Read Lines and shadows Online

Authors: Joseph Wambaugh

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Social Science, #True Crime, #California, #Alien labor, #Foreign workers, #San Diego, #Mexican, #Mexicans, #Police patrol, #Undercover operations, #Border patrols

Lines and shadows (7 page)

BOOK: Lines and shadows
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The whole operation sounded military enough on paper. Renee Camacho, one of the first men chosen by Dick Snider, was going to work a support team with a border patrolman. They'd handle the equipment, and God knows what-all they had that four-wheel-drive vehicle loaded down with.

"Everything but frigging C rations!" one of the patrol cops said when he looked into the Bronco. And he called them "Flea swaters."

Eddie Cervantes was working the other support team with a U.S. Customs officer. One observation team would be manned by a big young cop named Felix Zavala and a border patrolman. The main observation team would be handled by the supervisors, Dick Snider and Manny Lopez. They had the valuable commodity: a starlight scope for nighttime observation work.

The arrest team would be manned by the two ex-Marine D.I.'s, Ernie Salgado and Fred Gil. They would be assisted by rookie cops Robbie Hurt and Carlos Chacon. The victim team, which would be responsible for corralling the alien robbery victims, was worked by another rookie, Joe Castillo, who was disappointed that he might not get enough action, along with the other U.S. Customs officer, who spoke the good Spanish needed for victim interrogation.

There was a continuation of chatter and jokes as they took the short ride to the canyons, impatient for sundown. There was plenty of reconnoitering to do once they got there and placed the teams where they could observe unobserved after darkness. And though some of the cops of Southern Division had occasionally driven up those bone-jarring rock-clay trails, which were slimy-slick in winter and cement-hard in summer, they hadn't really seen and heard and smelled this patch of land when it came
alive
. file://C:\Documents and Settings\tim\Desktop\books to read\Wambaugh, Joseph - Lines a... 11/20/2009

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It was not a large area of responsibility, not geographically. Just a few square miles of low hills and shallow canyons, full of dry brush in Indian summer, and cactus. And mesquite losing its vitality and balling up into prickly tumbleweed. The parched vegetation was stunted but surprisingly relentless and enduring, like the scorpions and tarantulas. Wind rattled the dry brush. Every rattle was spooky because of snakes. First impressions: two hawks wheeling in the sky through-smoke plumes drifting north from the Mexican city. Then a pack of coyotes, brown shapes and gray, slinking across the trails at dusk, eyeing these humans with indifference! The overriding image at dusk was of shadow. Looming shadow, fleeting shadow, silvery light and cloud shadow in the canyons. Sometimes brassy light as the sun rested suddenly on the ridge. Then shadows crossed the sunball on the horizon. Silhouette shadows. Human beings. An unbelievable tableau to digest all at once. The garishly painted shacks blanketing the hillsides across the imaginary line quickly assumed the color of urban smoke. Smoke at dusk in the shadowlight. There was the "upper soccer field," a plateau so called because the aliens did indeed play while they waited. And the lower soccer field, a smaller plateau. And Deadman's Canyon, Spring Canyon, Washerwoman's Flats, where an old Mexican squatter used to live and do her laundry in the dirty trickle flowing through the U.S. canyons.

The unbelievable tableau: the throngs, the multitudes, the masses! They were everywhere: huddled by campfires, squatting, playing, buying tamales, selling soda pop, chatting, laughing, swapping clothing, exchanging money with guides, singing, weeping, getting
ready
. The nightly army of aliens was readying itself to come. All of this only several hundred yards across the canyons. All of this just north of the invisible line, on U.S. soil, in the no-man's-land tacitly relinquished to them by the United States government, which had decided that its border patrolmen would avoid these few square miles of miserable earth and wait farther north, on more accessible land.

Even through binoculars it looked for all the world like an enormous sprawling picnic. There was a game of baseball in progress. There was an astonishing number of women and children among them, not to bid the men farewell.
They
were coming too. Perhaps they had tried it last week and been caught? Or been turned back? Or robbed? Or raped?

Perhaps they had tried it
many
times.

