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The Rex Barton Story Chapter 10

The Rex Barton Story Chapter 10

The Rex Barton Story Chapter 10

A week In My Uniform

Lt. Gee, head of Narcotics, called me into his office one early April morning to discuss what I had seen while on patrol the day before. I had made a sketchy report of loud noises coming from the canyon down below West Camino Cielo, across the valley, from the Hidden Valley Inn. With field glasses, I could see a small fire burning in a no-burn area, and the odor romancing its way to my altitude look-out point was poignant and identifiable enough.

On such a clear day with only a slight south-westerly breeze floating across the valley floor bringing the aroma of sage, theme, pine, and weed! I don't mean weeds but Weed plants. Cannabis was being harvested from under nets that everyone had missed for nearly a year — the perfect location for such a public venue to grow an illegal substance.

I had worked several narcotic details over the last year, and this stuff I had learned was getting out of control. It scared me working on some of the narcotic details because I couldn't help but inhale the marijuana smoke. It made me sick. That is not a good sign for a deputy working undercover on a narcotics detail.

When I got back to the Court House Office, I sat down with my maps and copied the latitude and longitude coordinates, for a search should narcotics want it. I figured all the information they could have would help get some of the drugs a little harder to find its way on our streets. The drug world was taking a lot of kids and adults down a very sinister road to oblivion in our city.

Lt. Gee, wanted all the information I had on the location. The difficulty in a surprise bust, and how many suspects were in the hole? I gave Gee all the information I had and told him I would be glad to assist. I used to ride my horse Sheila up there all the time when I was a kid. I knew the area very well and what was up there in the canyon. At the top of the trail were a cabin and a couple of wooden sheds. A single path led out of the area fifty-yards or more up to a dirt road.

Later in the afternoon, Lt. Gee called me in again and had me show the other narcotic detectives all the haves and have nots in this potential bust. Horses were written off of the plan immediately. To slow and too long of a target climbing the canyon hills. They could pick us off one by one before we even knew what hit us. I agreed. Then Bob mentioned motorbikes. I knew the local dealer in Goleta that could rent us five or six 250 cc bikes. Jack was very good at providing things like that for law enforcement needs. I think it made him feel like he was a part of a team effort. Jack even let us use ATV's one summer for beach patrol.

We all agreed. Further information and submitting our request immediately for an early morning raid. We followed up on our positions, necessary gear, weapons we might need to carry for this operation and safety measures. All the What if's of a large pot farm, patrolled by unknowns with unknown guns and numbers. More or less blind and no way to obtain the information on such short notice, we went home, and each deputy prepared himself and his family for the coming morning.

I had a difficult time getting to sleep. My usual dreams of murders, sex, or Disneyland adventures were absent. That was my favorite place, to visit as a kid and still today. Here I was six-foot-seven and a half, two hundred and fifty-five pounds of muscle and speed and my favorite hero was not Clint Eastwood, as a San Francisco Cop (Dirty Harry) but rather, Peter Pan. Take me to Disneyland anytime and watch a big man become a kid again.

All I could think of all night long was nothing but how we were going to get up that hill the easiest and fastest way, without getting shot. There was no doubting we were all sitting targets for whoever wanted to look down into the valley from above. I could ride motocross well. It was a fun past time on weekends to trail ride on our motorbikes.

We enjoyed practicing on small trails around the Mesa area. Running on hardpack, sand, dirt, and soft sand taught me a lot. Two-wheel driving was fun but not the safest way to race. I preferred four wheels on the ground. Any four! I loved running full out on mountain trails up in the Ceilos, anytime I could put a few hours of leisure together. It would make my day! Plenty of trails and roads to practice on with over five hundred miles to ride.

I wondered how good the rest of the team would be. I started thinking of different ways to show the group how to maneuver up the hill and create themselves less of a target. Couldn't, however, because there was only one old walking horse path. Every time it rained, it would wash out, and ruts would be etched on the trail more profound and more in-depth every year.

