to take a look around to see if there was anything going on, and see what was happening out on the street. There's nobody out on a night like tonight, so I lit up."

"Then that guy comes around the corner, and asks me for a cigarette. I know right away something is wrong, because a normal person wouldn't be dressed like that if everything was OK. So I give him a cigarette to make him stick around so I can see what's going on."

"So I decided to start a conversation. I see the cast on his arm, so I asked him if he had an accident. He said, yeah, that he had crashed his brand new Camaro on I-95. "

"So I asked him, 'how does a guy like you afford a brand new Camaro?' You know what he told me?"

"I deal drugs!!!"

"What? You're kidding me!"

"Nope! I said, 'Oh, really?' "

"He said yeah, he was coming up from Florida with a whole trunk load of pot when he lost it on a curve on I-95 doing 90 miles per hour, and scrambled the car. The State Police came and took him to the hospital. When they turned their backs, he just walked away. I'll tell you, this guy was reeeeeally stupid! I couldn't get him to shut up. He told me everything-where he picked the stuff up, where he was going, everything. And this to some guy he just met on the street!"

"So finally, I said 'I hate to tell you this, but I'm a cop. If you make one move to run away, I'm going to catch you and drop kick your ass across the bridge.' So he made no move, and came in nice and quiet. I called up the State Police, and they said they'd been looking all over for this guy. You know the rest."

""So it looks like you had a good night tonight, Arnold. Not only do make some extra cash, but you make a big bust, too. Congratulations."

"Thanks John. You know, sometimes you just get lucky. Man, I still can't believe he just walked up to me and opened up like that. How stupid can you be?"