The year was 1995.  I had just moved from Virginia to California and found a small apartment in Venice Beach. I got a job working for a PI company in Los Angeles earning $ 10.00 per hour plus mileage and expenses.  The owner of the agency, Mr. Stevens, had been a FBI agent for years. Meanwhile my supervisor, Kelly Reese – an attorney, a licensed PI, and a mentor – had served in Vietnam.  Mr. Stevens called to tell me that I needed to help find a kid whose parents hadn’t heard from him in two weeks (these types of cases are called welfare checks). According to them, their son (Michael) came into Los Angeles for the summer to do an internship at Universal Studios. As it turned out, they weren’t too keen on him making this move in the first place. They now wanted their son found and put on a plane back to Nebraska.  His parents said that he had been staying at the Sheraton in Studio City. The first question I asked Mr. Stevens was whether Michael did drugs or abused alcohol.  Mr. Stevens responded by saying that he has asked the same questions to his parents and that they told him he didn’t do any drugs. As I drove to the Sheraton, I walked up to the front desk and asked if they could call up to Michael Hunter’s room. They called twice, but no one answered. I decided to head to his room, knock on the door and waited; there was no response, so I knocked again and waited.  I put my ear against the door to ascertain if I could hear anything from within the room, but to no avail.  I then happened to see a housekeeper down the hall and told her I was worried about my little brother, requesting her to let me into his room.  As she led me into the room, I gave her a $ 20 spot; she was visibly happy as she thanked me and walked away.  I pushed the door open and walked straight in.

The fumes from inside the room hit me hard.  It looked as if a tornado had wreaked havoc on the room.  The floor was redolent with empty beer bottles, food wrappers, used condoms, clothes, and several spoons that looked like they were being used to smoke crack. Newspapers were strewn everywhere and the sheets from the bed were on the floor – they were downright filthy, to put it mildly.  Not surprisingly, Michaels’s parents were clueless or in denial – or both.  Five minutes later, Michael walked into the room. He was completely strung out and looked like he hadn’t been to bed in ages, also smelling like he hadn’t showered in a week.  With a combination of intent and nonchalance, I explained to him why I landed there and that my objective was to make sure he got on a plane to reach home safely back home.  The first thing that came out of his mouth was “I’m not leaving until I score some “H.” I asked him if he was referring to heroin; he said an affirmative ‘yes.’ I told him there was no way I was going to buy heroin for him.

He was in no mood to relent and said he wouldn’t get on the plane unless he got some.  I called my supervisor, Kelly, and told me I needed to speak with Mr. Stevens. I filled him in on what had been transpiring. I said I wasn’t comfortable buying heroin.  What if I got arrested or shot? In response and much to my chagrin, Mr. Stevens told me I couldn’t let this kid out of my sight.  He went on to say that if in the off chance that I did get arrested, he would be there to bail me out and explain the situation to the authorities.  If that was supposed to give me succor, it clearly didn’t.  First things first.  I insisted that Michael take a shower because he absolutely stunk. I decided to throw away some of the crap that was in the room.  Ugh, it was absolutely disgusting and I really could do with some gloves. After Michael showered, he wanted to go get something to eat.  As we drove away from the hotel, I got paged by Mr. Stevens. So I pulled over to the first pay phone I came across. Mr. Stevens said that Michael’s flight was going to be leaving from LAX at 9:00 p.m.  Since it was only 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, I asked Mr. Stevens what the hell I was supposed to do with his kid for the next six hours. Mr. Stevens told me to be creative!  Fucking great – I’m going to demand a raise.  This was going way beyond what I had initially agreed to do. I wasn’t amused one bit.  I’d like to see Mr. Stevens driving around with this 20-year-old heroin addict for six hours, in a car!

First stop was In –n – Out.  Fortunately, there weren’t any close by, which meant that we had to schlep to Temple City.  We got to In – n – Out about 2:45 p.m.  By the time we ordered and ate, it was already 3:30 p.m. I suggested to Michael that we buy him some clothes because he looked like a cross between a homeless person and The Dude from The Big Lebowski. We happened to see a Marshalls Store and walked straight in. After he tried on a few items that he liked, we walked over to the register. I waited for him to pull out money from his wallet but he obviously didn’t have any, so I had to pay. He didn’t have any toothpaste or deodorant either, so I decided that the next stop would be CVS. Michael told me that he hadn’t brushed his teeth in a week (which wasn’t surprising because I could smell his fetid sour breath in the car and had to breathe through my mouth until he brushed his teeth). So we found toothpaste, mouthwash and a few other staples, before departing. As if enough drama hadn’t unfolded for the day, he ‘announced’ that he was starting to feel sick and needed to find heroin.  I told him that there was no way he was shooting up in my car. Thankfully, he had a big fear of needles, which meant that he snorted it as opposed to shooting it.  Michael wanted to score, so we hunted for a working payphone.  He stepped out of the car and made a call.  He walked back to the car with an honest grin on his face, so I knew he had found some.  Michael said that we were going to meet the guy as soon as soon as it got dark and gave me the address; apparently, the area was home to two warring gangs.

