It doesn't often snow in Many, Louisiana, and certainly not in early October. Yet everywhere the man looked, a fine white powder hung in the air, hovering over him and clinging to his curly red hair.
The bewildered expression on the man’s face left little doubt to even the casual observer that he was probably not playing with a full deck of cards, at least not at the moment.
It was a little past two on a Saturday afternoon and he had just stepped outside onto the sidewalk in front of Guidry’s Cajun Bar & Grill to catch a bit of fresh air and hopefully to clear his head. That’s when he felt goosebumps all over his body from a sudden gust of wind that rushed past him, accompanied by a high-pitched, ear-piercing squeal that was immediately followed by the most godawful crashing sound.
He gazed up at the sky in wonderment, his mouth wide open, much as a child would do on Christmas morning. He was not sure whether or not to believe his lying eyes. Dang, he thought to himself,it’s snowing.
He could not believe it. A light dusting of snow seemed to be blanketing San Antonio Avenue, as the locals refer to State Highway 6 as it passes through the town of Many, which in that neck of the woods is pronounced MAN-ee.
The past few hours were but a dim blur for him. He and some old high school buddies had been watching the LSU-Ole Miss football game on one of the sports bar’s dozen or so flatscreen televisions that seemed to be mounted on every square inch of available wall space.
The game had ended a couple of minutes earlier and he, along with everyone else in the raucous bar, was enthusiastically celebrating another Tiger victory. As was his custom, he had switched from beer to the hard stuff when the game clock went under a minute with a two-score LSU lead.
That was probably not a particularly good idea in hindsight.
Now on the street, he winced at the pungent odor in the air, which smelled like rotten eggs. To be honest, though, it might just as well have been from the foul vomit he had launched onto the sidewalk only moments earlier.
It was not until the last of the fine white cloud had eventually drifted down onto the sidewalk that he first noticed the splintered upper half of a weather-beaten wooden utility pole, which was now leaning against the wall of the bank building on the corner. That is also when he realized the cause of all the commotion.
A big eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer had crashed into a wooden utility pole, fracturing it in half and showering the air with the white powdery substance that he initially mistook for snow.
He wiped his face with his left hand and licked the tip of one of his fingers.
* * * * *
People were now streaming outside from half a dozen downtown bars and restaurants to see what the commotion was about, making the tiny sidewalk suddenly feel like Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Most of them had their cellphones out and were recording the scene for posterity.
By now, traffic along the busy street had backed up for several blocks, as irate drivers leaned on their horns, as if that would magically clear a path for them. Most were probably anxious to get wherever it was that they were headed in time for the kickoff of the two-thirty SEC game on CBS.
That’s what folks in this part of the country do on Saturdays…except, of course, during hunting season.
“Anybody check to see if the driver is okay?” a large woman in the crowd shouted out, prompting several men to scurry over toward the driver’s side of the big truck. One of them was a chubby guy named Virgil, who was wearing purple suspenders over a gold sweatshirt. Emblazoned across the front of the sweatshirt, in purple, were big block letters that read LSU.
Grabbing ahold of the frame of the truck’s side mirror, Virgil struggled mightily to pull himself up onto the vehicle’s step so he could peek inside the cab of the tractor.
“He seems to be alright,” Virgil shouted back to the crowd. “Looks like he’s making a phone call at the moment.”
Less than a minute later, the first of three police vehicles appeared on scene. The local cops quickly secured the accident scene, while a deputy from the Sabine Parish Sheriff’s Office—which was located only a couple of blocks away—went to work getting the traffic moving again.
A doctor, who had been among the crowd inside Guidry’s watching the game, climbed into the big rig from the passenger side. He had just begun giving the driver a cursory examination when a uniformed city police officer opened the driver’s door on the other side and peered inside.
“How’s he look, Doc?” the policeman asked.
“Oh, he’s fine, Tim,” said the doctor, who seemed to be about the same age as the police officer. “A little shook up but he doesn’t appear to have any injuries. You might want to run him by Sabine Medical Center and have them take a look at him, though, just to be sure.”
The policeman climbed down from the cab of the truck, leaving the door open behind him. He adjusted his utility belt and looked over at the crowd of onlookers. His partner appeared to be talking to a drunk with curly red hair, who was having a hard time simply remaining upright.
“Hey, Tim, come on over here for a second,” his partner called out to him.
She was a rookie who had joined the force only a couple of months earlier and was waving her right hand to signal him. At the same time, she was using her left to keep the redheaded man from teetering over onto his face.
“Red here says that there was powdered cocaine floating in the air after he stepped out of Guidry’s a few seconds before he heard the sound of the crash,” she said. She was not sure whether to believe him or not. “He swears that’s what the powder all over him is.”
“That true, Red?” he asked before noticing that he was standing in Red’s vomit. The policeman grimaced as he took two steps back and began vigorously scraping the sole of his boots against the concrete sidewalk in hopes of wiping away the remnants of Red’s last three hours in Guidry’s.
“Yes sir,” he said, slurring his words as he stumbled slightly before catching his balance. “At first, I thought it was snowing when I came out of the bar.”
Tim looked at him skeptically, partly because of his story, partly because of his inebriated state.
“Here, man, have a taste if you don’t believe me,” said Red, licking his finger and using it to wipe some of the powder from his hair, which he proceeded to offer to the officer.
The cop slapped Red’s hand away in disgust, saying, “I’m not about to lick your stupid finger, Red. Besides, unlike you, I don’t even know what cocaine tastes like.”
He was considering what to do about Red and his eyewitness testimony when one of the sheriff’s deputies called over to him.
“Tim, you’re not going to believe what I just found,” said the deputy. “Shrink wrapped plastic bags packed with what are most likely drugs, hidden inside this here broken utility pole.”
Tim walked over to the corner of the street, where the wooden utility pole was splintered in half, about three feet above ground level. It had what appeared to be a two-foot-long secret compartment hollowed out where the break had occurred.
“The eighteen-wheeler must have hit a damn secret compartment door head on,” said the deputy, removing his hat and scratching his head.
Tim put his hand to his mouth in hopes of muffling his laughter.
“She-it,” was all the policeman could think of to say as he shook his head in amazement.
* * * * *
A seemingly innocent traffic accident one Saturday afternoon leads to the unraveling of a major drug smuggling and money laundering enterprise based out of rural East Texas that extends into Asia, the Caribbean and Central America.