The entire landscape here was nothing but sagebrush and red skin Manzanita trees. I remembered making slingshots out of the forked branches. Not too many hard, red-colored wood, around anymore. Teak from Central America sometimes came in that way. Redwood trees aren't really red. Mahogany, like redwood, was a paler softer red.

My mind was wandering around like a yoyo going, round and round and up and down, with nothing getting accomplished. Come on, Hawk, think. You used to ride these old trails with Sheila and Traveler on your way to Cachuma Lake. Concentrate on the business at hand. What am I missing here?

The biggest problem we faced was everything in the canyon could be heard from the plateaus up to the top of the hill. Finally, I must have drifted off to sleep because the next thing I heard was the alarm clock go off at 0400 hours. I turned it off at once so Jenny wouldn't wake up. She needed her sleep after a double shift at the Jolly Tiger Restaurant last night. She didn't stir.

It was still very dark out, and I needed to jump into the shower and wake up. After the shower, I shaved and got dressed as quietly and quickly as possible. I wrote a love note to Jenny and kissed the kids good-buy. See you this evening, guys. Know that Daddy loves you very much!

On the way to the Court House, I stopped at a local restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee to go and one egg sandwich. By the time I parked my car at the office, both were eaten up like a dinosaur, in one gulp. You get used to eating fast and throwing down beverages while en route to a call. There never is enough time to relax and eat a meal calmly. You learn to drive with both knees steering the car and eating two items with one hand and holding a drink with the other.

Now the trick is, too talk on the radio at the same time or smoke a cigarette. Oh, if we only had more common sense, and when off for lunch, you took off for a specific period. It always happened though; the moment you ordered your food or beverage, a call would come in. If your order was on the table, you either took it with you, or you left it on the table untouched. We always left a tip under the plate.

However, if it was a simple hamburger, you might think twice and take it with you on the call. Driving and eating at the same time was just part of a cop's multi-tasking abilities. How I didn't get more shirts ruined with stains, I don't know. It seems like the only stains on any of my clothes was blood — Sometimes mine and sometimes victims of crimes or accidents.

I walked into the Narc Office and Lt. Gee was already there. I was number two by fifteen minutes. I told Lt. Gee that the best thing for everyone's safety was to move fast and sig zag back and forth along the trail. That way, the suspects would have a much trickier target to aim at. Should we encounter anyone wanting to target practice?

We knew that we were going to take some fire by the mere fact this was an actual cannabis growing farm. The growers were very protective of their illegal crops. As a precaution, Lt. Gee, notified the fire department and the EMT's to stand by at the bottom of the canyon. The trailhead was the departure point in the event of an emergency.

We were not looking to get anyone killed, but there was a need to reach our targeted goal, overtake the suspects, and make the arrest. After that, we could take our time inventorying and getting more troops to our location to help bag and carry out the evidence.

I told Lt. Gee that burning the remaining crop would probably not be in the best interest of the public because the wind always prevailed west down through the canyon. The marijuana smoke would get everyone within ten miles, higher than kites if we burned the crop. He laughed as did several of the other detectives at the thought of that many people getting high.

The team assembled at 0500 hrs. And we drove in two vans along with all our gear towing the bikes in a large open trailer. About a hundred yards from our starting point, we turned out the van lights and coasted up forty yards from the trailhead. Unloaded the bikes which had been warmed up back in the parking lot of the office, before loading them. We were hoping for a one kick start. That way we could jump on and be moving forward to the target area with one big noise and avoid a lot of miss starts which would alert everyone on the mountain.

Because of my familiarity with the trail, I was the designated leader of the troop climbing the hill. My bike would be the only one with a headlight on unless I went down. Then the next bike behind me would turn his headlight on and so forth. With a few hand signals, I directed Lt. Gee to the back of the pack and to walk by each deputy to make sure they were ready.

Handguns were strapped to the handlebars and available for a quick draw in the event of a confrontation. Some of the deputies elected to remove their jackets to ride with more freedom under my protest. Guys, you have no idea how rough and thorny the brush is. It will shred you to bits. Don't worry Hawk, get us up there as fast as you can.

