Kevin Sniggs had always wanted to be a hero. During his senior year of high school, he signed up for the police Explorers program so that he could ride with municipal cops, learn their trade, and be a part of the action. He expected to experience the thrills of high speed chases, apprehending dangerous suspects, and the gore of spectacular traffic accidents. However, the vast majority of his experience involved traffic stops and domestic disputes.
Sniggs quickly learned that the municipal police officers’ real purpose was the apprehension of law breakers, and not to “protect and serve” or “promote public safety” or whatever mission statement was scrawled on the doors of their cruisers. He also learned that obtaining probable cause was the first step in all police work. He discovered that finding it, in order to stop, detain, question, and search a suspect, was merely a formality. The innumerable volumes of regulations, codes, and ordinances on the books effectively meant that everyone was continuously breaking some law at all times. Probable cause to stop anyone at any time could be manufactured by any officer who had even the slightest modicum of legalistic creativity.
Sniggs initially felt that this process violated the spirit of the concept of law enforcement, but he soon grew numb to the cognitive dissonance of pulling drivers over on technicalities like speeding five miles over the limit, swerving within the designated lane, burned out license plate bulbs, worn tires, windows tinted too dark, music playing too loud, or cracked windshields in order to bust them for something more significant. He watched as countless softball dads were put through the routine of roadside gymnastics of increasing difficulty until they finally failed and were then compelled to blow into a straw. And when the alcohol content of their breath narrowly exceeded the legislatively arbitrated threshold, he dutifully assisted in their transport and booking. Guilt was presumed in advance, and the latitude available to police officers to get from probable cause to booking was exceedingly broad. The prosecutors, defenders, magistrates, and judges were aligned with the police interests as well. Only a tiny fraction of suspects escaped the system without a conviction.
Sniggs supposed that it was part of a heroic mission – reducing drunk driving – but he had to combat the realization that these efforts did little to get the habitual, hardcore, homicidal drunks off the roads. He came to accept that it was more about public relations and politics than promoting public safety. With enough research, increases in DUI arrests could be statistically correlated with declines in some alcohol-related cost measurement. The arrests were tallied and cited as the cause, and the politicians patted themselves on their backs. Statistical inference replaced deductive logic and a massive bureaucratic industry evolved and expanded around it. The checkpoints and campaigns and lowering of BAC limits and raising of the legal age kept the quotas and the detox rooms and court dockets and community service rolls and counseling classes and special insurance agencies loaded with a limitless supply of revenue-generating criminals, making any practical changes to the strategy of reducing drunk driving accidents effectively impossible.
Occasionally, Sniggs’s boring ride-a-longs would be enlivened by an occasional domestic violence call, usually after midnight on a school night. Sniggs inhaled the rush of the surging power of the police cruiser as his mentoring officer thrust his foot into the floorboards. Sirens. Flashing lights. Red, white, blue, red, white, blue. The mundane civilians, driving their heaps, darted out of the way as the cruiser wove between them at speeds vastly exceeding any reasonable threshold of public safety. It was these brief, intense moments that made his unpaid internship worthwhile.
Once or twice a week, Sniggs would find himself rocketed to the same seedy destination – not specifically the same address, but more or less the same place. Each address blended together after multiple visits: trailer park, concrete apartment plaza, decaying plywood subdivision. The same characters appeared at each scene, their roles filled by different actors, but each giving the same performance. The predominant plot involved two consenting adults: a drunken, pot-bellied male with raw knuckles and a disheveled female in a bathrobe with a puffy eye, bruised arm, and bloody lip, often wielding a carving knife or some blunt instrument. The male suspect would clam up the instant he spotted law enforcement. The female, presumed to be the victim, would begin cursing and screaming at that same moment. She’d continue until the neighbors were lured into the night by the red, white, and blue flashes, like a school of bluegill to a fisherman’s lantern.
“I’m going to need you to put that knife down,” Sniggs’s mentor would order, a flashlight in one hand and his other hand sliding down to his holster. The woman would hide the weapon behind her back, acting aghast at herself that she had been waving it around like some psychotic pirate. “Can you tell me what’s going on, ma’am?”
She’d shout out her version of events, describing her mate’s drunkenness, laziness, violence, and/or unfaithfulness. The officer would let her blow it off for a minute, then he would talk her down until they were speaking in a conversational tone, reminding her repeatedly to drop the knife. In Sniggs’ mind, modern law enforcement was a fusion of both science and art, a sorcery that beguiled him. He was captivated by the repetitive, self-destructive drama, watching it play out from the insulated safety of the police cruiser. He knew by experience that a third act would always come.
