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My Outside is Not My Inside, Damn it!

Our eyes met instantly. Gumshoe saw the unmistakable flash of fear coupled simultaneously with the confusion and the dread on the female clerk’s middle-aged face.  Genuine shock and bewilderment were genuinely apparent.  No voided bladder, thank God!

She was probably thinking to herself, “Not again!  Why did I take the nighttime shift?  I hate this job!”

Gumshoe heard her sudden gasp of breath as she unconsciously stepped haphazardly away from the front counter inside of the “7-11” convenience mart. She brought her arms up and her palms were exposed and figuratively pushing this unwelcomed intruder away.  She was the exact spitting image personified of the “Flight or Fight” syndrome but she remained frozen in fear.

A pregnant pause is in order gentle readers in order to provide you with some context. Southern California street cops referred to the local “7-11’s” as “Stop & Robs”.  Since they were routinely the victims of armed robberies. They were always located “freeway close” and were open 24/7 year-round and not just from 7 to 11 as the brand indicated in bright red letters on the storefronts. The modern marketing sale strategy consisted of the multiplicity of store locations (freeway close) and with the perpetual hours of operation effectively targeted the motoring public looking for their slurppies and assorted sundries.

This marketing strategy had the downside of making the stores easy targets for the drug-addicted-street-scum- bags who wanted to make a quick score of some ready till cash.  No coins don’t cha know?  More often than not, these miscreants, misanthrope bipods would be armed and the clerks were assaulted and just shot for being too slow or for not being able to open the drop floor safe.

Ready cash (disposal income) was demanded by these mutated DNA humanoids reject to obtain their next few “fixes” of their poison of choice to their wasting away bodies.  Heroin, tar heroin (uncut), crack cocaine, meth, whatever was the “flavor of the month” on the street drug market trade that also was opened for biz 24/7 year-round for the targeted customers.

Gumshoe felt sad and angry that he could not prevent this kind lady’s immediate horror, damn it! Gumshoe wanted to shout out loud, “I’m really a good guy! Please don’t be afraid!  You’re not going to be robbed!  You’re not going to be assaulted!”

Yes, Gumshoe had two handguns concealed on his person along with a visible buck knife, but they would not be displayed under the fluorescent lights.  Gumshoe had to remain in his uncomfortable, undercover mode silence and demeanor.

Street Narc 101:  Never ID as a cop unless it was to another cop or when you positively had to safeguard a life.  You see folks,  criminals sometimes come in pairs and have backup crook cretins that just might be behind you when you stupidly reveal your true colors.

Yes, this unkempt and unwelcomed 7-11 intruder was Gumshoe.  Yes, Gumshoe the undercover street narc.

Gumshoe was clad in his filthy-looking and smelling narc uniform that was worn day in and day out.  You really have to be all in looking and playing the part from bad breath, dirty fingernails to unsightly nose hairs.  Street thugs don’t do the day spa treatment.

Gumshoe wore a badly faded and ripped blue denim authentic prison jacket; a pair of oil-stained blue (almost blackened) jeans, a silver death head belt buckle; an attached protruding biker chain; a pair of scuffed black boots; a black knit watch cap and a black crew neck tee shirt. Gumshoe sported his long greasy blond locks that sprouted from the sides and rear of his frayed knit cap. Gumshoe’s hair extended well beyond the frayed collar of the prison jacket.

Faded tattoos were readily visible on Gumshoe’s face and neck.  A teardrop “tatt” below the left eye; a set of lightning bolts on the right side of the neck and a small colored “Tweety Bird” graced (perched) on the left side of Gumshoe’s neck. Gumshoe also grew a so-called beard that looked like the rear end of a dried-up road-killed raccoon. Gumshoe would think of the words of his Parris Island Marine Corps D.I., “Why are you cultivating the hair on your face that grows wildly on your ass, maggot?”

Note:  Our unit had a contact from Universal Studios in Hollywood who supplied us with the real-to-life tattoo decals that the movie actors wore.  They could not be rubbed off in sweat or rain. Gumshoe learned how to maintain them thanks to some Vaseline.

Gumshoe frequented the market for the customary loaf of bread and a carton of milk. Just going home after a long day of buying dope; developing informants (busted street prostitutes) for undercover “intro’s” to their connections (dope slingers); writing search warrants; executing search warrants (while wearing a balaclava to shield Gumshoe’s face), and providing back up surveillance of fellow narc’s plying our undercover street tradecraft. Adrenaline rush junkies are us!

Now back to the 7-11.

Gumshoe would crack a frozen smile to attempt to break the clerk’s tension and quickly pick up the foodstuffs from the aisles and return to the frozen clerk at the service counter. Gumshoe’s smile would never ever be returned from the clenched jaw and pursed lips of the mortified clerk.

No expected threats of gimme or cash followed by a street expletive the clerk probably thought much to her chagrin. Cash and carry, out of the store for Gumshoe and back astride of his motorcycle also probably much to the relief of the totem pole clerk.

Funny, it was rarely that Gumshoe ever saw the same clerk again at the same 7-11. Minimum wages for some jobs is just not enough, or come to think of it, even for the salary of an undercover street narc.

Well, folks, that’s Gumshoe’s true-to-life street insight on his slice of experience.  Always remember to love the ones who love you, and really try to love the ones who don’t.

Coram Deo

PS:  Smile at the convenience store clerks!

Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Danny, another great article. Not sure if you remember the Afro faze back in the day. Anyway I decided to get an Afro to go along with my dark Sicilian skin. My partner at the time said I looked pretty good so we decided to test it out. We had been looking for a young black girl who was wanted on a drug warrant. She was living on the southside in what we called the “Bricks” (Public Housing).
    We get to the house and I tell my partner to go to the back of the house while I knock on the front door. An older black woman answers the door and I ask for Chantel (not her real name). I tell mom that I am a good friend of Chantel. Mom calls upstairs to her daughter telling her a friend is at the front door. Chantel comes bounding down the stairs, comes to the door, takes one look at me, turns to her mom stating “that ain’t no friend, he’s the “man” and runs towards the back of the house right into the waiting arms of my partner. We get her cuffed up and head to the station.
    The thing about working undercover was you were only as good as how well you played the role and I loved playing the role. Like everything else in police work you had to be careful not to get so wrapped up in that role that you forgot who you really were and start taking chances especially if you were using a Informant. There was times where you needed to walk away from a buy because it didn’t feel right. For those that don’t understand, working undercover is not for everyone. I don’t think that I am overstating it when I say “your life is really not your own” .
    It places a lot of stress on you as a police officer to maintain that role and if you are married especially if you have young children it places a lot of stress on your family. Our department had a strict set of rules, mandatory random drug testing, a specific time limit on how long one was allowed to work undercover.
    After I retired in 1990 a young Syracuse Police Officer who was using a informant for a controlled buy/bust on the South Side lost his life. The guy who pulled the trigger was released last October after having served 30 years of a “Life without Parole” due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision which made it unconstitutional for juveniles to serve life with out parole sentences.
    He left a fiancé and a young son.

  2. I can only relate in a very small way regarding this article since many undercover assignments but nothing compared to your years a a narc. Great article and glad to survived and are here to tell the story.

  3. Good real life behind the scenes stuff (as always) bro! Served up with a healthy dose of color. Always interesting and informative for us non-narc, every day civilian type folks. Keep ’em comin’! (Very much lookig forward to the day when you collect a bunch of similar type stories of yours and publish a book!!)

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