Early last week, when music scenesters seeking cocaine dialed their dealers' cell phones, they didn't get an answer. Instead, according to several sources, they got recorded messages: "I'm on vacation," said one, while another blurted, "Don't leave a message." The dealers had suddenly gone underground. Word quickly spread that the Seattle Police Department had busted someone for supplying cocaine to Seattle's rock hipsters.

The police are staying mum. On the record, the SPD would neither confirm nor deny an arrest of a music scene coke dealer. In a standard policing move, it's likely the police are still investigating, trying to determine who was higher up in the drug supply, and withholding details so as not to tip anyone off. That mirrors a bust in the late '90s when the police arrested one dealer in the music scene, who gave them information on his own suppliers, allowing the cops to aim higher in the drug chain. "They want to get the highest person they can," comments one longtime music-scene regular, recalling the earlier bust.

In the absence of more information from the police, there's no shortage of theories in the bar and club world--where coke has become such a part of the nightlife that some people joke that a few hot spots may as well have vending machines to dispense the white powder. "It seems like it's more popular than ever," says local booker and deejay Kerri Harrop, one of the only people willing to discuss music-scene drugs on the record. There are reportedly half a dozen dealers who supply the music scene. "They're dealing in a bunch of bars, they're going all over the city, they'll deliver," says one woman who's seen them "swimming like sharks" in the bars on Capitol Hill, adding that they're courteous young men who will often stop selling to people who've had too much.

Rumors quickly spread last weekend that the dealers' supplier--not the dealers themselves--had been busted. Moreover, the initial rumor indicated that the bust happened around the Cha Cha, one of Capitol Hill's busiest bars, and a favorite indie rock hangout. Barry Smith, a manager at the bar, says the rumors are incorrect. "From what I hear, it was one of the suppliers in town [who was busted], but I don't know how we became part of the rumor. Nothing happened here," he says. The bar's owner, Jeff Ofelt, says the Cha Cha has nothing to do with drugs. "We keep a tight ship, nothing goes on. It's a small bar and everything is monitored," he explains. "There's no drugs here."

Others in the music scene speculated that one of the dealers potentially tipped off the police after a brewing turf war surfaced in the past few weeks. In a Capitol Hill bar recently, two dealers argued over whether or not to sell to one individual, according to a witness. One of the dealers remarked that he'd "bring his piece," injecting potential violence into the otherwise low-key rock hipster drug scene.

The final theory was that someone in the music community, frustrated with the prevalence of cocaine, went to the police. But no one has been outed as the potential informant. Moreover, it seems no one in the music community has determined who the supposed arrested supplier is, leading some to believe that the person who was busted doesn't have a direct connection to the music or club scene--in other words, if someone has been in jail for a week, others would have noticed.

What is clear is that cocaine use has risen in the past few years. Cocaine is a dominant drug all over Seattle, according to a June 2004 "Drug Abuse Trends" report from the University of Washington (though pot is, by far, the most widely used). "Cocaine is the most common illegal drug mentioned in emergency departments in Seattle" when patients are asked what they've recently taken, according to the report. And of the substances police confiscate and test to determine the drug type, "45 percent of such tests done at the Seattle-area lab were positive for cocaine, compared with 22 percent for the rest of the state," the report says. Cocaine-related deaths in King County were down in 2003, to 52, but peaked in 2000, with 89 deaths. Cocaine, however, is seen by medical experts as less addictive, and less deadly, than nicotine or alcohol.

"In the indie rock and the punk rock scene, cocaine is the choice drug," says one music-community guy who asked to remain anonymous, explaining that many of his friends use coke. "If you go into a bar, there's two people walking into the bathroom all the time. People are fucking, but they're not fucking that much." The last time coke was this popular, one person pointed out, was during the Reagan administration.

Cocaine isn't viewed as a dangerous drug in the music scene. "I see it in the clubs, all over," says the anonymous music-community guy. "It's not going to kill anyone." Indeed, the drug--which the UW report says is selling for at least $50 a gram, compared to $10 to $40 a gram for pot--is considered by users as just another intoxicant, as integral to nightlife as alcohol.

After years working in the local music industry, Harrop says, "I'm no longer shocked by anyone's drug use. I can't imagine anyone being surprised knowing that there's coke use going on. It seems widely accepted at this point." Few are surprised, but most--unlike Harrop--were skittish about discussing the trend on the record, saying it's taboo to discuss illicit drug use, and fearing they would implicate the scene. "It's easier to name the coke-free bars than ones with coke," jokes one woman. The Stranger, however, is unaware of any cocaine-related arrests at local music venues or bars, including the Cha Cha.

Bars and clubs don't tolerate illegal drug use, Harrop points out, but she explains that it's hard to catch someone using the drug, as they often do it outside or in the privacy of the bathroom. "It's not like they're sitting in a booth shooting up," she says. But when people are caught, they're thrown out. "Certainly all the rock clubs and bars I can think of employ security." One guy who works in the industry agrees: "We catch people occasionally, and they get kicked out."

And, as Harrop correctly points out, clubs and bars aren't the only places where people score coke--and the potential arrest of one supplier isn't going to stop people from using cocaine. "I would imagine you could score just as much blow at a sporting event," she speculates. Not to mention in downtown offices, on neighborhood streets, and just about anywhere else in town.

amy@thestranger.com

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