Tina's brother Joey came out of the back room and dumped a file on a clerk's desk. He always strutted around like he was a big man, but I knew his sister was the one in the family who ran the business. He was the type of man who was only good for bashing heads.
For once, I didn't have to fake that I was happy when he put his hand on my shoulder and tried to flirt with me. I was genuinely pleased that everyone we wanted to arrest at that location was on the premises.
I looked back at Tina. "The passports will be ready Monday?"
"No problem," she said.
"Catch you later." I smiled at Tina, nodded at Joey, and headed toward the door. I'd barely made it to the street when I heard sirens in the distance. Then saw flashing lights. The transmitter had worked.
Pretending to be just another bystander, I joined a group of gawkers on the corner and watched the cars skid to a stop. A procession of raid jacket-wearing FBI agents charged through the door. A couple of NYPD patrol cars arrived to assist with crowd control. No shots were fired. A few minutes later, Tina and Joey were led out, their hands cuffed behind their backs, and loaded into the back of separate Bureau cars.
I strolled up the street. An agent by the door waved me in. The members of the arrest and search teams who hadn't met me before had been shown my picture to eliminate the risk I'd be mistaken for a subject. Now that the bust had been made, I'd assist the search team in identifying evidence.
I opened Tina's desk drawer and pulled out the passport photos and applications. The middle drawer contained a stack of checks. Two were made out to Tina's aliases. Welfare checks. One had been sent to an address in New Jersey, the other to an address in New York. The woman's annual income likely was several times higher than mine, and she had the nerve to scam the U.S. government for aid. Disgusted, I yanked open the bottom desk drawer and found an open box of colored condoms. One for each color of the rainbow.
In the back room, I found more surprises. A framed poster of Beavis and Butt-Head was hanging on the wall over a filing cabinet. The only other furniture in the room was a single chair that faced a battered wood table. At one end of the table, there was a dirty bird cage with a cockatiel inside it, pecking at a bowl of seed.
The part of the table furthest from the door had been turned into a make-shift altar. Burning red and white candles of various sizes and shapes flanked a statue of the Virgin Mary. Her expression was serene as she bowed her head in prayer, quite a contrast to the snarl I'd seen on Tina's face when she was led out of her business in handcuffs. Imagining Tina and Joey riding in the back of the Bureau cars, cursing their fate, I laughed. Today, God was on the side of the FBI.
Alicia Hilton is a former law school professor and a former FBI Special Agent whose articles have been published in law journals and law enforcement magazines. She is taking time off from teaching to write a collection of essays and a novel.