My hyperactive imagination breeds a lot of useless concerns: simple pangs are cancer, mindless glances imply something far more sinister. But sometimes you know what you feel isn’t paranoia and that somebody actually is out to get you. That’s when you take the risk of looking like a fool by saying – or in this case blogging – what you believe is true. On Tuesday, that gamble saved my ass.
The cop behind me was a Yuma County sheriff’s deputy. His name was Lars Nordhues. Nordhues was tall, muscular like a farm boy, and all-business. And when he stepped to my door, I knew the drama-free section of my trip was behind me.
Nordhues asked me who owned the pickup. I knew he already knew – he had been on his mic when he pulled me over, had run the plates – but I answered obediently, “My mother.” He asked for my drivers license and why I was in Yuma County. In my head, I was practicing my answers, doing my best to come up with a decent lie, but I had nothing, “Checking out the scenery before I head to Boulder.” My eyes perused the flat farmland on the other side of my windshield. I was taking a 300 mile detour to gaze at farmland? That was the best I could come up with? He returned to his patrol car and ran my DL. I knew what he was seeing on his screen. Thanks, Ernie.
Nordhues returned with my license and told me to follow him to the sheriff’s office in Wray. There, another deputy joined him.
“So why don’t you tell us what’s really goin’ on? Be straight with me this time. Checking out our border security so you can report it on your blog? You’re quite the author, right?” I said I had no interest in reporting militia movements along the border. (And who would care, anyway, angry Nebraskans looking for an edge in the CU game?) I repeated that I wasn’t doing anything but driving around. He didn’t buy it, “On a north-south highway over farmland? We’re flattered, but that doesn’t make sense.” I told them I wanted a lawyer. “Eventually,” he said, and I was reminded that the ISA dropped Miranda and instituted a holding period before an attorney had to be provided. The deputy walked to the door, “Get comfortable. You’re gonna be here a while. You had dinner?” I said no. He and the other guy left the room. Half an hour later, a young woman brought me a ham sandwich and a cup of water.
The room where I waited reminded me of the tiny lab at my doctor’s office where they draw blood. The walls were light gray-blue, a couple shades lighter than battleships are painted. It was furnished with two chairs plus a table where the interrogator could take notes. No windows.
At 9:00, three hours after I arrived, Nordhues returned. He asked how I got into Colorado. I lied, told him that I’d gotten here like anybody else, on the the blacktops. “Which route did you take?” he asked like he had something up his sleeve, and I knew I was fucked. “We checked your phone’s GPS. You didn’t really come here on a highway, did you?” He waited for a reply, but I didn’t oblige. “Why were you sneaking into our state over private property?” I reiterated that I wanted an attorney. “Not yet.” He left the room. An hour later, I was led to a cell.
As they were closing the steel-barred door before me, I asked why I was being held. Nordhues said, “We’re still determining that. We’ve got seven days.” I told him I wanted a phone call. He again said, “Eventually.” He disappeared down the corridor. I heard the heavy door at the end of the hall close and latch behind him, and it occurred to me that they hadn’t taken my fingerprints. They hadn’t booked me. Nobody knew I was there; there was no record. Panic set in.
The cell was so small that it bordered on comforting, like nothing could harm me there. As ironic as it sounds, that calmed me, and slowly eased the panic away. But its intimate size was the room’s only asset.
The twelve cell unit smelled like disinfectant, sweat, and semen. My narrow mattress lacked cushion; you could feel the platform beneath it, a surface that felt harder than the rocky ground in Rochelle. And the room was loud, constantly loud, filled with the sounds of cells opening and closing, the verbal demands by the deputies of inmates, the inmates (some drunk, some high, some loudmouth assholes seeking attention, some crazy) talking to each other or their invisible cellmates. The cacophony that echoed off the cinderblock walls of the closet-sized room reminded me of the chiming/screaming/rumbling/engines roaring of a carnival where there’s no silence even during silence. In all, it was impossible to find physical comfort or peace. More than the locked doors, it was that lack of ease that was hell. Exhaustion was the only catalyst for sleep.
At 6:00 AM, a guard passed a ham sandwich and a glass of water through the bars. The sandwich had American cheese on it. At 9:00, they led me out of the cell back to the small gray room. A man in a suit greeted me. He acted friendly, like he was glad to see me. He introduced himself as Detective Mark Tillotson. We both sat. He opened a file. He was warm but businesslike, “So tell me why you snuck from Texas into New Mexico and then into Colorado with a Glock 19 at your side.” He continued smiling. It was a quiet smile and remarkably sincere, considering. I couldn’t see through it, couldn’t read him. “I’m sure you’ve heard that non-citizens are limited in their travel.”
“I’m trying to get home,” I said.
“You sound Texan to me.”
“I moved from Texas this month.”
“And the closed borders presented you with a problem?”
“Yeah.” And that was all there was to it. I’m a man trying to get home. No crime here.
“But you know we’re at war.”
“And we’ve established that you’re aware our state borders are sealed to non-residents.”
“So you’ve been willingly breaking our laws?”
“I want a lawyer.”
“Of course, but that takes a little longer here. It allows us to get to the truth before attorneys start mucking things up. From what I read, you’re not a fan of the ISA.” He waited.
“I love the people, but I don’t love the laws.”
“Would you like to see someone bring the ISA down, drag it back into the USA’s fold or maybe even into Mexico’s fold?” Before I could answer, “You have a Mexican wife, yes?”
“But of Mexican descent, correct? A lot of relatives are still down there, I assume?” I said nothing. He repeated, “Would you like to see someone bring down the ISA?”
“That’s not in my wheelhouse. I build websites, not revolutions.”
“But if you could start a revolution, would you?” I could tell he knew the answer to his question, that I missed my old country, but that’s not the kind of thing you blurt out.
“I’m a website designer. I’m not starting a revolution. I blog. That’s it.” Tillotson stood, nodded, then stepped out the door. A guard led me to my cell.
12:00 noon. Another ham sandwich, water, a banana. I remained in the cell until 2:00, when I was escorted to a larger room. In front of me, Brother Carl. He smiled a gentle Baptist smile, “You ready to get out of this place?” I’m free? “It’s been worked out.” He handed me my keys and my phone. “They’ve kept the Glock,” he said, “and your tablet. They said you can get the tablet back if you file paperwork.” The seventh piece of electronics I’ve gifted to the ISA.
“They’re financing this fucking war with the money they’re getting for my stuff on eBay.” I realized what I’d said and apologized for the language. He said it was all right, that he’d been reading my blog. That was, in fact, the reason he was there. He read that I was in trouble, and correctly guessed that I would need help. Thank God for Brother Carl.
He and I went for lunch. He said grace, asked the Lord to bless the food to the nourishment of our bodies and for the Lord to keep me safe on my journey. After the meal, he had me follow him to his truck. At his driver’s door, he passed me a small paper bag, “It’s not a Glock, but you shouldn’t be defenseless. Do you know where you’re headed?” I told him that I was going where we’d planned, but not until Friday. “Good. I’ll let her know. Where are you going from here?” I said that I’d checked with some friends who had a place in Boulder. It was three hours west, but I needed the break to recharge, and so I had texted them from the car. He nodded his approval and shook my hand. As I watched him step up into his pickup, I thought I may have loved that man more than any other person on the planet less for my wife, and he was even giving Sam a run for the money.
I have since made it to Boulder safely. Garry and Dutch are in the other room. It’s early, but I need some sleep. Goodnight.