Once the situation was initially diffused, the officer would cuff the male suspect and place him in the car. Then, as if guided by cue, the female would reanimate, screaming curses and threats at the officer for arresting her mate. Wild eyes, menacing stares, and flailing gestures would follow – all probable cause for arrest or worse. The officer would make a perfunctory attempt to calm things down again, but a wrestling match would usually ensue. For Sniggs, it was far better than any action movie or reality TV show. Sometimes, it was even better than cable when the officer would have to subdue a barely clothed and hostile female suspect. Her robe might burst open, exposing an areola, or sometimes, while trying to break loose, a pelvic thrust revealed a patch of pubic hair. It was quite a thrill for an eighteen-year-old boy, especially one who lacked the poise, looks, and nerve to score in high school.
Sniggs’s identity evolved in the Explorers program. He developed a profile of them. He recognized them instantly by their clothes, their hair, their accessories and ink, their style of cars and homes. They melded into one archetype, one person in Sniggs’s mind. It was as if they had been conceived from a single genetic vat and churned out into the world from a secret assembly line, like pharmaceutical products. To Sniggs, the mundanes were less than human – some intermediary species, an anthropological missing link, untrustworthy and unworthy of the respect afforded to fully-formed humans. Logic evaporated from their minds at the instant any stimulus was applied. Unable to control their emotions, deaf to reason, they responded only to blunt force trauma. Nevertheless, Sniggs felt it was his righteous calling to save them from themselves.
His experience enabled him to observe the full spectrum of societal carnage wrought by drug and alcohol abuse. It left an indelible imprint on his perception of the world. To him, chemical abuse was a scourge to be eradicated – by force, where necessary. He fully subscribed to the government’s mission to save the proletarian underclass with drug prohibition. The futile effort assumed a noble, righteous quality for him, and his experience demystified his father’s addiction.
When Sniggs graduated high school, which he simultaneously celebrated and regretted because it meant nearing the end of his Explorers experience, he enrolled at the local commuter college. He found commuter college to be something of an extension of high school, and less disorienting than driving off to some distant campus where friends would have to be remade and a social life reconstructed. Sniggs thrived in grades thirteen to sixteen, and he soon obtained his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Exposure to psychology and sociology broadened his base of knowledge, but the progressive curriculum only hardened his perception of the underclass as helpless wards. But it did give him hope for his father. The enigma of his dad, a heartless, wooden, mottled, hoary man with glasses as thick as the bottoms of Coke bottles, loomed ever larger as Sniggs delved into the work of Carl Jung. He often contemplated how he might fix his father, now that he was armed with esoteric knowledge. His father was clearly clinically possessed and in need of psychiatric exorcism.
After college, Sniggs became a police officer, applying his boundless energy to the trade. He was propelled by the high of the power granted by his uniform and badge. He quickly achieved recognition and respect for his efforts, but like all addicts, Sniggs eventually found his appetite insatiable. He needed to be more than just a suburban street cop filling DUI quotas. It began to bore him. His patience grew shorter and shorter, and his contempt for the mundanes grew deeper and deeper. He perceived every encounter as a deliberate attempt by them to endanger him. Even a lack of sufficient deference on a mundane’s behalf was interpreted by him as a threat.
He enrolled in the DEA program in Quantico. He was ready for it. He was fit, pumping iron at the gym five times per week. He could run five miles without breaking a sweat. He gave up junk food and drinking. He did pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups in scores. He passed all the tests and background checks and psych evaluations. He sailed through the application process and was quickly accepted. Sniggs completed his training and became an agent. It was the crowning achievement of his young life. It felt as though he were a made man. His father simply had to acknowledge what Kevin had made of himself. He longed for a concession speech from him, but the congratulatory phone call never came. Kevin Sniggs, consumed by a need for his father’s approval, had to place the call himself.
“Is this Kevin?”
“Yeah Dad, it’s me.”
“What’ya know, boy?”
“They hired me, Dad.”
“Who hired you?”
“The DEA. I’m a federal agent, now.”
“Good,” his father answered with all the sincerity of a telemarketer.
“I guess that’s all.” Sniggs was crushed. He became irritated and began to regret even calling in the first place. He was about to hang up, but decided to make one more attempt. “You know, it was a pretty difficult process, but I made it through. I worked my ass off for this.”
“Good for you, boy. You go to church this week?”
The contempt welled up in Kevin.
Why did I call him? he thought. I humiliated myself.
