I was not on the job for a week before the team stopped an old powder blue imported station wagon. The driver was one of the expendable pack mules doing his best to appear ordinary, innocent and innocuous. He did not speed, he had no defective equipment and he passed through in the middle of the day. What he did not do was look over at the deputy sitting in plain view perpendicular to the interstate in a large and clearly marked bristling black SUV. No glance, no nod, no recognition. The mule made a point to look straight ahead and did everything in his power to be invisible. Glued on his dashboard was a topless hula dancer swaying in the 70mph rhythm and a small flag holder holding an American and a Canadian flag. Normal and ordinary. Horseshit. All this intensive attempt at normalcy succeeded in doing was drawing the deputy’s attention. And the interdiction deputy on duty this day was Buck Blackwell. Buck is of medium height, thick set, with a sense of latent power and irresistible sense of humor. He was the only man who wanted out of Mississippi so bad he drove himself to boot camp at San Diego and into Jarhead legend.
Buck’s contraband gland thumped hard in his chest when the ordinary station wagon rolled by at 69mph. He pulled out from the median accelerating rapidly to catch the wagon before it passed over the Theotokos River into Nassau County, the headache of Florida extradition and the sharing of the spoils with another agency. Almost immediately the driver’s fraying normalcy betrayed him and he drifted over into the center lane and gave Buck just what he needed, the old standby, failure to maintain the lane. He lit up his blues and radioed dispatch. The fun was at hand.
Many innocent travelers (with you probably included) see Buck and his brethren as stereotypical Southern cops complete with standard issue donut and blackjack. They are nothing more than simple Roscoe P. Coletranesque wise-fool cracker hillbillies enamored of racin’, wrasslin’, dippin’ and The Lost Cause or just as likely a badge-and-attitude smartass in love with his ticket book and just looking for a reason to lock somebody up. Either iteration is annoying and tiresome but ultimately just another trial the weary traveler must endure before he can be on his way.
Think again. This day the dear harmless traveler (or any number of imitators) has just ridden into a well-crafted web from which he may or may not escape unscathed (or at least unburdened). This peace officer you think is a borderline inbred idiot is a professional outfitted with the best training and equipment (including an MP-5 fully automatic machine gun if things get real ugly) drug dealer’s money can buy (it spends as well as any) and he is using the incompetent doughnut eating stereotype to your disadvantage. He appears affable, almost apologetic for having to stop you, luring you in. He will ask you and your passengers a few seemingly routine questions. He will watch your hands. He will keep his back away from the flow of traffic. He will keep his weapon well out of your reach. He will watch your hands. Buck Blackwell is a near-cyborg, bringing to bear the practiced eye of experience and a full range of skills to identify even the most subtle clues. He is also paying the closest attention to the intangibles, his nearly infallible internal alarm and he takes full advantage of the gift of fear. He sees the small signs, the subtle shifts in body language; he will note your hands behind your back, your nervous inability to stand still, your lack of eye contact, your pulsing carotid. You won’t know it but he is asking your passengers the same questions. Do your timelines, your destination and your reason for taking to the road match up? One time there was even a rented family. The driver said it was his wife and kids. She didn’t even know his name. Criminal stupidity is sometimes our greatest ally.
But I digress. All these processes, the question and answer, your body language, your vehicle type and the look in your eye are all running in the background of Buck’s mind while you think you’re just shooting the breeze with Barney Fife. Just when you think you’ll walk away with a warning he will very politely ask to speak to you again. He’ll say we have a very real problem with drugs and weapons being transported on the interstate then he’ll ask if you have any guns, knives, drugs or perhaps an atomic bomb in your vehicle. He’s looking for a chuckle the normal response. If you were to say no in a serious or offended tone it’s another piece of the mosaic. Your response will determine the next step.
In his vehicle is a dog that is your worst nightmare. She doesn’t/won’t take commands in English but in Dutch or German or one of a host of other languages depending upon her country of origin. She is so highly trained/proficient she can find almost any drugs, drug paraphernalia or large currency stash no matter how well you think it is hidden. She has found cocaine smothered in axle grease, she has found cocaine wrapped in a plastic bag in the gas tank, and in coffee, and in moth balls, in produce, in spices, even formed into china tableware. No matter which precautions are taken scent molecules are left behind which her sense of smell, which is 400 times more sensitive than yours, will detect. The courts see any positive alert on her part as probable cause to search your vehicle and if Buck told the dog to do so the bitch would chew your arm (or some other appendage) clean off. Like a thoroughbred horse she is bred to be one thing, a supreme synthesis of form and function, breeding and temperament.
Imagine if you can a workplace where no encounter is ever routine. This is not a world of familiars but a steady stream of strangers, some compliant and respectful but also others who are openly hostile and hating what you stand for, the authority of which you are the embodiment. Every shift is life and death. There are always at least two interdiction deputies working together and watching each other’s back, they can even listen to each other’s body mics. If you’re fool enough to tangle with one you’ll soon have to contend with the other. They value teamwork so highly because experience teaches that when hunting dangerous prey it is far safer to hunt in packs. They live and die by the belief that it is better to be tried by twelve than to be carried by six. So the next time you go flying by remember to be polite and wave.