The Hells Angels. The Bandidos. Asian triads. Russian mobsters and corrupt cops. Even the KKK. Just part of a day’s work for Alex Caine, an undercover agent who has seen it all.
Alex Caine started life as a working-class boy who always thought he’d end up in a blue-collar job. But after a tour in Vietnam and a stretch in prison on marijuana-possession charges, he fell into the cloak-and-dagger world of a contracted agent or “kite”: infiltrating criminal groups that cops across North America and around the globe were unable to penetrate themselves.
Thanks to his quick-wittedness and his tough but unthreatening demeanor, Caine could fit into whatever unsavory situation he found himself. Over twenty-five years, his assignments ran the gamut from bad-ass bikers to triad toughs. When a job was over, he’d slip away to a new part of the continent or world, where he would assume a new identity and then go back to work on another group of bad guys.
Told with page-turning immediacy, Befriend and Betray gives a candid look behind the scenes at some familiar police operations and blows the lid off others that law enforcement would much prefer to keep hidden. And it offers an unvarnished account of the toll such a life takes, one that often left Caine to wonder who he really was, behind those decades of assumed identities. Or whether justice was ever truly served.
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Alex Caine now acts as an adviser on biker investigations and a speaker at police conferences. He is a certified fifth-degree black belt martial artist, recognized by the World Kickboxing Association. This is his first book.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Border Bandidos
After the meeting in Blaine, I went back to Vancouver to figure out a plan while the DEA, as the “double A” (anchor agency) on this case, drew up the paperwork for my involvement.
One thing I knew for sure, bluffing my way in as a biker was not even a consideration. So the only real option in my mind was to appear on their turf as a regular crook and border runner.
Still, I figured that a bike would be a good thing to have, insofar as it would at least provide an excuse to make small talk with the Bandidos. There was no way I could handle a Harley–they are just too big and powerful for novices–so Andy had rounded me up a 900cc Norton Commando. It was a good choice. Back then, anything other than an American or European bike was considered “Jap scrap.” For example, Mongo, one of the more colourful–and colour obsessed–Bandidos I was to meet, had a sticker on his bike that read “Better to have my sister in a whorehouse than my brother on a Honda.” (The fact that his sister worked as a prostitute in Seattle may or may not have been lost on him.) Many of the hardcore bikers had started their careers on Nortons, Triumphs and BSAs, so the 900cc Commando would do fine.
Andy also had Scott Paterson register me for a one-day course given by the B.C. Motorcycle Safety Association. It took place at the Richmond municipal airport and I learned the basics–shifting, braking and handling–by bombing down a disused runway on a small Honda. I figured I’d learn the rest as I went. (And never told Mongo about the Honda.)
Scott also made arrangements for me to visit the RCMP “barn” in Victoria that week, where a new licence was made up in my name, one that had a motorcycle permit added to it. I was almost ready to go.
The last thing to do was to move the Coachmen trailer stateside. Frank and a buddy of his from the fishing club took care of that, driving it to a trailer park off Highway 5 between Blaine and Ferndale. Frank wasn’t fully up to speed on exactly what I was doing, but he began to figure things out when Andy Smith greeted him at the Sumas border crossing and just waved him right through, the customs officers deferring to his DEA badge. It must have been reassuring to Frank to see that I was working with the good guys.
For the time being, Liz and Charlotte would move in with Frank and Louise. I stayed with them for most of the first month and didn’t use the trailer across the border more than three or four nights a week. I knew the guaranteed way not to get in with a criminal group was to be pushy. If I was always around, they’d start wondering what my game was and question my motives. The best approach was to let them invite me into their world. So I had to get noticed without getting in their faces.
Andy and Co. had told me that the local Bellingham Bandidos chapter held their weekly “church” meetings every Tuesday evening, after which they would repair to the Pioneer Tavern in Ferndale for a round or ten. As far as the cops knew, that was the only routine that, as a group, the Bandidos kept to.
So, at dusk one late summer Monday, I went to the Pioneer to familiarize myself with the bar’s layout and say hello. I had brought over my new car, a souped-up Firebird, in an attempt to even the scales on the mechanical end. Bright purple with a red air breather on the hood (a hood, by the way, that was held down by padlocks), it was not a car meant to be subtle. Completing the muscle-car look were rear air shocks, wide tires made for pulling out in a squeal of burnt rubber, and a chromed chain steering wheel. When the car idled, it vibrated and sounded like a snarling beast waiting to pounce–that is, if the deafening sound system wasn’t drowning out the engine noise.
