The Trojan traveler was beyond agitated. Icicles ran through his veins and torrents of sweat cascaded down his brow. His conspicuous journey through the airport corridor was filled with justified paranoia. Through it all he attempted to blend in like the rest of the nondescript travelers from abroad.

The international flight from America to his impoverished homeland seemed like an eternal hell in the cramped economy seat. He was wedged miserably between an overweight man and a crying infant. ‘Nausea’ wasn’t even close to describing the intense, internal cramps in his lower abdomen. Every excruciating step made him wince in agony. Each jarring footfall forced him to suppress an overpowering urge to vomit or evacuate his bowels. Regardless of the never-ending pain, he couldn’t show any signs of discomfort for fear of detection. Numerous law enforcement officials patrolled the terminal and watched for suspicious behavior. Being ‘ordinary’ and drawing no attention to himself was absolutely essential.

Jammed inside his stomach were dozens of latex condoms filled with assorted capsules and opium based pills. Even with his black market cargo ‘double bagged’ it was still possible to leak into his bloodstream. Any rupture of the packages meant a massive overdose and almost certain death. In the unlikely chance he was rushed to a hospital in time to save his life, the judicial sentence levied against him would mean life in prison, or possibly even execution. In dictatorial third-world-countries like his own; the danger of the contraband smuggling trade was enormous. Despite those deadly risks; he still trudged on to complete his clandestine mission, undeterred.


The life of a drug ‘mule’ is far from glamorous. The truth is, they usually work for very little in the way of monetary reward. Often they are forced into indentured servitude; or with the promise of plane tickets to a western country. Sometimes they simply comply to end extortion threats and violence against family members. To the ruthless cartel organizations, the illegal contraband concealed inside the ‘mule’ is more valuable than their lives. Quite often, their zeal to retrieve the ‘precious cargo’ is so great that the expendable pawns are sliced open without anesthesia; instead of being allowed to pass the contraband naturally. Later they die of septicemia since their usefulness has been exhausted.


The safety of the finish line was finally within view but first he had to pass through the most gut-wrenching part of the operation. He summoned his last remaining semblance of composure and stood before the customs booth. The weary travelers ahead of him were only asked a few rudimentary questions and then sent on their way. Lady luck was not on his side, however. He was asked to come into an interrogation office for a ‘short interview’.

The customs agents were all expertly trained to spot smugglers intermixed with innocent travelers. They use a series of highly successful psychological techniques to ‘rattle’ them. Even the most seasoned drug mules could break down under the intense questioning and give away a ‘tell’. A ‘tell’ is an obvious visual or spoken revelation that the person being scrutinized is guilty of some illegal offense. These subconscious ‘sore thumbs’ stand out from the normal ‘nerves’ an innocent person would display while being interviewed. One of the primary things a customs agent does is to give his subject a false sense of ease during the interrogation process. This false security often trips up the criminals who become too relaxed and feel ‘befriended’ by the agent.

The mule had been warned about not letting his guard down during an interrogation. He did his best to not betray the secret nature of his mission but inside he was screaming from the psychological tension. After what seemed like an eternity of mind numbing questions about the purpose of his trip; the agent stamped his paperwork and bade him ‘good day’. Just as he was about to walk through the threshold to ‘freedom’, the agent asked him to step back inside! He knew he was being ‘played with’ but his outer countenance betrayed none of the heart pounding fear he felt just beneath the surface.

Gingerly he crept back into the interrogation room and started to sit back down. The agent stopped him before making contact with the unpadded hardwood chair and asked if he was OK. The intense pain from rising so quickly caused him to forget his training but he downplayed the suspicious gesture as jet lag. Agents always make one last-ditch attempt to get smugglers to crack under the pressure. The mule knew to avoid the mistake of requesting to use the bathroom because that would result in the agent keeping him even longer. He assured the interrogator he was fine and deftly redirected the the conversation by telling a previously prepared corny joke. The purpose of the distraction was to imply that he was in no particular hurry to leave. To his relief, the clever plan worked. The agent was in no mood to play audience to an amateur comedian. He quickly excused him before he had a chance to tell any more bad jokes.


The pharmaceutical drugs donated to his humanitarian organization by sympathetic U.S. Doctors in the medical underground were a godsend. Although out-of-date and illegal to dispense in America, they were infinitely better than what the clinics could afford in the poor villages along the jungle. The greedy politicians of his country insisted on heavy taxes for all legally imported medicines to line their pockets with money. That made the steep cost of saving lives out of reach for all but the narrowest band of the upper class. What the FDA would have forced U.S. physicians to discard, would help to save hundreds, or even thousands of lives in his war-torn village. The risks had been immense but it was all worth it when ‘the mule’ was able to deliver medicines, antibiotics and painkillers so the healing of his impoverished countrymen could begin.

© 2003


About Bo Bandy

Just a creative soul trapped in a world of cookie-cutter pragmatism...
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