In this story, I have changed all names but one and edited details to protect confidentiality, privacy and investigative techniques. The name, Sergeant Willy Keubler is real. While Willy was not my direct supervisor in the Winnipeg Drug Section, he was one of the Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that I learned from and shared many laughs with. Willy was a big man with an even bigger heart. Unfortunately he passed too soon. He is remembered fondly by me through this story.
In 1986 I was working as part of a “street detail” team in the Winnipeg Drug Section. As a team our job was to act on incoming intelligence from a variety of different sources to either prove or disprove the existence of high-level drug trafficking activity. Probes or mini-investigations were conducted on this intelligence to determine the seriousness and authenticity of the criminal activity. If confirmed, the file was passed onto a project team who would then create an operational plan that would be approved by management. Management would then allocate sufficient financial and human resources to fund the project. Often times, our team was seconded part time to take part in more complex investigations. Such was the case in February 1986.
In the late summer of 1986, intelligence had been received and verified to indicate that a small group of Winnipeg drug traffickers had a direct source for the purchase of multi-kilo “bricks” of cocaine from a drug cartel in Miami, Florida. Our office had made contact with law enforcement counterparts in Miami and they were able to confirm that the Miami cartel was active and capable of providing the quantity of contraband described in the intelligence documents. They agreed to assist in our investigation.
Through subsequent months as the investigation progressed, planning became more complex due to the requirement for legal and administrative approvals on both sides of the USA/Canada border. With those approvals finally in place, verified information determined that two members of the Winnipeg crime group would be driving to Miami in January to pick up a large quantity of cocaine. Updated intelligence also made us aware of their intended travel schedule and an operational plan was created by our office to harmonize the enforcement roles of all law enforcement departments.
Willy called me at home on Sunday evening and after sharing pleasantries said,
“That group is moving, but there is a problem.”
“Oh, what’s that?”
“They’re heading out around 10:30 tonight but stopping at a cottage just before the border for the night. Our main surveillance team wants us to watch them until they are ready to move across the border in the morning. Are you OK to work? You and I will be in one car.”
“Yeah sure, I’m good. How do you want to work this?”
Willy replied in his clear analytical manner,
“They want us in place at the Winnipeg address by 9:30 and then our team will follow them to the border and get them settled. We’ll have three cars on our team and we’ll have to cover the area to tell the main team when the suspects are up in the morning and expected to move. Then we come home after they all cross the border. I can pick you up at 8:30.”
“Yeah, OK, that’s good. Should I bring anything special?”
“No, I’ve got binoculars and I’ll have portable radios. We’ll be there all night so bring something to drink and eat, we won’t get a break until we hand them over to the main team in the morning.”
“Yep, OK, see you at 8:30.”
Getting “called out” was a common event during my 13 years of service with the RCMP, but this night was more of a hardship given the fact that Terry and I had invited family for dinner. Our meal had just finished and the agenda called for visiting and playing games with the kids. While Terry and “the girls” were accustomed to my short notice departures from home, our extended family was both surprised and concerned that I would be leaving the house and the city for the next 14 hours to suffer the hardship of sitting in a car without sufficient food or rest. I had to allay their fears and made sure that they were privy to the following conversation with Terry.
“Willy’s picking me up in an hour and we have a job to do out of town, nothing physical, just watching some bad guys for awhile.”
Terry knew the code. Watching some bad guys for a while meant that the night’s expectation was one of expected boredom. Nothing physical meant that I was more resigned to, than happy with, the fact that the night would be boring. Privately, I filled her in (minimizing the potential for dangerous confrontation of course) on the basic details of the task. Satisfied, she shifted her focus to my core requirements.
“What are you taking to eat and drink?”
“Actually, I thought that I’d take some leftover ribs from supper tonight?”
“You’re going to eat them cold?” she asked doubtfully.
“Well no,” I replied hesitantly. “I read somewhere where it’s possible to cook anything on the engine manifold of a car. I thought I’d give that a try, heat the ribs under the hood of the police car.”
I looked at Terry to see if she was buying into this theory or better yet, the actually culinary practice of engine cuisine. And while there was a hint of doubt in her eyes, she didn’t really have any valid mechanical or technical experience to dispute my claim, so she replied,
“How do you want them wrapped?”
“I think two layers of tin foil will do.”
Willy picked me up at 8:30 sharp. He had one of the newer section cars with him, a 1986 maroon 2-door Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Car and colour choices were significant when conducting surveillances; the cars had to be fairly non-descript and it helped if the colour was neutral. Given that any individual police car would be seen more than once in a shift, something like a light blue Corvette would definitely be remembered if seen multiple times. Willy, like me, was wearing dark layered clothing; great for comfort and again, to maintain a neutral look. We set up with the other team members, waiting for the two suspects to leave and drive to the border. They left their residence just before 10:00.
