The Blue Mexican

From the Book - Chapter 11 blog at http://www.thebluemexican.blogspot.com

 

Eleven

 

            My original intent of going to college, actually a junior college, was to become an accountant. Most things in high school were quite boring, but numbers intrigued me, particularly how they were measured in sports. I perused the Sunday sports pages memorizing the batting averages and statistics of my favorite players, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Cops? I never gave it a thought. I used to lie to them and outrun them when they chased me on my bike because it didn’t have a light when I did my early morning paper route. I ditched them when tried to catch me when I broke into an outside soda machine at a service station near my house. I was scared when I reported to work my first day.

            The old department was a cracker-jack box of a building, a seeming remnant from the Dark Ages. A short tunnel led to the jail cells, themselves cold and dank as dungeons reeking of ghosts from an era long since passed when the town thrived off the railroads decades ago. It was said that the only way to tell a drunk from a rail was the rail carried a lantern. Tales of opium dens, whorehouses, and gambling halls were as vivid as the pictures of the people stored in the department’s Hall of Records. I heard yarns of Hazel’s whorehouse directly across the street from the Hall of Justice and men of the law who frequented the establishment after hours. I was fascinated by this history. The old records, preserved on documents created from antique typewriters, told tales of murder victims dumped near the tracks, Indians named Carlos Shot With Two Arrows found drunk and disorderly (listed as D & D, a recurring transgression on these old records), homosexual activity reported in the bathroom stalls of the Greyhound Bus Depot, and a time when the police were summoned by the glow of a red light high atop the radio tower of the “Hall of Justice,” a time long before I was born.

            On my first day, a jolly-looking, slightly overweight man in his 50’s greeted me. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and had thick, undulating graying hair which made him look distinguished, I thought. He was the Chief of Police. He was very kind to me as he explained my duties, which were to compile crime statistics, traffic citations, and other related duties as assigned, strictly paperwork. Adjacent to the office of his secretary, he gave me a tiny office equipped with an old desk, a broken chair and a typewriter. I was to spend two hours a day here after my junior college classes. The smell of the building told me of the mass of humanity which traversed this ancient relic since near the turn of the century, or at least the 1920’s or 30’s. I sat glued to that desk, scouring reports and noting in the appropriate boxes with a check mark things that qualified as a particular crime. Thefts with a value under $200, grand theft over $200, robbery with a gun, robbery with a knife, robbery with force, malicious mischief, and the like. The homicide box was hardly ever checked. I became quite efficient, and soon the Chief was piling all kinds of things on my dilapidated desk, asking me to sort and compile various things ranging from the time of day citations were issued to the average number of men worked per shift per month. It wasn’t difficult to compute that one as only 1 to 4 men worked a particular shift during the 24 hour period. Policemen marched in and out of the building, talking, joking, hardly conscious of my presence. Occasionally I heard someone ask, “Who’s he?” referring to me.

            “He’s the Chief’s new butt boy,” someone said under their breath, hurting my feelings. I wasn’t anybody’s “butt boy” and never will be. Who said that? I thought, straining my neck ever so slightly to identify the culprit. A couple of cops were standing close by, one of whom had slicked back hair and wore mirrored sunglasses, the kind cops always wore in the movies to symbolize autonomous authority. I figured he was the one. I noticed his .38 caliber revolver had pearl handled grips, when every other cop’s gun had the stock, wood grips, so I knew he had to be the one. He had that arrogant demeanor that gave him permission to say things out loud to hurt people’s feelings. He reminded of the high school hot shot who bullied everybody. It had to be him. I was starting to hate him already.

            The department was small as one would expect servicing a population of 18,000 in the middle of no where, a bit larger than Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. It had a Chief, one captain, a Detective Sergeant, one Detective, 3 patrol sergeants, 15 patrol officers, and a dogcatcher. The citizens used to call the police if there was an animal control problem. There were also 4 dispatchers, the Chief’s secretary, who doubled as a report writer, transcribing the dictated police reports, and me, the clerical statistical assistant. As the months wore on, I kept my mouth shut and did my work. A few of the guys, usually the older ones, were friendly, making it easy for me to talk, mostly about sports and my studies. The loudest guy was the one with the pearl handled grips. He spoke with a slight drawl and I often heard him talk about “niggers, spooks and spics.” I don’t know if he was saying stuff about spics (a derogatory term for Hispanics) to hurt me or what, but I grew to despise him. I used to hate it when there was no one for him to talk to, so he would talk to me always about the same subject--himself. One day when I was particularly busy calculating the red light traffic violations, he poked his head into my little office, and I thought, ‘no, please, no, not this guy.’ Fortunately, one of the sergeants also came in, so pearly-grips left. I wonder what I did to garner all this attention.

            “You got a few minutes?” he asked softly. I was startled. Was he talking to me? I did a double take and looked at him again, and he nodded at me. Yeah, he did want me. What did he want from me? Did he know about the soda machine? Was he one of the cops I ditched when he was chasing me on my bike during my paper route? I knew I was in trouble for something.

