A night in the park

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.

Perfectly 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 the car.”

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 innocence.

“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 table.

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.

Will Sands




News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index