The trip down to the southeast corner of Manitoba was uneventful. The terrain was fairly flat and straight, and the newly fallen snow provided a wintery glow, aided by the ¾ moon that filled the cloudless night. The temperature was around -15 Celsius and the police car floated down the two-lane asphalt highway quiet and smooth. Following our suspects was not difficult. They were heading into an area with few detour options and going to a known location. The worst we could have done was get too close to their vehicle and spook them. Still, we alternated with our partner police cars in order to provide their rear view mirror with a different look. The surveillance team that was to take them across the border was already at the rendezvous location, stocking up on travel requirements, maps, drinks and snacks. Plus, they were in place should the suspected scenario change. But it didn’t. The suspects pulled into the cottage drive and our team set up in positions to watch their movements and activities. Willy and I were on the perimeter of the surveillance, watching for any incoming distractions and ready to warn our colleagues should errant or expected visitors threaten their cover and reveal our interest in the cottage occupants. Willy and I were hidden from view down a snow banked side driveway, lights out and radio playing softly. The dim light from the radio display allowed me to see the distinguishing side features of Sargent Willy Keubler.
Willy was over 6 feet tall, slim and trim; an athletic physique gained more from genetics that rigorous exercise. A methodical man and a slow talker, one could almost tell what Willy was thinking before he actual spoke the words. And he didn’t waste any words; what Willy said you could take to the bank as being true. He rarely guessed; his words were not opinions but facts.
Willy’s slim physique was a trick of nature in another regard. He loved to eat, and could put away a big meal as a matter of course. Rumour had it that he had been kicked out of or barred from several city all-you-can-eat buffets. I asked Willy about that rumour one time and he was quite upset that a restaurant could get away with false advertising by limiting the number of scoops taken from some flame warmed heating pans. But he never did disclose that he had ever personally been ejected or barred.
Now, as we settled in for the night, I watched and waited as Willy, in the driver’s seat of the police car, prepared for his infamous Keubler surveillance stretch. Reaching down with his left right he released the seat catch and planting his feet against the firewall of the car he pushed the seat back until it reached the end of its rail. And then he pushed some more. Willy was known for stretching not only his frame, but also the frames of most of the driver’s seats in the drug section’s car pool. Smaller members had to put cushions behind their backs after Willy had been conducting surveillance using a unit car for longer than a night. On this night, our vehicle had a bench seat, so I moved backward with him as he slid and pushed. His extra effort tilted his seat back a couple of inches behind me. Willy was set for the long haul. I could barely reach the dashboard!
About an hour later, after we had settled and bantered with each other about everything in general and nothing in particular I looked sideways and backward at Willy at the wheel.
“Hey Willy I brought lunch tonight, grilled pork ribs from dinner tonight, nice and meaty, they were really good. I’m going to heat them up, would you like some?”
“How are you going to heat them up?”
“On the engine manifold. I read that there is enough heat on the manifold to cook a roast. That should be enough to heat up my ribs.”
Willy paused, thinking and replied, “No, that’s OK.”
I paused. I’d never known Willy to refuse food, especially good home cooked food, so I rephrased my question,
“No, I brought enough for both of us. I just cooked them tonight. And I’ve got a couple of cokes for us as well.”
“No, I’m not hungry.”
Now I was puzzled, but I thought that when he saw and smelled the results of my efforts he would cave in under the pressure because of his weakness for food.
“OK, well pop the hood, I’m going to heat them up.”
Willy popped the hood.
Looking into the engine compartment by the dim winter light I could make out the location of the engine manifold. On closer examination I could see that it had a metal shield over it. I guessed that the shield was protection of some sort, but to my eye this shield was a great flat grill, excellent for holding a tin foil wrapped packet of juicy pork ribs. I lay the packet on the manifold cover and slowly lowered the hood. I got back into the car.
“I heard that it takes about ½ hour to reheat them. I’ll turn them over in 15 minutes.”
Willy seemed both unimpressed and silently uncommitted to my experiment but grunted something and closed his eyes. I let him slumber and waited out the 15 minutes of cooking time.
Time was up! Exiting the vehicle and raising the hood I reached in and turned the packet of ribs. I gingerly used my bare hand; I wanted to sense if my experiment was working. The packet seemed warm to the touch, but if I wanted to entice Willy to share dinner with me I wanted them to be piping hot and steaming as I brought them in from the grill. So, I took one layer of tin foil off the packet and lowered the hood again. Then I extended the second cooking time to 40 minutes longer under the hood
Forty minutes later there was still no movement from our suspects and Willy was still slumbering at the wheel. One of our team members reported that the two suspects had bedded down for the night. The cabin lights were extinguished. Even though his head was angled toward the driver’s door and his eyes were closed I knew that Willy was not sleeping. I was ready to assault him with the smell of fresh warmed pork ribs. I left the car, opened the hood and peeled back a corner of the foil packet. Now the ribs were hot. Not sizzling as I had hoped, but warm enough that they looked fresh off the gill. They steamed a bit on the trip from the front of the car. I opened the door and got back into the car with a running commentary already in progress,
“Wow, that really worked Willy, they’re nice and hot, just like they came off the grill at supper. They were really good, you gotta taste them. This really works, really slick.”
