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 (9 page)

BOOK: Lines and shadows
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Eddie Cervantes, whose down-turned eyes were a little baggy that morning from booze and a nightmare, couldn't wait to get a copy of the newspaper. He wondered if he should maybe buy a
leather-bound
scrapbook. He opened the newspaper. There was a terrific story dealing with the attack on Manny Lopez by a bandit swinging a belt buckle. And of how Manny Lopez and his men disarmed and captured the crooks, who turned out to be heroin addicts. There was no mention of the knife at Eddie Cervantes' throat. There was no mention of Eddie Cervantes' throat, nor of the rest of him.

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And his sad eyes turned down a little more and he thought maybe a plastic scrapbook would be good enough.

And he wondered if Manny Lopez had
stolen
his glory.

CHAPTER FIVE

SABES QUÉ?

THERE WAS ONE SIGNIFICANT INCIDENT IN THE MONTH OF November which influenced the way future cards would be dealt and played in those canyons in the months to come. For the second time in their short history the squad became involved in a dangerous Mexican standoff.

Manny Lopez was not teamed with the varsity on this particular night. He was leading a walking team consisting of one customs officer, a border patrolman and two of the San Diego cops. An illegal alien they had encountered earlier, thinking they were fellow pollos, had warned them that there were two Tijuana policemen robbing aliens near the railroad tracks on the Mexican side.

The reports of rogue cops from Tijuana had been mounting. Technically such police officers were not robbers but extortionists. It was uncommon for a Mexican cop to shove a .45 automatic in somebody's face and empty his pockets, bandit style. They
suggested
, under color of authority, that the pollo get his ass back to his own country unless he could make the cops' miserable job worthwhile. After all, the cops had kids too. The Mexican police might reason that they were charging a tariff to close their eyes to something their government didn't discourage in the first place: the migration of its boldest and most desperate citizens.

The alien had warned them to watch for a station wagon on the Mexican side. They were about two hundred yards from the railroad tracks and walking east at 11:00 P.M. but did not see any cars south of the fence. When they were one hundred yards closer to the tracks they saw a vehicle, maybe a station wagon or van, crawling along the tracks without headlights.

They heard a car door slam just south of the international fence. They continued walking and saw two figures running westbound in the darkness as though to cut them off. They froze and watched two dark figures climb through a fence hole just above the Border Patrol's welded landing mats. The figure in the lead was wearing the black uniform of a Tijuana auxiliary officer.

He charged forward, yelling: "
Vengan acá!"

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He brought up a four-inch .38 revolver and pointed it at the face of Manny Lopez. And for the second time, the sergeant was staring down the muzzle of a gun, and for the second time he made a decision others might not have made: he did not explain who they were. Just as he had done with the Tijuana cops near the airport, he looked straight into the gun barrel, and risked being shot to death by reflex or design.

While facing the gun he jerked out his own revolver and badge and said: "
Policías
!"
A second
Mexican standoff. Manny's men followed suit. The black-uniformed Mexican did not jerk the trigger through reflex or design. He looked at the handguns and shotgun facing him. He heard someone say he would die at once unless he dropped his gun. He stepped back two paces in the moonlight. His gun was still aimed directly at Manny Lopez. Then he lowered it.

The second man turned and ran to the fence. There was some confusion then in the darkness as the cops fanned out, dropped down, fearing a sniper attack, but heard the door slam on a vehicle and got to the fence in time to see a jeep wagon with white numbers on the side. The second man powered that jeep up the hill, lights out like a movie stunt man. Backward. Within seconds he was
gone
.

Manny Lopez jerked the gun out of the auxiliary officer's hand and decked him. Manny Lopez was pretty mad all right when he cinched the iron on the wrists of the protesting Mexican, and called him about a hundred kinds of thieving crooked bastard cop. The man was twenty-three years old and was
not
a cop. In Tijuana, people pay the city treasury for special patrol by auxiliary officers. There are no privately hired rent-a-cops as there are north of the line. Yet auxiliary officers are to the municipal police what privately employed security officers are to the San Diego Police on the American side of the border—private citizens in uniform.

