“Shit, there’s the checkpoint.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t until exit 19?”
“I guess they’re moving it up.”
“You guess? You guess?! What the fuck are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.” Daniel admitted, “Christ, I don’t know.”
The lights from the police vehicles were a blur in the distance. They flashed from green to brown, illuminating the night sky from a few miles away.
Craig saw them too, “well, turn us around; we can’t go through there with the contraband.”
“We can’t turn around.”
“We can’t?! This whole fucking car smells Salty. They’re going to know.”
“They have every exit from here to the border covered; roll down the window.”
“This isn’t High School, we can’t just air out our clothes, cover ourselves in axe body spray and hope it hides the scent.”
“Should we just throw it out on the side of the road? They’ll find it. Use your fuckin’ head, Craig. Drop the seats in the back and throw it back there—“
“Oh and that’s gonna work.”
“And what would you suggest?”
Craig stared hard at Daniel, the cogs in his brain desperately turning to come up with a solution, but offered no reply. Instead, he exuded a peeved grunt and moved his way to the back seat. He pressed the button releasing the seat and began to move the contraband into the tiny trunk of the car.
“There’s too many bags man,” Craig said, shaking his head. “too many bags…” but he kept on shoving the bags through the compartment behind the seats.
But Daniel ignored him. He adjusted the rearview mirror and eyed the road behind him. Green and brown behind us. The blur from before now became more clear. Green and brown in front of us. He could make out cars, lights, roadblocks.
His stomach sank at the sight. Dogs. When did they get dogs? He gripped the steering wheel tightly and swallowed hard.
“What?” he respond, though continued to stuff the contraband.
He threw his arms to his side and looked at Daniel incredulously. “Stop? STOP?! What the hell man, first you say put them in, now you say keep ‘em out. Make up your mind!”
“They got dogs.”
Craig’s face drooped. The desperation his features previously portrayed was replaced with dismay. His gaze was out the front window, squinting his eyes he tried to make out what was on the road in front of them. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know, man.”
“What the fuck do we do?! These people need this!” he gripped white paper bag in hand and shook it violently. “What do we do?” he asked again desperately.
“Gimme a second, lemme think…”
Daniel slowed the car down well before reaching the checkpoint. What do we do? He asked himself, as if repeating the question would unlock some secret intellect locked deep within his mind. What could they do, really? The car was a small hatchback, two door with literally no storage space. They had twenty pounds of contraband and twenty pounds was more than enough for a conviction. Twenty wasn’t just private consumption; they had enough to slap intention to sell on the two of them as well.
“What do we got in the bags?”
“Just answer my questions, what’s in the bags?!”
Craig rifled through the bags, “Jacob’s Crack, we got The Metro…” he threw the bags this way and that, “The Ginger…” he looked through the contraband, ignoring duplicates.
“Look for the Arrow.”
“Like a straight one?”
“No, one with an acute angle.”
He did as he was asked, his moves were less exact now, less cumbersome and more despondent. Beads of sweat appeared between the hairs of his growing forehead; the years hadn’t been kind to Craig’s hair. His scalp flaunted a full head of grey by the time he was twenty-eight. Five years later, his follicles were in full exodus.
“I don’t know man… I don’t see any…”
The check point was growing nearer. Their tiny two door hatchback passed by police cars and dogs on the side of the road as they swept for illegals. Despite his calm demeanor, Daniel started to feel the stress of their impending doom.
They were on track for their end. For twenty years in Federal Prison. Hell, it could be more; just last week a Judge threw the book at two not so different from them. Intent to sell and premeditated manslaughter. Two life sentences for the both of them.
“Did you find it?!” the shrill in his voice almost startled him.
“Yes!” Craig said, shaking the bag with the three syllabled slogan. “Right here!”
“Ok, give it here.” Daniel took the bag and looked it over, thank God for the private reserve. “Alright, there’s a small can of gasoline in the back.” He put the contraband in the center console between the two seats.
“Cover the goods with that blanket—no there, behind the big gulp – yeah hide that too.” He slowed the car, well below the speed limit. The police were just half a mile ahead and they needed time.
“Now throw the gasoline one top of the blanket, but not too much.”
Craig paused and looked at him worried.
“I’m not gonna torch the fuckin’ car while we’re in it. Just do it!”