For Sniggs, his father represented an inexhaustible wellspring of rage that subconsciously fueled his ambitions. Each encounter powered him onward, taking him farther. His only recourse was to embrace his despair. If he could not come to accept that his father would never respect him, he could at least parlay that pain into personal motivation.
Although a monumental leap forward in his career, Sniggs’s DEA gig was composed of long stretches of dull routine – training, surveillance, training, paperwork, training, and meetings. But the occasional action – the raids – were enough to hold his interest.
The meth lab raids were the craziest jobs, and those became the focus of his unit when Agent Vincent Acevedo took over. Acevedo was already widely known as one of the most aggressive agents in the DEA. His exploits had become legendary. Some half-jokingly attributed it to extrasensory perception. Others attributed it to his extra-legal arrangements with a battalion of shady informants, Mafioso, junkies, and distributors. Time after time, Acevedo’s instincts would uncover a trove of speed production. His team would stake out some loner doctor, biker, gangbanger, or bearded freak cooking it up in his basement. When sufficient suspicion was gathered via surveillance, Acevedo would secure a no-knock warrant.
The pre-raid tension would be built up to intolerable levels by hours of silent surveillance and tedious planning. Then the green light would come. They’d gear up in black uniforms and Kevlar, with an armored tactical vehicle acting as their support. With guns drawn and the hazmat specialists waiting just out of sight, they’d advance up the driveway to the front door. One. Two. Three. Smash the window. Toss in the flashbang grenade. Swing the battering ram and knock the front door off the hinges. Smoke. Screaming. Shouting. Hogtie everyone and haul them away. Ransack the house. Then pour in the guys in white suits to clean up the joint. Gather all the evidence required to make the case airtight. In Acevedo’s case, manufacture some if necessary so the mission wasn’t a waste of agency time or budget. Then hand the case over to the special prosecutor and move on to the next.
The supply of drug raids provided inexhaustible work for agents like Sniggs – exciting, recession-proof employment with great benefits. No one wanted the War on Drugs to end – especially not the DEA. What else would they do with themselves? They even budgeted $3 million per year to fight legalization efforts with TV commercials and campaign contributions. The lawyers were vested as well. How would they make a living without the War on Drugs? Chase ambulances? Tax litigation? Divorce? Probate? And the politicians? If not for the societal blight of illegal drugs, what pariah would they have around upon which to justify their existence? And the prison guards? The prisons were filled with users and traffickers. And the prison builders? Building and owning prisons was a gravy train for the corporations with political connections. Ironically, it was perhaps the drug dealers who wanted drug prohibition to end least of all. If drug prohibition ended, they knew that they would have to compete with Wal-Mart’s or Amazon’s pricing power. Where was the margin in that business model? The War on Drugs directly affected a massive share of the economy. It was like a modern day New Deal, a bloated public works program…only with guns.
Kevin geared up for his latest meth raid. His unit pulled up into a cluster of trailers and spilled out of their black SUVs – Chevy Tahoes. Sniggs scrambled up to the front door of the suspect’s trailer, MP5 drawn. No battering ram was necessary this time. The flimsy trailer door would give way with a good swift kick. Agents went around to the back to close off the escape route into the woods. Hand signals flashed. Synchronized watches were checked. A grenade was pulled off a belt. Another agent smashed the window and tossed it in. Thunder and lightning. Another agent kicked in the door. Smoke billowed. Sniggs raised his rifle. He spotted the suspect. The suspect dove. He was holding a gun. Kevin Sniggs fired twice by reflex. The smoke cleared. Sniggs was calm. His reaction had been automatic. The other agents searched the house.
On the floor lay Monte Turcot. He was alive, wounded and groaning. Sniggs knelt down to secure the suspect’s firearm, but it was nothing more than a TV remote. He rolled the man onto his stomach and handcuffed him.
“Shit!” shouted an agent.
For a brief moment, Sniggs contemplated planting a throwdown, but that was not something he could do on his own, with other agents in view. He needed another agent to do that for him, to back him up. Otherwise, it could make his mistake a hundred times worse. But no backing was offered for the rookie Kevin Sniggs. He felt betrayed and alone.
“Goddamn it!” shouted another agent.
Having secured the suspect, Sniggs moved towards the shouts coming from around the thin wall separating the kitchen from the living room.
“We need some help back here!”
Sniggs saw a bullet hole. It must have been his bullet as no one else had fired. He peered around the wall into the kitchenette. An agent knelt on the linoleum floor there, administering first aid.
“Get an ambulance!” he shouted at Sniggs, who stood frozen in horror. “Go! Now! Move!”
On the floor lay Monte Turcot’s wife.