“Police! Open Up!”
The morning U.S. Marshals pounded on my door
It was December, 2013. A Tuesday morning.
Forecasters were predicting a snowstorm that would cover the I-95 corridor. We were still living in Philly at the time and I was working in northern New Jersey, so that was the route I took to the office each and every weekday. As a result, I was fairly positive I would be working from home from the moment I awoke. When my wife, a teacher, received a call informing her of the very rare occurrence that her school was closing, my decision was final.
I tossed and turned, but couldn’t fall back asleep. It was shortly after 6 a.m. when I slid out of bed as quietly as possible to allow her to catch up on some much needed rest. I tiptoed past my daughter’s room, who was 18 months-old at the time, hopeful that she would also sleep in a little later than usual. I made my way downstairs and began brewing coffee.
Shortly after 7 a.m., as I was enjoying the solitude and catching up on work email, I heard what sounded like my front storm door being rattled. We kept it locked as an extra small bit of security so that it could not be opened from the outside. I walked over and stood on my toes, looking out of the half-moon-shaped window at the top of the door. I saw about fifteen men in various forms of police clothing — blue windbreakers, SWAT team gear, jeans — all staring back at me, several with machine guns, others with pistols, and a line of different cars — SUVs, sedans, coupes — in different colors lined up blocking the street. My eyes instinctively fell on the man standing closest to my front steps. He was glaring up at me.
“Police!” he screamed. “Open up!”
Startled and petrified, I obliged, opening the door as quickly as possible, pushing the storm door open, and sticking my head through the gap. In retrospect, I wonder if there was at least one gun trained on me.
The man barked at me, asking if I were a certain fugitive whom they were hunting. I was bewildered.
“N-no,” I stammered.
“Is he here?” the man asked?
“Do you know him?”
None of them looked convinced, probably because only my head was still showing. When you live in the city for fifteen years, you don’t open your door up all the way to anyone at first. Just to be sure. Although I didn’t consciously comprehend all of this, I must have felt it because I immediately said, “You’re welcome to come in and check.”
This seemed to make them all both relax and tense up at the same time. Maybe I was telling the truth. Or, maybe I was planning an ambush. A few of the guys looked at each other and then the leader turned around. I saw that the back of his blue windbreaker said U.S. Marshal and I immediately thought of Tommy Lee Jones. This guy, however, looked more like a young Oliver Platt.
He said to the men, “Okay, let me go in here and talk to this guy.”
I held the door open to him and backed away as he and another guy that reminded me of Man-at-Arms from the Masters of the Universe cartoon stepped inside. I probably made this connection because he had a mustache and was covered in head-to-toe SWAT gear, a machine gun dangling off one shoulder.
The front door of my house opened directly into the living room. We had just put up our Christmas tree a few days earlier, so the furniture had to be rearranged and, as a result, the walkway between the back of the couch and the bookcases leading to the door was a bit tighter than usual. I kept walking backwards as the two men entered and stopped almost immediately. The SWAT guy stood with his back almost touching the storm door. They did a quick glance and, upon seeing pictures of our wedding and our daughter, a Christmas tree, hundreds of books, a pink snuggie (not mine), and some random toys sprawled across the living room floor, they must have found me to be relatively harmless.
“How long have you lived here?” Oliver Platt asked me.
“Seven years,” I told him, and Man-at-Arms looked both perplexed and disappointed. He asked a few more questions pertaining to my ownership, living arrangements, and how I came to own my home. He then said, “I think we’re looking for the guy that lived here before you,” and then showed me the mug shot of the guy for whom they were looking. The dude looked nasty. Over the course of my life, I’ve come across multiple people that have been involved in some shady shit at various levels but this dude looked like the type that would do whatever it takes to get what he wants. I wanted to avoid him.
He asked my name and wrote it down on the back of the guy’s mug shot without asking for any ID or looking around the house. At first, I found this to be a bit odd, but then I realized that my bewilderment and fear was probably evident. Besides, if I were lying to him, it’s not like he didn’t know where I lived. They then turned around and walked out. I followed them, stuck my head out of the door again and, for some reason I’ll never understand, said, “Sorry!” while waving to the group of guys standing in the street. None of them even acknowledged me. They were so sure that they had their man and were obviously eager to raid the place. The SWAT scene from Se7en kept playing in my mind.
I closed and locked the door. I didn’t watch them leave for fear that they would think I was acting as a lookout. Immediately, I asked myself if it were possible that the dude really was in my house — lurking in the basement or hiding in a closet — but I did a cursory check and found nothing. Amazingly, my wife and daughter slept through the entire ordeal.
I sat back down in front of my laptop and tried to go back to work, but a thought kept gnawing at me: What if I hadn’t been home? What if the weather had cooperated and I had been in the car already? Would they have believed my wife? What if no one had been home? Would they have broken down the doors, done a sweep of the place and, finding nothing, leave a note of apology on the table on their way out?
I kept playing these scenarios over and over in my mind and I couldn’t come up with any answers. I was scared to death and I had done nothing wrong.
There was only one thing I knew for certain: I would make a horrible criminal.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of nine books, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle. In addition to his own site, his work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.