Like a thundering herd of Bison, we kick-started our bikes, jump on and took off on the dirt trail in a cloud of dust going as fast as the terrain would allow. Everyone was in such a hurry with eyes on the path. On occasion, someone would run into the rear tire of the bike ahead of them. That would throw the rider in front nearly off his motorcycle.

Rear tires spinning, met rocks were flying into each rider's lap and face. Oh well, they will learn the hard way to either back-up a little and play nice, I thought. I was glad to be in front of this op. Those that chose to take off their jackets were now wishing they hadn't.

Leading the way, I ducked in and out of the tall sagebrush plants that sored five to six feet tall. I weaved in and weaved out, cutting a new trail next to the old rutted one. Each bike was supposed to follow in my path, but few did. It only met risking getting hurt, hitting the potholes and falling off of their bikes.

We were on the trail cutting back and forth for about three minutes and a third of the way to the top when the first shot was fired from the cannabis camp destination up ahead of us. Of course, my bike with the headlight on was the elusive target the perps were aiming at so I made it as hard as possible for them.

Sliding sideways first to the right and then to the left, I hurled the bike without Mersey or thoughts of anything but getting to the top. I gunned the throttle forward faster and faster. At the halfway point, I felt a sharp pain in my right forearm. I knew what had happened.

In one of my leaning, the bike left then right, ran straight into a tree branch which took a shallow projectile through my arm before breaking off. I wasn't tense, but I felt the pain of it. The tree branch had only grazed me. All I could think of was staying on the bike and keep leading the troops ahead. The shots kept coming down the hill at us, and then another gun went off. It sounded like military-grade AR-15's and some other smaller caliber semi-automatic weapons. I heard one of the bikes cut out and saw behind me two deputies down.

Not from the flying bullets but just not paying attention to the trail. When people are shooting at you from above, its good to get scared because fear tends to cause you to go faster (run away) or savvy up and protect yourself. Either way crashing was not a good sign. Other bikes were going around me, and I found it difficult getting started again. I finally did and took off on another trail just a few feet to the left side of the original path.

Soon I was caught up with the rest. Hey had gotten too far behind me. The point was to stay close and use only one bikes light to minimize how many bikes were on the trail. Lt. Gee, who was last put his bikes light on to help himself and illuminated the path ahead for the other bikes in front of him. A moving target I thought, but at least more deputies would get to our destination — the top of the trailhead.

At about the three-quarter mark, I laid my bike down. Kept it running and the light on. I pulled my weapon from my handlebar holster and started firing at where I saw the mussel flashes coming from. My second shot hit something because the firearm was down, and I heard moaning. Holstering my weapon, I jumped back on the bike and continued racing up the mountain. It seemed like forever, but I reached the encampment in mire minutes and laid the bike down again to take out the second shooter.

No response. He was gone, along with the guy I had hit. I yelled over all the noise of the other bikes that the shooters had moved. By the time the other detectives reached the encampment, the sun was beginning to rise in the east behind the shadow of the mountain. It was light enough, however, to see through the shadows of trees and brush. I heard Lt. Gee, radio the EMT's to stand by as we might have injuries coming at them.

Giving a cursory search of the immediate area, I couldn't see any movement in or around the house. There was a light on in what appeared to be a living room or bedroom. I did a low crawl as close as possible to the home looking in every direction for any sign of movement or sounds.

Funny how quiet it gets when the repercussion from weapons firing can still echo through the night for miles around. Looking down in the valley where our vans were along with the fire department and EMT's I saw a few more home lights on now. With that much gunfire noise, I was sure the local neighbors thought the Army had invaded them.

I started to raise my right arm to let Lt. Gee know that I was going to the front door of the cabin. The pain in my upper arm brought it right back down again. Funny I forgot about it in the excitement of the moment. Switching hands, I got the message across to Lt. Gee. I heard him say hold your fire to the other deputies behind us.

