Showing posts with label Blue Light Special. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blue Light Special. Show all posts

27 June 2021

Blue Light Special

Back in the summer of 1980,Miami was an open town. The Cocaine Cowboys were riding high with cash, guns, killings and lots of product. Enterprising pilots, flying under the radar, clandestinely dropped parcels of cocaine and bundles of marijuana into the swamps to be recovered by ground crews. Mother ships loaded with marijuana out of Colombian ports ran the high seas headed north. Dealers used grocery sacks to take their money to the bank. Get in a wreck with a van load of marijuana on the Interstate? Walk away, there will be another load. Homicide cops responding to killings of major league dealers found large quantities of money. Temptation set in. After all, the owner of all that cash wasn't alive to complain about his loss. But, when those big payouts went dry, some entrepreneur cops decided to make their own killings. And, guess who did the homicide investigations on those deceased dealers? It could be an exciting time...... if you lived.

That summer, I caught a special and got loaned out to our office in Miami for a few months. Twelve of us agents from various offices across the U.S. were temporarily assigned to the same task force to replace the group of local agents who were being relocated further south to conduct surveillance on clandestine landing strips known to be on several islands in the Caribbean.

Part of our duties were to partner with U.S. Customs out of the port of Miami in order to intercept smugglers along the Florida coast at midnight as they tried running in from the Bahama banks. We hunted in wolf packs with go-fast boats and a Customs tug boat which operated a radar set. Whenever the tug's First Mate got a speeding blip on his radar screen, he radioed the information to the appropriate go-fast boats and the chase was on. At the time, Customs used a flashing blue Kojak light to signify their presence. Some smugglers then idled their engines and trusted to their hidden compartments to get them through. Others goosed their engines and ran for it.

Meanwhile, on the Gulf side of Florida a few enterprising redneck entrepreneurs who didn't have the cash nor connections to purchase large quantities of controlled substances on their own came up with the bright idea of acquiring their own flashing blue lights. This situation made for confusion and adrenaline, not to mention what you might call a touch of modern day piracy conducted under a false flag.

With all of this fodder for a short story, I couldn't resist when Mystery Weekly Magazine put out a submission call for humorous stories to publish in its Die Laughing anthology. My story, "Blue Light Special," was accepted earlier this month, the e-contract has been signed, PayPal has delivered the payment and now I'm somewhat patiently waiting to have the anthology in hand.

Yes, you may sleep easy in your beds at night. Worse thought-out plots of nefarious action have occurred on the high seas in the dark of night. So, pleasant reading to you and yours, and have a few laughs while you're at it.

PS ~415 stories were submitted to the anthology, 44 were accepted. A hearty congratulations to SleuthSayers Rob Lopresti and Bob Mangeot for making the cut.

06 July 2012

Blue Light Special

by R.T. Lawton

Along about the Summer of 1980, I got orders for a special down in Miami. These "specials" came up from time to time whenever the agency temporarily needed extra manpower to help out in a certain region. For this one, the Miami group which normally worked with Customs and Coast Guard was headed down into the Caribbean for their own special operation in some of the islands, so the agency brought in other agents from all over the U.S. to replace them. That's when my name came up in the rotation and I got drafted to Miami.

In those days, Castro had already emptied many of his prison cells and put the inmates on boats headed for Florida. You've probably seen Al Pachino in Scarface. Well, those were some of the Marielitos that ended up in Liberty City under the Interstate overpass. Liberty City as a holding center was winding down by the time we got there, which meant many of its inhabitants were now residents of Miami. This was also the era of the Cocaine Cowboys, low-flying planes dropping clandestine loads in the Everglades, go-fast boats running in from the Bahama Banks and mother ships coming up from Colombia. Miami was flush with drug money and vibrated with adrenaline.

Most nights, our group hooked up with Customs agents a few hours before dark. They'd take us to a Cuban restaurant for supper and then it was down to the docks for a briefing. One or two of our guys always got assigned to the Customs tug that had radar on it. The rest got singled out to go-fast boats previously seized from smugglers and paired up with Customs agents.
Out on the water, sometimes in sight of the city lights and sometimes sitting off some dark part of the Florida coast, the tug would take up a position in the middle of our long, thin line, while the go-fasts spread way out to either side. We hunted in wolf packs, waiting for a radio call from the tug that their radar had picked up a fast moving blip coming in from Jamaica, the Bahama Banks or elsewhere. Smugglers trying to make a midnight run with offload crews waiting at a secret rendezvous.

The Customs agent in my go-fast would slap a blue Kojak light on the prow, kick the engine to life and away we'd go. Nobody had uniforms to identify ourselves, except the Captain and the First Mate on the tug. The rest of us in those days wore plain clothes. All we had were our badges, side arms and that blue revolving light.

When smugglers saw that flashing blue light, they'd try to turn to one side, but if we had done it right, then we'd soon have other flashing blue lights converging on both sides. Most times, if they could, the smugglers would keep on going, run their boat up on the nearest beach and disappear into the night landscape. They'd merely abandon their vessel and its contraband load. Better than a stretch in federal prison.

What we found out later was that most smugglers wouldn't even think of stopping because of other actions happening further south in the Keys. Seems there were some good ol' boys in some of the back waters who had their own go-fast boats, but didn't have enough front money to get involved in the drug trade, so they went out and bought their own blue lights. They'd motor out into the southern Florida waters and pull over boats they thought were smuggling. If they caught a load, they'd steal it, shoot up the other boat and maybe its occupants. This made smugglers a little antsy about pulling over for any blue light. Can't say I blame them, but it made our job harder.

On quiet nights, if the Customs agent got bored, he was likely to slide our go-fast up next to a private fishing boat in the dark, slap the blue light on, knock on the hull with his knuckles and announce his authority. When a head appeared over the rail, he'd tell them we were coming aboard to check records and maybe search the guy's boat. Some smugglers relied on hidden compartments and the appearance of normalcy to bring in their loads. Thus, we ended up searching for fresh seams or paint in the cabin and after deck. Anything that looked newly reworked or out of place.

Of course, the trick for us landlubbers gone to sea for the first time was learning how to board from one dead-in-the-water boat to another dead-in-the water boat while both platforms were bobbing up and down in ocean swells out of synch. One mis-timed leap and you could either land on the far side of the other deck with a lot of momentum headed for the outside rail and a quick bath, or one could find himself suddenly pressed flat against the other hull and sliding down....towards a quick bath.

Like most surveillance, the majority of nights were quiet and boring. But then, came those nights filled with adrenaline, excitement and the BLUE LIGHT SPECIALS. We're not talking K-Mart here.