“Scottsbluff, three six.”

“Go ahead Scottsbluff.”

“10-73, Highway 71, Wildcat Hills Wildlife Refuge.”

10-73; drunk pedestrian. Wonderful. It’s as cold as a witch’s tit and I’ve got to go wrestle with a drunk on the side of the road.
“10-4, advise description.”

“Late model Ford Taurus, Nebraska two one, four four two six.

“10-4, en route.” A drunk pedestrian with a car?

I was three six. It was my badge number, license plate number, radio call sign, and signature. Never “thirty-six” – always three six. Everyone knew each other by these numbers. My shift mates were seven, four three five, and our sergeant, four zero five. It was dehumanizing, but comforting as well, like you belonged to an elite club. The dispatchers would even call your wife “Mrs. three six.”

I pulled out onto the rain-slicked asphalt and flicked the top mounts on. I bumped the siren button a few times as I cleared the one stop light between me and the Wildcat Hills refuge, then opened up the throttle.

The Ford Mustang has problems as a patrol car. Once you put a radar unit, three radios, a cell phone, a video camera, a vascar unit, and a shotgun mount in it, there’s not much room for the officer, especially if he’s wearing body armor. The suspension is so stiff that every bump in the road is conveyed directly to your kidneys - UTIs were a common occurrence for some of the guys. The ground effects package looks great but it is made of fiberglass, so you leave a little bit of the air dam behind each time you drive through the median. After the guys in Lincoln drill holes in the roof to hold the top mounts, the seals usually start to leak a bit. The rear-wheel drive makes it tough to drive on ice, and the back seat is so tiny that you have to transport prisoners in the front seat next to you.

I loved that car.

In a flat out race, the Camaro would eventually beat it, but off the line, no cop car could touch it. The city cops, stuck in their Caprice Classics and Crown Victorias, would curse us under their breaths as we took off after the “big fish.” Triple digit speeders were a specialty of the State Patrol, and no one loved that sort of work more than I.

The road was wet, so I kept it between 85 and 90. The roads around the wildlife refuge are curvy, and a great place to hit deer. The accident records for this stretch of road are loaded with fox, skunk, coyote, deer, and the occasional buffalo. The fish cops (game wardens hate that nickname) put out cake and salt for the deer and buffalo everyday during the winter. It’s supposed to keep them from crossing the road in search of food, but no one told that to the wildlife. One of the deputies hit an actual wildcat about ten years back, but everyone joked that it must have been the last one.

To keep the herd animals from crossing they erected a fence in the rocky draw where they dropped the feed each day. They shaped it like a ‘u’ with the open end facing the prairie, and let the rock walls form the rest of the barrier. This also guarantees the tourists a chance to get a good picture of buffalo and deer, because once the bulls figured out that a free meal arrived every morning, they never let their girls leave the pen.

Because of the buffalo, the fence was a six-rail tubular steel beast. It was set in concrete footings, and still it leaned at odd angles in places where the big bull had used it as a scratching post. When I was still in training, one of my coaches, four three five, had told me stories about the strength of the buffalo; how they used to knock narrow-gauge railroad cars off the tracks back in the frontier days, and how they could completely total a loaded semi today. Personally, I had never seen a buffalo do anything other than stand around and chew, but four three five spoke reverently of their might when angered. He also told me how they were different than cows. They generally didn’t run from anything, they didn’t sleep standing up, and they could weigh up to 3000 pounds. Four three five knew a lot about them, and we spent a lot of time together just driving around rural Nebraska, so by the time my training was done, I knew more than I wanted to about them.

As I crested the last hill before the refuge, I saw the Taurus on the left shoulder about 200 yards from the buffalo pen, hazards flashing. As I went past it, I notified dispatch that I had arrived, then whipped around and parked behind. Two kids in Scottsbluff High letter jackets stood by the passenger side of the car. A third person lay on the ground at their feet. I grabbed my first aid kit as I got out of the car.

The kid on the ground was also wearing a letter jacket, but he was covered from head to toe in mud. As I made a quick medical analysis and treated the boy for shock, I asked the other kids what happened.

“Well, it’s really kind of stupid,” one kid volunteered.

“Were you the driver?”

“No, I was.” The other kid, tall, thin, and pale spoke up. I recognized him from local newspaper coverage of prep sports. He was a track star and a wide receiver.

“O.K., so tell me about it.” I tried to sound concerned and friendly.

“We were trying to…” the first kid began.

“He fell out of the car,” the track star interjected.

