I’m in a little six-seater prop plane. It’s just me and the pilot. My briefcase has its own seat. We touch down on the landing strip. Snow on the ground, lonely in the high mountains. The plane takes off, and I’m alone.

Where I left my car is a smooth mound of snow. Looks like I get to dig.

I use my sleeve to push snow to the side. I get into the trunk. I get a little shovel, telescope the handle to full. I’ve got the car just about uncovered when the car comes diving out of the trees. Breaks hard by me and two cops come out, guns raised.

I’m going to jail.

*** *** ***

They put me in the back seat of their car. They start to drive.

They’re border patrol cops in a border patrol car. Could be because I just flew in from Canada. Could be because we’re so close to the border that they have jurisdiction. I have no idea why they’ve arrested me and that doesn’t narrow it down.

There are several reasons they could have for arresting me. That doesn’t help narrow it either.

Beautiful road. Long and winding, high in the mountains. Fir trees, boughs heavy under the snow. No other cars on the road. A pair of snowmobiles waiting by the roadside for us to drive by. Then the sun sets and it’s too dark for me to see much of anything. It must be about four in the afternoon.

The two cops don’t say anything. Neither do I.

We come to a small town. They stop at the intersection – there’s no stoplight, there’s no stopsign. A snow plow makes a wide turn around them. The cop at the wheel raises one hand to the plowman. I can’t see if he gets a handraise back.

We turn up a side-street. Roll up behind a building that has to be a police station. I try not to exhale with relief. I’m not going to the middle of the woods to be shot or a barn to be tortured. It’s the little things in life.

They put me in an interrogation room. They leave me alone. I’m cuffed at one hand. I move so the cuff doesn’t scratch my watch. Too late.

They let me stew for a while. I put my head down and close my eyes. Easy to do when I’m jet-lagged as hell.

*** *** ***

They barge in, loudly, unsurprisingly. They mean to startle me. They do.

The first officer has a moustache and goatee. The second one is clean-shaven and keeps his hand by his gun. He means to scare me. Can’t be that scared of me if they just brought a gun into the box.

They have my briefcase.

The one with facial hair sits down. The one who’s trying to scare me stays standing. He gives the strong impression that he’s leaning on something even though he isn’t.

The one with facial hair turns on a recorder, states the time, gives his name.

Hair pulls out my wallet. It’s a big one. It’s got my passport inside. Well, a passport I own. One of them.

He takes his time. Looks at it. Looks at me. Looks back down to it. Flips through it idly.

He reads the name, asks me if that’s my name. I don’t say anything.

He reads the address, asks me if that’s my address. I don’t say anything.

He closes the passport, looks at the cover. “Are you really from Panama?” I don’t say anything.

“I don’t think you’re from Panama,” he says. I don’t say anything.

“I think you’re American,” he says. I don’t say anything.

“I think you just traveled here from Canada.” I don’t say anything.

“I think you crossed the border in that airplane, and you didn’t go through customs.” I don’t say anything.

“I think that you’re carrying something that you don’t want to put through customs.” I don’t say anything.

“I don’t think it’s just fruits and vegetables,” Hair says. A joke. He wants me to laugh. I don’t.

“Where did you fly out of?” I don’t say anything.

“What time did you leave Montreal?” I don’t say anything.

“What was the name of your pilot?” I don’t say anything.

“Have you flown with Bill Hesselring before?” I don’t say anything.

Scare jumps forward and slams his hands on the table. “Answer the man!”

I don’t say anything.

Hair reaches down and hauls up my briefcase. I can see him strain. He puts it on the table. It’s black plastic with a combination lock.

“What’s the combination?” he asks. I don’t say anything.

It’s not a fancy briefcase. It’s not secure, doesn’t even try. Scare pulls out a keychain full of what look like lockpicks. Hands them to Hair. He tries one, another, a third. The lock springs open. TSA locks. For when you really don’t want something locked.

He opens the lid with one hand. Then he stops.

For a moment, neither of them remember I’m in the room.

Hair spins the briefcase around to me. “What’s this?” he asks. I don’t say anything.

“Because to me,” he says, “it looks like two gold bars.”

It is.

Two bars of gold. Each about twenty pounds. Ten kilograms, actually – but there’s something wrong with measuring gold in kilograms. Makes it sound scientific instead of economic – a valuable commodity, instead of value itself.

The two together are worth a little over eight hundred thousand dollars. And they came so close to being duty-free.

I don’t say anything.

“Now what’s a Panamanian like yourself doing with two bars of gold?” Hair asks. I don’t say anything.

“Since this has a cash value over one thousand dollars U.S.,” he says, “a failure to declare it at the border is a federal crime.” I don’t say anything.

“And something tells me you didn’t come by it in an honest way.” I don’t say anything.

“Or pay taxes on it,” Hair says. I don’t say anything.

“Maybe you even owe it to someone.” I don’t say anything.

“Or it’s not yours. And whoever it belongs to is going to be very upset with you for losing it.” I don’t say anything.

