Busted!

Sleeping in one Tuesday morning. There’s someone moving around in the house. Someone big. Someone noisy. Maybe a lot of someones. Open my eyes. Five someones crowded into my bedroom. They all look like Darth Vader. They got the helmets and the black armored suits, the breath masks and the trademark breath mask noise. So they all sound like Darth Vaders. And guns. Nothing Space Age about the guns all five are pointing at me. One M-16. One submachine gun of some kind. Possibly an MP-5, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on submachine guns. They all look like MP-5s to me. Three of those ever-more-stylized 9mm and 10mm automatics the industry likes to market to the army and police forces. Oh, fuck. OhfuckOhfuckOhfuck!

Where’s the shotgun? In the closet. I’d have to climb over Carla’s sleeping body to get there. It’s only got three shots in it. The rest of the shells are in the other room. I’d have to get past two guys who already have the drop on me to get there. Batman could do it on a good day. I’m not going to try. Crap. The next few minutes are going to be very interesting, and the next few days are going to be very boring… because I now realize we’re going to jail. I look to my left and see Carla’s awake now. “What is this?” she asks in bewilderment. “Just what it looks like,” I tell her. “We’re going to jail.”

Not immediately, though. First, we went out to our front lawn. Cops start taking off their raid gear… Which now apparently includes scuba tanks? What’s that for? Were they expecting my house to be underwater? The old joke pops into my head, and I crack an involuntary smile – “How can you tell when someone used to be a Navy Seal? Don’t worry, he’ll fucking tell you!” I turn toward Carla. She’ll read my idiot grin as reassuring. She loves that shit.

And under his helmet, one of these Nebraska SWAT-pigs is wearing a Mets cap. That’s even weirder than the scuba tanks. In Nebraska, baseball is considered a fag’s game. Men watch football. Hell, even gay dudes watch football. Fags watch baseball. And if there isn’t even a high school game on, and you absolutely must watch baseball lest the idiot box actually be turned off for a moment, Omaha’s a suburb of Kansas City. Not a suburb of whichever one of the outer boroughs Shea Stadium is in. So the hat’s a prop. Has to be. He’s going to refer to it in the next few minutes. He’s going to play the “Us New Yorkers” card. Holy crap do I hate that!

Now, let’s get one thing straight. It doesn’t actually mean that just because I’m from New York, I hate the other 97% of the country. As long as they don’t pretend they’re New Yorkers, I don’t mind them that much. Somebody has to raise the cows so we can have Omaha steaks in Peter Luegar’s after the Yankees game. Somebody has to grow the corn so we can eat it popped at Yankee Stadium. Somebody has to provide baseball teams who lose to the Yankees, you know, like that white team that lost 13 thousand games to the Harlem Globetrotters. Yeah, if pretending to be from New York was fuck-up number one, fuck up number two was not knowing that New Yorkers watch the Yankees. People from Jersey and Connecticut watch the Mets.

Back in 2004, when Abu Ghraib was the top story on the news, I made it my business to learn everything there was to know about interrogation. I’d read Nazi Interrogator in high school, but I went through it again just in case I had missed anything. I scanned a thousand pages of The Reid Technique, and developed strong opinions on whether police should be able to use it all (They shouldn’t. It produces too many false positives.) I read the old pre-Gitmo Army Field Manual FM34-52
http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/policy/army/fm/fm34-52/app-h.htm
until I knew the difference between Futility Technique (“You know that at the end of the day, we’re going to find it”) and Fear Up (Mild) (“Tell us where it is and we won’t have to trash your house searching for it”).

I knew their most likely play was going to be Pride and Ego Down, so I was preparing myself for that. I mean, obviously, right? (“You’re not as good at this as you think you are. We got ten dead bodies in the morgue right now from hotspots in the shit you sold ‘em.” And then I’m supposed to jump out of my chair, “Not MY shit. My shit doesn’t HAVE hotspots.” Clang. One year mandatory minimum and the sentence can go as high as 50 years.) I’m in my late forties now, and my lifestyle isn’t the healthiest. I don’t HAVE another 50 years. So, the primary track running through my brain was me mentally preparing myself to not take the one kind of bait I have the most trouble letting lie – insults to my intelligence. A second track was keeping an eye on the pieces of evidence that were coming out of my house, and trying to guess if any of them added up to a manufacturing charge or an intent to manufacture. I knew there was enough in the house that, if put together correctly by a reasonably intelligent prosecution team, would be enough to put me away forever regardless of actual guilt or innocence. I just wasn’t sure if they knew it, or would know it when they saw it.

