McCloud headed out the door of his Victorian house and walked down Twentieth Street to the coffee shop. As he made his way back, two javas in hand, an army crashed down on him. They yelled violent things, and he, no stranger to the acid tongue, reciprocated in good form. They told him he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Men swarmed the street. A SWAT team stormed his house.
Caroline Rutledge stood paralyzed and alone at the top of the stairs in the house. Gunmen screamed at her to lie on the floor. Others screamed for her to put her hands in the air. She wore pajamas and no shoes.
Soon, men in Day-Glo hazardous-materials suits roamed the house for a precautionary walk-through, and then agent after agent after agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs combed the house -- turned it upside down, one might say. With McCloud in custody and Rutledge outside refusing to answer questions, agents hunted for the prize. Upstairs, they found marijuana, Ecstasy and LSD, but only in amounts for personal use. No good. They were taking down a kingpin today. One-third ounce of pot meant nothing.
In the backyard shed, they found part of what they sought: some twenty boxes of the edible blotter paper that LSD manufacturers soak with acid to create doses for users. There also was a machine to perforate each sheet into a thousand quarter-inch square doses. In the attic were more boxes of blotter paper with various colorful designs defining the tiny squares -- grids of dancing cartoon condoms, Mad Hatters, dancing elephants, skulls and crossbones, and Chinese dragons. Downstairs, in the living room, they found a laptop computer with some of these designs on the hard drive.
Before leaving, they also grabbed a framed sign in a downstairs hallway: "Welcome all dope dealers come in back room."
A little more than thirteen months later -- beginning March 26, 2001 -- McCloud sat in a cushy black leather chair before a jury in the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Kansas City. There, in a twist on that tired cliché of Dorothy-Toto dialogue, a Bay Area man faced the startling realization that he wasn't in Oz anymore. Before the twelve jurors, McCloud's lawyer admitted that the defendant used drugs, that his girlfriend used drugs and that two of their defense witnesses used drugs, and then the lawyer asked that all that be forgotten because the issue at hand was whether McCloud distributed gargantuan amounts of LSD and not whether he had a proclivity for smoking joints or tripping on acid.
In San Francisco, making that point wouldn't have been such a concern. In Kansas City -- where, according to the prosecution, LSD blotter paper like McCloud's had been found at a house near a school -- it scared the defense down to the last day.
Still, for nearly the entirety of the two-week trial, McCloud did not act like a man in danger of life imprisonment. Outside the courtroom he made peculiar jokes. He gleefully referred to himself as "the defendant." Unflappable, said his nerve-rattled girlfriend as the sequestered jury considered its decision. "Mark's unflappable."
But on day two of the jury's deliberation, when there was a verdict just fifteen minutes after the jury had tried to knock off early for the weekend, the defendant's face looked flappable, very flappable, as he took Rutledge aside for a moment alone, then gave his brother, Kelly, his pocket cash. When McCloud returned to the black leather chair, his broad, square frame sagged as he braced for immediate incarceration.