A night in the
Crouched on the dirt floor of his home, the small man
produced a large, dusty bundle. After a quick glance at
our eyes, his fingers began to untie the cargo. The knot
undone, he carefully and deliberately unfolded the rag’s
corners. With a grin splitting his Central American face,
he stood up and pointed to a pile of riches.
intact, blazing obsidian arrow-heads and knife blades
shone at the pile’s foundation. Crafted by hands
a thousand years gone, several faded but brilliant shards
of pottery rested comfortably on the obsidian. A bead
flecked with bits of silver adjoined an intricately carved
figurine, possibly a chieftain’s head. Two large
manos, worn from decades of crushing maize, and a rusted
Spanish pistol barrel, a memory of a time of conquest,
rounded out the loot. Our lust-filled eyes wandered over
this small snapshot of pre-Columbian life. Some strong
questions also surfaced. Not even semi-legitimate archeology,
this would qualify as indirect looting. We were on the
verge of striking up a bargain with a tomb raider.
Still, the objects had undeniable power, particularly
when held in hand. The opportunity to feel the texture
of Mayan history obscured all and any doubt. Without thinking
of consequences, we struck a deal.
Nearly a month later, the woman’s eyes would start
at my rope sandals and move slowly up my legs before stalling
out and widening at my bulging backpack. There was no
flattery here. Rather, it was the worst possible look
to come across at U.S. Customs, particularly when you’re
innocently transporting a country’s national treasures
across national lines.
“You guys need to go to the back room,” she
barked as she pulled back a golden retriever’s leash
and picked up a walkie-talkie. “Don, I’m sending
two number 65s your way.”
“Sixty-fives?” I thought. “This wasn’t
really part of the plan.”
Her finger pointed toward a blank door in a stark, cinder-block
wall. “Come on guys. Let’s get moving.”
There was no escape, and moving toward that door, I recalled
the only other time I’d been shaken down. I had
no desire to relive that ordeal of a year earlier –
six tense hours in the hands of Canadian customs.
“All right, we know you’re trafficking,”
the Canadian accent wearing rubber gloves had informed
us. “Tell us where the dope or acid is, and you’ll
get off easy. If not, we’re going to tear apart
She’d found my derelict buddy’s pipe, a collection
of bootlegs spanning the Pigpen and Godchaux years and
my pal’s bizarre scrapbook collection of aboriginal
photographs. A pair of college students on its way to
fish in Alaska for the summer, the hatchback was also
completely loaded. Doubtless, she suspected we were carrying
high-grade American poundage into the untainted province
of Alberta. Who wouldn’t? There was only one small
problem. We weren’t.
Blame it on the aborigines, but that Canadian employed
every scare tactic to get at our phantom stash.
“The dog’s name is Balls, ‘cuz that’s
the first thing he goes for,” she told us.
“We don’t have anything. We’re on our
way to Alaska,” we replied.
“You know, we’ve got this special spray,
and it’ll tell if you’ve smoked marijuana
in the last 40 days,” she declared, upping the ante.
We submitted ourselves to the spray, reiterating our
“You boys ever been strip-searched?” she
asked, betraying her ace in the hole.
This game went on for hours, and eventually we got well
acquainted with that woman from Calgary. Sure we spent
about 90 minutes in a holding cell, but we never saw the
car dismantled, never got friendly with Balls and never
saw a bottle of the miracle spray. After sacrificing my
friend’s pipe to the Canadian Crown, we got back
on the road to Alaska. Although it was uncomfortable,
honesty had prevailed.
Heading toward Don and the back room in Dallas customs
was more complicated. Poundage of another kind rested
inside my pack, and the weight of guilt hung on my shoulders.
An obvious high school football star turned DEA reject,
Don was anything but easy-going. His dreams of leading
helicopter raids and burning fields of poppies had fallen
seriously short, dropping him in the back room of customs.
Regardless, Don was a determined lawman, carried his polished
side-arm with pride and lived for the bust.
He chuckled at our discomfort and seemed to smell our
guilt. Passing on courtesy, Don snapped on the surgical
gloves, and asked, “Where are you guys coming from?”
I responded “Honduras,” and his grin widened
“You first,” he said pointing in my direction.
I heaved my pack onto his table, and his fingers quickly
undid the side zip. His hands roughed through the pack,
grabbing a cylindrical object first. The mano was out
of the bag and on the table. He then stumbled onto the
figurine and pottery, and they joined the stone on the
I looked nervously at my friend, as Don quickly wrapped
up the job. We were not grinning.
Don breathed out a long sigh, as he grabbed my friend’s
pack and slapped its outside. He sighed again and asked,
“What’s in here? More rocks?”
We nodded in unison.
Don then breathed a final sigh, grabbed the copy of Guns
& Ammo magazine that had been hidden from sight and
muttered, “Pack it up and get out of here.”
As we hustled for the exit, his radio crackled to life,
“Don, I’ve got another 65.” The snap
of a fresh pair of rubber gloves latex filled the air.