Driving the Firebird into Ferndale, I felt like a Texas Ranger riding into town to take on the bad guy. Before pulling into the Pioneer’s lot, I did a little prowl and growl around town. It was sleepy quiet. The Pioneer wasn’t much more happening, which was fine by me. I ordered a Pepsi and hung out for a while, playing pool by myself until another customer came in and challenged me to a game. He was a huge man named Chuck who in due course told me that he owned the local bike repair shop. It was a good start–I figured there was no way he could operate such a business without being on good terms with the main bikers in town. I didn’t tell him anything about myself, in such a way that he could only suspect I did something shady.
“So, what’s it you do?” he asked at one point.
“The first thing I do is I mind my own business,” I said definitively. Then, having slammed a door on him, I opened a window, saying something friendly such as “Nice shot,” or “Hey man, it’s your turn.”
Gradually people started to drift in. Every Monday at the Pioneer they held what they called a Turkey Shoot–a small pool tournament. Chuck’s regular partner didn’t show, so he and I teamed up. We did okay but eventually were knocked out, at which point I called it a night.
The next evening I was back not long after eight, again drinking Pepsi and playing pool by myself. Towards nine or nine-thirty the Bandidos started to drift in in small groups. By ten o’clock there were almost a dozen members in the bar and me in the back by myself. It was suddenly a very lonely place to be.
When Chuck came in, I was relieved to see him. He said hi to most of the Bandidos but wasn’t invited to sit with them. Instead, he came and shot some more pool with me. I made a mental note of his status, or lack thereof.
I half expected one of the bikers to come up and challenge me, sneering, “Who the fuck are you?” So I made myself extra small and even avoided going to the bathroom. That would not be a good place to have to explain what I, a stranger, was doing on their turf. But they seemed to have decided on a wait-and-see approach. If they were really wondering who I was, they could always question Chuck later. They might also have noticed the Canadian plates on the Firebird, which may have made them more cautious; their relationship with Canadian bikers and crooks was their financial lifeline. Still, it didn’t make them any friendlier that first evening. If looks could kill, I would have died several times over.
I didn’t push my luck and slipped out before any of them got too drunk and decided to have some fun at the stranger’s expense. At least I’d got on their radar. Certainly, Andy was thrilled that I had been in the same place with so many of them and been able to walk out–even though it meant he had lost a friendly bet with one of the other cops that I wouldn’t make it through the night.
Over that first month, I’d go to the bar two, maybe three nights a week, and always on the Tuesday. Still, I didn’t exchange a single word with any of the Bandidos. I just played pool with Chuck or whoever and played it cool, chatting with the staff and the regulars, sipping my Pepsi in the back. The gang sat around a few tables in the front, ignoring me in their disdainful way.
I also took to visiting Chuck at his bike shop during the day and shooting the shit with him and whoever else was around. Often these were guys who had cordial relations with the Bandidos, so I knew that getting in good with them could help me penetrate the gang. On a couple of occasions I’d invite them back to my trailer for a beer or whatever. Increasingly I would make allusions to my work, which I let on to be smuggling and border running. “I was sneaking across the border a few days ago when this-or-that happened,” I would say. But going any further would have been silly–admitting, for instance, that I was moving drugs across in the trunk of my car or illegal immigrants across by foot; no self-respecting crook would have copped to that.
Still, after a month or so I hadn’t made any real progress and something had to give. Especially since my regular absences from Ferndale had started to become an issue with Corky. Theoretically, he and all the other cops could appreciate that it would only hurt the infiltration if I was around the whole time. I wouldn’t have any mystery, I wouldn’t be away on my nebulous business. Still, Corky was a nine-to-fiver and some part of him deep down must have wanted me to be one too, especially since I was getting a salary that likely eclipsed his.
“We’ve noticed how many times you’ve crossed the border and how long you stay,” he said at one of our meetings. “This isn’t a part-time job, you know.”
“I can go home right now for good if you want,” I shot back at him. I wanted to force him to shut the fuck up. I was all they had, and even if by that point my work still hadn’t produced any useful evidence, I knew they were in no position to flush the probe.
In general, though, my relations with my handlers, Corky included, were solid right from the start. One reason: we were all Vietnam vets.
Andy Smith had been a captain in the Army Rangers, doing special operations that included ambushes and recovering POWs held by the Viet Cong. In fact, he occupied a notable place in the history of the war: he was one of the last eleven people helicoptered off the roof of the U.S. embassy in the early morning of April 30, 1975, during the fall of Saigon. He had a crushed hand to prove it–it had been slammed in a heavy door leading to the roof. Andy was an aggressive, get-it-done type of guy, the kind that moves ahead like a freight train. He’d recently been transferred from New York and his attitude wasn’t always appreciated by the more laid-back northwesterners, but it suited me fine.
Corky Cochrane, meanwhile, had been an Air Cavalry chopper pilot flying ammo in and body bags out. It had left him permanently wound up, borderline shell-shocked even. Once or twice I took cruel pleasure in sending him back into his past. On one occasion, after he’d left the office for coffee, I hid behind the door. When he came back in, I yelled: “Incoming!” He threw his coffee in the air and dove under the desk. I thought I’d split a gut.