“Listen, you’re obviously a smart guy. You obviously know what you’re doing here, I mean in terms of handling fentanyl safely and all. I read your Wikipedia Page. Hey, you know, I was a rookie cop in New York when you were leading the squatter revolt in Alphabet City…”

When I was WHAT? I might talk about that one year of my life the way Navy Seals talk about being Navy Seals and vegans talk about being vegans. But I never once claimed I was LEADING it. I had so much respect for the guys who were; Frank Morales, Jerry the Peddler, and a few others. I learned so much from them that to this day, thirty years later, my father still can’t say their names without spitting.

Speaking of spitting, Carla sounds like she just tried to swallow a sewer rat. I flash her another idiot grin. In Married-Couplespeak, her throat clearing was actually her nagging me not to take the bait, and my grin was assuring her I had this. Thirty years ago I’d also have tipped my hand to the cop that I knew his playbook far better than he did, because he just fucked up again. That’s now three times in four sentences. That’s gotta be a record. I turn to look at Mets-Boy and briefly picture myself castrating him. Unfortunately, I try to avoid hurting women when I can, even in inappropriate revenge fantasies, and this one would have involved kicking his sister in the mouth. On what planet would my service in the War in the Neighborhood (as comic book artist Seth Tobocman called his graphic novel about those events https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/are-you-ready-for-war-in-the-neighborhood-history-comics#/) endear me to a New York City cop? What color is the sky in that world? Shit, I’d wash bedpans in the cancer ward just to watch a New York cop die. Anyway, dig it, Seth! You created me as a supporting character in War In The Neighborhood. Thirty years later, I’m spinning off into my own series. Dig that!

Mets-boy is using Pride and Ego Up. That only ever works on the dumbest guy on the team, the guy who’s so starved for a word of praise he’ll talk his way into a life sentence just to hear one from the pig putting him away. I’ve been getting “You’re a smart guy” free with my breakfast cereal every day since I was three years old. Under normal circumstances, I don’t much value it unless I have the same level of respect for the guy praising me. Pride and Ego Up is also a closing move, not an opening one. It’s like a Big Con that relies on fast-talk rather than a well-thought-out confidence play. The target eventually figures out he’s been had, and then you can’t do anything else with him.

I let part of my brain replay the conversation from last night where I’d heard the kind of praise from the kind of people that actually does mean something to me. I was showing Rick and Matt an idea I’d had for tweaking the Birch Reduction (what meth cooks call “the Nazi method”) by swapping the anhydrous ammonia solvent for one with the same properties that was much easier to get and much easier to work with. Half the risk in doing the Nazi method is getting your hands on a couple of pints of anhydrous ammonia. Legal risk if you steal it. Every farmer in town uses it as fertilizer, but it’s now a federal offence to steal it from a farmer’s field. Five years mandatory minimum, fifteen years mandatory minimum, something like that. Physical risk if you make it. The fumes from that shit can pull every drop of water from exposed soft tissues. You can lose your eyes, your mouth, your whole sinus cavity to ammonia fumes. It can turn the fat under your skin into soap. This ain’t like the cleaning product you make high-quality crack with (Or is it low-quality free-base? I guess that’s a matter of opinion). If you think you know how to work with anhydrous based on that, you don’t. Half the rest of the risk is the fact that the fumes can be smelled a mile away. Everyone in town knows when a major cook just got done. What if we could just sidestep all that, and still have the basic idiot-proofness of the Birch? I did a series of literature searches, and it turns out we can. There’s another solvent that should do just as well, that’s not even watchlisted. I could go to Midland Scientific today and buy a 55 gallon drum of it, and pay with small, circulated, non-sequential bills and nobody there or at the DEA will care. Well, I can’t TODAY. Today, I’m sitting in the one shady patch of my lawn with flexicuffs cutting off the circulation in my fingers and a cop in a Mets cap blowing smoke up my ass. You know what I mean, though.

I was showing Rick and Matt all the reasons I had to believe this new solvent would work. Rick and Matt are like the reigning aristocrats of the local kamikaze chemist scene. Rick was doing Birch reductions in the back seat of a moving car when he was in high school. And Matt doesn’t quite go all the way back to Silk Road One, but he does go back as far as Agora Marketplace, and that’s impressive enough. Rick’s been hanging around a lot lately, because he’s sweet on the ice-cold killer who normally sleeps in between my front door and my bedroom. Now that I think about it, the two of them took off at dawn looking like they had a bedroom of their own on their minds. Ahhhh… Let ‘em do it! It’s been way too long for both of them, and they are so adorable together. I’d never got a chance to talk shop with Rick or Matt before, and it did kind of feel like passing an audition. Rick was doing Steve Wozniak to my Steve Jobs. He had his mouth open and all he could say over and over was “This will change the world.” Hearing that from him, knowing who he is in this town, that meant something to me. A cop in a Mets cap blowing smoke up my ass, not so much.