He did as he was asked, lightly tossing on the petrol, filling the car with the scent of a gas station. Almost immediately the smell made him feel nauseated. But the saturated fats were gone.
“There should be a bag in behind my seat. Open it up and take the sticker out and place it on the back window.”
The police were close now. The brown and green flash of their lights were no longer emblazoned on the dark clouds above, they painted Daniel’s dash and windows in alternating colors. They had noticed the slowing of the car, police officers moved out from the road block.
Twenty feet and closing.
“Get up here before you get seen and bring the bag.”
He climbed over the bag simply dubbed ‘The Arrow’ and seated himself in the passenger side of the car. He opened the bag from behind Daniel’s seat, “Holy shit man, where’d you get the money for all this?”
“Been saving up, figured I needed a rainy day pouch.”
Craig laughed lightly, an uneasy laughter. “We might actually have a chance with all of this.”
“That’s the plan, now take out the two bottles from the bag.” The car eased forward as Daniel applied the brakes, “and shut up and act natural” he added.
An officer walked from the roadblock with his hand outstretched, ordering Daniel to stop the vehicle. His hair was long, matted, thick and probably hadn’t been properly washed in a few years. He leaned down and rapped his knuckle against the window; Daniel rolled it down.
“License and registration please.”
Daniel produced the necessary documents, practically threw them, actually. Act natural. Don’t be nervous.
“What’s going on here?” He asked the officer.
The man said nothing, but continued to look through his documents. His shirt was made of 100% recycled linen, no doubt. An odd mix of pine needle and body odor emanated from his body and mixed itself queerly with the petrol fumes in the car. His teeth cavity free, but smelled of baking soda and grey water.
“Why did you slow down way back there? And what’s that smell?”
“Car is having issues, I think it’s a gas leak or something.
Daniel knew the next question. He gripped the bottle produced from his rainy day bag and took a swig.
“Any illegal contraband in here?”
“No, sir.” He said, after a long drink from the bottle, then gesturing towards it. “Unless of course Kombucha and Mate made the Schedule I listing,” adding a laugh hoping to lighten the mood.
The officer stared blankly back at him. Great, we got Officer Boring. Officer Mundane. Officer Bland. The officer with carefully matted hair looked back at his companions and brought them over with the beckoning of his finger. Another officer, probably a rookie –his Marleyesque hair hadn’t reached below his shoulders—walked over, leading his dog on a homemade hemp leash.
“No illegal contraband?”
“Then what’s that?” the officer asked, gesturing to the bag with his windup, battery-free flash light.
“This?” Daniel asked. “I wasn’t aware they were Section I”
“You’re treading on thin ice with that. They aren’t illegal–yet.”
“Not illegal.” Daniel repeated, wagging his finger. He took a bite from a skimpy, somewhat pathetic looking banana. “Want a bite? I grew it in my backyard. 100% organic. As you can see the tree isn’t that big—yet.”
The officer eyed him accusingly. “I’ll pass.”
He took a step back and turned towards the newbie with the dog, “Sweep the car, they’re hiding something.”
The rookie slapped his heels together and saluted, “Sir!” The gesture made Officer Bland roll his eyes.
The man took the dog around the car. He used a mirror with a retractable pole to search under the car. The dog raced back and forth, from front to back, scratching here and there but producing nothing.
“Sir, he smells something,” the young man said, “but I can’t seem to find anything. Maybe the gas smell, but it could be nothing.”
“I’m sure he smells my dinner.” Craig offered, gesturing to the bag in the center console that had ‘put them on thin ice.’ “Now can we go?”
Officer Bland looked at the two in the car, then traced his eyes to the back of the car, where he flashed his environment friendly flashlight through the windows.
“What’s under the blanket?”
Daniel swallowed a giant lump in his throat and did his best to not look nervous. But how do you stop your body from physiologically reacting? How can you stop the sweat from plastering itself to your brow? He desperately wanted to quell the flush he felt in his cheeks.
“Did I stutter?” The officer asked, his voice thick with pleasure. “What’s in the blankets—“ he looked at the license in his hands, “Daniel?”
“Just some shit from a garage sale I got today.”
“Well then, you wouldn’t mind if I take a look at your, ‘shit you got from a garage sale,’ would you?”