For his part, Larry Brant was the quintessential administrator and go-between. He was so perfectly turned out in both manners and appearance that you knew he had been an officer and had stayed in the rear with the gear. Still, Larry had his place: he was our bridge between the street and head office, and a very good one.
Soon enough, however, I’d learn that not all vets were on the side of the good guys. I’d also find out that having smelled the same smoke could make for a strong bond with even the nastiest of people.
The thirty-day evaluation period was drawing to a close and I was still not much further along in penetrating the Bandidos than I’d been after that first Tuesday night. The terms of my employment were pretty loosey-goosey, little more than an understanding that after a month we would meet to assess the operation and take it from there. I still fully expected to be heading off to Bangkok to join Gary Kilgore and could have left the Bandidos behind in a heartbeat with no worries financially. Still, there was a certain professional pride involved. I wanted to impress the Americans and it was weighing on me that I hadn’t yet.
So, late one afternoon, sitting around at the Pioneer with Chuck, I made my move and asked him what the gang thought of me. He replied that the jury was still out.
“Some really don’t care one way or another. Others think you might be a cop.”
I exploded. “Me? A cop? Who the fuck is saying that?”
Chuck was taken aback. He said it wasn’t him, that the idea hadn’t even crossed his mind and he hadn’t doubted me for a second.
I kept up the theatre, demanding to know where I could find the members of the gang that instant.
Chuck said that some of the guys were at his shop. In fact, that was why he was at the bar–they’d told him to make himself scarce while they used his facilities to work on their bikes.
I jumped into the Firebird, peeled out and drove the block and a half to the shop in a matter of seconds. Chuck’s shop was divided in two: in front was the retail section, at the back a garage. I screeched around back and into the open shop door, squealing my tires to a halt. Three Bandidos were standing around talking. To say they were surprised would be an understatement. I jumped out and walked up to them.
“Chuck told me you guys think I’m a fucking rat, or even a pig!”
They just looked at me as if I was totally nuts. Getting no response, I continued my rant.
“Where I come from, that’s done face to face!”
The same confrontational technique had worked well for me in Hong Kong. But for the act to work, you need a response from the bad guys that you can work with. In this case they just weren’t saying anything. Finally, though, one of the guys, who I later learned was Vinny Mann, the chapter president, took a few menacing steps in my direction. Well over six feet tall and solid, with a scraggly beard and unkempt hair, he pointed a finger at me.
“If I thought you were a pig, you would be dead already laying in a ditch,” he growled in his gravelly way.
Even if it didn’t provide much of a way out, it was at least a response. So I jumped at it.
“That’s what I heard about you guys–you were solid and didn’t play around. That why I was so surprised when Chuck told me that.”
That led to more silence. I knew I was talking too much, but they weren’t helping. I relaxed my pose and added, “You can’t blame me for overreacting–in my business reputation is everything!”
Vinny muttered under his breath that Chuck talked too fucking much. Then he threw me a lifeline. “It takes balls to do what you just did. I would have done the same thing.” Another pause before he continued. “By the way, I am checking you out. In the meantime, be cool.”
A biker I would later know as Karate Bob–he had a couple inches on Vinny and a foot on me–added menacingly, “Who knows, you may still end up in the ditch.”
“It’s a hazard of the trade,” I said, getting a laugh out of them. Or at least a smirk. Then I went to my car, without a glance in their direction, pulled out–slowly this time–and went home.
Even if I had just scored a few points, I was extremely happy to be out of there. I couldn’t help but notice that my hands were shaking.
Back at the trailer, I wrote up my notes about the encounter and later left them in the night drop box behind the DEA building in Blaine. It was the routine procedure we’d agreed to when I’d signed on and wasn’t considered too much of a security risk in those more reckless days.
But the response I got from the handlers the next day wasn’t standard at all. Everyone had read my report by the time we got together for a meeting, and their reactions were all over the map. Corky was pissed, convinced that I had needlessly jeopardized the case with the confrontation. In my defence I argued that once Chuck had opened his mouth he had taken away my options–I had to act like a bad guy would act. Anything else would have been wimpy, I said. Andy, on the other hand, thought it was not only hilarious but likely the breakthrough we needed. It was in his rough-and-tumble character to appreciate that sort of rashness.
“I would give anything to have seen the look on their faces,” he kept saying, laughing.
The confrontation did end up being an ice-breaker. The next time I went to the Pioneer, I got a little conversation from Vinny. Once he acknowledged me, the others followed suit.
I inadvertently scored a second major coup with Vinny not long afterwards. One night we were at the bar as closing time appr...
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