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Interstate 8 climbs west out of the Imperial Valley and twists through the mountains upward into East San Diego County. My name is Tommy and I recently graduated from the Border Patrol Academy. I’m assigned to work the graveyard shift at the Campo checkpoint along Interstate 8 which is 65 miles west from the Mexican border crossing and fifty miles east from San Diego. The checkpoint is surrounded by rugged, isolated terrain accessible solely by four-wheel drive vehicles. Thousands of vehicles pass through our checkpoint daily but you wouldn’t realize it when you're working the graveyard shift as wild animals outnumber the vehicles after dark.
My Senior Agent and mentor is Ben who has reached mandatory retirement age. He loves his job and is a widower without children. He is kind, fatherly, and enjoys telling tales of his storied career more than training me. His rotund body is showing wear and tear. He has a limp and bouts of memory loss. Ben’s faithful partner is a drug-sniffing German shepherd named Rugger who can hold his own in a brawl. We spend most of our shift relaxing in recliner chairs and we keep a cooler filled with soft drinks and water. Ben and Rugger nod off from time to time which I don’t mind. Our office is a small trailer. It’s a full moon tonight and the sky is full of stars. A breeze is kicking up the fragrance of the chaparral.
It’s 0230 and Rugger barks. Ben wakes and grabs the binoculars, looking east down the freeway which is dark. “It looks like CHP Officer Wally is on the beat,” Ben remarks. CHP means California Highway Patrol. Although I see nothing, I won’t question a Senior Agent. Rugger is barking relentlessly and dragging Ben to the checkpoint. Ben says, “Hand me a Coke for Wally, Tommy.” I comply but remain dumfounded. The checkpoint is lit with floodlights but I see nobody out there. Ben and Rugger cross the two-lane freeway to the checkpoint.