I like to think I know a police officer when I see one.
My father was one for 20 years, after all.
So, when a scruffy guy in a cheap suit flashed a police badge in front of my eyes in Bógota, Colombia I was instinctively cautious.
It was out in the open, in broad daylight; people were passing by and barely even noticing us. But there he stood, with a challenging glare, holding out his badge.
‘’Hand me your wallet, I want to see your ID’’ he said, in Spanish.
Now, I didn’t want to upset this guy because, you know, just in case. But at the same time I didn’t want to get my wallet out, a wallet that had around $100 of money in there.
‘’Sure, but can we go back to my hostel and do it there?’’ I replied, in broken Spanish. I’d feel a LOT better if other people were there.
A bead of sweat glistened on his forehead. He looked perplexed. Would a police officer looked confused in this situation? Something wasn’t right.
‘’ Look, OK, come with me to the police station. It’s just over there’’ ‘he said, glancing over his shoulder. ‘’There’ll be people there, don’t worry’’.
The ‘police station’ looked suspiciously like a dark alley. Now, I’m no expert on Colombia, but I’m pretty sure their police officers don’t work in dark alleys.
I took a cautious step back. How do I get out of this, run? Shout for help?
My challenger shifted his stance a little, and his face twitched slightly.
Suddenly, what appeared to be a tramp shuffled into view.
‘’Hey, you!’’ shouted the ‘officer’, ‘‘show me your ID!’’
The tramp looked up with a bemused expression on his face, then meekly reached into his pocket and handed over a tatty wallet.
The ‘cop’ looked through it nervously but openly, as if to make a point. He threw it back to the guy, who went on his way.
‘’See?’’ he half-shouted, with a tremor in his voice, ‘’ there’s nothing to it. Just show me your ID and we’ll get on with the day’’. He edged closer and put a firm hand on my shoulder.
The sun beat down on us, like a bully. His hand on my shoulder tightened and thoughts of escape flashed through my mind.
Then, without warning, his grip magically vanished. His eyes widened and a look of panic crept over his face.
‘’Er, er OK, don’t worry – you can go’’ he yelled.
It was my defiant gaze that did it, I was sure. I’d out-psyched him and now he was giving up!
Or so I thought.
At the same moment, a flash of uniform caught the corner of my eye. I turned my head and there was an actual cop, in the distinctive attire of the Colombian police.
Mr Cheap Suit had spotted him and was now out of sight. The drama was over!