“We could protect you, if that’s the case.” I don’t say anything.

“Or maybe that’s not the case. Maybe this is yours. And because it’s yours, you’re going to go to jail.” I don’t say anything.

“Or it’s not yours. But you don’t say anything, so we say it’s yours, and you still go to jail.” I don’t say anything.

“We have no reason to-” Hair says, but Scare grabs his shoulder.

“You sit tight,” Scare says. “And try to think of a way for you to get yourself out of this. Because otherwise, you are going to lose this money, and spend a very long time in jail.”

Hair stands up. Looks at his partner for the briefest moment. Then opens the door and leaves.

Scare follows him. He turns the tape recorder off before he leaves.

*** *** ***

I try to put my head down. It won’t stay.

I haven’t said a word. Not when they were recording. Not at any time. Not that I’m afraid of them recording my voice. I just don’t have anything to say.

I could invoke my right to silence. I could ask to speak to my lawyer. That would get them to shut up. I don’t. I want to hear what they have to say.

They could have so much to say.

I kick my heels and play with my watch and wait.

*** *** ***


They enter just as loudly. I don’t blink.

Hair sits down, but a little to the side. Scare leans forward on the table. He takes the lead.

They have not turned the tape recorder back on.

“You’ve been caught crossing the American border with almost a million dollars in gold,” Scare says. I don’t say anything.

“You didn’t declare it. Now that’s a federal crime. And I think we both know that, if we dig around, we’re going to find a bunch of other crimes in connection to this money.” I don’t say anything.

“Now, you’re going to lose this money,” he says. “It’s gone. You’ll never see it again.” I don’t say anything.

“The question is,” he says, “do you also want to go to jail? Because you’re losing this money either way.” I don’t say anything.

“You’ve got a choice now,” he says. “You can be smart. You’ve got a chance to be smart right now. Are you going to take it?” I don’t say anything.

“You can tell us everything you know and we’ll put you in witness protection,” Hair says. Scare stares at me. I don’t say anything.

“If you want,” Scare says, “you can take your chances with, whoever you’re working… with, whatever you’re mixed up in. That’s on you. But if they find you and kill you that’s your business. We offered to help you – to let you help yourself. If you don’t let us help you help yourself, then that’s not our fault if someone comes and kills you.”

“Is that what you want?” Hair asks. “To go out there alone and take your chances?” I don’t say anything.

“We’re going to confiscate your illegal gold,” Hair says. “That’s civil forfeiture. It’s gone. It’s gone now. And since you’ve refused our offer of protection, we’re going to release you on your own recognizance. And you’ll have to present yourself here at six o’clock tomorrow morning. If you don’t get killed by then.”

They stare at me.

Hair looks away.

“You have to be back here at this station at six o’clock tomorrow morning,” Scare repeats. “Then we will move forward with your arrest.” I don’t say anything.

“Do you understand?”

I don’t say anything.

They wait for me to say something.

*** *** ***

This could have gone a few different ways.

They could have arrested me. They could have arrested me for something unrelated to the gold and the gold could have just disappeared. They could have driven me to the border and watched me walk back into Canada. They could have put me in the squad car, driven me out into the woods, and shot me.

Instead they’re telling me that if I let them have the gold, I can go free.

It’s clean. It’s easy. It makes perfect sense for me. Like they said, I lose the gold either way – this way that’s all I lose. I get out of jail, it just isn’t free.

They should have killed me.

*** *** ***

I reach across my body and press a button on my watch. It beeps. Then the face flashes – it’s a smartwatch. And it starts to speak.

It’s a pretty good recording. You can tell Scare’s voice in an instant. There’s a little timpany – footfalls, the shutting door – then he speaks: ““You’ve been caught crossing the American border with almost a million dollars in gold-”

The color drains from their faces. They listen to the whole exchange. The one we just had – the one they thought was unrecorded. And now that they hear their words, they realize that any jury in the world would see them falling over themselves to solicit a bribe from me.

I take off the watch. Hold it up for them. Show them where it says RECORDING. Right next to where it says UPLOADING. Right next to where it shows three bars and 3G.

I put the watch back on. Then hold up my wrist to be uncuffed.

*** *** ***

They go outside. They talk about it for a while. Not that long. When they come back Hair unlocks my shackle. Glares at Scare who holds open the door. I rub my wrist and go out into the hall.

“It’s in the car,” Hair says. I don’t say anything.

I get back in the backseat of the car. They get back in with me. I’m a little scared they’re going to stop by a woodpile and put two in the back of my skull. Not that scared. They know what Uploading means.

We drive up the road. It’s still pitch black. My jet lag’s even worse.They drive slowly – they’re looking for deer. Or moose. Wouldn’t want to hit one. The guy in the backseat might even survive.

They drop me at my car. They don’t say a word. They leave.

If they’d demanded – or even offered – I would have given them one of the gold bars. The one that’s really gold-plated lead, but still. Didn’t get that far. Maybe next time.

I finish shoveling out, and drive away.


~ by davekov on 2 October 2017.

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