The Mexican auxiliary officer was carrying about $60 in U.S. currency and about 630

Mexican pesos. He may have been extorting aliens in the canyons. He said he thought Manny Lopez and his men, due to their strange behavior in walking along the border fence, were not aliens but robbers of, aliens. He said he should not have crossed through the fence, but that he was not a bandit.

The auxiliary officer was arrested for robbery-related crimes, but all charges were dropped by the district attorney, since nothing could be proved. The Mexican had only crossed the border while armed. He had only said "Come here!" Nothing more.

"If I'da waited I might a got
shot
," Manny Lopez protested to the investigating detectives.

"He
may
be a robber, but we'll never know," was the answer. file://C:\Documents and Settings\tim\Desktop\books to read\Wambaugh, Joseph - Lines a... 11/20/2009

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"I know," Manny Lopez said, "that Mexican's a
crook
." And when he thought about it, that was redundant. To Manny nearly all Mexican lawmen were crooks, auxiliary or regulars. They were thieves and worse. Manny Lopez was feeling more and more alone, and strangely enough there was something exhilarating about it. One evening a lieutenant wrote a strange acronym on their chalkboard. It said: B.A.R.F. When asked what it meant the lieutenant said, "Border Alien Robbery Force." Border Alien… BARF? Was he jiving them? How would that look in the papers? BARF?

Bullshit! They called themselves something infinitely more romantic, The Task Force. Screw this BARF shit.

And then one night shortly after Eddie Cervantes met his first real Mexican bandit and flossed the robber's teeth with a gun muzzle, the boys were doing a little walking in a San Ysidro gang neighborhood preparatory to going out into Smuggler's Gulch and Deadman's Canyon. If they couldn't get righteous robbers there, they hoped for an easy wildcat bust, since like all public servants, they needed to pad the stats to justify their existence. There were lots of wildcatters, real and bogus, offering rides to the multitudes of pollos passing through. In fact, many of the wildcatters were actually thieves and robbers and rapists, and the aliens never had a chance for a real ride at all. On this particular wildcat outing, the varsity, with Joe Castillo as the fourth team member, walked from the train trestle to the streets of San Ysidro, where they were confronted by two men who had the look of Tijuana guides.

One of them stopped the four pollos by asking for a cigarette. Manny Lopez produced a proper pack of Fiesta Mexican cigarettes. Another asked for a match. Manny Lopez produced a proper Mexican matchbook.

"Where do you come from?" one of them asked, putting the Mexican cigarette in his pocket and lighting an American smoke from his own pack.

By now, Manny Lopez was enjoying his thespian talents and he switched from the familiar places, Tecate and Mexcali, and said, "El Salvador. We came all the way north through Mexico from El Salvador. It's very bad in our country." Then the guide said to Joe Castillo, who spoke Spanish about like Rosalynn Carter, "Got any
pisto
on you? We'll give you a ride to Los Angeles for fifty dollars each." file://C:\Documents and Settings\tim\Desktop\books to read\Wambaugh, Joseph - Lines a... 11/20/2009

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Joe Castillo didn't answer, but put his thumb up toward his mouth in the drinking gesture, laughed nervously and shook his head no, since
pisto
in barrio slang refers to an alcoholic drink or a drinker.

The guide said, "I don't want something to drink. I want some
money
. In El Salvador,
pisto
means money. I don't think you're from El Salvador."

Then the other guide said to Joe Castillo, "Say something, brother. Let's hear you talk." And Manny Lopez, who had a temper like Idi Amin, said to the guides, "
Sabes que? Sabes
que?"
: You know what? You know what?

Then in English he said, "You know what? Fuck this!"