I continued my monologue as I opened the packet fully and laid it on the dash, toward the center of the car, near Willy.
“You gotta try these Willy.”
Willy opened his eyes and glanced at my offering on the dash.
“No thanks,” he said laconically, I’m not hungry,” and he settled back into his Keubler reclined seat.
OK I thought, let’s go to plan B. Make him regret his decision. Sitting forward in my seat and stretching for the ribs I commented quietly as an aside,
“Mmmm, they look good, just like they’re coming off the grill.”
My fingers closed on a rib and I brought it to my mouth
“Mmmm, just like earlier tonight, moist smoky taste.”
It was my challenge now to entice Willy to try a rib. I grabbed another one and brought it to my mouth.
“We should write this up as a best practice. We could plan this for all our surveillances. We’d eat a lot more healthy if we reheated home cooked meals on the engine rather than buy fast-food burgers and pizza. I think I’ll write this suggestion up when we get back.”
I took a third rib, opened a coke, and then ate a fourth. Willy didn’t move. I’d lost the challenge and I was full. Wrapping the remaining ribs in the foil, I stuffed the packet and my empty coke can into a paper bag and tossed it onto the rear floor of the car. I was full, tired and a bit annoyed of Willy’s refusal at my attempted hospitality. In an effort to “get over it” I lay back to doze, content and full from my feast of absolutely delicious pork ribs.
You missed out big time Willy, I thought.
Everything was quiet. The suspects were sleeping. The day surveillance team was sleeping. Our other team members were likely doing what Willy and I were doing. Watching and waiting, dozing, eating lunch, drinking coffee. Bored!
Then wham! The nausea hit me like a hammer. I was in the middle of my doze and that feeling of imminent sickness vaulted me from the car. I threw up in the snow, twice and hard. I leaned against the back of the car, my buttocks pressed against the cold metal as a support to my growing weakness, and another heave-ho ….. pizzas in the snow! I was sicker than a dog and I thought then that I knew why. It was either food poisoning from the poorly heated ribs or contamination from the motor exhaust. Either way, I was sick and dying. I got back in the car. Willy was awake looking at me
“How were the ribs?” he asked.
“Geeze Willy, I’ve poisoned myself! I just barfed several times and I still feel really sick. I’m going to try and sleep.”
But sleep was not to be on the agenda that night as I exited the vehicle one again to throw up everything in my stomach. And then I threw up three more times after that; dry debilitating heaves. I got back into the car.
“Willy, I’m dying! I gotta get to a hospital or something. We should go home, get someone else to cover our spot. I’m really sick.
“We can’t leave,” Willy replied.
“Yeah, I know, we need to support the team, but I’m really sick, Willy, you gotta take me home.”
“It’s not that,” Willy responded. “It was Saturday an hour ago. We started double overtime for at least the next 8 hours. We can’t leave!”
I spent the night in misery. I was dry heaving sick again a few more times but even as that subsided, I was weak, dehydrated, beat and weary and counting the hours of double overtime until we could leave our position and head back to the city, to my sympathetic wife and to my warm cozy bed.
Finally, just after 7 AM, our suspects moved, followed by the day surveillance team. They were off and we were free to return to Winnipeg. Willy put the car in gear and we drove out of the area to the main highway. Four kilometers down the highway Willy pulled off into a truck stop. I thought we needed gas.
“Breakfast time,” he exclaimed, “come on. They’ve got a trucker’s breakfast here to die for. Then we’ll head back.”
Willy had three farm fresh eggs, 3 strips of honey-smoked bacon, three pork link sausages, hash brown potatoes, 2 toast, 2 coffee and a side of pancakes with butter and syrup. I had four back-to-back cans of 7-Up on ice and two glasses of water. Then we returned to the city. I was richer for the experience due to the overtime but slept for the rest of the day and most of Sunday in penance for my sin. Manifold ribs never happened again!
The drug investigation was successful. The suspects picked up their shipment of cocaine in Miami. During the course of the investigation and en-route back to Canada, sufficient evidence was collected to support charges of conspiracy to import narcotics against all individuals in both countries. Our suspects were subsequently stopped before crossing the border into Canada and arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). All accused were subsequently convicted.