The Expatriates

Possession really isn’t nine-tenths of the law. If it were, I wouldn’t have been worried.

I was on the side of the road in Texas with eight squad cars. They’d surrounded both me and the 5-speed convertible that was in my possession. I’d just crossed one county line into another, so I had city police, state troopers and two sheriff’s departments to contend with.

And the little red Mustang was stolen.

I’d driven it off a dealer’s lot for a test drive that was going on close to a year, and things had been going so well, I couldn’t think of a reason to take it back.

The paper dealer tags had blown off shortly after it topped a hundred, so, to avoid any hassle with the cops, I’d taken the tags and registration from my 1979 Mustang and applied them to the 1990 model. And then, just to keep things tidy, I got a little help moving the VIN plate over as well.

I’d already been pulled over a dozen times with this ridiculous set-up, but that had always been in Tennessee where I could play I know your mamma.

It’s a great game. “I know your mamma” is how it starts.

“You know my mamma?”

“I sure do. She invited me to church.” If you’re in the South, you can safely rely on the officer’s family attending Sunday service. You can also assume they meet afterwards for lunch—which is called dinner—and at least one relative has had a recent misfortune. “Your mamma wanted me to come round for dinner, but I had to go up to the hospital to see that cousin of ours.”

“You related to Bubba?”

“You didn’t know we were related? That’s how I know your mamma.”

“Well, I’ll be.”

And that’s generally the end of it.

But in Texas, I had Tennessee plates and no one was going to believe I knew their mamma.

Twenty miles before, I’d lit up a deputy’s speed gun with a triple digit number that left him ten minutes behind. He’d radioed for help, and I was the only thing happening in Texas that hour.

By the time one squad car caught up, seven more were descending.

The sheriff, police, and state troopers from one county were driving straight into a similar group that was cutting across the interstate median from the next, and I was wondering who did what to whom for all the attention.

The entire south bound lane of traffic came to a stop and I was surprised to be singled out.

Once we all got onto the side of the road, twelve men in seven different uniforms held a conference to discuss who got to claim responsibility for the drug bust.

I asked, “Drug bust? What drug bust?”

And one of them said, “We know you’re smuggling.”

“Smuggling?” Dear god, “Smuggling what?”

“Drugs, obviously.”

“How is that obvious?”

“You’re a lone woman traveling through Texas from out-of-state.”

“Oh. It’s obvious then.” But it wasn’t. I wasn’t smuggling drugs. I was driving to Central America with a stolen car for no other reason than it amused me.

And it was still pretty amusing until one officer started checking my registration against the VIN. Nobody had ever done that before. I had never let it get that far.

The VIN plate had been attached with Crazy Glue, and I had no idea how it was fairing with the temperature over a hundred. I needed to get the situation under control, but Tennessee games weren’t going to play in Texas. I’d have to know someone higher than their mammas. I was running the possibilities through my mind, “I know your mayor. Your governor? Your God?”

Then another officer was calling in my license while five more invited me out of the car to debate which could detain me, and the remaining six didn’t wait for my consent to search.

I was pretty certain there was not enough charm in the world to bring them all back into conference again.

And the numbers were against me. Of the twelve officers assembled, one of them surely knew the difference between a 79 Mustang and a model that was only three years old. Surely.

Switching the VIN and tags no longer seemed such a clever trick. I wondered why I thought I could get away with it.

I watched one officer stop the cd player and another lower the power windows.

Power-freaking-windows. Blessed hell.

I tried to think of who to call for bail.

After fifteen minutes of removing the door panels, the spare tire and the backseat, one of the officers finally turned his attention to my overnight case. It was a vintage piece from the 1930s and he didn’t know which end was up. He put his fingers on the double locks to flip them back, and I said aloud, “Oh, dear god, no.”

It snapped every officer’s attention onto the piece, onto me, then back to the luggage.

They knew they had finally found the stash. They were elated. From one county, a deputy took hold of my arm to claim me as their own, and from the other county, a second deputy pulled me back.

Then the luggage spewed makeup, perfume, and tampons across the asphalt.

I shook my head and explained, “He opened it upside down.”

They were mortified. There wasn’t a man among them that knew what to do with the articles littering the road, and to ensure none of them had to contemplate it, the search was called off.

“I was sure we had a case,” said one of the sheriffs.

“I have never been so certain,” confirmed a Trooper.

Really?” I asked. “Do I look like a drug smuggler?”

“Yes, ma’am, you do.”

“I do?”

“Single woman traveling alone,” the sheriff explained, and all the officers shook their heads to agree that it would look as such.

“I hate that I look like a drug smuggler,” I frowned. “I’d rather look like something more appealing, like, oh, I don’t know…” I couldn’t believe I was actually going to say it, but I did, “… like a car thief.

“Well, we get quite a few of those down here too.”

Really? How very exciting. So what does a car thief look like?”

They all stared at me like they had only just realized I was an idiot, and I had to tell myself to shut up before they figured out what kind.