Mets-boy wants to know if there are dangerous chemicals in the house that can hurt his men, now that they’ve taken off the scuba gear. That stuff is heavy, and if they have to walk in and out of my house in the sun wearing it, they’ll be wiped out in an hour. So if I could just tell him where the really dangerous stuff is now, he’d never use that against me. And then it clicked. Buddy here doesn’t know what he’s looking for. He busts meth labs all day long. He thinks a fent lab is more of the same. And he’s heard all the “one grain’ll kill you” stories. He doesn’t understand that my solvents and carrier medium are both food-grade, so I store them on my kitchen shelves. He’s already walked right past them twice. My “lab equipment” is a couple of pots and pans from my kitchen. When I’m done with them, I wash them and put them back. That’s the reality of a fent lab.

I probably shouldn’t have said ANYTHING, my lawyer will definitely kick my ass for this, but I told him (and told him again, and told him, at least twenty times, in response to twenty different versions of the same question), “There is nothing in the house that can hurt your men.”

And then the cop went into this long-winded explanation of how he doesn’t hate me, he’s just doing his job, see? And part of that job is writing “Cooperative” or “Uncooperative” next to my name on the report that the judge will see just before passing sentence. What I really need to understand, see, is just how brutally overcrowded the county jail is right now. (That’s the one part of this particular serving of pigshit that WASN’T a lie. County really is brutally overcrowded. No shit.) And so the judges understand they got no room to lock up guys who showed co-operation with law enforcement, who were willing to answer questions, and so on. Why, it might even be that I get released right there, with no charges at all, as long as I give him enough information to charge me with something right now… This is the Reid Technique, and this is why it needs to be banned. It’s World-Turned-Upside-Down and it’s based on a total lie. Confess the crime and you’ll go free, but ask for your lawyer or insist on your constitutional right against self-incrimination, and we’ll lock you up forever.

I shouldn’t complain too much. Two minutes later Mets-boy Mirandized me, I asked to talk to my lawyer, and that was it. Real Reid Technique is never over that fast. Real Reid Technique doesn’t end, ever, until it produces a signed confession. If it takes 50 hours of bouncing a suspect off the walls, then it takes 50 hours. The interrogators will sleep in shifts. The suspect won’t sleep at all. If it takes 100 hours, it takes 100 hours. Most guys, most physically and psychologically strong guys, can’t take 4 days and 4 nights of no food, no sleep and constant threats and intimidation. After 4 days and nights, they no longer know they’re in a police station and the men talking to them are police officers. All they know is if they sign the paper in front of them, they’ll be allowed to sleep.

There’s a wonderful little video that makes the rounds on Facebook every so often. A mile-a-minute-talking little Boston Irish lawyer gives a law school class his Ten Reasons Not to Talk to the Police. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGGXjlIxEgs
(1. It can never help you. 2. If you do admit guilt, it will be with no benefit in return. Etc.) Take an hour and watch the whole thing and then finish reading my story. It will not be a waste of your time. And if you can’t remember all ten, just remember this one. “Boy, am I glad I told the police everything before I talked to my own lawyer!” said no defendant ever. I didn’t think I was likely to be the first.

Like I said, Track A was Interrogation 101. Track B was Wow, Rick and Matt Really Think I Could Be Good At This. How Cool Is That? Track C was “OK, what do they actually HAVE? And do they know what it is? And do they know what charges it can be used to support?” Carla was doing the same. And was already way ahead of me because she’s a much better jailhouse lawyer than I am. She’s got the functional equivalent of three years of law school and seven of working as a criminal defense lawyer’s junior partner. I could maybe pass for a paralegal, in New York and two or three other states (not this one) and even then, not if the light was any good. We both had a short list of smoking guns; objects that if we saw them coming out in a cop’s hands, we knew we’d be going away for a very long time. And to our surprise… none of them did.

In addition, Carla wasn’t just looking for her smoking guns, she was also mentally cataloging every object that came out and trying to reason why, as well as simultaneously keeping a mental inventory of what they were missing. Despite our different routes to get there, we got it at exactly the same time. My mental exercise was easier. There was one item, stored in one particular room that I was more worried about than any other. Alone, it was nothing and of very little consequence. Combined with other items in a well done display of circumstantial evidence, it would be my downfall. As other objects from that room came out, I was paying very close attention. As soon as I saw they’d moved on to the next room, I knew they missed it, and it was time for another Married Couple Conference. As I turned to make the eye contact, slight nod, wink, and look away, I saw Carla throw her head back and that million dollar smile flash across her face. She wasn’t even trying to hide it as her eyes flashed in joy. I saw her look up at the crystal clear sky and silently mouth the words “thank you!” She noticed the cops turn to look at her, and said “at least the sun is absolutely beautiful today!”

My slight nod and wink to her may have been more subtle, but in the end we were speaking the same language, and mentally high-fiving one another. “Do you see it, Baby? They got *nothing*! We’re going to jail today, it’s going to be a big drag, but in the long term, I ain’t worried because They Got NOTHING!”

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