And the wildcatters were in short order flat on their bellies wearing iron on their wrists. After the two were booked and it was time to go out into the canyons, the entire squad was informed about the episode where Joe Castillo "fucked up." Still a rookie cop, Joe Castillo had not yet started calling his sergeant by his Christian name. He said, "But, Sarge, how was I supposed to know that
pisto
means something else in El Salvador?"

"Goddamn it!" Manny said, with his eyebrow squiggling into half a question mark. "I told ya to shut up and not talk. Let
me
do the talking."

"But, Sarge, I
didn't
talk!"

"This is kind a like in the old war movies," it was observed. "Like where they ask ya who Betty Grable was married to and who's Mickey Mouse's girl friend, and like that."

"Who's Betty Grable?" he was asked, and Manny's twenty-nine-year-old reptilian eyebrow settled down, and he started feeling
old
.

"We need a code word when we're ready to take them down," Manny decided. "How about
sabes que
? When I'm talking to these assholes and I got the elements for a righteous bust, I'll say
sabes que
?"

"What's that mean exactly?" Robbie Hurt wanted to know.

"You know what? That's what it means. You know what? So listen for
sabes que?"
Manny Lopez told his men. "When I say
sabes que?
get ready, cause a bust is going down."

"Then we need
another
signal to know when to pull our guns or grab them or whatever," it was noted.

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Robbie Hurt felt left out because the Spanish conversations in their hole-in-the-wall squad room were getting as prevalent as the English, making him even more of an outsider. He said, "How about
Barf
?"

"Barf?"

"Yeah, Manny says
sabes que
? when it's time to get ready, and
Barf
! when it's time to jump on their heads or draw down on them."

"Barf?"

"Barf."

It was
very
unromantic but there it was. Barf! They decided to give it a try. And they could call themselves
The Task Force
for the rest of their natural lives, but it soon became abundantly clear that to the rest of their world they were
Barf
. So the Barfers loaded up and headed for the canyons and very soon one of them thought he might be spending Christmas of 1976 in the county jail. For manslaughter at least.

It was 9:00 P.M. when the varsity was walking just fifteen yards north of the imaginary line. They were approaching E-2 Canyon, so called by the Border Patrol. E-2 Canyon was about one-half mile east of the port of entry. There were lots of bandit gangs working E-2

and the other canyons, most of whom lived in nearby Colonia Libertad, On this particular night Manny Lopez, Tony Puente, Eddie Cervantes and Carlos Chacon were stumbling along a trail in the darkness when two men approached, and they figured to get their second wildcatting pinch of the night.

The two men stood while Manny and his Barfers squatted in submission. They were asked for a cigarette and a match, and Manny The Actor produced the proper cigarette and matches from his prop department. And then they were offered a ride to "Los," as they refer to Los Angeles on the streets. The tariff was to be $100 a person. And since the wildcatting violation was technically completed, Manny Lopez was about to say
sabes que
? Except that one of the men said there were some other pollos going in the same truck and he had to give them a whistle.

Tony Puente squinted through the darkness and saw that the other shadow figure seemed to have something in his hand. Eddie Cervantes offered him a cigarette. The man came forward, put something in his pocket and accepted the cigarette with the same hand. The startling flare of a match. A canine smile. The face of a jackal. They started getting nervous.

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Tony Puente was wishing he could wear his glasses, especially when the first guide returned with three more pollos to join their crossing group. Except that they didn't walk like pollos. And they began chatting to the Barfers in a very friendly fashion. And there by the trail in the blackness, with a cold wind blowing up, they began, ever so slowly, to move into positions behind the cops, all the time talking about the easy trip they would have to Los.

And despite the chilly wind, the varsity started to sweat. Glasses or not, it looked to Tony Puente like they were
all
holding something in their hands. And though no one had made a demand for money or produced a weapon with a threat of force, thereby satisfying the requirements of the crime of robbery, Manny Lopez thought that this circling pincer movement had gone just about far enough, and he'd settle for a wildcatting bust because he was feeling very uncomfortable.

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