Of course I mind you self-righteous hippie. “No, not at all.”
He reached for the handle and turned back to Craig. He looked twice as terrified as Daniel felt. He sucked the Mate from its straw like a nervous twitch. Daniel nodded at him and opened the door.
“Find it.” The officer said to the rookie, “I don’t care if you have to tear this car apart. There’s something in here these two are hiding.”
The other officer nodded and walked towards the car.
Daniel and Craig watched with abject horror. Their destinies flashed before their eyes; community service and life in prison if they were lucky. If not, perhaps an execution. These were strange times, punishments weren’t set.
The rookie was interrupted as he reached for the door handle, “What’s going on here?”
They turned their heads towards the source of the voice and saw an old, portly man walking towards them. “What in the hell is going on here?” he repeated.
“Searching their car, Sir.” Officer Bland responded.
“And why are we searching their car?”
Officer Bland looked to the rookie, then to the two of them and back to the big man. “I suspect they’re hiding something.”
“Suspect?” The officer looked to the two of them. His eyes might have been brown, or hazel, it was hard to tell behind the rose tinted, Windsor glasses. His beard was overgrown and scraggly; not at all handsome but oddly looked well kept. He was from another generation; different than the two of these here.
“They think they have something because of our lunch. He thinks it’s contraband.” Craig chimed in.
“You said it was your dinner,” Bland noted, “is your story changing?”
The older officer didn’t pursue the allegation, “What was for lunch?”
Craig turned towards the older officer, “In-N-Out burger, Sir”
“As you can tell,” the older man said, patting his belly, “I’ve enjoyed a few of those burgers in my day.”
“Sir,” Bland said, a hint of impatience rang in his voice, “it’s a rather fishy thing to have, don’t you think?”
“Does it fall under Section I?”
The haughty officer looked off away from the older man and shifted his weight. “Well, no, but—“
“Precisely. What we have here is an illegal stop.” His carefree demeanor changed, “this is an illegal search, and possibly an illegal seizure of personal property. Do you want this to come down crashing on our heads?”
“Well no, but—“
“And would you look at that?” the older man said, gesturing to back of the car.
Officer Bland craned his neck to look to the back of their car where Craig had hastily, but also carefully, slapped the ‘No Monsanto’ sticker.
The portly officer addressed Daniel, “What was your vote on 115-119?”
“GMO free, of course.”
The officer smiled and nodded then regarded Officer Bland. “I can’t afford to have the department breathing down my neck about this kind of stuff. Now, did you see any illegal contraband?”
“No sir, but—“
“Did the dogs find anything of note?”
“No, not yet but—”
“Do we have anything to charge these two?”
Officer Bland looked aghast at first. His mind churned with the hopes of an epiphany but nothing came to him. His demeanor changed; it started with his face then moved its way down his neck, through his shoulders and finally down to the core of his body. He tensed, then relaxed.
He looked defeated. “No, Sir.”
The old officer nodded and looked back at the two of them, “Go about your business.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Daniel said and walked towards the car.
Elation. That was the only way Daniel could describe the situation when he retold it 100 times over. Complete, unadulterated elation.
They entered the car and drove away from the check point. Driving towards exit 19, they put the green and brown lights behind them. They drove in complete silence, amidst the clashing smells of petrol and deep fried potatoes.
“Holy shit!” Craig finally yelled, smiling through his teeth. “Holyfuckingshit man!” He slapped Daniel heartily on the chest and laughed, almost maniacally. “Can you believe it?!”
“’No Monsanto’ sticker was a nice touch, huh?”
“Nice touch!?” the air from his lungs evacuated as he laughed, “That was fucking brilliant!”
Daniel grinned, “Shall we celebrate?”
Craig turned to meet Daniel’s gaze and smiled. “Pick your poison.”
With that Craig reached back and briefly searched. After a few seconds he produced a bag with The Ginger’s slogan scrawled across it:
It’s Better than Fast Food… It’s Wendy’s.
He reached in the bag and pulled out two packages for the both of them. Handling them greedily they produced the illegal contents beneath the wax wrapping labeled: Baconator.
Daniel flipped on his turn signal on exit 19 and took bite.
Welcome to Ashland. The sign greeted them with open arms. They raised their Baconators in a gesture of solidarity.