Then I saw Bob, off to my right about twenty yards distance. He was keeping pace with me on the run to the door right in front of us. Like riding the bikes up the trail, we both ran a sig-sag coarse to the front door determined not to give shooters an easy target. Bob made it to the lighted window, and I reached the front door one pace behind him.

Bob motioned to me with his finger that he saw two maybe three people inside the cabin. I stepped back and gave one good kick at the door and went in. My weapon was raised to just below shoulder height and in both hands. I was ready to point shoot at any movement with my left hand holding the butt of the gun and my right hand holding the grip and index finger on the two-and-a-half-pound trigger pull. Bob came right behind me and ducked to the right.

Two more deputies came rushing in behind him. We were surprised to meet three women dressed like hippies, and one young girl cradling a baby in her arms. She had been breastfeeding as one breast was floating in the air as she ducked down behind a wooden table. All three girls were screaming and crying along with the baby. They bowed down behind a for a legged handmade table made of local wood. Crude but practical for eating or hiding behind.

That was a close, close call I thought to myself. Thank God, for all the training, Having to compete and qualify on pistol ranges where pop-up targets flash at you in milliseconds. Sometimes it might be a real perp and occasionally a uniformed policeman or a woman with a bag in her arms or pushing a baby stroller.

Shoot any target but the perp holding the gun and you start over on a different coarse. A millisecond! To many missed-shots or wrong targets and you were cut from the squad. The practice is mandatory if you want to carry a weapon. The quick responses and timing are on each individual; don't fire upon any innocent bystanders.

After a long ten-hour shift, it is hard to keep going and show up to the ranges, but the practice is a must if you want to be the best. And I did. It took away from family time and sleep, but it paid many dividends through the years, just like today on the trail. When I kicked the front door down in this little cabin, I expected return gunfire in my face not a woman with long hair, a baby in one arm and half of a naked torso. The other two women were already sitting on the floor.

The girls were given a cursory search for weapons. Sorry but no female deputies available today ladies. Two women were cuffed with plastic ties, and the third with the baby was made to sit holding the baby on the floor. Poor thing was panicked and crying along with the baby. Lt. Gee, finally made it into the cabin and took over the investigation.

He asked each girl if anyone else was here besides them. Each woman said no. The men had left when the motorcycle noise awakened them. Who was shooting then? Only two guards that remained outside twenty-four seven. Where are they now? We don't know. It was evident that they were not going to give any information up here in the cabin, so Lt. Gee, had them removed and walked back down the trail toward the waiting ambulances. More Sheriff's units had arrived as well to help in transporting the suspects.

To our surprise, we cut and baled twenty-nine bales of marijuana. There was evidence that the same amount or more had been removed from the area the days before. I don't think anyone saw me from above, two days prior but someone, warned the hippy marijuana tribe? Could have been anyone waiting down below, who knows. What we thought was going to be a massive pot bust turned out to be a small one. We could see the remnants of an enormous pot operation with growing lights and blackout camouflaged nets covering almost an acre of freshly cut plants.

The twenty-nine bales were carried down on slides behind the bikes. While other deputies were doing that Bob and I searched up the trail on foot to look for the other suspects. We found what looked like a blood trail and radioed down to the other patrol units to alert the hospital of anyone coming in with gunshot wounds. The only thing left on top of the ridge were tire marks.

Walking back down toward the cabin, Bob, told me to go on back down to the bottom of the trail and get my arm checkout out. It had bled pretty bad for such a scratch. Another jacket and shirt ruined for sure.

"Yeah, no problem, Bob, this was nothing I said."

"Thanks, Hawk, Bob said. I see where you get the name cowboy. You ride like a maniac. He and Lt. Gee, had plenty of help now. I told Lt. Gee that I was headed back down the trail to get a bandage. I heard him say as I passed him, good job, Hawk. You got us up here safe and in one peace. I appreciate your dedication and courage".

"Not a problem, Lieutenant. See you later at the office with my report".

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