In my past life, working as a Coast Guard special agent, it wasn't always a sexy job. Sure, there were times living on the edge, chasing smugglers, working undercover to dismantle drug rings, gathering intelligence and traveling the world to put bad guys away. Nice, satisfying work, and plenty of it.
Then there were the heartbreaking times, conducting internal affairs investigations on Coasties that stepped over the line. The one percent of any organization that gets involved in criminal activities.
As much as it pained me to do the internal affairs job, it had to be done. Sort of a kidney to filter the organizations "blood".
It was a massive investigation that took several months to complete. By the time it was done, I had enlisted the help of over a dozen fellow special agents to dismantle a drug ring within a large unit. Over 20 young Coasties had been caught up using drugs in their off duty hours, it was a peer pressure thing that led many of them to use illegal substances in their off duty hours. It was a career ender for all of them.
The ringleader, the main supplier of the drugs, was facing more than just an administrative discharge, he was going to a Courts-Martial where, if he was found guilty, he would face hard time in the brig.
As the supervising agent for the investigation, I was scheduled to testify at the Courts-Martial. Not my favorite part of the job, especially since the ringleader had not one, but two defense attorneys to represent him.
When testifying in court, there is a certain amount of things I would do to not only appear calm and professional, but to present to the panel of officers that made up the jury, an honest and believable testimony.
I had a whole course of actions I would take. First off was a good, fresh haircut. Next was my very special, expensive suit that I kept for formal occasions, never wearing it in the day to day life. A crisp, sharply starched and pressed white shirt with a power tie. Dark socks and the important spit shined shoes to complete the "look".
The Courts-Martial was to be held at a large base several hours drive from my home. I could have left home the night before but being away from home many other times, I chose to pack my clothes and spend one more night at home. I decided to leave in the wee hours of the morning and arrive several hours ahead of the start of the trial.
I got up around 3 am and threw on some jeans and a shirt to wear for the drive. I didn't want to wake Marti who was sleeping soundly, so I didn't turn on the light. I hefted my suitcase and my suit bag and realized I had everything but my shoes. I reached into the closet, felt around on the floor in the dark and grabbed my shoes which I stuck in the bottom of my suit bag.
Off I went, driving in the dark morning hours reviewing the case in my mind to mentally prepare for the grilling I knew was coming. I watched the sun rise up as I drove.
Upon arriving, I checked into my room at the hotel near the base. I met up with my fellow agents for breakfast and we had a nice, but all too short visit before it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready.
I showered and started getting dressed. The fresh, starched shirt, the power tie, the dark socks and the suit went on. Then I reached into my bag and pulled out one spit shined shoe and...
...a black sneaker! Huh??
When I reached into my closet in the dark that morning, I grabbed the sneaker instead of the other shoe by mistake. Fortune did shine on me a little, at least the spit shined shoe was a left and the sneaker was a right.
What to do? There was no time to run out and buy new shoes, I couldn't wear my well worn, sloppy brown boat shoes that I drove down in. The only choice was to wear one shoe and one sneaker and hope nobody noticed.
As I sat in a nearby sequester room, waiting to be called to testify in the Courts-Martial, I kept my sneaker tucked behind my shoe hoping that nobody would see it.
When I was called into the courtroom, I walked in as straight and calmly as I could and kept my fingers crossed that people would concentrate on my power tie and miss my sneaker.
I did just fine, answered questions carefully and succinctly. I wasn't intimidated by the two defense attorneys as much as they tried. In the end, the ringleader was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to a well deserved stay in the brig.
The Courts-Martial was adjourned and we hung around a bit and did some post trial talking with the prosecutor, some of my fellow agents and even the defense attorneys. The judge came over to congratulate us on our case and my testimony. He talked with me and before excusing himself he said to me, "By the way, nice shoes", winked and left.
I testified in many trials over my career, but that is the one that I'll never forget. A shoe and a sneaker that had me more on edge than two defense attorneys. Who'd a thunk it?
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