The LA Times has published an article talking about this area and how dangerous it is known to be. And here I was – a white woman driving a brand-new Jeep Cherokee.  I was PISSED off big time.  I was literally risking my life buying heroin from some street thugs while earning no more than $ 10.00 an hour; so much for the much touted occupational hazards of a PI! In ironical contrast, Michael couldn’t have been happier. We drove to the area and Michael instructed me to pull up behind a car.  The area was horrific; there were prostitutes selling their wares, bombed out buildings, and garbage and needles all over the place. Also making their presence felt were a lot of stray dogs and little kids who were paid to stand outside and watch the police/gang members from other factions.  After waiting for what seemed like never-ending eternity, we saw two guys walking towards our car.  One of the guys quickly discerned that some people were waiting for him; he then gave a thumbs-up to his partner. His partner quickly walked over and I could hear him saying “chiva chiva chiva.”  I asked Michael what that meant; he replied that it was slang for heroin. These dealers had this down to a  science.  They didn’t spend more than 30 seconds at each car.  He finally came to my car and asked “how many”? I looked at Michael and he said he wanted two. The next thing I was see him spit two little latex balls out of his mouth onto his hand, before handing over to me. GROSS!

I quickly handed them to Michael and gave the guy $30.00. As we’re driving away, Michael had already taken the latex off one of the balls. He asked if he could cut some lines on my dashboard, and I said sure.  I wondered what could possibly happen with a few lines on my dashboard.  Michael looked at the lines of heroin and was clearly salivating.  He snorted up a line and then did another; it seemed like he just melted into his seat. His head hung down began to make all sorts of weird ass noises.  I tried to tell Michael to shut the fuck up, but he was ‘out’ and ‘in’ his own zone.  About 20 minutes later, he opened his eyes slowly and had this serene look on his face. He wanted to snort more and I wanted to strangle him. The snorting of heroin wasn’t that bad to be honest; it was how he reacted to it that was freaky and sent shivers down my spine.  It’s hard to explain if you’ve never seen someone doing it.  One minute, they’re coherent and the next moment – their head falls forward, their mouths open and their eyes roll back into their heads. He asked me if I wanted to try some and I gracefully declined.  I looked at my watch and it was 7:00 p.m., thank God.  I kept comforting myself by saying this kid would be out of my car in an hour.  He snorted a few more lines while I started to head to the airport.  We arrived at the airport and began walking towards security.  I didn’t ask Michael if he still had the heroin on him, but assumed he did.  Okay, let’s see what happens when he goes through security – I said to myself. He walked through the metal detector and something seemed to buzz. I could see that he was worried.  They patted him down and then waved him through. I walked him to his gate (back in the 1990s, you could do that) and he walked over to the bathroom.  I was sure that he was going to snort a few more lines before getting on the plane.  As he started walking back to the gate, he almost fell down because he was already melting from the effects of the heroin.

In all fairness, it didn’t look like a fun drug to do.  He found himself a seat, sat down, and had his head fall back. He was in his heroin haze.  He started making those weird noises again and people were now starting to stare at us.  I kept nudging him but he didn’t budge; in fact, his noises got louder. (I moved away from him) He finally came up to me and said he was heading back to the bathroom.  I warned him that if he went to the bathroom, I would find the nearest cop and tell him that he had heroin in his pants.  I then went on to remind him that he had a 3-hour flight and he wouldn’t be able to do any on the plane if his heroin got confiscated. All he would manage to do was to get arrested.  That seemed to register with him, so he didn’t go back to the bathroom.  About 15 minutes later, they started to board the plane.  Michael got up and thanked me for everything I’d done for him and walked to the jet way.  I wasn’t taking any chances though; I waited until the plane took off before I left.  As I reflect back on this case, I realize that Michael was a good, polite, and smart kid and his parents loved him; but he was an addict. I hope that he got the help that he so desperately needed.  About four months later, I got a call from Michael.  He told me that he had been sober for 3 months and that he felt much better than he felt in a long time; he was even going back to college. He thanked me for my help and I wished him well.  His parents were very happy that we were able to help.