Our town had been suffering a rash of convenience store robberies lately so the local Sheriff's Sub-Station Commander, in his wisdom, decided to call out the reserves. This, in itself was a rare occurrence. We had been called out on only two previous occasions; once to secure the scene at a double murder and once again when a motorcycle gang was having a reunion and camp-out under a bridge just outside of town. If we did anything beside patrol it was usually limited to Friday night high school football games or Mexican weddings. In the later case we used to fight over who would take the assignment. Buildings at the local fairgrounds were favoured for weddings in Mexican families because they had all the facilities for cooking and dancing etc., while providing room for the extended family and plenty of parking. One of the requirements of renting was that county law enforcement had to be on site. There was seldom any trouble and it never failed that we were invited to join in when it came time to eat. The only danger being to anyone who got between the food and us!
In this call out, we were to stakeout some selected stores and try to nab some robbers in the act. My friend Dennis and I were assigned to a store that was located across the freeway from town in an area without much traffic. It seemed like ripe pickings to me. Naturally, we couldn't use a Sheriff's car, which was a little too obvious what with the lights on top, and the big fluorescent stars on the side. Besides, they didn't trust us with one of their cars anyway. It wasn't because we weren't trained; all reserves had to have attended the Sheriff's Training Academy and successfully completed the requirements of the California POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) certificate. It was just that we were Reserves and not Regulars! So we ended up in my '66 El Camino (henceforth referred to as the Bat-Car) with a portable radio for communication.
Before leaving, Mrs Wilderness and Dennis' wife prepared us for any unforeseen undertakings by making sandwiches and a whole lot of coffee. Thus armed to the teeth, we set out at about 8:00PM (2000 Crime Fighting Time) to insure Truth, Justice and the American Way would prevail. In fighting crime, it is just as important to pay attention to the details as it is in the wilderness; so to prepare for our mission we had to insure we were ready for anything. That is why Dennis decided to test the cigarette lighter. You see this was in a time when everybody who was anybody smoked. There was John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Serpico and most cops, including us. No way could we sit in this car for three or four hours without a smoke. Also, an open flame might reveal our position so we had to use the Bat-Car's cigarette lighter. Dennis pushed the lighter in as he said "Prepare to test lighter!" The lighter stayed in... and stayed in... and stayed in. It went well beyond the official, allowable 'stay in time' for a Bat-Car cigarette lighter.
We were already in trouble and the night hadn't begun yet. In near panic Dennis started checking under the dash for loose wires, you know, by pulling at them. None came out, at least without great effort, so after moving them around a little bit he decided to try the lighter again. This time he pushed in on the lighter and didn't release it. After an appropriate amount of time he took the lighter out and put his finger into the lighter to see if it was warm. Now I would never say that Dennis was slow but I actually saw smoke curling up out of the lighter and hovering there before he yelled and pulled his finger out. For months he carried the scar of the little circles from the cigarette lighter on his index finger. At least we now knew that we could count on the Bat-Car's lighter… even if we did have to hold it in until it was hot.
Eventually we arrived at our stakeout location and decided on the best place to park. During the previous robberies the getaway car was parked on the side or in back of the store so staff could not see it. We decided to park in a darkened area in back of the store so we could see both sides and the back. The front of the store was out of the question because it was well lit and we would be easily seen. After parking, Dennis got out and walked toward the store to see how visible we were from there. He came back and reported that the dark blue Bat-Car was all but invisible.
So we settled in to our night of crime fighting, you see this particular store didn't close until midnight. Naturally we couldn't listen to the radio because we had to hear what was going on around us. It was a Friday night so there was a lot of action on the portable radio we had but it was turned down so that people walking anywhere nearby couldn't hear it. Really, the only thing to do is listen to other cars getting the calls and discussing the possibilities of what they might find when the arrived on the scene. We were soon into the coffee and sandwiches and the night seemed to be going well.
I remember one car getting a call to proceed to the local dump; there had been a report of shots fired. A short time went by and then the unit called back in and reported 10-18 (he had arrived on the scene) and GOA (gone on arrival). We both knew what had happened, the unit sent was already at the dump and they were the ones doing the shooting! It was a popular pastime to plink at cans and bottles at the dump when nobody was around. On occasion, a citizen would hear the gunshots and call in. Everything was recorded so a unit had to be dispatched to check it out but we all knew what was going on. We also knew somebody was in trouble too, the practice was frowned upon by the Sheriff's Office.
Somewhere around eleven o'clock, the clerk inside the store came around the corner from the front and threw some trash into the bin next to the building. He seemed to look around but did nothing suspicious so we went back to lying to each other, eating and drinking coffee. Although we were on the other side of the freeway we could see traffic on the main road of town. Dennis happened to look over that way and noticed two cars traveling parallel with where we were and both had their red lights flashing. Suddenly two more cars joined them and now we were really interested. Four cars running down the main street with lights flashing but no sirens... something was up.
I got on the radio and called the sub-station; I said to the dispatcher; "We got four units going down seventh street code three and no sirens, what's up?" The sergeant, who was in one of the cars, came back to us and said; "Stand by, we think something is going down at a 7-11!" I said; "Which 7-11?" He said; "The one on Mojave Drive. We got two suspicious subjects in a car behind the store!"
Well, I suppose you've already figured it out, it only took Dennis and me a split second to realize we were sitting in the Bat-Car behind the 7-11 on Mojave Drive and half the units in town were on their way to confront us… or worse. The only problem was, I didn't know how to break it to the sergeant... what words to use to sound confident that we were supposed to be there and it was his fault for not knowing where everybody was. In the end there was little I could say; I simply spoke into the microphone, for the entire cop world to hear; "Sarge, we're sitting in the Bat-Car behind the 7-11 on Mojave Drive and we're the only ones here!" Well, maybe I didn't tell him we were in the Bat-Car but I did tell him the two creeps he was coming after were us!
There was nothing but silence on the radio for the next two or three minutes! I mean it was like every cop within fifty miles was laughing so hard he or she couldn't pick up the microphone… or didn't want to. Without a word being said, we saw the red flashing lights on the four cars on Seventh Street suddenly go out and the cars disappeared as well. Dennis and I looked at each other and it was a 'Now look what you've done Ollie!' moment. All we could figure out was, the clerk must have seen the invisible Bat-Car when he dumped the trash and then called the sub-station. There was nothing else for us to do but grab another sandwich and have some coffee.
The convenience store robbers didn't strike anywhere that night. If they had a scanner they were probably laughing along with most of the cops in the surrounding area. After the store closed and the clerk left, we took the radio back to the sub-station. It was after shift change and there weren't many people hanging around but everybody we talked to knew of the 'Great Convenience Store Incident' and they all wondered where the Sarge had gone because he wasn't heard from again for the rest of the shift. We never heard another word about that night but then we also steered well clear of the Sarge from then on.
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