“Dude! Puh-leeeeeeze don’t take me to jail!”
“I don’t wanna go to jail!”
He’d been driving down the center of the road. It was like this guy’s personal lane extended from the middle of each lane inward. Most drivers try to stay between the lines, but he preferred to stay on the line.
So I lit his ass up.
And followed. And followed.
Lights flashing, bright and obvious in the darkness.
Now I’m thinking: Hmmmm…what’s he doing? Chugging a beer? Smoking a doobie? Calling a lawyer?
Finally, he pulls over. Nice and slow to the right shoulder…and then pulls back out on the road. But driving slowly enough that I thought I was following a white Bronco.
Eventually, he pulls over and stops…in a no passing zone on a curve.
So while I’m calling in the plate and getting ready to be Mr. Officer, I see there are two people and they are futzing around like crazy. Side to side and up and down and under the seats and into the glove box and all over the place.
‘Furtive movements,’ is what court language calls it. It’s one of those things that allows cops to raise the stakes a little on a traffic stop. It’s because we have no idea what someone is doing. Maybe they’re reaching for a gun. Maybe they’re getting ready to throw acid in my face (or urine…which has actually happened around the country a few times). Or maybe they’re hiding the bloody screwdriver they just stabbed Mama and Daddy with.
So these two are furtive-ing like crazy and it makes my balls tighten a little. But it also makes me flood their vehicle with white light and get to them quicker. Quicker to see what’s going on and maybe the night’ll get way interesting.
When I’m at the back end of the SUV, I order them to put hands on the dash, and hear a squeak.
Not a mechanical squeak, but a human one.
I get a bit closer, say, “What’s going on?” with that dickhead cop voice that people so hate but that helps me take control of a situation.
And again the squeak. Except this time it was really more of a moan.
I get a look at the driver and realize he’s scared to death. Pale, shaking hands, sweating.
And he’s 15.
That’s right, folks. Freakin’ 15-years old and terrified. With his hands above his head like in an old noir flick.
“Dude! Puh-leeeeeeze don’t take me to jail!”
“Calm down. Take a breath, man.”
He tries and chokes and coughs. The girl sitting next to him, probably 16 or 17, puts a hand on his arm and tells him to take it easy.
“What are you doing?” I ask, all stern-voiced and cop-like.
He launches into a stammer-filled explanation of why he was driving down the middle of the road (cheating the right side ’cause he was scared of hitting a deer…maybe hitting a car head-on didn’t seem to bother him so much), why he pulled over and then pulled back out (didn’t think it was a safe place to pull over…cause a no passing on a curve is waaaaaay better) and why he has no driver’s license (just started driver’s ed…and got his neighbor to let him take her to go practice).
“There are 9,000 miles of back roads in this county,” I said. “Why did you come out on one of the busiest?”
Which is normally true, but just to make me look stupid, this road is completely empty for the entire duration of this traffic stop.
He just keeps begging me not to take him to jail. Apologizing and calling me ‘Officer,’ and ‘sir.’ It was all I could do not to laugh (which probably says something terrible about me, I know). I tell him, about 498,288 times, to calm the hell down. His hysteria is starting to get to me. Making my head hurt.
So I go to my car, run the girl, who’s license is fine, and go back. The kid is still sitting there with his hands above his head.
Now, here’s the deal, I could have ticketed this kid, taken him home, delivered him to his parents, and gotten the official machinery cranked to plow him over. He was driving without a license, after all. There would have been a fine, but more importantly – at least to him – it would have totally hosed his driver’s ed class. He wouldn’t have gotten his license for who knows how long.
But what did he really do wrong? He was trying to practice so he’d be a better driver, he was driving slowly and cautiously, worried about deer. He didn’t really panic and do anything stupid until he saw my lights.
Maybe I’m a crappy cop, but I just couldn’t bring myself to hammer this kid. He wasn’t drinking, he wasn’t fighting, he wasn’t even in the same universe as most knuckle-draggers I deal with.
Which didn’t mean I wasn’t going to have a little fun with him.
So I went back to the SUV, holding my cuffs casually but obviously, and said, “Do you understand what you’ve done?”
The I clicked them.
One of the most recognizable sounds in the world. The click-click-click of cuffs being tightened.
The kid’s eyes rolled up in the back of his head and he slumped backward.
Holy SHIT!! I’ve killed him!
“Dude, ease up,” I said. “You’re not going to jail…this time. But if I catch you on my busy roads again with no license.”
I clicked the cuffs again.
He was like a bobble-headed Jesus on a car dashboard. Head up and down and up and down about a million and a half times, so fast my own head was spinning.
Then I eased up a little. Told the girl to take him out on a back road and let him practice there.
See…here’s the thing…he was pissing himself last night. Probably a heart rate in the 160s, blood pressure 210 over 175. But by next week, he’ll laugh about the entire thing. And when his kids are 15 and in driver’s ed, he’ll use this story to scare holy hell outta them.
So…really…I’ve psychically damaged at least two generations.
That’s a good night’s work!