He paused, and I waited. The kid on the ground was going to make it, but he was dazed, with a broken collarbone, a broken nose, and a growing goose egg on his forehead. I could tell from his raspy breathing that he likely had some broken ribs, and his right wrist was cocked off at an odd angle, probably broken as well. The driver offered nothing more.


Both kids looked at their shoes, which bore the same mud as the victim. “We were mooning some girls and he fell out.” The driver’s voice was barely audible.

“How fast were you going?”

“’Bout 50 I guess.”

I had finished my first aid assessment. I grabbed my shirt mike.
“Three six, Scottsbluff.”

“Go ahead three six.”

“Request 10-46, 10-18.” I was requesting an ambulance, and wanting them to hurry. Even though the radio was silent, I could imagine the dispatcher bitching about the change in call codes. An injury requiring medical back up requires a different code than a drunk pedestrian. It isn’t really a big deal to change a call code, but dispatchers are generally a lazy lot.

“Is this 10-45?” She wanted to know if it should be recorded as a car accident.

“No. 10-73 is just BTF.”

In theory, radio code exists to protect crime scenes. We can talk about a wreck on the highway without every guy who owns a scanner coming out to gawk. In reality, however, the most important reason for radio code is to allow cops to talk about things that might offend the public listening in. Some code is formal, and some is invented on the fly and then takes root. BTF was such an informal code, invented no doubt by some witty trooper over coffee, but now accepted in general usage - it meant “beat to fuck.”

The kid on the ground was definitely BTF, but he clearly didn’t fall out of a moving car. For starters, this kid’s pants were still on him. He had no road rash. The one person I had seen in my brief career who had fallen onto the pavement at highway speeds looked like lasagna when we arrived. He (at least I think they determined it was a he) had been quite dead, also. If this guy had fallen out while mooning someone, his pants and a good portion of his butt should be back up the road somewhere.

Also, there was the mud. The shoulders were gravel, and the ditch was grassy. He must have gotten muddy elsewhere, then crawled or was carried to the side of the road.

I tried to make him comfortable with an orange safety blanket, but I didn’t want to move him in case he had a spinal injury. I monitored his pulse and respiration until the ambulance arrived. During these few interminable minutes, the other two kids stood by the car, muttering quietly.

When the ambulance arrived, I walked over to the driver of the car. He gave me his driver’s license and the paperwork for the vehicle.

“You guys had anything to drink tonight?”

“No. We don’t drink. We’re on the football team.” I suppose this was intended to convince me, but I played football in high school too.

“So he fell out, huh?”


“Daniel,” I got the kid’s name from his license, “you go by Dan?”


“Are you sure he fell out?”


“Let’s step back to my car, Dan.” I motioned for the other kid to stay in the Taurus.
We walked in silence past the paramedics strapping the BTF to a gurney. Once we were seated in my patrol car I ran Dan’s information on the computer. No wants, no warrants; apparently a good kid. I made a production out of getting out my ticket book.

“Dan, I don’t want to do this. You are looking at a citation for Willful Reckless Driving, Reckless Endangerment, and maybe something worse. Maybe even Vehicular Manslaughter if your buddy there dies.” I paused to let it sink in. He just stared straight ahead.

“I don’t suppose they play much football down at the boy’s farm.” The Nebraska State Juvenile facility was known as the boy’s farm, and it had a vicious reputation for hard labor and sodomy. Dan’s eyes widened a bit, and he turned a bit paler.

“What if he didn’t fall out?”

“What do you mean, Dan?”

“Maybe I made it up.”

“I’m pretty sure you made it up. Now why don’t you tell me the truth?”

He paused, chewing his lower lip. “My dad’s gonna’ kill me.”

I leaned over until my shoulder was touching his, my campaign hat just brushing his ear. I spoke in a low conspiratorial tone. “I don’t think you realize just how close you are to going to the farm and playing buttdarts with the guy with the most cigarettes. I bet a skinny blonde like you would have a boyfriend in no time.”

I got out of the patrol car and checked with the paramedics. They were ready to roll, so I helped them get packed up, and promised to meet them for coffee later.
When I got back in the Mustang, Dan looked up at me. It was clear that he had come to a conclusion.

“I don’t want this in the paper. My dad would shit.”

“I can’t make any guarantees, but I don’t give interviews, if that’s any consolation.” I was back to sounding friendly and concerned. It’s tough to do the “good cop, bad cop” routine when there is only one of you.

“He didn’t fall out,” He paused again, obviously horrified by what he had to say. He laid his head back against seat and sighed. “We were buffalo tipping.”

“But Dan, buffalo don’t sleep standing up.”

“We know that now,” he said quietly.


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