JACK BRISTOW - THE WARZONE
Jack Bristow's work has most recently been published in The Huffington Post, The Saturday Evening Post and The Santa Fe New Mexican. Follow him, @realjackbristow
Sergeant Henderson had been adamant in his instructions to me, "I want every damned drug dealer off the street. As you might already know, Mayor Muller is up for re-election. He can't have his constituency believing he isn't tough enough on crime. That's where you come in, Lufthansa. I want you to round up as many drug addicts, drug dealers, and pimps as humanly possible. If you do, there's a good bonus in it for you."
I had been working central Albuquerque, aka "The War Zone," for quite some time now. This part of the city has become a steady mecca for drug dealers, prostitutes, and a bevy of other carnal creatures, specializing in works of the flesh.
The War Zone is filled with every type of lowlife imaginable: The pickpocket, the combative vagrant, gang members of every stripe.
One thing thing you learn early as an undercover officer is to establish trust with certain criminals. And notice how I emphasized the word "certain." You can't just arrest any
gang-banger, drug pusher, corrupt pimp or harlot and give them the alternative to blab. You do that and your cover is blown, instantly.
Instead, you have to know the look. You need to read the body language. There are certain signs that will help you in your quest in establishing who's going to roll and who is not. Hair pulling is already a good sign, a fantastic nervous tick, an indication that neo-cortex section of the brain is going haywire. Their lips are telling you, "No, Officer Lufthansa"; their actions are telling you otherwise. You tell them "Sure. No problem." You don't press it. You take them downtown, book them at the office. You place them in cooler with a bunch of raving, babbling drunks, urinating and defacting themselves.
You do that, nine out of ten times the arrested party will sing. Guaranteed.
Yesterday, I was cruising Central. I noticed this young woman. She couldn't have been much older than eighteen. She sat on the park bench, wearing clothes which seemed only mildly provocative. I had her pegged as what we call in the city the three h's: Either a harlot, heroin abuser, or heroin pusher.
After parking my car across the street at Terry's Taco stand, I got out, and walked inconspicuously over toward where the young girl was sitting at the bench. She was dressed saucily, eccentrically, in torn blue jeans, cut and fashioned into shorts. Her legs were covered in long thermal underwear, which was torn and rough looking as well. I myself was dressed for this side of town: I wore baggy pants, a large over-sized Dallas Cowboys T-shirt, along with Nike tennis shoes. Oversized Gucci sunglasses surrounded my face, covering my eyes, obscuring my true intent. I like to keep my eyes covered whenever I'm in the middle of one of these transactions.
Without making eye contact, it felt so much less like betrayal and so much more like legitimate police work.
I sat beside the young woman on the bench, who was dangling her her legs listlessly. As I gazed over at her I had noticed, for the very first time, small earphones in her ears. She must have had an Ipad concealed under the white jacket, that was on her lap. It's always a good idea to hide your valuables on this side of the city.
I knew I had to get her attention. I tapped her shoulder, gently.
She looked over at me. I motioned to my ears. She got the hint. She took the headphones off. "What do you want?" she said, clearly annoyed.
"Nothing much," she said. "I was just listening to the radio, until someone rudely interrupted me."
I have been working the War Zone for close to five years this June. I have seen a lot of people. And most were easy to pin down to a certain criminal vocation: Harlot, druggie or neither. With his girl, for some odd reason, I just couldn't tell. She was sending me mixed signals. One half of me sincerely believed, hooker; one quarter believed drug dealer; the other quarter, however, said the girl was neither, and that I was just wasting my time.
Wanting to establish rapport, I decided to tell the young lady my name: "My name's John by the way."
The girl flinched. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I just wanted to get to know you, that's all." I inched closer toward the young lady, and I glared at her lovingly, as though she were the apple of my eye. "Listen, it's time to drop the charade. How much for the hour? I have been very, very lonely."
The girl's face contorted into a momentarily unsettling ball of rage. For a split second, all her beauty had evaporated. I thought she was going to punch me in the nose. Then, suddenly, she exploded in unbridled, unrestrained laughter.
"Hell, no," she said. "But I do sell."
Aha. This was it. This was my moment. Like a Leopard moving in on its prey, I prepared myself to pounce, so to speak.
"I've been really itching for some H."
The girl frowned. "I don't have any scag on me. But I am carrying some Hydrocodone pills, if you're interested."
Hydrocodone pills? A class A felony! I smiled to myself, knowing both the mayor and sergeant would be pleased over my most recent bust. My bonus was inevitable. I almost started salivating, then and there.
"How much?" I asked, finally. "Ten dollars per pill." "Shoot," I said.
The girl sneered. "Hey, you're out of the loop, man. That's a good price. Other dealers are asking fifteen a pill."
"Okay, okay," I said, playing the victim, acting as though I was the one finally being taken in. I pulled the ivory-colored wallet from the back of my pants, counted out two-hundred dollars and then handed the money over to the girl. "I'll take twenty pills."
She took and counted the money. Like most pushers, this young woman wasn't the sharpest tack in the box. She had to count the money twice. "Okay," she said. She stuffed the money into her shorts pockets, than she peered around, to her left and right, furtively a few times. Then
she reached in her right side pocket, pulled out a handful of small, oblong pills. She counted out the twenty Vicodin but somehow--miraculously--she didn't have to count twice.
"Here you go. Twenty. Just as you asked, John."
"Thanks," I said, stuffing the pills into my very own right side pants pocket. I stood up to leave, but there was still one more thing I had to say. "Hey, miss?"
I pulled the badge from my pocket, and I held it right in front of her face. "You are under
arrest." And then I read her the Miranda rights: You have the right to remain silent... You Have a right to attorney... If you cannot afford said attorney... Etc...
I asked for her identification. She handed her ID over to me without protest. The name on the card read: Sarah P. Muller."
I handed the ID back to Ms. Muller and then I handcuffed her. We walked over to the car I was driving--the old beat-up 2005 Bentley Continental GT--and she got inside without incident.
Enroute to APD, I noticed the young lady was unusually quiet. Therefore, I felt it a good idea to give her a pep talk, tell her to stay away from crime. That she had her full life ahead of her. You know, all the stuff you'd imagine a concerned law enforcement officer to say.
"Are you scared, miss?"
"Nope," the young lady responded irreverently, laconically.
Her response had unnerved and unsettled me. What was wrong with this Sarah Wells, I thought to myself. She was facing over ten years at NMWCF--the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility; yet she didn't even display ounce of remorse or repentance for her criminal transgressions.
After I braked the Bentley at the stoplight I inquired further about her coolly indifferent attitude.
"Aren't you scared or even just a little bit unnerved by this," I said. "I mean, a decade behind bars, in prison? That's a huge chunk of your life, right there. And there won't be much chance of
parole. The mayor is on a crusade to crack down hard on crime. The judge is going to really throw the book at you, Sarah."
The light turned green. I stomped my foot on the accelerator and we were sailing off once again, enroute to the Albuquerque Police department.
Sarah yawned. "Yeah, well that doesn’t concern me."
"It doesn't concern you," I exploded. "Why the hell doesn’t it?"
"Because Mayor Muller is my father. The charges will be dropped soon, you'll be fired, and I'll walk before sunset," the girl responded, truthfully.