And there were pregnant women coming for the sole purpose of giving birth to their babies in the home of some barrio midwife. To have a child who is a U.S. citizen, entitled to all the rights and privileges accorded same. To register the birth and perhaps return with the child to Mexico,
that
child's future guaranteed should things get worse.

"I couldn't
believe
it the first time I saw it," Renee Camacho said. "And I'd lived in San Diego all my life. It was like… did you see the old movie
Exodus
?" file://C:\Documents and Settings\tim\Desktop\books to read\Wambaugh, Joseph - Lines a... 11/20/2009

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So the task force assembled across the canyons and chose their observation points, from which they would support each other, observe crimes, arrest bandits and corral victims. And they would look at one another in wonder when hundreds of other aliens suddenly materialized in the dusk. Human beings of all ages would rise up as though from the earth itself. People who had been invisible—resting, sleeping, eating, praying. Up from the mesquite and the rocks and the skeletal oaks. They would simply rise
up.
And then it was dark. Just like that.

The hills began to
move
. The masses began to surge northward on their journeys to the land of plenty. It was dark. Darker than they dreamed it would be. Dick Snider had told them over and over how dark it was in the canyons, but Jesus Christ! This was
dark
. Could an ordinary night
get
this dark? There was even an early moon. But it was
dark
. And they weren't alone, not by a long shot.

The
Star Trek
lights attached to the sawed-off shotguns were of no value whatsoever and were quickly removed. The radios were faulty in the canyons. The starlight scope was seeing only shapes. They saw what looked like a guide meeting a group of fifteen. Some looked like children. They saw what could be three bandits waiting behind a rock pile. Then the shapes disappeared. Then the
rocks
disappeared. It was not quiet but it seemed quiet. There were the ever-present dogs barking in the canyons, delirious with joy at the scraps left by the aliens beginning their march. The kerosene lamps were glowing all over the hills to the south, which was Colonia Libertad, home of bandits and smugglers and drug dealers and addicts. What looked sordid in the day was beautiful by night. The kerosene lamps flickered. The squalor was transformed. The music began, radios mostly, but they could hear some live voices singing, all from the hills south of the imaginary line, from the shacks and cantinas of Colonia Libertad. Then they started hearing the
clicks
. At first it scared the hell out of them. The safely Being taken off shotguns? The bandits have shotguns? No, castanets! That's all it is, castanets. What the hell's this? Somebody's doing
flamenco
in the canyons?

It was stones. The clicking of stones. Or sometimes they snapped their fingers. They did not talk, these masses coming toward them through the canyons. They signaled to each other by clicking stones together. All of them: the aliens, the guides, the
bandits
. Cadaverous dogs who accompanied them a short way suddenly did not bark or growl or whimper. Children didn't cry. All creatures of the canyons seemed to revere the ritual, played out each night of the year when there was neither flood nor storm. The silence of the masses was eerie and made the cops very uneasy. Click click click and no other sound from them.

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The city cops couldn't see twenty feet in front of them. And it got darker. Then they couldn't see
ten
feet in front of them. And it got darker. Tony Puente, the only one among them to wear corrective lenses, removed his glasses, wiped them and put them back on because he could see only eight feet in front of him. Within one minute he could not see
five
feet in front of him. And neither could the others. The San Diego newspapers carried heroic headlines for a few days: POLICE PUSH TO

WIPE OUT BORDER BANDITS. And STALK BANDITS AT BORDER. And CRACK

DOWN ON BORDER BANDITS.

But the sad fact was painfully clear their third night out: The commando raiders could not find their dicks in that darkness, let alone bandits.

One task force member claimed he heard a rattler. Another ran his hand into some cactus and required first aid. Another was forced to arrest three aliens who literally stumbled over him in the darkness. Reluctantly, disgustedly, he had to turn them over to the Border Patrol to get them out of the way.

Dick Snider tried to prove that middle age was insignificant and went chasing a group of fleeing shadows, ending up on his face, saying, "I'm okay, I'm okay," through a mouthful of mesquite.

In less than a week the commando raiders were no more. There was nothing left but the derisive hoots from their peers which echoed from central headquarters to the Mexican border. Everyone giggled and asked if they could use the raiders' sexy camouflage fatigues for camper tarps.