            “Uh, yeah, I mean, yes sir, sure.” My nervousness was obvious.

            “Come with me.” I got up to follow him. “Let’s go in here,” he said, pointing to a small office that had “Captain” written in brass on the door. Jesus. They were going to beat me to a bloody pulp, I feared. Maybe he found out about the marijuana I smoked at Jack Carter’s house, and he was going to bust me. My job, my school, everything would go to pot. Even one joint of marijuana was a major felony in the 60’s.

            “I been checking you out. You seem like a pretty good guy,” the sergeant said. Oh no, here it comes, I thought. “You ever smoke dope?” He suddenly asked angrily, getting uncomfortably close to my face, his eyes squinting and I could smell the nicotine on his breath. Here it is. He’s going to grill me. I’m caught. The sergeant was a man of small stature, late 30‘s, dark complected, who took great pride in being part Choctaw Indian. He was one of the patrol sergeants who worked rotating shifts, but he also doubled as the department’s only narcotics officer. I was scared.

            ‘It wasn’t my fault, he made me do it. I was going to tell,’ I thought about confessing, but my survival instincts took over. “No, sir. Never.” I looked him straight into his squinting eyes.

            “Good. I can use your help,” he smiled and backed off.

            Help him? I’m not going to jail? What could I do for him? He explained he’d like to use me to make some controlled buys from a guy selling marijuana. He said since I was in the right age group, it would be easy for me to get in, to make the “score,” as he put it, then he’d make the arrest. In the mid to late 60’s, the drug scene was just starting to proliferate, and many departments weren’t prepared to handle it. Thus, the sergeant was appointed the department’s narcotics “expert.“ He wanted me, in essence, to go undercover. My mind was in a haze, purple haze.

            “Sure, sir. I’d be glad to help.” I spoke too soon. What if the guy he was talking about was my old friend, Jack Carter? “What do I have to do?” I asked weakly. My first experience, I had never been experienced, was with Jack Carter in his bedroom when he pulled out little matchboxes full of marijuana. The trend now was to package the stuff in plastic sandwich baggies and sell them for five dollars a lid, or baggy. The sergeant, Sgt. Cloyce, was working with another officer from a nearby town to feebly combat the influx of the summer of love generation from the San Francisco Bay Area. He told me they identified a guy who hung around the Taco Bell in the other town, a town as tiny as mine 15 miles east, Manteca, as a major drug dealer. Kids in cars would flock to him, not only increasing the business for Taco Bell, but also making a pretty good living for himself. The guy was pretty slick, being able to detect undercover officers, such as they were back then, quite easily to avoid arrest, the Sergeant told me.

            I was told I’d be given a small listening device to hide under my shirt and Sgt. Cloyce and the officer from the other town would be parked in a nearby car listening to my every word in case I got in trouble. Trouble? What could happen to me, I thought. It was only grass. I was supposed to report to the department on Saturday, meet with the sergeant who would drive me to the town and then meet with the other officer. I agreed. He also told me to not tell anyone about it. As if I wanted to be known as a “narc!”

            I was relieved to know it wasn’t Jack I was to set up. I knew he wouldn’t go to that town to sell his grass. If he sold any, it would be from his home or when he was at the junior college. By now, Jack had progressed to hallucinogens; mushrooms, LSD, and stuff like that. I thought if it turned out to be him, I was going to warn him because I knew he’d sell to me in an instant, but now I didn’t have to worry about it.

            I was nervous all day Saturday, knowing I was going undercover to make a big drug bust in the neighboring town, our school’s rival at that. Sgt. Cloyce wasn’t in his uniform making him look funny because all the times I ever saw him, he was in uniform. Now he looked like a regular guy. He drove me to Manteca which took about 20 minutes and I barely said a word. I had doubts I wanted to go through with this. We met the other officer in a back room of their police department. The officer was about the same age as Sgt. Cloyce, a bit gruff and smoked incessantly. He seemed more nervous than me. This whole drug scene was new to everyone, and procedures weren’t quite refined then. The officer showed us a black metal box, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, with a long wire protruding from it. He explained this was the transmitter and I was to wear it beneath my belt. The wire had to extend up my body and be taped to my shoulder so it could be as close to my mouth as possible because this was the microphone. It felt weird because I had this tape all over my body with the little metal box digging into my skin. The officer then gave me a ten-dollar bill.

            “Here. Make the buy with this,” he ordered. “After you make the buy, start walking towards the school and turn the corner from Taco Bell. We’ll pick you up there.” This was starting to get serious now. I stuffed the ten in my pocket, and then he ordered me to stand spread-eagle against the door.

            “What? What for?” I asked, confused.

            “We’ve got to do this, son,” Sgt. Cloyce answered. “It’s for court. We’ve got to be able to say we knew you didn’t have any money or drugs on you when you left so we can testify that the narcotics you have came from the suspect.” He was starting to sound like Joe Friday. “That way, his attorney can’t say you already had the stuff and were just loaning him ten dollars. Understand?” Jeez! All this for 10 bucks worth of grass?

