“Uh…30? Uh…can you stop a bus?”
I think I tilted my head the way a dog does when they hear an odd sound.
“Can you stop a bus? A big, red bus. Headed your way.”
A big red bus. Coming for me. Hmm…that seemed to have the flavor of a chain-yanking, doesn’t it?
A second later, dispatch said, “Three males, suspects in a string of car thefts last night in Iowa.”
Rock and roll, baby! Let’s do this thing.
That’s just fun. I mean…for me…not so much for those who got their car stolen. But this kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often in my small jurisdiction so I was all up for it.
I got the information, went to the highway, and waited on the bus. But I was a little nervous, too, because the Iowa agency was sure these guys were the second half of a six-man team. Sure of it.
But no arrests, they said.
I was told to stop them, photograph them, get their names and addresses and other info, see if one of them had any cuts…and…?
Put them back on the bus.
Even now, couple of months later, I don’t understand that. If these are the guys, why send them packing? Doubly so since they’re from Chicago. Come on, these guys will disappear in the chaos of Chicago and that department will never, ever see them again.
But it wasn’t my case so I did what I was asked.
Initially, the plan was to stop the bus on the side of the highway. I’d climb aboard a big red Trailways full of something like 60 plus people, find my three guys, and do my thing.
With no one watching my back. With no one keeping an eye on our little trio of ne’er-do-wells while I photo’d and ID’d and all that. Plus, no one seemed to have any idea if they had a record, if they liked to fight, if they were carrying weapons.
In fact, after I found the bus and was driving behind it, I’m beginning to realize I don’t know squat.
So I suggest having the bus stop at the truck stop. Get me a little back up from the city boys. Just in case these guys were packing attitude or gats.
Rather than city boys, two of my own show up. Yeehaw for the boys in brown. So I clamber onto the bus and 64 pair of eyes are staring hard at me.
Because I just stopped their trip home.
“Welcome to Bureau County,” I said, my arms wide like some sort of barker at the entrance to the Freak Show.
Told them I’d have them moving as quickly as I could, but that I had a wee bit of business with…and I read the three names.
No one moved. They all stared at me.
I read the names again.
And again no one moved.
At this point, the hair on the back of my neck was starting to tingle. My sergeant was behind me and could feel him stiffen up. He shifted his body and took a more tactical stance. The officer outside started eyeing the sergeant hard, waiting for whatever was about to happen.
I slipped into my jail voice; big and booming and brooking no bullshit. That voice has come in handy a number of times.
“Gentlemen, there are two ways this can go. If I have to go through this entire bus person-by-person? Not the easy answer.”
There was a loooooooong moment when nothing happened. Those moments always leave me a little light-headed afterward. Ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, nothing happens. Someone steps forward, someone raises a hand, someone does the right – and safe – thing.
But during that second or three you think about the one time out of one-hundred. Adrenaline starts to pump. Skin heats up. Vision narrows (suddenly I couldn’t see my sergeant in my peripheral vision). Fingertips go numb from loss of fine motor control. Stomach tightens. Breath shallows.
And you start thinking about bullets flying, or guys coming at you with iron-hard fists, or a mope grabbing a passenger and jamming a knife against their throat.
You think about the million things that could happen.
“Gentlemen,” I said. “Last chance.”
I stepped up to the first passenger, though I was actually riveted on the middle of the bus where an older guy fidgeted.
Finally, he stood. “Yeah, I’m’s him.”
The younger two decided that was their cue. They came down the aisle – behind the first guy – straight to me.
I took them as far behind the bus and our assembled squad cars as I could (don’t need the bus people seeing all their business, I thought, if you can dig it), and did my thing. Name, address, birth date, pix of faces, full bodies, shoes, treads.
And just a few questions, if you please, about that unbelievably giant gash running the length of your finger. The one that’s bleeding all over everything? That’s so deep I can see the bone? That you have a napkin wrapped around?
I can’t remember now exactly how he said he got it but I remember laughing – unprofessionally – at his story. Right out loud. Right in his face. I tried to stop but I couldn’t. It was just so much freakin’ bullshit. He didn’t quite say “paper cut” but it was close.
So I snapped pix of the bloody finger (isn’t that an old camp fire horror story…The Bloody Finger?) and…?
Put ’em back on the bus, per Iowa’s request. Drove me crazy because these were obviously the guys. Their bullshit stories didn’t match at all. Not in the big details, not in the small details.
I followed them back to the bus, which bugged the shit out of them, and apologized to everyone for the delay. Then I wished them well and sent the Big Red Bus on down the road.
And for some reason, I couldn’t get The Who’s ‘Magic Bus’ outta my head.