So much for plan A. The contingency plan, if Dick Snider was not to fall on his sword after the commando debacle, was to have some of the task force members dress as aliens and act as robbery decoys. In fact, this was much closer to proper police work and something the cops were not unfamiliar with. Vice cops, narcotics cops, detectives, all have occasion to decoy bad guys, and what was the difference, really, whether you did it at Eleventh and Market Streets or in a vermin-infested gully called Deadman's Canyon?

But first they were going to test their decoy techniques on San Diego city streets. On October 11 five of the task force cops, dressed more or less like aliens, took a stroll through the streets of San Ysidro looking as diffident as possible.

It was about 11:00 P.M. when the five of them walked along Kostner Drive. They saw three young men standing by a parked car. The young men were Mexican-Americans. Just like file://C:\Documents and Settings\tim\Desktop\books to read\Wambaugh, Joseph - Lines a... 11/20/2009

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them. The three young men, who'd been smoking a joint or two, were totally fooled by the mannerisms and the ragged clothes.

Tony Puente removed his wire-rimmed glasses, realizing that few aliens could afford
any
glasses, let alone gold wire rims. In the slang of the streets a young man asked if they'd like a ride north, but the cops ignored them and kept walking, in the manner of pollos. Then the three young men strolled up beside them and one of them said in Spanish, "Come with us. We'll protect you from
la migra
"—which was what the pollos called the U.S. Border Patrol or anyone dealing with aliens in either country.

But the cops just lowered their gaze and walked a little fester. Then one of the young men said, "They're going to arrest you
cabrones!"

But these dumb pollos seemed way more scared of them than of
la migra
. Still, he tried once more and said, "
Vengan carnales
!"

But calling them brothers didn't help either. These pollos picked up the pace. Finally one of their benefactors, who was wearing about a hundred jailhouse tattoos on both arms and hands, started running toward them. A funny thing happened. The cops began hotfooting it down Darwin Way and they started
feeling
like pollos. The five of them were running from three lowlife
vatos
who were cursing and threatening them—but not yet demanding money, a crucial element in the crime of robbery.

One of the street thugs got sick and tired of this and, cornering them in a cul-de-sac, picked up some rocks from the ground. Then the hoodlums were looking at shiny brass shields and realizing they had really screwed up, and the pollos-cum-cops began chasing the thugs back the way they had come.

Tony Puente was very surprised to have felt, however briefly, like an illegal alien. To feel threatened by everyone. To be abused by petty hoodlums who probably could have been bought off by a few extorted dollars.

It was only a "probable cause" arrest. The thugs had not as yet demanded money. They would not be charged with robbery and were released the next day. It was an unremarkable encounter except that it proved that they
could
look like aliens. But there was the other thing, the strange sensation as they got into the parts they were playing. They told Dick Snider to get them union cards from the actors guild. They tried it again the next night. Two men with the look of smugglers offered to give the pollos a ride to Los Angeles for $100, and were arrested for a violation of the "wildcatting" law in the California penal code: that is, offering transportation for money, without a license. Not a great pinch, but their alien disguises and mannerisms were working. file://C:\Documents and Settings\tim\Desktop\books to read\Wambaugh, Joseph - Lines a... 11/20/2009

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Within the next several days on the streets of San Ysidro they had broken up into groups of three or more and had been accosted by many street hoodlums, ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-nine years. They had been threatened with knives, sticks, rocks, screwdrivers, and asked to give up money. A couple of the Mexican-American street crooks had tried to escape and a couple had succeeded. Otherwise there was no problem arresting them. The decoy business was a piece of cake.

There were lots of show biz gags about who was going to be the next Robert De Niro. Then they decided to take their act on the road, into the canyons where the
real
bandits did business, the banditos from the
other
side who sometimes left their victims rotting in the mesquite.

They,were already beginning to form a class structure. At this stage of the experiment there were three walking teams. The first was inevitably comprised of Manny Lopez, Tony Puente and Eddie Cervantes. Tony Puente was one of the senior men in terms of police experience. Eddie Cervantes, the smallest, was the most aggressive and outspoken. He was from Texas and talked a slightly accented Tex-Mex English. He had grown up speaking Spanish and was fluent.

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