            “Yes, sir.” Well, not really, but by now I just wanted to get this over with. The officer ran his hands all through my pockets, in my pants, shirt and socks; everywhere.

            “Clean,” he said satisfied. Of course I was clean, you idiot. I just took a shower before reporting to Sgt. Cloyce. They drove me two blocks from the Taco Bell giving me last minute instructions. They had tested the listening device back at the office and it worked fine. I walked down the street with the ten-dollar bill in my pocket, the metal box digging into my waist, the wire taped to my body. I had to adjust the box so it wasn’t so uncomfortable. I was feeling stupid, regretting my decision to do this undercover stuff. I sat on a table outside the Taco Bell which was doing good business on a Saturday night. Taco Bell was near the end of the drag in this town. The drag is the main street extending for miles where kids cruise up and down the street for hours since there wasn’t much else to do. The minutes seemed like hours as I waited. I was told to look out for a white guy about 20 years old with blond hair and drove a blue ‘66 Mustang.

            I was getting bored when--there he was. I saw him right in front of me! I was nervous and excited. ‘So this is the big time dope dealer, eh’, I thought. Looked like a regular guy to me. He went into the Taco Bell, placed an order and came right back out. He walked slowly to his car and I was right behind him. I had him! My heart started to beat faster while the instructions I was given became jumbled in my mind. He got back in his car and I walked up to him.

            “You got any marijuana I can buy?” I asked quickly and loudly. I remembered I wasn’t supposed to use the word marijuana when I asked for the stuff, but I couldn’t help it. I felt awkwardly official and phony and it seemed like the right thing to say. They guy looked me over carefully.

            “Excuse me?” he asked.

            I forgot what to say. I was face to face with this criminal and became flustered, feeling a little dizzy. “I…I want to make a score,” I said, remembering the words of the sergeant.

            “You want to buy some grass?” he asked bluntly.

            Excitedly, I answered, “Yeah, yeah, some grass, I want to buy some grass.”

            “How much?”

            “A baggy, just a baggy,” I answered, relieved that I remembered to say that instead of ten dollars worth, which I almost did.

            How much you got?” He was slick. He trapped me.

            “Ten bucks.”

            The crook looked around and said, “Okay. Give me the money and you wait here.” I got him! I got him good! I jammed my hand into my pocket, snatched the ten-dollar bill and forked it over. “I’ll be right back.” He backed out of the lot, gave me a wave and drove away. I never saw him again.

            I waited and waited; no Mustang, no grass, no bust--nothing. I noticed the unmarked police car cruise by and Sgt. Cloyce motioned for me to get away from the Taco Bell. I started walking to the “pre-designated location,” as they called it, but they were right there at the corner instead. You idiots, I thought. Everybody knows the unmarked police cars in these small towns. I got in the car, afraid and anxious. I got ripped off on my first assignment.

            “What the hell happened?” the other officer angrily demanded.

            “I guess I got ripped off,” I sheepishly answered.

            “Ripped off? What?

            “Yeah. Didn’t you hear?”

            Sgt. Cloyce explained that they couldn’t hear a thing. The wire must have come loose when I adjusted it from my waist, so I had to explain the entire incident to them. The other officer was angry, but Sgt. Cloyce thought it was rather funny. I exposed my naivete by botching  a simple grass buy. The other guy eyed me distrustfully, as though I conspired to blow his case. I didn’t but his attitude made me kind of glad it went awry. I had to be searched again before I left to make sure I didn’t make the buy and keep the grass myself, or worse, had the grass and his stupid ten dollars. The way he was acting, I felt I was the crook here. On the way home, the sergeant was quite consoling, chalking it up to experience. Next time, I’d be ready.

            The sergeant convinced me my career choice as an accountant was for wimps and wusses but being a cop took a real man. Made sense to me, so I changed my junior college major to Police Science. The government sponsored a program, the Law Enforcement Education Program, to educate the police with a bona fide college degree in hopes of making them more worldly, more sociologically enlightened, more human. At that time period, all that was necessary was a high school diploma, or its equivalency, be 21 years old and free from any felony convictions. I qualified in two out of three, not quite achieving “manhood”, the mature age of 21.

            Even working in a small town police department, I was exposed to the other side of life: the wicked, the insane, the heartless. Those were the cops, the criminal element wasn’t that bad. It was a rather simple concept, really. Crooks broke the law, cops catch them, criminals lie, then cops counteract their lies with better lies, for subterfuge was allowable when questioning suspects I learned, and then they go to court where their attorneys concoct more elaborate lies to set them free. That I could deal with. The uncertainty of insecure men wielding immense authority who didn’t know how to be men was much more frightening. Witnessing the flow of human decay and despair in and out of the department was a much better learning experience than going to the junior college. I ended up quitting before I completed half of my degree requirements, accepting a full time job as a dispatcher within the department. My indoctrination into the real world was about to begin.

 

 

 

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